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Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of any strong economy, and the UAE is no different. A recent study by Dubai SME shows more than 94% of the companies operating in the UAE are SMEs and together, they account for more than 86% of the total private sector workforce as well as more than 60% of the country’s current GDP, which is estimated to go up to 70% by 2021.
These businesses create the most jobs and contribute heavily to the country’s growth. It is therefore in everyone’s best interests that SMEs succeed. From the Government to Business Leaders to Entrepreneurs and Team Members, the effort to continue raising the bar and allow these business institutions to flourish is a universal one. SMEs are a powerful driving force of the UAE’s economy, and, with the right support, will continue to be of tremendous strategic and financial value.
We had a chat with Dubai based Entrepreneur Murtaza Manji, a business strategy coach and speaker who has worked closely with over 600 CEOs and Business Leaders from the GCC, UK and Tanzania.
Manji spoke on a range of topics including how a business strategy coach can add value to businesses, insights from working with top business executives, how having a tolerant enterprise culture can have a positive impact in business performance, best practices for improving organizational and financial targets.
What exactly is business coaching and why should companies/CEOs hire services of a business strategy coach?
In this Digital Age, there’s no shortage of information that is available to companies and business leaders. Therefore, under-performance does not occur because people don’t ‘know’ any better. The disparity between knowledge and results comes when there is a lack of implementation of that knowledge.
Think of it as a personal trainer at the gym. The role of the trainer or coach is not just to have the know-how, but also to create a tailored program based on your required outcomes, implement accountability so that you do achieve the results you want, and to help overcome any challenges that come up along the way. For companies that are looking to achieve significant, sustainable growth, an external coach can provide tremendous value because they can (and will!):
• Challenge the norms
• Ask the right questions
• Bring clarity to business challenges
• Contribute strategic insight and honest feedback
• Hold the business leader and team accountable
A business strategy coach is a sparring partner that every business leader needs to achieve great results.
Can you share some of your key learnings after having worked closely with over 600 CEOs and business leaders?
One of my greatest observations is that most companies are not blindsided by a large disaster or crisis that takes them off course. Their biggest challenges are ones that were ignored or dealt with inappropriately when the business was smaller.
Leaders need to have a clear way to evaluate what is going on in the organisation, identify anomalies early on, and monitor them to see if it’s an incidental glitch, or if the challenge is going to fester and get worse as time goes on and the company grows.
My second greatest insight is that executives need to be willing to do what is required for the company to achieve its potential. That means: having that difficult conversation with a team member or supplier, firing a client, addressing under-performance, and holding themselves and the people around them accountable to a high standard.
What is the best strategy for achieving growth in a declining market?
I strongly feel that the term ‘declining market’ is inaccurate. There may be a general slowdown in specific industries, but certain markets are doing stronger than ever. Businesses need to be aware that if they do not establish themselves as specialists when the market has a niche requirement, they will not be considered.
Businesses, especially small to medium enterprises, need to stop creating a “jack-of-all” identity and instead focus on a few key competencies for which they can be known as market leaders. The more niches your target market, the better.
The businesses that we work with adhere to this approach, and have seen record numbers in terms of revenue and growth, in the same years that their competitors were going out of business and shutting down.
With the UAE embracing 2019 as the Year of Tolerance, how significant is a tolerant culture in improving business performance?
A study by Deloitte shows that diverse and inclusive companies are likely to have 2.3 times better cash flow, are 1.8 times more likely to be change-ready, and 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market. The Harvard Business Review also found that diverse companies are 70% more likely to report that the firm captured a new market.
The statistics clearly show that inclusivity and diversity are good for business, and those cannot exist without a strong culture of tolerance. If the leadership team of a company consists of individuals that all come from similar backgrounds, similar age groups, similar ethnicity, and similar experiences, the perspectives that they bring to the decision-making table are also likely to be similar.
Tolerance and diversity urge people to look outside their perceived ‘norms’ and look towards diverse viewpoints, thoughts, ideas, and actions. This, in turn, will spur innovation and lead to profitable business ventures.
Every business is unique. But, is there any magic formula that you recommend to CEOs to grow their companies financial results and achieve organizational growth targets?
I’m working on the magic formula! While every business is unique, there are general business best practices that don’t change regardless of industry, size or geography. Examples of these best practices:
• Tracking key business numbers and anomalies
• Having a strong company culture and values
• The inclusion of diverse viewpoints and a clear decision-making process
• Addressing changing market needs through constant innovation
• Other general best practices around Leadership, People, Finance, Operations, and Strategy
The role of the business leader and executive team is to work with the company’s unique strengths, whilst knowing the business best practices, and blend them together to create long-term, sustainable business success. Enabling and enhancing this process is where a business strategy coach can bring real, tangible and measurable results.
How can businesses remain agile in a changing market?
Businesses are like trees; they are either growing or dying. Any business that isn’t constantly changing is falling behind, and risking failure. Changing markets are not new. The only different factor is the speed at which the markets and business landscape are involving.
The most successful business are the ones that develop the ability to not just keep up with the change, but to always be one step ahead. These are the businesses that will become market leaders and will come out on top.
What is the secret to identifying high-potentials within the team?
Managing people, talent and performance are some of the greatest challenges a fast-growing business will face. Having a strong company culture in which initiatives are encouraged, contributions are recognised (not just financially!) and growth is the norm, will cultivate drive and motivation within the team, and make them star players.
The role of the leadership team is to create an environment where high-potential team members can thrive, and to nurture and allow them to continue their growth – even if it means moving to a different department, or indeed, a different company. Loyalty is not just a term to be used for customers, but also for the individuals within the organisation. Team members need to experience that the management is there to help them grow as professionals, not to exploit them for business goals. Every person has tremendous potential within, but it will not be exhibited in the wrong environment.
On the other hand, businesses often have individuals who are unwilling to live up to the company’s standards, these challenges in managing performance also need to be addressed, and the leadership needs to have a clear course of action for how to tackle such situations.
If there was a poll on why businesses don’t excel, the “My employees don’t want to take ownership” option would definitely be in the top three reasons. In the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with business leaders over the last seven years, this issue has been raised almost every single time.
So what is it about employment that brings about such disinterest? Or, is it even about employment at all – maybe the leadership, peers or company culture needs to be examined? Honestly, there’s usually more than one issue at play. Here are four possible reasons why this disenchantment may occur, and some suggested ‘antidotes’:
1- An employee doesn’t want to raise his own bar beyond his comfort level:
When you hire, you bring someone on to do a particular set of tasks. Over the months and years of doing the same (or similar) work with the same people, a level of comfort and complacency tends to set in.
You’d like the employee to proactively improve the role, continually increase output, and increase overall efficiency…but taking the ownership of improving the task would take away from that comfort – and few people look for discomfort. In addition, once a person has shown that he can deliver, you’d reasonably expect him to live up to that standard. If someone would rather just live on cruise control, they won’t make the mistake of showing you what they’re truly capable of.
If this disappoints you, let me offer a real-world reminder: someone who is driven, proactive, smart, generates ideas and follows through on them (does this sound like you?) is much more likely to be running their own business than working for someone else. This isn’t to say that no employees will be good; rather, understand that some will need you to help them become the best version of themselves, if they want it badly enough.
The Antidote: In business, as in life, prevention is better than cure. Don’t let complacency set in – keep people engaged and motivated to act, and encourage continuous learning and training. Let them see their own potential, excite them with their career prospects, and nurture their talents. Does that mean that some will get poached by your competitors? Yes. Is that a good reason to underachieve as an organization? Well…you decide.
2- An employee is afraid of blame if her initiative fails:
A common obstacle for many initiatives is the fear of failure. This fear is normal – it’s ok to be uncomfortable with the idea that an idea may not work. This can be overcome, through support, learning and continuous effort. In some organizations, however, there is another fear associated with taking the initiative: the fear of blame. This fear is paralyzing, and stronger perhaps than any other fear. But can you imagine a world without failure? What a bleak, boring world it would be. It was failure after failure that gave us the light bulb, the telephone, and every other breakthrough invention we can’t live without today. How likely would it be for us to have these tools, if every failure was met with blame and accusation?
The Antidote: “Show me a man who has never failed, and I’ll see a man who has never attempted anything.” If you want the firm to reach new heights, it will happen at the cost of some slip-ups. The greater the fear of the blame for slip-ups, the less likely that any new steps will be taken. This doesn’t mean everyone gets free rein to waste resources, though. Identify your future stars, sit with them, listen to their ideas and discuss the requirements. The greatest weapon in their arsenal will be your belief in their abilities – help them to help you.
3- There’s no glory in the grind:
As Maslow identified in his Hierarchy of Needs, once the “basic needs” are met, a person has two psychological requirements: ‘Belonging’ and ‘Esteem’. ‘Belonging’ is to do with an individuals’ personal and social circle, and ‘Esteem’ has two parts: Prestige and Feeling of Accomplishment. In a work setting, these are achieved through awards, recognition and titles. The “What’s In It For Me?” should be addressed, not just in marketing products to prospects, but also when encouraging participation internally. There is – perhaps rightfully, in some cases – the perception that employees are not valued by organizations, and this attitude is a major issue that needs to be addressed.
The Antidote: If a team member is going out on a limb, and is willing to take the risk that it may not work, it would only be fair to give them the appropriate glory for the effort, too. There are two direct benefits to this. Firstly, if the idea works out, the appreciation should cause a huge boost in their self-esteem, their pride in their work, and their reputation in the firm. If it doesn’t work, the acknowledgement will still show that the effort is appreciated, and that the firm believes in the person – this can work wonders for long-term loyalty. Secondly, it gives a message to every other person: your performance is not going unnoticed. A ‘not-A-but-not-C-level’ team member will see that those who try being praised, and it may be all the encouragement they need to up their game. Conversely, if someone is not willing to push themselves, their lack of effort will be highlighted over time. Either way, it benefits the company in the long-run.
4- There is a culture of apathy:
On her first day on the job, the bright-eyed, energetic young lady was brimming with ideas on how to improve performance. Everywhere she looked, she saw potential gains, growth and results. She started writing a list of all her thoughts, afraid to lose them if they weren’t committed to paper. Twenty minutes and seventeen ideas later, her assigned mentor – a middle-aged, pleasant man who had been in the company forever – looked over at the excited recruit muttering to herself, and saw her list. Interrupting her train of thought, he asks: “Do you truly think nobody here has ever thought of these ideas before?” She pauses, unsure how to reply. He continues: “See Alex over there? He still has his ideas list from three years ago in his drawer somewhere. Martin, over in the corner – his ten-point plan that he made a year ago was just taken off his wall last month. And the initiatives I proposed when I first joined – let’s just say, we’re still waiting for them to be reviewed. Don’t waste your time on this. Frankly, my dear, they don’t give a damn.”
And, just like that, another one bites the dust. She glances down at the paper, tears the sheet off, and drops it – along with her enthusiasm and dreams, into the trash basket.
The Antidote: you’ll need to take a long, hard, honest look at the culture that exists in your office. Remove the rose-colored glasses, and critically examine how people behave and interact. To have a beautiful garden, you must be willing to kill the weeds – but identifying them is a whole different challenge. Have in-depth conversations with both senior and junior people, understand if a culture of apathy exists, get real answers on the why and how. Then the process of culture change – and instilling a culture of ownership – can begin. It is a long and challenging journey, but the results are multifold.
For most organizations, the summer months are typically slower and quieter. While there will always be ‘stuff’ to do, summer usually has means fewer sales meetings, regular hours and a chance to take a breather. While these may not be the most historically profitable months, they can – if done right – be the most beneficial months in setting your company up for short and long term gains.
Here are three tried-and-tested strategies for making the most of quieter times:
Strategy #1 – Create and Implement Processes:
As the organization grows, both in terms of people and complexity, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain consistency. The way most businesses would train a new member would sound like this: “This is Jack, he’s been doing this role for 7 years. Shadow with him for the next 4 weeks and learn what he does”. This is a recipe for disaster. Apart from learning Jack’s bad habits, there will almost definitely also be a drop in quality, and you can not risk that in a growing company.
The only way to maintain quality is through implementing strong processes throughout the organization. When the pace slows, and there is some extra time, invest it in the creation of processes for every department. Have the department managers and teams to develop the wire-frame and steps, and – once signed off – have them train the rest of the departments on how their process works. This will have several immediate benefits: it will make everyone aware of what this department does; the members within the department will get a chance to be recognized; and their will be a higher level of ownership of the outcome for the team members. Result: fewer errors, higher efficiency, better teamwork.
Strategy #2 – Give Your Marketing a Head-Start:
If a business is a machine, marketing is the engine. It drives the success of the organization, creates the brand recognition in the market, and attracts opportunities. Content, then, is the fuel for the marketing: without it, the engine is running on fumes. Over 64% of buying decisions begin with online searches, and good content – not advertising – is the best way to attract online attention. Blogs, videos, tutorials, interviews, white papers, podcasts…the range of content that you can put out is almost infinite.
Given the stats, why do so few companies generate content consistently? The culprit is often time. We get ‘busy’, everyone has other things to do, and the content is put on hold. Well, what better time that summer to revisit this? Every week, if each department were to prepare one blog or article, marketing will have enough material for the rest of the year, at a minimum. Additionally, consider getting your corporate videos and images redone – less day-to-day work pressure will mean managers and team members will have time to prepare and look good on camera.
Strategy #3 – Invest in Effective Training:
There is a complex dance between the various requirements of the business, and training (usually) gets stepped on the most. In terms of ROI, however, there is no better place to invest than in the people of the organization. You must have heard that famous example where the CFO says: “What if we train our people and they all leave?”, to which the CEO replies: “What if we don’t train them and they all stay?”
Trainings are normally relegated due to financial and time constraints. If the first six months of the year have not allowed financial issues to reduce, there is a different discussion we need to have. Time-wise, people generally have less stress at this time of year – invest that extra time in getting them to learn and grow. The entire organization will benefit.
What areas should you look to train? It definitely depends on the organization, but typical areas would include:
Sales, marketing, and the cash-generation machine
Accountability and Process creation
KPIs setting and reporting
There are other, more niche, areas, such as leadership development, financial management and budgeting and business planning, but this may only be for certain members of the team.
If you’d like to maximize the potential of this time, and improving the efficiency of your team sounds like a good idea, get in touch and we can explore your thoughts. At the very least, you’ll walk away with a better understanding of the various elements to work on. At best, how would a 14% improvement in conversion rate, or 92% implementation of measurements across the organization sound?
The phrase “Cash is King” is well-known, but a king ignored is of no benefit. Too often I come across businesses who have less than an adequate handle on their finances. Just to be clear, knowing if the company made a profit, roughly knowing profit margins, and having an accountant prepare a P&L once a month is not Financial Mastery. Simple-but-effective financial KPIs are crucial for making sound numbers-based decisions.
If you want your business to achieve significant and sustainable growth, you’ll need to know your numbers. You have to be comfortable enough with them to ‘play’ with them, making forecasts for different scenarios and pricing decisions. If you can master this skill, there is no business you can’t run. Businesses ultimately boil down to the figures; the better you are at understanding these figures, the better your decision-making.
Running the numbers is one thing, but knowing which numbers track and to tweak for greatest impact is a whole new ball game. To start off, this 5 Growth Levers PDF will take you through the most basic financial KPIs you need to be tracking, and how influencing key areas in your business will have a massive impact on your bottom line.
Action Point: Get an accountant on board. Either hire one, or outsource your accounting work. But I don’t just mean have one on the payroll. Your accountant needs to be actively involved in decision-making, in identifying areas that can be improved on, in breaking the numbers down for you. You can’t know all the details, so don’t waste your precious time trying to figure it out.
The next step is forcing yourself to understand what the numbers mean. You don’t need a degree in accounting, an understanding of the half-dozen or so core concepts of accounts should give you most of what you need to know. Your accountant should be able to explain the rest to you.
This is just another shopping mall… except this one has penguins.
And these are not just slippers… they’re “Anti-Flat Flip Flops”.
And this store will refund anything, as long as they carry it (no receipt required, no time limit).
You might not have a world-changing product or service, but you can still be exceptional by being creative. As Seth Godin said (paraphrased): Nobody stops and says “look, a cow!”. But if that cow was purple, people would stop to look at it.
What’s the purple cow (or green penguin) in your business?
In last week’s post, we looked at the three fundamental steps to implementing accountability at an individual level. In today’s post, we’re going to look at how to drive accountability through your business, making it an intrinsic part of the company culture.
If accountability was just a case of setting metrics and reporting KPIs, it would be relatively easy. Given that almost every company I’ve worked with (from five-people start-ups to 450-staffed organisations) didn’t have this in place, it is safe to assume that the exercise is a lot harder than it seems. And yet, even the setting of KPIs is not quite the answer.
There is a clear, structured process around setting KPIs. But the culture element, that is a whole new challenge. Culture is not a process, nor is it contained in employee handbooks. It is a living, dynamic entity, and affects the entire company – both positively and negatively. If there are noticeable ‘cliques’ in social settings – that is a culture. If managers come late and have reserved parking spots outside – that is a culture. If every time someone goes to make a cup of coffee asks the team if they’d like one too – that is a culture.
How does this all come about? Culture is created – it is shaped, refined, instilled and taught. Good culture is intentional, not automatic. Not-so-good culture, on the other hand, has a way of establishing itself in a firm and spreads itself throughout the company. You don’t have to do anything to get a weed-filled backyard, but creating a beautiful garden is constant hard work. The same applies to culture – left to itself, it will often be counter-productive.
There are a few fundamentals to keep in mind for creating a culture of accountability, and each one plays a huge role.
1- Transparency and trust
If I’m accountable to someone, it means I am putting myself up for review by them. If I don’t believe they have my best interest in mind, I would be hesitant to put my success and future in their hands. What is the level of trust within your organisation? Do team members work well together or are there silos? Do individuals or teams have unhealthy competition between them?
The single best way to ensure there is trust across the board is insisting on transparency. Everyone speaks the same language, there are no hidden agendas, and everyone is on the same page. It is easy to feel everything is fine while sitting at the top, so make sure you hear the voices of those down the line. It could provide valuable insights.
2- Two-way communication and proactivity
There is a difference in ‘talking to’ and ‘talking at’. What we would consider a normal conversation is ‘talking to’. When the communication is in the form of orders issued, it’s ‘talking at’. If someone is being told what they need to do, it’s really difficult for them to feel motivated or excited about it, especially during tough times. This is why communication is such an important element for a successful company.
Imagine the difference in enthusiasm you’d feel in these two hypothetical conversations with your superior –
Scenario 1: “These are your targets. I expect this to be achieved by the end of this month, and let me know how you’re doing each week. Any questions?”
Scenario 2:“These are the targets we have for the company. What do you think you need to do to help us achieve this number? And how do you see yourself doing that? What resources will you need? If we were to put a number on it to help us keep track, what should we aim for each week? How could I support you in this? Let’s have a 10 minute debrief each week to see how you’re getting on, shall we?”
Which would you feel more motivated to achieve? And which would make you more willing to be accountable? Note the way you are the other managers are communicating with the team members. Get their buy-in, talk to – not at, and let them be proactive about what they will achieve. It will be remarkable.
3- Have – and be – a role model
There is a saying worth remembering: A fish rots from the head down. If we don’t like what the organisation looks like in the middle, chances are the same issues exist further up the line. Here’s something worth considering: if the entire company behaved like the department heads, would the company be in better or worse shape? (I use department heads as indicative of senior team members but under the level of shareholders/C-suite). Are the team leaders good role models of culture for the rest of the team? Accountability begins with leaders acting like leaders. When you’re busy, it’s easy to let the small things slide, like not responding to emails or showing up to a meeting late. But it’s detrimental to workplace culture if employees see leadership as unaccountable or above-the-law.
Micromanagement is exhausting, ineffective and – unsurprisingly – counter-productive. If accountability only happens when you follow-up a dozen times on what you need, the culture has not been adopted yet. The real value will be seen when team members put their hand up voluntarily on two occasions: to take on a task, and to offer updates. This is, arguably, the most difficult to get right. Autonomy means allowing someone the freedom to do their own thing but for that, you need to trust that they are capable and willing to actually do it. The only way to build this is ‘trial by fire’ – we try it, and either we were right to trust them and everything works, or we were wrong and get burnt. Start with small tasks, and watch closely; sometimes the ones you have the least expectations from will surprise you when given a free rein.
5- Carrots and sticks!
As is normal for any organisation, there may be positive or negative results at the end of the day. What I often see are companies very quick to reward and incentivise, but very slow and unwilling to enforce consequences. Accountability does mean each person proactively says what they have and haven’t achieved, but it’s not a free pass for under-performance. If a team member hasn’t delivered, it’s good for them to admit it, and it’s better for management to support them and address the issue. If the lack of results is consistent, however, it would be unfair to the rest of the team to allow them to get away.
Accountability is not a straightforward business strategy. Sure, there are numbers and metrics we can utilise, but the core of it comes from fostering the right culture in the entire team. Every successful entrepreneur highlights the importance of having a great team. This is not just a workforce of competent employees – it’s a team of competent, reliable people, who work well together and trust each other. And that is what makes the difference.
‘Accountability’ is a big, heavy word. It means a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s used as a measure of proactivity, productivity and manageability. It’s probably safe to say that every company that has a culture of accountability will continue performing and/or improving, even in challenging times.
Conversely, stagnation, finger-pointing and under-performance are characteristic of firms where this culture does not exist.
The question that business leaders often ask is: How can we create this culture of accountability in our company? There are two major parts to this question, and each one plays a large role in answering it.
It is only fair for a person to be accountable for an outcome if three things are in place:
The Measurements, and
If you want to see the level of accountability increase in your business, here are the steps you’ll need to take.
Besides the CEO of the company, no one person is responsible for the performance of the entire firm. Therefore, targets should be split down to the lowest level of responsibility – but not further. Each person must have his/her individual outcomes made clear, discussed and agreed upon even before they join the team. If the individual and their manager have different expectations for the outcome, it is unlikely that the managers’ goals will be achieved.
Action point – ensure every department and every individual is aware of their targets (not just the sales teams). If everyone is pushing in the same direction, chances of success are much better.
The metrics for measuring outcomes need to be correct. Metrics – also referred to as KPIs – need to be quantitative and outcome-based. They are the numbers which tell the story of how the business is doing. If these numbers are reported on time and analysed correctly, warning signs can be picked up early enough to make important changes before any damage is caused.
Action point – every individual should have KPIs reflecting their targets. These should be analysed frequently, so as to rectify any issues early.
KPIs assign responsibility, which is why it is crucial to understand where one teams’ responsibility ends and another teams’ begins. Marketing creates leads, which the sales team converts. Only then can operations service the customer. KPIs around the number of deliveries has to be tied to sales numbers, else the Ops team will fall short on something outside their control. Each person and every team needs to have the opportunity to deliver, else the measurement is both incorrect and unfair.
Action point – sit teams down and help them understand how the actions of one affect the other. Design and execution often live in different worlds, and finance is usually on a planet of their own.
If accountability was just a case of setting metrics and reporting KPIs, it would be relatively easy. Given that almost every company I’ve worked with (from five-people start-ups to 450-staffed organisations) didn’t have this in place, it is safe to assume that the exercise is a lot harder than it seems. And yet, even the setting of KPIs is not quite the answer.
There is a process around setting KPIs. But the culture element, that is a whole new challenge. Culture is not a process, nor is it contained in employee handbooks. It is a living, dynamic entity, and affects the entire company – both positively and negatively. If there are noticeable ‘cliques’ in social settings – that is a culture. If managers come late and have reserved parking spots outside – that is a culture. If every time someone goes to make a cup of coffee asks the team if they’d like one too – that is a culture.
In next week’s post, we’re going to look at the fundamentals of how to ingrain accountability into your organisation’s culture.
When I read, I dog-ear pages that I want to revisit later. These could be quotes, ideas or experiments, and make up the key ideas that I want to retain. I started Grit by Angela Duckworth about two weeks ago, and this is one of those books where you want to keep going through the book because it’s so good, but also want to go back to re-read and savor each section, because it’s so relatable.
So, as usual, I started dog-earing the pages I wanted to revisit later. Two weeks on, I can quite confidently say that I have never ended with as many marked pages in any other book I’ve ever read. ‘Grit’ is required reading for anyone, in any field, in any part of their life – from managers, to athletes, to parents, to students. Angela Duckworth has explored concepts in this book that are well-known, but little thought of. What grit means, how it applies, how to develop it within yourself and others…the takeaways are just fantastic.
Here are my top three takeaways:
Talent x Effort = Skill;
Skill x Effort = Achievement
Having a talent at something is great, but it’s not predictable nor acquirable. I can not now get the talent in something I wasn’t born with. But that’s okay – everyone is talented at something, so we’d even out. The difference comes in the effort applied, and effort counts twice. Turning a talent into a skill takes magnificent effort, particularly as the world gets smaller and more competitive. But we don’t live in a world where pure skill is applauded; rather, we reward outcomes. This is where effort counts again. It is the continuous, unrelenting, uncompromising application of skill that produces world-class outcomes.
Question: What are my talents, and how am I working to develop them further? With this skill set, what are my big goals that I am aiming towards?
Practicing something to get better at it is good; knowing the elements that supercharge skill through practice is great. There are three elements to ‘deliberate practice’:
– The science behind practice: This is made up of (a) having a clearly defined stretch goal, (b)full concentration and effort, (c) immediate and informative feedback, and (d) repetition with reflection and refinement.
– Making practice a habit: creating a schedule around practice that will make it automatic for your body and mind to get into the practice zone.
– Develop a “that was hard. It was great!” mindset about practice and the inevitable mistakes you will make. It’s ok to not be perfect at it at the start…else there would not be a need to practice. Stick at it, see it through, and relish the difficulty.
Question: What is my ‘stretch goal’ for the thing(s) I am practicing, and how am I making my practice ‘deliberate’?
“Compete” has nothing to do with a one-winner-one-loser outcome. The word is derived from Latin, and means to “strive together”. Competing is about excellence, about continually striving to improve, to be better today than I was yesterday. The whole purpose of ‘competition’ is to be in a field with someone who will push me to work harder, stretch myself and show me my weaknesses.
Question: how am I competing in the area of my practice, and how am I measuring my own improvement and growth?
Angela draws on years of research, dozens of studies, and hundreds of conversations and observations. The sheer amount of grit displayed by her in the creation of this work is remarkable. Get a copy (and read it!), you will be glad you did.
There’s no avoiding challenging times. When they come, and you feel terrible, self-help books are full of positive thoughts you can repeat to yourself to get through them. While beneficial, tough times still suck. To cheer you up, here are three lesser-mentioned (and great!) outcomes of downturns:
They help get rid of your bad competitors:
If you’re facing an issue at a macro level (not internal to your company), chances are your competitors are facing similar challenges. Every business has a different degree of preparedness for problems, and – sad but true – many are just hanging on by a thread.
Downturns, whether local, regional or global, take a lot of bad players off the field. (By ‘bad competition’, I refer to the cowboys and briefcase-traders that bring bad reputation to a respected market, from financial advisories to logistics companies)
Takeaway: be prepared for the dips, and don’t get wiped out when the waves come – not if, because they will come!
They make clear what doesn’t work:
There’s this famous line: “50% of my marketing works, I just don’t know which 50%”. This level of ignorance is an unforgivable mistake to make. And the punishment for this willful ignorance comes during tough times: businesses are scared to invest in marketing, because they don’t know where to put their money.
Unsurprisingly, this leads to further reductions in revenue, and compounds the problem. It’s easy to overlook inefficiencies during good times.
Takeaway: Create tiers of marketing strategies: those that give you consistent, reliable ROI, and those that are experimental, ‘let’s try it and see’ types. When your competitors stop marketing out of fear, you’ll know what to keep going and what to cut.
Bonus: use KPIs to track everything – from sales team performance, to marketing channel conversion. Use these numbers when making tough decisions.
They give you a reason to say: “Screw this, I’m going in!”
Complacency is a silent killer. Everything is fine, ticking along, steady… and suddenly there’s a business-threatening issue looming over you. Downturns force you out of your comfort zone, throw you head-first into the deep-end of an existing problem. There’s no time to assemble a committee, have 18.5 useless and 1.5 useful meetings, and come up with a 62-point list of ‘recommended actions’ (which – conveniently – no member of the committee is willing to stake his reputation on).
Challenging times make you roll up your sleeves, grab your gear and get into the trenches. Few battles are lost in the war room, most are lost at the front line. Conversely, the same applies for battles won. Getting out of the boardroom and onto the shop floor is perhaps one of the best solutions I can offer to businesses facing difficult circumstances.
Takeaway: when you have your back against the wall, you think faster, better and clearer. The more often you put yourself outside your comfort zone by choice, the easier it is to get into it when circumstance demands it.
Bonus: When your team see you on the floor, they buy into you better. That means they will get more passionate about your vision, be more willing to stick with you, and be more willing to take ownership of their roles – all because they don’t want to let you down.
Bonus bonus: get your management team used to being at the front line too. Disconnect between management and operations is one of the most common reasons for under-performance.
Remember: Tough times don’t last, but tough companies do. Make your business willingly sweat now, and it’ll be easier for your when everyone else is sweating.
Even if you were living under a very large rock, you couldn’t have avoided the crypto currency hype, particularly around Bitcoin.
From enthusiastic ‘experts’ to grim naysayers, it was perhaps the most hotly debated and discussed topic towards the end of last year (maybe just behind the US election!). Over 100,000 people were joining Bitcoin every day at its peak, and a lot of late-joiners regret not getting on to the bandwagon sooner.
It made sense. Bitcoin made hundreds of people millionaires – and even made some billionaires! It took almost zero effort and no planning, yet the results were fascinating. $5000 turning into $1m in a few months – that’s enough to tempt someone to borrow money to be able to invest in Bitcoin.
For all the gains it has brought, though, Bitcoin is a questionable area to put money into today. There is no clear path forward, no one can predict if it will continue to rise, and it’s expensive to get in to now. As far as investments go, there isn’t a new one yet that can top crypto currencies. But there is another investment, one that has been around for a while, that – in the long run – can outperform Bitcoin any day of the week. It’s cheaper, takes effort and planning, but delivers consistently better results. It’s been validated by the man who has taken the investment world by storm, and his advice has created billions of dollars in returns.
Warren Buffet: “The best investment you will ever make is in yourself.”
Among others, here are three reasons why you are the best investment you can make:
Firstly: A real investment is something that has intrinsic value, not just what value the market puts on it. Buying stock in a reliable company is a real investment, because that will continue to deliver results for their stakeholders. Crypto currency have no intrinsic value, not yet at least. You already have intrinsic value, but the cream is in what you bring to the table. The sum total of your knowledge, your experiences, your mental and physical abilities, your social skills, your reputation and authority…that is what makes you so valuable. None of the above is determined by the market, it is all in your control.
Secondly: All ‘hot’ opportunities eventually go cold and are replaced by other, equally ‘hot’ opportunities. You won’t. Not as long as you continue to invest time and effort in bettering yourself. There are hundreds of stories of people who changed careers 180 degrees, and continued to deliver outstanding results in their new fields. Bitcoin will eventually fade away; ask any experienced investor what the ‘hot’ things were over the last 40 – or even 20! – years. If you continue to work on yourself, you will become more valuable with age. 40 years of experience is something no amount of money can buy. Beware though: don’t end up with 40 1-year experiences…that will be a disappointment.
Lastly: While crypto doesn’t have much practical use, you aren’t limited. If it came to application, you’d beat any amount of crypto hands-down. You can apply yourself to any number of situations, and – with little effort – maximize results, regardless of circumstance. If the market suddenly decided that Bitcoin had no value, it’s end of the road for Bitcoin. Conversely, if your industry were to suddenly be made redundant – through Artificial Intelligence, for example – , you can re-apply yourself in two dozen different industries. Not without effort, true; but by continuing to invest in yourself, you become so much more than just a job.
Terry Crews – the tough, funny, football-player-turned-actor is a talented artist, and made his way through college by painting portraits of football players. Snoop Dogg is a certified football coach, and Harrison Ford has rescued stranded hikers thanks to his ability to fly helicopters and planes. You are not defined by your role, your title, or your industry. You are unique, special, and worth investing time and effort in. If you choose to not invest your time and effort in you, you will – by default – spend it on someone or something else. Be intentional about your choices – they will define your future worth – and net worth.
PS. As a business leader, your learning and decisions are constantly impacting not just yourself, but your entire organisation. If you want to see which areas of your organisation can be improved, and how you can raise the bar for your company as a whole, click here to learn more about our upcoming Six Steps to a Winning Business workshop.