Wednesday 28 July 2010

Ring Fence The Magic

Hello Iris,

You say you struggle to take consistent action to evolve your business. You're not alone.

Running your own business can be very challenging in ways people don't understand until they try it.

The reality of being your own boss is nothing like the dream. When you're self employed you have to constantly make things happen. It's hard enough keeping it turning over, but making it grow is even harder.

One idea I use a lot with my business clients is the concept of taking time out, from working IN your business to work ON your business. So rather than running on the treadmill, get off it - walk around it, oil it, and find a way to make it run slower.

Easier said than done, and it takes what I call a structural change - so don't just say you'll try to do that, but ring-fence some time each week to do it. That's the structural change.

So - book it in your diary - a meeting with yourself - and then honour that appointment (show up for it) and treat it like a real meeting. When you're in a meeting, you don't answer the phone or the door or the email. You don't check Facebook or surf the web.

If you would find that a challenge, then you might take yourself to a different physical location. Not only is that separating you from the distractions (another structural change), it also offers you the possibility of a different mindset - less stress, the excitement of new business possibilities and a great new future.

That new creative, fun space - visited once a week - is your  engine for business growth. Do the strategic things you always lament in the rest of the week. If this new creative work needs wider actions in the rest of the week, then stitch those in around existing commitments so that they get as much YOU as the other things that you do.

There's so much more I could talk about in here, like the holy trinity - DECIMATE, DELEGATE, AUTOMATE, and building powerful strategies, and climbing out of the crud, differentiating yourself, and so on - but without knowing more about your circumstances, I'd miss the mark.

The Big Idea here today, is to ring-fence some time each week, to get out of your business and to work on it. If you can do that, your stress will go down, your work/life balance will get better, and your business will finally start to get traction and move in the directions you want it to. In other words, you'll be a successful and happy business owner.

Monday 26 July 2010


Hello Charmian,

I see you're unhappy with your job in a call centre and the lifestyle it imposes. Work takes up nearly half our waking lives and so being in a job you aren't passionate about is a waste of life, and the bleed-over affects of being unhappy at work often pollute your personal life when you get home. But most jobs feel like a trap - you need the money, you don't know what else you'd do and perhaps there's fear of change - better the devil you know - in there, too.

You've already spelled out that you hate about the job; in coaching, we take a step which most people don't bother with - we ask what you WOULD like. You might try asking yourself that now. An easy way to start is to invert your hates - so, for example, you say you feel isolated because you're older than other workers. So, presumably, you'd like to feel an integrated member of a team - you could write that down. Now - a team of what? Of people your age - or a team of all ages who respect eachother? Or what? Then you can move out - what is the team doing? How do they work? Where are they? How much are you earning? Which part of the world are you in? What are you wearing? What are you doing? And so on. Go nuts!

Most people aren't ready to take this seriously. I like a quote form the film actor Will Smith - he said:

"Being realistic is at the heart of most mediocre lives"

I love it.

So - if you can answer what you really want, you're ready for the next step - which is asking how you can get it. Again - sounds so simple it must be a pointless pie-in-the-sky trick, but it's really another essential step on the road to change. These things are not easy to do because our human minds are cluttered up with emotions like fear of change, with hidden beliefs like "I could never do any nice job", "people like me just have to graft until we retire" and so on. Then there's wavering motivation, and the busy-ness of life to distract you from your project of life change. Oh, and most people around you will be amused that you seriously think you can make a change - that doesn't help either.

So, I help my clients by addressing their concerns, supplementing their motivations, providing missing tools and skills and more. The combination of all those things makes life change happen.

That's where the real progress happens.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

No Structure in a Small Office

Hello Yvonne,

So you work in a small office and it lacks structure. I imagine things are done inefficiently and imperfectly, and repeating mistakes just add to an already unmanageable workload. It's also likely that no-one seems to care nor want to make things better. Or perhaps they're all too busy to invest in those changes. People may even see your efforts to try to drive a stake into the ground and get a handle on making things better as busy-bodying interference.

Work takes up nearly half our waking lives and so being in a job you aren't enjoying is a waste of life, and the bleed-over affects of being unhappy at work often pollute your personal life when you get home. And of course, you'll never find, let alone reach your full potential in a job you don't like. The question is - what now?

I used to turn around organisations like this for a living and I loved it, but I had positional power and that makes things easier. If you don't have power, then you must work through influence. Without knowing more about your situation and yourself it's not possible for me to give high-probability-of-success strategies, but here are some ideas for you:
  • Become popular - befriend people
  • Understand who the decision makes and influencers are
  • Understand what challenges and what goals these people have - accept them as true - however grim they may seem
  • Think about your own goals in this - what is it that you want? Be honest and be selfish
  • See how you can align your wishes with those of the key players
  • Present all of your proposals in that light - show them how it gives them more of what they want
  • Sow seeds to grow their understanding of the failure mechanisms in play
If you're not up for that, then you may be ripe for a new job - which carries it's own set of horrors, of course.

I can help with all of this.  It's what I do. But I know that many people who have not had coaching are a little sceptical about coaching. Can it work? Is it a waste of money? Will it be comfortable? And so on. If you're in that group, please use my website to explore your concerns.

Good Luck!

Tuesday 20 July 2010

God Save Us All From Corporate Jargon!

Crikey, I've been sitting here trying to re-write a jobspec from Corporate Claptrap into English.

I'm alternating between trying hard to do it, and rebelling and throwing my toys out of the pram. Why do people find the need to hide meaning in pointless wording? Well, it's to try to look smart or to fit in, I guess and frankly - I despise it. Anyone playing this game does not have the confidence to speak clearly, and that's concerning.

Check this out:
Lead on development of Personalisation agenda within the above and ensure effective skill training programme introduced for all operational staff across services.
Grammatical errors aside, I think - AND I HONESTY CAN'T BE SURE - it means that this (management) person should:
distribute elements of the corporate agenda to the team members, making sure they also get trained as needed.

So why not say so?!

Here's another chunk of guff:
Support the continuous development of quality monitoring and effective outcomes in conjunction with the management team to provide effective reporting and income generating tools.

I think, but again, I'm not completely sure, that it means:
With the management team, measure, report and improve the quality of what we do.

Jesus H. Carrumba, get me some Earl Grey Tea, and don't spare the lemon!

Thursday 15 July 2010

Trying Harder Just Doesn't Work - Try Different!

When people complete my online surveys, I often review their scores and comments and send what I hope are helpful suggestions. Since they're sufficiently annonymous, I'll start posting those here where they could help others.

Hello Martin,
You visited my website  and I see you completed a survey and I hope you found your report helpful.
I noticed your ONE THING - doing paperwork, and I have a few comments which I hope you'll find helpful.

Most of us think trying harder is a good thing to try, but in my experience it's doomed long-term. Trying harder only works as long as you're - well - trying harder. Which is to say - trying harder than you usually do, or trying harder than you find natural.
But if nothing else changes, it won't last.

In my extensive experience, it's far better to find a "structural change" to put into your life which will alter the balance of forces in which you currently settle at a place where paperwork doesn't get done.
Film stars don't generally get great bodies by promising themselves they'll workout more often, they hire a personal trainer - they put a structural change into their lives to upset the current balance. That change will knock on their door at some un-Godly hour and drag them to the gym. It will chivvy them on through those last agonising sit-ups, it'll praise them when they're low, push a little when they need it and so on.
So - back to paperwork. Paperwork and Martin. Can you see a way to alter the structural of your working life?
I often talk about the Big Three techniques:

  • Decimate 
  • Delegate
  • Automate

Decimation means destroying. Are you sure the paperwork really needs doing at all? All of it? All of it - in that way? Can you do some things to make some of it disappear forever from your life? In this computer age, can you use computers and the way you organise your work to stop doing some steps in the paperwork?
If you're finding that some of the paperwork is transferring information from one document to another, then that's certainly ripe for automation, and if you don't have those skills, you can delegate.
Delegation in these days of globalisation has never been easier. You can hire people on the other side of the world to do the paperwork you hate., or to autoate it for you. Virtual assistants are becoming commonplace - they work from home for you, via the Internet.
Making changes like these would remove the problem without the need for you to somehow find a way to motivate yourself against your nature for as long as you need it done.
The cost? It's both low and high - logically it's low, but emotionally - it's likely to be high. Resistance to change, pessimism about change, and fear of change are endemic in most of us, and they will fight to keep you in your present reality - a kind of trap.
If you can find a way to suppress those tendencies, you'll be walking out of your trap some time soon.
Oh, and coaching can help!

Many people who have not had coaching are a little sceptical about coaching. Can it work? Is it a waste of money? Will it be comfortable? And so on.

If you're in that group, please use these links to explore your concerns:

RISK There is none. You have a money-back guarantee. If you're not happy, you don't pay.
SHOW ME I have a series of videos on coaching here. You can hear my BBC Radio interviews here.
PROVE IT I have a large number of testimonials from satisfied clients.
TELL ME There are all kinds of ways to give me feedback or to talk to me here.
TRUST I have trained coaches for Europe's largest training body - the coaching academy.
I'm a magistrate on the Bedford bench. More about me here.
F.A.Q. Lot's of answers to frequently-asked questions here.

Monday 12 July 2010

Executive Coaching - Real Management

My Executive Coaching drive for 2010 has kept me very busy and I've been neglecting my readers, so I thought I'd share some of the insights we're finding with you. I hope you can find useful applications for them in your own life at work.

Executive coaching, you may recall, is for those who are building their own business and for those who manage the work of others.

With a £2m asset to manage, "Peter" came to me struggling to keep his head above water. After a chat, it became clear that one of his issues was his image of what being "in charge" ought to be. He felt that he needed his finger in every pie. If he wasn't personally involved in all that happened, how could he manage it? Since he was personally responsible for the hugely valuable asset - how could he leave anything to anyone else?

I see this a lot in my executive coaching. People get to be in charge by contributing as individuals well. When they get promoted they often don't fully grasp that they now have a new job which is entirely different in nature to their old one. They need to stop doing the old job and learn how to do the new one - those two ingredients are both key.

Let me explain.

You can manage a few people by adopting the "help me out" school of management. In this model, you're busy doing the stuff, and they stand around waiting for you to say "can you pass me that spanner?" or "how about you do this one while I do that?". If they don't do it quite right, it doesn't matter, because they're just helping out, and you can finish up for them. In this world, you get to feel better than them because you're the expert. You get frequent affirmations of your value and your superiority because you're surrounded by people who aren't as good as you. Job security and minions - life is sweet!

Then things get busier, and you're stretched a bit thinner. Now you're feeling less good about those around you who "can't get anything right", and you may struggle to keep them busy in the face of your own crushing workload. You may come to hate them for their "incompetence" and so now you're dealing with overt or suppressed aggression, and you may be stinking up the workplace with your increasing attitude problem. You may work longer to cope - evenings and weekends. You may take stuff home - but eventually, you'll crash and burn.

Fundamentally, organisations run on the "help me out" model of management are limited in the size they can grow to. The limiting factor is the manager's capacity to work extremely hard despite their staff.

Enter real management.

In this model, the manager's role is to build and maintain a machine whose components are people. These managers are not IN the machine - one of its cogs, they are OUTSIDE the machine - watching it carefully, adding cogs, moving cogs, oiling cogs, measuring how well the cogs are working together. If a good manager fell down and died, the machine would continue to run smoothly, because it is a well-designed, well-built machine. Organisations run on this management principle are infinitely scalable through a hierarchy of such managers.

That's a goal of course. Real managers in the real world are busy dedicated people. They'll usually have skills around what the machine does, but their key skills and contributions are:

* Understanding what the machine is there to do - clear thinking, open-minded
* Designing a machine which does that efficiently - creative, inventive, flexible
* Maintaining that machine and its performance in the face of possibly changing demands

Because the machine is made of people, a good manager will also be a first rate people person, which means they are:

* Someone with first class personal integrity, who can be trusted and respected
* Able to motivate people to bring their own gifts into the service of the machine
* Able to deal with conflict comfortably and efficiently

These management skills are always beneficial - whether the machine (organisation) you're managing is the staff canteen or a secret research establishment.

In Peter's case, we worked firstly, on embedding this new management model. That meant re-assigning his personal responsibilities to others, leaving him free to be a manager. Of course, telling someone they have a new task and making it a real-world fact can be a long journey or even a distant dream, so we also worked on Peter's delegation skills. There's a whole book to be written on how to delegate properly. Finally (so far) we looked at Peter's assertiveness. Many managers are conflict-averse, and this paralyses them in the face of un-cooperative staff. Organisations then crumble. An important thin g to learn is that you can be assertive without being aggressive. Shouting and swearing are not in any good manager's toolbox, but meetings, deadlines, job specs, honest discussions, and friendship are.

It's a journey. Rome wasn't built in a day, and Peter is re-building parts of himself as well as his organisation, and seems to be enjoying the process.

Are you a help me out manager? Are you struggling to delegate effectively? If so, I can help you turn your workplace into an exciting, growing, happy exploration for you and your team, and your boss will really notice the difference (he might even pay for your coaching).