Archive for Personal Development

How resourceful are you?

We can all be resourceful when we’re in a fix. Our success may vary, but when we see problems we tend to try and overcome them. People who bury their heads in the sand and do nothing when confronted with problems have usually made an active decision to do so – they could have tried something. Most of us do try.

But do we need to wait for a problem?

The modern, online, free-to-browse dictionaries define resourcefulness as the ability to overcome difficulties. This is how we tend to see it, but older definitions speak of resourcefulness as an ability to deal with new (not necessarily bad) situations and to make sound decisions.

Yes, resourceful business owners are able to deal with problems. For example, developing and nurturing a solid network is a vital part of the job. When a difficulty arises, a trusted network ensures you can reach out to the right individuals to help with that difficulty.

But what about positive new situations – could you reach out to people from that same network who might be able to make a good turn of events even better? Remember the broader definition of resourcefulness and that you can leverage a positive situation too.

Resourcefulness is about making good decisions with your resources. Take Human Resources as an example. Imagine you’ve taken on a new hire who excels at sales. That’s one good decision made, but what more could a resourceful leader do?

There might be a case for outsourcing some of this individual’s other work. Would the revenue they could generate by spending more time reaching out to new leads and closing sales outweigh the cost of this? If so, you’d be making a better use of your resource – making a positive situation even better.

Think about technology – do you adopt new tools and resources when they become available or only when you feel you’re lagging behind? Consider time management – do you track how efficient your days are and look to improve, or do wait until you feel overworked and struggling for time before you address your timetable?

We can all be incredibly resourceful when we’re up against it, but we needn’t reserve that talent for the bad times. Resourcefulness is about making good decisions in new situations. Each day is a new situation – what good decision could you make today?

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Coping with growing pains

When you encounter a problem, reverting back to ‘normal’ isn’t always the answer – sometimes you have to find a new solution. As children grow up, they’re feet get bigger. This can present a problem because every so often you will discover that their shoes no longer fit.

One way to solve this is to adopt the feudal Chinese ‘Wild Swans’ style feet binding. The feet stop growing and the same shoes will fit indefinitely. The obvious problem here is the loss of circulation, blood poisoning and gangrene that the process can cause.

Better then to embrace the change for what it is, accept that growth is natural and positive and solve the problem by purchasing new shoes that do fit. When growing pains affect your business, it is tempting to make changes that will bring the situation back to what it was. Like the foot binding, this can have detrimental effects.

For example, growing pains are a time to keep your ego in check. At one point you were master of all aspects of your business, able to oversee everything. With growth this becomes more and more difficult.

By continually increasing your workload and working crazy hours you can remain in control, satisfy your ego and keep things ‘normal’. Normal at what price? Burning yourself out, negatively impacting your own health and opening the door to the mistakes and lapses in judgement that exhaustion brings is just as detrimental to your business as taking no action, working the same hours and slowly being overwhelmed by the work.

Time for new shoes? Accepting that growth is taking place and that growth is a good thing is an important step. Your business is not spiralling out of control – it is succeeding. Taking on new staff or delegating more tasks to others is the sensible choice – for your own health and the health or the business.

The ego is also in play when you look at the direction of growth. To thrash the foot metaphor even further – what if you think the feet aren’t growing correctly? Is it time for supports or insoles? Perhaps… but perhaps not. Do you consider yourself enough of an expert to make that judgement?

Business owners tend to think they and only they know the correct direction a business should be growing in but, more often than not, it is the customer who knows what direction to go in better than anyone else.

A business that has grown will look different to the way it used to. It is a fact that you need to get used to too. Accept that fact and ensure that it grows the right way. The right way may not be the way you originally envisaged, but it could be. Work closely with your mentor and listen to you customers and your business will grow in the right direction and be where it should be.

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Learning To Let Go

Most business owners love their babies. When a person sets up their own business they tend to do everything. Though they may receive external support and advice in setting up IT systems, accounting and legal matters, they alone comprise every department in the company.

The business is their baby and it’s hard to step back and let go.

Even someone starting a business with a team of their own to begin with will likely have a finger in every operational pie and be in direct control of all proceedings. It’s a fear of losing this control which makes the issue of letting go so difficult.

However, ‘letting go’ isn’t just a piece of advice owners hear, intended to help them increase profits or efficiency. It’s a practical reality that has to be faced up to. This can occur for a number of reasons.

The first and most obvious is growth. If your business is growing there will come a point where you can’t directly control everything anymore. To try to persevere alone with an increasing number of clients and workload leads in the unhappy direction of substandard service and personal burnout.

The second need to let go arises if you are building a value business you intend to sell at some point. If it is obvious that you and you alone are the lynchpin holding everything together, it will be harder to find buyers.

The third reason may be slightly rarer but, from time to time, individuals do succumb to a bit of humility. Staff you have taken on to perform a certain role (under your direct control, of course) can turn out to be really, really good at their job. To pursue success and increase profits you cannot choose to ignore talent or hamstring people who are capable of doing a better job than you.

Often this third reason doesn’t occur on its own. It can be a realisation that happens after grudgingly letting go in one of the first two. However, if you reach this conclusion on your own you can save yourself a serious amount of time and worry.

Fear of handing over control to other people also shouldn’t be so overwhelming if you keep in mind the fact that you recruited them. If your recruitment process is thorough and your judgement sound you have, to an extent, kept a form of control by ensuring suitable people are inheriting responsibility.

There is a significant difference between a start-up company and a growing business. If you can accept that butterflies look very different to caterpillars, you have to accept that a growing business will look different to one just starting out.

Trying to succeed, grow and potentially sell without being able to let go is like a caterpillar trying to fly. It can still be daunting to make this physical change to a business structure, but once you realise it’s not optional you have great motivation. Let the drive to succeed overtake the fear.

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To Err is Human

No one likes to dwell on the topic of failure. Accepting the situation for what it is and moving on is sound advice. However, we are also encouraged to learn from our mistakes and therein lies the problem. If we need to deal with a situation, learn from it and focus on the future, at what point does the dealing and learning turn into dwelling?

First things first, mistakes and failures can and do occur. A significant step towards successfully dealing with failure takes place before you even start. If you’re making the transition from a large business or organisation to working for yourself, you are taking a risk. You are taking many. Risk taking is the very spirit of entrepreneurship and if you can accept that and the fact that not 100% of these risks will succeed, the occasional hiccup will seem far easier to deal with.

When things don’t go your way, it is important not to obsess over things you have no control over. Unless you’re given some direct feedback, you can’t be sure what’s going on in other people’s heads and what their decision making process is. You could devote hours trying to unpick a situation which led to a prospective client walking away, wondering how you could have pitched things differently but for all you know they were merely fishing and never genuinely interested in the first place.

Perhaps you have some form of concrete evidence to work with, such as a correlation between you revealing your pricing structure and people walking away. This is useful as it provides you with an area to consider or discuss with your mentor. Prospects who vanish without trace or leave no explanation as to their change of heart do not deserve the room in your head. We like to think we can put ourselves in a client’s place, but without evidence or a clue to infer from we can only project what they may be thinking and that is not helpful.

If something has not gone to plan and you recognise that you have made a genuine mistake, the first step towards dealing with it and moving on is to acknowledge the error and apologise. Your reputation is incredibly important and though an error on your part may tarnish it somewhat, the honesty to admit a mistake and the humility to apologise for it will serve you far better in the future than developing a reputation of being blind to your own mistakes, too proud to admit them or insecure enough to insist palming off the responsibility to anyone or anything else instead of yourself.

In terms of moving on, acknowledging and apologising for your mistake will have given you a clear idea of what it was you did wrong and therefore clear targets for how to operate differently in the future. You can accept the situation for what it is, refrain from overthinking and replaying past events and focus on the future using your experience to improve your performance.

Of course, not all failure will be your fault at all or the failure may not be complete, just not the ideal solution you were looking for. In these cases it is even more important not to dwell on the past. High aspirations are commendable, but perfectionism can drive people mad. As Solomon Ben Judah put it: ‘At the head of all understanding is realizing what is and what cannot be, and the consoling of what is not in our power to change’. The situation is what it is. We can’t change it now. Let’s learn what we can and use it in the future. If a similar situation occurs we could try doing things differently. Now let’s move on.

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Selling Your Business – Does the value walk out with you?

A new Indiana Jones film is set to be released in 2019. Harrison Ford, who is confirmed to be reprising his iconic role, will be 77 by then. It was recently announced that many in the UK will have to work until age 77 to get the same standard of state pension as their parents, but they probably won’t have to fight Nazis, traverse canyons or escape snake pits in their job roles. Is 77 pushing it for an action hero?

Perhaps the more pertinent question for us is can a successful film franchise (or business for that matter) continue without its charismatic lead character? Star Wars, the other huge franchise associated with Ford, has been able to do this. December’s The Force Awakens introduced a raft of new, younger characters for the baton (or lightsabre?) to be passed on to. The original cast can take a back seat or depart entirely, leaving a new generation to fill cinemas and make money for Disney.

Which franchise does your business resemble? An Indiana Jones film requires Indiana Jones. It needs Harrison Ford, regardless of age. Your name isn’t necessarily in the title (though it may well be) but is your business a lifestyle business entirely dependent on you? Or, have you built a value business like Star Wars – a setting where new stories can be told once you’ve decided to call it a day?

Either option is fine. The problem comes when people don’t realise what they have built. Specifically, people who believe they have created a value business they can sell on, but have actually created a lifestyle business whose value is entirely or significantly tied to them – they have accidently become Indiana Jones. A business’ over-reliance on its owner is one of the first things a potential buyer will look at.

Humility and modesty are good qualities but to ensure you aren’t setting yourself up for a fall when you come to sell, you need to be brutally honest about your strengths. How much value do you add? How many clients do you win thanks to your experience and reputation? How much of your business’ value walks out the door with you? Being valuable is normally no bad thing, it’s only a problem if you want to sell and (like all problems) once you are aware it exists you can take steps to rectify it.

Succession planning has two levels. There is a practical need to ensure that your business can continue to function when you choose to sell. This means growing your business, taking on staff and expanding. But just finding capable and trustworthy people isn’t enough – you need to imbue them with your value. You need to give them valuable work and in order to do that, you need to let go.

The new characters destined to keep the Star Wars franchise alive needed decent parts written for them if the endeavour was to succeed. If your staff are all supporting actors, of course value will drop when the lead leaves. Let them take the lead. Take a lesson from long-running TV shows such as Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. Unlike shows of old, they expect cast turnover. He value can’t ride on core characters who may depart, ‘lesser’ characters may be required to carry the show forward and thus the storylines and writing for every character needs to be engaging.

Are you writing good parts for your people? If you don’t include them in a valuable story your business’s value will continue to be tied to you and you alone. Delegate responsibility, listen to ideas and bring others to the fore. Establish systems, methods and expectations that add intrinsic value to the business. Letting go isn’t always easy, but a trusted mentor can help you with the transition. The more value you build into your business and your people, the less you will lose when you finally decide to hang up your fedora.

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Quite often when I play golf I am in the company of players who are more accomplished than I am. It’s amazing how often this helps me ‘raise my game’ rather than feel intimidated. This is partly down to their mind-set and attitude being one which works positively as opposed to negatively on others and partly my own response to the situation.

The phenomenon of ‘raising one’s game’ is a familiar one. Certainly in the field of sport it is quite common for minnow teams to slay giants in cup fixtures and for lowly teams to play out of their skins against an opposition considered far superior on paper. However, the phenomenon is not confined to sport and occurs in both situations of competition and collaboration. In sport, at home and at work, attitudes can be contagious.

A particular curmudgeonly individual does seem to be able to kill the mood of any party, and a particularly happy individual cheer up a miserable crowd. However, these are exceptions. In general people will adapt their attitudes and emotional response to suit the prevailing attitude of a group. An uninspired and unhappy team will tend to drag down the morale of anyone who joins them. The attitude of a team performing exceptionally and with high morale will rub off on new additions.

This infectiousness is not confined to emotions, but extends to behaviour and skills as well. Much of the research into mirror neurons is theoretical, but the presence of these relics from a time before language in our brains means that we subconsciously mimic and adopt behaviours we see. At the most basic level, these neurons allow us to learn a new action by watching someone else perform it. At a higher level, they subconsciously alter how we go about tasks in relation to what we experience around us.

In short, playing golf with more accomplished players allows you to iron out some of the problems in your own game without you even realising it. Beyond the golf course, this response is a very strong argument for surrounding yourself with exceptional people at work, rather than being intimidated by and avoiding them.

As with the golfing group, this form of subconscious improvement is dependent on the mind-sets of both parties involved. Though the mirror neurons should act automatically, the learning effect can be actively blocked from either direction. Successful groups can choose to act as removed and elitist cliques and individuals entering a group environment can stubbornly refuse to interact.

Wherever you see yourself in this scenario, it’s important to be positive and open. Golf is a mixture of sporting competition and social collaboration, but whether you are working in a team environment or in a competitive market, the lessons remain the same. There is no need to be overly intimidated by other people. Encountering accomplished individuals will help you ‘raise your game’ and by keeping your own standards high and attitude positive you will have a beneficial effect on those less accomplished individuals around you.

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