Monthly Archives: March 2011

Back to the future?

It is easy to convince yourself that progress only depends on finding new and better ways of doing business but sometimes it is more about rediscovering what has always worked. I found myself in this position this morning at the launch of Cheshire Business Focus in Winsford. Not the place for revolutionary business ideas you might think but you’d be wrong.

As with most great ideas, the concept is both simple and challenging: Chairman, Mike Worthington introduced the approach powerfully, eloquently and passionately. He also demonstrated how the idea had worked to get the group to where it was today – he showed that it could work and explained how it could be developed.

The questions

In an era where publicly funded support is reducing, how can small businesses survive, thrive and prosper?

Where can they get the support they need?

What can they do to improve their chances of success?

The answer

The answer is co-operation, self-help and sharing resources, skills and capabilities.

The Idea

The idea is to create a network where all the members contribute something to benefit each other, not in financial terms but through contributing their time, expertise and enthusiasm.

As I listened, I was taken back to my childhood in a rundown part of the North East of England – we didn’t have much but everyone was willing to share what they had, to help each other out and muck in! We had some great times, some unbelievable stuff got done and there was a fantastic sense of community.

It struck a chord which echoed back to the founding of the Co-operative Movement which has been the subject of a recent series of TV adverts. Much has been said recently about the Government’s concept of the “Big Society” but in reality, it all starts with small, local outcroppings of mutual support, concern and contribution. I hope it works for all of our sakes and I am proud to be involved!

The networking event which followed was markedly different to the many others I’ve attended over the years with everyone explaining how they could help, what they could contribute and making suggestions on what could be done. There was a real buzz about the place.

I was reminded of the neat adaptation of John Kennedy’s Inauguration Speach that was made by Roy Sheppard at the first networking “training” event I ever attended: “Ask not what your network can do for you: Ask what you can do for your network”. He sowed the seeds that one needs to be helpful before seeking help.

I’m already looking forward to the next meeting in a couple of weeks time and discussing with my associates what we can do to help.

Could you expand this thinking to your network?

Could something similara be done in your area?

How can you all help each other to succeed?

Maintaining crystal clear communication?

I was very interested to see that the Plain English Campaign has awarded Halfords a Crystal Mark for their plain English ‘Glossary of garage speak’. This publication is designed to remove some of the confusion and stress many customers feel when dealing with the motor trade because they don’t always understand the jargon.

Jargon can be used by groups both as a means of easing communication within the group and excluding the rest of the world. It is clear that jargon sometimes gets in the way of good communication; especially where there is a difference of knowledge and understanding amongst the participants. That’s not to say that it is intended to confuse but …

Effective communication needs to be  simple, clear and to use language which is equally understandable to everyone.

I’ve long been a supporter of the Plain English Campaign and frequently suggest their effective guides to students and clients alike to help them improve their writing.

I also understand the complaints about excessive jargon and “management speak” – such as mentioned in this BBC story [and an earlier posting] about confusing language used by local government. It is concerning for me also because my business name – Fulcrum [the pivot about which a lever turns]; is on the list of “banned words”.

However, I also subscribe to Albert Einstein’s observation that “everything should be made be a simple as possible, but no simpler” and there are occasions when jargon can express a concept much more succinctly than everyday language and times when a metaphor can make complex ideas easier to understand.

I’m passionate about clear communication and strive to use jargon only when it is absolutely necessary, is appropriate to the situation and is properly explained.

You should think about the effect the language you use has on your customers.

What can you do to reduce the use of jargon and improve quality?

What benefits could you expect if your customers had a clearer understanding of what you could do for them?

If I have to tell you …

The knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours that get you a particular job are unlikely to be the ones which mark you out for promotion to the next level. You rarely get promoted because you just do what it says in the job description [however well you do it!]. This is particularly true for management jobs.

As you progress up the management ladder, there will come a point where your boss is looking for you to take the initiative and start making decisions and changes for yourself; for you to demonstrate initiative and leadership.

You need to step outside of both your comfort zone and the strictures of your official role and demonstrate that you can move to the next level. And here’s the rub – if you have to be told to do it, you haven’t got what it takes and are unlikely to be seen as being capable of making the grade!

Yesterday’s Dilbert strip played on this concept – in this case, it is the manager who is out of touch but you should get the idea.

This struck a chord with me because a lot my work is with professional service organisations who want their managers to work more effectively in customer relationship building and business development.

So if you want to move up in the organisation, you need to be seen to be making a difference.You need to balance the risks of taking action with those of not acting. The latter may be more difficult to see but they need to be thought about and be taken into account.

Remember also  that it is usually easier to ask for forgiveness than permission – especially if what you do demonstrates that you have the organisation’s best interests at heart!

If the culture makes it difficult to change things for the better then you might ask where both the business and you are heading!