Monthly Archives: May 2011

5½ Ways to predict the future!

Quite a few years back, I listened to a recording of a Tom Peters seminar where he quoted one of the development team of the Apple Newton [without which we may well have never got smart phones, i-pads and related tablets] as saying “The future was predictable but no one predicted it”.

Future can’t be predicted at the level of knowing the next winning set of lottery numbers but you can tip the balance in your favour – if you think about the future and look at what is going on in the world!

Here are my tips on how to do it:

1. Expand your horizons

Spend some of your time thinking about the future on a longer time frame than you do now. Ideally, you should be thinking about what is likely to happen in the next 5-10 years not next week.

2. Look at what is going on in the world

I use a framework I called ASPIRE & INSPIRE – which looks at

  • Social
  • Political
  • Innovation
  • Regulatory and
  • Economic

drivers of change.

You’ve probably seen similar ones and may even have used them before. The key to success however is not to do what most people do – work out from your business because your view will be coloured by who and what you are. You need to work from the outside in, asking:

How each driver could affect your industry or sector, does it affect you disproportionately and how well placed are you to respond.

3. Listen to your customers – especially the awkward ones

Look at what your most demanding customers are doing – are any of them using your products and services in unusual ways, are they asking for features which others aren’t. Then ask yourself whether these are likely to become trends.

4. Scenario Plan

Often, there are relatively few options on the way an issue will pan out – you can plan for all of these. If you can plan for an outcome which your competitors have ignored and that’s what happens;  you will have an advantage over them. Most businesses don’t plan for change so you stand a pretty good chance of being ahead of the game whatever the outcome.

5. Make your own future

The late, great management thinker Peter Drucker said that the best way to predict the future was to create it. So put some effort into being different, creative and innovative – can you produce interesting and exciting products and services before the competition have realised the need?

and finally

If you are not doing any of these then you are predicting your own future – you will be overtaken by events or the competition and go the way of famous names like, Woolworths, Slazenger and  TWA – don’t forget that even Marks and Spencer and Harley Davidson both nearly got caught out by taking their eye off the ball.

But

None of this will be any use unless you take action – so get on with it!

Successful Professional Services – the three types of people you need and how to get them

Long term success for professional service firms [lawyers, accountants, architects, professional engineers etc] depends to a large extent on developing the right balance of:

Grinders – to complete the work in hand
Minders – to build and maintain relationships with existing customers
Finders – to find the next generation of customers

The right balance is different for each business but someone must take on each of the roles if the business is to survive and prosper.

Each role also needs a different combination of:

  • Technical [what the business does]
  • Personal and
  • Interpersonal Capabilities

Often this is not fully recognised and results in the wrong people being promoted to management and business development roles. I’ve seen many examples where the best “technician” has been promoted to become a poor manager. The business gets a double hit – losing capability in one key area and getting a less than satisfactory performer in another area. This can also lead to frustration, demotivation and loss of self-esteem – again with a negative impact on performance.

Richard Boyatzis suggested that for any role, the threshold competences required to perform the role were different from those which differentiated star performers. Top performers aren’t  just better at the job, they have skills and capabilities which others don’t have.

The competences required for each role are different; so your best technical performer may not have what it takes to be an adequate minder or finder, let alone a star. So rather than automatically promoting your best technical performer, it could make sense to select the second, third or fourth best performer who has the necessary attributes for a broader role. It is rare to find individuals who excel in and are excited by both technical and managerial roles.

It makes sense to offer parallel development routes for your technical and management / business development professionals – each group is important for the future of the business. Many good technical personnel feel pressurised move into management roles to develop career even when they know they are not suited to it or motivated by it.

There are three key steps to getting the right mix of people for your business:

  1. Understand the differences between the roles and the attributes required for each
  2. Identify which attributes and capabilities can be developed and which cannot
  3. Recruit a good mix of people and have development plans in place for each of the roles.

Most of all, you need to take it seriously, it will be good for your wealth.

An updated version Fulcrum’s “Encouraging Enterprise” programme tailored for professional service organisations has just been launched to address these important issues. You might also like to check out our review of the literature on Developing Customer Relations in Professional Services.

Why you should care about customer care

If you read the earlier post [“Don’t call us”], you’ll know that I am very serious about customer care, so I was delighted to be invited to attend a seminar by Jo Causon CEO of the Institute of Customer Service. Jo was introducing their report “Return on investment in customer service: the bottom line report”

The report focuses on how to get the best returns from your customer care activities. Jo’s presentation highlighted the importance of:

  • Creating an organisational culture which supports customer care
  • Making sure you have an engaged and enthusiastic work force
  • Understanding requirements from the customer’s perspective and
  • Listening and acting on feedback

The need to have effective, engaged and enthusiastic staff was a recurrent theme in the presentation. To achieve this you need:

  • Commitment from the top
  • To send consistent signals
  • To select the right staff
  • Train and  them in soft skills
  • Empower them to take the necessary action

There is a good chance that in doing this you will strip away some of the unnecessary, burdensome policies, procedures and systems. This will simplify your approach and make it more effective too!

Too often in business we focus our attention on the results rather than on creating an environment which enables the results be acheived. For sustainable success we need to focus as much of our attention on enablers as on results [a key concept behind the EFQM Excellence Model].

Good Listening to

To improve your bottom line, you need to focus on giving excellent customer service. It’s good business, it doesn’t need to be complicated and often is easier to do than what you do now.

So, get your approach right, get the right people on board, give them the best tools and let them get on with it – the profits will follow.

You can take the first step by giving your customers a good listening to! If you don’t know what they think is important, how are you going to give them the experience they deserve?