Sunday, June 25, 2017

Remeber that Your Career is a Journey.

Like many journey’s we undertake in our lifetime, your career is one where you need to accept that you’ll encounter delays, diversions, pot holes, the occasional ‘road rage’ and all kinds of travellers along the road you will travel.
In today’s hectic, fast paced business environment many youngsters start their journey totally unprepared for the journey ahead and hence when they encounter their first obstacle they falter as they simply hadn’t thought or prepared for any ‘problems’ on their route. Though in fairness it’s not just those that are starting their careers, as there are many out there, of all ages, who are still faltering, as they haven’t embraced that their career is a journey that will inevitably encounter problems along the way.
The first step is to simply accept that your career path will never be smooth sailing, yet at the same time it should not be full of negative surprises and you need to view all barriers as challenging obstacles to overcome – trying to see positive opportunities rather than just the negative obstacles.  
Planning a career is similar to planning any journey you may take - you ask yourself ‘where do I want to end up?’ A simple question, yet very few ever ask or answer it. Yet without having an idea what your final destination is or what it looks like – it’s hard to evaluate how your journey is actually progressing at any given point in time.
In today’s volatile and uncertain world one ‘destination’ goal should be financial independence. Where financial independence should be a realistic future state – a destination where you can live a comfortable life and enjoy your retirement. Some may achieve the status of the superrich, but for most it should be a state of simple independence – where you work in your retirement because you want to, not because you have to. 
Another key career ‘tip’ for the journey should be always having a ‘plan b’. This is a great resource to take with you on your journey, so that when you meet that diversion or blocked road (obstacles that you’re certain to meet more than once on your career journey), you don’t just get stuck in limbo waiting for some unknown hand to clear the obstruction for you – you take control and simply change direction. Not losing sight of your final destination, but taking your own detour, under your own terms. Sure it might be a ‘longer way’ round and/or a bit bumpy, but you’re still moving forward and making progress towards that final destination.
Another tip is to embrace that the path will be problematic and see the ‘blocks and problems’ as challenges and face them with a grin and a smile. See them as adventures and don’t let the problems drag you down, so that you become negative and despondent, as if you do, the only person that is hurting and losing is you – never let your career have a negative influence on your life, as you have the power to turn it around.
For most of us we will work for the best and worst leaders during our career. When you work with the worst don’t be bitter, but learn from them – learn how not to lead, so that when your time comes you can be the best leader you can be. Poor leaders are just people who have been promoted too soon and simply don’t have the skills or knowledge to be great leaders; and who don’t have the courage to look themselves in the mirror and realise their faults, so they rely on power to keep them going. Just keep your head down while you look for something better.
Always keep your short term goals in balance with your long term goal. Retirement will come soon enough and when it does you should have no regrets. Your life should have been a fulfilling journey – where you’ve experienced life’s ups and downs; overcome adversary; met the best and worst of people, and forged long term relationships with the best of them; where you’ve innovated something; really helped someone; and feel your life has made a difference.
Plan your career like you would any other journey, but never forget the importance of this one. Choose your destination carefully and wisely – make it something you can visualise and be excited about. Then plan the steps to get there; and then plan for the diversions, road blocks, and slow moving traffic etc and have alternatives planned for if and when they occur.
None of us are entitled to a successful career, we have to work for it. It won’t necessarily be easy, but if you always see the cup half full then ever obstacles will be viewed as an adventure and a challenge, which will help you deal with the difficult times.
My best friend sent me a set of eight quotes the other day and I want to share five of them with you – as they are tips you can take on your career journey and read them when things aren’t quite going to plan and you’re feeling down;
Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have;
The real beauty of life is in each precious moment – so stop and smell the roses;
Most people who fail at reaching their dream, fail not from lack of ability but from lack of commitment;
Stay positive – when it rains look for rainbows and when it’s dark look for stars;
Thinking too much only complicates your life and creates a problem that wasn’t there in the first place.
It’s never too late to plan or re-plan your career journey – so if you haven’t got a clear destination in mind, maybe now’s a good time to think about it and plan your career accordingly – and then really enjoy the ride.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Has Mediocrity Become the New Business Standard?

What’s happening to organizational standards? It’s hard to pick an exact date, but I’d suggest that prior to the financial crisis many organizations, of all shapes and sizes, were striving to evolve and improve on a year by year basis. There were certain areas of the business that organizations were trying to constantly evolve and it wasn’t just around the product or service offering, but around areas like customer service, quality and the brand or external image. Organizations were striving to develop or enhance their reputation and performance; and were focused on sustainable growth.
Yet since the financial crisis and the continual growth of social media – the drive to enhance customer service seems, for example, to have come to a sudden halt. Even high end ‘luxury’ brands aren’t looking long term any more, but just focusing on the moment and the desire to maximise short-term income, even at the expense of the potential for long term customer loyalty.
For some reason organizations and business schools are promoting the idea that customer loyalty doesn’t really exist and hence now ‘preach’ that trying to ‘create’ loyalty is a waste of time, money and effort. And this is the biggest mistake organizations are making – the selfish focus on short term profitability, is leading to a decline in the focus on sustainable growth and the business environment is becoming more of a constant short-term ‘hustle’ to entice customers to buy their products and services.
A short-term focus is a very mercenary approach to business, but this seems to be becoming the rule rather than the exception. The impact this has on the organizational set-up and organizational culture is astronomical – yet when you analyse the set-up and culture you need for a short-term only focus you can sadly see the attraction.
A short-term focus doesn’t only imply a scant regard for customer loyalty, but also implies a scant regard for employee loyalty too. With a short-term focus organizations just see their employee base as a resource to maximize short-term profitability and nothing else – the advantage of this short-terminism, is that you don’t have to worry about investing time and effort into talent pipelines and succession planning, as you don’t see your workforce as a long term investment. If and when people leave you either replace them internally or recruit from outside, but it’s done on a case-by-case basis and not some fancy business methodology.
The other advantage of this short-term outlook is that you don’t need to recruit the ‘best’ anymore just basically a ‘warm body’ that can ruthlessly pursue short-term goals, with the added advantage that you don’t need – in fact don’t want – great leaders, you want leaders who can implement command-and-control behaviours with their employees just to get the job done.
Organizations accept that some customers may be upset – in fact if there isn’t a reasonably high percentage of unhappy customers, then they actually know they are doing something wrong; as in ‘their world’ there are plenty of ‘new’ customers in the sea and they perceive customers as not being that bright in the first place; and even if the service or quality isn’t as good as ‘advertised’ they know a proportion of the ‘upset’ customers will still be dumb enough to come back and buy again, as it’s ‘easy’ for them.
Business has become so easy for short-term focused leaders, as customers have become less caring and believe it or not, actually expect poor service these days. In fact if the customer doesn’t ‘see’ mediocrity they might even think something seems too good to be true. Hence there’s no doubt that it’s today’s customer base that is encouraging this acceptability of mediocrity in the workplace.
Same goes for culture – short-term focused organizations simply don’t care about building a positive organizational culture, it’s just not important to them. The culture they want is one where employees focus on short term profit maximization at all costs and nothing more.
This makes business life so much easier as building or transforming a culture takes real time and effort; as well as a unique skill set. So not having to worry about a strong, positive culture that allows for sustainable growth is manna from heaven for today’s short term focused, weakly led, organizations.
What’s worse and is the cherry on the cake, is that the younger generations actually see these new mediocre business practices as the new definition of ‘business excellence’ and are redefining the norms and expectations of business. Leaders who wouldn’t have stood a chance in a ‘sustainable’ long-term view organization are now seen as today’s strong leaders as they drive their employees to meet ruthless short-term targets.
Of course, if you don’t understand the concept of sustainable growth, customer loyalty, etc. what chance do you have of developing a future focused organization – it would just be a foreign concept to you and without the skills you wouldn’t even know where to start.
History has shown us that industries and organizations evolve over time – but we all need to take a long hard look at the current direction being taken by too many organizations of all shapes and sizes.
A short-term focus creates an organization that operates at a level of mediocrity, it fails to develop true leaders and in the process creates a talent pool of weak, mediocre leaders that simply know no better.
This has all been allowed to happen over the last few decades as customers have demanded less, complained less and accepted a lot less. The future of business is in our hands – we can demand excellence to force organizations to strive for it – or we can accept mediocrity and that’s exactly what we’ll get.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Does Working for an Unethical Leader Make You Unethical?

Genuine ethical leaders seem to be in short supply these days, hence the constant stream of corporate scandals. Is this a recent development or have leaders always been susceptible to unethical behaviour? and, for example, is it social media that makes it easier to name and shame these days? I’d like to think that it’s the former.
I remember the first boss I worked for, his strong values and sense of fairness and care. He seemed to see his team as a family – a group of people that he wanted to develop and find those areas of untapped latent potential that would help them grow as people and in their business careers. He was one of the many inspirational leaders who have helped me over the length of my career – and helped build what I’d like to think is a strong moral compass and impenetrable, unwavering set of ethical business values.
Probably like many of us I’ve met the full range of leaders in my career – from the excellent and inspirational – to the power crazed narcissistic cheats. Fortunately I can say that I’ve learnt something positive from all of them; from the excellent is self-explanatory and from the ‘over-promoted’ bad lot, I learnt what not to do and how I wouldn’t want to lead people, when my turn came.
Yet, I’ve often wondered, however, if during those times when I have sadly worked for unethical leaders – whether that made me unethical by default? You know the type – those that ignore getting three quotes from different suppliers, for example, and who source products or services from a former colleague from a past company, at inflated prices.
During those times I remember being so far down the ‘food chain’ that I didn’t really know what to do and who I could go to – who I could trust to discuss my perceptions with – as often that’s all you have, perceptions, with little proof or facts; and you never really know who’s involved in the ‘scam’.
I remember a friend of mine who is ex-military intelligence and who now investigates company fraud, telling me that when he first meets the CEO or Chairman, he asks them to “write down the ten people who they trust the most in their organization” and after they’ve written the list he’ll tell them that the person defrauding the company will be one of those on the list; and 99% of the time he’s right.
Unethical leaders are usually quite clever, manipulative individuals with acute or borderline psychopathic tendencies, along with narcissism, etc. They surround themselves with a sub-structure of ‘vulnerable, weak’ leaders. People who maybe want to prove a point to a family member; an elder brother, for example, who’s had a more successful career.  Where for that chance of a promotion and that ‘status’ that goes with a leadership position, the incumbent is less likely to make a fuss over unethical practices, especially if the ‘promotion’ will make him look successful in the eyes of his or her family; or other important people in their lives.
By the time these manipulated people realise what they’ve done and realise the people they’ve betrayed in the process, it’s actually too late, as they are already in too deep – so they begrudgingly circle the wagons with the unethical leader and ‘fight’ it out to the end.
Different organizations approach unethical conduct in different ways – some deal with it quietly internally, sweeping as much as they can under the carpet for fear of what the ‘scandal’ may have on their share price, for example. Other organizations want to make an example and are completely transparent about what has happened and who was involved – cleaning house, so to speak. Also hoping in the process that this will encourage future employees to challenge unethical practices and to act as a deterrent too.
Of course in practice the most senior leader involved in the unethical ‘behaviour’, when caught or challenged, often tries to pin the blame on his junior leadership team; those he’s manipulated during the process, as he or she always sees them as disposable cannon fodder if and when the time comes – often being able to offload the blame for everything onto them. There are usually cleverly crafted email trails, signed invoices etc that incriminate the na├»ve over-promoted junior leaders – who suddenly see their dream future disintegrating before their eyes.
But what about everyone else – the staff members, what about them? Where should the jury’s verdict fall for the average employee? Most of the time they only hear rumours or innuendo, they often have no actual proof of any wrong doing by the leader, who is likely to be several layers above them. Some might have the courage to approach their direct boss – but often these conversations can be quite sharp or fruitless, with the leader explaining that everything is under control or that this is none of their business and above their pay grade.  
I’m a baby boomer and come from an era where I’d like to think good strong values were instilled in us at a young age, by parents who’d suffered during World War II. Obviously as we grow and develop we either continue to embrace these values or we don’t. Where I stand is that corporate values are not a bunch of words on a wall somewhere – but true corporate values are the behaviours and characteristics that we carry in our hearts each and every day we are at work, they are what define us as employees.
So my advice is that if you ever suspect unethical behaviour – find the right ‘channel’ in your organisation to meet and chat with. This is often an audit office, or committee, with a direct line to the company chairman, a group that is kept at a distance from the every-day workings of the business, so that they can be impartial and who often have powers to investigate anywhere in the organization. They should keep your conversation confidential and protect you from any potential retaliation later down the line.
Either way in the 21st Century we all need to stand up against unethical leaders in the work place.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Do You Still Use SWOT?

Some of the old business principles are still the best. Over the last 30 years many business theories have changed – but sadly, in many cases, not for the better and mostly for personal and/or commercial gain. Where academics and consultancies have re-packaged great business principles that should have been left alone and worse still repacked them as mediocre replicas just either to get their name associated with something supposedly new or for consultancies to try to make a quick buck with weakened solutions for business, or both.
One outstanding business tool for assessing an organizations; departments or even individuals current business environment, and at the same time helping develop a solid short/medium term strategy is the good ol’ SWOT analysis. This business tool, when used properly, has stood the test of time and when used correctly, as originally developed, adds real value to any organization.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats and if done properly gives a solid insight into your organization and offers immediate detailed focus for solving current issues and for developing genuine workable strategies – where the operative words are ‘if done properly’.
Sadly most people who use SWOT no longer use it correctly and hence don’t get the benefit from this great business tool.
There are certain ‘criteria’ that must either exist or be applied for SWOT to work properly; and if any one of them are missing, then you will either get a sub-optimal or manipulated outcome, both of which are totally worthless.
Two of the criteria that must exist for SWOT to be meaningful are;
A Transparent Culture: Whether the SWOT is being completed by an organization, a department or an individual it will be worthless if the analysis is not completely honest. Often individuals and organizations find it hard to be honest about their weaknesses and threats; and can embellish their true strengths and weaknesses just because it makes them feel good – but of course this is meaningless for the genuine future of the business and gives a false picture and worse still a false sense of security.
Honest analysis of weaknesses, however hard these may be to hear at the top need to be welcomed; and teams and employees should be recognised and thanked for honest input – as these strong leaders know, anything else but raw honesty will have a detrimental impact on their future growth.
It is in your interests to ensure the SWOT is brutally honest and if it is the results will be ‘gold dust’ for the future of the organization. Employees are not fools and will give their full support to an honest SWOT analysis. Even more an ‘honest’ SWOT will build morale, trust and a cohesive working environment, regardless of how ‘bad’ the current business environment may be. Employees are ‘attracted’ to organizations and leaders that genuinely want to know what they can do to solve their employees problems; and who show an interest in what employees think the future could hold. This small step alone has a huge impact on building a positive culture and encouraging innovative thought. What employees genuinely dislike are organizations and/or leaders that embellish their strengths and refuse to admit their weaknesses – and this will ultimately lead to a dysfunctional relationship throughout the organization.
Completing SWOT Company Wide: A SWOT must not just be conducted at the top of an organization – but should be done bottom-up, involving the whole company, for it to have any genuine meaning. In fact some organizations that use SWOT well, even include other stakeholders in their SWOT in order to get a full picture from all perspectives. This takes strong and confident leadership and when applied develops even stronger stakeholder links; as they all feel part of the organization and genuinely appreciate being asked ‘what they think’.
Too many organisations still think SWOT is only a high-level exercise and often take themselves off to some luxury hotel for ‘Strat Sessions’ thinking they are the best people to decide the future of the organization. But without input from the grass roots these short-sighted organizations will never really understand their own organization and it’s real environment; strategies will be weak and won’t be owned by the employees and leadership will be command and control driven, as the employees haven’t had a voice, so they need to be told what to do, often without the ‘why’. And if they survive, these organizations will survive more by luck than good business or effective leadership, if they survive at all. What these organizations never realise is that they never reach their true potential.
Some really large corporates take this high-level approach and though their stakeholders may think they are operating well – they will never really be operating at their optimal level. I smile when I realize just how blind these leaders are to their mediocre success; even organizations that are revered in the press, often have dysfunctional management/employee relationships because they don’t involve their employees in the future of the organization.
So there’s no time like the present to start performing a SWOT correctly and if and when you do, you will and your organization will never look back. Done correctly and it will immediately have a positive impact on your organizational culture and all your future strategies and sustainable growth.
Some further quick tips and tricks would include;
A. Build the SWOT bottom-up;
B. Capture the results by department and form a matrix in the shape of your organizational pyramid;
C. Look for common themes with respect to the SWOT across the horizontal and vertical structure;
D. Where there are unique differences – find out why and where possible do a quick fix; maybe seconding employees from other areas to help;
E. Your short term is viewed by your current strengths and weaknesses; along with short term threats; but your medium and long term can look at removing/minimizing weaknesses and using your strengths to the maximum or developing new strengths to ‘capture’ an opportunity;
F. Keep the whole organization informed every step of the way; and remember
G. This is a dynamic tool – not a static one – once you’ve completed a fully comprehensive SWOT you should be able to review this on an annual basis or by exception as your environment changes.