People First – a recipe

In my talk at our People First Conference last week, I gave my take on a simple recipe for becoming a People First organisation:

1. Treat people as individuals

At the heart of People First is the premise that every employee wants exactly the same thing – to be treated as the unique human being that they are. And that starts with genuinely caring for them. The key word is genuine.

Anybody who’s run a business will know that managing people can be messy but if you go the extra mile for them, they will certainly do the same for you.

2. Communicate as adults

People are too often expected to work without knowing where the business is going, let alone understanding whether we as their leaders have the faintest idea how to get there.

The people who work for us want to know three things:
– Where are were going
– What’s expected of me
– How well are we doing

(Credit to Ian Windle for this gem.)

3. Give them engaging work to do

Good people are in demand and they too demand more from us as employers. They want the businesses they work for to have a purpose and the work they do to be worthwhile.

4. Reward them for the contribution they make

Reward is way more than just money. Yes, people need money to live but no amount of money will keep them at a job they hate. We need to find the right way to reward every individual in our organisations.

That’s it. As I said, its simple but I didn’t say it was easy!

First Breathe customer conference

I’m preparing for our first customer conference this week – on the topic of People First. What else!

We’re taking over the IoD conference space in Pall Mall and are expecting 250 attendees to hear from two great Vistage Speakers – Marcus Childs and Ian Windle.

This is a chance for #teamBreathe to get out of the office and meet face to face with some of our customers. When we first launched Breathe I thought having 300 customers would be amazing and here we are with nearly that many in one room at the same time.

It’s going to be a day to feel proud and feel grateful.

A quote to live by

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Hunter S Thompson

Found this quote in ‘Runner’ by Lizzy Hawker – hope I have the courage to live this out!

The case for a one page business plan.

Let me see a complete reorganization of the North Atlantic fleet’s defensive strategy against Nazi U-boats. And if it won’t go on one side of one sheet of paper, it hasn’t been properly thought out.

Winston Churchill.

I’m a big fan of keeping business plans as short as possible – the 10+ page, 5 year plan is definitely not my thing. So the goal this year is to produce a one page annual plan for Breathe, with additional one pagers from each team. However, that takes time:

If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.

Mark Twain

It certainly wont be the work of a literary genius but a clear and concise plan is way more likely to be read, understood and adopted.

Repetition is your friend

It takes someone hearing about your product 10 times before they buy.

How many times do your employees need to hear about your strategy before it becomes embedded in daily worklife?

The answer seems to be that you can never talk about your strategy too much. Thats not an insult, it’s just a fact of life. People are busy, they have lives to live and daily tasks to do, so telling them about your ‘go-to-market’ strategy won’t sink in easily.

Finding new ways to share the same message is key to keeping strategy alive. People learn in different ways so try lots of different mediums.

In summary – if you’re not bored with saying it, then you haven’t said it any where enough.

Sometimes it needs to get personal!

I’m seeing first hand what it’s like to be hunting for a job.

My daughter is fresh out of university (well, after 4 months exploring Australia) and actively seeking her first job. She’s putting in the legwork – finding job adverts, writing tailored applications and answering all the questions asked. And on the whole its going well. But what’s really getting me annoyed is how few companies respond to her applications.

Come on people, it’s not that hard. You are dealing with often stressed out minds so please send out responses. I understand that tailored responses (the gold standard) take time but even a standard response would let them move on. At the very, very least, please be up front and tell them not to expect a response.

The best companies treat all applicants as the fragile humans that they are. A few companies have treated her exceptionally well and I want to take the opportunity to applaud them. These companies will win in the end as their reputation as great employers will draw in the best people.

What’s your Ideal Performance State?

I was introduced to the idea of managing my Ideal Performance State by Celynn Morin at a workshop she ran for my Vistage group. The next few paragraphs from an HBR article make so much sense:

‘The demands on executives to sustain high performance day in and day out, year in and year out, dwarf the challenges faced by any athlete we have ever trained. The average professional athlete, for example, spends most of his time practicing and only a small percentage—several hours a day, at most—actually competing.’

‘The typical executive, by contrast, devotes almost no time to training and must perform on demand ten, 12, 14 hours a day or more. Athletes enjoy several months of off-season, while most executives are fortunate to get three or four weeks of vacation a year.’

‘The career of the average professional athlete spans seven years; the average executive can expect to work 40 to 50 years.’

HBR Jan 2001. The Making of a Corporate Athlete

Take a look at the HBR article, find out more about Celynn’s work and let me know what you think.

What is culture?

Culture is such a hard thing to tie down that I love collecting quotes from culture leaders. Here’s one from Howard Schultz, founder and now Chairman of Starbucks.

Culture is about “understanding human behavior and how to elevate a group of people to realize, believe, and trust that they are a part of something larger than themselves; where each person has a responsibility to shape the behavior of the organization.
That behavior is the foundation of the company – it should express the company’s values and guiding principles, which ultimately define its core purpose and reason for being.”

Love it!

Oh, and by the way, if you doubt that Starbucks is a culture leader I strongly suggest you read ‘Onward’ by Schultz.

What is innovation?

There are two schools of thought about innovation. One says that innovation is the exploration for big, ground breaking new ideas – transformational innovation. The other school disagrees, saying that innovation also includes incremental steps that improve and exploit – efficiency innovation. They argue that innovation is simply defined as doing something different that creates value:

‘It isn’t just the purview of engineers and scientists, nor is it limited to new-product development. Processes can be innovated. Marketing approaches can too. Something different can be a big breakthrough, but it can also be an everyday improvement that makes the complicated a bit simpler or the expensive more affordable.’

HBR – Breaking down the barriers to innovation

I’m firmly in the second school in that I see a constant stream of efficiency innovation happening at Breathe. Work that improves the day to day lives of our team and our customers.

However, where I think leaders fall down is that prioritising efficiency innovation is easy, whereas it’s hard to allocate time to transformational innovation. The catch is that there is only so much efficiency you can wring out of a process before that process needs reinventing.

Transformational innovation involves uncertainty, disproportional investment in time and money, and can be a scary place to go. But, it is essential work for the leader of a growing business who must invest time and headspace into the kind of innovation that will keep the growth going.

I’m challenging myself in 2020 to commit 40% of my time to exploration!

2020 focus

Two of my favourite words in business are ‘simple’ and ‘focus’ and I dont believe they can ever be used enough when talking about strategy or operations. I’ll cover ‘simple’ in another post as I want to get up on my soap box about businesses being focussed.

Focus means being crystal clear about what we do and most importantly, who we do it for. I’ve worked for companies of all sizes but my passion is for small businesses and consequently that’s where our focus lies – businesses with up to 250 employees. It’s not a guideline, it’s a principle. I would genuinely rather sell to a buisiness with 40 employees than I would one with 400. Let me be clear, if a great business opportunity comes along for a company with 400 employees we will politely say “no thank you” because you can’t flex a principle.

The reason for this is that everything is different with mid-market and SME businesses: proposition; go to market; delivery, support, etc etc. I don’t know of a single software company that has done both markets really well. And we’re not about to try to be the first!

Everything we do is designed to meet the specific needs of smaller businesses. Their needs are often no less complex but their resources are always smaller. Fewer people to allocate to a project, less money to spend and shorter timeframes. The flip side is often greater need, faster decision making, higher engagement and stronger relationships.

I believe this level of focus provides clarity for #teamBreathe and has the best chance of providing our customers with the solutions they need, at a price they can afford.