Step back. It’s wonky!

May 4, 2017

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of spending a few days with many of my LMI colleagues from around the world at our annual convention in Florence. Our flight from London went into Pisa so, having never set foot in Italy before, it would have been rude not to stop and have a look around. As every good tourist does in that small-ish Italian town, we headed in what seemed like the direction of that world-famous wonky tower.

pisa

It’s more wonky that I thought!

You can’t see the tower from miles away so it came as quite a shock when we rounded a corner and there it was, leaning away, just like in the pictures. Having seen it’s picture dozens of times, I was still amazed, when confronted with it in real life, at just how much it leans. It’s impressive!
Something I then found very interesting. The closer I got to it, the less obvious it’s lean became. It’s basic physics I know, but these things make an impact when you experience them first hand. Close up, it could almost be straight. Start walking away and look back, it’s lean becomes stark once again.

Lots in our lives and our businesses can be like this. We get so involved, so consumed by the the day-to-day demands, so ‘close’ to all that’s going on, we don’t notice how wonky it is.

When I look at the pictures I’m reminded to step back and notice where things may have become a little wonky.

Am I working too many hours & have lost balance?

Have I stopped being so careful about prioritising my work?

Are my goals a little out of focus?

Has our passion for great customer service dropped off a little?

Whatever ‘stepping back’ means for you at the moment, it’s well worth doing. And when you notice something’s wonky, get help to fix it (unless it’s so extraordinary that you can get rich off people coming to see it)!

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I knew the rules but not how to win!

February 18, 2015

In our house board games are big! We love them!

The old classics – Monopoly, Cluedo, Scrabble. There are some fantastic new kids on the block, our current favourite being Sequence.

One of the kids’ birthdays recently yielded a new delight – a game called Scotland Yard. There is great excitement in the house when a new game is being unveiled and the learning of the rules followed by those first few run-throughs is an almost-sacred ritual!

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On this occasion I was not around when the cellophane was pierced and the game learnt. Neither was I present for the second and third outings. The rest of Team Howes had become fairly well versed in this new entertainment and I was at a significant disadvantage.

Finally I get to play and the kids explain the rules to me. This piece moves here. This card does that. You can’t lay this card when that happens. You must collect six of these before you can do this.

Ok, I think I understand the rules. But what’s the aim of the game? How do I win?

This was the bit that was not so well explained by the kids in their eagerness to get started…and beat me!

I find myself in the middle of the game, asking questions as we go and squinting at the tiny instructions without my glasses to try and make sense as we went along as to how the game eventually gets won.

Work can feel like that. Sometimes for the owners / leaders…often for staff. I know what I’m supposed to be getting on with, but how do we win? What does success look like? How does today, or this week really count?

We want (and for our own well-being, need) to succeed. Victories keep us fresh, energised and creative. Knowing the rules without having a clear and imminent sense of a goal to reach, a finish line to cross, it’s drudgery and no-wonder the productivity levels aren’t what they could be.

Whether it’s for yourself, or for those you lead, make it clear where the next finish lines to cross are, and make a deal of it when the tape is broken. Mine today was a short list of ‘Must do today’ tasks, the last of which was writing this blog. My prize – I’m off to make a fresh pot of very nice coffee!


#FreeMyFriday – Start with a list

February 13, 2015

It’s Friday, which, in my world immediately poses one question: is my Friday free?

For some time now I’ve been really focused on helping managers and leaders to seriously improve their productivity to the extent that they have a whole extra day each week, typically Friday though sometimes taken in a couple of half days or shorter regular slots, to concentrate entirely on the the important development work that will improve or move things forward in significant ways. The key to this is the implementation of proven techniques and finding innovative new ways to get the usual five days’ work done in four so our heads can emerge from the day-to-day and consider the bigger picture.

Don’t we all face the massive challenge of handling the myriad of stuff that comes our way every day, spinning those plates as best we can just to keep our heads above water?

Doesn’t that continually leave us with that irritating (sometimes downright depressing!) feeling that genuinely important work that would make a big difference if we could only get time to do it, lies untouched for yet another week?

This is what #FreeMyFriday is all about and it starts with making that list.

Start with writing a really clear and concise list of the things you would love to get round to doing – things like going after new customers, training your team members, taking your team out to lunch, designing some new product or service offering, reading more, perhaps even finishing early and taking the kids out after school…the list will be specific to your role and the demands of the business you’re in. But do – for goodness sake – go ahead and write it!

It’s just the beginning, but it’s a super-important beginning. Being clear about where you want to go has an incredible way of enabling you to find solutions to the challenges that prevent you from getting there.

Have a fantastic Friday…and maybe now even you could start writing the list of what you’d like to be doing this time next week?


The Alignment Triangle

December 10, 2014

Following on from the last post about the need for the large Tube map and the single line plan, here’s my ‘Alignment Triangle’ diagram which illustrates an effective process for keeping today’s activity aligned with the’Big Picture’ aims of the organisation. Every company knows they should be doing this, but I’ve come across very few that are systematically implementing this on a continual basis. That’s why a simple model to follow can really help.

Alignment Triangle

The Big Picture – start with defining the Mission, Purpose, Vision and Values (this is no twenty minute exercise – take time to do this well).

Create a Master Goals List – this is the place to record every significant goal that will help move your organisation towards the defined and agreed Big Picture.

Monthly Goals & Priorities – a refined and repeatable format to clarify the goals and priorities for Dec 2014 or Jan 2015 is essential. The Master Goals List will have far too much on it to be able to focus effectively. We suggest a 2 – 3 hour monthly planning process to set each month up so everyone knows exactly what they are shooting for in that 30 day period.

Daily Organising – it’s only when the above steps are done really well that organising your daily activity can be super-effective. Again, a repeatable format for planning your day in line with the monthly goals is essential for optimising performance.


Eight stops to Swiss Cottage

December 8, 2014

The scene was one I’m sure you’re familiar with. Hundreds of people swarming off the train having just arrived at a London Mainline station and rushing on to their familiar short hop on the tube, or outside to jump in a taxi, or perhaps preferring to walk across the City whilst taking in some snapshots of architectural genius…breathtaking creations that are so often missed in the hurly-burly of another ordinary, busy, so-much-to-get-done day in Metropolis.

For me this particular Tuesday it was a little bit different. I’m not incredibly familiar with Central London but I can find my way around OK on my usual routes. Today I was heading somewhere I’d never been before. As I came out onto the main station concourse, I flipped out my phone and opened the Tube Map app to sort out where I needed to be going.

No direct line. Damn. Need to engage brain.

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I stared at the tiny map for an age and was getting nowhere. Way too many options, massive indecision leading to temporary mental paralysis!

Plan B – head down the steps and find one of those large spaghetti maps just before you go through the barriers. That’s better. Make the map larger and it’s much easier to get perspective. Select my line – the first one at least. Choose a destination. Find the platform, board the train and then watch, eagle-eyed, as we pass each station on the way to where i get off.

Time to re-calibrate. Next line. Where am I now? Where do I get off?The big picture map is great but when it comes to making specific progress I need to simplify it right down to a one-line process where I can easily mark my progress.

I’m heading for Swiss Cottage. I’m at London Bridge. That’s eight stops away. In the middle of a million people and ten million thoughts, I need a really simple way of knowing where I am, where I’m going and how many stops to get there.

IMG_2079That’s why I love it when I get to the platform and see one of these maps (eyes right)! Us human beings function much better in the middle of a busy day with the second kind of map rather than the first. Sure we need the big picture and the strategic plan about how it all connects together. All of that should be put together away from the front line where our thinking is clearer and our focus undiluted. Stepping out into the hubbub of the day I need a simple, crystal-clear one page plan that plots my route from A to B and tells me exactly which line I’m on (I don’t want choices now) and how many stops to Swiss Cottage!

Translating all of this into the reality of our lives, our businesses, and all the stuff we have to get done, the obvious lesson is that we need both kind of maps. So many individual leaders and management teams I’ve worked with have struggled to create the proper ‘big map’ or, having done that well, have then failed to translate that on a daily and weekly basis into the single line map that plots the fastest and most effective path from where we are now to the next identified milestone.

One of the most valuable habits to develop in this respect is the ‘Ten Magic Minutes’ – ten minutes spent planning before setting off on the journey of any day to establish what must be done, in what order, in which time slots and exactly what ‘finished’ looks like, or in other words, translating the ‘big map’ into today’s single line. The same thing when you get there – ‘Ten Magic Minutes’ to review, note the escalator repairs at Green Park for the next six weeks and alter the route for next time!  Obvious really, but it’s amazing what comes into focus during an ordinary Tuesday on the London Underground!


Edinburgh & back before tea time!

October 10, 2013

I’m writing this in an Edinburgh cafe having left home in Coventry this morning. I shall be home by tea time!

In an hour’s time I’ll be meeting with an LMI course graduate, their line manager and a representative from the company’s L&D department to review the results from the programme and hear the course-end presentation.

It’s an important trip and well worth my time today as part of a great ongoing relationship with an important national client.

It has, however, got me thinking.

Just because I can get to almost anywhere before breakfast, doesn’t mean that I should!

For everything we do, there is not just the cost of doing it, but also the opportunity cost of NOT DOING something else.

So whilst this trip is absolutely worthwhile, there are some others that I used to make that aren’t. It’s probably the same for you. For example, for the ‘cost’ of a trip to a site one hour away, I could do the same work with two companies on my doorstep.

It may be that the meeting is important, but you could save a lot of time by doing it over the web. I’m a huge fan of Vsee (bit like Skype but more functionality & better quality) for business meetings. There are dozens of other ways to maximise your time.

It’s worth remembering that ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!’

Have a great day!


What’s your Olympic Gold?

October 8, 2013
nick and chris

Meeting an absolute legend!

The weekend before last I attended the National Entrepreneurs Convention at the ICC in Birmingham and had one of those genuinely awe-inspiring “don’t-come-round-very-often” experiences.

Sir Chris Hoy, the most decorated British Olympian in history, was the guest speaker and I was transfixed! This guy has made me shout, jump, sweat, scream and even well up a little (I’m not too proud to confess!) on more than one occasion as I’ve watched the Olympics and cheered him on to victory as if it was actually me winning that gold!

Sir Chris shared the story of when he was 15 and his coach asked the club he was part of to go away and think about what the big goal was for each of them. Chris wasn’t even the best in that group of fellow young cyclists at the time, but he was the only one who came back and said he wanted to win Olympic Gold. The rest, as they say….

It challenged me, and I thought I’d share that same challenge with you, to identify the single most important goal in my life – the equivalent of my Olympic Gold. A goal that is so motivating, so important and stirs my passion like nothing else. A goal that generates for me absolute clarity about what I should be doing and what I shouldn’t be doing, enabling me to answer with sincere honesty the question, “Is my current behaviour congruent with my goal?”

A little time, a little thought, a little ink on some paper used answering this question has really helped me a lot. I hope it does you too.