>Business 101

>In a range of interactions today I was made aware of the importance of a little something called business acumen. The bread and butter of any successful organisation is to understand what business acumen is all about. I still don’t know if I get it. Not really. I get enough to understand a range of factors associated with it. You know, things like ROI, portfolio of clients, customer identification strategies, marketing, PR, R&D, finance, cash flow, profit and loss, revenue streams, new business pipeline. You do know, don’t you?

And that’s where things start to get interesting. How many of us actually understand all of that jargon I’ve just thrown out there? More importantly, how many of the fresh talent coming into the workforce understand any of those things? We have high expectations for graduates in particular but anyone starting their career in a company. But what are we doing to help them understand everything that’s expected of them? And I don’t mean the work they’re doing, but the important things of running a business.

So how do you do these things? Well a study by the CIPD showed that most learning and development in the workplace happens via information passed on and coaching done by the manager. In the first instance then, you have to know your stuff. You will always be the first port of call for a new recruit. You’re the one with the answers. You’re the one who can explain the meaning of life. The buck starts with you. It doesn’t end there though.

You then need to have in place a process or programme that helps your new recruit gain business insights. Huh? For example, arrange weekly/monthly sesisons where you discuss what’s been happening in the business and why any of that matters. When everyone was being asked to cut back on their spending, were you able to articulate why? When the recession meant redundancies had to be made, were you able to help the team see the business case for this? When Bob took sick leave every Monday consistently for 2 months were you able to discuss the impact of this and give appropriate feedback?

There also needs to be in place a session of sorts delivered by a senior business leader explaining what these things mean to give the business overview. In that session you need to also explain the jargon you use on a daily basis. What’s a TSV? What does cash flow mean? What is a revenue stream? How do we find new business? What does ROI actually mean? And R&D?

Then you’re looking to ensure you keep this activity up. Improve the quality of the conversations so deeper and more significant learning and development takes place. Send them on conferences where they can talk to other people about these things. Send them on an external course to interact with other industry people. Arrange discussions with other business units to help them understand how the business as a whole works.

And when you have all that in place, after about 2 years, they’ll be ready to move on and get promoted. 2 years I hear you scream? Absolutely. If you want your new recruit to be a high flyer, and if you’re serious about their career development you’ll invest 2 years of your own time and efforts to get that person up to scratch. And 2 years is a good target to aim for.

So, are you ready to teach Business 101?

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>Funny observations

>Over the weekend the wife and I were in the car and talking about how the kids are learning so many things right now and how it’s all quite funny. What I started to particularly laugh at though was how we describe the things the kids do and what we attribute those things to.

So the kids are nearly three years old. In case you’ve missed the many times I’ve mentioned this they’re twin boys. A is 7 minutes older than K which I’m sure will have great significance in later life. Particularly seeing in Indian culture, you are meant to pay undue respect to your elders. When A learns of this I’m sure he’ll have great fun with it.

They’re currently learning how to use the bathroom. Mrs P described how they are both really doing well cos they can go “wee-wee” all by themselves. I stopped to think – how often do I describe that activity in that way? I DON’T! I then went on to say, “it’s only a matter of time before they know how to do poo-poo too”!! I’m killing myself with the sheer madness and joy of both those sentences!! If my friends or anyone over the age of 13 said anything like that I would have a field day making a mockery of them and here we are, two grown adults discussing activities of our children using words that we would never ordinarily use in everyday parlance! The irony of this against my last post has not escaped me.

Then other things sprang to mind. K has learned to drop his voice to a bare whisper when he wants you to know he’s really upset about something. I have no idea how he learned that. I’m constantly shouting at them and Mrs P never talks softly to them. A has learned to not look at me if he’s being told off and will do this eye blinking thing which is hilarious. And they both know that if they’re bored with what they’re watching – even if they’ve asked to watch it, off goes power.

And even conversations become common-place. How much did they have for dinner? Is it time for them to have yoghurt? Have they watched mickey mouse clubhouse today? Did they do any painting today? On being told by one of them that he got “beats” by his brother – “A, did you give your brother beats?” “Yem” LOL! It’s crazy. Absolutely crazy.

Then we attribute these things to the TV. My argument is that’s only part of it. Most of what they learn comes from us directly no matter how much we may think or believe otherwise. History has taught us that the way children develop is hugely dependent on the environment they are in and how that influences us. Do a google search on ‘bobo doll experiment’ or ‘Bandura’ for more about this.

And they’re so observant. If I’ve taken something away from them, think I’ve hidden it, they’ll find it and hide it themselves. I have since lost a number of DVDs and have had no luck in finding these. I naturally attribute that to my finely honed observation skills. Trained in the fine art of not a lot, I’m a master at doing that too. Not these two though, they’ve been trained by the guru of doing an awful lot and have followed in that mould. I am thankful I have instilled in them my trait of being transfixed by the TV when your show is on. Balance is maintained in the house.

And we’ve got sprogg #3 due literally in days. And we’ll go through all this again. And these will be normal conversations. And we’ll be none the wiser that we’re talking complete rubbish!!

>I am super-busy

>In a meeting today I heard the term “hyper sensitive” when someone was talking about a process we’re developing. I was meant to be listening to the rest of the conversation but then I got side-tracked by the sheer annoyance I was experiencing with this poor English.

Here’s the skinny. We have thousands of words in the English language that have very specific definitions. Yet it seems far too many English speaking individuals are too lazy to think of the right word and so say stupid things like “this is really important” or “we have to be seriously confidential about this” or “please make sure you absolutely understand”. Good God. We have words to qualify the words which are already meant to be clear. Because we’re all numbnuts.

So what can we do about this attack on the English language? I’d have hoped our world-class education system was taking care of this. Clearly it fucking isn’t. So it’s incumbent on pedants and word-geeks like me to point out such things. Why though? Because people are too seriously busy.

Henceforth I will be a taskmaster and publicly deride bad English. And here’s an example of recent ignorance.
Bob: How do you spell rapport?
Me: How do you think?
Bob: R-E-P-O-U-R?
Me: No, R-A-P-P-O-R-T
Bob: Oh, thanks. So it’s said “rapporT”? (emphasis on the ‘T’)
Me: No, it’s said “rapport”
Bob: Oh, it’s said “rrrapport”?” (rolling the first ‘r’)
Me: No, it’s said “rapport”

This happened. It actually sodding happened. I had a fucking conversation about how to spell and say “rapport”. Seriously. Why should I have to have this conversation? How do you work in a professional environment on a daily basis and not know how to speak English?

So, please avoid using totally unnecessary words when they’re not really needed. I mean they just seriously add a lot of additional nonsense to a conversation that should by all definition in reality be quite honestly clear.

And if you didn’t catch on, that was sarcasm.

>Do a personal inventory

>I often end up thinking about what those close to me say to me. This ends up being an interesting exercise where I have whole conversations in my head. Joe: “You’re a twat.” Me: “Where did that come from? Have I not been a good friend? Have I not been trying? Why are you accusing me of such things?” Joe: “Because you are.” Me: “Bastard. He has no idea of what’s going on in my life. If only I told him that’d set him right the self righteous double standards prick.”.

And then I remember what many people have said to me over the years which forces me to reconsider my position – actions speak louder than words. Fuck me (please excuse the language) the amount of times this has come true. And what it reminds me most about is how each of the important people in my life need something different from me. That’s not as exhausting as it sounds. But it’s often just the first step which is difficult. After that you remember what you’re meant to do and you just do it.

So where does this take me? On a fucking crazy journey of self awareness. By God, do I hate doing this. Having to listen to what (important) others are saying to me? Not even about me but to me. I am great and wonderful, why are you telling me anything else? Oh, ‘cos I’m being a cock. Well first, fuck you (I really am trying not to but it serves its purpose). Second, and only after I’ve had time to really let it sink in, maybe, just maybe you’re right. And next? Right, of course I have to act. Bollocks. Less talking, more action.

See, my problem is I love to talk! I was always taught talking through solves everything. I always knew doing was just as important but I didn’t like that bit. Because that means you have to admit you were wrong. On many occasions I have had to take stock of what I was not doing. When I was re-sitting my ‘A’ levels and my head of year and tutor had to sit me down with my mother to make me understand how just being nice wasn’t enough to pass my exams. Boy did that ever register. Or when I told Jim and Joe I thought doing a degree was the wrong choice for me and they told me to shut up and stick with it. Seriously thankful for that. Or when Mrs P told me to stop being so abrasive with certain people. I didn’t want to but she was right.

When you’re forced to take stock of these things in your life, you have to act. It’s the only thing that shows those important to you that you’ve heard what they’re telling you. If you don’t you’re just being a cock. I don’t like being a cock. Worse, I don’t like being a conscious cock. You know. When you know you should be acting differently but you don’t. ‘Cos you’re being a cock for no reason.

So my learning is this. I’ll always reform. But I’ll always need to be told to stop being a cock. But when I do reform I live a far better life. I feel that I am growing. I go all fuzzy inside knowing I’m doing the right thing. I like knowing that those important to me are feeling valued by me. I then have no doubt that I’m doing the right thing.

>What I don’t want to miss

>This post is more personal than others I’ve put previously. Mostly this is due to the impending birth of my third child. We have twin boys who will soon be 3 and are now at the age where they are trying to learn how to be independent. It’s really cool to see them develop. Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing odd bits of DIY and after seeing what I was doing they picked up their own tools (yes, toy tools) and start DIYing too. Then though, they realised that the toy tools don’t do what Dad is doing and need the real tools. Uh oh. Delving deep into the toolbox to find a screwdriver and hammer and do what Dad did.

It’s also very frustrating to see them be so damned independent. They quickly learned that the Iron Man bluray dvd goes into the bluray player and you need a particular remote for that to work. And so they go to it! The dvd is now broken. (“Daddy new? Shop new?”) Or they see that Mum is cooking and she’s stirring with that thing sticking out of that thing. I can do the stirring too cos it seems easy enough. Let me pull this chair close to the cooker and see how it goes. AAgh!!

And then I think about the newborn about to arrive. The baby will be tiny and fragile and delicate. The boys will want to know why there’s another child taking our attention away from them. And the wife’s and my attention will be drawn away because Baby will need caring for. There will be many late night awakenings, lots of nappy changes and for the first 6 months not a lot of interaction. But then Baby will grow like the twins. And the boys will learn to take care of Baby.

And that’s where family life starts to really form and take shape. Sure it takes time and life gets in the way. But that’s what I don’t want to miss.

So my message here is simple. Work is important. You have to bring in the money so you can give your family what they need and what they want. The responsibilities of family life are the most life important. Don’t make excuses for not being with the family. Don’t make excuses for not leaving work on time. Don’t make excuses for not having fun time with the family.

Find that work-life balance. Find that time to have fun with them. Find time to see what new thing they’re trying to do. That’s what I don’t want to miss.

>Presentation training

>I today completed a set of presentation skills training with a group of people at my workplace. I think presentation skills training is my most favourite training that I deliver. It covers a broad spectrum of topics. Much like leadership and management training. But I think for me, this is the best topic. In terms of soft skills, presentation skills training crosses so many necessary skills: assertiveness, facilitation, rapport building, active listening, effective questioning, information delivery, engagement, credibility building, making a personal impact, confidence building, and those are just the ones that come to mind.

What I like best is how conscious I have to be of everything happening in the room at that moment. It’s taken me a long time to understand what that means. It means initially that I have to create an environment that is safe and open for my delegates to say what they need to. They then have to feel that they have something to learn from my session. This is all a power trip for me. I have complete control of that learning environment. Conversely that means I have to ensure the delegates leave learning something of value. Now there’s my true challenge. I believe I’m a great trainer. It’s a strong belief residing in my gut. You know, where the core of a person lies. Anyway, I digress.

More importantly though this means that I have to build a picture of the needs of the delegates and really hone in on those. Now there’s the part I love. By the end of the training in most occasions I’ll have sussed out what the person needs. But that journey to find that out, that’s what I love. Why? Because I love understanding people. And watching a person do presentations tells you so much about their character.

I have seen some God awful presentations delivered well. And some really difficult topics delivered effortlessly. And that’s no mean feat. Imagine having to tell a group of people that your department is receiving negative feedback from other departments and you have to collectively work to change this perception. That’s bloody hard. But when my old manager did this, he didn’t beat us up about it. We felt we had a mission, a purpose, something to prove.

So what’s my point here? Presentations are key in helping you to make decisions about a person. The training I do helps to ensure the message is delivered genuinely. That looks different for each person and that’s how it should be. Next time you see a presentation, give the person feedback. Let them know what impact they made, how they handled questions/challenges, how they built rapport with the group, if the content was appropriate. It has such an impact on the presenter. And you will also learn to have those development conversations so much better.

>Sack the self deluded manager

>I have been reminded today of the importance of being clear and direct in how you communicate with your staff. But more importantly I have been reminded of how a self deluded manager can be such a bad thing for any business. You know who I mean. The manager that thinks they’re shit hot when they’re just shit. Oh Lord, give me strength.

So the situation goes something like this:
Manager “I don’t think Bob is working out.”
Me “What feedback has he had?”
Manager “Oh I’ve spoken with him and he understands he needs to improve his performance”
Me “Are you confident he is clear about exactly what he has to do to improve?”
Manager “Absolutely”

4 weeks later.

Manager “Bob definitely isn’t working out.”
Me “Ok let me talk to Bob.”

Me “Bob did you know that you’re not performing according to your manager’s expectations?”
Bob “Kind of.”
Me “Are you clear about what you need to do to improve?”
Bob “No.”

Who would I fire of the two? No surprises for guessing it would be the manager. Why though? Because the manager was self deluded. He thought that he was being clear by giving Bob messages like “we’ve had feedback that you aren’t being enough of a leader” but not giving Bob any further information about how to be a leader. Or messages like “we need to put you on a development plan” with little explanation of why and even less explanation of how to improve. Or messages like “You have great technical skills but you need to work on your people skills” with zero guidance on how to develop those all important people skills.

As a manager one of the key responsibilities you have is to be clear in no uncertain terms about your expectations of your team. If they’re not performing and you have clear evidence to support your judgement the conversation needs to be as pointed as saying “Bob I’ve had feedback you aren’t being enough of a leader. And here’s how I’m going to help. Here’s a plan we will work on together to help you improve. It is important you are able to do this otherwise I will have to consider putting you on a development plan or worse disciplining you.”

You have to have those conversations. You’re not a manager to make friends. You’re a manager to (drum roll) manage. You have to manage workloads, staff, departments, budgets, plans, deliverables, blah, blah, blah. And if you’re not having those conversations because you’re self deluded you deserve to be let go sooner than Bob or any other member of your team you think aren’t performing.