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On Passion in Business

October 23rd, 2013

Passion.  It means a hell of a lot in life. It also means a hell of a lot in business. 

The people who have passion are generally more focussed and supportive of the people in their business and the people for whom they provide services are (again, generally) far happier as they get a more satisfying experience.

Last week, we did a Growth Curve X-ray for one of our customers.  As part of this process, we work with them to highlight their ‘why’. We first ask the team members what they believe the why of the business is.  We then ask the owner(s).

I was absolutely amazed when we asked the owner of this business about their “why”.  It all started off really well, then, as they continued, you could see them becoming more emotional.  As the words started to flow, our customer actually broke down as he detailed the real reason they were in the profession they were in and the decision they made to buy the business they owned.  It was really powerful stuff – so powerful that most of his team also started to get emotional and some started to cry with him.

From that moment on, I knew that we had created a fully engaged organisation.  There is now a commonality of purpose, but, deeper than that, an understanding about why they do what they do and the impact it has on the community in which they are operating.

It’s probably no surprise that this business is so far outside the benchmarks in its industry for performance, results and the other “important” metrics it is not funny.  It is probably also no surprise that also has an incredibly loyal team and exceptionally loyal customers.

But (and here’s the really good bit), when I spoke with the owner last Friday after they had completed the Growth Curve X-ray, he told me how the spirit and the buy-in from his crew had increased incredibly over the Growth Curve process – there was an improved mindset and they were starting to use a new language in the business – a language that they all understood and that “meant” something to all of them.  He said there had already been some small but highly significant changes in the business that were indicators of renewed energy, enthusiasm and engagement.

That’s when I got a bit emotional.  My passion is helping people be the best they can be and working with them to assist them all work better together.  I love it when it all comes together!

It does mean a hell of a lot this passion thing.  In business but especially in life.

On the Tools Used by the CIA (and us)

October 8th, 2013

Research is a wonderful thing – you can often find out some amazing things by just devoting the time to finding out “stuff”.

Yesterday, whilst doing some research on one of the tools we use in our business and with our customers, I found out some amazing “stuff”.  I did not know that the Trimetrix tool that we use has been used by some of the largest and most high profile organisations and businesses globally.  Included in the list are:

  • The US Air Force;
  • American Express;
  • AT&T;
  • BP;
  • Chevron;
  • the CIA;
  • Coca-Cola;
  • GE;
  • Hewlett Packard;
  • IBM;
  • the IRS;
  • Mercedes Benz;
  • NASA Headquarters;
  • Nissan;
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police;
  • Shell;
  • various US Universities;
  • Volvo; and
  • the US Secret Service.

Wow! 

Reflecting on this new learning last night and based on my knoweldge and understanding of the Trimetrix tool, the list (whilst very impressive) doesn’t surprise me. 

Having used the tool for numerous years, it is apparent that it gives the most comprehensive insight into how people behave and think that would seem to be currently available in the world today.  As mentioned by a new team member the other week when I was going through her Trimetrix before appointing her “You know more about me than I do”.

We’ve just worked through some issues with two highly experienced staff at one of our customer’s businesses.  Significant communication issues which were having detrimental impacts on other team members and business performance.  Taking them through the exercise, we highlighted the issues, accepted their differences and enabled them to see how things can be improved without laying blame anywhere.  Result so far?  Spoke to our customer last night and he indicated that the change in both staff members concerned has been incredible and that things are progressing far better now than they have for a long time.

People create the complexity in any business or organisation.  To enable your people to perform at their best and engage fully, you need to understand what works for them and what they need to allow them to excell.  The Trimetrix tool allows this to happen in the most effective manner that I know.

And, it’s used by the CIA.

This is Not for Everyone…

August 2nd, 2013

“Awesome, fantastic, really enjoyed it – we all got a lot out of it”.

How would it be if your senior accounts person had this to say about a process of focussing on your business for two days?

“I am pretty sceptical and I thought all this would be a bit of a wank, but it has been so good – I now know what we have to do and what my role is to help us get there”

Do your senior people say this?

We have just taken one of our customers through the Growth Curve Xray process.  I have rarely seen the level of engagement, commitment, honesty and openness that I witnessed whilst taking them through it.

Imagine if you will the impact of knowing exactly what you needed to do – strategically, operationally and personally, to get your business to where you want it to be?  Imagine then what would happen if your people were all aligned around you and committed to exactly the same things?  Imagine further what is going to happen when everyone in the business sees what happens as they implement the intiatives that were identified?

Last evening after finishing the process, a group of people left our conference room with an alignment, commitment and passion (yep, passion) to implement what they know they need to do.  It is so uplifting and positive and I know that they will succeed.

Now, imagine if you had a process that enables you to think with your team about your business?  A process that enables you to predict how to manage growth? A process that identifies and allows you (and the team) to understand the constrictions that are occurring in your business and how to deal with them?  A process that helps you identify where your, your senior people and the rest of your team’s key areas of focus need to be?  A process that allows you to tune in to what your business is telling you?

THIS IS NOT FOR EVERYONE!

Only those businesses and leaders that want to grow, develop and communicate effectively will get any value from this.  If you are not open, frank and honest, don’t waste your or my time.

If, however, you are prepared to find and deal with the hidden agents that are holding your business back, let’s have a chat. 

After all, what’s the worst that can happen?  You keep doing what you’ve always done.

UPDATE

Following from posting this blog, I received the following from one of the team involved in the Growth Curve Xray:

Hi Helen & Matt,

I just wanted to get in touch & say the biggest thank you for the past 2 days.

I didn’t really have a clue what was going to be involved & to be honest I really didn’t expect to get that much out of it personally.

I was totally wrong & happily so. I have a new found enthusiasm for my job, I really didn’t realise that I was in such a rut. I am excited about working with Paul & the future of the company & having the knowledge that we are all very much involved in it’s success, is a fantastic & exciting challenge.

Your delivery of the Growth Curve system was great, you kept it interesting & held the attention of all involved. I found that everyone, including myself were eager to get across our points of view & you made everyone feel comfortable enough to do this honestly.

I strongly believe that you have made a huge difference to [our business] moving forward & on behalf of Paul, Marc, Chris & myself I want to say thank you so much!!

FURTHER UPDATE

Received more feedback from the owner of the business on Friday afternoon – absolutely fantastic!

Thanks for your email, great to hear your feedback… 

I share your sentiment on the input of the guys. I think what had the greatest impact on me was the level of engagement and how much the staff have to offer. My thought process has shifted to a feeling of total optimism about the clear challenge ahead now that everyone is onboard to help out. As a business owner this fills me with a sense of pride and excitement. 

I have to say that you and Helen were crucial in engaging everyone throughout a pretty intense two days. I think the atmosphere was one that encouraged the total honesty you mentioned and I can’t thank you both enough for your level of enthusiasm and professional conduct. As Marc said these things can be seen in a negative way and have the potential to do more harm than good if not done properly, however I never doubted for a minute that with you guys at the helm we would get anything but the highest quality results.

Having said all of this I realise the work starts now :)  We look forward to getting started right away and tackling the top priorities. 

On Learning and Why We Suck At It

May 16th, 2013

I was fortunate enough late last week when Russ Wylie sent a link to an article by Chris Argyris titled “Teaching Smart People to Learn”.

This has been recognised by Harvard Business Review as a “Classic” and I have been thinking about the ways that we communicate and learn within organisations – especially those that employ “professionals”.

Argyris makes a number of very valid observations and there are some quotes from the article that stand out with regard to the barriers we can develop to our learning once “on the job”.  It revolves around the behaviours we think we live by and the behaviours we actually demonstrate (aka: not walking the talk).

Some quotes from the article that should get you thinking (or seeking greater knowledge):

“…success in the marketplace increasingly depends on learning, yet most people don’t know how to learn…I am talking about the well-educated, high-powered, high-commitment professionals who occupy key leadership positions in the modern corporation.”

“…most people define learning too narrowly as mere ‘problem solving’, so they focus on identifying and correcting errors in the external environment…but if learning is to persist, managers and employees must also look inward.  They need to reflect critically on their own behaviour, identify ways they often inadvertently contribute to the organization’s problems, and then change how they act.  In particular, they must learn how the very way they go about defining and solving problems can be the source of problems in its own right.”

“Put simply, because many professionals have almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure.  And because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure.  So whenever…their…leaarning strategies go wrong, they become defensive, screen out criticism, and put the ‘blame’ on anyone and everyone but themselves.  In short, their ability to learn shuts down precisely at the moment they need it most.”

“The fact is, more and more jobs – no matter what the title – are taking on the contours of ‘knowledge work’.  People at all levels of the organization must combine the mastery of some highly specialized technical expertise with the ability to work effectively in teams, form productive relationships with clients and customers, and critically reflect on and then change their own organzational practices.”

It is often self-evident in many organisations that I see that the senior management perpetuate the “blame game” when things go wrong.  It will be externalised.  The focus is “them not us”.  This reeks of (quite a bit of) arrogance.

Knowing your own behavioural style and the “why” of your business and your people changes this equation totally.  By understanding your own approach and how it impacts on your role and your actions, you will have a profoundly more powerful method of conveying your message and being able to provide authentic and consistent leadership.

Luckily, there are tools available to enable you to do this – the Trimetrix tool being one and the Growth Curve Xray being the other.  These put the focus on where you are, the challenges you face (not in a negative way) and help you and your team get clarity around communication and activities that are required to move the team forward in a sustainable, open and powerful way.  (My little plug here – we’re accredited specialists in both Trimetrix and Growth Curve so call us if you’d like to discuss.)

If you’d like to read the full article to further develop your understanding of Argyris’ thinking and observations, it can be found here.

On Giving vs Getting

April 23rd, 2013

McKinsey have just published an article on how the culture of an organisation is impacted based on the “generosity” of the people within the organisation.

It argues that those businesses where help, support and openness create a far more effective and efficacious business for all concerned.

I reccomment you have a read here.

On Why Accountants are Going to End Up Like Lawyers (…shudder)

April 9th, 2013

For years I have had to put up with lawyers telling me how good we accountants have it compared to them.  “You get your clients coming back every year for their tax return – we don’t” is their chant and mantra.  They bemoan the fact that they are only needed when there is an “issue”.

Given what I see as coming up, they will lose their chant. 

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the world of tax returns and financial statements (or “compliance” as we know it) is going to change markedly in the years to come.  The timeframe over which it occurs could well be under three years.

What we are seeing is the development of software and IT “solutions” that effectively feed information straight from your customers’ records into the Tax Office.  This means that they will gather data on you more quickly and before any accountant (unless you have one doing all the entries) gets a look at it.  From where I sit, this poses a range of challenges to anyone and will create a highly targetted and focussed audit approach from the regulators.  When we consider the speed with which information can now be obtained on a business (daily bank feeds with automatically coded transactions), it isn’t that great a leap to have nearly everything automated.

So what does this mean for the classically-positioned compliance firm working around Australia?  It means that their service offering is going to be removed from them and they are going to have to find some new ways to service their customers.  It won’t be based around the “compliance factory” that has been a staple for years.  It will not be around the preparation and lodgement of financial statements as this will be largely automated and make the accountant/bookkeeper redundant.

The really sad thing is that, like most change, not many accountants that I have spoken to are aware of what’s coming.  They believe that things will just continue on their merry way.  They are also generally the ones who haven’t grasped the whole technology thing in any way and don’t “get” the Firm of the Future thinking with regard to their businesses.  This is sad.

Thinking about what will happen flowing from this is that a lot of the accounting firms will then start lowering their prices to try and attract more customers as their prices to their existing customers will drop markedly (especially where they bill by time).  This will place more pressure onto staff, more stress on their already overloaded systems and drive many to the brink.

Then have a think about those industries that have been established to “offshore” the processing – they will disappear too.  If there is no need for the work, it doesn’t matter where it gets done!  The flow-on from this for a number of these businesses will be significant.

However, there exists a terrific opportunity for those that do understand what is coming and make the changes necessary in their business to adapt to the new environment.  The old business models will disappear and the focus of the customers will be on engaging accountans who can add value and do not bill by the hour.  They will seek advisors rather than reporters.  They will seek a professional relationship with a trained and experienced expert with knowledge and training in the areas that matter.  I am afraid that someone who is really good at processing “I” Returns will be at a significant disadvantage in this new world.

So when my lawyer mates continue to gripe at me about how we have an “annuity stream” from tax work, I will gently remind them that this is coming to an end.  My concern is that it will take a lot of our accounting friends along for the journey.

On Innovative Thinking and Motivation

April 8th, 2013

Came across a wonderful presentation from Dan Pink on youtube which I would like to share with you.

The presentation goes through the ways that impact on peoples’ engagement at work and their need (especially when they are not automatons) to feel some sense of satisfaction from what they are doing.  It’s only about 11 minutes long, but it’s well worth watching.  You can watch it here.

On Being Contrarian

March 21st, 2013

Just received a blog post which makes eminent good sense (probably because I agree with it!) about your approach to business and your people and how it can change a lot of things if you don’t run with the herd:

http://www.raintoday.com/library/articles/it-pays-to-be-contrarian-in-business/

On Why Partners Don’t Get It

March 15th, 2013

In recent weeks, I have spoken with nearly ten firms from around Australia on their desire to move from the “firm of the past” model (timesheets, billing at the end, micromanagement etc) to the “Firm of the Future” model as espoused by the Verasage Institute (www.verasage.com) and Ron Baker et al.

In all of the discussions, it has shown out that the biggest barrier that these firms face relates to micromanagement by the Partners/Directors of their people.  The soul-destroying and de-motivating nature of this management approach is incredible. 

Imagine if you will, an office full of highly experienced and qualified people who are wanting to help their customers achieve great things.  Imagine further that these people are very smart who also want to contribute to the success of the business within which they work.

Now imagine what happens when the Partners or Directors of that business will not allow anything to be done without their direct involvement, nothing goes out unless it is signed by a Partner or Director, no customer interview happens without a Partner or Director in fact, nothing happens without a Partner or Director being involved.  What message is that sending to the smart, experienced and qualified people working with them?

The message: I DO NOT TRUST YOU.

If your people are not good enough to trust, they are not good enough to employ. 

Many of the Partners and Directors of a lot of accounting and legal firms are highly technically competent people.  Unfortunately, they are not great managers.  I am not sure whether this comes as a result of their training or whether it is a deep-seated personality issue.  Either way, it impacts incredibly negatively on their business.

They simply are unable to see (or, to be honest, appreciate) the exceedingly positive things that flow when you help,  assist and free your team up to be resonsible and accountable and to embrace responsibility.  To show that you trust them.  To allow them to make mistakes – and support them when they do.

I will finish off by providing an example – over the past couple of years, we have been dealing with a customer (fantastic bloke) and have built a relationship with the CFO of the business of which he is a part owner – another firm does their external accounting and tax work.  Now, the CFO has handed in his resignation (relocating due to family issues) so we were approached to come in and assume the role of CFO.  The role will be fantastic and allow our people to utilise a range of skills that they collectively possess across a number of facets of the business.   Fantastic.

But the exiting CFO also wants us to assume a role with the business he is going to.  He loves the relationship he has with our team.  He enjoys the way that we work with him and his colleagues.  And we enjoy the relationship back!

Now, the bottom line.  How much time do I spend on the file?  Precious little.  How much involvement do I have with the original customer?  Very enjoyable lunches ideally every month or so.  How am I involved in the new CFO role we are taking on?  I’m not.  Our fantastic crew are doing it. 

How would this be able to happen if I was micromanaging the whole thing?  It wouldn’t.  No way.

It all happens because we have a team of experienced, smart, qualified and engaged professionals who have the freedom and autonomy to act professionally and use their skills.  Oh, that and the fact that I trust them.

On Simple Solutions

February 26th, 2013

From my mate Ed Kless of Verasage who shared this:

A toothpaste factory had a problem. They sometimes shipped empty boxes without the tube inside. This challenged their perceived quality with the buyers and distributors. Understanding how important the relationship with them was, the CEO of the company assembled his top people. They decided to hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem. The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP, and third-parties selected. Six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solutution – on time, on budget, and high quality. Everyone in the project was pleased.

They solved the problem by using a high-tech precision scale that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighed less than it should. The line would stop, someone would walk over, remove the defective box, and then press another button to re-start the line. As a result of the new package monitoring process, no empty boxes were being shipped out of the factory.

With no more customer complaints, the CEO felt the $8 million was well spent. He then reviewed the line statistics report and discovered the number of empty boxes picked up by the scale in the first week was consistent with projections, however, the next three weeks were zero! The estimated rate should have been at least a dozen boxes a day. He had the engineers check the equipment, they verified the report as accurate.

Puzzled, the CEO traveled down to the factory, viewed the part of the line where the precision scale was installed, and observed just ahead of the new $8 million dollar solution sat a $20 desk fan blowing the empty boxes off the belt and into a bin. He asked the line supervisor what that was about.

“Oh, that,” the supervisor replied, “Bert, the kid from maintenance, put it there because he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang.”

So how many times do we look for a complex solution to what is really a pretty simple problem?