Much has been recorded over the past month on that old staple of British conversation, the weather. For the more philosophical among us it has been, at least, a reminder that nature is a powerful beast often out of our control.
Nature is, without doubt, our friend – many of the drugs we use to cure or alleviate afflictions come from her. Nature offers breadth of perspective – for example, although climate science is an unpredictable and complex playing field, the structure of a snowflake is simple. Surely there continues to be value in looking to nature for inspiration and guidance in our personal and business endeavours?
In particular, this article was inspired by the simplicity that nature offers in what is an otherwise stressful and complex world – coupled with being snowed in at home for days at a time during January!
So, let me start with being snowed in……..
To embellish the following analogy here are some factoids on where I live:
- Our “plot” is a relatively “cold spot” because it is in a forest of tall pine trees that limit the amount of sun – particularly in the winter. Frozen things stay frozen!
- Big pine trees have a habit of falling over when their tops get laden with frozen snow.
- Getting here is via a private, unadopted lane – so there is no concept of gritting.
- We have a traditional satellite receiving dish aerial. It stops delivering a signal when the snow reaches a certain level on the bar that connects the receiver module to the dish. (This can be corrected very easily by just knocking the snow off).
- Due to the pine trees we cannot get any other signal on a traditional aerial – so for us it’s the “SKYway” or the highway.
- Our satellite dish is on our chimney.
- It is really difficult to hit a satellite dish with any kind of projectile (e.g. a tennis ball) when you are having to look skywards (no pun intended) in heavy snowfall (and when you were always the last kid left standing when your mates were picking sides for the cricket team). [Please amend 4 above to read: “In theory, this can be corrected very easily ………]
and, here are some factoids about us as a family:
- We are big users of technology and take it all for granted – there is always something, or somebody to entertain us!
- One of us is always somewhere, doing something, so time together is rare.
- We eat different things, at different times, often on trays.
- I am the only bloke in a house full of women. (This has nothing to do with the analogy or any business lesson and probably qualifies as a fact rather than a factoid!)
Now let’s get down to the story.
We had some snow before Christmas but it wasn’t a show-stopper. However, because of our “cold-spot” it stayed on the ground all over Christmas and into the first snowfall of January. So, we had a white Christmas on the ground at least!
The first we knew of the initial January snow was when, sitting with our trays watching Star Trek Voyager, the magic message appeared on the plasma – “no satellite signal is being received”. Like all experts, we turned it off and turned it on again – of course, with no joy. Pressing the buttons harder and faster on the Sky remote didn’t seem to work either so we suspected something was really wrong. Being the bloke in the house I was dispatched in the dark to “look at the aerial”. The next word from my mouth as I opened the front door was “ah”. We were already snowed in by any measure and it was coming down hard and fast.
Tennis balls were thrown to no avail.
“What are we going to do now?” came the cry. Suddenly, the realization that we might all have to talk to each other, or play cards, or something, stirred in the memory.
So, off we went onto the Wii. (It was, after all, only the telly that had gone off).
The trouble with Wii’s are that they need electricity, which reaches our home through the secure media of big thick wires up poles. (We have already established that pine trees fall over when laden with frozen snow .. please fill the gap in for yourself).
All, of course, was not lost. Mobile technology with wind-up emergency chargers from the Christmas stocking would save the day. We’d find something to do and go do it.
Now, pine trees are very big and 3G masts are pretty small. Although one admires the network providers for placing them sensitively (and even making the poles coloured so they blend in with the forest) one could, if being really picky at this point, ponder on sticking them where nothing can flatten them?
In the end it didn’t matter as we had 4ft of drifted snow and no way out anyway.
We laughed, we ate together (Duke of Edinburgh primus stove and you can make some great food from simple ingredients!), we sang, we talked, we played traditional games. We put “winter” clothes on (minus 8deg. with no glowing radiators gets your attention).
I think we were all disappointed when, after 5 days of being snowed in, we spent a day digging ourselves out and eventually got a scout through to Tesco.
Our life had become too complex without the time for the simple things. It was clear that we could get great joy from what really matters.
By the time (four days later) we were snowed in for the second time (by now, through the wonders of re-established internet links, our eldest was doing mock exams in the dining room) I started to ponder on what our business customers had told us they valued during the previous years and what that might tell us for 2010.
Below is the relevance of our “mini-epiphany” to our business world. It’s a reminder of what we already know, brought into reality by January’s enforced periods of reflection.
We all get dragged into problems, issues and complexity which doesn’t really add any value. The problem is that waste in an organization or a process never jumps up and says “Hi, I’m waste, please eradicate me!” Instead, it masquerades as value (“that’s the way we do things around here” etc). In the snow we found time we never knew we had. Let’s all remember to do what really matters in our businesses.
To help with that I have drawn on the three most popular interactions with the customers of my business, (over the difficult last year of recession and uncertainty), and offer them as key areas of focus to ensure a healthy start to the new decade.
1) Keep Finding the Four Seconds
My inspiration for working with businesses on this comes from Matthew Pinsent (of Olympic rowing fame) who, through a previous business relationship, gave me the benefit of his wisdom. Matthew tells of finishing an Olympic medal race, having won gold by a matter of centimetres with absolutely nothing left in the physical and emotional tank. Soon the challenge emerges of the next Olympics in four years time where it is clear that to win gold again you have to do the same race four seconds faster. How can you possibly do that? Four seconds is a lifetime at that level. The business parallel is when you hear “we can’t do any more, we are already at the limit!” In reality, this is waste masquerading as value again. Consultants make a fortune out of coming into companies and spotting it. It is rare that you will find four seconds in one lump. The four seconds is built up of a myriad of time chunks that you “win” with relatively small breakthroughs here and there. Often you go backwards to go forwards. Attention to detail is key and so is understanding the cause-and-effect system in your business. During the January snow experience there were many things that we just stopped doing because they were no longer a priority given the circumstances forced upon us. Our world didn’t stop!
2) Become a Powerbase Super Connector
During my selling career in large global organizations, covering extremely large complex solutions, projects and services, I learnt the art of “Powerbase Management”. I made a career out of transforming business-critical relationships to tip the balance of the associated political and influencing players. The time to make these relationships is when you don’t have to have them. For many smaller businesses FTSE class customers can be very lucrative – but, for many, bidding for large contracts without any certainty of winning is prohibitive and stifles potential growth – despite the innovation and value that might be offered. You can punch above your weight but you often have to play in a different arena. It often shocks people when I show them that FTSE clients are better payers than smaller businesses, the cost-of-sale is lower and they focus more on value than commodity. One attains this position by being networked at the highest level. Often the reason this experience is “not true” for the smaller business is that they are sucked into a relationship with corporate procurement and the associated beauty contests. For those that have the choice, it is why many avoid business with the public sector where valuable personal business relationships are so diluted by the procurement system that everything becomes a commodity. Our snow experience enabled everybody at home to reconnect. With critical exams and other key decisions facing the family during 2010 we know how to better support each other on the journey – whatever life throws at us!
3) Drive the Leading Indicators in Your World
Most businesses still judge their wellbeing on “Lagging Indicator” or “KPI” rear-view-mirror assessments of how things are. World-class businesses map, understand and influence “Leading Indicators” – ways of behaving and doing things that, on balance, mean that the required lagging indicators will follow. Those familiar with quality systems or six-sigma quality practioners will understand this well – but smaller business without access to such specialist knowledge and resources can benefit from similar approaches. In our business we refer to the process of assuring breakthrough performance as Outcome Engineering. You wouldn’t drive to Scotland without knowing the point of the journey, a rough idea of how to get there and some consideration of the relative costs, risks and time absorbed. Yet, often, you see a business doing just that (for example: as they get embroiled in bids they have no strategy for winning). Become expert at the “cause-and-effect” dynamics in your world, understand the leading indicators that define cause and swing the associated business levers to your advantage. When you subsequently measure effect (and that remains important) you will uncover more commentary around “ah, that’s what we thought would happen” rather than “oh, look what happened”. Following our January bonding at home, we know much more about how to support each other and get the best out of each other.
It’s a new decade – what’s not to look forward to?
Our aim for our clients is “get to the top of your world”.
Some people define the North Pole as the top of “the” world, others Mount Everest. Interestingly, when you get there they are both covered in snow. Therefore, q.e.d., snow is synonymous with getting to the top of the/your world and, so, snow is good for business. Look after the snowflakes and wash away the slush.
Good luck for 2010. Here’s to a hot summer (good for business as well) and, if you want to find out more about how we help clients get to the top of their worlds, our regular events around the three “snowflakes” above, or just want to make contact, you can find us at www.orgmentor.com or email me.
Chief Executive Officer