Archives for category: Planning

In my last post my 3 big things with workshops grouped conveniently – if a little artificially – into an ABC aide memoire. No such luck this time?

I’ve mentored staff in my marketing and sales teams, and I’ve also mentored early stage companies, which can often be a one-person company, over the last handful of years in a consulting capacity. Here’s what I’ve found to be best for those being mentored, again helpfully arranged in an A-B-C format.

Ask questions. As a mentor you’re a sounding board for the person being mentored. It’s a chance for them to talk through their rationale and approach with an experienced other party who is detached, impartial and objective. Probing with questions can allow you to drill into the detail and challenge, play devil’s advocate and ultimately help validate what they’re doing.

Build structure and process. The job of a mentor I think is to help the person being mentored see the next few steps towards their desired destination. Structure and process combine to give them some direction long after the mentor session finishes. Structure provides the framework to hang the various elements and process gives them an order for doing things.

Coach. I think our job is to coach, providing suggestions and approaches that we’ve seen work well before, rather than to tell them what to do. That seems to be the best way for them – and their businesses – to improve over time, as they grow in confidence and independence.

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I’ve done a few workshops over the years, and, as they say, I’m learning all the time. Each workshop is different and requires a unique preparation and approach, but when you’re repeating the same workshop content to a different group of attendees then you definitely improve as you go. Some things work well, and others less so.

Here’s my ABC of things that work well in workshops.

Advertise collaboration. OK, so the A is a bit forced, but ABC brings the post together nicely. They day is much more productive for attendees, and goes more quickly for everyone, when there’s plenty of interaction and discussion, so I always ask for is and encourage it. Otherwise it turns into a one-directional classroom arrangement which is tedious and no-one learns anything. We learn by doing and getting feedback from our peers as well as the workshop leader.

Build in Breaks. Secondly, make sure the day is punctuated by breaks, because attendees often have urgent things to attend to with their day job and also they get invaluable benefit from being able to network with other attendees. As long as you’re punctual with the punctuations, regular breaks work really well.

Behaviours. Here a bonus B. Workshops are often mini-change management exercises, and are simply a nicer word for training. If you’re looking to establish new behaviours, then you need to treat the workshop as one step in a process. I like to give pre-work to be done before the workshop, to get people to start thinking about what I want to cover, and I like to follow up after the workshop (anything from a week to 6 weeks after) to see how the new behaviours are bedding in and offer some corrections if required.

Challenge. It tends to be a benefit to the attendees if their assumptions, assertions or approach are challenged by the workshop leader or other attendees – constructively. If their approach is found to be robust enough to withstand criticism or questions, then great, that’s good validation. If not, then it will improve as a result of the additional viewpoints, input and recommendations.

 

 

 

Back in 2002 I was in England working for a software company, in a sales and marketing capacity. I was in a meeting with the MD and we were discussing go to market strategy for a new product we were launching.

‘OK,’ he said, ‘let’s do a drains up on the product and we can prioritise next steps.’ I’d never heard the phrase before, but it seemed so apt. When you’re having kick-off meetings you need to get everything out on the table, warts and all, good and bad, so that everyone in the group is in possession of the same information and viewpoints.

Imagine lifting up the drains of a building to see what you’ve got. People aren’t shy about getting the good news stories out there for all to see, but they’re a bit more hesitant about revealing the sludge, muck and general detritus from things that haven’t gone as well.

Once you really know what you’re dealing with, and everyone sees the universe of good and bad, then you can list it all out and put the priorities in rank order. It gives you focus and the right order of things to tackle.

You hardly ever hear the term drains up in Ireland, and I don’t know if they use it in the US. You may prefer ‘brain dump’, ‘information transfer’, or ‘download’, but I like drains up. You know to know what you’re dealing with, eliciting both good and bad, and ‘drains up’ encourages that process and desired outcome.

I’ve more or less banished paper from my work practices. I rarely keep information sheets that people give me in meetings, and take all my meeting notes in a notepad or text editor and arrange them in company or customer folders.

It’s a more organised way of carrying on I think, especially if your job is very mobile. No files or folders to remember to put in your bag, just your laptop and a power cable – happy days.

With one exception though. When I’m working in the home office I make to do lists as I go or as the thought comes to me: things I need to do, buy or ask. Once they’re done there’s no need to revisit the list or save it for digital posterity. And it’s great to take the scribbled list and shove it in your back pocket so you don’t forget any of the half dozen items or errands you need to complete while you’re in motion.

I have a tower of different coloured paper notes on my desk. They sit in a Jenga-like plastic dispenser, so there’s no need to buy ones with adhesive which either sticks them to a spine or to the sheet below and then to the laptop or wall once you’ve removed them from the block.

There’s also something cathartic about crossing stuff off a scribbled list and then recycling the paper note, that you don’t quite get by deleting an item off your digital TDL – that’s one of my most used TLAs – for ‘to do list’.

I saw the headline of an article the other day, and clicked on it, because it looked of interest. Except I had clicked on for the wrong reason, or at least my analysis was wrong.

The headline was: When is a Sale a Sale? I thought it was a cool article about defining when you have successfully closed a sale; some new insight on sales methodology. What we would call closing a deal in B2B. Is it a sale because the customer commits to the order verbally? Is it the receipt of the PO or the contract? Or is it the payment of the invoice or the handover of the cash?

In fact it was nothing of the sort. The article was a consumer-focused piece about what constitutes a selling event, the other kind of sale. It was about the retail industry trending towards a state of permanent sales and how difficult it is now to differentiate a true sales event and a retail status that is claiming ‘special’ sales status when it really isn’t.

Not to mention how difficult it is for retailers to get out of that sales spiral and protect their margins.

So, two different kinds of sale, and I clicked through under false pretences, but an interesting skim-read nonetheless.

Do we engage in human hibernation? I think we do, to a certain degree. I know I do, to a larger degree.

January is my hibernation month. I love Christmas, it’s my favourite part of the year, but then New Year’s Day always comes around so quickly.

In golfing western Ireland, when you hit a low ‘scuttery’ shot along the ground, instead of hitting one that flies like an angel, you sometimes call it a ‘kiss me erse’ shot. That’s January for me. It’s a bit of a kiss me erse month. You’ve no money, the nights are long and cold, you know you should be gambolling off to the gym like a March lamb, and there’s very little sport to commend itself.

I always try to delay my return to work as late as possible in January, to make it a shorter working month. It’s a month for making lists, putting the fire on and planning what you’re going to do with the year, if only you can get 8-and-one-third percent of it out of the way first.

Pretty soon, the 1st of February comes around, it’s a short month, and Rugby’s 6 Nations and Football’s Champions’ League ease us into the year proper. Happy Days.

But for now, let me pull the proverbial duvet over my head and give me a nudge in 4 weeks’ time.

I’m on holiday as you read this. I’m not even in the country where I normally write these posts. I’ve jetted off with the family I helped to create to visit the family I was born into, as many of you do this time of year.

It’s a time for taking stock, considering where you are, and what you’re going to change or do differently next year. I always try and take off between Christmas and New Year if I can. I’m very conscious of people who work in the service industry, or people like my friend who works in the supply chain industry, that this time of year has a very stop-start feel to it. They can’t use this time of year for taking stock, they have to do it another time.

You can’t take stock in a couple of days. You need at least a week’s run at it, so you can decompress, assess and figure out the old traffic lights: what will I give the red light to and stop doing, what will I review on amber, and what will I give the green light to and continue or start doing? Then you can recoil yourself, ready to get into it.

Some people like to be working this time of the year, with a day or two off here and there. Some people have to work. I’m lucky, I have the luxury of not having to, usually, and so for me it’s a good time for taking a break, taking soundings from others and taking stock.

Gaze towards the top of this webpage and you’ll see the eyes-through-the-letterbox image of a Paul Dilger looking enviably young for his 50-some years. That’s because the picture is at least 10 years old.

I’m not alone in this. The world, especially the professional world, is full of the slightly false advertising of profile pictures and avatars. Shining faces, full of hope and ambition, that belie the experience they claim to have in their bio.

This makes it somewhat tricky when you have a first meeting with someone who you’ve only met online or on the phone and whose photo you’re going by. I think if you add a decade to the picture it provides a far better calibration for your field of view. Otherwise you might be unprepared for a conversation that might spiral out of control.

‘Oh hi! I was, er, expecting someone a little…’

‘Younger?’

‘No, no, of course not! Just, a little different I guess.’

‘Different how?’

‘I’m not sure. Ah, here’s our server, would you like coffee or tea?’

It’s a tough one. Do we go with a current pic and possibly deflate the initial impression, or do we go young and have some tap-dancing to do when it comes to the meet and greet?

Strategy and execution, as any good business school will tell you, are the Siamese twins of success. They both need each other, and they both need to keep each other close. One doesn’t work without the other. To strategise without executing is to do nothing, to put nothing into action. To execute without strategy is to ‘spray and pray’.

While the two exercises are equally valuable, in the consulting world they’re not deemed the same. Strategy work is the stuff that happens at the beginning and is of a relatively high value since the inputs directly affect the end result. Execution is following through on the decisions of the strategy, doing the work, putting the work out there and reviewing the results. It is perceived as of a lower value, since executing is basically doing what it’s been told to do by the strategy. A junior officer following the orders of a senior commanding officer if you like. Still a vitally important role.

This perception of value can have a direct effect on day rates and fees. From a consulting perspective, strategy is generally a collaborative exercise, at the customer’s premises and involving a number of people, where skills of facilitation and leadership come in. Execution can often be done on one’s own, from the home office, as it might involve building product, designing messaging, writing content, and putting together the communications assets to help deliver the message and transfer the information.

Indeed, you could almost say that strategy is consulting, whereas execution is about contracting. Strategy happens less often, and commands a higher price, whereas execution lasts for longer and involves more days’ work, but at a lower rate.

And this is the double-edged consulting sword of strategy and execution, as we strive to find the right balance between days in the saddle and fees coming in, between more stimulating work and less stimulating work, and between taking on work directly and delegating it to others.

Have you ever heard the glorious phrase ‘piling Pelion on Ossa’ before? I hadn’t, until this morning, and I have somewhat of an education in classical cultures. Bear with me though, because it’s right on topic.

I was chatting to an old mate – old in terms of mateyness rather than age necessarily – of mine earlier today and he said something was like piling Pelion on Ossa. ‘What on earth does that mean?’ I asked. He told me about an essay he’d written at college and next to the same point he’d made for the third time in the same paragraph his tutor had marked that he was piling Pelion on Ossa.

It turns out that the phrase means¬†introducing further complexity or redundancy to something that is already difficult enough, like putting one of the two Greek mountains Pelion and Ossa on top of the other. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you need to reevaluate your priorities, but you’ll also know that I’m a big fan of keeping it simple and avoiding complexity in our messaging and interactions.

How cool is that!? I encourage you all to wedge this fantastic phrase into everyday conversation this week, and see what kind of a reaction you get.

Blankness and a raising of the eyebrows will be up there I would imagine…