Archives for category: Planning

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?

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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…

How many of us strive towards perfection, aiming to do something perfectly? After all, if something not worth doing well, if’s not worth doing at all, as our parent and grandparents – the grafting generations, before it all got a bit too easy – used to tell us.

Can we do something perfectly? Can we put in a perfect performance, a perfect execution of a plan? Is perfect even attainable? Is it like a ghost, or a mirage, always out of reach? Should it even be something we strive for?

I know that if I ever do the perfect something, I’m never going to do any of it again. When I write the perfect press release, play the perfect game of footie or table tennis, deliver the perfect presentation, close the perfect sale, or deliver the perfect marketing campaign, I’m going to quit immediately, on the highest of highs, and never do one of them again.

I’ll quit when I produce the perfect something because¬†I’ll never be able to do better. I’ll leave at the top, and not solider through the inevitable decline from my best, like so many people do.

I reckon I’ll be OK for a while though. Right now I’m not close to perfect in anything that I turn my head or hand to.

A long, long time ago I was in a fish and chip shop in Edinburgh, very close both to the tennis club where I’d just played a couple of sets and to my home. In fact it was a handy stopping off point from one place to the other, solving dinner at the same time.

I was with another English chap that I didn’t know very well. He was in banking, very ambitious and very clear on his career and financial goals. We weren’t very alike but we shared an interest in tennis, that was about it. There were half a dozen people in the queue.

I noticed a scruffy looking small dog come into the chippie and start sniffing around. I said to my tennis pal, in quite a low voice, jokingly, something along the lines of ‘is that a dog in the place where I’ve chosen to get my dinner?’

This drew the attention of an equally scruffy looking man in the line, the owner of the dog as it turned out, who said, not jokingly, something along the lines of ‘of course it’s a dog you [insert anglo saxon epithet of choice here, in a broad local accent]’, which also carried the clear threat of ‘what are you going do about it?’

I instantly raised my eyebrows, as many of us do as a stalling mechanism as we consider the multiple different ways this conversation should progress. My tennis pal shook his head. We moved on, got our food, and left.

What he said afterwards has stuck with me ever since. ‘That was a no win situation. You can’t go there. You’ve so much more to lose than him.’

This is true not just in life but in business too. If you risk being drawn into any competitive situation with a bottom-feeder, be very careful before you decide to engage.

I realise that are two ways you could interpret the title of this blog post. I don’t mean that the good ones want to be measured in their approach, in other words, considered, careful, circumspect, even though that might be a good thing in many situations. I mean that they want to be measured, by us.

Good sales people are confident in their abilities and want to be measured. The better measured they are, as long as the system of measurement is fair, the clearer their effort is, the better they sell, the better they’re rewarded.

The less good don’t want to be measured, or want to be measured less. The less they’re measured, the more they can hide in the grey areas that are equivocal and open to interpretation, wiggle room and excuses. Same for marketers too.

If you’re hiring sales people, and you know you have a product that sells well – not that you can sell well, that other people can sell well – look for the ones that want to be tied down to targets and measurements. They’re the ones who want to see their progress, be judged accurately on their efforts, and be rewarded accordingly.

 

Every month or so over the summer I declare a war on weeds at the front of our house. We have what you might call a low maintenance front area, with a lot of it paved for a car and the border is a mixture of pebbles over weed-block tarpaulin and plant areas.

The thing with weeding is that it’s a bit like sales and marketing. It’s all or nothing. You either do it properly or you don’t bother. You can do a half-cocked job and they’re back 2 weeks later. I thought they were growing up through two layers of tarpaulin, but, following a root and branch – see what I did there? – analysis of the blighters they appear to be growing between the pebbles and then pushing down through the weed-block with their sturdy little roots. They’re all over the edges of the borders, or perhaps I should say the borders of the borders, sneaking in between the concrete and the weed-block edge, and helped by the zealous over-watering of the overhead balcony plants by Mrs D. Getting at the roots is tricky.

I can almost see the weeds looking up at me when I turn up with my trowel and my brown bin, and saying. “Here he is again. We’re not going to go through this charade again, are we? You realise you’re just giving us a haircut, right? Give us a couple of days and we’re going to be looking even better.”

So I’m turning up the heat on my war on weeds. No more Mr Nice Guy. No more vinegar mix and organicy stuff that cosies up to the weeds. I’ve bought the real deal, armageddon in a bottle and spray. This stuff will kill everything in its path, only stopping and evaporating at the earth’s core.

I just need to wait for a dry spell, in the west of Ireland renowned for its lakes, rivers and soft days…

 

One of the things I find really useful in work and life, both in terms of getting things done and getting them done well, is this: set the bar high.

From the smallest of tasks to the biggest of dreams, setting the bar high has two chief benefits.

First, if you reach the bar you’re delighted with yourself. You did better than you thought you would. If you don’t quite reach the bar, your slight underachievement against such a lofty target is probably better than you were expecting. Stretching yourself and pushing yourself to go really high means that you’ll give it your all. Setting an easily achievable bar leads to complacency and a sub-optimal improvement curve.

Second, setting the bar high and pushing yourself feels great when you’re finished. It means you’ll be more satisfied more of the time. Challenging yourself leads to more success and more rewards, gets you through down periods or slow periods, and all that becomes a virtuous circle.

It’s not a question of being glass half empty or glass half full. Want to do well and stay happy? Set a bar, and set the bar high in everything you do.

Today is the 4th of July. Or as our Americans friends say, July 4th. Happy July 4th, Happy Independence Day to Americans one and all.

Some celebration dates are easy dates, July 4th being an apposite example. Another is Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May, which I gather is a big deal in Mexico. May the 4th, Star Wars Day, is yet another, a brilliant adoption and adaptation of the key line in the trilogy – actually it’s about an octology at this stage – namely May the Force Be With You.

Who remembers when St George’s Day, the patron saint of England, occurs, glossing over the fact that he was born in Italy, even among many English people? It’s not an easy date to remember, because the date isn’t in the name of the day. You can make a counter argument for Christmas Day, but that one’s got a good bit more global prominence and focus.

From a marketing perspective, the memorable – and rememberable – you make the day, the easy it is to market.

St George’s Day is the 23rd of April by the way. Just looked it up.

Flies looking at the sky the wrong way

It’s the beginning of the second half of the year, a chance to review how the first half went and figure out where we want to be by the end of the second half. A chance to step back for a moment, take stock and ask ourselves if we’re looking at things the right way.

There are lots of business books, concepts and parables to help us do this. One that comes to mind regularly is the parable of the boiled frog from Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline. The story goes that the frog will react to sudden changes, like being dropped into boiling water, but will not notice and respond to gradual changes in temperature if you put it in cooled water which you then heat slowly.

I’d like to offer another parable: the fly in the skylight. We’ve all seen moths round a lamp or flies on a window. They’re both in search of the light. I was reminded of this recently when I noticed the skylight in our sun room. We were enjoying a spell of warm weather and this had drawn a number of flies inside and into the recess containing the skylight. You can probably see them in the picture. The flies can see the sky, their way out or so it seems. They will constantly bang against the skylight, searching for a way out, until they die of exhaustion and lack of food.

Their problem is that they’re looking at the sky the wrong way. They need someone to show them the open window or door lying a few metres away that are 100% better ways for them to get to where they need to go.

So as I embark on the second half of the year, I ask myself this question? Am I choosing the right path for trying to get where I want to go, or am I stuck in the recess, looking at the sky the wrong way and not noticing the glass which blocks my path?