Archives for category: Strategy

The other day I was in a hurry to check the status of a flight I was taking later that week. I needed to know if I could fit in an appointment before leaving for the airport. When I went onto the website this is what I got.

For a company of this stature, and for a company that transacts online at this kind of scale, I find this flabbergasting. Such a website shouldn’t ever be down, certainly not at peak hours. This was 17:00 on a week day.

When I worked in the cyber-security business, the standard service level agreement for a cloud-based service was what they call ‘five nines’, or 99.999% availability. In some quarters, four nines wasn’t seen as sufficient for an enterprise’s mission-critical systems. To put this in perspective, five nines availability allows for total unscheduled downtime – assuming uptime is calculated on a 24/7/365 basis – of just six minutes, for the entire year, if my calculations are correct.

Which leads me to conclude either that this is one of those moments of unforeseen torture for a company that sets itself the highest standards of transactional availability, or that the company is in fact a bit sloppy or laissez faire with its customers’ goodwill.

In the time it’s taken me to write this post, I checked back on the site and it was back up, so perhaps we can give Ryanair the benefit of the doubt on this occasion.

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There are two types of business-to-business client. I found this out in my first job after my MBA in the 1990’s when I worked for a design and marketing agency and had to get out there and sell.

The first type of client is the type that respects your work, trusts your expertise and domain knowledge, and generally takes your advice.

The other type of client is the type that wants it done his or her way, tells you what they want, because they know better, even though what they want may not be the best for them. They respond to what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.

The one factor that affects this division is the amount of experience and and expertise you have with regard to your client’s industry. The less you have, or can demonstrate, the less likely they’ll be inclined to take your advice and the more command and control their approach becomes.

You know the saying: ‘you get the clients you deserve’. Clients also get the agencies, suppliers or delivery partners they deserve.

The term ‘client’ is also problematic for me. We used it in the agency and some companies still use it, depending on their sector. It puts the customer on a pedestal. I agree that everything stems from the customer, and that we all should be customer-centric, but when you elevate your customer to almost divine status it makes it hard both to have a peer-to-peer relationship that’s based on trust and to strike a fair deal. Then you have a vendor/supplier-client relationship that’s unequal and approaches that of a slave-master relationship. That’s what the term ‘client’ feels like to me.

Our French friends use the same word – faire – for both ‘to make’ and ‘to do’. Perhaps some other languages do too. You get the sense from the French of which word it translates to in English.

When it comes to combining the sense with the word ‘work’, however, it’s a really good job we have two separate words, and with every justification, as they’re fundamentally different things.

Making work is making work for yourself, to keep yourself busy, or in a job, or making work for other people to have to do, in various uncharitable and unhelpful ways. It’s the creating of a system that keeps people and organisations in a job, rather than serving the community as a whole usefully. It’s the overcomplicating of things to discourage people from applying for or claiming what is either rightfully theirs or what they’re entitled to. It’s preserving the complex, the difficult to understand, the proprietary or the difficult to join in order to justify whole departments or maintain the exclusivity of a club. Huge swathes of the public sector are guilty of this.

Then there is doing work; creating outputs, producing things, executing on plans, the act of getting something done. Productivity and performance lives at its heart. It’s about closing sales rather than preventing sales. It’s about accelerating motion, rather than retarding it. It’s about access over exclusion, encouragement over discouragement, others over oneself. It’s about knocking through barriers rather than putting them up, and it’s about telling people what they can do, rather than what they can’t.

So the question to ask yourself, obviously, is this: are you making work, or are you doing work? And the sanity question is this: what would others say about you?

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…

Solitude is great for concentration, great for getting things done.

As someone who does a lot of writing from home, I find that solitude and silence are the most productive drivers. I tend not to listen to music, or even have the radio on in the background. It’s just me and my thoughts, with no distractions. I do sing to myself, out loud, on the breaks though, as one does.

Of course, it’s horses for courses. A mate of mine who also writes for a living always has the radio on in the background, usually something high-brow like BBC Radio 3, which might explain his encyclopaedic knowledge of music.

It’s what you’re used to, and it goes in waves. There was a time when I listened to music when I wrote and the mood the particular music inspires can influence the writing, which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the subject matter and the tone.

After too much, though, the solitude and quiet gets to you, and mild cabin fever sets in. Then, for me, it’s time, not for music, but some old fashioned dialogue and some human interaction. A good home-working balance seems to be a mix of thinking, writing time in solitude and collaborative, team time in the office.

Do you set PAGs for yourself – personal annual goals? Perhaps it sounds a bit too organised, a bit too much like work. Maybe you like to go with the flow and see where you’re at the end of the year. Maybe you don’t think of your life like that and go through it savouring every moment.

If you do like to achieve things, and see an improvement in your life and the lives of those closest to you, then PAGs are a good way of doing that. They stop time running away from you. We know from experience that plans very rarely survive the first incursion into reality, but having some high level objectives keeps us on track and focused on the here and now I think.

I know a guy who sets himself PAGs. They might be things like ‘sell house for x, clearing y profit’, ‘change car’, and ‘earn z before taxes’, those kind of things. He really values them and he’s flying through them at the moment.

I think they work well for achievable or binary things that you have control over, like selling your house for a certain amount. Where they work less well is with big hairy arse goals, or BHAGs as the business folk call them, like get your first book published – not self-published – or getting a child into a highly oversubscribed school. These have a low probably rate of success, yet they’re still binary.

Personal Annual Goals are great ways of stopping time from running away from you, that most precious of resources that you can’t ever get back. In that sense, further chopping your PAGS into half-yearly, quarterly and even personal monthly goals, PMGs, is not a bad idea either.

As I write this post it’s 10 years to the week since the great financial crash of 2008, followed by years of turmoil and hardship, certainly in Ireland at any rate, before the provinces – by which I mean, in the English sense, the areas outside of the capital – started to recover, slowly and not so surely.

Not so Dublin, which probably recovered 5 years ago and is once again in the throes of a giddy period of boom. I’ve blogged before about the amount of construction going on in the city. The hotels are full – and I don’t mean some of them, I mean the city’s hotel capacity is maxed out – during the summer; you can’t get a room for anything reasonable. The roads are gorged with traffic all year round. You can’t get anywhere quickly, except by a fast walking.

I’m regularly in Dublin, but on my last visit I couldn’t help but marvel at the divide between the capital and the provinces, some of which are only just getting back on their feet. After fighting through town in a taxi – yes, even the bus lane was a car park – to make my train, I saw that, as usual, the train for Galway was departing from the group of 3 platforms that are two hundred-plus yardss further than the rest of the platforms. Not only that, but the train sits beyond an empty redundant train at the very top of the platform, a hundred and fifty yards further.

It brought it home to me, as provincial people in any country probably feel, that there’s Dublin, and then there’s outside Dublin, which doesn’t really matter much.

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.

 

August is a deceptively busy month.

On the surface, everyone’s on holiday and you can’t get anything done. If you’re relying on getting stuff back from suppliers, partners, or customers, you’re done for. It’s the holiday month. Don’t ask me for an answer, a budget, or a decision, it’s not happening.

But August is a deceptively busy month because everyone comes back on the first of September and immediately has to hit top gear until the next silly season hits around mid-December til the second week of January. To be ready to go in September we have to do the work in August, getting everything ready and managing our projects and our lead times.

August is a great month for getting the work done, undisturbed, so you’re ready to go when the wheels start screeching in the autumn.

As long as you don’t need anything back from anyone, that is. It’s a great month if you only need you to produce what it is you’re producing. But, interaction, collaboration? Forget it. Shoulda got that done in July…