Change is a good excuse to change

In business we are constantly looking for “that edge”. It might be how special we make our clients feel, it might be how we differentiate our product, how we run the office, or the kind of people we recruit. We are looking for those extra “1 percenters” that add up to real tangible value. And it is a constant process that requires us to investigate and analyse every part of the organisation.

Some companies adopt a disciplined approach of performing strategic assessments and SWOT analysis on a regular basis. But for others, they are forced into action during times of change.

Recently I was excited to discover that the local Australian Rules football team (the Adelaide Crows) appointed a new CEO (Andrew Fagan) who was neither a local lad (unless you count the first 3 years of his life!) or from an Australian Rules background. Indeed he came from a Rugby Union background – similar shaped ball but that is where the similarities start and end! Interestingly Mr. Fagan is quoted as saying that “I came in completely devoid of baggage, associations and partnerships”.(1)

The Adelaide Crows have appointed a clever guy with an aptitude to learn and to make things happen. Only time will tell whether it is a stroke of genius or not, but I have to take my hat off to such innovative thinking. By bringing in someone from a completely different background every part of the business will be scrutinised and questioned. Nothing will be assumed. The “stupid questions” will be asked (and it is amazing how often this brings about the “stupid answers”). Every person in that organisation will be made accountable for their actions. They will all be asked about their role and what the CEO can do to help them achieve more. Fresh ideas will be introduced and brainstorming sessions will stimulate new thoughts and approaches. It might be the catalyst to give the business “the edge” that it needs.

Often it is the very fabric of an organisation’s culture that makes change difficult to achieve. But sometimes we are forced to change. Demand might create a need to recruit for a new post. A senior person might resign from a role (or be given the nod!). An expecting mother will take some time off for maternity leave. A special project might be identified that requires external help.

What an amazing opportunity all of these situations create. The only question you need to ask yourself is whether you are bold enough to make this change a positive step that will enable your business to innovate, develop and improve.

Maybe change is a time for change!

 

 

 (1) Source: The Advertiser 25 October 2014

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Wimbledon – play hard but play fair

The Monday after the Wimbledon tennis championships is always a melancholy affair. You get used to a fortnight of fantastic tennis and drama and then all of a sudden you are left with nothing. However, this year seemed different for some reason. Maybe I am starting to put tennis and sport into context. Appreciating it for the moment and then letting it go.

Perhaps part of the evolution in my thinking was a consequence of a tennis tournament I played last year. I was lucky enough to play in the Wimbledon vets tournament (no, not an animal Doctor convention – a tennis tournament for us men of a “certain age”). Our match was on the showcase court of Aorangi Park (the Wimbledon practice courts – you didn’t think they would let me loose on centre court did you!?) It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, there was a good crowd in place and I was playing the guy that won it last year. So the pressure was on.

I started a bit nervously but then realised that all the guy did was get shots back into play with nothing else. So I stepped up a gear and really took the match to him. I loosened up and started to really hit my shots freely. I went from 4-5 down to 6-5 up and was feeling really good at the change of ends. I was dominating. Then it went pear shaped. I hit two clean winners that would have given me the set and he called them both out (to groans from the crowd). I looked pleadingly at the crowd for their verdict and they confirmed that my shots were good. But with no umpire what can you do? By this time the crowd were well on my side (like some pantomime and he was the villain). I could have lost my cool but I battled on. He managed to get that game and then it went to a tie break where he called another ball out and then when I hit a drop shot and the ball bounced twice he claimed that he had hit it after one bounce. More noise from the crowd as to their disbelief at what was happening. I then returned a cracking backhand that was a foot inside the line and he called that out as well. It was clear that anything remotely close to the lines he was going to call out. I protested loudly on this and people in the crowd started getting involved saying that the ball was in so he overturned the call. Now I know how he won the title last year!!

The crowd realised I was getting cheated so badly that they called the tournament referee down to inform him what was going on. It must be pretty bad when some casual observer takes such positive action. In any event a lot of the damage had been done. In my mind I figured I should have already had the set and like it or not the momentum shifts. All of a sudden the match is very different and you only have a few points to play with – a lottery. Unfortunately he won the tie-break 8-6.

The last set went by in a flash – all I wanted to do was to get into the car and get out of there.

I shook his hand but I wasn’t interested in any post match banter – I mean how can you respect someone who behaves like that? To the delight of the crowd, I remember telling him “I came here to have fun mate and you’ve spoilt a beautiful day”.

A year on and I have forgotten the final score. But the one thing I can remember like it was yesterday, is the feeling of walking through the crowd afterwards with my head held high and plenty of support and back slapping from people saying that I was the better player. I didn’t win the match but I was proud of my actions. I guess the thrill of success is short, but your dignity is with you always. I didn’t win but at least the spirit of good sportsmanship on my behalf was there for all to see….and for me that is what sport (and life) is all about.

You try your hardest but you play fair.

But all was not lost. The tournament referee was Allan Mills (a living legend for those in the tennis world). After the match, Allan Mills came over and asked if I would like to have a chat. Having met such a true legend in those circumstances is something I will remember always. So sometimes victories come wrapped in different packages….all you have to do is look out for them!

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Mike with Allan Mills – the first Englishman to beat Rod Laver.

With my beaming smile you can see that he has cheered me up

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Running against the wind

I remember whilst growing up in the hot dry Australian landscape the stories my father told me about Australian sporting legends. Even after all these years the stories would stay in my mind like a movie I had seen; such was the animation and passion in which my father told them. Interestingly in my mind the images were always in black and white…perhaps that is how we perceive events of the past…funny how the mind works!

There were stories of “Slasher” Mackay who took blows to his chest to force a draw in a test match against the West Indies at Adelaide Oval, there were stories of Ron Clarke who burnt his hand when lighting the cauldron to open the Melbourne Olympic Games. But the story that has always remained close to me is the story my father told me about Herb Elliott (one of the world’s greatest middle distance runners).

Herb had a rival when he was in his senior years at Aquinas College. On one particular day the two of them were training at the same track. Herb always trained against the wind….but this was not just any wind. Herb trained in Western Australia and the wind was known as the Fremantle Doctor…gusts of wind reaching 15-20 knots. Talk about hard work! But Herb knew that running against the wind is tougher on the body and the mind but if you can survive it, then it gives you confidence in the heat of battle. On that particular day Herb looked over at his rival trying to gain some sort of mental or psychological edge. What happened next amazed and inspired Herb. He noticed that his rival had decided to run with the wind. This is easier and for a runner more flattering on time. It gave one a sense of being fitter and performing better than they really were. I don’t know the name of Herb’s rival. Dad never mentioned him when telling the story. And that is the point. No one remembers him. Why? Because he chose the easy option in life and didn’t achieve his full potential. From that point on Herb knew that he would never lose to this man …and he never did.

Life is filled with pain and obstacles and suffering. Not all of us are athletes but each day we face challenges that question our strength, our stamina and our resolve. Sometimes it is easier to take the easy path but that is never as rewarding and never allows us to push ourselves to the limits. And as strange as this may seem, taking the easy path is not as much fun. On our journey it is exciting to find nooks and crannies and trails that branch from our overall path. In fact, some of our more interesting stories and memories are of our struggles and tales of hardship. They are battle scars that we wear proudly to show that we have fought the good fight.

This story has always inspired me in life. I have always tried to embrace change and to challenge myself. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. But to push yourself means you live a life without regret. You try everything to achieve your full potential…to be the best you. To run against the wind is living a valuable and enriched life.

Herb Elliott

Source: Australian Olympic Committee website

See, I was right – the image is in Black and White

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Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

Will you be married, will you have children, will you move to a new city, will you still be working for the same company, will you be your own boss, will you be retired, will you be travelling, will you be living the life you always dreamed of?

It is a challenging question, but it is also a beautifully simple and empowering question.

Tim Hurson (speaker, writer and creativity theorist) once said that “we tend to overestimate what we can do in the short term and underestimate what we can do in the long term”.

It is one of the great things in life that we have so much choice. We make choices each day that shape our life and our future. Of course with such freedom comes the responsibility to take ownership of our future. Living in the now and being mindful of the present is great but we need some longer term goals and vision.

And this is an approach that not only applies to your personal life but can (and should) be applied to your business life.

As a Finance Director, an interesting exercise I have worked with clients on is compiling a 10 year plan. This initiative considers all aspects of how the business will look in 10 years; the financials, number of clients, the profile of the client, how the business will operate, the organisational hierarchy, the number of employees, the dependency of the model on key individuals and a bunch of other things. It is about hopping into the “business time machine” and leaping 10 years into the future to see how your business could look. And the aim is to think big and not be limited by the issues and problems that you might face today. It is a tool that allows you to identify what your business (and personal) goals are and to plot the path for you to get there.

It is amazing what develops from this exercise. Some clients realise that if they can grow their business by 10% year on year out that they will be in a position to sell their business and retire. This is empowering as it enables them to use the now to focus on solid sales targets. Other business owners realise that they would still like to be involved in managing the business but perhaps cut back on the day-to-day activities. This means they have time to recruit and train the team to achieve this objective. Others will realise that the business needs external input which allows them to consider merger and acquisition strategies, as well as funding options.

Developing a 10 year plan provides you with a powerful road map. It promotes meaningful discussions with your fellow partners and stakeholders so that you can align your interests and your goals. It also assists with your SWOT analysis as you will identify the threats and areas of weakness that need to be addressed and galvanised. It enables you to articulate a sales and marketing strategy and to create clear targets.

So work out where you want to be in 10 years and then work back from there. What do you need to do each year (starting now) so that you get to your destination? Working out where you want to be is sometimes the trickiest part. Once you have this goal then you just need the discipline, desire and commitment to walk that path.

You can apply this to life, your career or your business. Have fun with it. The sky is the limit if you are prepared to think big and take the necessary steps to get there.

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Forget an Open Door policy – what you need is an Open Mind policy

Assets are a funny thing. Well I don’t mean Jonathan Ross or Graham Norton funny but I mean they are a little strange. Some assets depreciate (like machinery and motor vehicles) and some assets appreciate (like Investments and property). And this brings me onto the topic of what is often described as a company’s biggest asset: employees. Accounting rules don’t allow us to put employees on the Balance Sheet. But if you could quantify their value and book them as an accounting transaction, would you treat them as a depreciating asset (where their value diminishes over time) or would you treat them as an Investment (where their value increases over time); giving you a decent return on your investment along the way?

My view is that if nurtured and managed properly, your employees should not only be your biggest asset but they should also be your biggest investment; with a healthy return to boot!

And as with any investment you need to monitor their progress and manage their performance to ensure that you maximise the return on that investment.

So with this in mind, why is it that many business owners and entrepreneurs fail to really communicate and engage with their staff? Why do they put up barriers between themselves and their staff? Sure they go through the ritual of one-to-ones and appraisals but are they really fully committed to helping the team deliver on business goals and ultimately maximise shareholder value?

I believe that a great leader is someone who doesn’t get in the way. Looked at from a different perspective, if you not only get out of the way but also act as support to your team the business can really flourish.

And the key to this is an “open mind policy”. An open door policy is not enough. And don’t kid yourself if you think that working in an open plan environment is enough either. Your door might as well be double bolted and fitted with an alarm if when a person walks into your office they are met with a stressed, curt and unwelcoming reaction.

People tend to “clam up” and go on the defensive when they know that they are going to cop a “spray” or “an ear-bashing” – even more so if it is in front of their peers. And this means an unproductive and secretive workforce who store up problems and waste valuable time second guessing how the boss will react. Sometimes a 5 minute chat is enough to give the employee direction so that they can crack on and get the job done (especially when they have hit a fork in the road and need to know which way to go).

You employed these people because you believed in them. And they joined your organisation because they believe in you. So make time in your diary for coffees and catch ups. Remember, not every minute of your time has to be taken up with clients and what you deem to be “more important issues”. Spending time with employees can be the best use of your time. Structure your business properly and the team will work for you – not the other way around.

Now that makes good business sense – and all it takes is an open mind.

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Do you love your job???????

We have made it to the end of January and are now officially over that embarrassing time when you see someone for the first time in the year and are not sure whether you should say happy new year or not!

January is a funny month because everyone is chilled in the first few weeks and exhibit the same lethargy as your Grandpa on the couch after Christmas lunch! I did a few spin classes in the first few weeks of the year and I could have sworn some people were going in reverse! Why do people find it so hard to engage and get on with the daily grind in the new year? Maybe that is the answer…”the daily grind”…it doesn’t sound too inspiring.  Perhaps people feel that it is a case of the “same ole, same ole”.

By the end of January many who have held high hopes for the new year are at that stage where they have either broken new year’s resolutions (yes, there are a lot more empty seats at the spin classes!) or resigned themselves to the fact that 2014 will be no different to last year. Well here’s a bit of a reality check…it’s no way to live your life. You owe it to yourself to achieve more out of life. Life is a collection of every minute, every hour and every day you live.

If you are an employee and are not passionate about your job then find something you are passionate about. But before you go handing in your notice, it is worth having a chat to your boss first. Your boss is not a mind reader and presumably recruited you because they saw something special in you. So you owe it to both parties to find a way of making it work. By discussing this with your employer it could promote positive action that results in increased responsibility, a transfer to a new department or agreeing a career path you can both work towards. You will be happy and so too will your employer!

And for employers the same applies. When appraising your team or performing one to ones, for goodness sake find out about what your employees really want from their career and encourage them to achieve it. If you can help them achieve this within your organisation then that is even better. But make sure you take action – having an unhappy and bored employee is no good for anyone…it impacts morale, productivity and makes the workplace an unpleasant experience for everyone. And for us Finance Directors, that translates into lower revenues, higher costs and reduced profitability – which makes us unhappy :-( .

And the same applies to new recruits. As Finance Directors, often we are called in for hiring and firing. I have done my fair share of both over the years. Many wise mentors I have had the privilege of working for have always advised me to recruit based on attitude. And they are right. Any bad hires I have made have been because I didn’t take my time, needed to desperately fill a gap or didn’t go with my gut instinct. Get a person with a positive attitude and they and the business will go places.

Having a person who loves their job and with a real “fire in their belly” reminds me of the closing scene of Skyfall. Forgetting whether you enjoyed the movie or not, the final scene is very powerful. James Bond has been shot at, knocked down, betrayed and everything else you can imagine by his employer but he is ready to get back to work. Sure you might say it is because of the Aston Martin, the bespoke suits, the vodka martinis and the exotic lifestyle but if you see the film clip (attached below) you sense that it is much more than that. Could you imagine what you could achieve if you had a team with that sort of passion and desire.

How many people in your organisation do you know with that sort of attitude? Would you include yourself in that list?

This is the year to be true to yourself….it all starts now…..so ask yourself this question….do you love your job?

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A time to reflect

There is something special about Christmas in cold countries. This time last year I was in Oz and putting another “snag on the barbie” (sorry, I don’t do prawns!) but this year I am all rugged up and dreaming of a white Christmas.

I think the beauty of Christmas in a colder climate is that the days are shorter and you spend more time indoors. Therefore this becomes a more reflective time. I find that it is a perfect time to relax and think about the year behind us and the year ahead.

I find that it is a good chance to think about the positive things in my life (and be grateful for them) but to also look at the areas in my life that I am trying to improve.

Each year about this time I put together a simple list of my goals for the year ahead. I don’t tend to do a New Year’s resolution because by their very nature they only focus on one thing. It is very difficult to make a significant change to one aspect of your life without throwing the rest of your world into chaos. So for example, joining a new gym and exercising every night is not sustainable for many – because now they can’t spend time with loved ones or friends or do other fun stuff. Therefore they give up. A more realistic approach (when joining a gym) is to sign up to a few exercise classes as well. You make a promise to the class, you are part of a group and they are loads of fun…and in doing so you make a greater commitment to the change. The trick is to look at the whole and blend the change in with your overall life. I see change as maintaining an equilibrium. You need to consider the whole.

Bambi and Mike Christmas 2010

Each year I write down on a blank piece of paper the 6 headings:

Family 

e.g. spend more quality time with my wife and the family

 

Friends 

e.g. get organised and arrange more regular catch ups

Spiritual 

e.g. quiet time to reflect and connect with my spiritual side

 

Health 

e.g. eat more fruit and do more exercise

Business / Work

e.g. doing a technical course/study programme

 

Fun

e.g. travelling to a country I haven’t been to before

 Besides each of these areas I write down my personal goals. I compare what I achieved against last year’s goals and change them if necessary. I try to make them fit in with the known constraints of my life. So for example, if I have a broken leg rather than putting down wanting to run a marathon I might set a goal to do more walking or swimming. That way they are still challenging but also realistic (although I’m not sure how a plaster cast would get on in water?!).

I find that I am at my happiest when each of these 6 areas is getting attention and is balanced. It is not easy and takes plenty of effort but I know that by doing this I am happy and achieving what I value the most in life. I figure that if we don’t take control of our destiny then who will?

If you have had a bad year this approach gives you hope and a focus. And if you have had a good year this enables you to stay on top of your game.

So if you get a few quiet moments to yourself over the festive season, try and think of the areas in your life that you would like to work on. We are all works in progress and we should see the new year as an adventure and a chance to build on the wonderful people we already are. And this can only be done by being honest with yourself but also giving yourself a pat on the back for what you have achieved already.

Wishing you all a merry Christmas and a happy and joyful new year. May you achieve what you are truly capable of.

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The Heir to the Throne

Wow…what a busy month. I’ve finally found a moment to stop and reflect. Some finance projects I have been involved with lately reminded me of an article I read some time ago about how many Finance Directors see themselves as “CEO’s in waiting” (turns out that it was The Director magazine…only took me 20 minutes to rummage through my archived copies – but I was determined to give my source credit!).

If you think this is crazy (that FD’s think they can cut it as a CEO) then take a look at the make-up of the FTSE100 companies – reports indicate that a staggering 38% of CEO’s come from a finance background.

Now I know you are thinking “yeah but I’m not a FTSE 100 company”…well, very true but the principle is the same.

When you analyse the high percentage of finance trained CEO’s it makes more sense than you initially think. The image of the bean counter is long gone. Today’s FD is more like a seed-planter. There is so much data to absorb, investigate and act on. And so the finance role becomes a more strategic role. Companies need to run their organisation with the timing, precision and collaboration of a symphony orchestra. And whilst the business owner is out doing what they do best – drumming up business and creating opportunities – the FD is the one who takes on the role of conductor for the orchestra. Making sure that everything works according to plan.

But why the FD? Why not one of the other Directors or Managers?

My theory is that this phenomenon is because it is the “money man” that is the most trusted manager in the organisation. After all, you don’t give someone the keys to the safe unless you trust them. And once trust exists, information flows. The CEO sees the FD as a confidant and leans on them for their opinions, thoughts and as a sounding board. You are sharing your innermost secrets and knowledge of the business with the FD. No other directors or managers get this overview of the organisation or such “one on one” interaction with the CEO. Add to this a solid understanding of the financial position of the business and it is no surprise that the FD knows what is good about the organisation and what needs improving. And because they are not emotional about numbers they know what to do in a crisis (a little like a nurse or Doctor if faced with an accident – they don’t get freaked out by the situation, they just crack on and get the job done).

But the real power of the FD is when they break free from their spreadsheets and open up communication with operations and all the other departments. This enables positive change and transformation to take place; across the entire organisation. Therefore, to be successful and to influence positive outcomes, the FD needs to be a great communicator.

So if the FD is not an heir to the throne – let’s face it, no one can really do your job as CEO :-) – at the very least they are a backup to the CEO and they need to echo the CEO’s vision and instil confidence in the troops and stakeholders. It is an ambassadorial position that brings enormous power and enormous responsibility.

Having an FD by your side can truly enable your business to flourish. As we can see, if used wisely, they do more than just add up numbers!

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The FD Studio has lift off

The last few months have been exciting times as I have been working with a local branding consultancy and web experts (Ditto Design and Happen Web) in launching the new website for the FD Studio.

And I am proud to say that we now have lift off.

The FD studio is the new and improved version (a bit like a corporate “makeover”) of a business I have been running for many years that offers a Finance Director service to businesses that need the “occasional but dedicated” input of a Finance Director. But it is not just any FD. We offer an FD with a twist: try to think of it as an accountant-counsellor-coach-mentor-strategist and business friend all rolled into one.

Putting the website together has been a really fun journey. I have come to know myself better, understand what makes me tick, what makes me different and why I love what I do. Being responsible for the finances of a company is a chance for me to make a difference to people’s businesses and ultimately to their lives. I can help people and that sits well with my values and beliefs in life.

Plus being involved in branding and website design has been brilliant. Even though I manage finance projects for clients it is nice to see how good it feels when you are a part of a project and how important it is to be part of that journey. Once you understand why things are done in a certain way you can really appreciate the end result. You actually feel that it represents you and what you stand for.

For many owner managers, I see a website as an extension of yourself and the person you are. It needs to reflect you and your vision.

So without further ado here is a sneak preview……

The FD Studio website 2

You will agree that it is a very different feel and look to other “finance” style business. I’m sure  I’ve caused the designers plenty of challenges (never would I say problems!) but it was important that the website promoted my personality and the vibrant, spirited and dynamic nature of the offering. And that is what the “studio” concept is all about: passion, creativity and innovation. It is about “thinking differently and doing differently.”

So please check out the FD studio website and have a look around. Let me know what you think.

 

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