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Posts from the ‘Top Tips’ Category

VUCA Times Call for DURT Leaders

August 13th, 2016



by Jon Mertz

The first time I saw the word ‘VUCA’ I had no idea what it was. A quick Google search produced the answer. VUCA means: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Simply stated, this is the world we live in today!

It is a valid description of what happens in our business and economic environments. Technology drives volatility and complexity. Economic and political conditions create uncertainty. All of this is wrapped in ambiguity. At times, there seem to be so many trends happening at once that trying to grasp it all while determining a reasonable path forward seems nearly impossible.

But in what seems impossible, what is possible begins to bloom.

Don’t Be a VUCA Leader
One thing that’s absolutely unambiguous about VUCA is that you do not want to be described in this way.

If you are a volatile leader, your changing and erratic behaviour will drive good people away.

If you are an uncertain leader, your changing directions will frustrate people and lead them to question your capabilities.

If you are a complex leader, no one will get to know you or understand your expectations.

If you are an ambiguous leader, your lack of clarity in what is expected will stymie people’s performance and quickly lead to disengagement.

So VUCA is obviously not a desirable leadership trait. Leaders need to be Reliable, Trustworthy, Direct and Understandable. That’s a poor acronym unless we rearrange the letters to DURT – Direct, Understandable, Reliable, Trustworthy.

In VUCA times, leaders need to get their hands dirty. They need to plant seeds for growth. In VUCA times, leaders need to cultivate talent, harvest what is planted and always prepare for a better day ahead. In fact, VUCA and farming have a lot in common. There are many uncontrollable elements in producing a bountiful harvest, yet we control what we can and work through what we cannot.

Be Direct in complex situations: transparency and open communication builds trust.

Be Understandable in ambiguous situations: clarity in purpose, direction and responsibilities empowers others.

Be Reliable in volatile situations: follow-through on what’s been said and agreed accelerates positive momentum.

Be Trustworthy in uncertain situations: invest in people, involve partners, seek to understand and act with respect.

The point in all this is to raise your leadership game in times of VUCA rather than matching VUCA circumstances with VUCA characteristics.

How to Be a DURT Leader in VUCA Times

1. Know your guiding leadership philosophy. In VUCA times, it is vital to have firm foundations. A leadership philosophy will keep you centred as a leader and will also serve as a guiding force. Knowing how you want to lead will keep you leading in the way you intend to when all around you is in chaos.

2. Create effective listening posts. Listening is fundamental to understanding what your next move should be. Listening posts should include various stakeholders: team members, customers, investors, suppliers and other stakeholders. But taking information in is only the first part. Understanding what it means is where the real value lies.

3. Encourage diverse thinking. Just as your listening posts need to be diverse, so do the talents you engage to analyse, solve and act. VUCA calls for diverse thinking. Exploring all the options demands out-of-the-box thinking from out-of-the-ordinary people. A mix of perspectives and experiences will always enhance how to solve a problem and how to craft a new strategy. Don’t seek sameness. Don’t just work with people like you.

4. Envision what the ‘other side’ could look like. VUCA can create a swirl of activity. But this doesn’t always build momentum. To gain momentum, a vision of what the other side of uncertainty looks like will help plan how to reach this new point of inflection. The reasons to not remain where you are may be strong but they also need to be clear. Communicating why we can no longer stay put and do what we always have done is essential – so is communicating what a new future can look like. None of this will happen overnight, so keep communicating throughout the process.

5. Develop an ‘offense’ while maintaining your core. Whatever is core to your business cannot, and should not, be jettisoned in the movement from where you are today to where you need to go in the future. There is a balance point. The ‘old’ business provides the cash flow, customers and brand to build the ‘new’ business. At the same time, the old business cannot be the albatross to prevent the development of the new strategy.

A good offense always engages in a good defence. As a leader, a new offense needs to be communicated with clarity. While the new offense needs time to develop and unfold, maintaining the core business will ensure the new plans have time to take hold and produce success. Achieving the right give-and-take in the planning is the leadership challenge and necessity.

6. Shift your perceptions of success and failure. So-called success may breed complacency and rapid obsolescence. So-called failure could provide necessary learning for future improvements and innovation.

7. Teach everyone coaching skills. With a little guidance, people can get better at listening, asking questions to help generate insights, creating action plans that align personal and business objectives and holding people accountable for actually doing what they need to do.
In uncertain times, everyone – especially leaders – needs to develop the ability to adapt and stay afloat even if the tides are shifting and the rules of the game are changing. A combination of intellect, intuition and experimentation is needed to read the signals and course correct when required. Leaders must also have the courage to admit what they don’t know, and seek out advice, help and alliances. And remember, what worked well yesterday will not necessarily work well today or tomorrow. Stay awake and you can ride the VUCA wave and not just survive, but thrive.

Jon-MertzJon Mertz is a leadership strategist and the founder of Thin Difference, an online forum dedicated to empowering Millennials to be better leaders, build stronger teams and create richer lives. He is a former Vice President of Marketing at Corepoint Health and has also worked for Deloitte, IBM, and BMC Software.

The Academy for Chief Executives is a leading executive coaching and mentoring organisation working with business leaders and their teams throughout the UK.

Member companies collectively turnover £3.5 billion per annum and on average employ 75 people each. &

To find out more about membership of the Academy for Chief Executives contact us on: 07714 246509 or

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Navigating Uncertainty

August 13th, 2016



by John Reynard

We are living in a period of huge uncertainty. So how do people in business ensure they make the best decisions they can when there is so much confusion? John Reynard, author of ‘Spiritual Route to Entrepreneurial Success – From Harassed Sole Trader to Visionary CEO’, offers some advice:

1. Resist Blaming Others
Whilst it might be tempting to blame those who voted ‘Leave’ for anything that goes wrong from now on, it will serve no purpose. Blaming others justifies inactivity. It is the coward’s way of avoiding stepping up and taking responsibility.

It’s by asking ourselves honestly and sincerely what exactly it is we need to learn from what has happened and where we are now, that we move forward. Disasters occur only when we close down and block the learning that the ‘problem’ is asking us to embrace.

2. Time to Turn Inwards
When we feel confused, overwhelmed, pulled in one direction and then another it is tempting to switch off and do nothing, and ultimately that can be devastating. Instead we need to connect and listen to our own Higher Self, our intuition, to find solutions beyond the cacophony of all that is happening around us.

For me the best way to connect with my Higher Self is through meditation. It calms my mind, lessens the degree to which I get distracted by fear-based thoughts. There are many forms of meditation; find the one that works for you.

3. Follow Your Intuition
Intuition is the voice of our Higher Self. It comes to us spontaneously with an uplifting feeling, or voice and nudges us forward in our lives. It enables us to see behind statistics and forecasts, and make useful predictions in spite of incomplete information.

As with all skills, the more you tune in to your intuition, the better you get at recognising it and following it. We nurture our intuition by regularly absorbing ourselves in activities that take us completely away from our routine thinking, out of our heads, and into our bodies. For example, walking in nature, running, cycling or even dancing to music.

4. Ask Specific Questions
Periods of calm reflection or meditation often bring us fresh ideas and new ways of seeing situations. However, there are times when we need answers to specific questions. In such cases it is important to take a couple of deep breaths, close our eyes, and step back from any immediate emotional ties to the issue. Our inner voice is best at addressing questions that require a clear yes or no. Hence, we get the best results by formulating our inquiry in such a way that a yes or a no will give clarity. The right answer will carry more vitality and enthusiasm and the first answer is usually the best one. Anything that comes later risks being influenced by our customary limiting beliefs.

ReynardJohn Reynard is author of the ‘Spiritual Route to Entrepreneurial Success – From Harassed Sole Trader to Visionary CEO’ See:

The Academy for Chief Executives is a leading executive coaching and mentoring organisation working with business leaders and their teams throughout the UK.

Member companies collectively turnover £3.5 billion per annum and on average employ 75 people each. &

To find out more about membership of the Academy for Chief Executives contact us on: 07714 246509 or



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July Economic Update 2016

July 21st, 2016



By Economist Roger Martin-Fagg

This update is the most difficult I have ever written. It is extremely difficult to to maintain objectivity and gain a sense of what is the most likely path for the UK economy over the next few years.

The vote and its fall out to date is certainly a Black Swan event which is defined as:

An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult to predict.

I think we should expect quite a few of these over the next months and years. They will originate in the USA, China, and the EU. And underlying this we have the inexorable march of innovation and ageing populations.

More than ever before business owners, managers and employees must be clear and confident about the behaviours which make their business distinctive and compelling. My advice is to make sure this is fully understood before beginning to assess the impact of the external environment. And for so many SME’s market share is so small, the wider economy has virtually no impact except perhaps on confidence of the owner.

I am splitting this Update into three sections. The first looks from now until the end of the year, the second from the end of the year until the letter is sent to the EU and the third beyond this. It is all guesswork.

The Outlook until the end of the Year

I think it is fair to say that the decision of the electorate was a shock. The UK Treasury had no plan B, but the Bank of England clearly was prepared. Most City institutions and the EU as a whole did not expect the result.

The data we have to date suggests that the consumer has held off spending, and the survey by GFK shows the biggest drop in confidence for 21 years. It is likely that this is temporary and as the dust settles consumer confidence will return in the Autumn. The impact of a weaker pound will not have come through in price increases (apart from fuel and fresh food from Spain), the Bank of England will not raise interest rates, and unemployment will not be rising. I doubt too if house prices will stop rising. The rate of increase will slow, but there will be no overall drop.

We are still a member of the EU with full access, paying our subscription and receiving our agricultural support, regional fund, and joint research payments. And the EU is beginning to grow again although our vote is a shock to them too.

As and when Parliament approves the sending of the letter to quit there will be a two year transition phase. It is not clear if the UK will be allowed to begin bilateral talks with EU member states during this period. It is also not clear if existing trade agreements will remain in place. But it is likely based on mutual self-interest that a sensible arrangement will be made.

From the time the letter is sent until the EU agree the terms of our departure: assume 2017-2020

This is the period in which the uncertainty risks become magnified. Hopefully Prime Minister May will early on indicate the type of deal she would wish to obtain. This will require clarity on the control of immigration issue. If she sets points based control of EU migrants to the UK as non-negotiable then currently it is unlikely she will be able to obtain either a Norwegian or a Swiss option.

This leaves a WTO based option. To date very few WTO deals are bilateral, they prefer unilateral agreements. So it would have to be a deal with the collective EU, rather than individual members.

This will take many years to obtain. Meanwhile the UK has a significant current account trade deficit to finance. If there is a risk to our growth this is where it will originate.


The balance of payments are a set of accounts which measure all transactions between people resident in the UK and others. The method is double entry, so every month the accounts must balance. A country has a problem when we observe how the balance is achieved.

A deficit on the trading account must be balanced by a surplus of equal size on the capital account. Since 1984 we have achieved balance by running surplus on longterm capital inflows. These are set up when a company based overseas decides to buy a UK business, or set up in the UK. The bulk of investment comes from firms in EU member countries and the USA. EU business sees the UK as the least regulated member of the EU and given the flexibility of our labour force an easier place in which to make profits.

I do not know what EU and US firms will do, but if they reduce their investment flow, we will have to finance our deficit using short term capital. This is very volatile and consists of global liquidity which moves between financial centres in search of the best return. It is either cash, and/or the purchase of bonds and equities. To be more attractive than Frankfurt, or Paris, or New York, or Tokyo the UK needs a cheaper currency and/or higher interest rates.

Assume we decide the cheaper currency is the best way (the Bank of England does not raise interest rates). Then as the pound falls in value, so with a time lag domestic prices rise. As a rough guide every 10% fall puts 1% on inflation within a year. Assuming the Government doesn’t raise the inflation target (currently 2%) then the Bank of England must increase interest rates.

The combination of higher inflation and higher interest rates will reduce real income growth from the current 2% pa, to zero or minus 2%. This and falling house prices is where the recession begins. When?


Difficult to say, but I guess 2019.

Could we avoid this?

Unbound from the EU we could cut VAT to 10%, which would to some extent preserve real incomes. But to reduce the impact on the budget deficit the Government would have to freeze pensions for a few years ( the Daily Mail will not like that!).

The Government could get the Bank of England to buy the debt with more QE, but that would make us look a bit like Zimbabwe.

The Government could slash all capital spend which would further depress demand.

Or it could raise the money from overseas by ensuring that the currency stays weak and interest rates competitive.

We of course will not be paying 14Bn to Europe, but with interest on the national debt running currently at £48Bn, and in recession debt rising by around 110Bn each year, a good deal of this will be swallowed up in interest payments.

However if by 2019 it becomes clear that the EU is willing to do a deal which gives the UK market access and allows us to limit immigration then the long term investment will continue to flow in and there will be no recession.

Looking beyond 2022

The World will look quite different. The UK will either have engaged a Dunkirk spirit with thousands of entrepreneurs scouring the world for business (they will be flying out of Dublin because Heathrow will still have the same capacity, and Dublin will have built its third runway.) It is likely a lot of financial institutions will have set up in Dublin to get passporting rights to the EU financial services market too.

Or unable to secure trade deals with the EU and major economies we become a low growth, low opportunity country with our young bright people moving to other countries with more opportunity. Our steadily ageing population slips into sullen compliance, puts up with Japanese style low growth, and lives by the maxim, mustn’t grumble. Even though the resources going in to the NHS and elderly care are insufficient.

I think the above is unlikely.

I have reproduced below from a web site called Just Landed, their description of the British for visitors. It is not sponsored by the Government.

The British enjoy superb entertainment, leisure, sports and cultural facilities, which for their sheer variety and accessibility are among the best in the world (but increasingly expensive). The quality and huge choice of goods in the shops is excellent and explains why many people travel from far and wide simply to shop in Britain. British television has no equal, national and local radio is excellent, and the country has an unrivalled choice of quality newspapers, magazines and literature.

The UK is a caring society, highlighted by the abundance of charitable and voluntary organisations, unparalleled in any other country, all of which do invaluable work (nationally and internationally).

The UK remains a centre of scientific excellence underlined by its number of Nobel prize-winners. It’s also one of the least corrupt and most civilised countries in the world.

The British have more freedom from government interference than the people of most countries to do, say and act any way they like, something most of them take for granted.

The UK is still a great enlightened power (if a little frayed at the edges) and a positive influence in the world and London remains the centre of the English-speaking world. Whatever else it may be, life in the UK is spiritually, mentally and intellectually stimulating and rarely dull. Although foreigners may occasionally complain about Britain and the British weather, most feel they’re privileged to live there and wouldn’t dream of leaving.

Last, but certainly not least, there are the British people, who, although they can be infuriating at times, will charm and delight you with their sense of humour and idiosyncrasies. When your patience with the UK and the British is stretched to breaking point, simply take yourself off to the nearest pub and order a pint of ale or a large gin and tonic: the UK looks an even nicer place through the bottom of a (rose-tinted) glass, and, with a bit of luck, you won’t even notice that it’s still raining.

Finally what should you do if you are running a business in the UK?

1. Ensure you are clear on the market position you wish to occupy.

2. In your chosen segment make every effort to ensure you are distinctive and compelling so that you can enjoy a quasi-monopoly position and be a price maker as opposed to a price taker.

3. Employ the best and pay the best.

4. Do not sacrifice the long term for short term gain

5. Communicate, listen, communicate, listen to suppliers, employees and customers

6. Ignore the doom mongers (particularly economists!)

7. Only worry about the things you can fix

8. Assume you will be working longer than planned so get fit/ keep fit

9. Always remember your employees watch for non-verbal signs, make sure your body language fits your words

10. And finally be the change you want to see in the World

I have just heard our new PM speak on the steps of No 10. We are off to a very good start.

Exchange rates next 12-18 months if options are announced

Norway/Swiss option                                       WTO option

$-£ 1.20-1.35                                              $-£   1.15-1.25

€-£ 1.10-1.20                                             €-£   1.05-1.10

Interest rate: 0.5%                                       Interest rate: 0.5%

Real GDP: 1.7%                                         Real GDP 1%


Roger Martin-Fagg


The Academy for Chief Executives is a leading executive coaching and mentoring organisation working with business leaders and their teams throughout the UK.

Member companies collectively turnover £3.5 billion per annum and on average employ 75 people each. &

Top Tips: Surviving the Future

March 29th, 2016



by Patrick Dixon

Here is a five step guide to future-proof any business, based on my new book The Future of Almost Everything.

 1) Bring in outsiders to challenge your world view

The greatest risk to any business is institutional blindness.  The greatest risk to any leader is being seduced by one’s own world-view.  The greatest risk to any marketing department is believing your own slogans.

When too many bankers spend too much time with bankers, the result is a sub-prime crisis. Too many generals playing too many war games with too many other generals in the same nation, and the result can be disaster.

So seek out advice from experts, consultants, innovators – people who think very differently to you and others in your company.  Take them out to dinner. Include them in key strategy discussions.  Hire them into your teams.

 2) Listen to your customers – but don’t believe them

Always take what your customers tell you seriously. Fix their problems. Make life easier. Thank them for their feedback. But don’t believe them when it comes to predicting the future.

Get to know your customers well, with deep insights into how they think and feel, and then try to imagine how they may behave in a very different kind of future world.  Take online banking for example:  in many nations most customers told banks a few years ago that they were not interested in online banking or making payments using a smartphone – and if banks had listened to them, they would have missed one of the greatest transformations in retail banking for decades.

One of the best ways to find those insights is to pretend to be a customer in your own business as a “mystery shopper”. Every senior manager should do that at least once a month.  Mystery shopping is often shocking to business leaders – not so much how they are treated as customers, but what it feels like to be that customer.

3) Read widely – and be curious about all you meet

I wrote The Future of Almost Everything as a one-stop guide to the future of every industry, region and market. Many of the insights came from reading everything I can get my hands on – unfamiliar magazines in airports, blogs by influential people, newspapers like the Financial Times, and other key publications like the Economist.

The key is to challenge your own views on the future, rather than just absorb the forecasts made by others.

When did you last have a conversation with someone that really changed how you think?

One of the fastest ways to stay ahead of change is to be constantly curious about the lives of those you meet. For example, when you arrive in a new city, talk to your taxi driver who will likely be a very reliable guide to what is really going on, if the local economy is picking up, who is spending what and where.

Every person has unique insights and personal experience. Their own way of viewing the world.  High school students, mothers with children at home, people who are retired, shop assistants, bus drivers, car mechanics, journalists, pharmacists and so on.  And in each town or city, in every nation, the answers such people will give will be different.

4) Review your strategies every year

The world is changing faster than you can hold a board meeting, which means that you need to have more than one strategy. Bring your team together regularly to think again. Develop contingencies to stay ahead of constant change. What are you going to do if….

The smartest corporations and teams all have multiple strategies. They already know more or less exactly what they will do if a particular event takes place.

Focus on major long-term trends, which change relatively slowly and you already understand most of your future. Things like demographics, growing life expectancy, the relentless fall in price of most technologies, rapid pace of globalization, rise of emerging markets and so on.  These things form the foundation stones of every corporate strategy or government policy.

The rest will be driven by Wild Cards – low probability, high impact events – but there are a huge number of them, and in a hyper-connected world, their combined impact can be awesome. Remember that in every risk or challenge there is a new business opportunity.

5) Be agile!

And finally, prepare for rapid change, by developing more agile teams. That means simplifying decision-making, giving more power to local teams to innovate, diversify and respond to events rapidly. Recruit and promote leaders who cope well with ambiguity and uncertainty, who enjoy taking initiative, have courage and are great collaborators.

It is shocking how many organisations still have a very top-down culture, where managers basically do as they are told, and where many leaders are reduced to mere implementers of someone else’s business plan.  Part of agility is encouraging innovation:  creative thinking, new solutions to old problems, radical steps to serve customers better.

Agility is so much easier when you have completed steps 1-4 above. When you have a dynamic view of your future and have mapped out different possible directions depending on what happens around you.

Patrick Dixon

Patrick Dixon is a futurist, keynote speaker author and adviser to boards and senior teams on strategic impact of global trends, innovation and risk.  His latest book, The Future of Almost Everything, describes hundreds of key trends which will impact your business and personal life, and explains what it all means for our wider world.


Top Tips: Marketing in a World of Distraction

February 17th, 2016



By Dan Smith

I’ve recently run an experiment for the last 12 months, taking myself off Facebook, and the results are in… I didn’t miss it at all.

Running a marketing company, my aim is to help clients get in front of their customers and touch them in some meaningful way. My professional brain tells me the age of digital with social media and 24/7 content is a massive advantage. However, on a personal level my overriding sense is to turn it all off. It makes me wonder if we’ll look back in years to come and brand this form of consumption as a drug. Whether it’s standing at the train station, going out for a meal, shopping, working, even at home with my wife and watching the latest episode of ‘The Affair’ together, we’re interrupted… bling, bong, fizz, there are updates.

In today’s world we’re inundated like never before; Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, WhatsApp, BBC News, GQ, Esquire, Emails, blogs and on and on… pheeeeew.

I’m married, a father of two girls, running a relatively successful marketing business that requires a lot of hours, enjoy movies, Game of Thrones and Suits. If I can, I like to play the odd game of golf on a Saturday. I’m officially very time poor.

So, for someone to sell me something it really needs to grab me, it has to be easy to digest, short and concise, memorable and really strike a chord. In theory Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter advertising has huge potential for my clients, targeted display adverts based on collected data that we can serve to targeted people. But here’s the catch; so much of the content is bland and uninspiring that we are tuning out.

There’s an argument for brand awareness but people aren’t engaging.  It’s fair to say that digital marketing seems to go hand in hand with cynicism these days. Consumers are surrounded by so many marketing images, video and words, brands can easily blend into one another. As a result, consumers are looking for something new, something inspiring, and something that will stick in the mind.

This all means that it has never been more important to engage with people by creating an emotional response – ‘feeling’.

At Fireworx we focus on feeling and response – how do we want people to feel and how do we want them to respond. For any forward-thinking business in 2015 it has never been harder to engage with people and to cut through all the noise. Here are our tips for marketing your business in a world of distraction:

• Invest in defining your customer and their habits – profiling has never been more important.

• Have a marketing calendar which outlines your communications across the year. Align your strategy with natural peaks of interest from your customers.

• Regardless of how you market yourself, make it short, concise, visually engaging and memorable – think news and headlines.

• Test – think about the message, the offer, the creative, the channel.

• Analyse – data and conversions are so important in today’s marketing function. Analyse and optimise!

Meanwhile. I’m staying off Facebook as it’s just another distraction I can do without!


Dan Smith is the co-founder and Managing Director of digital marketing agency, Fireworx, ranked as one of the top ten elite marketing agencies in the UK. Based in Bournemouth, Fireworx helps entrepreneurial-minded clients grow faster.


Top Tips: Secrets of a successful remote team

January 22nd, 2016



It’s increasingly common to work with people who you’ve never met or who may be in a different town or even be a different time zone. Working in a remote team isn’t intrinsically more difficult than working with people who are sitting across the room from you, but it is different and it does demand some adaptations.

Here are seven key factors to take into account.

Don’t treat remote employees and in-house staff differently. Some employees may be slightly jealous or even resentful of employees who get to work from home. Remote employees may feel that in-house staff receives more perks (eg, catered lunches and social functions). You will exacerbate the problem if you treat the two groups differently, so ensure that you are assigning equal, fair workloads, offering the same perks and benefits, and creating learning and growth opportunities for everyone.

Communicate! Remote workers lack those ‘water-cooler’ conversations that give people an opportunity to bounce ideas off one another outside the context of a formal meeting. Your remote team members need to be encouraged to do the same things. Pick up the phone and call another team member to discuss a potential idea. Use tools like Skype, Google Hangouts or any other video-conferencing software to keep them in the loop.

If you leave employees in the dark, they will soon feel confused, isolated and even angry. Make sure that you are updating virtual employees of any changes, decisions or plans that affect them. And make sure you do it before they hear the news from someone else.

Remember, when people work remotely, they rely on their managers for the context they need to work effectively. What might be seen as over-communicating if you were all in the same office can be critical information when someone is working at home on the other side of the country.

Be responsive. If you force employees to wait for your response or help, they lose precious time. Worse, they may opt to go above your head for answers. And if teammates constantly slow progress because they don’t respond quickly enough, it is frustrating for everyone involved. Set a ground rule that every team member, including you, must respond to one another within 24 hours, even if that is to say nothing more than “I got your message, and I will follow up no later than …”

Strike the right balance of meetings. Too many meetings are overkill and are a huge drain on productivity. However, if you aren’t scheduling time for the entire team to connect and collaborate, employees will become distant and teamwork will suffer. In addition, you need to make sure that you are talking one-on-one with each of your virtual staffers at least weekly to check their progress, troubleshoot problems they are having, and update them on any developments or changes.

Evaluate how the team is functioning. You need to take time to assess how well the team is communicating, collaborating and problem solving. Schedule a team meeting at least quarterly to analyse your productivity and performance and to establish plans for making needed improvements.

Get to know your remote workers. Employees want to know that you care about them as people, not just as workers. It’s harder to do that when you never see them. Don’t forget to learn about remote workers’ families, hobbies, interests and lives outside of work. A little small talk at the beginning of each call or meeting offers you an opportunity to build relationships with and among your staffers and will make them feel more connected to the organization.

Support your managers. Any organisation with remote staff or virtual teams needs to support the people who are expected to manage them. So you need to do more than simply hand a list of employees to managers and expect them to figure it out for themselves. They’ll need help to recognise the similarities and differences between the way we’ve worked traditionally and the new world of virtual work.

Similarly, organisations need to provide the technology and tools to achieve the goals you’ve set. You can’t hold people accountable for failure if you’re not giving them the tools they need to do the work.

Finally, create expectations for remote team leaders that reflect the way they function. “Management by walking around” is fine, but it’s a long walk to Bangalore. Yes, the work appears the same. But there are skills that are unique to that environment: appropriate use of technology, ability to engage employees, managing performance from a distance all need to be built into the way we choose, assess, coach and promote managers.

Wayne Turnel


Wayne Turmel helps companies and their people learn the communication and presentation skills to sell, train, present and manage their teams using any web presentation platform. He is the founder of, a co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute and the author of Meet Like you Mean it, a book that helps virtual and remote teams collaborate more effectively.

Top Tips: Give your Away Day a Boost

January 22nd, 2016



Away days are often criticized for being ‘fun’ but having no productive outputs. But if they’re planned and facilitated well, they can encourage creativity and innovation by breaking routines and changing dynamics. So for anyone responsible for organising an away day, here are our top tips for success.

 Be clear on your outcome

This is the most common cause of unsuccessful away days – not being clear. Because it’s a rare opportunity to get people out of the office, too much is attempted in the day with no overall purpose.

Leaders say to us, “I want to bring the team together and help them get to know each other and flesh out some issues we have with a certain project, oh and I want them to all buy in to the new strategy, oh and for us to talk about better ways of working together.”

These are great outcomes, but too ambitious and too much for people to grasp in one day.  If the people are only just learning about each others’ styles and ways of working, it’s not realistic to then expect them to agree to adapt those or have them challenged all in one day.

It may seem ironic, but you need to be strategic about your away days, think about how you want to build people up. In this case you could have your first day about getting to know each other and maybe bringing out some issues that people have and then the next day becomes a working group on working together, followed by one on strategy.

The key thing to get clear is this: if you could only achieve one thing on this away day, what would it be? Once you are clear, be open with the attendees as to the purpose. That way you are far more likely to get people engaged and prevent them diverting off onto their favourite topics.

 Choose your facilitator wisely

The person should be both able to get rapport with the group easily and be objective enough to stay detached from some of the content. If you are using someone internal, could you use someone who represents another part of the business? If you use someone too close to those attending there is a danger of them, often unconsciously, getting too drawn into the discussion. Someone who is a bit more detached will help people to come forward with ideas more knowing they won’t be discussing a team members performance issue with them tomorrow.

 If you are using an external facilitator, make sure they understand enough about your business to be credible. We’ve seen facilitators fail badly because they’ve assumed that credible is not important. Particularly where their industry expertise is valued, anyone who is not credible will struggle to be respected and that will disrupt the day. Check that their style is a good fit. People should stretch their thinking but not be intimidated or turned off. If you have a group of serious pragmatists, asking them to do whacky free flowing activities will not work.

 Choose your venue wisely

Most people want to go offsite, but economic reality means that organisations have got more cautious about spending money on external venues. You don’t need to spend a fortune on taking the whole team on a yacht in the South of France, but you do need to think carefully about where you hold it. Key tips are:

  • Beware of venues that offer you the room free if you buy refreshments etc. In our experience you are not treated as professionally as you would be at a paid for venue (we’ve had people walking through the room to unload furniture from another room in the middle of any away day!) and you are often distracted by their other customers or activities. If you want to use a free venue make sure you visit it, during the working day, before you book.
  • Think about the style of your organisation or group. If it’s a creative organisation, then a standard hotel training room will not inspire and you may as well do it in the office. Stretch people out of their comfort zone without it frightening them or turning them off. If the group is creative but one of their problems is lack of organisation, we wouldn’t choose a venue that is also disorganised – we’d want to give them a bit of professional structure whilst respecting their desire for a creative space. With a serious inward thinking group, take them somewhere professional but gives them access to green space and nature.
  • Consider individuals’ needs. If they are all family people, how do they feel about staying away? Some people welcome the night off but for some people it’s a hassle and they’d rather go home at the end of the day. You can’t please everyone but if you can be flexible to their needs, they will be more enthusiastic and engaged.
  • It is essential the group have access to natural light throughout the day. This is key for mood stability, attention focus and above all staying sane. If you need to close the curtains for a presentation, open them straight away after you’ve stopped using a projector and don’t ever use a room with no windows, however cheap or convenient it is.

Remember, with just a little planning any organisation can have a successful and productive away day.

John Mclachlan (1)

John McLachlan is the co-founder of Monkey Puzzle Training, a leadership development and NLP consultancy whose clients include Heathrow Airport, Thomson Reuters, Cath Kidston, John Lewis and Aberdeen Asset Management. He specialises in training, coaching and board-level facilitation and is the co-author of Real Leaders for the Real World. He is a qualified accountant and former group financial director.

Top Tips: An Appetite for Disruption

November 19th, 2015


By Gary Ashton001_w240

If you want to develop game-changing business ideas, you need the right sort of people to develop and implement them. But having the right ‘disruptive talent’ is only half the story. If you don’t provide them with the right environment in which to act, their talent and ideas can very easily be wasted.

Making the best of disruptive talent requires you to answer two questions: what degree of protection and support are you willing to give the disruptive talent and what degree of protection are you willing to give the core business that most likely will be impacted by the disruption?

Let us consider five ways in which organisations can create this ‘opportunity’:

1. Time to Think

This is where you give individuals and project teams time to think through and investigate ideas that could potentially take the business beyond the status quo. Vodafone R&D used to categorize their different types of development projects, with most being specified and funded by internal customers, but with others being supported by R&D itself to explore and think differently and not expect anything specific to materialize (internally nicknamed ‘whizz-bang’ ideas).

2. Informal Permission to Act

A firm’s leadership can also create the right environment in which individuals and teams are able to break some rules in order to create something new. This is established at a more informal level by the tacit behaviours of the leadership team in what they support, condone and resist. When Stanley Kalms was CEO of Dixons Stores Group, he would personally promote the idea that every Area Manager should have 10 mini-trials or experiments underway at any one time – to try new ideas out and to quickly pass on anything that worked.

But as this approach is more informal, it can mean that the resolve of leaders is tested when the pressure to urgently deliver profit starts to override the imperative for developing future opportunities. When the pressure is on, the call is with the leadership on just how much speculative investment it is willing to risk, and for how long.

3. Formal Freedom to Act – Governance

To make it harder for others in the organisation to challenge and prevent the disruptive ideas from succeeding, a company can establish ‘rules’ within its existing structure which define set resources (human and financial), along with goals, milestones and support within which disruptive projects can thrive.

4. License to Act

Once a disruptive project gains some traction, the business may then ‘up a gear’ and switch from supporting these endeavours as projects within a governance framework, to creating a separate organisational entity, with its own resources and separate management processes, to allow it to grow into something more substantial – before possibly grafting it onto the existing business. For example, Vodafone got its 3G business up and running by creating a separate business away from its core 2G business in order to give it the freedom needed to create what was then a future digital world.

5. Space to Act

All of the above can be seen as being more incremental in approach and giving disruption a marginally longer leash. Yet occasionally, the ideas coming forth may be seen as just too radical for the core business to risk. So a different approach is needed. One such way is when a company creates an internal market of resources and ideas, within which people are given the freedom to form, develop, grow, merge, reduce and kill off ideas.

Japanese entrepreneur Dr Kazuo Inamori has advocated a concept of “Amoeba Management”, whereby all members of each amoeba unit makes its own plans and pool their wisdom and effort to achieve their targets. In this way, each employee takes an active role in the running of its business, and allows the units to adapt more quickly to any complex and/or changing external circumstances.

Then there are other times when a company realises that inventing everything themselves is no longer an option. In this case, those making decisions on funding options can opt to create an entity outside the formal organisational boundaries. This is where external funding, or setting up Joint Ventures can be a suitable approach.

An Appetite for Disruption

These five different approaches provide varying degrees of opportunity in which disruptive talent can flourish. Choosing the right model for your organisation is a reflection of your appetite for disruption and your assessment of how much disruption the business can cope with at any particular time.

To do this, consider the following about your business:

  • How ambitious are you to grow alternative futures for the business?
  • How developed is the thinking in your business of potentially disruptive ideas?
  • Are you clear about the potential risks – of not developing disruptive possibilities; and of any disruption to your core business?
  • Are you clear about the amount of time, effort and financial investment you are prepared to accept, and for how long?

And are you also clear about your disruptive talent:

  • What type of disruptive talent you need to deliver your future opportunities?
  • What type of disruptive talent you actually have in your business?
  • What level of disruption are you prepared to take?

By investing in disruptive talent, you are in effect trading off existing actual profit for future potential profit, and betting on how best to give disruption the opportunity to succeed.   So you need to ensure you have identified the right talent for the job, established the right boundaries around which your disruptive talent can develop business opportunities, and that you are comfortable with your company’s organisational resilience to sustain the disruption. And crucially, you need a top team with the right level of ambition and imagination to provide the opportunity for disruptive talent to flourish.


Gary AshtonGary Ashton is a partner at Organisation Effectiveness Cambridge (OE Cam LLP), a boutique firm of consultants who help maximise the effectiveness of individuals, teams and organisations. He has consulted in the re-design and implementation of organisation structures and management processes, post-merger integration, improvement of joint venture organisation capability, and Board and senior management team assessment and development.



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Top Tips: Plug that Hole! Dealing with a Data Breach

November 3rd, 2015


By Susan Hallamrisk-005

Every business has a legal responsibility to keep both the data it holds about individuals as well as confidential business information secure.  But despite your best efforts, things can go wrong. So what should you do if you have a data breach?

Whether the data has been leaked a result of a malicious attack, or more likely an unintentional release of secure information by one of your employees, you need a plan of action. Your business must have a response plan to contain the situation and enforce damage limitation, as well as a robust recovery plan.

A recent study by Ponemon is the latest to find that the most likely threat to data security is not an outsider, but rather an incompetent, negligent or malicious member of staff. Password theft is the greatest source of such breaches. But the range of other threats is huge: taking sensitive data out on USB sticks, phishing, viruses and malware, incorrect server configurations, etc.

As far as the type of data compromised, the Ponemon report found that:

  • 39% involved confidential business information
  • 27% involved personal information about customers
  • 14% involved intellectual property including software source code
  • 10% involved personal information about employees

Data Breach Response Check list

This checklist highlights some of the things to consider in the event of a data security breach. It is not intended as legal advice, more of a quick executive guide on what to do in the event of an issue arising.

  1. Assign one individual to take the lead on handling the breach. This will need to be escalated to board level, and the nominated individual will need the authority and resources to manage the situation.
  2. Keep records to document the breach.  As an example, the Information Commissioner has created a spreadsheet to log personal data security breaches (XLS).
  3. Stop additional data loss where possible. Depending on the nature of the breach, this may include changing passwords on cloud-based computing platforms and internal networks, finding a lost piece of equipment, or changing the keys to your office doors.
  4. Assess the level of the risk to the individuals involved. Some data security breaches may simply be inconvenient, like losing a laptop. Other losses could lead to more serious risks like identity theft or fraud. The real question is, how serious are the risks to the individuals involved, and how likely is any threat likely to be.
  5. Also assess the risk to your own business. For example, a loss of confidence in your business or your reputation, loss of intellectual property or commercially sensitive data.
  6. Determine who you need to notify of the breach. This will most certainly include the appropriate regulatory body (including the Information Commissioner.)
  7. The breach may be picked up by the press, or publicised on social media. Identify who will handle journalists, social channels, and your customers and communicate the process to your staff.
  8. If you decide it is necessary to inform individuals of the breach, give them a description of the breach, when it happened and the data involved. Provide details of how you have responded. Provide clear and specific advice on what they need to do to protect themselves, as well as what you are willing to do to help. Include information on where you can be contacted for further information or to answer questions.
  9. You may also need to consider notifying third parties including the police, banks or credit card companies and professional bodies.
  10. Once you have determined the cause of the breach, put into place a prevention plan to ensure it doesn’t happen again.  This may include raising staff security awareness, ensuring proper data access controls are in place, and verifying procedures like data backups are stored securely.
  11. Finally, evaluate how well you responded to the breach and how well prepared you are to prevent further risks.


Susan HallamSusan Hallam is the founder and CDEO of Nottingham-based digital marketing agency Hallam Internet.   She has worked with some of the world’s leading brands, including Experian, Ford, and the Arts Council, as well as a broad spectrum of small to medium sized businesses. Susan has worked in the UK information industry since 1985 and is also a Freeman of the City of London and a trustee of Nottingham Castle.


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10 Top Tips: Surviving a PR Crisis when it all Hits the Fan(!)

November 3rd, 2015


 By Marc Cowlinrisk-002

Warren Buffet famously observed: “‘It takes years to build a reputation and five minutes to lose it.” Given how precious that reputation is, you need to be prepared for the fact that it might come under threat, sometimes through no fault of your own. When that happens, the temptation can be to stick your head in the sand and hope it goes away. But being an ostrich is the last thing you should do. Instead, be prepared and follow a few simple processes to turn the crisis around. 

Step 1: Take a deep breath. When a PR crisis arises, the first thing you need to do is nothing.  Stop, close your eyes and take five deep breaths. You need to be calm because people are depending on you. We make better decisions when we are calm and in control than we do when we panic. Depending on how things go, you may need to repeat this step a few times.

Step 2: Circle your wagons. Get in touch with everyone who might be impacted – your customer-facing employees, PR team members, customer service, etc and brief them on what happened. Lay out the steps you will follow to react to the issue, initial instructions on how/if they should communicate externally, expected timeline for reaction and how they can help. Ask each of these individuals to begin tracking the PR crisis on their individual channels and keep you informed of any and all developments.

Step 3: Investigate what happened. Now that everyone knows what is going on, (which will drastically reduce your inbox submissions from your colleagues), you need to determine exactly what happened. You need to know the entire story from an internal perspective as well as how your customers perceive might perceive things. This can be the most time consuming step, but also the most important. NEVER react to a PR crisis if you don’t know exactly what happened and why it happened.

Step 4: Understand the business impact. Is this crisis having an impact on business? Will it have an impact in future? Before you react, it’s important to know how your decisions will affect your business, revenue and brand reputation. This step will be very important as you begin to make decisions on messaging and your overall stance on the crisis.

Step 5: Watch and listen. Has the issue made it to the attention of your customers or the media? Take the pulse of the reaction and gauge the significance of your PR crisis: just how big a deal is it? Are there hundreds of people talking about it, or only a few? What is the overall sentiment? Are people supporting you? Is the media reacting? Have any stories been published?

Step 6: Decide on corporate position and messaging. Armed with the full story, an understanding of the business impact and a complete picture of the reaction so far, you will have a clear idea of the position your company should take. From there you can write up these messages and get buy in from your executive team. Expect a bit of back and forth with key decision makers, but with the right preparations, the process can be relatively smooth.

Step 7: Make decisions on channels of distribution. Based on your corporate positioning and overall messaging you need to determine the channel/s that best deliver them to your audience. These days there are many channels to consider: you can post on your corporate blog, through social media, in a press release, directly to the media, or a combination of these.

Bear in mind the basic differences in each channel. Social media only works if you are prepared for a dialogue and accept the fact that it will be hard to control your message. A press release or a blog post are both great options if you want to broadcast and control the conversations around your message. Every situation will be different, and you’ll need to use the info you’ve gathered so far to decide on the best distribution.

Step 8: Get the word out. You’ve done your homework, there is now buy-in on messaging, and the distribution channel has been decided. It’s now time to get your message out to the channels you’ve chosen.

Step 9: Monitor reaction and react. You’re not done yet! With your message out in the world you need to circle back with your public facing teams and monitor the reaction. Is your PR crisis still a crisis? What happens next will ultimately depend on the reaction of the media and stakeholders. Keep in mind that it can take a few days for a fire to die down. Sometime you need to be patient and give it the time it needs, other times you may need to step in and offer additional statements or interviews. There are no hard and fast rules and you’ll need to make the call in real time.

Step 10: Learn from the process. No one wants to see a PR crisis pop up, but I promise you one thing: no matter how things go, you will learn something valuable. Everything you learn will help your company understand how to avoid future crisis and will help you to efficiently manage your next crisis.

Every PR crisis is stressful and complicated, especially when you take into account the need to move very quickly. So always aim to get through step 10 in hours, not days – faster if possible.

Marc CowlinMarc Cowlin has over 15 years of in-house public relations and marketing experience with companies such as Birkenstock,, Meltwater and Thismoment. A longer version of this piece first appeared on



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