Do you run your day or does the day run you?
Scan through this simple list of symptoms and see which apply to you;
If you answered yes to any of the above the chances are you’re suffering with a level of stress that is having a negative impact on your quality of life. We actually need a certain level of stress in our lives otherwise we’d not get much done. Positive stress, also called eustress, gets the deadline met, the presentation delivered and you on board the right train at the right time. It delivers adrenalin, excitement tends to be short term but can improve our performance.
Negative stress is where the mind starts to introduce anxious irrational thoughts that appear to be beyond our ability to manage. It makes us feel bad, it can be both short and long term, has a direct impact on performance and if left unchecked can lead to unwanted mental and physical symptoms.
There are very many causes of negative stress. It can be a relationship breakdown, new boss, new neighbourhood, too much work, not enough work, starting a family, financial worries, illness or losing someone close to you.
The fact is we ALL face these bumps and hurdles in our lives and for most of us, most of the time we can deal with them without any difficulty. Unfortunately, the statistics seem to suggest that an increasing number of us are not coping so well. As many as 12 million adults in the UK will consult their GP about mental health issues each year. Diagnosed with anxiety or depression typically caused by stress this results in 13.3 million working days lost each year. It’s a sizeable and growing problem.
Here’s the disclaimer…I’m no GP, psychologist, counsellor or psychotherapist but I, like many others have had my moments with this increasingly common problem. First and foremost, I would suggest that if you are worried about stress and its effect on you make an appointment to see your GP. If you can sense that there are one or two warning signs and you want to find a way to improve the way you feel I would strongly suggest taking back control of your life.
Of course “taking back control” can be easier said than done but often we fall into patterns of behaviour which help propagate feelings of negative stress. The result is that we lose control of our time, others fill it all too quickly and with that loss of control comes added anxiety. The answer is to evaluate those things we are doing that are causing angst and
My “self-help” route was helped enormously by an old friend who I’d overlooked for too many years. The “friend” is in the shape of a number of tried and tested time management principles that I had learnt as a young manager at Thomas Cook and carried with me or so I thought through my career. What happens over time and new challenges is that we adapt and grow and learn but often let key nuggets of working practice slip through our minds.
I have a theory. Actually I have lots of theories but this one is relevant to our 21st Century dilemma. Once upon a time, long ago in the 90’s, talk of computers, online business and e-mail suggested we would have more leisure time. Thanks to the advent of this fabulous technological era we would all be “chilled to the max” reclining on Ikea furniture and enjoying our newly won down time supping on Sunny D or Sprite.
Fast forward to today and that pipe dream of a technological Nirvana is about as far away as anyone could possibly have imagined. Smartphones, social media, the Internet of Things and now robotics, VR, AR and AI…are you keeping up? All these new wonderful innovations are not going to create time for us they’re going to squeeze into whatever time we have, competing with the multitude of tasks expected of us. As life moved faster so did expectations. News used to arrive via a broadsheet paper stuffed through the letterbox by a schoolboy on a Raleigh 5 speed. Now it’s instantly delivered in our hands via Twitter and we know about a Japanese tsunami before the BBC news team can brief Hugh Edwards.
So with steely determination I attacked the bookshelf in my office, being self-aware enough to know “Googling” the subject would result in momentary success followed by a likely hour of distraction. I found notes in an old Filofax, yes do you remember those? I also found a previous blog on the subject and arrived at the following list.
If you’ve experienced problems with stress and/or or time management drop us a line today.
It’s surprising how many times we can make assumptions of others in the workplace and often underestimate the workload and stresses those in senior roles deal with. As a junior and middle manager I too fell into the trap of thinking the “boss” was not always engaged with the important stuff and didn’t understand what it was like at the coalface. Of course the chances were that not only was the boss aware of the issues they too were under enormous pressure and keeping many plates spinning on may poles, your universe of interest being just one.
The need is as great now as it’s ever been for business owners, directors and senior managers to understand how they can best inspire, motivate and manage the human resources around them.
The “boss” today has to look at markets that are increasingly competitive. There are very real pressures on expenditure and real need to maximise returns whilst customers are expecting “more for less” and the opportunities for growth harder to define and find.
Having recently worked with a number of clients with similar issues I thought it timely to look at some ideas to help better manage the essential asset of most businesses, their people.
• Time Management
How many times do you find your blood pressure rising when a member of staff saunters in at 9.15 a.m.? The fact is, strict times for starting and finishing a job may apply to specific jobs that require production schedules or the presence of those offering direct customer engagement. For many others, especially those in technical or creative roles, a 9 to 5 doesn’t really apply. What we should look at is not the hours spent sat at a desk but what was produced in the time they were at work. You could have the most punctual person in the world working for you but that doesn’t automatically make them better than someone who might arrive a little later. To overcome stresses and possible squabbles amongst staff offer a flexible working schedule and consider working from home as a genuine option. Remember to measure and manage what’s produced in that flexi time.
• Match roles and tasks to those best suited
Square pegs and round holes, yes it’s a very real problem for many businesses. Here’s a “for instance” – Derek’s worked in sales administration for years but is actually far better suited to working in IT and training others on how to get the most out of the software used in the company. How do you work this out? Talk to staff, make an appraisal a proper appraisal and assess real strengths and weaknesses and personal aspirations and likes. Quite often a secret interest or passion can become incredibly useful to a business. It helps to know what those special interests and skills are and to keep an ongoing dialogue with staff as things rarely remain static.
• Bright stars should work on the biggest opportunities
The high flyers in a business need sufficient air space to demonstrate their skills and offer the greatest return for your organisation. Too often talent is held back or restricted through traditional hierarchical structures and/or short sighted managers. The outcome? The talent leaves for a job where they can truly realise their ambitions. If you want to keep the best and get the most from them allow a little latitude, remove the shackles and allow them to take responsibility for their own projects. Building experience in such a way is invaluable and often rewarded by increased loyalty and performance.
• Set stretching but achievable goals
No one should suggest that we avoid measuring performance, quite the contrary but at the same time we shouldn’t become overzealous with our expectation and demands. Realistic, stretching but manageable objectives shared and understood by the team will provide the motivation to reach for the target. Too tough and it quickly becomes a disincentive to try and too soft and staff may believe they’re on easy street and get distracted with other non-essential matters.
• Put your trust in the team and let them know you trust them
Without a fundamental level of trust between business owners and staff, conflict, stress and aggravation often follows. People like to know that they are valued. Demonstrating trust through allowing self-control of their tasks, time management, resources required and engagement with goal setting can prove immensely motivational.
• When things go wrong don’t seek out someone to hang it on
Things will and often do go wrong. The way in which you handle the failures marks out the culture of the business. By way of comparison our own true character is often shown in adversity. It’s all too easy to find and single out the cause if it’s an individual, they may well admit to their part in the process. Remember Alan Sugar is playing a role in a TV show on the Apprentice and it bears very little relevance to the day to day running of a company. Be positive in the analysis and just ensure that the team understands where things went wrong to avoid the same mistakes happening again. In the same regard don’t desperately hang on to a failing project, be brave, assess the prospects and if the expected outcome looks unlikely to materialise, provide a positive review and close it down. It’s pretty de-motivating working on a project that just isn’t delivering, better to re-focus efforts on more positive opportunities.
• You’re the boss but you don’t have to have all the answers
All too often I meet with business owners who shoulder an enormous level of responsibility and in their minds the expectations of the workforce. Often they themselves apply the added pressure assuming staff are looking to the owners for the answers to every strategic and operational issue. This again reflects the culture of an organisation and if a “control freak” management style permeates the business, employees will sit back and expect that controller to manage them and make any major or even minor decision. That weight of expectation can be lifted by getting staff to think for themselves, make their own decisions and participate in planning.
• Give staff credit for successes
Don’t forget we all like to receive positive feedback and know we’re good at our jobs. Recognition and rewards are a very important factor in building and maintaining positive team spirit and momentum.
• Managing Change
In my experience the vast majority of employees can cope with and manage changes in their working patterns very well. A lack of communication however can seriously jeopardise the chances of capitalising on a change in business direction or move to new markets/ products. The more you involve staff at the earliest juncture and keep them updated the better the chances of success. Change can be worrying for some, so avoid big surprises by communicating as outlined above and cut off any negative rumours or grapevine that left unchecked may undermine your best efforts.
It’s true to say that managing people is one of the toughest aspects of running a business. Get it right and it not only has the prospect of providing a turbo boost to hit targets but also make the owners lives far less lonely and stressful.
David Laud – follow me on twitter @davidlaud
We all need a virtual or actual boost in our businesses now and again. It’s too easy to become complacent, comfortable or afraid of making any changes that might make things “different”.
What many successful businesses do is harness a culture of continual evolution never settling for the status quo. This can be massively helped by recruiting staff who don’t fear change and have their own streak of entrepreneurism. If this is harnessed to a leadership team with clear goals and a strategy to enable attainment of the objectives the future will look bright.
Unfortunately certain sectors contain more than their fair share of risk averse personalities and they can in turn keep a business locked into a mode that ensures it fails to capitalise on new trends and seek out opportunities.
Smaller organisations can rely on the owners far too much and expect them to feed the company through their efforts to win new customers. For a large number of proprietors the challenge of running a business alone is enough to fully occupy them and the additional responsibility of bringing in revenue gets consigned to a “to do” list that rarely gets actioned.
So what can be done for these many ambitious but largely stagnant businesses? How can they rekindle the pioneering, energetic and challenging spirit that formed them?
There are any number of resources available to the average business – but this in itself can prove to be an inhibitor as too many options can prove confusing and ultimately fail to deliver the desired result.
The same may be said of certain third party agencies who approach business owners direct and feed their anxieties. They make promises to provide the solutions sought but end up costing the company an expensive fee and wasted time in pursuing false hopes.
On a more positive note I’ve recently had the opportunity to work with the Growth Accelerator programme. The phrase “Growth Accelerator” for some seems to conjure up rather dubious pills that might be promoted via spam e-mail but I can assure you it is no quack solution. This is a well organised and effective initiative for commercial enterprises covering three core areas:
Growth Accelerator provides access to finance to assist the companies in achieving their agreed goals.
What is reassuring about this programme is the assessment and selection of coaches and clear focus on quality service and the ultimate delivery for the businesses taking part.
Growth Accelerator is available to businesses registered in the UK who have fewer than 250 staff and a turnover less than £40m. Essentially they must be looking to grow their business by 20% – turnover or profit.
The Growth Accelerator process uses template guides that are introduced by experienced coaches offering a highly visible and effective tool to help the business see their future growth over a 3 year period.
It’s certainly not the only option but it is currently one of the most popular initiatives sought out by businesses wishing to grow but to do so in a manner that is both practical and sustainable.
If this is something you would like to explore further please feel free to drop me a line and we will put you in touch with your regional Growth Manager.
Charles Darwin knew a thing or two about evolution. If I can cast my mind back to my human biology lessons, the term coined by the great naturalist was “Natural Selection”. It took a little while for this radical theory to be accepted by the mainstream scientific community but now it is universally seen as the reason we, as humans, exist in the form we do today. Of course not just humans, we can trace the origins of all living creatures through this process.
If Darwin were alive today he would no doubt be fascinated by our individual and organisational development. He might also see how his theory can as easily be applied to businesses as it can to individuals.
A sector currently experiencing a significant series of evolutionary events, shaping their structure, relationships and existence is the legal profession.
Just last week we heard of yet one more familiar north east name going into administration. The loss of 50 jobs and a history of 250 years, gone. They are not the first in this recent wave of firm closures and they most certainly won’t be the last.
Why are we hearing of so many failures? The answer, as in any scientific evaluation, is not straightforward. The truth is that the myriad of challenges that have conspired to arrive at the door of law firms in the UK are individually manageable with care but when they arrive in rapid succession, they create a chain of events that leave only the very fittest and dynamic of practices standing.
The Law Society reported toward the end of 2013 that over 400 law firms had closed in the preceding 12 month period. Last week the same organisation revealed that more than 4,500 solicitors had simply not arranged to renew their practicing certificates. Without it they are unable to carry their work.
The events that have brought about the closure of so many firms include;
These facts and more point to a series of tremors in the legal world that have built to form a seismic event. The consequence of these factors is when the dust settles the clients, both personal and business will have far less choice. On the upside, of those firms remaining we can be assured that they are resilient and very likely to be focussed on the needs and value they can bring to the client.
The conclusion we can draw using Darwin’s theory is that having survived the natural selection process those still standing will be fitter and more prepared for the future. The advantage existing firms have at this time is their opportunity to still act, adapt and ensure their survival and avoiding a Dodo dilemma.
David Laud – Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP
I’m fed up with hearing that we’re living in “interesting times” we’re not. We’re actually living in the times outlined by Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities. I’m sure you all know the opening chapter of the book word for word but just to remind us……
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – [Extract from chapter I, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)
Anyone else feel the contemporary connection with these words?
2014 has presented as a year where we are seeing economic recovery, employment levels rising and an all over feeling of optimism, well so certain politicians would wish us to think. I’m not against a healthy bit of optimism, by nature I’m drinking from the half full cup most of the time but in reality there is still an awfully long and hard journey ahead for many businesses and thoughts of instant solutions are really not helpful.
If a business is going to survive and thrive it needs to have a strong realistic vision of its future, a plan for managed growth and control over its costs. Leaders of these businesses need to retain and recruit the staff that share a passion for making that organisation the best in its particular sector/ sphere of operation. It’s not easy, it takes time. Things go wrong, deals don’t come off, recruits fail to live up to expectation and customers can change their preferences at the least expected moment. What you shouldn’t do is panic. Retain the belief in the business and acknowledge that the World is partly mad and partly sane, you cannot predict everything nor expect to be continually on the back foot.
Even though we’re in what still feels to me like a futuristic date, 2014, the words of Charles Dickens in the opening of the classic Tale seem as appropriate today as when they were first penned some 150 years earlier.
Whether you do face the best or the worst of times I see it as a period for calm heads and a return to the principles of good solid business practice with, of course, the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and originality that will deliver sustainable success.
David Laud FCIM, Chartered Marketer
follow me on Twitter @davidlaud
Have you ever faced the dilemma of thinking how best to phrase the opening line of an e-mail? The trend appears to be for the “hope all’s good with you” or “hope this finds you well”. Nothing wrong with this, it’s polite and shows an interest in the well-being of the person you’re engaging with. But on the receiving end of such an e-mail are we ever tempted to tell it how it really is?
That would be rather “awkward” and put the recipient in an uncomfortable spot as to how to answer such a statement. But in one way this answer to the original e-mail is refreshing as it’s truly honest.
The difficulty of course is that no one wants to admit to fragility or weakness, stress or worries suggest failure. The reality is at some time or another we all suffer from varying degrees of stress and have genuine doubts over either a business or personal direction and our own capabilities; especially when we’re up against it and under pressure.
The media regularly reports on the trend of business confidence sourced from trade and sector specific surveys. I’ve always suspected that they are very heavily skewed, with a positive spin put on the answers. Respondents will want to talk up their own position and only express genuine concern when it is a globally recognised issue such as the height of the recent recession. After so much gloom we’re desperate for good news and we don’t want to disappoint. But it’s easier to consider business buoyancy over the rather more personal and potentially painful analysis of our own self-confidence.
So is our level of personal confidence that important?
The answer is clearly “yes” – A leader’s self-confidence is at the heart of business success and growth. Through the recessionary period many tens of thousands of business owners have faced tough decisions and trading conditions which impact on their personal outlook and mood. With shoots of recovery appearing there’s an expectation that these entrepreneurs and owners will simply click back into overdrive and quickly return to their super confident persona.
The truth is it is not that easy to turn on confidence, it relies on a number of factors and will differ for each person depending on their own leadership skills, life experience, measure of success and management capability.
Optimism and confidence are crucial attributes for business leaders as those who work for them look to the signals from the boss to determine their own feelings of security. It’s not hard to see that a forward looking buoyant and confident business owner will engender a positive atmosphere throughout their organisation. Not that it’s entirely all down to the one individual but if they’re not confident and positive in their communications it will send an uncertain message to others and lead to discontent and discomfort amongst the workforce.
Ironically for certain senior executives their outward view is often believed to be positive whilst the reality is far from that perception. Body language and tone of voice might seem minor elements compared to the content of any communication but we know that as humans we take in a wide range of signals and are naturally very adept at translating them.
If not sure how you’re perceived ask a few trusted colleagues for their unbiased appraisal, it might be quite an eye opener.
Without a clearly understood vision for the future, business owners will be likely to react to situations as and when they arise leading to “knee jerk” responses. This will not breed confidence amongst the workforce no matter how well a leader presents their decisions. A lack of management consistency often creates feelings of uncertainty amongst staff heightened in times of trading difficulties and increased competitive pressures.
At the heart of the corporate confidence issue is the conviction of a clearly articulated and implemented strategy to take the organisation forward. Whilst insecurities and concern still exists in many sectors those who’ll survive will have calm, assured captains steering the business on a course to deliver a strong and sustainable future. With plans in place and everyone understanding their role all who share the journey can themselves grow in confidence and far more readily contribute to the success of the business.
Below are 5 suggested tips to assist leaders develop a stronger feeling of self-confidence.
5 Tips to Build Self Confidence
1. Pragmatism over Perfection. Don’t get hung up on the felling that every decision and act you make must be perfect and borne out of your instinctive powers as a leader. Making the right decisions can often prove difficult but remember there are frequently situations in business where there is no right or wrong response. Be logical and gather the data you need to make an informed decision.
2. Commit to your Decisions — Communicate with conviction and provide details of the outputs from the decision.
3. Failure is an Option – Mistakes will happen and that’s life but make sure that lessons are learnt from any failure and not repeated. The best leaders freely admit to shortcomings and can identify how success was often borne out of projects that didn’t initially deliver.
4. Body Language — We all have moments of fear and trepidation in our lives but if others are looking to you for direction you need to show courage and calmness especially when under pressure.
5. Enjoy the Moment and your Work – We can spend a great deal of time at work especially if you’re the owner or senior manager of a business. There will be good and bad moments but make sure you celebrate the successes with your team and be there to pick everyone up when a deal fails to materialise.
What lies behind the sudden increase in solicitors firms merging? Is it a need for personal partner security, succession or future proofing, fear of failing or a strategic move to build a successful business?
2013 has revealed a weekly supply of dramatic news impacting the legal profession. Jackson reforms, loss of legal aid, liquidations, economic position and client migration, inability for partners to plan ahead, ABS’s and the increasing impact of the Legal Services Act, succession issues for traditional partnerships, professional indemnity renewal……they have all combined to place the profession in new uncomfortable territory.
One consequence of these issues is the fact that there are now far fewer firms in England & Wales than at any time recorded by the Law Society.
As at September 2013 there were some 10,726 firms to be precise. It still sounds like a big number but as reported in the LSG it’s 400 less than the same month in 2012. This dramatic fall is due to all of the above factors which have resulted in:
The rather worrying state of affairs has created a rather tense atmosphere within many firms as they find themselves glancing around to find security against the pressures, the security of a merger partner.
It’s the merger activity that is of particular interest because if well thought through and executed it can deliver a very positive outcome to counter the weight of negativity surrounding the profession. Unfortunately the press releases with smiling partners shaking hands in front of newly branded and dressed offices are unlikely to convince many onlookers of the true drivers of such arrangements.
When partners start to feel the cold and their accountant or bank has that “little word in the ear” they see the one route to securing their future as that long discussed but never acted upon merger opportunity.
The firm nearby that presents less of a threat to personal control than others with domineering partners. The firm that has the client you’d always courted but failed to land. The firm who’ve just announced an investment in IT which must mean they’re “switched on” and looking to the future. The firm that hasn’t joined a national brand in a vain attempt to protect its future flow of work.
It’s not surprising that the above traits are seen as attractive to the partners of a firm keen to link arms with another. Regardless of whether it’s an arranged marriage or one that all partners consent to willingly, the success of the union will not be founded in any of those considerations but could certainly result in its failure.
As with any successful marriage having things in common helps but is not essential. Yes you need an attraction, a spark and a personality match that uses the “chemistry” to good rather than toxic effect. When joined the “personality” of the newly formed business must be a commonly shared persona. If not the deal can be blown wide open leaving space for detractors, conflicting agendas and negative views of those who were just waiting for the “I told you so” moment.
Leadership is critical and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a single person more often a team who share a vision driven by clearly stated and understood objectives.
The original cupid arrow that created the merged business is typically founded in solid logic and should have all the ingredients for a successful outcome. Unfortunately the complexity and challenge of putting organisations together can dilute and lose the benefit of economies of scale and combined resources.
Critical to the success is a clearly articulated strategy delivered consistently by an effective leadership team. The focus at all times MUST be on the customers, lose sight of that key fact and matters can start to unravel fast.
Rather than being daunted by the scale of the challenge it’s helpful to view the merger plan as a series of projects that each need to be worked on to achieve the overall desired outcome.
Not many employees relish change and mergers present plenty of new challenges and potential threats to personal job security. Keeping the talent engaged is important as is the need to motivate the business to achieve the new goals.
There are many positives to be borne from mergers but before being charmed by a suitable partner it’s worth looking at theirs and other track records. We can and should certainly learn from the mistakes of others and the legal market is peppered with them.
On the upside mergers can and do deliver, but best look at an equation that gives 1+1 = 3+ not 0. This is a marriage that needs to deliver offspring that can grow and evolve and take the newly formed business forward.
Here below are a list of projects, an example of the areas a typical merger would need to cover to deliver a positive and co-ordinated outcome. The list below is but a guide and is not comprehensive. The projects would of course be determined by the specific features of the merger.
Merger Projects Example
If any of the above issues resonate with you and your business and you would wish to explore your options please feel free to drop me a line in confidence – email@example.com
i2i Business Solutions, Management Consultancy
firstname.lastname@example.org twitter @davidlaud