Tag Archives: success in business

Do We Already Have the Resources In-House?

No matter how much business operators try to convince me, I have never fully bought into the idea of using outside, contract staff.  

Let me explain …

There are times when new people bring a different dynamic to what we do and how we operate and these individuals can play a key role when we don’t have the internal expertise.  However, whilst working in the Pharmaceutical Industry I used to become exasperated when managers declared that ‘we need to hire in external expertise’ before they had taken any steps to determine whether that expertise already existed in-house.

All of us have many talents and abilities which have become latent or hidden over  the years. 

Perhaps we’ve

  • Forgotten about talents we once had or hobbies we once enjoyed
  • Assumed we’ll never need softer, touchy-feely skills so have locked them away and forgotten about them
  • Always wanted to give something a try but haven’t had the chance
  • Been told at school that we’d never succeed in a particular area, even though we really enjoyed it or worse still, were good at it!
  • Been told we’ll never be successful

 … the list goes on and I’m sure you can add your own reasons.

Let’s consider one or two ways in which companies would benefit if they used in-house expertise over hired-in expertise.  Companies would have

  • People working who are already fully conversant with the culture
  • People already established within the social networks of the company, with established relationships across multiple disciplinary areas
  • Chance to develop their people, thereby increasing their sense of belonging and resulting in potentially greater job-satisfaction, commitment and input

I would also suggest that they’d save considerable costs and time delays that inevitably occur when new people are brought into existing structures and cultures.  Contract staff cost more, it’s just that we perceive that they’re easier to get rid of when we know longer need them without worrying about pensions etc and we can often ‘hide’ their costs elsewhere in the figures by keeping them off the headcount!  But what happened if we had people that were so flexible that we didn’t have to adopt or pay homage to the ‘hire and fire’ methods we have become accustomed to? 

The problem is that bringing in people from outside or looking outside of the company is simply too easy.  We don’t have to ask too many questions and we don’t have to worry about changing who we are or what we do.

But coming one step back, wouldn’t it be much healthier for all concerned if companies di take  time to help their staff  discover and develop talents, whether they are forgotten or hidden, so that at least they knew what was in the melting pot.  With information, it is possible to make reasoned decisions.  Making these decisions in the absence of information is dangerous and potentially life-threatening to a company.

Sometimes it is unavoidable that external talent is required to achieve a goal.  My challenge would be, how often could we avoid it and enjoy the benefits by a bit of preparation and enough conviction to take the risk?

The results of ignoring what and whom we have can be very telling and equally catastrophic.  In 1917 Forbes first quoted their top 100 Companies.  When this list was re-visited in 1987, 61 of the original companies were no longer in existence and of remaining 39, only 18 were still on the Top 100 list.  The main reason for dropping off the list or going out of business was that these companies had stayed still and tried to fight what was going on around them.  The 18 companies that stayed in the Top 100 were those that adopted a strategy which embraced change.  And for this, discovery and implementation of creativity within each member of the workforce was key.

We are all creative.  Do our bosses and companies know that?  Have they looked for it or do we perhaps need to find our talents and let those in our place of work know?

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Success in Failure; Humility in Leadership

Whilst hopping around the Internet recently I came across a great article on The London Business Forum website from an interview with Sir Richard Branson.  As I read it, I was struck by an individual who is totally passionate about what he does whilst also being ready to learn, change and improve. 

I remember Richard Branson being set-up for a fall on more than one occasion by our beloved British Press.  When he was trying something new or attempting a new record, the snipers of the true British spirit shot … and if he failed, the “I told you so” or “You read it first in the ***” kinds of headlines prevailed.  It was more important that he’d failed than what he’d attempted.  And yet, if we talk to any successful businessman, failure is always on their list and it’s seen as part of their road to success (and perhaps that is why so many of our current journalists will never be successful … but that’s another story!).

Anyway, please enjoy the following except from Sir Richard’s interview: 

‘Many of the audience wanted Branson to dispense some entrepreneurial advice, and he didn’t disappoint, mixing the common-sense with some fascinating and salutary anecdotes. “The importance of protecting the downside,” was a key lesson to learn, he said. This is why, when he cut a deal with Boeing to buy his first second-hand 747, it included an option to sell the plane back after one year. Boeing’s only concern, he said, was that Virgin “wouldn’t live up to its name but would actually go all the way.”

Similarly, he had a valuable tip on how to retain entrepreneurial dynamism while you’re growing: as soon as the number of staff hits 100, split the firm in two. In this way, he said, Virgin Records ended up being 20 different companies that “didn’t even share switchboards”. It’s a philosophy that Virgin still tries to observe in spite of its gigantic size. Of the group’s 200 branded companies, “none of them are massive in any particular field,” Branson said, and each has to stand on its own two feet”. The people who lead each business are managing directors, and are incentivised accordingly. “Virgin has created about 200 millionaires over the years,” he revealed.

The moment you go from one company to two companies, you’ve got to start learning the art of delegation, he added. “So what I try to do when we set up new businesses [is this]: I’ll go in, I’ll immerse myself for a month or two, I’ll learn all about that industry, so that if a managing director does come to me and wants to talk to me about mobile phones or trains, I’ll know something.”

True delegation means giving people the freedom to make mistakes, he said. “[My parents] would always look for the best in what [I] did. They were great believers in lots and lots of praise… And I think if you’re the leader of a company, this is even more important. You shouldn’t be looking for people slipping up, you should be looking for all the good things people do and praising those. People know when they’ve slipped up, they don’t need to be told.”

Another defining characteristic of Branson’s personal management style was his willingness to be humble, and to listen to criticism, where staff and customers are concerned. “I do try to make an effort,” he said. “If I’m on a Virgin plane, I’ll try to meet all the passengers. I’ll have a little notebook in my back pocket. I’ll meet all the staff.” He stressed the importance of tiny details, saying that only by getting these right will you end up with “an exceptional company rather than an average company.”

Ultimately, business is not about “balance sheets, money, profits and loss,” he argued. It is about “creating something you’re really proud of, something the people who work for you can be really proud of… the actual business aspect is simply there to be mopped up at the end.”

The fact that he never got a tight grasp of financial matters was probably a benefit, he suggested, in that it persuaded him never to bring in accountants too early in the development of a venture. “You’ll get one firm of accountants that will tell you, based on their own preconceptions, why starting an airline is a ghastly idea and every other airline fails and you’re going to lose a lot of money. You’ll get another set of accountants who’ll tell you why they think you’re going to make money. But they have no idea one way or the other.”

Far more important is to create something that you, yourself, really want and value, he concluded. “If it’s exceptionally good then people will always turn up and use it.”

Perhaps it’s time to regain and re-embrace some of the old ‘British Spirit’ without being ashamed (and without extreme nationalism).  And it’s time to put to death the insipid political correctness that will undoubtedly ruin so many ventures.  We are not all the same.  Celebrate the fact and be prepared to try to succeed, even if we must embrace failure. 

Above all, be prepared to be humble; to learn, to change, to improve … and to acknowledge that we may not have all the answers on our own, but they are often in our colleagues, friends and family if we are prepared to look.

Until next time …
My Zimbio

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