Leadership, Team, Vision and values

Perhaps the most obvious answer is money – good cashflow works well! But cash isn’t my subject here; there’s something else that marks out the very best businesses.

It’s all about Values

I’ve seen in big organisations how real values, shared by teams of people, create an extraordinary sense of purpose and direction. I’ve seen how the absence of shared values can be corrosive and lead to conflict.

In small businesses values are just as important.

Have you ever felt that people in your team aren’t really pulling their weight? That one or two aren’t really going the same way as you? That your business isn’t as much fun as it used to be? If you’ve experienced any of these feelings and come through the other side, the chances are that you’ve found a way to establish a set of values within the team that resonate with you and that others are happy with. Chances are also that you’ve realised that you need to hold people accountable for living and working by them as well.

But all this talk about Values – it’s a bit cheesy and American isn’t it?’

I think it all depends how you do it – after all you can choose to be cheesy or choose not to be! Here are 5 reasons why this is important for every business.

  • Values are the glue that binds people together in a business, just as in any other team.
  • Values are the context for every decision that you make
  • You can use the values to help you recruit the right people
  • You can use your values to hold people accountable for their behaviour, as well as their results
  • Your values will help you decide if someone in the team is really not the right fit

The acid test of your values is what decision you make about an employee who is effective in their job but does not work in line with your values. Food for thought?

One experience that stands out for me is being part of a team racing a 60-foot yacht across the world’s oceans. I covered 6,500 miles racing against 7 identical yachts so the difference in performance was down to tactics and teamwork. My crew won the race round the world, including the South Atlantic race from South Africa to Brazil. Why?

I’m certain that one of the reasons was that we had an open discussion about our goals and values before the start; this meant everyone was equally committed to doing the tough things (like getting up at 3am to go out in the rain, when you’re still wet and tired from the last sail change and you’ve only been asleep for an hour), and doing them day in day out for weeks at a time.

Some resources if you would like to know more about values:

Hire, Fire, Develop and Reward: How Values-Driven Companies Leverage Culture for Growth

There are some great resources on this site. In particular if you click on the link to the partner website near the bottom of the page, you will find several good videos. I recommend “Use your core values to drive decision making”.

Built to Last by Jim Collins – is about why Values are important in building a business that will endure.

Team Spirit by Brendan Hall – is about turning a group of strangers into a team that can win a 35,000 mile yacht race, underpinned by three core values; Pride, Energy and Support. The lessons are relevant for every team and every business

3 things you can do now:

  1. Write down three business problems that could be solved more easily if your values were completely clear to you and everyone in your team
  2. Have a think; if your customers and employees are talking right now about what your business is like, what do you want them to be saying?
  3. Write down the top 5 things that define what you stand for, what you live by, how you want your people and your business to be seen by others

Want some help?

I have a ‘step by step guide’ to creating your Vision, of which Values is a core part. Give me a call if you’d like to go through it

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Growth, Leadership, Team

What should you do if a team member just doesn’t fit?

I’m wondering if anyone reading this has experienced, or perhaps is experiencing now, a situation where you have a team member who just doesn’t fit. Maybe there was a time when they did fit, and everything was fine (or maybe there wasn’t but you were too busy to notice!).

The odd one outSomething interesting happens as businesses ‘grow up’. A bit like people, their needs change as they mature, and the needs of business owners change over time as well. Often, people in the team grow and develop along with the business and it’s a wonderful thing to see someone in your team blossom and develop as a person, as well as an employee. When that happens (and it happens a lot) then as the owner and leader you are entitled to take lots of credit for the example that you have set and for the growth that you have encouraged.

But what about the people who don’t fit? I notice that when mature businesses employ someone who is a poor fit, it becomes obvious fairly quickly to everyone. Then the employee has a choice of learning the behaviour, attitude and skills required pretty fast, or one way or another leaving the business. More of a problem though is when there is a team member who has been in from the start, or at least from the ‘early days’. Perhaps they were great at the time, for the work that was asked of them, and everything seemed fine.

Then, slowly, over time, things changed. The business grew, evolved. Roles changed, became bigger, with more responsibility and more impact on your results. Someone who has known the business from the start is the obvious choice to take more on, right? Specially as you’re so busy. You have a problem, growing bit by bit, almost unnoticed, until one day you have to acknowledge that something’s not right:

  • Someone isn’t performing the way you need them to, and you just can’t ignore it any more
  • You know deep inside that they just don’t fit any more
  • They don’t seem happy at work
  • Having them in your business makes you unhappy
  • They’re disruptive – maybe not intentionally, but that’s what’s happening
  • They want to be treated differently


Of course it may not be solely down to them, right? After all, you hired them, promoted them and have put up with it for all this time! There may be all kinds of things going on in their life outside work which have an impact. They may have a partner, children, a mortgage, credit cards to pay off and holidays to pay for.

Some strategies to think about:

  • You could continue to ignore it and hope it will go away. It won’t. (Despite this, it seems to be a popular option!)
  • You could hope the damage isn’t too great. It’s growing, right, so why would it stop?
  • You could look around for someone to deal with it for you. Look in the mirror.
  • You could confront the brutal truth. Something’s gone wrong, you’re partly responsible, and you’re the one who has to sort it out.
  • Have an honest conversation with yourself about the best outcome for you, your business, this team member, and everyone else touched by your business.
  • Have an honest conversation with them as well. Get help if you need it.
  • Be fair. Be fair to them, and to yourself as well.
  • Be proactive and stop it happening again. This means:
    • Have clear performance measures for every job
    • Hold people accountable for meeting the expectations (it helps if you are doing this yourself!)
    • Regularly look at the jobs (not the people) in your business; how will the jobs need to grow and develop? Be specific. Then look at your people, how will you help them grow, succeed and develop to meet the needs of the future?

Take ownership, and take action.

If anything here has touched a chord with you, please give me a call on 01672 512001 and I’ll be happy to talk it through with you.

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Customer service, Leadership, Team

Children are experts at excuses aren’t they? But is it just children?

Do you ever feel that somehow customers or staff just don’t live up to your expectations?  That somehow it’s all their own fault?  It’s easy to drop into this kind of thinking, especially if we’ve had a tough day, week or quarter.  I imagine we’d all recognise though that this kind of thinking isn’t really going to achieve much!

Working with clients I use a really simple concept that we keep coming back to because it is so powerful.  It’s called above or below the line of choice; above the line is where we accept ownership, accountability and responsibility for our actions and results, whereas below the line we blame others, make excuses or simply deny the influence we might be having if it’s negative.

Here is the diagram I often use – many clients choose to put this up on the wall.

Are you above or below the line?







In teams, especially small ones, one person dipping below the line can affect everyone and be very disruptive.  A few questions that you could ask yourself, or others, if you spot that kind of behaviour are:

  • What outcome do I (you) really want, if not this one?
  • What could I (you) have done differently that might have achieved a different result?
  • How will I (you) do it next time?
  • How do I (you) want other people to behave  – and how can I (you) make that easy and attractive for them?

We don’t have to accept the consequences of other people’s behaviour if we don’t feel it’s helpful; and we don’t have to accept our own behaviour either if it’s not helpful!

A client told me a story the other day about baby-sitting for some friends who have two very young children.  As often happens with young ones, there were a few problems around ‘sharing’ between the two!  It would be easy to say something along the lines of ‘Please share with your brother, otherwise I’ll have to tell your mum how naughty you’ve been when she comes home’.  Not much fun, and the ogre of blame is in the air.

An alternative was ‘Please share with your brother, then I can tell your mum how good you’ve been when she gets home’.  Simple and effective, an evening of sharing followed and a good result for everyone.

Of course as adults we have had many more years of practising our behaviour (the good as well as the bad!) and it may take a bit of practice and support to make a change.  It’s pretty powerful when we do though.

What difference could it make for you and your team?  Get in touch you’d like to chat about how to use this, and I’d love to hear your stories about behaviour above or below the line.


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Business planning, Leadership, Team

I have recently been to one of our regular ActionCOACH conferences. I always return from these conferences buzzing with new ideas to help the businesses I work with. Here is one thing I would like to share with you.

Sir Clive Woodward and Jonny Wilkinson

Sir Clive Woodward was our guest speaker. I was expecting him to be good but he exceeded my expectations by miles, with real stories from rugby, the Olympics and from business. The War Room is one of the ideas he spoke about that I am taking back and using. I’ve used the idea myself in business over the years but Sir Clive has taken it to a new level.


To step back a moment, one of Sir Clive’s key themes was ‘Teamship‘ ; his take on how to build a group of excellent individuals into a world beating team. Teamship means that members of the team write the rules which all team members will adhere to. In the case of the successful England rugby team of 2003, they created a 50 page book detailing the rules they all committed to follow – and it was written entirely by the team. The manager’s (ie Sir Clive’s) role was simply to endorse (or veto) the content and the team members’ role was to adhere to the principles they had written. The book was bound in a leather cover, regularly updated and it was presented to every new member of England’s World Cup winning rugby squad when they were first selected. Compliance was 100% in the rugby team and the same principles were used to mould Team GB into a unit for the 2012 Olympics where of course GB competitors won more medals than ever before.

Back to the War Room. The idea is to use this not just as a way of dealing with crisis (though it’s a great way for that) but to bring it to life in a more proactive way. In the rugby example, the squad would sit in a room with a clock. The clock would be set to a certain time (e.g. 5 minutes to go) and the score would be put up on the board. A scenario would be set (e.g. a line-out at 25 metres). Then the question to each team member was “what will you do next in this situation”. By thinking this through in the War Room, all members of the team were ready when a similar situation arose on the field.

So how does this apply to business? The idea is to pick on key business issues, opportunities or potential threats which could derail the business and deal with them with the same sense of urgency as we would if they were a real crisis. I’ve started using this with clients already.

One of my clients has identified a list of 10 priority War Room scenarios. They will have a team of people allocated to dealing with their plan for each one of these issues. In 10 weeks they will have a contingency for all the above, enabling the owner to take some time away during the year, knowing that the team can deal with crises if they arise.

So what are your 10 priority War Room issues and what will you do to make sure you are prepared if one of them actually happens?



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Some people are just naturally great at sales aren’t they? They slide effortlessly into ‘sales mode’, are immediately comfortable with strangers and make people feel engaged and at ease.

Well, yes, some people are naturally comfortable with these behaviours; funnily enough this doesn’t necessarily make them great at sales. All behaviour is of course learned to some extent, and anything we learn we can improve.

  • Can you cook? Want to improve? Do some training, take a course, practise and you will improve, right?
  • Play golf? Want to improve? Do some training, take a course, practise and you will improve, right?
  • Speak Spanish? Want to improve? Do some training, take a course, practise and you will improve, right?
  • Sell your product or service? Want to improve? OK just keep doing exactly what you always have and things are bound to get better over time, right?

Strangely, in business, this is what often happens. I’m sure it’s not the experience of anyone reading this, but I see it all over the place!

I’m too busy to go on a course or work on my sales process, Nige

Why are you too busy?

‘Well we need more sales so I’m pretty busy working on that. Plus we’ve got lots of other things we need to do this week/month/year.’ (delete as appropriate. Ed.)

But you’ve got big plans for more sales, right?

‘Of course’

Hmmm. Would it help if:

  • you had a clear process for achieving the sales you want, and you and others in your business executed it consistently?
  • you had some measures in place so you knew how effective your sales activity really is?
  • you really thought about the behaviour that works for you and your customers?
  • you practised it…..
  • …..and trained others in the team so that everyone is really good at it?
  • your customers really understood how their interaction with you is going to work, and what they can expect?
  • your team really understood how their interaction with customers is going to work, and what customers expect?

Often there are some simple things that, done well and consistently will make a real difference; why not give it some thought?

And if you’re going to prepare a new dish for family and friends at Christmas, with or without some practice, let’s hope it all comes out just fine!



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Marketing, Sales

It’s not all about me!

If you’ve read Andy Bounds’ book The Jelly Effect, you’ll know what this is about. We recently hosted an event in London for coaches and our clients, where Andy took us through a 5 hour training session on improving sales.

Andy’s a great speaker and managed to hold the attention of 300 people for the whole day in London. Wow!

To see him speak about the Jelly Effect click here.

If you haven’t read the book you’ll be wondering what AFTERS is all about.

The idea is that most of our marketing material is pretty dull stuff, and all about US. Andy is particularly upset with websites which give prominence to things like ‘Our firm was founded in 1922 and has……..ever since’. (It’s always 1922, he seems to have a thing about it!).  So Andy’s concept of AFTERS is to focus our communication on what the experience will be like for the client, especially how we want them to feel after talking to us or doing business with us…then use this in all our communications.

He reminded us that clients buy for emotional reasons rather than practical or rational ones in the main, so we should focus on the emotional reasons for them to buy from us rather than the practical and logical things.

Of course we’ve all heard this before and we know that it’s true. Andy’s point is that despite this, most marketing and sales material tends to be about US rather than about the CUSTOMER.

This all reminds me of SPIN selling by Neil Rackham; Rackham writes in his book that new product launches are likely to FAIL if we spend too much time talking about, errrr, the New Best Thing, or the new product. It’s all about US again. New product launches work best when we remember that the product (or service) is really all about solving a problem for a customer. However proud we may be about our New Best Thing, customers only really care about what it can do for THEM. Quite right too!

So focus on the AFTERS for customers in all your marketing.

By the way, Andy’s book is all in bite sized pieces so is an easy read.

Andy sends out a great weekly email – his “Tuesday tips”. The emails are short and to the point. If you would like to sign up for these, click here to go to the sign-up page.


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Leadership, Personal development, Team

I recently read a brilliant book about Leadership (details below). It was written by a young guy who, aged 28, suddenly realised he’d better learn how to become a great leader really fast. As a professional sailor he set himself the goal of skippering a yacht in a round the world yacht race with an amateur crew. His team would total 45 people, with 18 on the boat at any one time.

I thought the book was brilliant because:

  • he’s totally honest about himself, what he’s naturally talented at and what comes less easily
  • it becomes abundantly clear that this honesty, when he really worked on his leadership skills and acknowledged his limitations, earned huge respect and commitment from the team, and this was hugely important when the chips were down. As they were on a number of occasions.
  • it’s about ocean racing; in fact it’s about an ocean yacht race in which I have participated as crew a few years ago, so I could recognise every situation, every problem and every set of options he faced.

I got so gripped by the story and by the application to business that I read the whole thing in one evening. There are many things to learn from Brendan’s book, but here are the key ones that I took away:

  • first, Brendan did his research, and spoke to lots of people who had previous experience of leading a disparate team of people, all different individuals. What he learned surprise him. He’d expected that the keys to victory would be technical things, getting sail changes and weather routing as crisp as possible; in fact everyone he spoke to told him that this would be only 20% of what he needed to be good at. The other 80%, the really important stuff, was going to be how he lead the team and what level of performance he would get from them day after day, night after night, in some pretty tough conditions, at sea for weeks at a time.
  • second, he was prepared to recognise his own strengths and limitations. More than that he worked out what he would do reduce the negative impact of his limitations, building some new (perhaps uncomfortable) habits which wold force him to act in a way that would help the team.
  • third, he recognised that we are all human and that we can all get things wrong. He made some poor decisions, one or two of them dangerous. That doesn’t make us a bad person, and in fact he gained huge respect for being honest and then getting back on the horse of the new habits.
  • fourth, the 80% was right. Even though he was the youngest and least experienced skipper out of 10, racing identical boats so there is no performance advantage in the boat itself, he won the yacht race because his was the best performing team in the long run.

His team won the race because they were the most consistent. They were fast, yes, because they agreed a common goal to win; but a 40,000 mile race requires consistency above all. A bit like a business where:

  • we are leading disparate teams of people who may not exactly share our passion and commitment
  • it may be tempting to focus on a technical solution to improving things, rather than a people solution (especially if part of the problem is us, right?)
  • the best performers are consistently good, rather than occasionally great.

It’s a great read if you lead others, be they inside or outside your business. Happy reading.

Team SPIRIT is by Brendan Hall, published by Bloomsbury Publishing.

Team Spirit Cover

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Leadership, Personal development, Team, Time management

Stephen Covey – author of 7 habits of highly effective people – has died.

I am on Verne Harnish’s e-mail distribution list and he sent out the following summary of the 7 habits when he heard the news.

The 7 habits

Independence or Self-Mastery

The first three habits surround moving from dependence to independence (i.e., self mastery):

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Take initiative in life by realizing that your decisions (and how they align with life’s principles) are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life. Take responsibility for your choices and the consequences that follow.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Self-discover and clarify your deeply important character values and life goals. Envision the ideal characteristics for each of your various roles and relationships in life. Create a mission statement.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Prioritize, plan, and execute your week’s tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Evaluate whether your efforts exemplify your desired character values, propel you toward goals, and enrich the roles and relationships that were elaborated in Habit 2.


The next three have to do with Interdependence (i.e., working with others):

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Value and respect people by understanding a “win” for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Use empathic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving.

Habit 6: Synergize

Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals no one person could have done alone. Get the best performance out of a group of people through encouraging meaningful contribution, and modeling inspirational and supportive leadership.

Self Renewal

The last habit relates to self-rejuvenation:

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle. Exercise for physical renewal, prayer (mediation, yoga, etc.) and good reading for mental renewal. Service to society for spiritual renewal.

It is said to take 21 days of repetition for a new way of doing things to become a habit. So, if there is a habit you would like to develop, why not set out to try it for 21 days? It will take some effort and you will need to remind yourself to do it every day but at the end of the 3 weeks it should be becoming second nature. I am doing just that at the moment and will let you know how I get on.

Enjoy the Olympics!



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Customer service, Sales

Walking in the Lakes


I needed some new walking boots (I love getting out in the hills with friends and family and, of course, the dog!).



I knew of 3 places where I could go and have a look for boots so I set out enthusiastically one Saturday morning.

The first shop I went to was a big place on the main shopping street. Obviously, I thought, this business is paying High Street rent so I’d expect their sales team to be pretty professional. I walked over to the extensive range of boots (many on Special Offer at reduced prices), picked a few up and generally looked interested. I couldn’t see any staff except for a couple who were deep in conversation (with each other) by the till so after a while, feeling rather fed up, I left.

Never mind, I thought , the next place will be good. Again, I walked over to the boots, and this time a young lad in the shop’s polo shirt smiled at me. “Alright?” he enquired from a distance. I assured him that I was and he wandered off.

So I drove to the third place more in hope than expectation. What a different experience!

As soon as I arrived in the boot section (upstairs at the back of the shop) one of the sales team came over, smiled and introduced himself. “You’re looking for some boots?” he asked. I said I was and he then asked a magic question “Fantastic”, he said, “Just so I can help you best, is it OK if I ask you a couple of questions?” .

Of course it is! So he asked me how much walking I like to do, how much climbing is involved, what kind of terrain I mostly walk on and what kind of budget I had in mind. He then explained that different boot manufacturers use differently shaped lasts, or moulds, so a good idea would be to try a boot from several manufacturers to see which is the best fit for me, and then select a boot from their range that meets my needs and budget. What could be simpler?

So I’ve bought the most comfortable boots I’ve ever owned, and spent a bit more than I intended (because they’re made from supple Nubuck and have the waterproof lining and are good in snowy conditions) – and I’m really happy with them.

So the professional guy knew his stuff, asked me questions about what I value in a boot, and taught me some things about the products. I didn’t feel I’d been sold to – more that I’d found a helpful and knowledgeable person to help me.

Hmmm, so

  • If you sell at low prices, you’ll attract “price only” customers and
  • If you sell at a higher price you must provide real value
  • Use questions to guide your customer to the right answer
  • If your questions lead to price objections, find some better questions!

A thought:

What happened last time you phoned your own business with a sales enquiry?

By the way, if you’re buying boots and want to know where I got such great help, give me a call and I’ll let you know.


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Personal development

The key to happiness?

I was sent this video link recently and wanted to share it with you.

Our usual way of thinking about happiness (either consciously or subconsciously) is that by working harder we will be more successful and if we are more successful we will be happier. This is turned on its head in this link – if we are happier then we will be more productive and greater success will follow.

So how do we get to be happier? There are a five simple suggestions in the clip. Let me know what you think.

The clip is 12 minutes long and he is an engaging speaker. If you don’t want to spend that long, I suggest starting at 9 minutes.


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