Category Archives: Management tips

Present perfect

Present perfect

There is one thing that many companies, especially there smaller ones, don’t spend enough time on: training their people to present. Sales people and managers are expected to deliver presentations at various levels. Some present on a daily basis, others not so often but there comes an inevitable time in a professional’s life when he or she has to stand up in front of somebody else and talk about something. If there is a natural flair, fair enough. Actually still not enough. Even if you are good at presenting to begin with you still need to hone and fine tune your skills so that you are not presenting nicely but effectively.

I make an incorrect assumption that there is at least a basic understanding of power point as this is the de facto tool most people trapped in the business world use. If there is no such knowledge it must be acquired. Do it in house or use self study, ask a savvy colleague. Sorry, ppt trainers out there but this is not the time to spend money on watching slides pasted from help files (disclaimer: there are a few trainers that make it worth while).

Start from the audience.  To whom are you presenting? A client? The boss? The BIG boss? This should mean something to you. If it doesn’t, WAKE UP! You can’t present the same thing to different people even if it is the same thing. Does that make sense? Think about explaining the facts of life to different age groups: it’s the same thing but you can’t use the same extent of detail, graphical descriptions and illustrations with a seven year old and a colleague (yes there’s always one). So think about who will be taking in what you will be dishing out. Think of the recipients as clients. What are their needs? If you are presenting to clients think of their needs not only in terms of what you are selling but also in terms of how you are presenting it. Are they pressed for time? When are you presenting? Early in the morning? Late in the evening? Over the weekend? Everything counts. You may need to adjust your presentation, even if it is simply in terms of enthusiasm and pace, depending on who is sitting in front of you and where and when you are presenting. Irrespective of the subject.

Dos and don’ts:

Do rework your presentation until it has flow and contains all the necessary information. Not data, information. Don’t put up a slide stuffed full of numbers that you spent a month putting together and expect people to make the connections you have.

Do use images and graphs. Do use a pointer. Do get a good rest the night before. Do use transition/animation effects. Do rehearse over and over so that you are speaking while clicking the next point without having to consult the screen. Do make sure you know everything related to whatever it is you are presenting. Do maintain control of the audience at all times.

Don’t overdo it on the animation and transition effects. The “appear” function is enough in most cases. Don’t use those horrible sound effects (unless you are presenting to kids). Don’t make people dizzy by turning the laser pointer into a laser show. You don’t have to draw squiggles on the screen. The dot at the right place will suffice. It should make people focus, not dizzy. Don’t talk about things you don’t know about. Don’t let attendees upstage you. Don’t wander off in tangents. Don’t get side tracked least the train of though you are trying to build become lost in the wilderness (you are trying to build a train of thought in your listeners’ minds right?). Don’t ever, ever, ever (did I mention ever?) go unprepared. No matter who is the receiver; your boss, your employees, your clients, the public. This is the presenter’s equivalent of cutting your hand, jumping into the shark tank and splashing around (no, all those documentaries about how wonderful and misunderstood sharks are have still not removed the image “Jaws” created. There, I broke the train of thought. Now I have to use another sentence to get you guys back on track). NEVER go unprepared. You will lose credibility and the interest of your audience instantly and irreversibly. You will also make sure they don’t attend your next presentation and tell their friends no to either-let’s get a beer instead.

Even if it turns out that they are not interested in buying whatever it is you were presenting, they should always have something positive to say about the way you presented it. Even if the numbers you are presenting are bad, you can still deliver professionally. In short, you will make an impression every time you get up to present. Make sure it is a positive one.

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Posted by on 16/12/2012 in Management tips


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Why high tech communication has failed

Never miss the opportunity to put on a suit and take your laptop to the beach

Email. Electronic mail. Fast, ethereal, efficient, catastrophic. Like the photograph in this post (seriously though) , the term electronic communication is riddled with  antitheses.

For, oh, lots and lots of years email has been the main means of communication in both the corporate and the private world. And it’s amazing. The technology is unbelievable. The brainpower behind making it happen is (as in most such cases) well, mind boggling. And as in the case of most tools developed for the betterment of man’s life, man totally mis-uses it.  A while back I did a little research (via email) and came to the conclusion that  on receiving an email communication, people feel more pressure to respond faster (or even immediately) than, say, to a fax or a letter. If the message is from the people upstairs the pressure increases further. And what do people in a hurry and under pressure often do? That’s right. They make e-stakes and i-screwedups.

Think for a minute. In many cases you don’t when answering an email. Strange when you think that we consider it so important that we activate that god annoying pup up so that it can interrupt you no matter what you are working on. Opps! There goes one now. Shall I stop writing and open it, or should I finish what I’m doing first. It doesn’t really matter since my train of thoughts has been derailed anyway. And as I already have more than twenty tabs sitting on my task bar I really have to ask, what the hell am I thinking of. Seriously, what are you thinking of when you have for or five spreadsheets, six or seven websites, a couple of presentations and several PDFs open? Would it be safe to assume your mind is not 100% on the task at hand? Well, it never is unless you are bald, have a long beard, are probably wearing orange and are sitting cross-legged on a rock near a yak – that kind of focus takes years to develop. You get the picture. How many of your resources are focused? How many are wandering off in twenty different directions. And then you get Spam. A ridiculous “forward” just popped up. Add antisocial networking and you might as well tattoo UNPRODUCTIVE on your forehead. (AUTHOR’s NOTE:Yes, antisocial networking. If you want to network get out and meet, have coffee with, touch, feel and joke with people. Sitting alone in a dark room in front of a bright monitor clicking on hyper links is not a social activity no matter what you have heard. If your parents were social networkers social intercourse may never have occurred and you probably wouldn’t be here reading this right now).

So you get an email, glance over it and feel compelled to answer. Chances are you haven’t scrolled down far enough to see the preceding messages. You never know, the first may have been “Let’s see how many idiots get stressed and answer this”. If the answer needs some research you click on a search engine tab (remember, one of the five you already have open) or open a new one and type in the burning issue. You then look at the first ten hits out of half a million options and click on a couple. You scan through ten pages of text, adverts, links and pictures of smiling “gurus”. Maybe you copy something. Back to the email, a quick paste, a smart comment, what you believe is a documented response and off it goes. You may have used the term “educated guess”. It’s still a guess, just in a more expensive polo shirt. Hang on! Was that reply or reply to All? Quick! Sent items! Oh, crap! She wasn’t supposed to get that! Recall! Recall! Where’s Recall!! Folks, stop looking, it never works.

As managers we need to expel info stress. This is the term used for the headache and gut cramps you get when trying to deal with all the “information” whizzing around the information super highway. In fact, most of it is BS. All the  BS you can handle only a click away. It has come to a point that you need to shovel through so much BS to get to the information, by the time you find it you forget what you wanted it for or have become engrossed in something else you happened upon. You are, of course, multitasking. Or so you think. Two or three threads: multitasking. Twenty threads: who are you kidding?

Take time to focus. Make it a rule not to answer (or even read) emails as soon as they pop up. Turn off the pop up! Incidentally this practice can also save you from particularly awkward moments during presentations.

Treat emails as you would a good old fashioned letter. Take the time to read it. Without pings and pops. Hang on, my mobile is beeping. Sorry, it seems one of my son’s dragons gave birth. Really important stuff. Where was I? Oh, yeah – letter. Then take time to compose a reply. Put it down for a while and go back to it twenty minutes later. Then send it. Oh, and never fill in the recipient’s address until you are ready to send. And mind the drop down lists so you don’t send your competitor your customer price lists by a slip of the cursor.

So one can’t help but wonder, to what extent has this half-assed approach to communication, with projections into decision making, contributed to the mess the world economy is in today? How many hours do people at the office spend actually working or focusing on the job? How many important business decisions (or feedback leading to them) were based on amateurish web searches and hasty replies to emails?

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Posted by on 06/10/2012 in Management tips


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On customer satisfaction

Make sure this is the digit they raise

What makes for a satisfied customer? When do you feel satisfied as a customer? When are you not a satisfied customer? It all boils down to good old expectation management. What have you led your customer to expect? Or even worse, what are his or her default expectations or preconceptions? It is so easy to become customer critics instead of customer advocates. “Oh God! it’s Mr. Jones again! He’s such a royal pain!” and so on. This is not the time for such behavior. People are angry with the downturn, with shrinking incomes, with bad payers, with increasing running costs and cost of living. It’s so easy for them to add you and your company to the anger list. Don’t give them reason to. So, manage the expectations. If you sell dirt cheap and have a crappy service, then advertise this fact. People expect not to expect good service and they walk out so happy with the bargain they got. If you buy something for ten dollars and its value turns out to be ten dollars, you are most probably not a satisfied customer. At best you are a neutral customer. Paid ten, got ten. Nothing to post on the social network about (my first, outdated impulse was “nothing to write home about”). If on the other hand the value turns out to be eight, then you are a peed off customer. Depending on your character you may be a letter writer or a lawyer user or a thumper of fists at the front counter. Or maybe you just take your business elsewhere in future. Take your pick – they are all loss makers. And nowadays word of mouse is much stronger than word of mouth. One click and the whole world knows about it. Welcome to the wonderful world of antisocial networking. Finally, on a brighter note, we have the case in which you pay ten and for some reason the value you get is twelve. Your expectations have been exceeded. You are now a satisfied customer and net promoter of the company that went the extra mile, click or even smile for you. Yes, even a polite smiling employee at the counter can make the difference in the value received.

Manage your customer expectations. If you really want satisfied customers you need to create the correct expectations and then exceed them on the deliverable. And remember, you can do it even by proactively notifying a customer of a problem with their purchase. Most of all, we expect companies we give our money to, to act responsibly.

So walk the talk.


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Know your enemy

Competitors: Make no mistake – they are your enemy

Competitor analysis is a hot MBA topic. We learn lots of nice tools. Then we forget about them. The truth is that most small business owners and managers don’t dedicate half as much time as they should be to monitoring competition. Why? The ever present, ever invalid excuse of being too busy.

There are several reasons to know what your competitors are up to. Lets name three:

  1. You want to gain business from them
  2. They want to gain business from you
  3. You want to gain business from them


The oxymoron here is that in the case of small and medium organizations it is so much easier for the top brass to be close to the market, the customer, the staff.  I asked one manager during a workshop, “Why don’t you devote part of your time to analyzing competition?” He responded, somewhat aggressively, “I spend most of my time in meetings with customers!” Yet another offended attendee asked me if I had any idea what it was like trying to run a sales force. So, think for a moment. If you take away the BS from competitor analysis and put it into context for your business, what it really means is knowing what the other guys are doing. In a perfect world, you have “people to do these things”. In real life, you need to be talking to your customers, talking to your people and keeping an ear permanently to the market. If your competitors are other small medium sized companies, The Journal or Forbes may possibly not be running a feature on them. So it boils down to street savvy. And, by the way, do you really think that a colleague stuck with drawing up a competitor analysis report along with 246 other tasks is actually going to supply intel you can work with?

If you spend all your time in meetings with customers or talking to the sales force, then you have more than enough to go on. You just need to fine tune the receivers a bit. You, your sales people and everybody else in the company should be gathering information on competition. What are they charging? What is their structure? What are they paying? Are they making targets? Do they have targets? You will of course need a repository for this information, somewhere to store it in an organized manner. Find a simple way to consolidate. Then integrate competitor analysis into the sales meetings. This way it is alive. Does your sales rep know which competitor sales rep visits his top customer? The truth is out there. Ask the right questions. Run a dedicated competitor analysis workshop every quarter. Use an easy tool such as SWOT analysis. Caveat: SWOT analysis, unless the facilitator is disciplined (you) tends to yield BS outputs such as (under our strengths) “We have an excellent set up”. “We have a good sales force”. “Our service is fantastic”. And so the BS continues. Stick to numbers and facts. What can you measure? What can you compare, apples with apples. What can you action to enhance your competitive advantage?

If you were asked why don’t you live a bit, would you answer “because I’m so busy breathing”? Turn on the receivers and fine tune them. You will be surprised at how much you can learn.

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Posted by on 24/09/2012 in Management tips


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Keeping the balance

Balance or burnout?

“If you want something done, give it to a busy person”. This, in my experience, is so true. Bear in mind the caveat: there are two types of busy people. Type a. is the person that is driven, focused and organized. They get things done. An additional task is thrown into the grinder, shuffled, tagged, prioritized and seen through. Type b. is the person that likes to appear busy, mainly because they are not. They will leave everything until an hour before knocking off time and then make sure everybody sees how stressed and busy they are. So, only apply the aforementioned adage for Type a.

One little secret that type a. busy people have, is that they know how to keep the balance. They know where to insert down time and in a somewhat oriental like manner, compartmentalize. Think of tasks etc. as being placed in little mental boxes. They are leak proof. Take each out when the time is right and devote the necessary attention to it. Yes, you can open more than one at a time, but this is known to westerners as multitasking and requires more time in the dojo perfecting the balance between harmony and chaos. The box approach offers the all important and, lately more frequently, elusive FOCUS. Focus is the essence of success no matter what you are trying to do. If you are spending time with your child and are thinking about the P&L, then you are cheating both. If you want to be a black belt at busy, you need to allocate time to things other than work. This is where balance lies. One complements the other or else one will negatively impact the other and as any oriental medicine practitioner will tell you, in the upheaval of balance lie all ills.

Time off is time off. You must realize this. Your co-workers and associates must realize this. Otherwise you are game in a free zone. Define your “open seasons”. People will know that you are there for them 100% of the time you delegate for them, but you are offline 100% for the time you delegate to yourself and your loved ones. Is this absolute? No. I never deal in absolutes… well you get the point. There will always be exceptions but find your yin and yang, ping and pong, zig and zag or whatever other philosophy you subscribe to and allow for regeneration and revitalization. Burned out individuals are not efficient and usually not much fun to be around.

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Posted by on 22/09/2012 in Management tips


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The power of “?”

Everything is a Trade-off. Always.

How do we learn? By asking questions. This holds true for every aspect and stage of our life. Never underestimate the ability to ask the right questions. This is the only way to arrive at the right answers. The good student is the one that continuously bombards teachers with a barrage of questions. Good interview candidates ask good questions. Bright children ask intelligent questions. The best scientists ask the best questions. The sales people with the highest close ratios are the ones that base the sales process on specific types of question. There is no reason why an entrepreneur or a manager should be an exception. If you don’t ask questions you will end up with teams that aren’t geared towards having the right answers. Even worse, you will lose touch with your business/people/industry etc.

One of the most powerful questions a manager can ask is also childishly simple: “Why?”

Question everything. Remember, we are living in a rapidly changing reality. What was a good call three months ago may have disastrous results two months down the line.

Sit back and take a third eye look at your routine. Does it still make sense? Objectively and unemotionally? Did your ego shoot down somebody else’s idea? Are you avoiding meeting with a prospect for personal reasons? Are you not firing somebody when you should have done it six months ago? Are you still selling to a client that is no longer paying as agreed?

Question everything. Ask why you do this and not that. Question your sales reps’ results. Question the efficiency figures. Keep on asking until the answers you get make sense and satisfy you. You are the boss. It’s your job.

Train your people to answer questions directly. In most cases, especially if something has gone bad, you will ask what color and get an answer referring to taste… Don’t be afraid to say, “that’s not what I asked” until you sound like a broken record. Don’t be afraid to show your discontent after the second attempt to get a straight answer. The person sitting across the desk may not even be trying to avoid the question. It is a sign of professionalism to answer questions completely and accurately and for most people it is a skill to be acquired. Help your teams develop this skill. It will make for a much more efficient organization and should also help enhance the sense of responsibility of your people.

And of course don’t forget that other very powerful question: “Why not?”. This also gets the mind wondering why certain things are not done? You will be surprised by the number of cases in which the reason is emotional rather than rational.

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Posted by on 19/08/2012 in Management tips


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What’s your strategy, Boss?

Know yourself, know your adversaries

You run the company. It may be yours. So, since there is no stressful quarterly board presentation, no tight arsed SOB MD flying in to chew you on the numbers and you are working so hard, it’s so easy for business sense and strategic management to give way to day-to-to-day management. So here is a little exercise. It’s one of those cool ones like imagining the audience you are stressed about talking to from the conference podium are in their underwear. Imagine you have a Boss. An unforgiving son of his mother. You probably had one at some point in your career. Hell, these days it’s probably your banker. Anyway, this imaginary figure of authority always asks the tough questions and you simply do not want to be caught unprepared. He is asking, “What is your strategy?” Do you know? Did you lay it down five years ago and then forget about it as you had more important things to attend to such as writing proposals, visiting clients, appraising staff, balancing the books, answering the phone and emails? All the stuff above is, of course so much more important than actually knowing why you are doing it. When I ask this question at the first meeting with prospects, I usually get something along the lines of a smile bordering on the condescending and something like “Andrew, you know the theory is OK but we have a business to run”. In some cases this is a cover for a guilty managerial conscience. In other cases it stems from empirical managers or business people thinking that a business strategy is up there with quantum physics and as such beyond their grasp, so let’s just get on with running the business. In so many cases this ends up as just running around in circles or, worse, running the business into the ground.

Strategy made simple:

Ask yourself three questions:

1. Where are we today?

2. Where do we want to be in X months/years?

3. OK, How the heck do we get there?

That’s it basically. Get as philosophical and as detailed as you like, but this is the essence. Of course, you then need to think along the lines of, “What sort of obstacles would we encounter? Is there anybody that would go out of their way to stop me?”.

Before you get to the strategy questions, ask an even more important one:

What is my business?

This may sound borderline stupidly simple but take a minute: Are you selling coffee or are you selling an image of those that frequent your caffeine enriched beverage purveying establishment? Can you see how different your strategy needs to be depending on the answer?

Define, no, distill the essence of what it is you do. Then decide where you want to end up. Then work backwards to how you are going to succeed. And as you are starting from what you ideally want to achieve, don’t be surprised if you find that you have quite a way to go. Don’t be afraid to question the way you do things today. This will lead you to the “How do we get there” answers.

Oh, and by the way, check your ego at the door. It makes a crappy adviser when it comes to managing change, especially if you need to change your decisions and directions you set.


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Are you the top guy/gal ?

You are responsible for EVERYTHING

I work mainly with small and medium companies. The term is SMEs. I find it’s easier to get things done in smaller companies. The are usually more agile and the politics are simpler. You don’t have to convince a different manager every step along the way and it’s clearer where the buck stops. Having said this, the owner/manager needs to be adaptable and open minded. Over the years, I have been granted the wisdom to know what I can’t change. Some brick walls you simply walk away from. You may experience this with people you employ or that you are responsible for. People, life is hard enough. If you are faced with a difficult decision, surgically remove the emotional content. This provides unbelievable clarity which in turn leads to good decisions or management calls. And here’s a hint: if you are trying too hard to manage somebody, don’t. You shouldn’t have to. “Did you do that thing?”, “Did you send the quotation?”, “Why is this contract still pending?”… Is any of this ringing a bell? See if there is another role that could benefit from inefficiency or lack of dependability or else send them home. Cruel? Cold? OK, keep on paying them to ignore you, the customers, common sense etc.

Anyway, small and medium companies. Do you run one? Do you know what the most common issue is? The top guy is, well, the top guy. A small company may or may not have processes and controls in place. The guy (or gal) at the top may or may not be disciplined. At the end of the day who is he or she accountable to if things slip. If issues aren’t followed up? If this month’s sale figures weren’t what they should be? In fact, to nobody but his or herself. So remember this always: Thou art mortal. You too can screw up. And most importantly, you are NOT always right.

Don’t make excuses for not managing your company professionally, as if your job depended on it. In fact , it does…

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Posted by on 17/08/2012 in Management tips


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