Category Archives: Dr Mike’s Blog

What I wish I knew

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Sir Stephen Tindall is a very experienced chair. He starts meetings of new groups with a nice Icebreaker. He asks each participant “What do you wish you knew 20 years ago?”

The problem is of course we don’t know what we don’t know. Nowhere is that more apparent when someone comes into our lives who does know what we don’t know. And it’s often not until then that we realise that we really didn’t know.

This sounds a bit like that ridiculous thing Donald Rumsfeld (Bush’s Defence Secretary) once embarrassed himself with – known unknowns and unknown unknowns.

The point is this: chances are we are all lumbering along in a state of innocence/ignorance about how much better our business could be. Sometimes we think that we have people who “know” the business, but have they learned anything new or are they just repeating what they learned in their first year in the job? And sometimes we worry about the knowledge that walks out the door when someone valuable leaves, and it turns out that their replacement operates at another level up – and again we realise what we don’t know.

Two points out of this musing:

  • Don’t fear losing people with knowledge – it may be opening a door to a new level of knowledge
  • Stop valuing knowledge and start valuing learning. Especially in yourself. Remember that the enemy of learning is knowing.

About time

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Paul recently won week-about custody of his children. Suddenly he’s got to limit his hours. He finds himself saying “I don’t have time to do this – someone else is going to have to do it.” His role has changed from doing to checking.

Sue has a mystery illness that’s going to take her off work for who knows how long. She tells her foreman he has to step up. She returns but can only do two days a week. A few years later, the business has doubled and she’s still doing two days a week.

We’ve seen lots of cases like this: something happens that limits an owner’s hours, and they have to undertake what we’ll call Forced Delegation. And it’s the best thing that ever happened to them. In nearly all the cases of Forced Delegation, the business improved as a consequence because the owner never took those jobs back, and instead focused on highest value activities. The only case I know where it didn’t work was someone who had to take 6 weeks off to look after a sick parent, and when he returned he took back all the jobs that others had performed perfectly well in his absence. He’s still there, working long hours in a business that hasn’t moved at all.

Here’s the thing: If you think your time is unlimited, you’ll use all of it. If you treat it as limited, you’ll do only what matters. The irony is, you do more of what matters when you treat time as finite than you do when you think your time is infinite.

Join us for “The Power of the 3 Day Week Webinar” hosted by Dr Mike. In this free 30 minute webinar, you’ll learn the core principles that help our clients work less and spend more time on what really matters.

Under the radar

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I get concerned when I hear someone say they just want to keep their business “under the radar”. The only good reason for that is if you are so successful that you don’t want big competitors to find out and target you. Then again, if you’re that successful you are, by definition, not under the radar!

This is one of those things people say to keep themselves small. It means they don’t have to think about the hard yards of marketing. They’ll never fail because they’ll never put themselves to the test. The only people who will find them will be those diligent enough to have tracked them down or lucky enough stumble across them. By definition (again), these people are fully qualified prospects, so the owners don’t run the risk of having to sell (ew!) or rejection.

They also don’t have to do the hard work of thinking about:

  • Which segments are we trying to appeal to?
  • What’s our value proposition to that segment?
  • How do we reach that segment?
  • What do we say to that segment to arouse their interest?
  • How do we take them from lead to prospect to sale as effectively and efficiently as possible?

In aviation terms, flying under the radar is dangerous because the plane is flying so fast and so close to the ground.

In business terms, under the radar is just about the most comfortable (and slowest) place to be.

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Making waves

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At our last board meeting, our chairman looked at one of our graphs and asked when we launched our Mastery Programme. We said it was three years ago, and he congratulated us on having achieving nearly 50% of our revenue with a product that didn’t exist 3 years ago. It is particularly gratifying is that our revenue was up nearly 30% last year and we had a record profit.

But while that’s good, it’s not the whole story, or even the most relevant part of the story.

I always think that in business it’s less about what you are and more about what you are becoming. Mastery is now a Horizon 2 product that we continue to develop and promote. It’s one of our Most Important Goals (MIGs). But one of the other MIGs refers to Horizon 3 – what are we working on now that will be as successful Mastery in 3 years’ time?

These are the waves of development, growth and maturity that we all have to manage if we are to stay relevant to our market. Your wave cycle might be longer or shorter, but you have one too, unless your market is immune to change.

The most gratifying part of Mastery’s success and the progress in our new product pipeline is that we are doing pretty well at the biggest business challenge of all: running today’s business while creating tomorrow’s.

On the death of my mother

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My mother died on 25 May, quite suddenly but not unexpectedly. This is not the place to eulogise her, but she touched many lives with her deep empathy and wisdom.

At her vigil the night before her funeral, I read a passage from the last page of my book:

“I remember what my mother said at the party for her 80th birthday. She has done a reasonable job raising 6 children. It’s probably not fair to hold her responsible for my brother John who drinks my birthday present before he gives it to me – every bloody year. She is a mentor to a number of her nieces and nephews. She is, in the eyes of her many friends and family, a Wise Woman. She’s not someone who has sought the limelight – her husband and her 6 noisy children were always hogging that, so there was never any room. So here she was, in the limelight at last, and I was really interested in what her reflection on her life might be. She said something like this:

When I think about how I’ve lived and what I say when people ask for my advice, I suppose it just comes down to this: get on with it. Whether you’ve been through a trial or you’ve been through a triumph, you’ve just got to get on with it. Whether you’ve got to finish something or start something new, you have to get on with it. Whatever it is you’ve chosen to do or whatever has been chosen for you, you’ve just got to get on with it.”

And that’s how she lived.

A couple of questions come up for me:

  • What will I say at my 80th – and am I living my own advice?
  • What should I be getting on with right now?

If you’d like to read more in my book, you can buy a copy here.

If it’s a good idea later…

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If it’s a good idea later…

…then it’s probably a good idea now.

Twice in the past week I have been reminded of one of my learnings in life. If something is a good idea for further on down the track, it’s probably a good idea now. Usually all that’s missing is the permission/encouragement to do it now.

For example, one Managing Director wants to hire a guy who would represent a significant lift in capability in a key area. He would bring in significant levels of new business across several divisions. But the MD is already hiring a critical senior resource, and cash is tight, so his plan was to sit on the appointment for 8 months. I pointed out the risks of letting this guy go to the competition or out of the industry, and the risk that we would limp along at the current level of performance. We need the lift now, and if we’re right about his capability, then we will get a return on the cash outlaid anyway. This is one of those times we have to up the ante. The MD agreed with a sigh.

Another MD has a problem performer on his management team. He hasn’t really delivered on the promise, and this week did something stupid, committing a basic error. I said there are 3 options: train, transfer, terminate. The MD thought he would have to move him out before the end of the year. My comment was that if it’s a good idea to get rid of him later, then it’s probably a great idea to get rid of him now. This MD agreed with a sigh.

Think about the things you plan to do later on. How many of them are pushed out because of the demands of sequencing, and how many are pushed out because you just don’t want the hassle/cost/stress? Is that a good enough reason?

Learn about these and other common mistakes in the 7 MISTAKES BUSINESS OWNERS MAKE eBook — FREE DOWNLOAD.


Your first GM will fail

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I have a number of rules of thumb.

This is one.

Time and time again over the years, I have seen owners fire their first GM within 12 months of appointing them. Occasionally they don’t, and even more occasionally the GM goes on to seriously damage the business.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t appoint a GM, but do it as if you were doing it a second time.

In which case you would not:

Call them the CEO. Especially if you intend to be at work more than a day a week. It’s fine to call them CEO if you are stepping right away from the business to a board role, but if you appoint them CEO, they will think they’re there to run the company instead of you. This will end in tears. Call them a GM, have them clearly report to you as MD. If they want a Chief in their title, call them Chief Operating Officer. Anything but Chief Executive.

Look for someone just like you or the opposite of you. First, define the role: what do you want to keep, what do you want them to do? Then find the people with the right attributes and experience to play that role. Third, find the person you can work with (see next)

Ignore chemistry. You don’t have to be bosom buddies (better if you’re not), but you have to understand and respect each other’s strengths, and most important you have to be able to communicate honestly and effectively. Our new workshop is on the neuroscience of teams, and it’s fascinating to consider how many MD-GM relationships break down because they were using the same words but speaking different languages.

Be an “Indian giver” of authority. An interesting phrase – Native Americans had no sense of ownership, so when they “gave” land to the early settlers, they were actually only lending it. Of course, the white culture held that once something was given, it was given forever. Neither were right or wrong, just completely different. It’s the same with the MD-GM relationship. For the GM to succeed, they need credibility and authority. Every time the MD countermands the GM, their authority is eroded. Every time the MD takes back a role that s/he had delegated, the GM is undermined.

It’s a difficult step, one of the hardest.  The best way to manage it is to start now on reducing the dependence of the business on you.

Find out how we can help you – Register for The Power of the 3 Day Week webinar.

Shut the open door

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We had an interesting conversation at our last Mastery workshop. Members were reporting on progress they had made over the previous 2 months, and Mike talked about the fact that there was a noted lift in accountability because he had not only instituted regular meetings, but he had also gone to the extent of making agendas and keeping minutes.

Two things surprised him: first, how much more got done because people knew they would be asked to report back on commitments from the previous meeting. This made him realise that until he had implemented this structure, he had been able to achieve very little traction.

The second thing was that people started contributing items to the agenda for discussion. This really surprised him because he always had an open door policy and people could drop by any time and talk to him about stuff. But they didn’t.

Ironically people don’t use it because they know it’s always there. They could use it at any point, but there is no commitment, so there’s no follow through.

I remember working in a building with its own gym, and I used to love the idea that I could pop down to the gym between meetings or before lunch. My unused gym gear got mouldy in my bag before I realised that intention is not the same as commitment. It was only when I made a commitment to be there 3 mornings a week at 7am that I started to work up a sweat.

And that’s the difference between an informal, casual system and one with purpose and structure.

As growth business owners, we have a bit of an aversion to structure and formality – we like the idea that we’re not caught up in the trappings of corporate. But the truth is, an informal casual business is a lifestyle choice.

If you want a professional, well-organised business, forget about the open door. It lets everyone off the hook, especially you. Get organised. Get serious. Get formal.

When we started using Asana as our business execution system at our weekly management meetings, our effectiveness jumped. We weren’t leaving stuff behind – or if we were it was because we decided it was not important. The best performing businesses we work with use Asana or something similar to keep track of their plans and commitments. They have meetings with agendas and action points. They don’t do these things because they are successful. It’s because they do these things that they are successful – being organised is in their DNA.

By the way, in another Mastery workshop we had a lot of fun looking at how Managing Directors build/derail their leadership teams. Turns out most of them really like detail and process, they just don’t want to do it themselves. As MD you don’t have to do the detail, just make sure it gets done.

Here’s something we know to be true: 10% more structure improves your results by 25%.

Those effete Europeans

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In a short article in the April 2017 HBR, the authors note that leisure time used to be a sign of social status. A couple of experiments showed that today, being “crazy busy” was a symbol of status, as it suggests that busy peoples’ talent was in high demand (as opposed to the likelihood that they’re just disorganised and over committed). Americans believe that busyness is a positive signal of status.  The article notes that this attitude isn’t found in Europe, where having ample leisure time is still regarded as signifying higher status than staying late at the office.

It’s good to have the research confirm my casual observation. For a long time I’ve thought it ironic that we used to define success in terms of “gentleman’s hours”, as opposed to those of a manual labourer. Gentlemen’s hours started at 9.30 and rarely went past 3, except on Wednesdays when work stopped at midday, quick lunch at the club then off to the golf course. How far we’ve come! Success is now defined as being too busy to think.

Another little irony: all the devices that were supposed to save us time and free us up from having to be in the office actually chain us to the business more tightly than ever. Why, a gentleman could send an email from the golf course. Except that the labour saving devices have made us too busy to play anything (except the occasional guilty game on the phone).

I like the European approach. To work those kinds of hours indicated that you’re organised, you’ve got a great team and you’re only doing the work that matters. And by the way, the famously leisurely French with their legal maximum of a 35 hour work week and their 5 weeks of legally required holidays are no less productive than their US and German counterparts and more productive than Britain’s.

Who’s got it right? More important, how do you react to this analysis?