“Random Lessons from Life”. Or, “Lessons from a Random Life” by David Kneeshaw

There comes a time when you realise that people assume you might know what you are talking about.  Respect?  Or merely the fact that you are older so, the logic goes, you must have learnt something.  History relates that so called more experienced (older) people can be every bit as stupid as others.  They just have less excuse.  In fact it became clear to me many years ago that my general ignorance was not, nor should be, a barrier to progressing along life’s random pathways as most other people were similarly uninformed.

However, I have along the way learnt a few “truths” that have helped me meander in a series of crab-like stages through what has worryingly become something resembling a career.  I would pass these on to my children but they never listen to a word I say.

Rule 1 – Tour Guides: The Business Gurus.

If you work for a large company you will have to put up with much corporate guff; spurious mantras, tick box initiatives, and heartfelt claims to caring about customers.  Of course, the more a corporate vision and such stuff is paraded you can be sure the less is understood about customer’s real feelings.

Tour guides however live the truth.  When you stand up in front of a coach at 6.00am with 45 people on board expectantly looking at you to make their day wonderful, there is no escape.  You can see it in their eyes, and your every action, smile, word is monitored and scrutinised.  The mood is immediate and visceral.  If anyone ever claims to you that they are an expert in the “Customer Experience” the likelihood is you should ignore them.  Unless that is they have been a tour guide.  Better still, be one yourself for a year and really understand the concept.

(Florida 1981, since you ask).

Rule 2 – Choose your boss wisely

You can’t choose your parents but you can choose your boss.  Start with some home truths:  Most are as ignorant as you.  Most know this and are, therefore, even more scared.  This leads to odd behaviour ranging widely from superficial over-confidence, alcoholism, to fearful inaction or aggressive control:  Sometimes all of the above.

So when accepting a job or a new role, study carefully the person responsible for your career progression.  Is there intelligence?  Is there common understanding (empathy)?  Does the person care (about the job, the customer, you)?  Does the person appear to know what he/she is doing?  If you get these attributes in a boss, then don’t let go without a fight.

There seems to be a myth that employers/bosses are in control of your life.  Wrong, you are.  If empathy and trust are missing, then it’s time to move on and attach yourself to a worthier recipient of your loyalty.

Remember, it’s only a job.

 Rule 3 – Follow the DOPI Principle

Most strategies are guff.  By which I mean worthless.  In my experience companies / departments / functions chose a path for themselves built around their own hopes and dreams, and then assume that it will easily come to fruition just because they want it to happen.  Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The creation of a strategy should be ruthlessly objective based on information and an understanding of the market.  If done this way the answers become more obvious and usually simple (even if not always popular).  Once decided upon, then most organisations under-assume (if that’s a word) the sheer commitment, time, energy and bloody-mindedness needed to make it happen.  So, instead of emotional decision making and laid back implementation, think Decisions Objective Passionate Implementation. Obvious really, but rare in my experience. (This can be applied to your career by the way)

Rule 4 – Experience is not important

When recruiting someone don’t over-rate experience when analysing the potential talent pool.  In simple terms all that matters is intelligence and attitude.  A bright person with the right approach to life will adapt and pick up what’s needed in short order.  An experienced muppet will be an experienced muppet for a very long time.

To make these decisions requires instinct and empathy – not the usual ridiculous questions HR people tell you to ask.  Find out about the real person.

(Of course you have to ask the pro forma questions otherwise you will be accused of not taking the process seriously – just as long as you know what really matters).   Naturally, all the above requires you to be a good boss not a fatuous one (see Rule 2).

Rule 5 – Be a Confronting Person

To confront an issue in the workplace is almost always a good thing, whereas to be confrontational is almost always bad.  (There may be a few occasions where being confrontational is justified, but like many Victorian rules of grammar the general truth holds good).

In too many company situations where decisive thought and deed are needed, there is a tendency to stay quiet, to avoid argument, to skirt around a problem or, even worse, to ignore it.  Often, this culture will exist in authoritarian regimes, which are always bad things (whether it be a company, a sports team or a totalitarian state), and where fear is often endemic.  This is not to be confused with autocratic behaviour which is of course something entirely different and often a good thing.

Be brave: confront issues, get them into the open, solve them, and make a difference.

Rule 6 – Be Lucky

The Holy Grail.  All lives are subsumed, to a certain extent by a measure of luck or indeed bad luck.

A friend of mine used to crash his motorbike on frequent occasions, often returning home from the pub.  (This was a long time ago and we were younger).  One night, as we sat in the public bar of the Rose & Crown, Gt Horkesley he turned and said in all sincerity “David, I have crashed so often it must be bad luck”.  Quite.

One thing is for sure: to be lucky you have to put yourself in situations where luck will strike.  It isn’t of course an infallible rule but in my experience it holds a fair degree of truth.  Get out there; make things happen, Carpe Diem. Good fortune rarely comes to those who merely sit and wait.

Rule 7 – Choose your Heroes Wisely

Identifying people you admire and analysing why can go a long way to understanding your own motives and aspirations.  Because we are all different we will all choose differing and diverging role models.  So, choose and analyse your own.  By way of interest however here are a few of mine:

Don Quixote; because tilting at windmills is always to be admired and, indeed, emulated.

Admiral ‘Jacky’ Fisher; who challenged sacred cows and entrenched behaviour, and was revered by his men.

General Patten; who is generally attributed the maxim “have a plan, execute it violently, do it now”.  Quite so.

In conclusion then, there is of course only one infallible rule to life: namely, “There are no rules to life”.  Enjoy it.

David Kneeshaw – Chief Executive, Royal London 360° – 2008 – present.  David Kneeshaw has served as the Chief Executive of Royal London’s international business since 2003.  He joined the Royal London Group in 2002 as a Group Business Development Director from and then the chief executive of SLI from 2004  to  2008.  A law graduate, he began his career in media, working for Times Newspapers and for London-based advertising agencies before joining Swiss Life in 1992 as director of personal finance. Mr. Kneeshaw has served as the chairman of the Isle of Man Insurance Association since 2012.

The success or failure of a department in a company most often lies in the hands of the manager. And wherever in the world you are, the processes to becoming an inspiring manager in Dubai, New York or Delhi don’t vary a great deal.

Pied Piper

Are you the kind of leader that people want to follow?

Some people seem to be innately inspirational; their personality boosts those around them to give that little bit extra on every job. Yet the basics of bringing out the best in those around you can be learned. But they also have to be put into practice.

Loyalty

To build an atmosphere of trust in your team, you need to show your team loyalty. This means not pulling someone up in front of everyone, but taking them to one side and talking to them honestly. And if you receive praise for a project, remember to pass on that praise to the team.

If your team has succeeded in brining in a big order, celebrate. And invite everyone in who helped in the success. By acknowledging individual efforts in a joint success, you’ll inspire everyone to achieve as much on the next task.

Put in the hours

If you turn up for meetings late, don’t get reports in on time and generally show a distinct lack of interest… so will your team. A really great manager leads by example, so if want to inspire your team, put the hours in. Make sure your reports are ready when you say they will be, turn up early for meetings so you can talk to the team before the real meeting begins.

A leader who gets 100% from their team is one who puts in 100% themselves.

Set goals

Don’t be satisfied by mediocrity, aim high and put in the hours yourself to see the project through.

By showing your own commitment to a project, your team will begin to feel (especially if you have built a loyal environment) that they too can put in a little extra to reach the goal.

When you have your goal, work out the steps necessary to reach it  and tell everyone what their role is in achieving that goal. Giving people ownership of part of the process will boost their confidence.

Be there for your team

And once you’ve set those goals, given people responsibility over the process, don’t just leave them too it. Be there when they need help, make asking for advice a good thing in your office, not an admission of failure. Putting out a task and keeping your door open, answering emails and arranging regular meetings to see how people are doing not only gets the job done more effectively, it shows your team you are interested, involved and ready to help where needed.

Invest in people

Developing skills in your workforce shows a real commitment to their career. Some companies may feel that it is a waste of money putting staff on courses, especially if they can hire someone with those skills already. But, by using the staff you have and investing in them, you are building trust and loyalty. Sure, it’s possible the new person knows a lot about a certain area, but do they know the customers as well as the guy you fired? Probably not. By putting someone in house on a course, you are building a much stronger team.

Being an inspiring leader takes effort, but when you are running a business, that effort is essential in creating a successful company.

There is an increasing amount of discussion about recession returning. All the media are gloomy about the continuing impact of recession on businesses.

This has an effect on businesses and their people, not only in terms of generating negative thoughts but believing them.  These negative thoughts affect the way in which businesses see their prospects of future survival.  It is vital, if you want to succeed in these conditions in any market to ensure that a positive outlook is maintained , essential marketing, sales and negotiation skills are energised and activities increased.  In times of recession it is tempting to cut sales activities which can only lead to further limitation of sales results.

Bill Levell for ISM Training

Bill mentors a delegate during an ISM Training Course

During such times customers place increasing importance on finding suppliers on whom they can rely and who provide them with valuable support.

When the going gets tough it’s not the time to withdraw but rather to become more proactive – increase marketing efforts, strengthen sales activities and sharpen negotiation skills. Even if the business potential is limited, it is essential to be even more active and more focused to ensure of being well placed to capitalise on the opportunities that will exist when recession is finally over.

Customers will be looking for ways to improve their profitability through negotiating better prices and value.  They will be spending more time in analysing the differences between competing offers, however, this will not be limited to price alone.  They will also be making comparisons of:-

  • Performance
  • Cost reductions
  • Delivery
  • Quality
  • Support
  • People and relationships
  • Financial stability

Customers/buyers are not committed to buying at the lowest price – they know that the lowest priced supplier does not have 100% of the market and they recognise that there is always price differentiation.  It is rare that the lowest priced offer secures the business.

What is more important, is for the customer to achieve the lowest cost of ownership of the product or service.  Attempting to negotiate a single variable such as price will almost certainly lead to suppliers having to concede part of their profit to the buyer.

Effective negotiation requires suppliers to thoroughly understand the value proposition of the competition compared to their own.  The implications are that it is essential to assess all of the variables on their values not just price.  Think about the factors that influence the customer’s evaluation e.g.

  • What are the costs and risk involved in changing supplier?
  • What is the long-term impact of building strategic relationships and support?
  • What will be the impact of the products and services on the the customer’s products and organisation?

When negotiating, it is in the interests of both parties to establish measurable, additional value by trading multiple variables simultaneously.  It is much more effective to avoid reacting to price reduction demands and to focus on demonstrating how to help the customer achieve their internal objectives whilst getting valuable concessions from them in return.

Market recession provides great opportunities to increase credibility and customer acceptance through demonstrating a thorough understanding of their value requirements and trading all variables effectively.

The ISM Training Dubai courses “ROI Selling Skills “and “Advanced Negotiation” provide high skill building which will contribute significantly to maintaining profitably and securing competitive advantage during recessionary times.

If team members were asked to confidentially evaluate their managers then rarely would the feedback be all  positive but possibly  more along the lines of “motivates by threatening punitive action” or “hears what they want to hear but not what I say”. In Dubai, a recognised problem is that many managers tend to do very little ‘managing’ and provide minimal direction or support for staff. They are not able to inspire better performance but do demand it. Managing is not an easy job but giving up and taking the hardened attitude of “my way or the highway” will not ultimately create a sustainable, creative, effective, cohesive and empowered team.EffectiveManagement?

As a manager you cannot rely solely on your technical skills to lead a team you also need to have good management and interpersonal communication skills. It is crucial that your team develop trust and confidence in you and you will need to invest in and update your own skill set/ expertise on a continual basis. It is as much a developmental journey for you as it for each team member you are responsible for. A high performing team will be one in which the members are ultimately self managing, where ideas are freely exchanged, leadership roles shift and peer coaching is present. In order to improve your management style you may need to work on the following areas:-

  • Effective delegation.
  • Communicating the companies’ guidelines and vision. Do staff know what the big picture is?
  • Clear communication of goals and possible strategies to achieve them.
  • Listening to feedback.
  • Analysing facts not opinion, the “what” not the “who”.
  • Managing meetings effectively.
  • Encouraging and coaching team members towards achieving their goals based on what they are doing right not through criticism of what they are doing wrong.
  • Developing the skills set of team members and setting aside enough time to do this.
  • Positively rewarding and modeling best practices.
  • Encouraging others to share their ideas in a non threatening way.
  • Motivating members to excel improve their work quality and accept responsibility.
  • Evaluating the development of yourself and team members in a positive way. Your performance management should not be superficial, restricted to generic performance appraisals .It should ideally arise from a genuine realisation of the achievements, talents, skill gaps and career aspirations of staff which have been gleaned from regular coaching and one on one discussion.
  • Cultural Intelligence.

Of course none of this comes easily; it will take time from your already busy schedule, training, practice and determination to reinforce these management behaviours but when the effective team you are working towards emerges their performance and job satisfaction will validate your management model.