Monday, July 23, 2012

Stephen Covey interview

This week's show features an interview recorded a couple of years ago with Stephen Covey, plus reminiscences from his one-time assistant, Julie Hillyard, speaking just after Stephen's death last week.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Social media oils the wheels, Face-to-face seals the deals

There's a lot said about online versus offline networking. Some prefer one over the other, and some, like me, see the benefits of both approaches. It's my observation, however, that getting face-to-face with someone, shaking their hand and looking into their eyes tells you far more about them than a Tweet or a Facebook message can ever do.

We all know that trust is the key to successful relationships, both in and out of business. Building trust online is time-consuming and fragile, but then so is building an offline relationship. What seems important is regular contact, constantly demonstrating that you are not only trustworthy but also loyal.

I often find that business relationships  that lead to paid work happen in one of two ways:

1) Starting with a real-world meeting, followed up by an email, and then kept going by regular social networking messages. A few more meetings follow, before a deal is agreed with a handshake.

2) Starting with an online connection, followed up over a matter of months with social networking messages, before a meeting or two, leading to the handshake on the deal.

Of course, some people conduct all their business online, and never meet their customers at all. That works for commodity-based businesses, but is much more tricky for professional services.  Skype is also of great value in relationship building, particularly with video. It bridges the gap between online and offline, and is almost (but not quite) as good as face-to-face.

So for me, and maybe for you too, social media oils the wheels, and face-to-face seals the deals.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Nick ...... Buckles

The writers of the brilliant TV show Twenty-Twelve couldn't have made up a character like Nick Buckles, or the level of fiasco caused by G4S. It's beyond parody.

Facing a panel of MPs, Mr Buckles looked ill-prepared and confused, which is exactly the image that his company G4S now has. He was asked by Labour MP David Winnick whether the problems of G4S represented a "humiliating shambles for the company", Mr Buckles responded: "I could not disagree with you." He also remarked that keeping track of the 100,000 job applicants had proved to be "a challenge". He admitted that he couldn't be sure how many of the 7,000 staff contracted to provide security at the games would turn up on the opening day. There have already been examples of huge shortfalls of security staff at several pre-games events, requiring either police or army personnel to fill the gap at very short notice.

Remarkably, Mr Buckles admitted that his company regarded security contract as a vanity project with little prospect of a profit. He's been proved right on that one. He also said "We did it to boost our reputation". Wrong there, then. However, he feels that G4S is entitled to keep their £57 million management fee. Hands up who agrees. No-one at all, then.

This won't be an end to the matter. It beggars belief that it took until a few weeks before the games until someone in the Government learned that there was a problem. As it happens, the influx of army and police personnel may strengthen, rather than weaken security, and there are some who argue this was always the desired outcome. I'm not so sure. It seems to me that someone knew a lot more than they have so far admitted. Heads will most certainly roll. I suspect that several government ministers seated in the Olympic stadium in the next few weeks will spend more time looking over their shoulders than watching the athletes.

Lastly, apparently no-one thought of asking Mr Buckles about the rumour that the G4S staff party, due to be held in a local brewery, has had to be cancelled due to lack of bar staff.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Anti-social networking

With all the attention paid to social networking, there's been little focus on its related discipline, anti-social networking. Here are a few tips to make sure that you know how to be busy online for no gain and little profit (I first published a few tips several years ago - this is an expanded list):

1) Promote yourself relentlessly, at all times. Make sure that every message is a selling one, so that your friends and followers understand what you are really about.

2) Never offer help. Why give away something that people should pay you for?

3) Re-send messages from experts, to give the impression that you have the same thoughts. Occasionally "forget" to mention their name to reinforce this impression.

4) Hide your identity behind a silly name or jumble of letters. You don't want to end up on a spammers list, do you?

5) Try to get as many people to follow you as possible, but ignore them completely. They are just your potential customers, so they have nothing to offer you.

6) Cut and paste articles and pretend that you wrote them (or at least hint at it by making it hard to spot the name of the original author).

7) Automate everything so that you never have to be at your computer, There are better things to do than listen to the dull conversations in social networks.

8) Constantly promote money-making schemes that you don't use yourself (because they don't work). You can make loads of money selling these as an affiliate.

9) Insult and abuse others, to damage their reputations and reduce their chance of getting work.

10) Never miss an opportunity to tell people that they are doing it wrong, and you are doing it right. They will get the message eventually, and give up, leaving you the winner.

There you go. If you follow these rules on a daily basis, your business will change dramatically. However, it will get worse rather than better, so why not do the opposite of all these tips instead?

Friday, July 13, 2012

John Terry - innocent of racism, guilty of sarcasm

So John Terry was guilty after all, but only of sarcasm. At Westminster Magistrates' Court this afternoon, he was found not guilty of a racially-aggravated public order offence by allegedly making a racist remark to Anton Ferdinand in a Premiership game last year.

There was no doubt that he used the words f***ing black c**t in an on-pitch exchange. Even people like me who aren't professional lip-readers could see that. The question was the context. John Terry argued that he was repeating the phrase sarcastically in order to deny saying it, and the prosecution argued that he meant it as a racist insult. Mr Terry's argument was found to be the more credible.

So that's it then?  Everyone shakes hands and we move on? Well maybe. The level of insults that are exchanged between players has surprised some people, even though this kind of thing has been happening for decades, and not just in football. The issue is the example that this type of behaviour sets for millions of youngsters who idolise sporting heroes. I wouldn't be in the least surprised if copycat behaviour was happening in playgrounds around the country.

With dozens of cameras trained on every top-class sporting event, and instant analysis from experts of every incident, players need to be aware of the impact of their behaviour. Presumably the point of the insults is to upset an opponent and put them off their game. If everyone is doing it, the value seems to be limited. Perhaps in addition to goal-line technology, legislators could require every player to wear a wireless mike. Insults would stop immediately, though football matches might end up looking like a Steps reunion concert. It might be worth it (perhaps as an experiment it could be an extra requirement of Rangers re-admission to the third division of Scottish football).

Come on guys. We pay your wages. Show a little more respect.

You versus John Humphreys or Jeremy Paxman

What do you do when faced by combative journalists like Jeremy Paxman or John Humphreys? Here's some advice. 

Many interviews are straightforward conversations with a clear beginning, middle and end. However, there will be occasions when you could be caught out if you didn't keep your wits about you. Being aware of what might happen will ensure that you will never 
be ambushed. Here's what I mean: 

1) The silent assassin If there are two journalists in the studio (often a breakfast or drive-time show), only one will usually conduct the interview. The other may appear disinterested, looking at their notes, or listening to the producer in their earpiece. As you answer the last question and relax, the other journalist will spring to life, and say "just one more question on a different subject if I may". This is a favourite tactic of John Humphreys. You need to stay alert, otherwise you could fumble your answer. 

2) The sand-filled sock You may be hit with a sudden heavily-weighted question right at the end of your interview. For example, it could include an assumption or assertion that is untrue, leaving you only a few seconds to respond. You must make sure that you deny any untrue accusation, even by just using the words "That's untrue", before delivering your brief core message. 

3) The technical hitch You sail through the interview, deliver your message, and avoid any tricky questions. As you lean back to relax while the recording is being checked, you mention to the interviewer how glad you were not to be asked about THAT topic. A message comes through that the recording didn't work properly, and you need to do it all again. You can guess the first question. 

4) The repeated question Michael Howard was asked the same question twelve times by Jeremy Paxman. Mr Howard refused to give a direct answer, but became increasingly uneasy. What should you do in a similar position? Relax. Smile. Stick to your core message. Better still, respond with a question of your own - "What would you do if..."

5) The downright insult  Ignore it or swiftly dismiss it. Jeremy Paxman's final question to Chloe Smith, Treasury Minister, a few weeks ago was "Do you ever think you are incompetent?" She replied: "I think it is valuable to help real people in this way and I do think that is valued by people who drive.". Her answer should have been one word. "No".

The moral of all this, of course, is never to relax until you're safe at home. And get some training, of course.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

O2, Oh dear.

O2's slogan "We're better connected" has a hollow ring (pun intended) for the tens of thousands of their frustrated customers who lost service yesterday, and are still unconnected. Of course, problems can happen, but the issue here, piling irony on irony, seems to be one of communication.

A spokesman for O2 said last night that he had no information on how many customers were affected, what was causing the outage or when it would be fixed. That's not exactly a helpful statement, even though it may be true. He added “We are currently seeing a problem on our network affecting some of our customers. Those customers affected will have difficulty making or receiving calls, sending texts or using data". That's a great example of non-communication, telling people what they already know.

We're seeing a common theme here with large and complex technology systems, from banks to phone companies. As more features are added to the systems, the likelihood of failure seems to increase, and the number of people who understand how to fix things decreases.

So what's to be done? Clearly, system testing is something that may have been undercooked. In terms of customer service, the performance of O2, Barclays and Nat West has simply not been good enough. Their CEOs should be taking responsibility by making a statement as soon as the problem is identified, reassuring customers that everything is being done to fix the problem, and offering to compensate them for any inconvenience.

Problems can, and will occur. They are made much worse by ignoring the concerns of customers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Do one thing really, really well. That's it.

If you're a successful business, the temptation to broaden your appeal, by offering new goods and services, often becomes overwhelming. I remember the days when Boots was just a chemist, and Tesco just a supermarket. A strange affliction seems to come over people on social media too. They want to respond to every request, offer their services to anyone who asks, and continually add courses to their training portfolios. 

The thing is, people like simplicity. If they come to your Facebook page and can't figure out exactly what your business is, they will go somewhere else. That's why I am always amazed at sole traders (who often us the giveaway tag "....and associates") who offer a bewildering range of services, most of which they probably never deliver. 

If you want to run a different business, set up a different page and profile. It's easy and it's cheap. By all means link your pages together. Don't offer a smörgåsbord of products unless you're a Swedish delicatessen.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Speaking with clarity

In order to get your message across, you must speak as clearly as possible. Many speakers, particularly when they are nervous, tend to speak more quickly, making them harder to understand. You need to make a real effort to speak more slowly - in fact, it is almost impossible to speak too slowly on stage. 

Clarity and diction are important too. Some people worry about their accents when they are due to be interviewed. These days, this is not a problem, since all types of accent are now common on both radio and TV. However, you do need to be aware of any local dialect words that may confuse a wider audience. Allow me to quote my late pal, Kenny Harris, who used to tell of the unusual way that certain Scottish folk sometimes respond. "If you ask a Glaswegian a question, and he says 'Aye, right', he means 'No'" said Kenny. "They're probably the only people who can put two positives together to make a negative". All over the world, there are words and phrases that can puzzle your audience. As ever, the best advice is to keep it simple.

Using pauses is one of the most effective ways to improve communication. Not only does it help you to gather your thoughts, but it also helps your audience to digest and understand what you have said. It can be very difficult to get used to using pauses, since we all have set speaking patterns. It is well worth the effort, though. You can practice pausing by counting silently to five at the end of each phrase or sentence. The first time you try, it will seem like a lifetime, but persist until you are used to it. You will find it much easier to do if you talk to someone else, as they will be able to give you the feedback that it sounds just fine.

One of the best ways keep your audience alert is to change the pitch of your voice. We have all heard speakers who deliver in a monotone, causing most of their audience to doze off. You should aim at raising and lowering the pitch of your voice occasionally to maintain interest. Overall, try to lower your voice more than raising it, since this is easier on the ear of your listeners.

Rehearse out loud, and discover what works for you.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A #Diamond in the rough

Bob Diamond, Barclays ex-CEO faced the scrutiny of MPs today. He didn't perform well. He failed to deliver convincing answers to basic questions about whether or not he knew about fixing the LIBOR rate. His tactics of expressing lack of knowledge while referring to everyone in a chummy fashion, using their first name, were badly misjudged. He looked to me to be either poorly prepared or contemptuous of the questioning. Neither approach was appropriate.

He claimed to have only been only made aware of the malpractice a few days before the FSA report and the £290million fine levied last week. He said he felt "physically ill" when the news was broken to him. Several eyebrows shot off the heads of incredulous MPs at this point.  

The overall impression was of a man who believed he was being harshly treated by a group of people who didn't really understand his business. After three hours, no-one is much wiser than they were before the session started. 

His statement "There was no expense spared"(to deal with wrongdoing) rang rather hollow. He pointed the finger at other banks being equally complicit, which may well be true. He closed by saying "At the end of the day, I look forward to the continuing investigation..." I wonder how true that was? It's certain we haven't heard the last of this by a long way, and nor has Mr Diamond..

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Diamonds aren't forever #Barclays

So Bob Diamond has finally resigned over the scandal that has raged around Barclays and seen  fine of £290 million levied on them. Did he jump or was he pushed? Draw your own conclusions, but once a person becomes a liability rather than an asset, they need to be removed from the balance sheet.

Is this the end of the matter? Not by a long way. There's a culture within the banking sector that will take more than the resignation of one high-profile figure to resolve. Banks are no longer seen as safe places for our money, or a trusted friend who will help businesses grow, or ease them through hard times.

Ironically, as the face of a major bank falls on his sword, it's the faceless nature of banking that has been a growing trend. No-one in our local branch seems to care about us any more or know us by name. It's impossible even to phone a branch, and instead we need to speak to a distant voice more interested in our security details than how they can help us.

Of course, now that Bob Diamond has decided to spend more time with his money, things may change a little. But there's a long, long way to go yet. For now, Diamonds aren't a bank's best friend.

Monday, July 02, 2012

In praise of......political correctness

"Political correctness gone mad" is a phrase used to describe an apparently barmy action, often by a local authority, to rename manholes "personholes", or call black bin bags "refuse collection sacks", apparently in an effort to avoid offending any race or gender. More often that not, these stories are either made up, or result from the actions of an over-zealous and misguided individual. The stories usually appear in the more right-leaning press, such as the Daily Mail, and are regularly mocked by the left-leaning Guardian.

So where does the truth lie? I'm not entirely sure, but I do find the incidence of people using "political correctness' as an insult to be widespread. The term "political correctness" was used as far back as 1793, but its use in the modern era dates to the 1970s, when it was adopted by left-wing activists to suggest non-discriminatory language.

In the last 20 years or so, "politically correct' has been adopted and used by the political right to argue against changes to language and behaviour that they regard as wrong. People sometimes say that they are proud to be "politically incorrect", in order to distance themselves from using new descriptions and terms.

But surely we should speak out against "political correctness"? Take these headlines from the Daily Mail, for example, all published in the last couple of years:

- "Barnet Councli ban mother-in-law jokes"

- "Citizens Advice Bureaus ban the word 'blacklisting'"
- "Brighton libraries ban Christian posters"

Outrageous, eh? Perhaps they would be if they were true. A little research into each story reveals that they were all false. I haven't noticed any apologies from the Daily Mail as yet.

For me, being politically correct is not about ludicrous re-naming of objects, or banning things that are inoffensive in the first place. It's about showing respect to everyone, regardless of colour, creed, gender or sexual preference. I see nothing wrong with that. What say you?