Business and life - "things are not always as they seem!"

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Thursday, 18 March 2010

War of Attrition meets War of Aggression

War of Attrition
Michael O'Leary's great Cheltenham performer is set to star on the big stage again at this year's festival. While facing stiff competition and the weakness of advancing age, War of Attrition has delivered in the past and has little left to prove.
As they return from meeting with President Obama on St Patrick's Day, the name of this superb horse is a reminder to the First Ministers in Northern Ireland of the short-term and longer-term pressures they will face in reviving our structurally untenable, long-neglected and currently weakening economy.

To the relief of most citizens, the Hillsborough agreement is fully in place and "normal" politics can begin to operate in this region for the benefit of all its people.
That is, the politicians - all of them - must now take responsibility and address the true economic realities facing Northern Ireland.
The War of Attrition against the economic wellbeing of the population arguably started with the havoc of the Troubles. While structural effects have since been repaired and the reputational damage is fading, the legacy is an unbalanced, dependent, essentially insolvent economy with a relatively weak private sector.

Up to now, despite repeated warnings by economists and commentators, politicians and people have either occupied themselves by focusing on partisan political posturing or thanks to the credit, property and retail boom, underpinned by seemingly reckless government generosity, deluded themselves that life would continue to be financially OK.
But while these delusional diversions should be all over now, denial is still widespread and evident throughout our society. The war of attrition still threatens.

War of Aggression
There is an urgent need to create a completely new paradigm for action to meet this war of attrition facing our economy. Our current approaches, including the Barnett report even if it were fully implemented, only scratch the surface.
The war is real and demands a War of Aggression in response. The First Ministers must give a lead.

100/1 against the First Ministers and Executive leading the creation of a new War of Aggression initiative.
200/1 against an initiative reaching a conclusion within 2010.
300/1 against a material initiative being implemented by 2012
400/1 against "War of Aggression" ever happening

Sadly, on past form War of Attrition looks like the bet!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Frosty - and I'm not talking about the weather!

Green shoots?
While we are emerging from the grip of the coldest winter conditions seen in many years, our optimism is rising with the appearance of the first signs of Spring.
Now - that could be a cheery analogy for the economic conditions facing Ireland, Britain and Europe. Signs of "green shoots" so loved by politicians, actually becoming a reality for hard-pressed businesses, families and individuals.

Winter in July
But warning signals; against that hopeful if cautiously positive outcome, we are beginning to hear an increasing number of references to the dreaded potential for a "double-dip" recession curve. In other words, things could get very much worse for all of us.
With the nervousness raised by impending British elections, currency fluctuations, market volatility and skittish global sentiment, the "double-dip" is a real possibility; though my ever-optimistic (and sometimes naively irrational) take on life leads me to think it will be narrowly avoided.

Whatever the outcome, green shoots and Spring sunshine or double-dip and winter in July, I'm firmly of the opinion that, for the forseeable future, individual and business interests will be best served by our adoption of what I call a frosty - very frosty - approach.
"Frosty" has three dimensions, whether in work or home life - costs, cash and effort.
And despite the stark discipline required for the effective control of these dimensions, a paradox within the frosty attitude is that at the same time as cracking down, we must maintain a positive get-up-and-go upbeat aggression towards improving our personal and business situations.

The Crack Up
As F Scott Fitzgerald put it "The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function"

Frosty costs
If you run a business or part of a business, now is the time to have a ruthless rethink of your costs. Yes, you can negotiate harder with your suppliers without affecting your customer service. Yes, you can work with reduced resources and still deliver competitive quality to customers. Be frosty!
In your personal sphere; do not change your car, eat out less often and cheaper, book a less expensive holiday. Be frosty!

Frosty cash
Gurus tell us to crown the customer, because "the customer is King" and I suppose they can make an argument for this rather dubious concept. In the present climate of tight money there is little doubt that for most businesses and individuals cash is not only King, but Emperor, Kaiser and Tsar as well.
Conserve your cash even more parsimoniously than you think you should. Don't spend unless you have to. Be frosty!
Collect money owed to you with more energy than you ever have before. Make those calls. Be frosty!
Don't pay out money more quickly than you have to. Fight for extended credit and payment terms. Be frosty!

Frosty effort
This is one competitive advantage that is open to all. The blunt fact is that if you and your people work harder and longer than your competitors, all else being equal, you will beat them hands down.
Talk to your colleagues, talk to yourself and decide together to work harder. Be frosty!

A frosty attitude won't win you any short-term popularity contests either at work or at home, but in the longer term your frosty actions will benefit your colleagues and family no matter whether we see green shoots in Spring or winter in July.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Trust, team performance and termination

"Chelsea torn to shreds"
There are varying opinions on the issue of the breakdown in trust between former friends John Terry and Wayne Bridge. At last weekend's Chelsea v Manchester City game, Bridge came, shook the hand of every Chelsea player but refused the hand of his one-time best friend Terry. That was one show of defiance, the next was for City to achieve an unexpected victory with Chelsea reduced to nine men and Terry in a futile dispute with the referee. As one commentator put it "Chelsea torn to shreds at home"

Team leadership
While the closest most of us will get to the lifestyle of today's multi-millionaire footballers is reading the sports pages, there is a core lesson here for everyone who leads a team; whether in sports, business, or any organisational context that requires groups of talented inter-dependent people to deliver results.

Leadership and trust
The lesson is that, as an effective leader, while managing the inevitable regular conflicts that emerge in the running of any ambitious enterprise, it is one of your key responsibilities to constantly look out for any signs of erosion of trust between members of your top team.

Leadership action
When you see the signs, it is your job to intervene - even if the threat to trust is due to factors external to the business - and confront the parties. Help them to look for resolution. If none is forthcoming then you have to make a hard choice and one or both of them has to go. Too often in organisations, far too often, erosion of trust between senior executives is ignored and neglected by weak leadership.
John Terry lost the captaincy of England; Wayne Bridge lost the opportunity to participate in the World Cup; but the deep tragedy is that both of them lost a "best friendship" when trust was gone. Time to move on.

Your job
Everybody on your team will not be best friends but for the organisation to perform and compete effectively a high level of trust between all parties is vital. It is your job as leader to ensure that such trust is present; there is no doubt that true friendship can be its underpinning.

WB Yeats
"When friends plan and do together, their minds become as one mind and the last secret disappears"
Your core aim as leader is that "their minds become as one mind".

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