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Yes there is a difference and, no, it's not a riddle.

Peter F Drucker (and others after him) wrote: “Management is doing things right and Leadership is doing the right things”.

This month we are going to concentrate at how you spend your time encouraging you to do the right things; I am not going to give you all the answers, but I do hope to make you think.

Why bother?

 

Business, for most, is tough at the moment; we are in a recession so working smart and focussing expensive resources on business priorities is vital.

Many years ago I read the One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. A particular sentence from the book that I remember was: 'don't just do something, sit there'.

We all have a tendency to do the things that are most urgent (according to our perception at that moment) and to do the things for which we have a particular skill or preference. The point the authors were making was: think and plan before you act!

There will always be exceptions i.e. the phone rings so you leap for the handset of course, it could be a customer. I once had a retail client that decided to save money by developing his own ecommerce website. He studied the web-development software and perfected the site over several weeks, sometimes devoting whole days. The business drifted, but he enjoyed the work and was satisfied with what was a good website for little cash outlay. But the true cost of the website was the things he didn't do while he was bogged down.

The example may be an extreme case, but we are all guilty of sometimes doing the wrong things, and often forgetting the difference between what is urgent and what is important. So occasionally we need to review how we and others are spending our time.

The job of the 'Leader' is to decide the priorities for the business, for you and for the team if you have one.

Decide your business priorities.

Do this and you may be surprised (or maybe not) at the amount of time and other resources that you spent on non-essential tasks and activities at the expense of things that might have a greater leveraging effect on sales and profit. Take a sheet of paper and spend 30 minutes or so listing the critical jobs, tasks, other activities needed for your type of business to be successful. Look at it with fresh eyes rather than simply listing what you actually do now. Don't list the small things, stick to the big picture for the moment.

Score each out of 5 or 10 with regards to its contribution to the success of the business i.e. impact on sales, service / product quality, safety & welfare etc.

Double check that the high scoring activities are really your business priorities then leave it awhile, think about it and come back to it over the next few days revising and amending activities and scoring as necessary. You should now have a list that identifies most if not all of your business priorities.

You now need to think about how you and others actually spend your time.

Choose your method i.e. make a note of what you (and involve key people in your team if you have one) do during the day - this is good if you have good self-discipline and are looking to capture lots of detail. Or you could summarise at the end of the day what proportion of time you spent on various activities - less scientific but ok if you have a good memory. Make sure that you capture the things that you do less frequently, so you finish up with a fair summary of how you spend your time.

You should now be in a position to identify where change is needed, so ask:
 

  • What could I do less of?
  • What could I stop doing?
  • What could I do more of?
  • What could I start doing?


These are simple questions that can result in major changes, so think carefully about the costs benefits and possible consequences before you make any changes.

But if change is needed make the changes, if you don't work smarter your competitors will! Ask for help from us at Business Link.

That's all for this month.

Peter Mulhall
Business Adviser

Business Link - the place to go for business support

Online: www.businesslink.gov.uk

BUSINESS LINK ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS

business link

I met someone at a networking event recently and we have decided that our companies should work together. Do you think that business co-operation or collaboration is a good idea?

In short: you can't be good at everything, so yes it may well be a good idea.

However, let's look at a few of the things that would be involved.

What opportunities do we want to capitalise on?

You will need to identify an opportunity. This might be submitting a joint bid on a tender, or entering another market sector, or a particularly large customer to target which otherwise you would not have the credibility, skill or the resources to convert into a customer. You may not identify a specific opportunity at the early stage, but all parties should have a purpose for wanting to collaborate.

Choose your partners - but choose wisely!

The choice of collaborative partner is critical. Sometimes the criteria for partner selection are woefully inadequate and more suitable to choosing a golf partner than a business partner. Getting on with business partners is essential, but more is needed.

Taking it on trust

Trust; this is a difficult one as it only truly forms with experience. There will be issues possibly, for some, on intellectual property and the need for confidentiality and confidentiality agreements. But ultimately you will need to trust partners, sometimes with sensitive information about your own business as you proceed to collaborate. Not only that, you will need to trust that the other parties will fulfil their responsibilities on the projects or ventures that you undertake; there will inevitably be division of labour and you are unlikely to be in a position to supervise, hands-on, the things that others are accountable for.

Skills match

One of the big advantages of business collaboration is that you gain access to skills and competencies not available in your own business i.e. the other party excels in areas where you are weak and vice versa. This doesn't happen automatically; drawing up a skills map and skills-auditing each potential partner in order to match skills required with skills available is a crucial part of the preparation stage.

Cultural match

If you, as a sole trader, are wanting to collaborate with other sole traders, understanding the other party's style of doing business, vision, view of the world around them, their values and beliefs and behaviours will be important for effective collaboration.

If you are a larger business with staff and even possibly a management team, how you go about understanding each other's business culture will need a lot of careful thought. Each MD spending time at the other's business getting to know people and processes is a good place to start.

Process matching

This is about how you or your company actually works from end to end. How you sell, market your products & services, communicate internally, & externally, deal with suppliers, customer relationship management; how you actually make the products and provide the service, how you run your admin and finance functions etc. Don't assume that because your own business runs effectively and smoothly that there will be no difficulties when you collaborate with others even if they too have a smooth running business.

Legal & structural aspects

Collaborative agreements or even legal entities may be needed depending on the depth of the relationship and complexity of the work being undertaken. Seek specialist advice.

So yes it is definitely an option to consider...

It is widely accepted that business cooperation / collaboration is a valid strategy for growing a business. There are huge benefits to be had from utilising the synergy of complementary businesses as well as potential economies of scale.

...but don't go into it blindfolded

We have only scratched the surface and looked at a few aspects, but even so it should be clear that some form of due diligence is needed before any decision is made. Good advice is essential for each party separately and, if the idea progresses, possibly a facilitator, either internal, or external to mediate and to project manage the formation and early stages of the partnership or joint-venture.

A sobering thought is that the majority of collaborative business relationships fail. So do your groundwork first, be prepared to put the time and effort into making the partnership work and you stand a chance of being one of those businesses that succeed with collaborative cooperative relationships.

In a nutshell:

  • Identify the business opportunity
  • Choose your partner carefully
  • Spend time getting to know them and their business
  • Take advice
  • Be clear about the risks and benefits

If you think that collaborative co-operative working is a possible strategy for you but you're not sure where to start, talk to one of our business advisers.

That's all for this month.

Peter Mulhall
Business Adviser
tel: 07717 290309

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Business Link - the place to go for business support

Online: www.businesslink.gov.uk/east

 

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