Monthly Archives: October 2011

noticing stuff.

Two things I noticed recently.

1.  Having driven around Gippsland last school holidays, I noticed that no one in Regional Victoria drives a newish Landrover.  Its all Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Landcruiser.  There was some really old Landrover Defenders and their predecessor but no Discoverys or Range Rovers though.   In my suburb their are plenty of Rangerovers, Discoveries on the streets, despite the fact we aren’t four wheel driving anwywhere.  Makes me wonder what the country people know about the robustness of 4WD’s.

2. Hard waste collection day todayand  I have never seen so many TV’s  (big CRT style) on the nature strip.  I cannot believe they have all gone on the blink at the same time.  My only assumption is that everyone has decided to changeover to a cheap LCD or Plasma over the last 12 months.  I say changeover rather than upgrade as the old TV’s still displayed the same television content.

My off the cuff conclusion is that the people in my area are all reasonably affluent (unsurprising) and easily persuaded by advertising into making stupid decisions (surprising).

 

calendars for international travel

From my point of view, doing international business is one of the most enjoyable things you can do in a business career. And if you are going to spend around 90,000 hours of your life working, why not have fun.

I said this to someone during the week as I am planning a trip in November to London and Abu Dhabi. Which reminded me that planning the trip isn’t anywhere near as much fun. When I went to put the flights in my diary I realised they started in one time zone and finished in another. Bugger – I hadn’t been using my current setup last time I flew internationally for business. Traditionally I have had an excel spreadsheet showing meeting is each different time zone, and most of my travel was to Asia so it wasn’t a big deal.

But now I keep all my data in the cloud using Google Calendar synced to each of my devices, so I wanted a new solution that would be seamless, minimalist, ubiquitous and most of all, elegant. Frankly, I want my calendaring solution to “just work” no matter where I step off the plane.

Luckily for me though Google & Apple had had a think about this in the free products that I use.

1.  Under the General Settings for my Google Calendar, you can choose an additional time zone to display on the Calendar. This means I have an instant visual comparison of Melbourne and say Abu Dhabi. When I am talking to someone teeing up meetings, I can see their local time.

Timezones

 

2.  When creating a new event entry in you Google Calendar, you can set a separate time zone for the beginning of an event and the end of event. This means that correct elapsed time will show for a flight, and I don’t have to deal with timezone weirdness in my calendar. Especially if I arrive yesterday.

Event Time Zone

3.  Under the Google Calendar settings, you can then swap the displayed time zones for your calendar. Which means my meeting which is currently displayed as happening at 1:30am Melbourne time, jumps up to 2:30pm in the afternoon London time.

Swap

4.  My Google Calendar syncs with my iPhone and every other device I have. Fortunately Apple’s iPhone supports multiple time zone attributes for events and therefore everything sycs and works the way it should. Under “Settings | Mail, Contact & Calendars | Time Zone Support” I can change my phone to make it think its operating in a different time zone. Any meetings I create whilst the phone is set to that time zone, will also be reflected in the correct time zone back in my Google Calendar. This means that when I step off the plane in London & Abu Dhabi, I change my time zone in the phone, and everything looks normal. Lunch is happening at lunch time.

Iphone Timesone

Be the way my friend who travels internationally far me frequently than me says the whole time zone issue does her head in, so when planning a trip, she adds plenty of slack because she assumes she will make mistakes. So I thought I’d share my solution with her, and write up my notes in-case anyone else feels that way.

killer boards for small businesses

killer boardsA fairly interesting and painful lesson to learn was having my father as Chairman of one of my IT businesses.

I hadn’t ever had a formal board before, and my father was experienced as a chairman of public companies. So as CEO I decided the other founders and I, who were the Directors, should meet quarterly with my father chairing the lot of us. Unsurprisingly, this was spectacular unsuccessful. We didn’t know what we wanted to achieve and my fathers experience was with mature large businesses only, very much focussed on a risk mitigation.

Its disappointing for me to realise that since I was around 25, I have continuously been a Director of a variety of small businesses, but up until recently didn’t have a clearer idea of what board should do for small business other than the general statement, help it grow. Therefore, it was relief and excitement at last Thursday’s Churchill Club meeting, a comment was made by David Burden (recently CEO of the Webfirm Group Ltd and co-founder of Legion Interactive) that really resonated for me.

Forget Accountants, Marketers and Lawyers, you can buy their services as you need. Forget Industry Doyens and Professional Directors, they are unlikely to be anything more than a distraction to a small growing business. What you want as a small business is additional Directors can help you with one or more of the following four tasks.

  1. Grow revenues.
  2. Raise capital.
  3. Get the right people involved.
  4. Exit the business.

If they can’t help you with one of the above tasks through their existing networks and assets, they’re just wasting your time.

Looking then at what you want from these potential Director’s, its pretty easy to then decide what their KPI’s should be (the outcome), how you want to remunerate them (appropriate fee for time, equity for success), and how long their tenure should be (till the job is done). It also makes it a lot easier to find them, because you now know exactly what you are looking for (people with large, useful networks and/or assets the business needs).

So despite the fact my father was a great Chairman, he was completely misplaced in a small business that didn’t know what it wanted. A waste of both his time and mine. And I didn’t even write that because he is likely to read this post :)

success, failure and the space in-between

I had a coffee with a friend yesterday that got shafted at work. She had been working on an exciting new agenda for some months, got signoff at every level and was ready to transition into the new leadership role that came with her plan. Unfortunately they (the evil bosses) took her plan, but replaced her in the leadership role with a political appointment that won’t be able to deliver. To add insult to injury, she will be seconded to support the new “leader” in delivering her plan. Unsurprisingly she is a bit miffed (understatement!) and sees herself as having failed.

Plan BSo we had a chat and I tried to be supportive, outlining my thoughts on success and failure.

Most people are very good at defining success, we teach it at school from the very beginning. There is a right answer pre-defined by the teacher, and if you’re not right, you’re wrong. i.e. failure is simply the state of “not success”. But real life is much more complex, more shades of grey. There are normally a couple of right answers, and many more “almost right” answers that we can work with. But still we we are trained to only define success not failure, and if we don’t achieve it in our careers, we tend to get emotional and flail about as we see ourselves as having failed.

Having worked in innovative and entrepreneurial environments almost my entire career, failure and I are good friends. In fact I now pretty much expect to not succeed in anything until I have had a couple of go’s at it. However I don’t support the Seth Godin concept of that “worthwhile things are hard, and you should keep on whacking away at it until you succeed” I prefer the Scott Kilmartin concept of “The wisdom of years helps you decide when you should quit a project, no matter how personally painful it is”.

All this can seem a bit confusing, but I have a fairly simple approach to most things I get involved with.

Define Success
This is normally easy (as we spend our lives doing it) and there are plenty of resources to help guide you if you are confused or unsure about your personal goals. Obviously SMART Goals are good (Specific, Measurable Attainable, Realistic, Timely). An example of defining success could be offering a new product to five existing customers and getting 2 sales within a month.

Define Failure
This is a a lot more difficult, but I lean towards parts of the SMART Goals framework (but just the Specific, Measurable, Timely parts) to define this. I also normally define failure after I have defined success as it gives you a nice contrast, but I don’t simply define failure as the opposite of success though. An example of failure could be offering a new product to five existing customers and not getting any appointments to explain the product within a month. Defining failure clearly also offers much better learning opportunities for you when things don’t work out right.

Recognise there is space in between.
You don’t need to define the difference between success and failure, just recognise that a result that falls in that space means you will have to come up with a plan B, and kick it into action. Remember, that this is probably the most likely outcome, so embrace it when it comes.

Defining both success and failure upfront means that you can be a hell of a lot more effective and less emotional when things don’t pan out the way you want. It also means that you stop investing your time in dud ideas quickly, and stick with the ones that might just pan out.

My friend didn’t get to be the recognised leader of the new agenda, however she did get to be the architect of it and the implementer. Turns out she can live with that once she realised she hadn’t failed and they are using her plan, its just that she didn’t comprehensively succeed.

Undermining governance in four steps

Earlier this year, I stepped down from a board role in a not-for-profit environment. I felt that the Board had a very strong CEO at the table combined with a weak chair, and in my opinion – under the guise of good process, we were slowly winding our way to hell. I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t change anything and the demands on my time was to great to simply “waste” time in an environment where I was ineffective, so stood down.

But I hate wasting failure and having a Churchill Club function on Killer Boards coming up, I decided to analyse what I thought went on, and wrote this article to capture my learnings and hopefully share some value an how good governance can be undermined.

To comprehensively control the board, I felt the CEO did 4 things:

1. Own the Agenda

As the subject matter expert and a forceful personality, the CEO both prepared the agenda and kept the meeting on track, deciding what could and couldn’t be discussed as its hard to get a black & white definition of governance. And as they say “he who controls the questions, controls the answers”.

2. Own the Record of the Meetings

The minutes were taken by a staff member acting as a minute taker, then heavily edited by the CEO, to make them more concise so to “reduce our reading load.” It was quite confronting to then have to argue to have discussions and decisions that took place re-inserted into the previous minutes. Past minutes were then used to support arguments such as “You had your chance to disagree and clearly you didn’t”. Horrifyingly, a friend of mine from a large corporate environment casually mentioned to me when I complained about this that “I always takes the minutes and make them reflect the outcomes I want, regardless of the actually decision. In 17 years of doing this, I have only been questioned on it once”.

3. Own the Meeting Process

The CEO controlled the meeting process. Most of us were aware of things like “making and seconding a motion”, but we were a bit unsure of the exact details or why the procedures even existed. Meeting procedures are normally affected by relevant legislation, standard guides such as Joske’s Law and Procedures at Meetings in Australia and mutually agreed rules codified in a groups’ standing orders. In this case, the CEO had more expertise and wielded meeting process to shut down conversation where it wasn’t wanted and the rest of us weren’t confident enough in the process to disagree. Mind you, its hard to maintain your dignity and continue to argue over what appears to be a minor point when being told repeatedly and loudly that you’re wrong by an expert and the rest of the board wants you to “just move on”.

4. Own the Board Makeup

Almost half the board members had their boss, the CEO, at the table and spent the meetings desperately avoiding conflict with him. The other half of the board were volunteers who mostly avoided conflict as they “weren’t paid to be there” so didn’t want to generate stress and extra work for themselves. The CEO’s candidate for chairman was someone who saw the role as a facilitator only and would immediately defer points of order to the CEO. The CEO advised on the size and makeup of the board and made sure the numbers were stacked the right way for the “right” chairman to be selected.

 

Like all real life decisions I wasn’t completely convinced I was right about all the above points, especially as most of my peers were telling me I was wrong and just argumentative. However increasing demands on my time helped me to go with my gut instinct and step down. So imagine my surprise (and almost guilty pleasure at being validated), when about two weeks after resigning – a major issue blindsided the board, generated lots of negative press and ended up with the replacement of the CEO. In hindsight I should have trusted my gut more and made the effort to develop expertise in meeting procedure.