Be careful what you wish for

We’ve all seen shows where the hero is granted three wishes and they don’t quite get what they had in mind. And the same goes for setting targets.

I used to work in supermarkets to fund my way through uni. One of these was in central London and with so many customers living close to the store they often took trolleys all the way home and didn’t bother to return them.

About once a month the trolley boys would be asked to come in on a Sunday and go further afield to collect them in return for £5 per trolley. Not surprisingly, on the Saturday afternoon they would pay local kids to ‘hide’ some trolleys in a pre-agreed location for £1 each. So the store ended up paying for trolleys that were never ‘lost’ and the trolley boys made £4-5 per trolley that they ‘found’.

We must always be careful when setting targets that they prompt the desired behaviour.

How to work within your limits

I’m a terrible gardener. Gardening is too active for my lazy days and too sedentary for my active days. Whilst I love eating fruit and veg that I’ve grown myself that goal alone isn’t enough to inspire me to put in the regular labour required even for the few things that I do try to grow.

As you might expect, for me this demonstrates a few things in the business world.

1. You need a Big Hairy Audacious Goal that will really inspire you on your lazy days. Just something ‘nice’ isn’t enough. Have a picture by your work station of your kids, your next holiday, your new car or whatever your reason for your business. In my case I have a seashell on my desk because I want to run my business remotely from somewhere near the sea.

2. You need tasks to do on your lazy days that will still move you closer to your goal. I’m quite happy to fiddle around with an online garden planner and order some seeds and compost. In the office it’s a good time to file or tidy up or clear some old emails. At the moment I’m writing this to avoid some other work but it will save me time later in the week.

3. You can find ways of making laborious tasks more enjoyable. If we’re all in the garden it’s much more fun and the work is shared. Even Grumpy Cat loves to join us outside. Pre-Covid our village ‘Working from Home’ group would spend Friday mornings working in one of the two local pubs.

4. Work at your best times. Whilst it might not suit most people I sometimes enjoy digging in the rain when the soil is softer. It’s another reason I believe in flexible working.

5. Know your limits and outsource where possible. About the only thing that I manage to grow in the garden is courgettes. (And none of the family really like courgettes!) So I order a weekly box of veg from the local farm shop effectively sourcing my fresh food production to somebody who is far better than me. I outsource work to those who are better than me, faster than me or just enjoy it more than me.

Anyway, I’m off to water my new apple tree and blueberry bushes in the hope of keeping them alive just a little longer.

Dealing with criticism

It’s happened to all of us at some time. In spite of our best efforts we have been on the receiving end of some sort of criticism. Here are some ideas on how to handle it:

  1. Stop. You don’t have to respond fully right now.
  2. If you must respond now then make it something neutral and agree that you will take their comments on board and give a fuller answer later (if required).
  3. Allow the emotion to die down. Nobody likes to be criticised. If it helps then get it out of your system by writing a response that will never be spent.
  4. Bear in mind that they may have had a difficult day/week/year and just lashed out at the first available person. This may not be about you at all.
  5. Having taken the emotion out can you see if there was a genuine problem or if there is something that might have been misinterpreted as a problem from their point of view?
  6. Can you do anything to rectify this now or put ego aside to apologise appropriately and compensate if necessary?
  7. Is there anything that you can put in place to stop the problem recurring on to prevent similar misunderstandings?
  8. Having learned the lessons go and read some of the positive things from your book of testimonials, awards etc*
  9. Set the matter aside and get on with your business

I appreciate that this is all a lot easier to type than to do but the important thing is not to inflame the situation further.

*If you don’t already have a Positive Book then start collecting nice comments now ready for when you’re having a down day.

Seeing the other side

I like information in order to make decisions.

In order to understand both sides of an argument I need to ask questions. And I make my kids do the same. Those of you who follow me on social media may have noticed that I have strong views on Brexit but I still want my kids to think for themselves so, even back in 2016, I challenged them to give me 3 arguments for and against leaving. 

As business owners we often have to make fast decisions based on incomplete information but it is still important to look at the information that we have and to weigh up the alternatives. Throughout the pandemic and lockdowns businesses have been forced to pivot faster than the 32 fouettés in Swan Lake but pivots and fouettés are both about turning on the spot.

We run monthly Flyby sessions where business owners (accountants and others) can pop in to update their action plans monthly, quarterly or whenever, to that they are moving forwards rather than turning on the spot. It’s much more short term than our full Strategic Planning Day but it will keep you on track for the next month or quarter to ensure that you make real progress.