Business Development & Marketing General Turnaround

Learning to really listen can benefit your business

really listenHow many of us really listen to what is being said to us?
Listening is not the same as hearing and often we can tune out what is being said to us, either because it triggers an assumption or a prejudice, causing us to miss the real point of what is being said.
Being able to really listen, however, is crucial to both personal success and also that for a business particularly, but not only, for those in a customer services role, where it is crucial to really listen and respond appropriately to a customer’s concerns rather than parroting from a pre-prepared script.
How often are we frustrated by the tele salesperson who launches into their script without even pausing for breath.
Indeed, failure to really listen can have a serious impact on the reputation of a business with its clients or customers.
But the ability to listen well is equally important for a boss or manager wanting to communicate a change or an innovation, or to HR when dealing with issues with an employee. Both situations will invite feedback and this is where it is important that the person giving it is actively listened to.
Language can be a very imprecise tool. Every word is loaded with background information which to the listener can mean something quite different to how someone else would interpret the same sentence or word.
Arguably hearing is a passive activity whereas when you really listen to what is being said you are actively engaged in paying attention, considering and seeking to understand what is being communicated, both verbally and non-verbally.
It is possible to improve listening skills by doing some very simple things.
The first is to leave the ego at the door and demonstrate an open and welcoming approach, perhaps by using eye contact if possible and show that you are concentrating on what you are being told.
The second is to remind yourself to keep an open mind and allow other people to finish what they are saying rather than jumping in with a comment before they have finished. Not doing so will convey that you are making an assumption, perhaps based on something in their choice of words that triggers a reaction in you, that may be well wide of the mark and in so doing you are missing something that could be beneficial.
It helps to give feedback, especially if the conversation is on the phone, to ensure that you are clear about what they are saying. It can also help to make notes of key points so that you remember what was said, especially for your feedback and any future action.
Listening is an art that we are increasingly losing in a cacophonous age of social media and sound bites, where the emphasis seems to be on having one’s say and competing rather than really engaging with each other.

General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Why whistleblowers can be a force for good in your business

not whistleblowersMany people are afraid to speak out when they discover wrongdoing or questionable behaviour in their workplaces for fear of the damage they may do to their careers and employment prospects since all too often they are often regarded as outcasts.
The recent high-profile revelations by whistleblowers in the Cambridge Analytica and Brexit campaign organisations have shown that, in these days of ubiquitous social media, those who were brave enough to speak out became the target of some high-profile abuse and attacks, some of them personal.
But if your business is one where a culture of speaking out is either frowned on or not encouraged it may well be missing out on information that could help it to improve not only its operations but also its values and reputation.

Make your business safe for whistleblowers

Employees are often in a better position to see when something is going wrong than its board members are.
So how can you ensure that you are alerted to behaviour or practices that could damage your business?
You need to make it clear that revelations of malpractice or ineptitude are welcomed and that your business culture is transparent and open to people being able to voice concerns in a responsible and effective manner.
Malpractice can cover a wide range of situations from bullying, theft, bribery, fraud and corruption to endangering people’s health and safety to misuse of company property as well as any attempts to conceal such misdeeds.
Ineptitude becomes a whistleblowing matter if it has an adverse impact on people and the business or if it relates to breaches of company policies.
It is therefore good practice to have a clearly-defined whistleblowing policy and to let everyone know it is safe to raise any concerns they might have and that allegations will be treated as having been made in good faith.
The policy should clearly state the procedures that should be followed when anyone identifies something that they feel ought to be reported. It should also set out the procedures for managers to deal with the matter and cover confidentiality and protection for everyone involved.
Confidentiality is an issue that is also covered by privacy law. Those making allegations should be encouraged to put their name on record although disclosure needs to be managed carefully. You should also identify an investigating director within your business with whom concerns can safely be raised.
If the whistleblower feels that they need it, it should be made clear that your business is happy for them to be accompanied by a trades union or other representative at all meetings and hearings.
The investigating director should be required to fully investigate the allegations and prepare a written report of the allegations, their findings and their recommendations, preferably with the involvement of your HR department.
The whistleblower must be kept informed of progress as should the person about whom allegations are made, especially if they are an employee.
If necessary, it may be appropriate to involve relevant outside authorities, such as the HSE or the company’s auditors and if necessary the police.
While the company culture should be one of trust such that employees who report a matter as a whistleblower should be believed, you should also be aware of their agenda. The investigation may reveal that the whistleblower is in fact the problem which is one reason why the investigations should be discreet and the confidentiality of all parties preserved. If a whistleblower does turn out to be the problem or they are using the procedure to pursue their own agenda then they should be dealt with under the company’s disciplinary procedure.
Whistleblowing is, however, essential when some people are wilfully blind to behaviour that ought to be addressed. An open and constructive approach to confronting and dealing with such behaviours is essential to a company’s values, culture and reputation.
A properly constructed whistleblower policy can encourage people to act in the best interests of your company and ultimately ensure your business reputation is not compromised.

Business Development & Marketing Finance General Turnaround

How to protect your business reputation in a crisis

self protection in a crisisFew high-profile businesses will avoid encountering a problem that exposes them to scrutiny.
How that business and more pertinently its leaders then deals with the crisis may determine whether its customers remain loyal, and ultimately whether it can survive.
The recent problems KFC met after changing suppliers, which resulted in their having to close the majority of their UK units for a few days due to an absence of chicken, is a good example of how to respond well.
Firstly, they posted notices at the closed units apologising, but with a touch of humour, explaining that while the chickens may have crossed the road, they had not arrived at KFC.
Secondly, the company was open about the cause of the problem, a change to a different logistics company.
Thirdly, they took out full page advertisements in some national media, apologising and cheekily including a picture of their logo, but with the KFC changed to FCK, into which, of course, most people were able to insert the missing letter and to which the reaction was a smile.
If anything, the company will not have lost customers. In fact, it has been speculated that it may have gained some as occasional customers realised how much they would miss the product’s easy availability.
The KFC approach illustrates several elements a business needs to get right if it is to avoid reputational damage. It put customers first, apologised and gave an explanation, rather than an excuse.  Above all, it was brave enough to use humour in a way that people instantly connected with.

How to get it wrong when reacting to a crisis

By contrast, in the same week, MPs released the full version of an FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) investigation into the behaviour of RBS and its restructuring arm GRG, which has been accused of acting in its own profit-making interests at the expense of thousands of SMEs, many of which it is accused of having forced out of business rather than helping.
The report had been previously released in summary, in which various points from the full report had not been included or arguably had been “watered down”. RBS Chief Executive Ross McEwan was then interviewed by various news media and appeared before the parliamentary Treasury Select Committee.
The general consensus from commentators was of an inflexible and defensive tone and a failure to acknowledge discrepancies between the full and summary reports or any RBS responsibility for what happened.
While, as Ross McEwan has said, a system for SMEs to claim compensation had been put in place, the compensation process has been questioned by Mike Cherry, chairman of the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses), who said: “What really matters now is that GRG victims receive the compensation they’re due. Amid concerning reports about the scope of RBS’ £400 million compensation scheme for those affected, it’s encouraging to hear that we will receive quarterly updates on how the redress process is progressing.”
It may be understandable that companies want to minimise potential liability for past behaviour but a failure to take responsibility means that a line cannot be drawn between past mistakes and their rectification. All too often a morally bankrupt culture persists when executives seek to defend or cover up reprehensible behaviour. Lawyers might advise that you should never admit liability but too frequently executives forget lawyers are simply advisers giving advice from one perspective.
Sincere regret, humility and genuine concern for those damaged also goes a long way to helping reassure others about taking responsibility as does demonstrable action to address the causes.
Is it really true that there is no such thing as bad publicity?

General Interim Management & Executive Support Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

What are the qualities and role of a leader in times of business crisis?

It is a rare business that will never face a crisis and it is estimated on average this is likely to happen every four or five years.
Aside from unexpected events, such as natural disasters, a crisis be anything from a financial problem to a massive data hack, to potential reputational damage arising from inept handling of customers or stakeholders or even a product liability issue.
Effective handling of the crisis situation is crucial to the company’s reputation and in some instances to its very survival.
While those affected by the crisis will most likely look to to directors and managers for guidance, they are unlikely to be effective without leadership and clear messages from their CEO personally.

How should leaders manage a business crisis?

eadership in a business crisisWhile it is important to have appropriate systems and procedures in place for crisis management leaders can only be effective if there is a clear strategy based on a careful assessment of the situation. Often this requires scenario planning well ahead of any crisis so that early action can be taken.
The directors and managers will not be speaking with a unified voice unless they are given clear direction by their CEO.
The CEO should set the tone, and this may include acknowledging that mistakes have been made along with clear guidance on what statements can be made publicly about what the business is doing to address the situation.
So, the first step is for the CEO to ensure that the directors and managers are delivering the right message.
To do this, a crisis management team is needed, one with situation specific skills to deal with the crisis and with the communication skills to get the CEO’s messages out to all stakeholders.
Empathy without emotion will help deal with those affected when people are scared and key people need to be involved so that decisions are made and implemented while at the same time acknowledging the fear and pain among those who are affected.
The CEO should remain positive and reassuring, dampening any understandable urge to resolve the situation immediately, which is not always possible. The steps that need to be taken should be understood and wherever possible communicated to all those affected as well as to those responsible for dealing with the crisis.
An effective leader needs to be both self-aware and have a large measure of self-control.
They will need to demonstrate an understanding of others’ feelings while at the same time remaining clear-headed and focused on dealing with the crisis. This will mean fostering teamwork to minimise conflicts among crisis team members, internal staff and external stakeholders and ensure everyone stays on track during the process of handling and overcoming the crisis.
The objectives of any crisis management project are normally to minimise disruption and minimise reputational damage with the aim of restoring normal operations as quickly as possible. However all too often a focus on minimising costs and apportioning blame gets in the way and leads to a consequential fall out and a long-term damage to reputation.
Leaders take tough decisions which sometimes will need investment of time and money in resolving a crisis rather than running scared themselves.

Business Development & Marketing General

SMEs, as well as bigger companies, should pay attention to reputation management

Reputation management the damage a prawn sandwich can doIn the last few months at least two high profile, large companies have been having a torrid time thanks to issues that have made the headlines.
Uber, the app-based taxi hailing company first of all was refused its operating licence renewal by Transport for London (TfL) over passenger safety concerns. It then lost an appeal against an employment tribunal ruling that it must treat its drivers as employees and give them basic worker rights such as holiday pay and the minimum wage.
Uber’s chosen path in both cases was to lodge immediate appeals against the original rulings.
At around the same time, the budget airline Ryanair announced a huge reduction of flights, not once, but twice, due to its “messed up” planning of pilots’ holidays. Initially Ryanair compounded the problem by a lack of clarity about what it would do to compensate affected an estimated 400,000 customers.
The CE of the Civil Aviation Authority expressed fury at this lack of clarity and argued that the airline would be breaking the law if passengers were not re-routed via another airline or otherwise compensated, something Ryanair’s chief executive had initially refused to do.
Time will tell what effect the fall-out from these incidents will have on their respective businesses’ profits, although neither is likely to be wiped out completely, but they should remember what happened to Ratners the high street jewellery chain. It went bust after Gerald Ratner’s reference to his earnings being cheaper than a prawn sandwich. His customers didn’t like being treated with contempt and voted with their feet.
Another example of mismanaging reputation was Bell Pottinger, a PR firm that thought it specialised in reputation management. It caused its own destruction through an ill-advised PR campaign on behalf of clients that stoked racial division in South Africa such that once its activities became known, no one would do business with them and they went bust within a couple of weeks of the story hitting the press.
While one might question the original crisis, more pertinent is the reaction and handling of the situation and its effect on their reputations. Reacting swiftly to a crisis in the digital age is imperative especially as consumers are prone to expressing their displeasure on social media by which messages can spread like wild fire.

SMEs need to pay more attention to reputation management

A survey two years ago by Zurich found that only a small proportion of SMEs monitored their customer reviews and social media sites closely.
How many of us check online reviews of a restaurant or hotel before booking or of a product such as a television before buying one. Checking reviews, and not just those for service or product quality is now becoming more common as we can check up on people as well as businesses before even meeting them
Notwithstanding what happened to Ratners, larger companies can deploy resources to deal with a problem but for smaller, local businesses, favourable customer reviews are vital for survival.
It may be difficult for a SME to monitor its facebook, twitter and other pages and posts as often as advisable and it would be easy for a bad review to be missed.
However, there is plenty of evidence that prompt action and positive responses by a company can make a significant difference in avoiding longer-term damage.
This is one area where it is worth paying to outsource such monitoring to an outside expert, but at the same time the SME should give them very clear and detailed guidelines on what is and is not acceptable in handling complaints and negative reviews.
It is unrealistic for any business to expect to satisfy all its customers all of the time and to never make a mistake, but it should at least have robust reputation management systems in place to handle things promptly if something does go wrong.

Business Development & Marketing General

Don't ignore grammar and spelling in business communication

businessman looking at a word cloud on a wallPost anything on the subject of grammar and spelling on social media, especially relating to business, and it is guaranteed to attract at least double the comments of any other post, if not more.
Not only that, but the discussion can quickly become quite heated with some participants adamant that grammar matters while others are equally adamant that it doesn’t because language is dynamic and evolves.
Clearly, it is an issue that arouses passion even in an age where it is said almost as frequently that thanks to text messaging and the use of abbreviations and emoticons we are less exercised about accurate grammar and spelling.
However, when a business’ marketing relies on the content of its website, its blogs and its regular emails or correspondence, it still pays to be scrupulous about such details. Many readers notice the grammatical errors more than the actual message.

Why are grammar and spelling so important?

Firstly, the website may be the first impression a potential customer will have of a company they may be considering buying from or doing business with.
If the text is littered with mistakes the new viewer may quite reasonably ask if the business does not take the time to proof read and correct errors how reliable will be their quality and service. Like with job applicants, an easy way of refining a shortlist of potential suppliers is to discard those with poor grammar and spelling.
Secondly, according to research, most websites will have less than 15 seconds to persuade a new visitor to stay longer and when online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe measured sales revenue per visitor on a website in 2011 he found that it was twice as high after an error was corrected.  This still holds true, more so with the rise of website browsing via mobile phone.
Lastly, remember that search engines like Google are much more sophisticated these days. They consider spelling when they display the search results. Content with poor grammar is also turned to lower positions, which affect the overall ranking of a website. Google itself classifies web pages on different reading levels.
So how does a business ensure that its marketing materials are all perfectly grammatical with correct spelling?
Firstly, take a break before proof reading, beware of online spelling checkers, they are not good at understanding context and better still, get someone who has not been involved in the writing to check the text and preferably use a professional proof reader to give it proper scrutiny.
It is not expensive and it may make all the difference between OK and excellent sales figures.

Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Corporate Social Responsibility can boost your business

Corporate Social Responsibility and profitabilityThere are numerous definitions of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and increasingly it is something that businesses from SMEs to large corporates cannot afford to ignore.
Generally, CSR is seen as something that will benefit a business’ reputation if it has clear policies about its efforts to reduce its impact on the environment, to contribute to the local community where it operates, to do its bit for charity and to have an ethical employment policy.
The CSR emphasis tends to be on “green” and charitable initiatives, but it is obviously not enough to set up policies, it should also act on them and publish its results. Essentially CSR is about doing business in a way that is sustainable for itself, the community and the wider environment.

How far should a business go and can CSR improve profitability?

There is an argument that encouraging every single employee to participate in a business CSR can also have an impact on their behaviour outside of the work place.  If, for example, the business makes every effort to minimise packaging and to recycle everything it can and makes it easy by placing recycling bins where employees can easily use them, the argument is that they will consider using the same practices at home.
Similarly, challenging suppliers to operate in a sustainable way will reinforce sustainable activities not only for them but also for the business that is using them. This is where SMEs often need a CSR Policy since larger clients often require their suppliers to have one.
The effects on profitability may be harder to quantify, but as customers become more selective and concerned about the ethics of the businesses from which they buy, there is likely to be an advantage to the business in terms of a better reputation and increases in orders and sales. Indeed not having a CSR policy may be a bar to becoming a supplier to some corporate clients.
At the moment, businesses are operating in a very uncertain economic world thanks to the decision of the UK to leave the EU, the time negotiations are expected to take and the volatility of £Sterling which is affecting both import and export prices.
Signs of a more protectionist and anti-global mood in the US and some European countries are also making business conditions more difficult.
So, anything that can help a business to reduce its costs is likely to be welcome and therefore CSR environmental initiatives, such as reducing waste and excess packaging, switching to energy-efficient forms of heating, or switching to more fuel-efficient delivery routes can also have an impact on reducing business overheads and improving both efficiency and profitability.
CSR is more than simply an exercise in improving business reputation.  It can have real, tangible benefits.
One of the three themes in the Government’s Green Paper on corporate governance is to investigate ways of strengthening the voices of employees, customers and suppliers at board level. The consultation period for this ends on 17th February.
Depending on the measures subsequently introduced on this it is possible that a company’s commitment to CSR may become even more important.