Categories
General

Five top tips for working at home efficiently and maintaining your mental health

remote working and mental health Many companies have adapted to the Coronavirus lockdown measures by asking staff to work remotely from home, but how do you do this efficiently and also protect your mental health?
Much as we love them, a prolonged period stuck in one place with our families can sometimes be stressful, especially if remote workers are combining working with home schooling their children.
Of course, another complication can be the facilities and space available at home, where cramped conditions can add to the stress of trying to work efficiently while staying healthy.
Here are some tips to help you maintain you mental health and efficiency:

  1. Discipline and routine are important: Creating and following a timetable of tasks and activities gives structure to the day, and on that note it is much easier to get into “work” mode if you can work at a desk or table and if you don’t do it in your pyjamas!

Lists are also useful, not least because if you break down your day’s work into tasks and complete them, there is a great deal of satisfaction and a sense of achievement to be gained by ticking items off when completed.

  1. Variety: You should include other activities and what psychologists call micro-lifts into the structure of your timetable. In the normal working day when you are going into work in an office, you may be in the habit of picking up a coffee on the way in, or maybe have a regular break for a few minutes at the coffee machine at work for a chat with friends. Don’t underestimate the importance of giving your brain a few minutes’ rest.

It is also important to take regular breaks from a screen if your work is mostly being done on a computer/laptop.

  1. A healthy diet: It is tempting to snack more when you are working from home, but this may mean that your diet is less healthy and that is not good for either your physical or mental health.  This relates also to the importance of having discipline and a routine that builds meal breaks based on a healthy diet into your timetable.
  2. Exercise and fresh air: These are also important for physical and mental health albeit they are restricted to the social isolation rules that allow for one hour of outdoors exercise per day. You would be likely to get that during a day at the office, by walking from transport to the office building or going out during your lunch hour. If you are working from home and have children with you, involving them is a great way of treating exercise as a family activity while at the same giving children the opportunity to burn off excess energy.
  3. Try to get at least seven hours’ sleep: Sleep is a major component of mental health and of working efficiently especially when in a time of crisis.

The secret of working at home efficiently is in many ways intimately connected with your mental health.
For many people this will be a new way of working and you may find that it takes a good deal of self-discipline and organisation to maintain your productivity, but if you follow the guidelines in this blog you will find that you can settle into a routine that enables you to carry out your work tasks as well as the other demands on your time that come from being in your home with family around you.

Categories
Business Development & Marketing General

If you want more effective meetings don’t use PowerPoint or bullet points

effective meetingsEffective meetings depend on discussion that is constructive and to the point, and on wasting as little time as possible.
It has been calculated that the average executive spends around 50 percent of his or her time in meetings of which at least a third are useless.
This was the finding of a 3M study carried out by Annenberg school of communications, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in 1989.
Studying effective meetings has been ongoing for years and certainly since the 1960s and there has been a growing body of evidence to support the 1989 findings, which suggests that executive productivity could be much improved.
There is an assumption that using lists or PowerPoint presentations can result in more effective meetings, but in fact, this has proven to be incorrect, as Amazon CEO @Jeff Bezos and subsequently others have proved.
A couple of years ago Bezos banned the use of PowerPoint and bullet point slides in executive meetings requiring instead that everyone sits silently for about 30 minutes to read a six-page memo that’s narratively structured with real sentences, topic sentences, verbs, and nouns.
Once everyone has finished reading the meeting memo then the topic is discussed. It has proved to be so effective that is has since been adopted by other CEOs.

Why does a narrative structure produce more effective meetings that use of PowerPoint?

Storytelling has been a part of human culture since we first discovered the use of fire. Anthropologists and historians argue that fire encouraged people to congregate by sitting around the campfire swapping stories as a way of teaching, warning, and inspiring others in pre-literate societies.
But there is more to it than that.
To be persuasive, an argument has to appeal to logic and reason, and also to emotion, which neuroscientists have found is the fastest path to the brain.
Bezos is quoted as saying: “”I’m actually a big fan of anecdotes in business,” arguing that often there is greater insight to be gained from customer emails than from data.
Basically, the scientific evidence is that our brains do not respond well to, or retain, lists. Our brains respond much better to text and even more so when the text is accompanied by pictures.
So, it should be no surprise that effective meetings are more likely to result from getting everyone to read a well-constructed narrative memo at the start, which gives everyone attending the same, essential information before any discussion begins.
The result is a much more informed discussion in which more people feel able to participate, rather than those “usual suspects” with the loudest voices.
Not only this, but the narrative memo provides an essential historical record of background and context for those who are not attending the meeting.
Ultimately using narrative rather than bullet point lists and PowerPoint slides will cut down on the time it takes to reach collective decisions, thus saving executive time and improving efficiency.
We should restrict PowerPoint for use as a tool for making a sales pitch and recognise those who use it in a meeting as trying to sell an outcome rather than seek to discuss the topic.

Categories
Business Development & Marketing Finance General

Purpose oriented leadership gives employees a reason to be engaged

purpose oriented leadershipPerforming tasks to order is not enough to motivate 21st Century employees and instead they need purpose oriented leadership to understand the “why” of their organisation.
The purpose needs to be defined and made meaningful in a way that simply stating “making a profit” or “increasing sales” do not.
Generally, workers will perform more effectively if they believe in what their company is doing and how it is contributing to the common social good. This has been described as having a higher-oriented purpose. 
But this means that the most successful leaders need to be able to communicate their vision and to have good narrative skills in order to do so.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, has banned PowerPoint in executive meetings. Instead, he believes that “narrative structure” is more effective because human brains are wired to respond to storytelling.
good example of effective purpose oriented leadership is Gerry Anderson the president of Detroit-based DTE Energy, which supplies electricity and gas to South Michigan customers.
An article in the Harvard Business Review describes how, after the 2008 Financial Meltdown, Anderson realised that DTE employees were not very engaged and could not seem to break away from tired, old behaviours.
He commissioned a video that “showed DTE’s truck drivers, plant operators, corporate leaders, and many others doing their job and described the impact of their work on the well-being of the community — such as on factory workers, teachers, and doctors who needed the energy DTE generated”.
These stories effectively demonstrated DTE’s statement of purpose: “We serve with our energy, the lifeblood of communities and the engine of progress.”
Purpose oriented leadership is becoming ever more crucial for engaging employees in 21st Century business.
A PwC study reported in Forbes magazine in 2018 revealed that millennials who have a strong connection to the purpose of their organization are 5.3 times more likely to stay but only 33% of employees drew real meaning from their employer’s purpose.
Similarly, new data collected by PR Week shows that customers view purpose-driven brands as being more caring and, as a result, are more loyal to them. It reported that 67% of respondents said they feel companies with a purpose care more about them and their families and ~80% of respondents said they’re more loyal to purpose brands, while 73% said they would defend them.
I have mentioned in previous blogs that there is a growing shift, among investors, consumers and employees, towards more ethical businesses, partly, but not only, down to the rising concern about climate change.
Clearly, business leaders are going to have to think more deeply about the purpose and goals of their organisations and to define them more specifically. They also need to communicate the purpose and goals if they are to survive since this involves nurturing loyal employees and customers.
 

Categories
Business Development & Marketing General HR, Redundancy & Trade Unions

Fair treatment of employees is a cornerstone for improving productivity

fair treatment equals improved productivityImproving productivity is a concern for all businesses but it is harder to achieve if employees do not believe they are receiving fair treatment.
As I have said in many previous blogs, a motivated workforce is more likely to go the extra mile if they feel valued as people, this means managers treating them with respect, listening to them, showing consideration to them, recognising their contribution, rewarding their contribution and protecting them from inappropriate behaviour by others at work. In summary treating them with respect and showing them that their effort is valued.
Recognition can simply be saying “thank you” for a job well done, it is not just about money.
However, money can become an issue when there is a clear disparity in pay. While discrimination is illegal and applies to any disparity of remuneration on grounds of gender, race, religion or ethnicity, this is not about legislating for staff motivation.
To be motivated staff need to feel they are treated equally which means people doing the same job expecting the same pay and other benefits albeit they will acknowledge any adjustment to pay scales based on valid reasons such as experience, length of service, sickness record, additional responsibilities or other factors. The key is that the reasons for any difference in pay are legal, explicit and understood by everyone.
Two years ago, in April 2017, the government made some efforts to address unequal pay treatment with the introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting (GPGR) for both the private and public sectors employing 250-plus people.
It then launched an inquiry into whether organisations should also be required to report on the pay differentials between people from different ethnic backgrounds, although as yet no decision has been reached largely, it is argued, because ethnicity is a very complex subject.
GPGR is regulated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and while it can take businesses to court for non-compliance and obtain an order to force them to, it has no enforcement powers beyond “naming and shaming” them.
So recent reports on the situation two years on are not encouraging reading.
The BBC cited figures from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) for the year to April 2019, saying that the gender pay gap for full-time workers rose to 8.9% – up from 8.6% the previous year.
Quoted in the article is TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady:  “Government must pick up the pace. It’s clear that publishing gender pay gaps isn’t enough on its own. Companies must also be legally required to explain how they’ll close them.”
Andy Haldane, a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, has recently said that the GPGR obligation should be widened to include SMEs with 30 or more employees, something that was dismissed by FSB chairman Mike Cherry because there would be a number of practical difficulties in businesses with such small work forces.
The BoE (Bank of England) has also recently analysed its data and found that ethnic minorities in the UK earn around 10% less than white workers. Andy Haldane said the gap is “strikingly” persistent, having narrowed far less the than the pay disparity between genders over the past 25 years.
But fair treatment extends beyond disparities on pay.  It is also about such issues as bullying and harassment and again, recent findings show some concerns.
According to a CityAM report investigations by Business in the Community found that as many as a quarter of all ethnic minority employees at British businesses are having to put up with bullying and harassment, despite 97% of businesses having a zero tolerance policy to bullying and harassment.
A study by Equileap, which researches corporate gender equality, has found that almost six out of 10 global companies do not have an anti-sexual harassment policy.
Clearly, there is a long way to go before there is fair treatment for all workers, but if businesses want to survive and prosper in a difficult global and domestic economic climate, amid skills shortages and the uncertainties of Brexit, they would be well advised to put it much higher up their agenda than it seems many currently do.

Categories
Banks, Lenders & Investors Finance Turnaround

Can zombie and critically distressed businesses be resurrected from near-death?

zombie and critically distressed businesses - can they be rescued?More than one in ten (11%) UK businesses is a zombie business at the start of 2019, according to the Business Distress Index produced by the insolvency and restructuring trade body R3.
The figure rises to 16% of businesses in the North East, according to the Newcastle Chronicle, and the state of many more UK businesses is graphically illustrated by research from Begbies Traynor’s most recent Red Flag Alert, which showed that the number of businesses in “critical” distress leapt by a quarter to 2,200 in the fourth quarter of 2018 while those in “significant” distress remained roughly flat year-on-year at 481,000.
A zombie business is generally defined as one that is only able to pay the interest on its debts, not repay the principal debt.
As such, economists argue, these businesses act as a drag on investment, productivity and the economy, because they do not have the available capital to invest in new operations, products, or services, while the investment tied up in them is denied to other, nimbler companies.
Also, it is argued, many of them are only surviving because of the continuation of the very low interest rates that Central banks put in place in the wake of the 2008 Crash. Indeed, the BIS (Bank for International Settlements), the umbrella organisation for global central banks, has argued that the steep increase in the numbers of zombie companies has been “one of the dangerous by-products” of persistent low interest rates.
Is there any point in trying to rescue zombie and critically distressed businesses?
Inevitably all this supports the doom and gloom merchants who are predicting an imminent recession exacerbated by Brexit uncertainty, a decline in globalisation and ongoing trade wars.
Ric Traynor, executive Chairman of Begbies Traynor, suggests that in today’s world businesses need to be able to change direction quickly.
“Far too many companies have been caught out by an unwillingness to rapidly evolve and adapt to the new climate we are in,” he says.
We would argue that before such businesses throw in the towel completely it is worth getting help from a turnaround and restructuring adviser.
They will conduct a thorough and in-depth review of the state of the businesses and identify its weaknesses and strengths and may be able to offer solutions, some of which may involve radical restructuring and reorganisation to fundamentally change the business.
This may involve slimming down the business to a core activity that is profitable in a way that justifies investment in a new strategy that becomes the foundation for future growth.
We have some Guides that might help here such as a Guide to Productivity Improvement. Do look up our library of Guides at:
https://www.onlineturnaroundguru.com/knowledge-bank
 

Categories
Finance General Interim Management & Executive Support Turnaround

How to relish challenges and deal with anxiety

Many people deal with pressure in business but, according to a new study by the Harvard Business School, few are good at managing the accompanying anxiety.
The key, it says, is to transform anxiety into energy and excitement rather than attempting to stay calm and going about the attempt in the wrong way.
According to the study, it is mistaken to think that trying to calm down is the best way to cope with anxiety, because it encourages the focus to be on things that could go badly in the form of projecting a catastrophic outcome. This can become debilitating due to an inability to make decisions.
Actually what people should be attempting to do is to channel anxiety in a way that is productive.
It is all about using logic to put things into perspective by asking what is the worst thing that could happen and how much will it matter in, say, five years time.
A useful trick is to think about situations that are far worse than the one causing the anxiety and recognising that other people are far less concerned about your problems than you think.
Using a range of self-management techniques will reduce the anxiety and enable it to be converted into constructive, enthusiastic action.
Anxiety may be a good spur to productivity, but only if it is used to manage the emotions in a way that leads to decisions and action and not indecision and paralysis.

Categories
Banks, Lenders & Investors Finance General Turnaround

Is patience being used to justify a lack of investment in productivity?

It would be a mistake to expect business activity to take off immediately after the UK election, although some will have hoped it would.
Three key processes will have to be completed and, whatever SMEs and others might wish, they are going to take time.
So although there is a growing clamour of business voices on the subject of the UK’s continued EU membership, patience is going to be needed. Rushing the negotiations over revamping various regulations is not likely to lead to a result all can live with.
Similarly, there are two more months to go before the Chancellor delivers a promised additional budget in July, which has contained promises to help SMEs. Again patience is going to be needed not only to find out what the proposals are but also until those proposals are enacted.
Finally, there is the much discussed issue of low UK productivity. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney added further weight to the argument that it is in part the result of businesses failing to invest in more up to date technology and equipment, preferring instead to put off investment and in the short-term use low-skill workers, some of them from other EU countries, who can be more easily got rid of should the need arise.
To improve productivity means not only investment in new kit, it also requires investment in developing a skilled workforce.
While it could be argued that this is at least something SMEs could risk investing in now, assuming they can raise the finance, it will still require patience before they see the fruits of that investment in productivity.
So should business be at least starting to take some risks and start investing, or is it wiser to tread water and remain patient for a while yet?

Categories
Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Are there positives hidden in the UK’s decline in productivity?

There has been much worry about the UK’s continued weak productivity and the fact that it continued to decline in the last three months of 2014.
While this continues to be a concern in terms of UK business competitiveness globally Daily Telegraph Business columnist Allister Heath last week suggested that “at least some of the UK’s productivity shortfall was a good thing”.
Why? Because the UK’s success in reducing the numbers of unemployed has distorted the picture, somewhat exaggerating the productivity problem. His argument is that large numbers of those now back in work were “low productivity workers” and that this has dragged down the average productivity per worker.
He also argues that more needs to be done to improve productivity by improving the skills of these workers with vocational training and education.
Further, he argues, to improve productivity requires dramatic improvement in the UK’s infrastructure, not by increasing government capital spending on such projects as the HS2 rail projects but by encouraging private sector investment.
Certainly the UK needs to increase capacity, to improve efficiency and to grow its export markets.
“We need to unleash the forces of entrepreneurship and competition on all kinds of capital projects, from transport to energy”, he says.
Do you agree with him?

Categories
Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Finance General Turnaround

How do we improve productivity?

Output per worker, ie productivity, in the UK has been stagnant for some years since the 2008 economic crisis.
It shows no signs of recovery, in fact in the last three months of 2014 output per hour actually fell in manufacturing by 1.3%.
The causes have been: a lack of innovation, a shortage of skilled people and a failure to invest in plant and machinery.
It would seem that businesses are focused on maximising their profits in the short-term to either repay banks and other creditors or pay dividends. Despite the low interest rates and poor returns for lenders and investors, there seems to be very little interest in improving productivity through investment.
It is assumed that this is either cultural or a rational fear of losing money due to market uncertainty.
In the last couple of years there has been some attention paid to the skills shortage, with a focus on increasing the numbers of apprenticeships, but investment in businesses is still declining, despite various initiatives by Government and banks to encourage more lending.
Regretfully bank loans and in particular Government backed loan schemes all require directors and shareholders to provide personal guarantees. The effect of this has been to deter SME businesses from seeking funds to grow.
Productivity matters because over time we become less competitive making it harder for UK companies to compete in a global market.
The political rhetoric doesn’t help as the focus on soliciting votes results in a focus on minimum wages rather than one on the productivity which is necessary to justify any increase.
Growth will continue to be sluggish while there continues to be a lack of investment in productivity.
What can we do to justify investment in productivity rather than simply talk about improving it?

Categories
Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency Turnaround

What can SMEs do to improve productivity?

With so much uncertainty still hanging over the economic recovery it is tempting and prudent for SMEs to continue to watch their cash flow and keep a tight rein on spending.
However, there may be some instances where this could be a false economy that will inhibit a future productivity gain.
We have been seeing businesses that are still holding back on upgrading their IT systems or software.
Businesses use IT to make life easier and more efficient and while it makes no sense to try to keep pace with constant IT innovation, equally it can be counter-productive to hold on too long to the point where a system is either very slow or no longer fit for purpose.
A good example is switching to online bookkeeping. This is a case where changing to an online bookkeeping system rather than using an old-fashioned manual method or even a computer package is likely to save both time and money. Not only can the online system be shared with key people or outsourced to a bookkeeper but it can be monitored by your accountant, saving on the time and costs as well as offering scope for improving the quality of reports.
Perhaps you can suggest other examples of processes that could help SMEs to boost productivity?