Am I alone in thinking that 2013 has the feel of the ‘end of an era’ about it? People who have been big players in my life have passed away, or look like they will before too long - my lovely dad, my mum’s best friend, Maggie Thatcher, Prince Philip maybe...and of course the wonderful Nelson Mandela who is in a critical condition as I write. The retirement from football of big names like Sir Alex Ferguson, Paul Scholes and Michael Owen has only added to my sense of a ‘changing order’.
For me personally, this year has been a challenge, and I have to admit to struggling in recent weeks, to see the many positives in my life. It's not been a barrel of laughs, but I did have a chuckle when I spoke to my wonderful friend Boydy, (think ‘Frankie’ off the telly, but a little older and a Macmillan nurse) who explained to me that I was simply going through the grieving process.
Oh my life, there really is a process for everything! Five stages to the grieving process apparently, and you have to go through all five. You can’t try and skip over, or avoid...you have to push through, take what comes, do what you must...as Boydy put it, you simply have to ‘do the work of grief’.
Knowing about this process made me feel a little better, and certainly less of a pathetic wimp. It also got me thinking about the similarity with business...the stages you have to go through to grow a business and how often you just have to knuckle down and do the hard yards to get to where you want to be.
So many business owners start out with a very clear vision of where they want to be. It's exciting, they're passionate about it, and they get stuff 'out there' that gets them off to a very successful start. These are the good times, like the early days of any passionate relationship, it just doesn't feel like work at all.
It's only when they want to grow, to move up to the next stage of their business journey, that they realise that the building blocks of process and systems are not in place to take them there. There's no going forward without them - if they try the whole business will fail - they simply have to 'do the work of building a business'.
Those who get how crucial process and systems are business success, also get how liberated they will be from the day to day of their business by having them in place. They understand that if they put in the hard yards now, work through the sometimes painful process of building and refining effective systems, and developing their people to work effectively with them, they will reap the rewards of business growth, and move one stagecloser to delivering on their vision.
Like reaching the top of a difficult climb...the pain of getting there is always worth the view from the summit.
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James Gandolfini died this week...it was unexpected...he was only 51. It came only a few days after I'd listened to a masterclass on 'Life Purpose' by my lovely talented friend Helen Evans...and it got me thinking...
I'm a process person, right?! I love the fact that having process in your life, liberates you...frees you from worrying about the small stuff, and allows you to grow, to build, to be creative.
But I don't want life itself to be a process.
I don't want there to be limitations and restrictions on how we're going to live our life...a mindset given to us in our infancy, that life works in a particular way.
...you go to school...if you're bright you'll pass exams...if you're not bright you won't pass exams; if you're bright you'll go to university where you'll show how bright you are by passing more exams...if you're not bright, you'll go straight into a job; either way you'll end up in a job...maybe have a career...if you're lucky you'll enjoy it...if you're not, you can always have fun at the weekends and in your 4 weeks holiday a year; then you'll retire...and, again if you're lucky, you'll get to do a few of the things you've wanted to do all of your life! That's the process.
Sounds crazy when you write it down...why would anyone fix this mindset on another person? But it’s the mindset that society, our teachers, and very often our parents, do impose on us, and we believe that this is the way life works.
A different friend (I only have the two) recently told me how much she'd love to be running a bar in a hot country, by the sea, living her life day to day. When I asked her why she didn't just leave her well paid job and go after what she really wanted, she replied that she would... 'maybe in a few years'.
It's such a normal answer, the way most of us live our lives...Daniel Priestley (in his book Entrepreneur Revolution) calls it ‘delayed gratification’. We believe we have to meet a standard of some sort first...climb the corporate ladder, pay off our mortgage, set our children off on their own hamster wheel...before we can allow ourselves to do what we really want to do. And all too often we don’t get to that self-imposed point.
Life is so full of opportunity...the world is so full of beautiful things and interesting people...individuals are so full of creativity, passion, joy. Every one of us has something special to offer the world...a mountain of value...a purpose that is unique to us.
So what stops us from going after our dreams...following our passions?
Life is short...what’s stopping you?
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Almost without fail, whenever I say the word 'process' in a conversation I can see the other person glaze over. It's almost instantaneous ...'process'...gone! It has the same effect on people as the words 'insurance' or 'double-glazing' or 'accounting'...and yet, we all have process in our lives somewhere. Many of us love them. Some of us are even addicted to them - what do you think OCD is based on?
And besides, none of us can avoid them.
Even the most disorganised person will have process in their life...the order in which they put their clothes on...the way they make a cup of tea...the route they follow to work. It's systematic...following the same process...simply the way they do these things.
In business it's the same. A business owner may decide that they don't want to have any process in their business, that they want to be free-flowing, empower their people...build a successful operation without being tied to systems. The reality is though that they will have a way of doing things....the people who work for them will create their own way of doing things...organically, without appreciating it, they will develop processes...and because they haven't developed them consciously...they will, very often, be inefficient and wasteful.
Processes are perceived as restrictive...akin to some sort of straight jacket... but this could not be further from the truth. Efficient processes do not remove creativity or innovation from a business. On the contrary they provide a solid, logical platform which frees the people in the business to be creative.
If you have bright, creative people working with you, they will continuously innovate with your processes and make them better, more streamlined, more efficient over time. The outcome...continuous improvement, and a better and better experience for your customers.
Simple, logical process & systems make everyone's life easier...yours, your people's, your customers'...they are the ultimate liberator, time saver, control giver...in life and in business. What's not to love?
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My mother used to tell me that I should have joined the army... as a gunner, because I was always ‘gonna do’ something. I had so many ideas, but I was happy to let life happen to me rather than actively choose and shape its course.
So, I was very interested when I saw an article yesterday which talked about moving from ‘having an idea’...which to be fair, most people do...to ‘making an impact on the world’ by doing something with your idea...which is far less common. Indeed, it’s the way the average person lives their life in our very formulaic and conventional world.
The point of the article, titled ‘Put all the crazy people in the same room’, was that in order to escape the conventional...to rise above the average, you need to surround yourself with people who are already doing it. Those unconventional and crazy people who want to change the world...or at least their small piece of it.
When you’re not having to defend yourself to the doubters and the belittlers of your ideas and your vision...when you’re talking to people who are supportive, encouraging and full of hard-earned wisdom, it changes your results and helps your vision to come alive.
People who’ve worked through the process of idea to impact, get you straight away...they are interesting, and interested in you...they are inspiring, and inspired by you. They are generous with the knowledge and emotion they share and help you to fill the gap between where you are now and where you want to be.
Take a look around you at the people you are spending your time with. Crazy or conventional? Positive or negative? Encouraging or unsupportive?
If Jim Rohn (motivational speaker) is to be believed, ‘you are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with’. While I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case...and I’m not going to ditch my more Eeyore-like friends as a result...I’m absolutely certain of this:
Change your environment, change the conversations you are having, and you will change your results.
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I watched a great programme on iplayer last night about Buck Brannaman, a real life horse whisperer and the guy who made Robert Redford’s film, The Horse Whisperer, believable.
What struck me most about the programme, was not his work with the horses, amazing at that was, but rather how much the two-legged participants learned, about themselves, and about their relationships with others. Lessons for life which also work well for those of us who serve, lead or do business with People!
Lesson 1 How we treat others is a reflection of what’s going on for us.
On a day to day basis, the way we act, the things we say, the stance we take...is always entirely down to what’s going on inside our head...and has nothing whatsoever to do with the other person. No one can ‘make me‘ angry or frustrated, anymore than they can ‘make me’ happy. Happy or sad, calm or angry...miserable or fun...it’s down to us, not someone else...even though it may always want to believe that it is.
‘The horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you may not like what you see in the mirror. Sometimes you will’ BB
Lesson 2 Gentle Persuasion delivers the long-term win.
Whether you’re a horse or a human, you are far more likely to respond positively to something that you have been persuaded is good for you, than something you have been bullied into.
For me it’s about ‘selling ideas’ whether that’s to your horse, your customers or your team...persuading them of the benefits, helping them to see what’s in it for them, giving them all of the information they need. Helping them to come to their own conclusion that they know, like, and trust you. Earning their respect rather than demanding it.
Maybe because I was always told that ‘self praise is no praise’ I personally shie away from those who blatantly self promote, and are constantly in your face all over the social media channels telling you how great they are. Sure, you’ve got to let people know what you do, that’s a given, but it’s equally important to let them know who you are and what you stand for. People who share your values are so much more likely to want to do business with you, and stay with you for the long-term. Just like a horse...it’s about making them want to follow you.
“Gentle in what you do, Firm in how you do it” BB
Lesson 3 Things that start out badly don’t have to end that way.
As a very young child, Buck was whipped by his drunken father on an almost daily basis. It was a miserable start to his life, but he didn’t allow it to make his life miserable.
All of us have stuff that we have to deal with in life and in business... relationships that go sour...projects that fail...customers that don’t pay. But as someone very wise once said to me...‘You’re not responsible or to blame for the hand you’ve been dealt...it’s how you play it that counts’.
There’s always a choice. There’s always a positive in every negative. The biggest failures will often, and have often led to the biggest successes.
"You can accomplish amazing things if you have a passion and you work hard – I just think it’s a cop out to say ‘I wasn’t born with this, so it’s OK if I fail’. You can make up the difference with hard work and devotion.” BB
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Marianne is the author of three books, and is currently working on her fourth, whilst regularly writing her blog, we hope you enjoy it :-)