A thought for March from Your Critical Friend

March – it came in like a lion with bitter cold and snow. There were fantastic stories of the kindness of strangers to the trapped, isolated and vulnerable. Well done to all those amazing volunteers who did not think twice but piled in and did what needed to be done. Good people who helped when the snow was thick and deep and when the thaw brought burst pipes and water shortages. It was heart-warming and wonderful to see such kindness.

For me March brought something else which was also heart-warming and wonderful.

The Higgins Museum is mounting an exhibition Celebrating Women of Bedfordshire which will highlight the achievements of Bedfordshire women over the last 100 years. The exhibition coincides with the 100th anniversary of some women winning the right to vote, for the first time, as part of the Representation of the People Act, which was passed in February 1918.

The exhibition will highlight the ahievements of 60 women connected with Bedfordshire in the fields of suffrage & politics, education, sport, community power, STEM, wartime, business, and the arts. Women have been nominated, researched, shortlisted and selected by an exhibition development panel made up of volunteers from the local community.

I am stunned and very privileged to be one of the 60 women.

Before I found out I was thinking about this month’s thought and was chewing over the idea of suggesting we should all look regularly at the professionals that support us and review their targets and performance. This came out of one client who was encouraged to believe that a social media campaign was the answer to flagging sales. He entered it at very big regular money without developing a proper strategy. It cost him a great deal and did nothing to move his business forward.  Now it could be argued that it was his responsibility to develop his marketing strategy and then select the right tools to achieve it. However, I think that if we sell a service we have a duty of care to our clients to ensure it is what they need. Leading the blind up the wrong path is unethical.

Another client has just been taken to the cleaners by her accountant who lumbered her, without warning, with a massive personal tax bill. In this case it was not that she was not expecting a tax bill and had not been squirreling money away to cover it. What floored her was that he had not kept her in the loop about one particular aspect of her business that meant she was liable for twice what she expected. I think if we sell a service we must communicate with clients regularly about where things are going. They employ us to be their representatives and have the technical knowledge to forecast the future for them so there are no horrible surprises.

In both these cases the advisers came with good reputations but were revealed not to have good processes. One did not initiate a strategic discussion before inaugurating a campaign and the other did not communicate at regular intervals and in particular when a problem was looming on the horizon. Good people are useless unless they have robust, tried processes which they follow consistently; however willing, they are working with their hands tied. And as the client you should be confident that you understand the processes and are confident they will yield what you want before you buy the person.

It seems to me that networking can be held responsible for some of this. We meet people we like; are convinced by what they say in bringing a useful tool to our business table and then we do not go back one stage and test that process.

How is this relevant to me being selected to be amongst these 60 Bedfordshire women?

The first reason is that my selection made me think about the very special people in my business life who taught me what they knew, supported me, told me hard truths but most of all shared processes that were tried and tested. These were the drivers in the business: targets and the plans and budgets that would measure how much we were achieving. Then there were the component parts: production planning and monitoring; sourcing suppliers; market research and planning; sales; delivering stunning customer service; accounting; hawk eyed cashflow management; and the rock-solid administration that supports them. Only when all this is in place is it worth thinking about finding the most talented people to accomplish them. Then of course there are all the managerial skills needed to lead a productive, creative team.

I was incredibly fortunate I was selected to join a gold plated management training scheme; I was offered opportunities like project teams and working parties; I was encouraged to get my professional qualifications as quickly as I could; I was selected to undertake an in-company MBA at Henley; I was pushed to look above and beyond policies and procedures and find original answers to problems and situations. In all cases I was given the basic processes before being encouraged to get sophisticated and creative.

There were some astonishingly able people in my career who shared time with me, questioning what I was doing and how; pushing me out of my comfort zone; evaluating my performance and encouraging me to grow and develop; as well as analysing the many mistakes that I made (and some were dreadful). They were people who believed in me.

So, I do feel privileged, but I also think I know my trade. I may not be good at everything and some lessons have been very hard learned but I know where to go and how to find answers; I know how to get the best out of people.

It was good to be reminded of all this and to be grateful yet again for the people who gave me their time and believed I could be a good business woman.

And the second reason I feel privileged by my selection by The Higgins. It has been a rigorous process. I have no idea who else was considered but I know each of us was scrutinised and deemed worthy.

So, thank you to The Higgins. And thank you to the people who have taught me.

It is my passion to pass on what I know and offer the support I have had; if you are thinking of working with a mentor and you believe Eleanor Roosevelt when she said “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself” then please speak to me. Let’s chat about what you want to achieve; whether it is improvement in your business skills; development of management skills or personal skills to make you more effective, and I will explain my processes – if you decide they are robust and will take you forward then you can decide whether to buy me to help or look elsewhere!

If this has been interesting, please share it.