Guest-blog: Colin Smith discusses the importance of listening and ‘Why Listen’

In today’s high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world, communication is more important than ever, yet we seem to devote less and less time to really listening to one another. We are more connected than ever through technology and at the same time the disconnect with ourselves, others and our environment is growing. We need meaningful conversations to help us reconnect, going beyond our egos and our fears to build strong relationships, communities, networks and organisations, so that through collaboration we can begin to co-create a more sustainable future.

Genuine listening has become a rare gift—the gift of time. It helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy. At work, effective listening means fewer errors and less wasted time. At home, it helps develop resourceful, self-reliant children who can solve their own problems. Listening builds friendships and careers. It saves money and marriages.

When you’re told, “Listen!” by someone, most often you think, “I need to hear this.” Listen to your CEO’s instructions; listen to your wife or husband’s rules; listen to the information your friend is sharing.

But listening is so much more than hearing. It’s what happens when we not only open our ears, but also open our minds and sometimes our hearts to another person.

“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

Larry King – American television and radio host

But who do we turn to in times of listening needs, how can we learn to be better listeners, how can we perfect effective listening to help improve our lives and the lives of others?

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Colin Smith, who is aka ‘The Listener’, an executive coach and confidant, facilitator and speaker.

He is passionate about transforming the way we listen. His calm, attentive and patient way of being, enables you to feel seen, heard and understood. It awakens your thinking and inspires you to empathically listen to yourself and others.

His approach is not about fixing, offering advice (unless asked), or rescuing you. He creates a safe, compassionate place for you to slow down, settle, and be yourself. In this space, you are able to listen to your innermost thoughts and feelings, out of which your true story and answers will emerge.

Colin is going to talk to us the importance of listening and ‘Why Listen’

Why Listen?

Or, what’s the point, everyone is talking?

We grow up and live in a society where speaking is revered. Where he who talks most and loudest wins. We have courses galore on speaking and presenting yet little on listening.

If we look at the four mediums of communication, Writing, Reading, Speaking and Listening, research highlights the following:

• The least used medium of writing is used 9% of the time and attracts 12 years of formal training.
• The most used medium of listening is used 45% of the time attracts very little formal training.

“Hang on a minute, I think my ears do me a good service thank you, without the need for any formal training”.

Listening or Hearing, they are different, aren’t they?

I often ask groups a couple of questions.

“Hands up, if you believe you are better than average at listening?”

As you would expect, most of them put their hands up.

“Okay. Now, keep them up if anyone has said to you, “Thank you for listening”, during the last two weeks?”

Most people put their hands down.

Apart from the obvious point that we can’t all be better than average at anything, what is going on here?

The answer is that we can all hear unless audibly impaired, yet only around 10% of us are good listeners.

In the silence that I leave, usually, one person will ask, “But isn’t hearing and listening the same thing?”

We hear from – Hearing is passive, we don’t need to do anything. Its primary function is to alert us and to keep us safe. Hearing interrupts us.

For example, we will hear our name being called out across a noisy restaurant, we hear all sorts of noises when we sleep in a different bed, such as the central heating or planes passing overhead, until we get used to them.

We listen to – Listening is active, we have to intend to listen. Listening enables us to connect more deeply with the person speaking, understand what else is going on for them at that moment and where they are coming from.

The speaker becomes aware that we are listening to them, so they feel heard, feel that they matter and feel validated. This means that they relax more deeply and interestingly, the quality of their thinking improves.

During one exercise, where I play a piece of music one of the participants shared that she could feel the sadness in his voice, not just the words.

Listening changes lives

After a workshop on listening, a young man came up and thanked me. He explained that during the ‘not listening’ exercise, he had seen himself.
He had seen that all the traits of not listening being demonstrated by the person ‘listening’, were just like him.
Such as, supposedly listening with his mobile in his hand, not looking at the person speaking, interrupting and not acknowledging what the person had just said. He was listening to speak, not listening to understand.

He went on, “The experience had also caused me to question my behaviour at work with my team. So I have decided to change three things. Whenever I go into a conversation I will make the point of turning my mobile to silent and putting it out of sight. I will give them my undivided attention and keep my eyes on their eyes throughout the conversation”.

He followed up with me via email and said that on reflection his not listening behaviour was impacting his personal life as well. He said that he had sat down with his wife that evening and apologised for not listening to her and their six-year-old son. He promised that from now on he would listen more actively”.

I have no idea of the outcome, but I do know his future looks brighter, both at work and at home. If he can listen more actively, each of them will feel heard and valued by the other.

Arriving at the checkout to pay for my food, I was greeted by the usual, “Hi, how are you?”
I replied, “I am fine thank you”, and looking her in the eyes asked, “How are you?”
She replied, “Fine, thank you”, and scanned my first item.
Then looking back at me, she said, “Not really”.

Keeping my gaze, I say, “Oh” and left it hanging in the air.

“No, my boyfriend is being very difficult. We broke up a week ago and since then he has been bad mouthing me and putting up pictures on social media.”

I continued to hold contact with her eyes, she went on, “It has got so bad I had to talk to my teacher, and now we have the Police involved. My parents return from holiday in three days, so I think I am going to be okay”.

That was it, a brief moment in time. I said nothing, just deeply listened, and it enabled her to share something to a stranger. I have no idea of the outcome but know that it took some pressure out of what was building up inside, and maybe helped her to breathe a little easier and make it through the next few days.

So what?

In “Lost Connections”, Johann Hari’s recent book, he refers to the connection between loneliness, and anxiety and depression. And how loneliness can be the trigger.
As we all know too well, we can feel lonely in a crowd, be that an office, a party, or even a social gathering. Loneliness, among many factors, can be a symptom of not feeling heard, not fitting in, not being good enough, or not feeling valued.

We try and hide it through our addictions, alcohol, work, drugs, sex, and social media. But we can never get enough, we can never fill the hole we have inside.

Each ‘fix’ numbs things out for a while until the feeling returns. Then we have to take more of the ‘fix’ to numb things out.

What we are missing, and what we are yearning for? I believe it is for more deep and meaningful conversations. Conversations, which are not about the weather, celebrity gossip, or what is on the television tonight.

Rather, conversations about our feelings, our challenges, our hopes and fears, and what matters to you. Sometimes these turn out to be conversations that you have never had before.

There is an exercise that you can complete together, as a couple. It consists of 36 questions plus a 4-minute eye gazing exercise at the end, which if done correctly predicts that you would fall in love with each other.

In looking at the questions, where you both answer the questions, each person taking their turn to speak first, I can begin to see why. Each question enables you to learn something meaningful about the other, for example, “What is your most treasured memory?” and, “When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?”

Whether or not you do end up falling in love is another matter, what I like about this idea is that it causes us to be vulnerable, to open up and share, to feel heard, to be validated, to understand another human being. And all of which is for what we are deeply longing.

Could we ask similarly deep questions in the workplace, could we have more meaningful conversation? Could we ask questions that would evoke vulnerability, empathy, sharing, connection collaboration and relationship?

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”
David Augsburger, Author of Caring Enough to Hear

What is the impact of not listening on the business?

There is growing evidence that companies don’t care for their people. In the US it is reported that 7 out of 8 US workers feel they work for a company that does not care about them. Globally, Gallup reports that 70% of workers say they feel disengaged.

This can lead to
• Disparate teams.
• Duplication of effort.
• Missed information.
• An unsafe working environment.
• Avoidable mistakes.

With the impact across the business of
• Less connection.
• Just doing my hours and that’s it!
• Less discretionary effort and thinking for the company.
• More bad-mouthing, dishonesty, isn’t it awful.
• Less trust and a growing toxic culture.
• Individuals becoming less focused on the business.
• Feeling stressed, values not aligned, disillusioned.
• A knowing that fear is keeping me here.

Personal issues
There are also deep issues happening at a personal level.
• Feelings of isolation, uncertainty, less confidence.
• No one to talk to or to confide in about how I am feeling or what is happening in my life.
• Potential for being on long term sick.

With the personal impact
• Rising levels of mental health, stress, suicide, depression, and loneliness.
• A continued increase in divorce and erosion of the family unit.
• A growing feeling of disconnection from society, people, life and sadly nature and the planet.

What to do?

Listen first. Listen to each other. Listen more.

Take the opportunity to complete a simple eleven-minute listening exercise.

You can use a timer to keep this exercise focused. This could be with your work colleague, your partner or friend, or even your child.

1. Begin with one minute of silence, with your eyes closed, as this forces you inward.
2. Face each other and look at the other in silence for about a minute or longer if it feels right. Maintain eye contact throughout, become aware of your breath as you look at them, and allow any thoughts to arise and to pass.
3. Agree who will go first. The listener asks the speaker by name, “X, what would like to talk about?” As there are no rules, the speaker can share as much or as little as they want.
4. They will have the opportunity to talk uninterrupted for three minutes. If they stop talking before the three minutes are up, allow them to sit in the silence. You will be surprised how often they will talk some more. If they think they have finished, and they look at you, gently ask, “What else?”
5. The listener says nothing throughout but will give the other their undivided attention and actively listen. Maintain eye contact (even when the speaker looks away so that when they return to you they will find you still looking at them), no interrupting, and avoid thinking about what you may say when it is your turn.
6. When the three minutes are up, swap around.
7. In the final minute, look at the other, take a deep breath in and breathe out, then each of you shares one thing that you appreciate about the other. Make this appreciation about who they are, not what they do.

NB. At first, the idea of talking for three minutes can seem daunting, afterwards, you will realise it went quickly and it did not seem like three minutes. It will also feel unusual, yet supportive, to have been able to speak freely without interruption.

“We are dying to be heard, literally and figuratively”.

So, Why Listen?

Because feeling heard matters and makes a huge difference.

Who will you have a meaningful conversation with today?

You can contact Colin Smith via LinkedIn or by email:
colin dot smith AT dexteritysolutions dot co dot uk (removing all the spaces)

https://dexteritysolutions.co.uk/

 

Predictions for the start of 2020

2019 was definitely an interesting year!

As Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

It’s hard to imagine that we’re living in the year 2020. Though we’ve seen plenty of impressive technological advances, like artificial intelligence and phones that unlock by scanning our faces, it’s not quite the world of flying cars and robot butlers people once imagined we’d have by now.

As crazy as these all seem, the world is on track for some spectacular innovations in 2020. Privately operated space flights, self-driving taxis and increases in cyberwarfare would have all seemed like science fiction a few decades ago, but now they’re very real possibilities.

So, let’s have a look at some of the expectations for 2020:

Space Travel
Humans living on other planets is a staple in sci-fi, but it’s growing closer to reality thanks to private space travel initiatives.

As greater advances in space travel are made, the media’s interest will be revitalised. Those private companies will likely capitalise on that attention, which could lead to opportunities to bid on government contracts. Jobs will be created. Auxiliary innovations will be developed. And our chance to become a multiplanet species will (infinitesimally) increase.

Self-Driving Cars

Ride-hailing services are already part of everyday life, but self-driving cars are set to cause seismic changes to the industry. Once safety concerns are addressed, many passengers might find that they prefer being driven by a computer rather than a nosy human. And implementing a network of self-driving cars will be crucial in order for these platforms to finally make a profit.

Companies may adapt to self-driving cars as well. Autonomous transport obviates the need for large fleets of corporate cars. Transportation costs for employees could be drastically reduced. The company could get depreciating assets off the books. And energy efficiency would increase. It’s a win-win-win.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity continues to grow in importance as more of our information moves online. Unfortunately, we’ve seen how woefully unprepared even trusted sectors like finance and government can be when it comes to keeping data safe.

No one wants their credit card information appearing on a hacker’s forum, so cybersecurity is crucial for any company doing business online. Cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated, but fortunately, innovation in countermeasures has surged forward as well. Going into the next year, the cybersecurity industry will likely grow, assisted by cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

We are amidst the 4th Industrial Revolution, and technology is evolving faster than ever. Companies and individuals that don’t keep up with some of the major tech trends run the risk of being left behind. Understanding the key trends will allow people and businesses to prepare and grasp opportunities.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the most transformative tech evolutions of our times. Most companies have started to explore how they can use AI to improve the customer experience and to streamline their business operations. This will continue in 2020, and while people will increasingly become used to working alongside AIs, designing and deploying our own AI-based systems will remain an expensive proposition for most businesses.

For this reason, much of the AI applications will continue to be done through providers of as-a-service platforms, which allow us to simply feed in our own data and pay for the algorithms or compute resources as we use them.

Currently, these platforms, provided by the likes of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, tend to be somewhat broad in scope, with (often expensive) custom-engineering required to apply them to the specific tasks an organization may require. During 2020, we will see wider adoption and a growing pool of providers that are likely to start offering more tailored applications and services for specific or specialized tasks. This will mean no company will have any excuses left not to use AI.

The 5th generation of mobile internet connectivity is going to give us super-fast download and upload speeds as well as more stable connections. While 5G mobile data networks became available for the first time in 2019, they were mostly still expensive and limited to functioning in confined areas or major cities. 2020 is likely to be the year when 5G really starts to fly, with more affordable data plans as well as greatly improved coverage, meaning that everyone can join in the fun.

Super-fast data networks will not only give us the ability to stream movies and music at higher quality when we’re on the move. The greatly increased speeds mean that mobile networks will become more usable even than the wired networks running into our homes and businesses.

Companies must consider the business implications of having super-fast and stable internet access anywhere. The increased bandwidth will enable machines, robots, and autonomous vehicles to collect and transfer more data than ever, leading to advances in the area of the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart machinery.

Extended Reality (XR) is a catch-all term that covers several new and emerging technologies being used to create more immersive digital experiences. More specifically, it refers to virtual, augmented, and mixed reality. Virtual reality (VR) provides a fully digitally immersive experience where you enter a computer-generated world using headsets that blend out the real world.

Augmented reality (AR) overlays digital objects onto the real world via smartphone screens or displays (think Snapchat filters). Mixed reality (MR) is an extension of AR, that means users can interact with digital objects placed in the real world (think playing a holographic piano that you have placed into your room via an AR headset).

These technologies have been around for a few years now but have largely been confined to the world of entertainment – with Oculus Rift and Vive headsets providing the current state-of-the-art in videogames, and smartphone features such as camera filters and Pokemon Go-style games providing the most visible examples of AR.

With so many changes to our technology coming so fast, it can be hard to grasp the sheer scale of innovation underway. The list above highlights some of the more interesting developments, but is far from exhaustive. Whatever happens, 2020 will be an interesting year for major tech companies and budding entrepreneurs alike.

2020 will be a year of reckoning for those that have held on too long or tried to bootstrap their way through transforming their business.

Simply put, the distance between customer expectations and the reality on the ground is becoming so great that a slow and gradual transition is no longer possible. Incrementalism may feel good, but it masks the quiet deterioration of the business.

Whether CEOs in these companies start to use their balance sheet wisely, find new leaders, develop aggressive turnaround plans, or do all of the above, they and their leadership teams must aggressively get on track to preserve market share and market standing.

Purposeful Discussions cover

Finally, 2020 brings ‘Purposeful Discussions’ which is now my fifth book in a series of books that provide purpose driven outcomes in support of some of the most talked-about subjects in life today. This book demonstrates the relationship between communications (human 2 human), strategy and business development and life growth. It is important to understand that a number of the ideas, developments and techniques employed at the beginning as well as the top of business can be successfully made flexible to apply.

As Swami Vivekananda once said:

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.”

A True Christmas and New Year Message

May peace fill all the empty spaces around you, your family and your friends and your colleagues at this special time of year, and in you, may contentment answer all your wishes.

Raise a toast to yesterday’s achievements and tomorrow’s brighter future.

May comfort be yours, warm and soft like a sigh.

And may the coming year show you that every day is really a first day and a new year.

Let abundance be your constant companion, so that you have much to share.

May mirth be near you always, like a lamp shining brightly on the many paths you travel.

Work with the best of your abilities in 2020 and show to the world your power to create wonderful and superior things.

New Year 2020 may turn out to be a year when you are put on the road to everlasting success and prosperity.

Be the change that you wish to see at your workplace and take initiatives to make things better.

Wish your tomorrow is more prosperous, happy and successful than yesterday and today.

Looking forward to another year with hunger and passion to exceed at work and you are sure to meet with success.

Let new beginnings signify new chapter filled with pages of success and happiness, written by the ink of hard work and intelligence.

May the New Year bring us more wonderful opportunities for success.

HERE’S WISHING YOU THE GIFT OF PEACE AND PROSPERITY THROUGHOUT 2020

Why Strategy and Strategic Leadership Should Never be Confused with Metrics!


I was asked recently to speak at a conference, when I ask about the topic to be discussed I was instructed ‘to discuss leadership’, I sat back and smiled, it was clear the person leading the content really did not understand the breadth of the subject in today’s business world, I asked if I could discuss leadership in the context of strategic leadership vs undermining metrics, I received a nod, so I took that as an acceptance.

The concept of strategy emerged more than 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece with a one-dimensional perspective that focused on how generals waged war. Under this concept, a general is responsible for multiple units, on multiple fronts, in multiple battles, over various spans of time. The general’s challenge is to provide the vision and preparation for orchestrating the subsequent comprehensive actions.

The general’s strategy, then, consists of an integrated set of choices designed to achieve specific goals. But it is important to remember that strategy is not an accurate term for every important choice that the general faced.

This is where organisations fail in the business world. Many executives have begun calling everything they do strategic. Too often, strategy becomes a catchall term, used to mean whatever the executive wants it to mean.

And all too often, the result is that the organisation undertakes a collection of business activities that create confusion and undermine credibility because they are not strategically aligned. Sometimes these executives confuse actions or tactics which are the means by which strategies are executed with strategies themselves. They are then left to wonder why they failed to achieve their desired goals.

Strategy addresses how the business intends to engage its environment in pursuit of its desired goals. Without strategy, time and resources will be wasted on piecemeal, disparate activities. Sometimes, senior managers will fill the void with their own interpretation of what the business should be doing. The result is usually unsuccessful initiatives that are incomplete, disjointed, and confusing.

Strategic leadership rises above this confusion. But it does not come easy. Studies show that fewer than one in 10 leaders exhibit strategic skills, a woefully inadequate number.


It would be a mistake to believe that strategic leadership is only needed in times of crisis. During the good times, strategic leadership is just as important as during the bad times, because it ensures valuable resources are focused on the right areas and in the right ways, long term planning of strategy to execution vs short-termism and no planning.

At its essence, strategic leadership is the ability to learn, anticipate, challenge, interpret, decide, and align organisational capabilities and competing interests in ways that effectively engage the everyday opportunities and problems presented by the competitive environment. It is the ability to translate vision into reality by seeing the bigger picture and longer time horizons, then creating the strategies necessary to achieve goals that deliver valued results.

Tying performance metrics to strategy has become an accepted best practice over the past few decades. Strategy is abstract by definition, but metrics give strategy form, allowing our minds to grasp it more readily. With metrics, Ford Motor Company’s onetime strategy “Quality is job one” could be translated into Six Sigma performance standards. Apple’s “Think different” and Samsung’s “Create the future” could be linked to the number of sales from new products. If the strategy is the blueprint for building an organisation, metrics are the concrete, wood, drywall, and bricks.

But there’s a hidden trap in this organisational architecture. A company can easily lose sight of its strategy and instead focus strictly on the metrics that are meant to represent it. We all know that metrics are inherently imperfect at some levels. In business, the intent behind metrics is usually to capture some underlying goal and they almost always fail to do this as well as we would like.

Surrogation is especially harmful when the metrics and the strategy are poorly aligned. The greater the mismatch, the larger the potential damage.

Executives and senior managers who are charged with communicating strategy into this process are responsible for outcomes, strategy needs embedded execution and metrics on its success.

In addition to executives and senior managers losing sight of strategy over metrics, they often make the mistake of sticking with a failing strategy.

Why, and how do they avoid this trap?

Every company strategy whether good or bad has dissenters. But in some organisations, objectors are either suppressed or they understand that any constructive feedback isn’t welcome

Sticking with a once-successful strategy for too long can have repercussions. So how can companies avoid making a similar mistake when facing disruption?

The Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders

Executives and senior management must challenge mutually reinforcing biases that see people being influenced by a prior commitment to a particular course of action.

People who make investment decisions push ahead with a project even if things go badly because of the costs they have already incurred. Those costs will not be recovered if they walk away. This is called the ‘sunk cost fallacy’.

Decision-makers prefer to invest more in a course of action rather than withdraw and lose everything, believing that they can turn the situation around. In this scenario, people suffer from loss aversion.


The illusion of control takes hold. This bias, which is reinforced by the previous two, sees people overestimating their ability to control the future. They take credit for the outcomes of decisions and confuse forecasting the future with actually making it happen.

An inherent desire to complete tasks such as loading the dishwasher or finishing a project drives most people who have a preference for completion.

Those opposing a course of action often remain silent because they believe no one else shares their view. Meanwhile, colleagues interpret their silence as agreement. That can lead to everyone agreeing to a decision that nobody believes in. This is known as pluralistic ignorance.

Psychological and sociological studies show that someone’s identity and social status is often linked to their commitments. People can suffer a perceived loss of status or a threat to their identity when they withdraw from a commitment.

Understanding what drives people to push ahead with a project even if it’s failing is the first step to avoiding an escalation of commitment. The next is taking the following measures to prevent it from happening.

Spotting an escalation of commitment can be challenging, which is why things go wrong before executives and senior managers really see what’s happening.

Once invested in a course of action, they ignore the signs even when their company is on the verge of collapse. Prevention is possible, providing managers across the organisation are encouraged through the right processes and practices to consider different strategies and adopt a more objective approach to decision-making.


Final thought, the only certainty about the future is that it is uncertain, and past success does not guarantee future success.

Some of the factors driving this uncertainty include advances in technology and the quantity of information being produced; shifting customer needs; internal competition within companies for resources; struggles to maintain profitability as the economy changes and evolves; and the new normal of doing more with less for countless business operations.

But we also see markets offering greater opportunities to those able to adapt.

The ability to influence others to engage in efforts that enable organisational success, while acknowledging the constraints of time and resources, is at the heart of being strategic. It is why leaders must prove they are capable strategic leaders.

These leaders recognise situational constraints and adapt to their environment. By necessity and design, they are flexible and able to adjust their strategies to achieve the stated goals. What they do is measurably tied to goals.

Their attributes go beyond charisma, experience, and expertise. Aspirations are not enough; businesses want to see results. And results, more often than not, take strategic leadership.

As Jerome Powell – Chair of the US Federal Reserve, once said:

“Alignment of business strategy and risk appetite should minimize the firm’s exposure to large and unexpected losses. In addition, the firm’s risk management capabilities need to be commensurate with the risks it expects to take.”

Navigating the Data Experience Economy

I recently attended a Podcast in London called ‘Unleash your Product Data’, the description of the event caught my attention with speakers and experts in the field from Boden, Productsup and The Comma Group. I have recently been a judge for ‘The Experian Data Excellence Award for Lloyds Bank National Business Awards 2019’, so fresh off the mark, I was ready with my questions!

Here is a link to the PodCast: Podomatic Podcasts

After the questioning, Emile Bloemen from Productsup approached me and we had a very interesting discussion across the Product and Customer Experience in data, which I found fascinating, and which prompted me to write this blog.

Let’s have a look at the customer experience and why the need for product experience management.

Truly understanding customer needs may help companies improve not only the buying experience but also their bottom line. A company’s relationship with its customers is about much more than improving product ratings or decreasing wait times. Understanding the customer journey is about learning what customers experience from the moment they begin considering a purchase, and then working to make the journey toward buying a product or service as simple, clear, and efficient as possible.

Customer experience has become the centrepiece of most marketing strategies today. Marketers have begun to realise that it’s the biggest differentiator a brand or a retailer has in today’s overcrowded market. A great customer experience starts with a compelling product experience. Customers have their pick of channels, so standing out among the crowd with relevant product information is imperative.

The race to own customer experience is on. Companies are recognizing the importance of delivering an experience that makes them stand out from their competition. Some are learning the hard way.

In recent year’s United Airlines had a brand crisis, in which $1.4 billion in value was wiped out overnight when a passenger’s experience went viral on social media. And, you may not have heard about Juicero, but it fell victim to a brand crisis when it was discovered the proprietary juice packets needed for its $699 juicer weren’t so proprietary, resulting in the company dropping the price of the juicer to $200, and then ultimately going out of business.

Be it customer service, product quality or just the way the customers feel about the companies they do business with, customer experience rises to the top of whether or not the customer will decide to keep doing business with a brand.

Everything a brand does – the way it does its marketing, research, advertising and more – all play a role in shaping the customer’s experience. Focusing on customer experience management (CXM) may be the single most important investment a brand can make in today’s competitive business climate.

Look around you. How many people are on their computer? Their cell phone? We’re surrounded by digital experiences, both at work and at home. Whether you’re a SaaS or cloud business, or if a digital experience is just one facet of your offerings, it’s imperative that you deliver an amazing product experience.

As a product leader, this weight of this responsibility falls on your shoulders and if you want to create competitive products, you need to develop a customer-centric mindset. Understanding product experiences inside and out will benefit your customers and your career. We’re no longer transitioning to a new era of business, we’re deep in it, and if you want to keep up, you need to be in tune with your customers and deliver continuous intrinsic value. Otherwise, you’ll be obsolete before you can say “Blockbuster.”

For this reason, Product Experience Management (PXM) tools are a necessity. You want to be able to compete on all the shopping channels and new marketplaces that arise. The ability to prepare a product catalogue to flow into every channel in the required format is no easy task.

The eCommerce space is changing. Customers demand a compelling and consistent brand experience wherever they shop. Product experience management allows brands and retailers to offer buyers these superior experiences, leading to increased conversions, reduced returns, improved customer satisfaction, and stronger brand loyalty.

‘Brands and retailers must deliver a compelling story across all digital touchpoints during the purchasing journey.’

That all sounds well and good – but how do you actually do that?

How can brands and retailers manage product experiences and provide compelling content in the proper context?

And where does product information management (PIM) fit into this picture?

What is Product Experience Management (PXM)?

Product Experience Management is a new profession. It’s the subtle science of delivering product information in context, adapted and scoped by channel and locale to match the buying experience at every touchpoint. Having the right data and insight into the type of product experience buyers expect is the foundation for any great customer experience.

‘According to Forrester, 85% of customers rate product information as the top feature they want from a website.’

Product experience management is how you make an emotional connection with your buyers. It’s the next stage beyond goods and services in the progression of economic value. PIM is the “what” you use to describe your commodities, goods, and services, while PXM is “how” you stage an experience. In 1999, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote a book entitled ‘The Experience Economy’. The context is about how people trade money for time. This concept and the progression of economic value help us understand how we arrived at the place where customer experiences are the centrepiece of business models.

Pine and Gilmore say that in today’s economy people differentiate themselves from their competitors by moving up the economic value chain to provide excellent customer experiences. This value chain concept is shown below:

By using PIM as an engine for automating the boring, tedious, repetitive tasks involved in collecting, standardizing, and enriching product content, your marketing and eCommerce teams can turn their attention to contextualising product information, before distributing it to each channel.

Putting product data in context can mean several things: the right images, the right descriptions, the right attribute sets, and more. Each must be precisely tailored for the locale, cultural norms and standards, context for the channel, and the ways your buyer interacts with your brand. With the right tools, you can even leverage product data intelligence to further streamline your PXM practice.

These days, it’s all about speed. If you can’t get your products to market fast enough, then you’ll miss out on sales. It’s especially critical to get to market on time if your products are sold on a seasonal basis, or if you regularly add new products and models.

A good PXM solution enables your team to publish and update product catalogues in a timely way. It provides workflows to optimize and streamline processes, helping brands and retailers quickly add new products or channels. It uses business rules and automation to reduce manual work, freeing up time for marketers to write emotional product descriptions, while managing product images as well as text. With improved, streamlined processes, marketers can create complete and compelling product experiences across all channels.

This is the century of ‘smart devices’ which pushes the boundaries further and making the impossible possible. Organisations should analyse the gap across various markets in the technology field and innovate smart products and accessories catering to different requirements of their customers. The right product innovation can not only save an organisation from extinction but also help them sustain and grow by penetrating markets faster, connecting better with clients, seising big opportunities and having an edge in the business competition.

Profitable it seems for organisations to come up with innovative products, the groundwork to find a breakthrough idea is extremely complex. The complete cycle of inventing & innovating a product, after further developments and modifications, till it reaches maturity and leads to innovation of another new product is time-consuming and exceedingly complicated.

It needs immense precautions to implement an idea for product innovation and the development of the same. Tech experts should keep in mind its further implications, possible benefits, and disadvantages, if any, before the product is launched in the market. Balance is a very important aspect for an organization in product innovation.

The refinement of ideas, innovation of products and their public acceptance decides the future of an organisation and its success. The path is full of risks, nevertheless, organizations should step ahead cautiously by investing majorly in product innovation and deploying the best minds, in order to succeed and sustain today’s market

Final thought, in an age of constant, complex and disruptive technological innovation, knowing what, when, and how to structure regulatory interventions has become more difficult. Regulators find themselves in a situation where they believe they must opt for either reckless action (regulation without sufficient facts) or paralysis (doing nothing).

Inevitably in such a case, caution tends to imply risk. But such caution merely functions to reinforce the status quo and makes it harder for new technologies to reach the market in a timely or efficient manner.

Possibly the solution, is for lawmaking and regulatory design needs to become more proactive, dynamic, and responsive. So how can regulators actually achieve these goals? What can regulators do to promote innovation and offer better opportunities to people wanting to build a new business around a disruptive technology or simply enjoy the benefits of a disruptive new technology as a consumer?

As Mahatma Gandi once said:

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

Update on ‘Purposeful Discussions’

I have just finished the final manuscript of my fifth book, “Purposeful Discussions” and sent it to my publisher, Troubador Publishing.

Jeremy Thompson and Hannah Dakin are truly excited to be working with me on book number three through their publishing house, I must say working with Troubador has really been a seamless process, a truly great and committed team.

Hannah recently quoted ‘Geoff is back with a brand new book, Purposeful Discussions — which is divided into three sections (Communications, Strategy, Business Development and Life Growth) making it easier for readers to locate the material most relevant to them.

The book has been written in the hope to help individuals have a better understanding on a range of subjects — whether that be those who are a part of a company/organisation, to students and any aspiring individuals. It’s always a pleasure to work with Geoff and at Troubador Publishing we very much look forward to working with him again on, Purposeful Discussions!’

I have produced a new video: ‘The Pathway to Purpose and why my new book ‘Purposeful Discussions’

We have arranged an exclusive event on March 19th 2020 which incorporates the launch of the book in Central London, I am looking forward to introducing our distinguished guests to “Purposeful Discussions”!

“Purposeful Discussions” has been written as a natural next step to ‘Meaningful Conversations’, across four of the most passionately debated subjects in business and life today:

Communications, Strategy, Business Development and Life Growth.

In February 2014, I set out as an author with my first book, “Freedom after the Sharks”, to write a weekly blog across a variety of subjects and foremost about people in business, opinions, research and tips, advise on some revelations, past and present.

“Purposeful Discussions” is now my fifth book in a series of books that provide purpose-driven outcomes in support of some of the most talked-about subjects in life today. This book demonstrates the relationship between communications (human 2 human), strategy and business development and life growth. It is important to understand that a number of the ideas, developments and techniques employed at the beginning as well as the top of business can be successfully made flexible to apply.

This book provides a holistic overview of the essential leading methods in these areas. It can be viewed as a hands-on guide or as one person described in an Amazon review from my last publication “Meaningful Conversations”: ‘What makes a book remarkable, useful and meaningful for professionals? Well, read (not only once) Geoff’s masterpiece and you will understand. This book is my “win book” from so many aspects‘.

Each person, no matter their age, occupation or place in the world has a tremendous story to share. A vast tapestry of experiences, truths & pearls of wisdom lies in the vault of the mind, waiting to be unlocked. It takes the slightest intuitive spark to get us talking about our inner lives, the details and dynamics of being human. We are all aware of how important technology is in our lives and keeping our individual worlds connected.

We need to explore new and creative ways of listening, engaging, working together, learning, building community and being in conversation with the other. We are more connected than ever through technology and at the same time the disconnect with ourselves, others and our environment is growing. We need Purposeful Discussions to help us reconnect, going beyond our egos and our fears to build strong relationships, communities, networks and organisations, so that through collaboration we can begin to co-create a more sustainable future.

Readers will gain insights into topical subjects, components of Communications, Strategy and Business Development and Life Growth, including a wide range of tips, models and techniques that will help to build strong and effective solutions in today’s business world.

As Richard Cohn once said:

“Our lives are measured in choices we have made along the path we call living, each compass point, a possibility, each step, an opportunity, seemingly random, each decision moves us inexorably in a direction both unknown and yet somehow familiar for upon reflection, the strength we find in choosing, or the surrender of letting all unfold leads us to the place we started from when we made that first choice to be here again.”

The book, therefore, covers all the essential components of Communications, Strategy and Business Development and Life Growth, but ensures that they are described in an engaging, enjoyable way with clarity.

I’m truly excited to share the new book covers with you! Jeremy and his committed team at Troubador Publishing have been amazing, and working hard on delivering the final book, not only across the design, content and editing the book, but also by putting the sales-pages ready!

Purposeful Discussions will be available in e-book/kindle, paperback and hardback formats.

Writing has changed my life. I have always believed that it is your right to speak truthfully in all matters that concern you and to speak from the heart.

It has been an overwhelming experience to receive emails and phone calls from people across all walks of life wanting to share their experiences, their story. Entrepreneurs, business people, students, children, and universities and charitable causes have approached me for keynote sessions, general advice, and inspirational leadership.

I have been overwhelmed with inquiries but will continue to expand and express the journey that each and every one of us deserves.

Every audience has a different dynamic, a different rhythm, and a different reaction. The audience wants, needs, and expects pertinent, real-life information to enhance and support their lives and importantly what they’re facing. I believe it was my destiny in life to push things to the limit. You only get one chance to make an impression. I gave blogging and writing books every opportunity I had of the events that took place for what I believed to be right and true.

In life you survive. You move on but with a purpose and now ‘Purposeful Discussions’

I will be making periodic updates on the progress of my new book, and invite you to read my new tome on its release.

I do hope my book will provide you with a better lens to understand the opportunities and challenges ahead, that you feel better able to chart your course for change and fulfilment of your dreams, desires and aspirations.

If there is any question I can answer for you please leave me a note or send me an email.

Why emotional intelligence is leadership, team spirit and company culture

As all leaders experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, you will know you have been tested in ways that you never expected. And yet, somehow, we all prevail. Despite the frustrations, anger and fear, you will have learned a lot about yourself. You will be forced to recognise your own weaknesses and eccentricities, and discover reserves of strength that you had not known existed. In the process, you will become less judgmental and more accepting of yourself and of others.

No matter how large or small a company is, teams are vital to businesses these days, allowing them to maximise productivity and profitability when operated effectively. As such, it’s absolutely imperative for employers to nurture team spirit in the modern workplace.

That being said, employees should make the effort to connect with their team as much as possible as well. A genuine sense of camaraderie not only improves the morale and general mood of each individual member of staff but similarly helps them feel like an integral part of the organisation.

A united team’s greatest strength is undoubtedly the combination of skills present in collaborative environments with engagement into the company vision and mission. With a broader range of abilities and knowledge at the employer’s disposal, businesses can be more flexible, taking advantage of the greater number of opportunities open to them as a result. Close-knit teams are also better equipped to deal with individual shortcomings; for instance, if during the course of a project it emerges that a team member is lacking in a particular area, a strong bond makes it easy for the individual to simply defer to a colleague for support.

Likewise, working in a collaborative environment alongside trusted companions makes it easier for employees to discuss any ideas they might have for improving the firm’s operating practices, or even ask for assistance if they’re struggling personally or professionally.

Team spirit often produces a healthy dose of friendly competition; not in the sense that each individual is trying to outperform their colleagues, rather, as the group contribute to the overall success of the company, team members will work assiduously to avoid being seen as the weak link in the chain. Conversely, innate trust in a co-worker’s abilities enables one to concentrate fully on one’s own tasks and responsibilities, without fear of interruption.

Contented employees that are able to participate in traditional team-building exercises tend to be less stressed than more isolated workers, resulting in increased productivity, and a tighter connection between individuals; understandably, these effects are amplified if regular social outings are arranged. In addition, office disputes will be easier to resolve when team members feel able to communicate their grievances with each other openly, especially when there’s a professional and personal association.

From a practical perspective, cohesive team units often correlate with low staff turnover rates, saving the business money in a number of ways. For starters, as these employees are much happier in their work, businesses are spared the hassle of replacing staff on a regular basis; often a costly and time-consuming process. Furthermore, with fewer new starters each year, the company can save money on training staff and reduce the impact such transitional periods tend to have on productivity.

Company culture is an integral part of business. It affects nearly every aspect of a company. From recruiting top talent to improving employee satisfaction, it’s the backbone of a happy workforce. Without a positive corporate culture, many employees will struggle to find the real value in their work, and this leads to a variety of negative consequences for your bottom line.

According to research by Deloitte, 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct corporate culture is important to a business’ success. Deloitte’s survey also found that there is a strong correlation between employees who claim to feel happy and valued at work and those who say their company has a strong culture.

There’s a reason why companies who are named as a Best Place to Work see so much success. These organizations tend to have strong, positive corporate cultures that help employees feel and perform their best at work. Research gathered by CultureIQ found that employee’s overall ratings of their company’s qualities – including collaboration, environment and values – are rated 20% higher at companies that exhibit strong culture.

But why is corporate culture such an important part of a business?

The culture factor – 8 types of company culture

The 8 Types of Company Culture

A great quote we have all heard time and time again is: ‘No man is an island’, especially in a business organisation. Everyone in the organisation needs someone else’s help sometime or another, either as part of the regular workflow or during emergencies.

Whether it’s the CEO or the cleaning lady, every person in an organisation has to consider himself or herself as part of a team in order for a business to function smoothly. The moment a “That’s not my job!” attitude appears, you have the makings of a dysfunctional organisation and a decline in team and company performance

What Creates a Team Environment?

Creating a team environment in a company does not come easy. To effectively build teams, it is important to remember that:

Teamwork is based on a company’s culture. Companies that encourage open, honest communication and foster employee interaction are in a better position to have good teamwork among employees.

Team spirit comes from the top. Building effective teams with the right attitude emanates from the highest levels of an organisation. Only by flattening the traditional organisational pyramid can one expect to instil the right team culture.

People must fit the culture. Some people are team players and some are not. It’s partly a question of personality and partly a matter of training. One person in the team with the wrong attitude can undermine the effort of the entire team. Hiring only people with the right traits for teamwork is crucial in building effective teams.

Leaders that develop great teams around them have two things that they do well:

• they have a lot of emotional intelligence and
• are able to provide a clear vision for the team.

Well, you are probably wondering what the team members need to have:

The team members themselves also need to possess high emotional intelligence so that they interact with each other with the least amount of friction.

The importance of teamwork is essential in today’s multidisciplinary world. In the past, during the industrial era when most jobs were represented by people on a manufacturing line doing one thing all day – teamwork wasn’t as important as it is today.

When emotional intelligence first appeared to the masses, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time. This anomaly threw a massive wrench into what many people had always assumed was the sole source of success—IQ. Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack.

Emotional intelligence is the “something” in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behaviour, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results. Emotional intelligence is made up of four core skills that pair up under two primary competencies: personal competence and social competence.

At a recent World Economic Forum it was stated in a report named ‘The Future of Jobs’ that in 2020, the core skill sets in highest demand will be complex problem-solving skills and social skills, including emotional intelligence.

In today’s knowledge economy, most of our jobs involve interacting with others that are not even in the same line of profession. The need for effective teamwork is critical for any business.

The ability to simultaneously perform as an individual and together with your colleagues or employees in effective teamwork is key to attaining growth and success.

In every aspect of a business, the diverse skills of teams are needed for reaching success. Make use of every opportunity you have to engage in teamwork so you develop effective communication skills.

Steve Jobs changed the whole pattern of living with his innovative and creative mind. However, without his team of hard-working professionals and their abilities, his innovations would not have reached the hands of so many people around the world.

In effect, teamwork is important and essential in order to accomplish the overall objectives and goals of an organization.

The following 5 reasons summarise the importance of teamwork and why it matters to you:

• Teamwork motivates unity in the workplace

A teamwork environment promotes an atmosphere that fosters friendship and loyalty. These close-knit relationships motivate employees in parallel and align them to work harder, cooperate and be supportive of one another.

Individuals possess diverse talents, weaknesses, communication skills, strengths, and habits. Therefore, when a teamwork environment is not encouraged this can pose many challenges towards achieving the overall goals and objectives. This creates an environment where employees become focused on promoting their own achievements and competing against their fellow colleagues.

Ultimately, this can lead to an unhealthy and inefficient working environment.

When teamwork is working the whole team would be motivated and working toward the same goal in harmony.

– Listen to our teamwork fundamentals audio course:

• Teamwork offers differing perspectives and feedback

Good teamwork structures provide your organization with a diversity of thought, creativity, perspectives, opportunities, and problem-solving approaches. A proper team environment allows individuals to brainstorm collectively, which in turn increases their success to problem solve and arrive at solutions more efficiently and effectively.

Effective teams also allow the initiative to innovate, in turn creating a competitive edge to accomplish goals and objectives. Sharing differing opinions and experiences strengthens accountability and can help make effective decisions faster, than when done alone.

Team effort increases output by having quick feedback and multiple sets of skills come into play to support your work. You can do the stages of designing, planning, and implementation much more efficiently when a team is functioning well.

• Teamwork provides improved efficiency and productivity

When incorporating teamwork strategies, you become more efficient and productive. This is because it allows the workload to be shared, reducing the pressure on individuals, and ensure tasks are completed within a set time frame. It also allows goals to be more attainable, enhances the optimization of performance, improves job satisfaction and increases work pace.

Ultimately, when a group of individuals works together, compared to one person working alone, they promote a more efficient work output and are able to complete tasks faster due to many minds intertwined on the same goals and objectives of the business.

• Teamwork provides great learning opportunities
Working in a team enables us to learn from one another’s mistakes. You are able to avoid future errors, gain insight from differing perspectives, and learn new concepts from more experienced colleagues.

In addition, individuals can expand their skill sets, discover fresh ideas from newer colleagues and therefore ascertain more effective approaches and solutions towards the tasks at hand. This active engagement generates the future articulation, encouragement and innovative capacity to problem solve and generate ideas more effectively and efficiently.

• Teamwork promotes workplace synergy

Mutual support shared goals, cooperation and encouragement provide workplace synergy. With this, team members are able to feel a greater sense of accomplishment, are collectively responsible for outcomes achieved and feed individuals with the incentive to perform at higher levels.

When team members are aware of their own responsibilities and roles, as well as the significance of their output being relied upon by the rest of their team, team members will be driven to share the same vision, values, and goals. The result creates a workplace environment based on fellowship, trust, support, respect, and cooperation.

Final thought, without the ability to effectively work in a team environment, you could delay the success of developing, formulating and implementing new and innovative ideas. The ability to problem solve is reduced, as well as the attainment of meeting goals and objectives, in turn, limiting the efficiency and effectiveness of growing a successful company is hindered

No matter how much they want to be part of the team, some will always find it difficult to work collaboratively, whether that’s due to a lack of confidence, a clash of personalities, or simply that an individual prefers working alone.

Fortunately, most people – even those who’d describe themselves as shy – can succeed in a team environment given enough time, enjoying the benefits of a happier and more fulfilling working life.

One of the most important roles a leader has is creating a positive culture. Be sure to cultivate a positive culture that enhances the talent, diversity and happiness of your workforce. Building a unique, positive culture is one of the best – and simplest – ways to get your employees to invest their talent and future with your company.

As Paul Ryan once said:

‘Every successful individual knows that his or her achievement depends on a community of persons working together.‘

The 4th industrial revolution debate across Autonomous Leadership

I recently had a very interesting conversation with a PhD in behaviour science – we were actually debating the issues and positives across micromanagement, after he had read my blog, ‘Is micromanagement delusional or can it be effective’, whilst I wrote this blog back in 2015, there currently appears to be much discussion around leadership and the 4th industrial creation of autonomous leadership, some genius believes autonomous leadership is the answer to ineffective leadership.

I thought it was time to refresh my thinking and look into the negatives and positives, and why autonomous leadership should be deployed across business.

Most leaders want employees who take the initiative, get involved, make decisions and generate ideas. In fact, because your team is likely made up of educated, competent, seasoned employees (some of whom you may have hand-selected), it’s natural to expect that they would need a little direction to take the proverbial ball and run with it. You have a vested interest in their success because, when your team performs well, everyone wins.

Likewise, employees of all generations share a desire to work autonomously toward the communicated vision. No one wants to feel as if they’re operating under someone else’s thumb, especially team members who are smart, ambitious and motivated.

If autonomy is an essential ingredient for promoting employee engagement and motivation, and given that both leaders and employees desire empowered environments, what keeps leaders from encouraging self-sufficiency in their employees? The short answer is a skewed perception of reality.

The breakdown often begins when leaders don’t see their employees making decisions and taking action quickly enough, or in the same way the leader would do it. In this situation, you understandably might question the motivation behind the employee’s lack of autonomy. Some executives I’ve coached have told me they wonder if their employees don’t care, if they’re not ambitious or competent enough to do the job. They often assume their employees need or want more direction because they seem to require help or feedback before moving forward. In other words, leaders often feel the problem is with their employees, not them.

Autonomy in the workplace is hard to implement and easy to abuse. It requires managers and employees to trust each other and communicate on projects, which can be challenging in their own rights. Too often, a communication breakdown leads to micromanaging or missed deadlines.

By tapping into information-sharing channels and mutual trust, it’s possible to increase team autonomy in the workplace. Here are a few examples of companies channelling information well and how employees become more autonomous because of it.

Many leaders instinctively want complete visibility of their team.

This is a recipe for micromanagement.

Interesting statement by Dr David Rock from The NeuroLeadership Institute, when he said: “Although we may not think about it often, everyone experiences the workplace as a social system. People who feel betrayed or unrecognized at work, experience it as a neural impulse, as powerful and painful as a blow to the head.”

He goes on to say that employees tend to limit their commitment and engagement if they feel undervalued. “They become purely transactional employees, reluctant to give more of themselves to the company, because the social context stands in their way.”

This type of situation can be the root cause of a low-performing team. Think about times that you have been part of such a team. It quickly demotivates everyone, plus rectifying the situation is very difficult once it takes hold. Your managerial challenge is to provide conditions where such a situation is less likely to happen, and giving the team a measure of autonomy in how to carry out their work is key.

Based on research and anecdotal evidence, there’s no denying workplace autonomy promotes employee happiness. A workplace survey by Gensler concluded that employees given more choices are more satisfied and higher performing than counterparts with fewer freedoms. Autonomy often inspires a culture of innovation, and allows employees an opportunity to become more self-sufficient. For executives, this means less time overseeing daily operations and more time focused on strategy and growth. But for a company that still hasn’t shifted to an autonomous environment, the idea of giving employees so much freedom can be a little unsettling.

Autonomy is quickly becoming the norm. Employees not only desire greater control over their work style and environment — they expect it. By exercising the above suggestions, you can help create a culture of freedom and choice without sacrificing efficiency, productivity and structure.

In order to make your team more autonomous, you need to establish communication and trust. Without communication, you’re leaving your employees without a safety net while your employees are working in isolation

Let’s look at some of the disadvantages of employee empowerment:

Lack of experience increases risk

While the handing down of responsibility promises to improve speed, agility and productivity, a concern is that decisions are now being made by less experienced and less expert personnel. This can increase the number of mistakes made and put reputation at risk.

The risk of work practices falling into chaos must be tackled by proper training, and by ensuring that supervisors maintain organizational standards. These standards must incorporate an organization’s values and beliefs: care must be taken that employees do not work in accordance with individual values that may be divergent to the corporate mission and vision.

Potential for decreased efficiency

When people are given the autonomy to make their own decisions, those decisions cease to be uniform. This lack of coordination can lead to problems down the line.
It is also the case that autonomous employees may decide to work slower on days when they feel distracted or lack the energy to forge ahead. Where some workers are performing more productively than others, without being rewarded for doing so, internal friction can increase. If not dealt with, this can cause confrontation or a spiral to the bottom as all workers decide to work at the pace of the slowest and least productive team member.

Failing relationships

Empowerment inevitably leads to a flatter, more streamlined management structure. The risk here is that professional relationships become blurred, and boundaries of authority become broken. This might require greater control over employees, not less.

Accountability issues may arise, leading to a blame culture that, if left unchecked, will lead to further discontent and an environment of mistrust. In such a situation, it is likely that employees will decide to take less responsibility for fear of repercussions should things go wrong.

Poor decision-making
If a team lacks the individuals with skills commensurate to the project, tasks, and work required, decision-making will be poorer. This will be to the detriment of the organization, as poor solutions lead to decreasing productivity and internal conflict.

Are you really a leader if nobody is following?

As a leader, you should have an element of magnetism to your style. What do I mean by that? I mean that people should be drawn to you; they should want to be around you – by choice, that is, not because it’s their job to take your direction. The greatest leaders have a natural following of people that are pointed in the same direction; people that want to accomplish the same goals; people that want to be on your journey!

These relational principals apply across the board. Just because you’re in a leadership position doesn’t mean that you’ve attained perfection. You’re human. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have questions, and people will respect you more for owning that. Your transparency and honesty open the doors for you to engage others and rely on their strengths and expertise. Your team will feel needed and valued by you, and they will likely jump into help compensate for your weaknesses.

In addition to being authentic about yourself, leaders should realise the importance of being open and honest about the state of their organization, current and future. Leaders should be clear and candid in their communication to give everyone an accurate assessment of what’s going on and what’s needed to improve. This openness and authenticity create understanding and direction, and it minimizes the chaos of uncertainty.

The truth of the matter is that we cannot all be the leader in charge.

The end result is that many people want to be led. They need someone who can be visionary and inspirational.

Perhaps there is some overlap with this and some of the other points already mentioned, but I thought it was important to say it in this particular way. The reason for that is because this puts the focus on understanding what your people need. To do this, you must get to know your people. You have to ask questions, listen and engage. This is a critical component to understanding people and meeting their needs.

Which brings me on to ‘we are a direct reflection of our experiences’ – the way we behave and not all organisational cultures are created equal. Your company’s behaviors and norms can be unhealthy and unsupportive. But take heart: your organisation has the power to build a high-performance culture. A high-performance culture has behaviors and norms that lead your organisation to achieve superior results by setting clear business goals, defining employees’ responsibilities, creating a trusting environment, and encouraging employees to continuously grow and reinvent themselves.

Employee engagement is a direct outcome of a high-performance company culture. Why? Because high-performance cultures clearly outline behaviors and norms that are healthy and supportive.

Employees clearly understand their culture and what is expected of them. They feel connected. They feel involved. They feel supported. And, therefore, they feel engaged. A company that takes its people seriously will have a business strategy, vision, mission and values.

It’s alarming to know that eighty-seven per cent of HR leaders state that company culture and engagement are their biggest challenges. It makes sense. There are several reasons culture and engagement are rising as relevant challenges for organisations. To start, employer branding has become more and more important. Employees are very much like customers. With the changes in the job market, employees have greater opportunities than they had in the past.

This puts employers in the position of having to actively attract employees, all while employees’ perceptions about work are changing. For the most part, employees no longer prioritise staying at a single job until retirement and instead are very uncommitted, they are more likely to choose a job that interests them and aligns with their own passion and values at a moment in time. Your organisation needs to regularly invest in culture to regularly see the resulting engaged employee base.

By providing training opportunities, the latest in technological advancements, managerial support, and an open mind about what makes a great workplace environment, companies can evolve to keep pace with employees’ expectations to really drive success. The key is that this is an ongoing process. Engagement doesn’t just happen – you have to focus employee needs over time and use that to drive a strong culture, a good way to achieve this is with an HR development plan, which has the engagement of senior leadership, management and the board of directors.

Final thought, by supporting people we employ or our family members to develop themselves so that we can each reach a state where we are conscious that the interior work is as important as our exterior communication skills.

By learning to deploy those skills to give individual context and insight to host other conversations, which would be vastly more helpful than the kind of conversation that happens in the superficial contextual layer.

We nominally share a language with others; sometimes not even that. Language isn’t helping us bridge the divide of ideological differences effectively any more. Embodied dialogue methods, like constellations and storytelling, can open new perspectives in people’s minds.

I am not convinced in my lifetime that an intuitive or compassionate AI, or robot will even come close to this objective, we need better leadership to drive home performance and growth outcomes, based around passionate, committed and determined humans.

A great quote by John Maxwell, where he states:

“If you are leading others and you’re lonely, then you’re not doing it right. Think about it. If you’re all alone, that means nobody is following you. And if nobody is following you, then you’re not really leading.”

Tequila and a very Meaningful Conversation with Michael

tequila

Tequila has never been a good friend to me and to be honest with you I have never really understood the drink, only to say occasionally an ice-cool margarita can be very inviting especially in hot weather.

If you’re anything like me, early memories of tequila drinking bring back foggy images of high school house parties a la Tom Cruise in “Risky Business.” Some of you might remember staring at the lifeless worm floating sadly on the bottom of a bottle, and wondered, who would drink that? Many of you still wince and cry, “It burns!”

On a recent visit to Oregon, my business partner and good friend Mark Herbert, decided to introduce me to Michael Bailey, who frankly is an expert in tequila. We arrived at Michael’s house, deep into the Mohawk Valley, where he showed us around his vast tequila collections, where this tequila cannot be purchased, my curiosity did get the better of me, there was no Patron tequila in his collection, not even Patron ultra-premium, no salt and no lime, just tequila.

Also, tequila does not have a worm in its bottle. The worm, or guano, is associated with mezcal. In the 1940s, a few brands started a marketing ploy attributing aphrodisiac and magical qualities to the worm and the person shooting it. As you can probably guess, ingesting the worm has no effect on desire, nor are fine bottles of either tequila or mezcal sold with a worm in it.

The word tequila comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) language and translates to “the place where plants are harvested,” or possibly “the place where a lot of work is done,” according to Jose Maria Muria in his book, “A Drink Named Tequila.” And that pretty much sums up the sentiment behind tequila: A plant, a place and the people who make it, Michael believes that the word Tequila has a translation of ‘The Stone That Cuts’.

Michael started to discuss the subject of Hollywood actor George Clooney and his recent investment into tequila, ‘when George Clooney and Rande Gerber’s tequila company, Casamigos, sold for $1 billion last year, it begged the question: that there really so much money in tequila.

In the Guadalajaran skies, desert heat, verdant blue-green leaves, distilled down via an ancient recipe into a crystal-clear, power-punch of a spirit. The roots of our most beloved, hangover-inducing inebriant go all the way back to the 13th century.

Agave was an important part of life in pre-Hispanic Mexico: the dense fibres were perfect for mats, ropes, possibly wigs, but people also had another use for the plant: they loved to booze around with agave juice.

Pulque was their favourite drink, a fermented, milky coloured, yeasty agave juice concoction that pre-Aztec civilisations had the good sense to distil. North American fascination with tequila began during prohibition, and surfaced again in the Second World War when European spirits were hard to come by.

Agave – The Cultivation of the Tequila Tradition

The History of Tequila

The town of Tequila was founded in 1656 in what is now the Mexican state of Jalisco. It didn’t take long for tequila to be produced throughout the country and Jose Cuervo was the first to commercialize the product. The late 1800s saw the first exports to the United States and the following Mexican Revolution and World Wars added to the international popularity of tequila.

Tequila can only be made within particular regions of certain Mexican states. They include 124 municipalities of Jalisco (including the town of Tequila and the majority of modern tequila production), 8 municipalities in Nayarit, 7 municipalities in Guanajuato, 30 municipalities in Michoacan, and 11 municipalities in Tamaulipas.

Mark and I were hugely curious, sipping gently on our first Margarita, ‘so Michael how is tequila made?’

Good question guys, tequila is made by distilling the fermented juices of the Weber blue agave plant with water. The agave is a member of the lily family and it looks like a giant aloe vera plant with spiked barbs on the tips. After seven to ten years of growth, the agave plant is ready to be harvested and used in the production of tequila.

Underground, the plant produces a large bulb called a piña, which looks similar to a white pineapple. The agave’s spiky leaves are removed and the piñas are quartered and slowly baked in steam or brick ovens until all the starches are converted to sugars. The baked agave is crushed in order to extract the plant’s sweet juices, which are then fermented.

100% Agave vs. Mixto: According to Mexican law, all tequila must contain at least 51 percent Weber blue agave (Agave tequilana). Really good tequila, like the one you are drinking, is 100% Weber blue agave and will be clearly marked that way on the bottle. The law also requires them to be produced, bottled, and inspected in Mexico.

Tequila that is not 100% agave is called mixto (mixed) because it is blended with sugar and water during distillation. Mixto tequilas can be produced outside of Mexico. Until around the turn of the 21st century, mixtos were the main tequilas produced. Today, the majority of the tequila you will find is “Tequila 100% de Agave.”

Tequila is distilled in either pot or column stills until it reaches around 110 proof. The result is a clear spirit with a significant amount of congeners. These congeners are by-products of alcohol fermentation that are often thought of as impurities which may lead to more severe hangovers.

Some tequileros (tequila producers) re-distil the tequila to produce a cleaner liquor. Before bottling, the distillate is cut with water to obtain the bottling strength, which typically is around 80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).

Some tequilas are clear and are called blanco or silver tequila. Others take on a brown color due to one of two possible sources. Gold tequilas often get their colour from the addition of caramel or other additives. Reposado and añejo tequilas obtain their golden-brown colour from barrel ageing. Some tequilas are flavoured with small amounts of sherry, prune concentrate, and coconut, though these are not “true” tequilas, but “tequila products.”

The recipe for tequila is startlingly simple. All you need is agave, yeast and water, a few years for your crops to mature, oh, and a donkey or two. Jimadores (agave farmers) harvest the piña (heart) from the centre of the huge Weber blue agave at the perfect point in its life cycle (by all accounts, a rare, almost esoteric skill passed down through generations).

The piña is chopped up and gently steam-baked in a brick oven for a few days (or in an industrial pressure cooker for shorter cook time) and – slowly – the heart softens as the starch turns to sugar. The cooked piña is shredded like pulled pork, then crushed (often on a stone wheel, sometimes by donkeys) to extract the aguamiel, or juice, which is poured into heated wooden tanks.

The nectar ferments for a week or two – the yeast found naturally in the leaves of the agave plant is traditionally used to speed up the process – and then it’s distilled two to three times, water is added and it’s aged in wooden tanks or vats.

Each producer’s distillation process, ageing time and vessel give the tequila its unique flavour notes and aroma. It takes between 14 and 21 days to create the perfect white, clear-as-crystal tequila, while ageing the spirit for two months creates a pale gold tequila, drawing in some of the flavours and hues of the wood. Ageing the spirit from two to 364 days creates reposado (rested) tequila, and one year and beyond is known as anejo or aged tequila (and it’s delicious).

Before I make you both another Margarita, we are going to try all the 5 types (Tipos) of tequila, so you can fully understand the variables in taste, colour and quality of tequila, they are:
Blanco, Silver, or White Tequila (Tipo 1): Blanco tequila is a clear spirit that can be either 100% agave or mixto. These tequilas are “aged” — more like “rested” — no more than 60 days in stainless steel tanks, if they are aged at all. The unaged blancos give the drinker the rawest taste of agave available and have a notable earthy flavor that is distinctly tequila. If you have not tasted a blanco, then you are missing out on the pure taste of the agave plant.

Silver tequila is primarily used for mixing and is perfect for almost any tequila cocktail and often smoother than the gold tequilas shots. If you are looking for a quality, affordable, all-around tequila to keep in stock, a blanco is your best option.

Joven or Gold Tequila (Tipo 2): Joven (young) or oro (gold) tequilas are the ones that many older drinkers are familiar with, particularly if you spent any time doing tequila shots in the last few decades of the 20th century. Gold tequilas are responsible for many bad tequila experiences and were the most widely distributed in the U.S. during that time.

These are often unaged tequilas that are typically mixtos and have been colored and flavored with caramel, oak extract, glycerin, syrup, and other additives. While many gold tequilas leave something to be desired in comparison to the other classes, there are now a few decent bottlings available. If you are going to drink a gold tequila, stick to heavily flavored cocktails or (if you must) shots.

Reposado Tequila (Tipo 3): Reposado (rested) tequilas are aged in wood casks for a minimum of two months and many are aged from three to nine months. The barrels mellow the flavors of a pure blanco and impart a soft oak flavor to the agave as well as giving the tequila its light straw color. It has become popular for distilleries to age their tequilas in used bourbon barrels, which adds another dimension to the finished taste.

A little more expensive than blancos, reposado tequilas are the middle ground of the three main types found that are now pretty standard in a brand’s tequila line-up. They are versatile enough to be used in a great number of tequila cocktails, particularly those that have lighter flavors like the margarita or tequini. Reposados also make great sipping tequila.

Añejo Tequila (Tipo 4): Añejo tequila is “old” tequila. These tequilas are aged, often in white, French oak or used bourbon barrels for a minimum of one year to produce a dark, very robust spirit. Most añejos are aged between 18 months and three years while some of the best can spend up to four years in barrels. Many tequileros believe that aging longer than four years ruins the earthy flavour tones of the spirit.

Añejo tequilas tend to be very smooth with a nice balance of agave and oak. You will often find butterscotch and caramel undertones, which makes these perfect for sipping straight (chilled if you like) or for those really special cocktails.

You can liken an añejo to a high end brandy or whisky. Try these tequilas in a snifter to get a real sense of their aromas and flavours. As might be expected, añejo tequilas are some of the most expensive on the market, though there are many reasonably priced options available.

Extra-Añejo Tequila (Tipo 5): The change in the tequila market of recent years has led to the creation of a fifth type of tequila, which is labeled extra-añejo or muy añejo (extra-old).

These tequilas spend over four years in barrels and have a profile that rivals some of the oldest whisky you can find. Logically, the price of these tequilas reflects their extra time in the barrel and these are ones that you will want to save for straight sipping, enjoying every second of the experience.

Mark and I finished our last tequila with Michael, thanked him for a wonderful afternoon of tequila, home-made Margarita’s and phenomenal learnings, thankfully our taxi was on hand to drive us home.

So, what did I learn, one hundred percent agave tequila is made for sipping and savoring from a snifter, like a good scotch. No lime or salt is necessary to mask the flavor. (The more aged a tequila is, the more mellow the flavor, so opt for darker-colored añejo or reposado.)

After every sip or two you can dip a wedge of lime into a little salt and suck on it if you want to, but if you’re drinking mezcal skip the lime and opt for an orange slice instead.

If you find yourself at a great tequila bar that really means business, you can see if they have any sangrita, which is the only real “chaser” that Mexicans drink with tequila. It’s a sweet and spicy mixture of citrus juices, hot sauce, and sometimes tomato juice and/or Worcestershire.

It’s served in a small glass alongside the tequila, and when sipped in between sips of tequila, it cleanses the palate and highlights the tequila’s peppery and citrusy taste.

And if you’re looking to drink tequila in a cocktail, do as the Mexicans do and mix it with grapefruit soda (like Fresca) to make a refreshing Paloma.

Michael’s Margarita was super easy, delicious and possibly the best Margarita, I have EVER tasted, one part juice made from fresh oranges, one part juice made from fresh lemons, ice, Michael’s special tequila, ice and for taste coriander – AMAZING!

Statistics show that the United States is the largest consumer of tequila. In addition, the US demand for tequila is increasing year by year. Spain and Chinese demand for tequila are increasing at a very high rate.

Tequila has very strict requirements for raw materials. A mature blue agave requires a minimum of eight years, which limits the total production of tequila.

In 2017, the global tequila market size was 4.660 million US$ and is forecast to 6.360 million US in 2025, growing at a CAGR of 4.0% from 2018

Michael believes that tequila is a fine drink that enchants us all from the very beginning. It needs to have that certain ’WOW’ effect. It was very hard work, but at the end of the day there are many tequilas with an incredibly smooth finish. Like alchemists, you need to search for a tequila that when first sipped you will experience a magic moment.

As Rainbow Rowell, an American Author once said:

“Drinking tequila is more about the journey than the destination.”

Purposeful Driven Discussions with Mark Herbert

Every year, I travel to Oregon to visit my business partner, Mark Herbert, to discuss cross border challenges and to hold meetings with his team, my relationship with Mark and his team is a good example of a ‘special relationship’ that has grown from strength to strength over the last decade. We always discuss US to Europe and the effects on business and personnel who hold office.

Mark and I had quality time to discuss many subjects and in particular working in an increasingly fast-paced and ever-changing world, and the rationale behind my new book ‘Purposeful Discussions’.

Mark Herbert

We decided to take a road trip to the beautiful town of Brownsville, originally known as “Calapooya” after the area’s original inhabitants, the Kalapuya Indians, or “Kirk’s Ferry”, after the ferry operated across the Calapooia River by early settlers Alexander and Sarah Kirk.

When Linn County was created from the southern portion of Champoeg County on December 28, 1847, the Provisional Legislature named Calapooia as the county seat. Brownsville was named in honour of Hugh L. Brown, who settled there in 1846 and opened the first store. In the mid 1980s Brownsville assumed a modicum of international notoriety as the location set for the film ‘Stand by Me‘, directed by Rob Reiner. The film was shot in and around the community in June and July 1985 (and Richard Dreyfuss, whom I blogged about 2 weeks ago, plays in it).

It was a hot day driving through some of the back roads in Mark’s Porsche convertible, I started to ask Mark about purpose-driven outcomes in business, to which he responded: ‘Great subject Geoff, you could question to wonder too openly, or intensely, about the meaning of life sounds like a peculiar, ill-fated and unintentionally comedic pastime. It isn’t anything an ordinary mortal should be doing – or would get very far by doing. A select few might be equipped to take on the task and discover the answer in their own lives, but such ambition isn’t for most of us.

Meaningful lives are for extraordinary people: great saints, artists, scholars, scientists, doctors, activists, explorers, national leaders…. If ever we did discover the meaning, it would – we suspect – in any case, be incomprehensible, perhaps written in Latin or in computer code. It wouldn’t be anything that could orient or illuminate our activities. Without always acknowledging it, we are – in the background – operating with a remarkably ungenerous perspective on the meaning of life.’

I responded by saying ‘it is my belief that an important part of empathy is the ability to trust and be trusted. When your employees feel that you care, then you have earned their trust. If they trust you, they will take more risks with you and be more open with you. People will talk openly with you only when they trust you. As trust builds, there will be more sharing of information, feelings, and thoughts. The more you share, the easier it is to relate to one another. Building trust is something that takes time and effort. It involves both you and the other person in the relationship. The level of trust is what makes each relationship unique.

So how do you build a trusting relationship with someone?

Mark answered by exercising five ways to build trusting relationships:
1. Learn to trust others
2. Earn the trust of others
3. Share information, thoughts, and feelings
4. Show weakness and take risks
5. Be personable

It is true, if you want to develop your organisation’s culture around purpose, it’s hard to imagine anything more critical to your success than trust. Yet, unfortunately, trust is sorely lacking in workplaces in the US and Europe, if fact across the globe, reflecting society’s growing distrust of business, government and other vital institutions.

How big is the trust gap? I recently read The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, which found that just 37% of respondents find CEOs to be credible spokespeople, down 12% compared to 2016. Trust in employees is also falling. Edelman found that 48% of respondents found employees trustworthy, down from 52% in 2016. In fact, for the first time, a majority of global respondents say that they no longer trust “the system” – government, media, business and institutions – to work for them.

It’s clear there’s a crisis of trust brewing. Yet, there’s hope for companies that pursue purpose transformation, for it is only by being trustworthy that we can gain the trust of employees, customers and others who are invested in mutual success. In my continuing series of interviews around culture and purpose, I spoke with five experts on workplace relationships who shared their ideas on why trust is integral to purpose transformation.

Mark went on to say ‘organisations, values play another vital role’. “Values prevent teams and individuals from giving into that short term, numbers-oriented mentality, which is so prevalent in many publicly traded organizations,”. “We have to give up the notion that it’s okay for work to be unsatisfying; that it’s simply an obligation versus something we feel fulfilled and passionate about doing. We as individuals have to change our beliefs; that’s what really changes the organisation.”

The ability to trust your team to embody your values is the foundation for a successful purpose transformation. After all, you can expend a lot of energy defining purpose and values, but if you can’t rely on your team to embody them, then it won’t impact how teams interact with customers and each other, and it won’t impact how business gets done.

Values should drive decision-making, especially around hiring and retention. Organisations must hire people who believe in the organisation’s purpose, and who embody the values you want to see in the organisation.

I continued to question, ‘so how do you build a trust-based workplace? Mark responded, inspiring trust is about walking the talk and great storytelling, “As a leader, you build trust by making yourself available, listening to questions. You have to listen to your customers and your people, and recognise the questions people have.”

Final thought, it might not seem like trust would be such a crucial component of building a purpose-driven organisation. But in truth, it’s trust – between employees and managers, managers and executive leaders, and customers and those within the organisation – that gives purpose and values the power to transform.

To be successful in today’s dynamic business environment, leaders must work toward building relevance, managing business fundamentals with a balanced approach and guiding employees through open, two-way communication. Those leaders who leverage opportunities to adapt, innovate and learn can make ever-changing times invigorating and advantageous for themselves, their employees and their organizations.

A great quote by Howard Schultz sums up our thinking on this incredible roadtrip, when he said:

“When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.”