Guest-blog: Sharon Shahzad discusses the importance of marketing and why NOW marketing is needed more than ever

Sharon Shahzad

As we face the unprecedented social, economic and political upheaval of the Covid-19 outbreak, trust has never been more important.

Declining levels of public trust over the past decade have impacted many areas of our lives, whether that is our trust in politics, banking, finance, business more generally or, closer to home, in advertising.

With this new global crisis, the decline in the bond of trust is brought into even sharper focus. There is increasing government intervention in our economy and daily lives, coupled with media coverage of the outbreak and businesses working hard to support an anxious population. All this means we need to place our trust in those around us like never before – whether that is friends, neighbours, employers or business and political leaders.

We are trusting our politicians to do the right thing, our media to carry the correct message and our retailers to ensure we can buy the products we need as we rightly stay at home to limit the spread of the virus.

Many people will have seen adverts about coronavirus around their neighbourhoods or directly in their homes in recent days, showing that when a message needs to be delivered to people with power and clarity, advertising remains the most effective way to do this.

But the past few days will not have made up for years of declining trust in our industry. We need to do more now, and even more again after this crisis is over.

In the immediate present, brands need to demonstrate they are on the side of the consumer and the gargantuan national effort we face. Some brands are already doing this; I’m thinking of marketing and advertising activity around discounts on food for key workers at a number of food and drink chains, special opening hours at retailers for our NHS staff or the businesses that have answered the call to switch their manufacturing facilities to producing ventilators.

A bond forged in times of difficulty can be the strongest bond of all and if we want the public to trust us again, we need to demonstrate we are on their side when they need us.

Amongst all of the confusion and uncertainty in the world at the moment with COVID-19, you will be starting to ensure that your business is ready for the challenges ahead. This involves navigating the pandemic as successfully and effectively as you can, whilst thinking about both the short and long term strategy of your business.

Just as we are all hoping that the impact of the Coronavirus is only short term, you should be thinking about putting your marketing efforts into a long-term plan.

As panic arises, it might be one of people’s first thoughts to cut their marketing budget. However, when thinking and planning for the long-term performance and prosperity of a business, keeping a marketing budget right now is more important than ever.

Which reminds me of a brilliant quote by Richard Edelman – President & Chief Executive Officer of the public relations company Edelman – ‘The marketing business has been just about promoting things, but we don’t believe that anymore. There has to be a societal component, too.’

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Sharon, who is aka ‘The Marketing Guru’, Sharon is a senior marketing professional and entrepreneur with over 15 years’ experience in marketing across multiple sectors. Her flexibility and mindset attributes are leveraged into positions at established firms as well as start-ups.

Sharon’s career to date has included senior marketing roles in a variety of industry sectors, including fintech, financial services, health-technology, recruitment, education, media and publishing. Sharon has experience in acquiring and maintaining business relationships with key decision-makers, sports brands, stakeholder groups and industry-leading publications to trade associations

Sharon is going to talk to us the importance of marketing and why NOW marketing is needed more than ever.

Hello everyone and thank you, Geoff, for your introduction, I have not written a blog in a while, as I have been in strict lockdown and have been shielding.

With the latest government guidelines on easing lockdown and for the economy to start moving, I thought now was a good time to issue my next blog.

In the last two blogs, I covered how lack of marketing can get you stuck in the start-up rut and the top 10 marketing essentials. A lot has changed since my last two blogs, with a global pandemic hitting us all, and with the entire world economy pausing, hard changes and choices had to be made to keep ourselves and families safe.

Businesses have suffered, people’s pockets have got smaller, with 9m employees on furlough for some to make major adjustments on getting a lower income of £2500 per month. We all have been affected in one way or another and not to forget those who have lost loved ones, life will never be the same, for them again.

Now that we are coming out of the lockdown and the economy is beginning to take steady steps. Many businesses will resume, although not pick up from where they left, as we all have to get used to a new normal.

Many businesses will be making major changes to their business structure, strategies, and staff, making cuts to survive. Many will just disappear as the lockdown has damaged their business for good. Many employees will be made redundant, and many will just decide to quit working for someone else and start up their own business, as they have had the taste of working from home with work-life balance. We will for sure have a new landscape on the business front.

To survive these unprecedented times and to keep your head above water, there is one key ingredient needed. It is to have a resilient marketing strategy. Businesses that are looking to make cuts should think twice before culling marketing departments. Marketing will be needed more than ever.

Reaching out to your clients, keeping them engaged and motivated through your communications and marketing messages. It is now imperative to be even more relevant to your audience. Hold on tight to your already established clients, as they will need the extra, attention, love, and care to ensure they do not go elsewhere.

Marketing strategies will have to take a different shape, those marketing plans devised pre-COVID-19 will no longer be useful in this new environment. The resilient marketing strategies will have to be more cost-effective; marketers will have to think more out of the box and adapt to new methodologies for reaching out to audiences.

If you are a start-up and at a point of not knowing which direction to go, you should be thinking about marketing, your investment does not have to be too large in size, you might just need one marketing expert at hand or a cost-friendly agency that can work the magic.

Starting a new business with zero marketing strategy is not a good move. You will need that leverage to launch you into the market.

Over the years we have seen the big digital transformation take place from companies moving from offline to offer digital solutions to their clients and consumers.

Digital will prevail and will continue to be the much-needed solution for businesses to survive, as we’ve discovered the importance of online communication platforms, where companies moved their entire operations online, enabling employees to work from home using the various digital video, team collaboration tools.

If your business or service is only offline, now would be the time to think about a digital offering, supported by a robust digital acquisition marketing strategy.

You can contact Sharon Shahzad via LinkedIn or by email:

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/chief-marketing-officer-cmo
sharon dot kalsi87 AT hotmail dot com (removing all the spaces)
Tel: +44 7843 470 307

Guest-blog: Nathan Evans discusses challenges in the legal profession and technology is the catalyst for disruption.

Nathan Evans

In an increasingly technological world, how can law firms use technology to facilitate human interaction?

Many firms are experiencing national and international growth, but are uncertain how to manage a firm spanning hundreds or thousands of miles and sometimes even time zones.

Some would argue that the use of technology in a more “human” manner is necessary to keep modern firms connected and unified.

The importance of the legal profession to the UK economy continues to grow as the economic fortunes of world economies stabilise and the velocity of global trade and capital flows begin to show modest signs of accelerating.

The global legal services market size was valued at USD 794.50 billion in 2018 and is expected to register a CAGR exceeding 4.1% from 2019 to 2025.

Despite recent challenges confronting the general economy, the legal sector in the UK has again demonstrated its resilience and ability to withstand adverse business conditions, and emerge stronger for the challenges presented by that experience. The UK and London in particular, continue to be a magnet for increasing investment in the legal sector.

When we describe being bold and with disruption, it was Clayton Christensen – American Academic, who once said;
“The reason why it is so difficult for existing firms to capitalize on disruptive innovations is that their processes and their business model that make them good at the existing business actually make them bad at competing for the disruption.”

The legal profession is presented with challenges today, infinitely more difficult than ever before experienced.

Information technology will be a major focus of investment for law firms in the year ahead and is seen as a significant source of competitive advantage by a majority of law firms.

New entrants to the legal sector will be a feature of the market in the year ahead. Many technologies enable lower-cost delivery, budgeting, fee analysis, rapid communication, and understanding companies and industries.

The adoption of legal technology and AI in law firms and legal agencies can go on a long way in improving their efficiency and also brings with it the promise of new clients. It creates flexible legal services, increases transparency, reduces the chance of errors in documentation, and also puts your firm on the global map

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Nathan Evans, who is a partner and head of technology at Memery Crystal LLP

Nathan is a specialist IT lawyer with expertise in complex strategic projects including systems/platform/apps builds, networking contracts, integration services, support and maintenance arrangements, agile delivery, technology consultancy, blockchain-enabled platforms and material outsourcing arrangements in financial services.

Nathan joined Memery Crystal in May 2020 from the technology and intellectual property rights specialist firm Bristows LLP.

Nathan is going to talk to us the importance of technology in today’s fast-paced world and in the legal profession.

The oldest continually operating firm of solicitors in England was founded four hundred and fifty years ago and, perhaps, the business of law has changed little since.

Lawyers are, or so it is generally thought, resistant to change, reliant on precedents, stubborn and expensive. But is this an unfair description of the modern lawyer?

The answer is, as always, “it depends”.

In my experience (in large and small firms alike), Lawyers are not pathologically resistant to change and must embrace new ways of working if it means winning more business or operating in a smarter and more efficient way.

It’s also a fact that we in the UK are lucky to have one of the world’s most innovative and progressive judiciaries and a thriving law-tech sector.

The challenge is not, therefore, deploying or challenging resistance to deploying technology in law but rather showcasing and actually benefitting from using it.

Listing tech solutions/products/innovations as line items in pitch documents isn’t always that convincing and can be quite transparent to clients:

What the Lawyer says…, but what the client thinks…
L: We have a data room
C: I’d be worried if you didn’t

L: We have a client portal
C: We already have a CRM, how does your portal work with that?

L: We have cross-referencing tools
C: Great, but we’re not paying for proof-reading

L: We have a due diligence AI
C: Is it trained to our risk profile? Supervised?

Clients are savvy and, before talking to them about law-tech, lawyers would be well-advised to consider the following questions and not to just focus on the clever stuff that their solution does:
• What positive change does the tech bring to the table?
• Are there any cost benefits directly passed through to the client?
• Can this tech help the in-house team in its day-to-day functions?
• How does this tech relieve pressure on the general counsel?
• Can this tech integrate with the client’s existing systems?
• What problem is actually being solved?
• What limitations are there (be honest about them)?
• Is the solution tailorable to the client’s specific needs?
• Does the tech require much client-effort to implement?

Bad use of legal tech is easily spotted and, with all of that in mind, what do I do? Our most valuable use of legal tech is in contract construction.

By heavily investing in the contract drafting process and coding each contract for automation we’ve been able to prepare a tool kit of tech-related contracts (large and small) for rapid and bespoke deployment to clients of all sizes and complexity.

Once up and running, the tool-kit is tailored to the client’s need and fully automated for use by their in-house teams.

What’s more, using the tech allows us to move away from an hourly model for certain types of work.

We actively manage document production, storage, and maintenance through technology. Vastly improving our (and our client’s) quality assurance controls and the overall productivity of our internal legal function and the client’s in-house team.

Our solution eradicates repeated spend for first draft documents to support busy and pressured in-house teams and delivers the following benefits:
• increased document production
• continuously updated documents
• thoroughly proof-read and tested documents
• compatibility with well-known electronic signature platforms
• inbuilt quality assurance
• eradicated repeated legal spend
• standardised risk notes and reports
• executive approvals and decision trees built-in
• in-house capacity is increased

The result is a thoughtful and appropriate use of legal tech for clients but also for lawyers.

We cannot forget that most, if not all lawyers work hard. Very hard. It’s a typical and sometimes utterly self-destructive personality trait common to the vast majority of colleagues I know.

Helping clients is, of course, a key driver but technology, adopted mindfully and with care, can bring about genuine improvements to the working life of legal professionals and that’s to be embraced!

You can contact Nathan Evans via LinkedIn or by email:
Nathan dot Evans AT memerycrystal DOT com (removing all the spaces)
linkedin.com/in/nathanmevans
website: memerycrystal.com
Tel: +44 (0) 207400 3256

Guest-blog: Salma El-Shurafa discusses 6 obstacles that can prevent you from becoming an effective leader

Salma El-Shurafa

Today’s business leaders are faced with an ever-growing list of challenges, with each one adding a layer of complexity to the day-to-day running of their business.

Traditional issues such as dealing with competition, change management, and staff development have been joined by more complex, current matters such as cybersecurity and digital transformation.

For a lot of modern businesses, this means looking outside their organisation to access the necessary guidance and skills to help drive their business forward, such as the recruitment of an experienced executive coach.

Confucius sums up the need for excellence in one of his quotes when he stated: ‘The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.’

One of the best ways to better company performance is to improve the impact of an organisation’s leaders and managers, but as the coronavirus pandemic has shown us, leadership is getting harder.

There is most likely no going back to the old normal after this crisis and this leaves us in a predicament. Our leaders are having to dig deeper, find new ways of working, grapple with new skills and make sense of what is a complex and challenging time.

COVID-19 has fired a warning shot that crises and uncertainty are going to be common events in the future and that means we need to find better ways of equipping our leaders to cope with change.

This is not driven by ambition, but by necessity. COVID-19 offers us a sizable opportunity to transform our leadership styles, philosophy and leadership development programmes so that in the longer term, our leaders and businesses will be more resilient, will recover more quickly and that the aftershock to the economy will be lessened.

If we are going to do this right, then the natural starting point is to refine key learning blocks built into many of our leadership development programmes.

Historically excellent for focusing on the strategy, business continuity and operations, some leadership development initiatives are not always as far-reaching when it comes to how to get the best out of yourself and your people.

Leadership development needs to be sharpened up so it is more relevant to the new era of work with a reinforced emphasis placed on developing people skills, building the right competencies and behaviours to lead others with confidence and embedding learning through more practical application.

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Salma El-Shurafa, who is an executive coach and confidant, facilitator and speaker.

Salma El-Shurafa is an experienced Executive Coach and founder of The Pathway Project, which focuses on providing leadership development and executive coaching. TPP was born as a vessel, focused on guiding the region’s talents.

Through TPP, she was able to apply her professional experience to support emerging leaders in the Middle East on their own journeys to self-discovery.

Salma draws on 15 years of extensive experience as an HR professional, entrepreneur, coach and facilitator. She has coached hundreds of professionals, teams and groups across the Middle East, Asia and Europe, ranging from C-Suite executives to mid-level managers.

Working with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and leading organizations in the region.

She is a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and a graduate of CTI’s Co-Active Leadership program.

Salma is going to talk to us the importance of executive coaching in today’s fast-paced world and why.

Being a leader means building traits and skills that make you stand out from the rest. These competencies and qualities include adaptability, time management, empathy, open-mindedness, self-awareness, and being results-oriented.

However, if you want to be a successful leader, you shouldn’t be spending all your free time developing these skills. You also need to work on overcoming obstacles that can prevent you from harnessing and maximizing your full leadership potential.

Leadership Barriers to Overcome

As a long-time executive and business coach, I have mentored and worked with numerous clients aiming to be the best leader they can be. I have taken notes of the common obstacles that my clients say have been the biggest hurdles they faced as they climbed up the leadership ladder.

Below are the top six challenges you have to overcome as you strive to be an effective leader:

1. Taking on the roles of manager and leader

Managers and leaders have different roles and mindsets.

For instance, managers create goals, direct and build processes and systems. Leaders, on the other hand, set visions, coach, and create relationships.

Although you are aiming to be a leader, being proficient in these two roles will help you a lot. After all, you need to be a visionary but, at the same, manage people and duties. Due to this reason, you have to learn and sharpen both your leadership and managerial skills.

To overcome your doubts about taking on both roles, you have to know the importance of using your managerial know-how to lead effectively. This means learning to stay on top of all your and your team’s day-to-day activities. And this is where becoming a manager will help you.

2. Developing employees and teams

The happiness and growth of employees impact the potential success of any business. Leaders often have to shoulder the huge responsibility of motivating their staff to ensure they are always being productive and performing well in the workplace.

Additionally, you can’t only focus on individual members. You also have to build and coach teams: you have to guide them as they learn to work together to achieve all goals. Your failure to inspire and lead these groups will affect the productivity of the organization, as well.

Building, coaching, and leading individuals and teams won’t be easy, especially if you have several people under you. As such, this is one of the toughest hurdles you have to overcome.

Proper time management and dividing your attention equally with each team and member can help you support employees better and encourage them to stay motivated. Avoid playing favorites; guide every employee to be the best worker they can be.

Even if you are looking for your possible replacement and want to mentor him or her, do not ignore the others. Try to spend an equal amount of time with every one of your employees and teams.

3. Losing confidence in your employees

Once you become a leader, your desire to get things done right away and perfectly may increase. Because of this, you may end up taking everything on your shoulders, which can lead to mediocre results and frustration.

Moreover, you will start losing the trust and confidence in your employees. This will lead to other problems that can be difficult to resolve.

To overcome this hurdle, you have to work on and allow your trust in others to grow. Continue assigning regular or new work to your employees or team and avoid interfering with their tasks or processes unless they ask for your assistance.

Also, do not be embarrassed to ask your employees for help. When you are swamped with work or need to take on other jobs, have someone take some tasks off your plate.

Open and constant communication is crucial for building trust. Schedule regular meetings and encourage everyone to speak up. Whether you want their input on a new project or know if they are having difficulties with some areas or processes, allow them to say what is on their mind.

4. Creating and maintaining genuine relationships in the workplace

Once you become a leader, your interactions with your employees may be reduced. After all, you have the huge responsibility of looking at the bigger picture while your managers and workers handle the daily operations.

Due to this reason, you will start feeling isolated and lose connection with your team. You may have difficulty starting new relationships in the workplace.

Constant communication with your team members can help you maintain your good relationship with them. Moreover, you need to be intentional when connecting with other people in your workplace.

Also, don’t forget to keep and strengthen your relationships with your peers. Whether you are working with them or they are part of other organizations, you will feel less lonely and have people you can turn to for help when you need it.

5. Staying humble and open-minded

Being at the top can increase your confidence a hundredfold. Although being self-assured and assertive can help you in various ways, you need to keep a check on these traits, too.

Having an extremely high sense of self-confidence can impact the way you work with others. Losing trust in your employees is only one possible effect; you may also have difficulty collaborating with and getting feedback from other people.

Being humble can be challenging, but simple practices can help you cultivate humility. Show respect to everyone, regardless of their position, work, or background.

Always help your employees so they know they can still rely on your assistance or guidance, even if, say, you advanced from being a simple line manager into one of the company’s VPs.

Also, stay open-minded. Be open to feedback and collaboration so you can earn the respect of the people around you and learn new things that can help you become a better leader.

6. Managing changes

Change is ever-present and affects how a company functions. As a leader, you need to anticipate these transformations and stay on top of them.

Moreover, you have to guide the organization to weather these changes and overcome any obstacles along the way.

Being aware of the current and expected trends in your industry can help you avoid problems in the future. Moreover, staying updated with industry trends will enable you to define them and articulate any challenges to your team effectively.

With these strategies in place, you will also be able to set goals and create a plan that will allow you and your organization to deal with these changes successfully.

When you are aware of these six obstacles and know how to deal with them, you can become an even better leader — someone that others can look up to, and one you can be truly proud of being.

You can contact Salma El-Shurafa via LinkedIn or by email:
salma dot AT pathwayproject dot ae (removing all the spaces)
linkedin.com/in/salmaelshurafa
website: pathwayproject.ae
Tel: +971 50 462 5698

Guest-blog: Simon Rycroft discusses the importance of basic cyber security hygiene and the 5 inalienable truths

Simon Rycroft

In today’s ever-changing threat landscape, it is more important than ever to use a cyber hygiene routine to help prevent hackers, intelligent malware, and advanced viruses from accessing and corrupting your company’s data.

Cyberattacks are growing in both frequency and impact. The repercussions of security mistakes often end up being headline news and can cause significant harm to the victim organisation.

However, there is a perception that only big, global, corporations are at risk and, as a result, thousands of attacks against the Small-Medium business sector go largely unreported. Most successful attacks leverage well-known security problems.

Reporting from the UK Government’s CESG (the part of GCHQ tasked with protecting the nation) indicates that around 80% of cyber attacks4 are the result of poor cyber habits within the victim organisations. To address this, a cyber hygiene strategy should be implemented which emphasises the importance of carrying out regular, low impact security measures.

James Comey – Former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation once said ‘We face cyber threats from state-sponsored hackers, hackers for hire, global cyber syndicates, and terrorists. They seek our state secrets, our trade secrets, our technology, and our ideas – things of incredible value to all of us. They seek to strike our critical infrastructure and to harm our economy.’

This will minimise the risks of becoming a victim of a cyberattack or spreading the impact of a cyberattack to other organisations. In this context, cyber hygiene should be viewed in the same manner as personal hygiene and, once properly integrated into an organisation will be simple daily routines, good behaviours and occasional check-ups to make sure the organisations online health is in optimum condition.

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Simon Rycroft, who is the CEO and CoFounder of CRMG (Cyber Risk Management Group), an expert company in the field of providing cybersecurity and information risk consultancy services.

Simon is passionate about cybersecurity, his career spans over 23 years. Most recently Simon held leadership roles at the Information Security Forum (ISF) as Head of Consulting and Global Account Director. In particular, Simon played a leading role in growing the ISF’s Consultancy business, steering it from its inception to become a multiple award-winning cybersecurity practice. Simon’s expertise spans both subject matter and operational management. Core areas of specialism include cyber risk management and assessment, information security governance and benchmarking.

Simon is going to talk to us across the importance of basic cybersecurity hygiene and the 5 inalienable truths

At CRMG we don’t have an aversion to the array of highly impressive products and services that compete for the modern CISO’s budget. As an example, the role that artificial intelligence (AI) can play in speeding up an organisation’s targeted response to a new breach is exciting. Where once a team of analysts might scramble to understand the implications of a piece of malware found on the corporate network – and err on the cautious side when deciding whether to advise pulling the plug on critical business systems – increasingly sophisticated tools can now instantly determine (and execute) exactly what containment measures are needed without bringing the organisation’s operations to a screeching halt.

However, irrespective of the pace of technological advances that increase our firepower in combatting the cyber threat, there remain a number of inalienable truths that mean we can’t ignore the importance of ‘basic cybersecurity hygiene’. Here are ‘5 truths’ that explain the point.

Truth #1: Don’t forget it’s still all about the information

There’s a reason why those of us who’ve been kicking about for a while in the cybersecurity industry used to call it ‘information security’. ‘Cybersecurity’ is no more than ‘information security’ on the steroid we know as the Internet.

Just because the Internet introduced new threats, attack surfaces, and accelerated the ability of nefarious entities (individual, corporate or nation-state) to cause untold mayhem, the underlying principle hasn’t changed. IT’S STILL ALL ABOUT THE INFORMATION.

Since the dawn of mankind, information has accrued value for its owner. Information is a competitive advantage. Information is intelligence about our customers that enables us to sell services to them without incurring undue risk. Information is the blueprint for the self-driving car that can tell the difference between an elderly lady about to cross the road and a traffic bollard.

Information is the finer detail of the due diligence activity on which our next investment round is predicated. Information is a commodity no less valuable than hard currency, and in many cases, it’s way more valuable.

Truth #2: Not all information is created equal

Assuming you accept Truth #1, it follows that it’s only worth getting out of bed to protect the information that you’re really bothered about. If you have no means by which you can value the information on which your organisation thrives (assuming you don’t have an infinite information protection budget), you might as well pack up and go home.

The information you’re really bothered about is entirely a subjective matter of course. That’s why purchasing off the shelf cyber products and services – without understanding whether you’re genuinely focusing on what matters – runs the risk of being the equivalent of buying up the entire stock of Fortnum’s ground floor on 22 December just because the in-laws are popping round for a mince pie and a sherry on Christmas Eve.

Truth #3: Sometimes what YOU think doesn’t matter

Sometimes, the decisions you make as to whether it’s worth protecting (or not) the information your business holds might just not be up to you. Something as simple as building a database of phone numbers and e-mail addresses of those you think might be interested in your services will, of course, incur the wrath of regulatory bodies if said database doesn’t meet the requirements of data protection regulations.

Depending on your native industry and target market, you may be subject to regulatory requirements that are completely beyond your control, irrespective of the information you hold or the value you attach to it. And more often than not, these regulations will require baseline information security measures to be in place. No ifs, no buts. That’s the nature of compliance.

Truth #4: Information has a nasty habit of seeping all over the place

Think of information as water that trickles throughout the arterial canals and rivulets of your organisation. Well channelled and protected, it enables the business to thrive. Leave a sluice gate open inadvertently and – to mix metaphors – you’re toast.

Pinning down exactly where information resides, and protecting it only in the locations in which you THINK it SHOULD reside, is a very tricky business. Even more so when you take today’s complex ecosystems of supplier relationships into account – introducing the possibility that your network of arterial canals and rivulets extends into places way beyond your control.

If you fail to apply a baseline level of protection throughout the entirety of your organisation (and its sphere of influence), you’ll run a significant risk that information seeps out via channels you just didn’t envisage and didn’t protect.

Moving on to another analogy, ghosts really DO exist in the information world. Even if you think you’ve disposed of information at the end of its useful life, the chances are that traces of it will still exist in multiple locations throughout the organisation. How can you be completely sure that staff haven’t created copies of information that you just don’t know about, and that these copies still don’t exist? Without the consistent implementation of baseline information security practices throughout the entirety of your organisation, you’ll likely be exposed.

Truth #5: The Robots ain’t taking over any time soon

The cyber workforce is still some way off. While AI is showing massive potential in all sorts of contexts, the human being as the ultimate decision-maker in our businesses isn’t going anywhere fast. For the most part, this is reassuring, not least because most of us aren’t likely to be put out to pasture just yet by a new workforce of indefatigable, infallible robo-colleagues.

The implication? Fallibility. Glorious, old-fashioned, human nature. Business decision-making tempered by human conscience. All good, until someone makes a glorious old-fashioned mistake, at which point you might wish that a robot had been in charge.

Did that procurement manager really mean to share a dump of the entire customer database with that unvetted supplier? Ouch. The point here is that, along with information, PEOPLE still represent most organisations’ greatest asset. The problem is that, on the flip side, people also represent most organisations’ greatest weakness.

Given that we’re not yet able to implant chips behind the ears of employees to regulate reckless decision-making, we come back to the importance of basic security awareness.

The articulation of meaningful, responsibility-riddled messages that resonate with staff, resulting in people refraining from doing bad things. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not easy either.

As your business matures you will inevitably turn to technologies to assist you in keeping your information safe and away from prying eyes. Data Loss Prevention (DLP) technology is a great example. Well implemented, DLP can prove a great asset in preventing important information from filtering outside the organisation without you knowing about it.

BUT – unless such solutions are supported by a consistent foundation of straightforward, well-understood, information security good practices – you’re taking a huge risk. This is why no CISO can afford to ignore basic cybersecurity hygiene. And if this argument doesn’t persuade you, your regulators most probably will.

So, what specifically are we referring to when we talk about basic cybersecurity hygiene? Here are just some baseline good practices. Just to add context, they are related back to the 5 truths:

Truth #1 (Don’t forget it’s still all about the information)

If you haven’t done so recently, embark on an information discovery exercise. At its simplest, this might start with a simple map of your key business processes and information systems that support them. Don’t forget to explore instances where information is shared between systems/functions and – just as importantly – to identify where information is shared outside the organisation.

This activity doesn’t have to be sophisticated (at least at first). You just need to come away from it with a high level of confidence that you understand what information lives in your organisation, where it lives, and who interacts with it.

As a tip, it can be really useful to run this exercise as a workshop that includes both technical and business people (or a series of workshops if your organisation is large or dispersed).

You’ll be surprised at what can get unearthed… did you have any inkling that Mervyn in Accounts routinely does a monthly .csv export of all employee data and shares it with your outsourced benefits management provider via a cloud drive that goes nowhere near your protected corporate network?

Truth #2 (not all information is created equal)

Once you have your basic map of what information lives where in your organisation, it’s a good idea to have a crack at valuing it in some way. This might be as simple as identifying what information your business can’t function without.

By implication, everything else will be slightly less important. Once you understand the relative value of different information types or systems, you’ll then know where information protection efforts should be focused – because the realities of business economics tell us that in most cases it just isn’t possible to apply the same level of protection to absolutely everything throughout the organisation.

By the way, possibly without knowing it, by this stage, you’ll have worked through the first steps of a basic information risk assessment (but we’ll save that for another day).

Truth #3 (sometimes what YOU think doesn’t matter)

This is all about regulatory compliance. All sorts of businesses face all sorts of compliance requirements. The point here is that you must take the time to understand exactly which laws and regulations you’re required to comply with by virtue of your business activities and the information you hold.

While highly regulated sectors (such as Finance, Insurance and Healthcare) have been used to managing compliance requirements for many years, there’s a whole new generation of businesses that have only really been forced to start taking notice of compliance because of GDPR. Once you know what regulations you’re required to comply with, you’ll then need to understand EXACTLY what measures you’re required to have in place to comply with them.

If you don’t spend money on consultancy anywhere else, this is one area where it’s probably a good idea to call in an expert to help you.

Truth #4 (information has a nasty habit of seeping all over the place)

Notwithstanding any beefed-up protection you apply to your most important information, you still need to implement a baseline set of security measures throughout the entirety of the organisation. This includes things such as:

• Developing a straightforward information security policy that is accessible by every employee and which clearly states exactly what is required by staff to protect the information handled throughout the business
• Making sure that all employees are aware of their information security responsibilities (more on that below)
• Liaising with key suppliers/partners to ensure they are operating to a minimum, defined, information security standard
• Keeping all systems patched and up-to-date, and checking this routinely
• Ensuring all systems and end devices are installed with up-to-date anti-malware software
• Only providing staff with access to systems if they really need it (when you do provide access, make sure that access rights aren’t excessive – and don’t forget to revoke them once they’ve moved to a different function or left!)
• Encrypting particularly sensitive information (remember that even if personal data isn’t critical to your business’ success, you’re still required by law to apply strict controls when storing or handling it)
• Maintaining backups – and testing them periodically
• Implementing business continuity and disaster recovery procedures (even if they’re basic) that support ‘business as usual’ as far as possible in the event of an incident
• Working with a credible third party to undertake a periodic penetration test of your systems – and making sure any recommendations are applied
• Having specialist support available on speed dial if something does happen that you can’t manage yourself!

Truth #5 (the Robots ain’t taking over any time soon)

Good information security awareness is critical to any business these days, and you just can’t afford to skimp on it. So, think about the basic information security good practices you want ALL staff to be aware of, and come up with an engaging way of ramming the message home. Be creative. Incentivise. Draw a picture. Make a video. There’s a reason why those opting to attend a driver awareness course instead of getting slapped with extra points on their license get shown the horrific aftermath of traffic accidents.

Whatever approach you choose (and remember it doesn’t need to cost a fortune and it doesn’t have to be cast in stone… you can try different methods over time), just make sure you do it. And do it again.

Also, have a think about whether there are specific roles in the business that require an additional level of training – particularly those handling sensitive information.

Lastly, remember that people – just like information – have a habit of moving about. Don’t forget that when new people join, staff move to new roles in the business, or when they leave, you’ll need to have a clear process to make sure they’re getting the right security awareness training at the right time.

None of what is outlined above should be considered to be advanced if your organisation conducts its business using the Internet (and whose business doesn’t?). There’s plenty more you’ll need to do as your business matures. We haven’t even mentioned cybersecurity strategy, threat profiling, and so on….

If you choose to skip any of the basic hygiene measures outlined relative to Truths #3, #4 and #5, have a long hard think, because you might not have a business left to mature if you ignore them. Choose to ignore the guidance related to Truths #1 and #2, and you’ll have to protect everything to the highest level just to be sure – which in an extreme case might just amount to the same thing.

Thank you Simon, for your incredible insights on a terribly important subject, cybersecurity threats I fear will not be removed any time soon.

You can contact Simon Rycroft:
LinkedIn – profile
email – simon dot rycroft AT crmg DASH consult dot com (removing all the spaces)
web – www.crmg-consult.com

Guest-blog: Reeta Minhas-Judd discusses her personal journey of being an NLP Life Coaching practitioner and ‘Why Supporting Others’ has changed her life

Reeta Minhas-Judd
Reeta Minhas-Judd

I was recently invited to a birthday lunch by a very good friend of mine who is a businessman discussing this subject: “Is a mentor really necessary for children, teenagers, post-grads and adults?” It was a fascinating discussion that caused much debate for hours, at which point and very fortuitously he introduced me to a lady, Reeta Minhas-Judd.

We examined the current world we live in, which is a world that is focused on the things that are new, fast and most innovative — but there was also something to be said about looking back in time and how life has changed through the generations.

We discussed that in society mentoring and coaching can bring about a range of benefits for young people, including for example improved relationships, increased communication skills and resilience.

It can lead young people to change their behaviours, for example helping to reduce absenteeism and/or improve pass rates. That the older generation rarely used coaching or mentorship as a succession plan to their careers, mentors provided newer employees with information and support they really needed to succeed and move up the ranks in an organisation.

But the employees who did engage with mentorship saw the benefits of the mentor-employee relationship, thus, the benefits were not just for the employees; generally, the company saw some significant engagement benefits as well.

At its most basic, the mentor-protégé relationship is one of information sharing. When the mentor works at the same workplace as the protégé, that means he or she will be able to share details about the way the workplace functions that may have taken the protégé years to figure out.

This can enrich the protégé’s understanding of a subject in ways that may not have been possible in the classroom, or help the protégé understand a topic in a way she may not have considered. In short, the additional knowledge helps employees become more well-rounded and think more critically about problems and solutions.

Jeff Myers president of Summit Ministries, once said: “Mentoring is the cultivation of young adults, the tender caring for and nurturing of them so that they will grow, flourish, and be fruitful.”

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Reeta Minhas-Judd, who is a qualified NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programme) Coaching Practitioner.

She is passionate about transforming positive change with people, starting her life journey working in customer-facing job roles and then trained to become an NLP Practitioner which proven to be very successful, also qualifying in NLP coaching which led Reeta to become an NLP Life Coach.

In her own words, ‘NLP has transformed my life by me simply changing my beliefs and values with a more positive view.’

Reeta is now going to talk to us the importance of coaching through the lens as an NLP Life Coach.

Lack of Confidence
I have seen several clients who have experienced low confidence. This has impacted on all areas of their lives. It is a belief that lacking confidence can sometimes just affect one aspect of a person’s life, however, I believe this is not the case. The lacking of confidence and self-belief impacts on everything you say and do. Do any of these examples sound familiar and resonate with you?

“Not accepting the job offer because you do not feel you will be successful in the job role and you don’t want to be seen as a failure”
“Refusing to confront an issue for fear of reprisal and humiliation”
“Not following your dreams, because you just don’t think you are good enough”
“Declining invitations to functions, because you feel that you will be ignored or ridiculed”
“Not having the courage to ask for help, for fear of rejection”

Constant Negative Outlook
This is a very common perception for many people. This is connected with lacking confidence and in turn, causes the negative outlook. Some of my clients’ glass has always been half empty because they chose to see things in a more negative light so that when bad things do happen they are justified for believing that this is the case. When you are in the “negative zone”, everything appears to be dark and they see nothing but negativity and dismay.

Do any of these examples resonate with you?
“I knew my computer was going to break one day and now it has”
“It always rains when I am going out”
“I never have any luck”
“I hate my job and my boss hates me”
“The world is a horrible place and everybody hates me”

Self Esteem & Self-Worth
I have experienced so many clients who do not believe in their own self- worth. They tend to forget or blot out what they have achieved in their lives and instead focus on what they have not done or gained. They make comparisons on what others have and what they feel they will never be able to have. Self-worth and self-esteem is very closely connected to lacking of confidence and negativity. It is your belief that you are not worthy. It is not necessarily the view of others, but you choose to think that this is the case. Some examples of this may include:

“I wish I was as attractive and confident as he/her”
“I look so fat, I just can’t seem to lose any weight”
“I will never be able to get that job”
“He/She will never ask me out because I am not pretty or intelligent enough”
“They have achieved so much in their career and I am still in the same job role”

Suppressed Issues
Suppressed Issues/Trauma is another aspect which I have dealt with on a personal and professional basis. It is so easy to suppress things we don’t want to think about or talk about. This suppression will never be dealt with and will fester unless it is addressed and managed. If not addressed issues/trauma will come out of you in a physical form. This will cause health issues because of the constant anxiety and stress of not dealing with the problem.

I was bullied as a child at school and I never disclosed this information to any of my family or friends for fear of embarrassment, feeling ashamed and being judged. It took years for me to identify why I was feeling and behaving the way I was and to deal with my emotions. I am now able to deal with the trauma I experienced as a child and I am now at peace with this issue and have moved on and left the negative experience in the past, where it belongs.

Coping & Dealing with Bullying
Bullying is not just prevalent in the school playground, it is evident in everyday life including an individual’s work life, personal life, relationship, family life.

As a survivor of bullying, it is important to address it and not disregard the feeling and emotions, as I speak from experience, it will haunt you for life and impact on everything you do. Your personality will alter because of the emotions of bullying if it is not addressed. Learning to cope and deal with bullying will give you the strength to know it is wrong and to make the changes required to stop it from taking place in whatever aspect of your life you are experiencing it.

It will also, in turn, prevent others from having to face the same challenges of bullying. In my experience, bullying made me a “people pleaser”, and subservient to others and I was so worried to speak my mind for fear of being bullied in return.

I only started my journey of NLP a few weeks ago as a secondary business to my main source of income, customer service training. I feel I have already evolved into a more positive and happier person very quickly.

NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) can be used by everybody and the strategies are simple, but the outcome can be so effective. The impact can be life-changing, and I speak from experience, as an article which I wrote on ‘Training within Businesses’ has been published in the Business Connexions magazine.

I never believed that an article which I wrote would ever be printed, published and read by so many people. This is why I have followed my passion and have become a Life Coach, because the feeling of being able to help and support others is by far the most rewarding element within my role.

NLP has made me believe that I can achieve anything I want through the power of the mind and simply by changing my perception. Through one simple advert on a local community website, since qualifying as an NLP Practitioner, I have been inundated with enquiries and I had 21 clients in the space of a month. This in itself speaks volumes.

People are so busy with their lives, that the art of communication has become redundant in many circumstances. With the technology of mobile phones, social media, the internet etc, actually sitting down together in the same room and communicating face-to-face, has now become secondary to texting, emailing etc.

There are millions of people in this world who just want to talk to somebody about their issues and concerns, and yet they refrain from sharing with others for fear of being judged, or because they feel ashamed.

This is where NLP is so decisive because it allows individuals to change their outlook and their mindset, by simply applying and practising daily strategies which will shift their current mindset and allow them to have their voice heard, without fear of judgement or ridicule.

My passion for listening and helping others has made me appreciate my own life and I have learnt how others have been less fortunate than myself. Therefore, I show gratitude for everyday things which we all take for granted.

We have one life and it is not a dress rehearsal, so it needs to be embraced with happiness and not be suffocated with sadness and negativity. I myself was once a “glass half empty” person, but now my glass is overflowing!

We must try to live in the present and not the past, so many things which have previously angered me and festered a feeling of resentment within me, I have now addressed and allowed myself to move on. I now let the bad and negative emotion go, and see it as a part of my life which I no longer need to revisit.

I have received flowers from clients and received many testimonials which have moved me to the core.

My clients have expressed their gratitude to me with such warmth and passion, and this makes my job so worthwhile. I truly believe that I have finally found my vocation in life, and helping clients achieve their goals and aspirations is life-changing, not only for themselves but also for myself.

Being heard across matters of the heart matter and this makes a huge difference.

We all need purpose in our lives, why not contact me for a real conversation today?

You can contact Reeta Minhas-Judd via:
– LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/reeta-minhas-judd-b60a5a147/
– Mail: Rmjtrainingservices AT gmail DOT com (removing all the spaces)
– Web: https://rmjtrainingservices.com

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/

 

Guest-blog: Patrick Bailey – Diversification vs. focus-driven

Patrick Bailey

Adversity of any magnitude should make us stronger and fill us with life’s wisdom, however, strength in any form is born from adversity – I wrote ‘Freedom after the Sharks’ from adversity and set up a business in the double-dip of 2008 and 2009, many people have done the same and it is almost a universal theme in the lives of many of the world’s most eminent minds.

As Michelle Obama once said:
‘You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.’

Determination, resilience, and persistence are the enabler for people to push past their adversities and prevail.
Overcoming adversity is one of our main challenges in life.
When we resolve to confront and overcome it, we become expert at dealing with it and consequently triumph over our day-to-day struggles.

Have you ever felt that your world is starting to fall apart because of how life tends to bombard you with seemingly impossible challenges?
Have you ever felt helpless and would rather spend your days feeling like a solitary zombie while the rest of the world doesn’t even care that you’re this close to almost losing your sanity?
Well, you’re not alone and the good news is, there are ways to properly deal with and overcome these obstacles.

Reality has a way of reminding us that no matter how hard you try and how good you treat people, you will always have those days, those times when you think the world is against you. During these moments, you often have the urge to either shut down or finally give up and think of the most foolish remedies available to you – both can have long-term damaging effects on you, emotionally and physically.

Today I have the pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Patrick Bailey, who is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery.

He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. His website is: www.patrickbaileys.com

Patrick is going to discuss with us today “Diversification vs. Focus-Driven”

When the Tough gets going, remember this motto: ‘Hibernation is not Survival’

There’s a prevailing rule in a bear market, and that is to play dead when the stock prices are plunging.

After all, the market almost always corrects itself. Stocks operate on a cycle — sometimes up, sometimes down — except, of course, in cases when the economy is undergoing a recession.

Hibernation is different from inactivity, however. You just park your money in treasury bills or certificates of deposits for the moment.

But is hibernation a good tactic for your business during an economic slowdown?

Diversification vs. Focus-Driven

This has been the subject of debate.

Startups that manage to grow will often hit a fork in the road where they can no longer grow with their current set up.

Now, they have to make a choice: diversify their portfolio or bolster their product while they take a more focus-driven approach.

Instead of diversifying, they just ensure that their processes and workflow are more efficient, they automate to limit disruption and enhance the customer experience to guarantee client loyalty.

However, while you may see your bottom-line increase, it could just be temporary. That’s because you are not adding products or service value to your business.

Diversification doesn’t immediately produce results either. There’s no guarantee it will ever deliver the outcome you anticipate.

When the economy is in transition, you will find many competitors fighting over the scraps. This is a high-stakes game that could spell success or the end of your business. However, the alternative is no less disastrous.

The other option is not doing anything. When you pin the future of your company entirely on the hope that the economy will get better, you have the wrong strategy.

If you do decide to diversify, here are some quick tips to cut your risks:

  1. Don’t veer away too much from your core competency. Diversification doesn’t always mean being different. That’s oversimplifying its definition. Knowing your core competence will give you insight into how other capabilities tie together. Your main goal should be to create a new product or service that is still tied to your core competency in order to bring in new customers.
  2. Don’t forget your loyal customers. In fact, you need to align your strategies by boosting the value of your core business. You then retain the same customers and offer them another product that matches another — but still related — need.
  3. Put money into your marketing efforts. Ads and promotions are typically the first things to be sacrificed by companies that are scrimping on the budget. However, you need to make people aware that you have a new product. Even in an economic slowdown, people still buy. That’s consumer resiliency. You need to funnel these customers to your company by showing them that you are the answer to their most nagging questions.
  4. Timing is everything. Still aligning your diversification with your core competencies, you need to know when to change tack and when to sit it out. Before deciding to diversify, you need to bolster your core business to make sure you don’t lose focus. When the revenues have plateaued, then it’s time to shore up your business and add value by creating another product or service.
  5. Watch out for your cash flow. Revisit your inventory and your credit policies. When the times are tough, you may need to borrow in order to infuse new capital into your endeavors. However, no bank will offer you a lifeline when you have a shot credit and lousy financial prospects.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

There’s a saying in sports and even in war: The best defense is a good offense.

This strategy will allow you to take back control of the situation. Rather than wait for the next hammer to fall, you change your approach and bring the fight to the enemy.

This is a scary part, especially when the economic landscape is very fluid. However, there are numerous success stories of businesses that found some opportunities when they decided to go on the offensive rather than wait the economy out.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that this result in a better outcome, but it’s a lot better than playing dead while you wait for the economy to turn.

Here are some quick tips on how to go on offense from defense:

  1. Diversify. If you are putting all your eggs in one basket, chances are you will lose money if most of them crack. Businesses that rely only on one product will be badly hit during a slowdown.
  2. Think outside the box. It doesn’t even matter if you are earning less with your new business than you were with the old one. Expanding your network is the only way to learn and earn. Step out of your comfort zone and attend some industry trade shows.
  3. Reinforce relationships. This is a good way to let your clients know that you can be trusted even when the times are bleak. Don’t cut corners on the quality of your work, and don’t use the economy as an excuse for missing deliveries. In the same vein, get in touch with your suppliers to reassure them that work will continue (although the volume likely will be down).
  4. Cut fat. Sometimes the only way to take flight is if your business isn’t as heavy. This is a good opportunity to revisit your operations and trim the fat. You will find that your employees won’t be inflexible when you institute changes. They know that the market is very challenging, and they will be more apt to help.
  5. Form an advisory board. It seems paradoxical to suggest this when the item above tells you to cut fat. But if done correctly, the board can become a rich repository of ideas with which you can follow-through as you go about diversifying your products and services.
  6. Automation and analytics. Automating your workflow can boost your efficiency. Big data analytics are already being used by companies in order to improve customer experience. Analytics will give you insight into the minds and behaviors of your clients. This, in turn, will help you come up with a product that truly addresses their needs.
  7. Ask for help. If you are a member of any industry associations, this is the right time to touch base. The government also has some assistance to offer — in terms of technology transfer or financial assistance — to help you keep your head above water.

Lastly, you need to understand that there’s life beyond your business. Too often, you see CEOs with failed marriages and broken families because they prioritized their careers at the expense of spouses and children.

You hear of executives becoming addicted to the drug fentanyl, heroin, or alcohol to help them cope. They equate the failure of the business to their value as an individual.

However, there are more important things in life than being a successful CEO.

Life is all about challenges. Life will push you down if you refuse to push back. It doesn’t matter how many times you stumble. What’s important is how many times you get back up.

Take advantage of the economic slowdown to take stock of what’s important to you.
Bond with the kids, rekindle the romance with your spouse, visit your parents and siblings.
You just might realize that it doesn’t matter if you see yourself as a failure; you will be a hero in your kids’ eyes.

You can contact Patrick Bailey:

Email: bailey patrick780 @gmail.com (remove spaces)
Blog: http://patrickbaileys.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Pat_Bailey80
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/patrick-bailey-writer

Not-for-Profit Directorships – It’s not a charity!

Roger Phare

Today, non-profit organisations in the United States control upward of $1.5 trillion in assets and are increasingly relied upon to help address society’s ills.

Corporations are not alone in focusing on governance; rigorous oversight of management and performance is increasingly important for non-profits too.

The corporate-governance debate globally is spreading from the for-profit to the non-profit world.

To improve the governance of non-profits, boards must venture beyond the traditional focus on raising funds, selecting CEOs, and setting high-level policy.

The litmus test of the chief executive’s leadership is not the ability to solve problems alone but the capacity to articulate key questions and guide a collaborative effort to formulate answers.

Theory and law dictate that the board of directors is responsible to govern your organization. Typically, new boards of directors in a new organization work hands-on, almost as partners — or as a “working board” — with the chief executive. A wise CEO will see Board members almost as strategic partners, rather than as a necessary evil that corporations must have.

It is important if you are building a board with the right set of tasks in mind. Boards have multiple roles, from fundraising to caretaking, governance, and oversight. Just like any company or corporation, it is important to do an assessment. Understand the skills that your particular non-profit needs to fulfil your mission.

Putting together an outstanding non-profit board is easier said than done, and it takes a lot of precision. Not everyone makes a great board member, so it’s acceptable to be picky when it comes to putting together a non-profit board.

Board challenges are something that many non-profits struggle with, and there’s no easy solution. We often hear horror stories of board takeovers—when the non-profit leadership is “overthrown” by its board of directors.

We welcome back Roger Phare as our guest blogger who is an accomplished Global Executive Director, equipped with a commanding track record over the past 38 years of bringing sound judgement and a strong commercial perspective to IT businesses, from ‘Mainframe to Mobile’.

Roger has been fortunate to have been part of the commercial computing lifespan. With a market driven approach, which he has strategically supported, a number of organisations, both at significant Board, Executive and Regional Directorship and responsibilities. An expert in corporate governance and compliance and risk management; enjoying challenging the status quo and providing independent advice to Boards whilst maintaining sound judgment, impartiality and with integrity.

Roger is going to talk to us about ‘Not-for-Profit Directorships – It’s not a charity!’

Thank you Geoff, the blog heading might seem like an oxymoron (or perhaps even a paradox for those of the literary-minded fraternity). After all, surely Not-for- Profit (NFP) organisations are charities; a fact that very few would dispute. At board level, however, the leadership, governance and compliance responsibilities are on at least an equal footing with commercial businesses of equivalent size and complexity.

I mentioned in a previous blog that that the term “Not-for-Profit” is a misnomer; in reality the correct term would be more likely “Not-for-Dividend”. In other words there is nothing at all wrong with, in fact commendable that, a charitable organisation makes an operational monetary surplus. The major difference is that the surplus is not distributed to external shareholders but channelled back into the organisation for ongoing initiatives. The governance and risk at board level is substantial and yet directors are often voluntary – pro-bono if you like.

The issue is not just one of payment but the value and importance placed upon such roles. At a recent business event I overheard a young professional discussing board opportunities. The individual was alluding to a recent application they had made to become a voluntary director on a NFP board. They went on to say that they hoped it would give them experience to apply for “proper” board positions in the future and – wait for it – if they made mistakes along it didn’t really matter because it was only voluntary! The concept of “free” having little or no “value” is the problem.

Now I am not proposing that Not-for-Profit Directors are necessarily paid at the highest commercial rates; there does need to be a good amount of desire and passion to be involved with the sector which means there is in-effect, a subsidised participation. I have long held the view that the NFP sector should consider the concept of “paid volunteers” (there’s that oxymoron thing again) for all roles within the organisation. What does this mean? Well – currently NFP’s have two types of staffing – paid and voluntary. Voluntary means no payment (other than direct expenses) and this leads to issues such as talent pool availability plus difficulties in selection of one candidate over another.

If, union rules permitting, all staff were paid volunteers i.e all paid but at say, 50% of market rates then this overcome a good number of the issues currently faced. At board level an experienced director could value the 50% subsidy as their pro-bono contribution, yet still be able to justify the time, effort and corporate responsibility required within their portfolio.

With this approach, charity could well begin at home….

We hope you enjoyed this blog!

You can contact Roger Phare via LinkedIn: Roger Phare on LinkedIn
or by email: roger phare @ gmail .com (remove all spaces)

Guest-blog: Roger Phare – A Nod to the NED – the key dynamic of the modern board

We welcome back Roger Phare as our guest-blogger, who is an accomplished Global Executive Director, equipped with a commanding track record over the past 37 years of bringing sound judgment and a strong commercial perspective to IT businesses, from ‘Mainframe to Mobile’.

Roger has been fortunate to have been part of the commercial computing lifespan. With a market-driven approach, which he has strategically supported, a number of organizations, both at significant Board, Executive and Regional Directorship and responsibilities. An expert in corporate governance and compliance and risk management; enjoying challenging the status quo and providing independent advice to Boards whilst maintaining sound judgment, impartiality and with integrity.

In the third of this series (view Part I and Part II ), we are going to look at the role of the Non-Executive Director (“NED”), which is a highly debated subject in today’s modern board.

To provide some background, before I hand you over to Roger, as an Independent Non-Executive Director and Executive Advisor on several companies, I talk with experience across the list of attributes required of a non-executive director, which is so long, precise and contradictory that there cannot be a single board member in the world who fully fits the criteria.

They need to be: supportive, intelligent, interesting, well-rounded and mature, funny, entrepreneurial, steady, objective yet passionate, independent, curious, challenging, and more. They also need to have a financial background and real-life business experience, a strong moral compass, and be first-class all-rounders with specific industry skills.

Chairmen and chief executives should use their NEDs to provide general counsel – and a different perspective – on matters of concern. They should also seek their guidance on particular issues before they are raised at board meetings.
Indeed, some of the main specialist roles of a non-executive director will be carried out in a board sub-committee (particularly the remuneration and audit committees), especially in listed companies.

The key responsibilities of NEDs can be said to include the following:
Strategic direction
As ‘an outsider’, the non-executive director may have a clearer or wider view of external factors affecting the company and its business environment than the executive directors.
The normal role of the NED in strategy formation is therefore to provide a creative and informed contribution and to act as a constructive critic in looking at the objectives and plans devised by the chief executive and the executive team.

Monitoring performance
Non-executive directors should take responsibility for monitoring the performance of executive management, especially with regard to the progress made towards achieving the determined company strategy and objectives. They have a prime role in appointing, and where necessary removing, executive directors and in succession planning.

Remuneration
Non-executive directors are also responsible for determining appropriate levels of remuneration of executive directors. In large companies, this is carried out by a remuneration committee, the objective of which is to ensure there is an independent process for setting the remuneration of executive directors.

Communication
The company and its board can benefit from outside contacts and opinions. An important function for NEDs, therefore, can be to help connect the business and board with networks of potentially useful people and organizations. In some cases, a NED will be called upon to represent the company externally.

Risk
NEDs should satisfy themselves on the integrity of financial information and that financial controls and systems of risk management are robust and defensible.

Audit
It is the duty of the whole board to ensure that the company accounts properly to its shareholders by presenting a true and fair reflection of its actions and financial performance and that the necessary internal control systems are put into place and monitored regularly and rigorously.
A NED has an important part to play in fulfilling this responsibility, whether or not a formal audit committee (composed of NEDs) of the board has been constituted.

Now I would like to hand over to Roger!

Thank you, Geoff, today I would like to discuss the role and ‘A Nod to the NED – the key dynamic of the modern board’.

Of all the Board positions the Non-Executive Director (NED) role is undoubtedly the most confusing. Not so much as to the expected outcomes of growth, compliance, shareholder returns and social responsibility but more as to the background and dynamics of the modern NED.

Why confusing?

Surely the NED role is the most historically formulated, culturally cultivated and legislatively defined of all board member roles.

Yet instead of being well defined and well-structured the NED requirement seems to be all over the place.

Part of the issue is that demand has rapidly increased due to factors such as legislation, compliance and business growth. This has spread the net further afield and created a demand over and above the previous norm.

The result of this demand there has seen “NED Membership” organizations springing up. I recently read as part of a membership promotion the following excerpt:

“If you have the right amount of experience to offer, you could become a Non-Executive Director. This could be an especially good option if you are approaching retirement because it can be a useful way to earn money without the pressures of being involved in the day-to-day decision making of a business.”

Whoa! This conjures up images of geriatric un-prepared old-boys rolling up for a four-hour board meeting; pontificating and story-telling before retiring to their local club for a large brandy and an afternoon nap in a dark leather padded armchair!

Nothing could be further from the truth for the modern NED. Guidance around “day to day” decision making is a critical part of the NED role. Four hours in the Boardroom can equate to four days spread pre and post-meeting guiding and assisting the CEO & executive team. It is serious business.

A related problem is that somehow a “one size fits all” approach to NED requirements has become the prevailing attitude. Other than “Chair” type roles it seems that there is little demarcation in the nature of the role nor organization in which the NED is required.

Contributing to this is the definition of organization types. Most understand the concept of listed or private organizations and the duties, responsibilities and remuneration levels required by and from the NED’s. When community organizations are brought into the mix then things really go off the rails.

It starts with the concept of “Not for Profit”, equating with the concept that NED roles being “Volunteer”. To start with, Not for Profit organizations should be re-branded “Not for Dividend”. In other words, they need to be governed and run the same way commercial organizations operate with a view to making a surplus; the only difference is that those surpluses are distributed to beneficiaries rather than shareholders.

This topic is probably the subject of a whole new thread but the point is that community organizations need directors with the same level of skill and due diligence as those in the commercial world.
The question is when an ad appears that asks for applications for a NED “Volunteer, expenses only”, who is going to apply?
Yes, there is a small percentage of experienced and talented individuals who are prepared to provide their time on a “pro bono” basis and these people are to be commended. Simply having time on one’s hands and looking for an activity is not necessarily a qualification for a board position.
Even worse, to a degree, is the concept of applying for volunteer positions to “gain experience” as a Board member. This can lead to frustration and disappointment for all parties.

Yet it is not all doom and gloom. Demand for high-quality Non-Executive Directors is increasing and it is generally acknowledged that the keys to success are the right recruitment, support, training and ongoing engagement. With these factors in place, NED’s can add significant value to all types and size of business.

So, here’s a nod to the new breed NED – exciting times ahead!

Roger Phare

You can contact Roger Phare via LinkedIn: Roger Phare on LinkedIn
or by email:
roger phare @ gmail .com
(remove all spaces)

Guest-blog: Neil Cattermull – ‘A Guide to Machine Learning’

Neil Cattermull

Because of new computing technologies, machine learning today is not like machine learning of the past. It was born from pattern recognition and the theory that computers can learn without being programmed to perform specific tasks; researchers interested in Artificial Intelligence wanted to see if computers could learn from data.

The iterative aspect of machine learning is important because as models are exposed to new data, they are able to

They learn from previous computations to produce reliable, repeatable decisions and results. It’s a science that’s not new, “but one that has gained fresh momentum”.

While many machine learning algorithms have been around for a long time, the ability to automatically apply complex mathematical calculations to big data “over and over, faster and faster“ is a recent development. Here are a few widely publicized examples of machine learning applications you may be familiar with:

• The heavily hyped, self-driving Google car? The essence of machine learning.
• Online recommendation offers such as those from Amazon and Netflix? Machine learning applications for everyday life.
• Knowing what customers are saying about you on Twitter? Machine learning combined with linguistic rule creation.
• Fraud detection? One of the more obvious, important uses in our world today.

Resurging interest in machine learning is due to the same factors that have made data mining and Bayesian analysis more popular than ever.
Things like growing volumes and varieties of available data, computational processing that is cheaper and more powerful, and affordable data storage.

All of these things mean it’s possible to quickly and automatically produce models that can analyze bigger, more complex data and deliver faster, more accurate results – even on a very large scale. And by building precise models, an organization has a better chance of identifying profitable opportunities – or avoiding unknown risks.

In the second of a two series blog (“Digital-transformation“), we welcome back Neil Cattermull – Public Speaker and Commercial Director living in London, United Kingdom and a public figure in writing about technology, and entrepreneurship, he is considered a global Industry influencer and authority within the tech scene.

Neil has travelled around the world assisting small to large firms with business models. Ranked as a global business influencer and technical analyst.

Neil has held directorship positions within technology divisions within the financial services market, such as Merrill Lynch, WestLB, Thomson Financial and I have created many small to midsize organisations.

Neil is going to discuss ‘A guide to Machine Learning’.

Thank you Geoff,
Machine learning is one of the most innovative and interesting fields of modern science around today. Something that you probably associate with things such as Watson, Deep Blue, and even the infamous Netflix algorithm.

However, as sparkly as it is, machine learning isn’t exactly something totally new. In fact, the concept and science of machine learning has been around for much longer than you think.

The beginnings of machine learning
Considered to be the father of machine learning, Thomas Bayes’ theorem was pretty much left alone until the rockin 50’s when, in 1950, famed scientist Alan Turing managed to create and develop his imaginatively named ‘Alan Turing’s Learning Machine’.

The machine itself was capable of putting into practice what Thomas Bayes had conceptualised 187 years earlier. This was a huge breakthrough for the field and along with the acceleration of computer development, the next few decades saw a gigantic rise in development of machine learning techniques such as artificial neural networks, and explanation based learning.
These formed the basis of modern systems being managed by artificial intelligence. The latter being arguably the most integral to the development of systems management technology.

Explanation based learning was primarily developed by Gerald Dejong III at the Chicago Centre for Computer Science. He essentially managed to build upon previous methods and develop a new kind of algorithm, enter the “explanation based algorithm!”

Yes, the explanation based learning algorithm was fairly standard in that it created new business rules based on what had happened before. However, what sets this apart as a breakthrough is that Dejong III had managed to create something that would independently be able to disregard older rules once they had become unnecessary.
Explanation based learning was one of the key technologies behind chess playing AI’s such as IBM’s Deep Blue.

A cold AI Winter
However, there was a period during the 70’s when funding was disastrously reduced because people had started thinking that machine learning wasn’t living up to it’s original billing.
This was compounded when Sir James Lighthill released his independent report which stated that the grandiose expectations of what artificial intelligence and machine learning could achieve would never be fulfilled.

This report led to many projects being defunded or closed down. This was incredibly unfortunate timing as the UK was considered a market leader when it came to machine learning. This dark period of time was effectively known as the ‘AI Winter’ and bar a momentary slip in the early 90’s, was the only real time that the possibilities of machine learning were ever really discounted by the scientific community.

Who is pushing the technology forward now?
Machine learning has reached a level now where companies such as DataKinetics have the capability to transform legacy systems into business driven analytics.

DataKinetics are at the forefront of their field and have been entrusted by many blue-chip companies, such as Nissan and Prudential, to streamline and optimize complex technology environments. With the advancements within technology today IT professionals are now capable of achieving so much more due to new innovations in machine learning.
However, this is just the beginning – if funding and interest into machine learning and AI remains consistent, there’s no telling what can be achieved.

Machine learning algorithms that can predict future outcomes, giving us – the humans – to react accordingly.

In essence, the main idea behind machine learning is that it’s essentially where a computer or a system takes a set of data created previously, applies a set of rules to it and provides you with an output that in that is more efficient.

In much the same way, there’s a cycle between the innovators and forefathers of machine learning and with the companies and groups of people that are doing it today.

That’s why companies such as DataKinetics are proud to be associated with such a rich and storied period of human endeavour.
Innovators are equally as important as pioneers, without innovation we have static evolution that does not progress our species further and we are staring at a near constant change in the tech space.

Datakinetics are innovators within technology and have had the foresight to predict the evolution of mainframe, machine learning and analytics with a tech roadmap spanning for over 30 years!

You can contact Neil Cattermull:
– LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/neilcattermull
– Twitter: @NeilCattermull
– email: Neil.Cattermull@gmail.com