Top Reads for Summer

Top Reads for Summer

Taking some time off this summer? Here’s a list of the best books I’ve consumed over the years – and those which I’ve recommended most to my clients. 

  1. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog is an inspirational story of overcoming challenges to grow a company as fast as possible. You’ll learn real-world business lessons that only Nike’s founder can teach you. Phil Knight is brutally honest about the extreme difficulties they had to overcome.

  1. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team describes the many pitfalls that teams face as they seek to “grow together”. It explores the fundamental causes of organizational politics and team failure – and gives practical guidance on how to overcome this.

  1. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

You’ve likely heard of this one! Ben Horowitz is one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs.

In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, he offers essential advice on building and running a start-up, and provides practical wisdom for managing the toughest problems business schools don’t cover. This book has a bit of a cult following, and I can attest that it lives up to the hype!

  1. Unleashing Greatness by David Galbraith

The back cover of Unleashing Greatness is a perfect description of this book; “Everyone is capable of greatness … sadly, not everybody finds it. Many people’s lives are ripped apart by self-doubt and destroyed by fear of failing. This results in never fully unleashing their true selves and always settling for second best in the job they apply for, the course of study they pursue, the person they ask out to coffee or to marry them! What makes it worse is that deep down they know they are capable of so much more … and it tears them apart inside!”

If you are tired of settling for second best or want to achieve the greatness you know is just there in front of you, then this book is for you! It’s all about finding courage.

  1. New Sales Simplified by Mike Weinberg

This is the sort of book that business owners should be reading and taking notes from. It draws a clear distinction between sales to new customers, and sales to existing accounts – and focuses entirely on mastering the former.

  1. Resilient Grieving by Dr Lucy Hone

This may sound like an odd pick, but this book really took me by surprise. Resilient Grieving is a practical, research-based guide to finding your own path to recovery from devastating loss – whether it’s to do with your business or something in your personal life. Though any business owner I speak to tells me it’s hard to distinguish between the two.

This is a practical guide to rebuilding your resilience, and this is so applicable to all areas of your life, particularly in these challenging times.

  1. Traction by Gino Wickman

Traction offers a helping hand for beginning entrepreneurs and others whose businesses are stuck at a point where hard work and determination are no longer enough for them to survive and grow.

Business owner and consultant Gino Wickman explains how to structure your business to remove typical frustrations, so it regains momentum, it runs seamlessly, and you don’t get mired in details. Based on practical experience, not theory, it leads business owners step by step through processes to create a structure and core focus that strengthen and re-energize their organizations.

Take some time to relax this holiday period and bury yourself in a book. Happy reading!

‘Featured by Twinkl in their Mindful New Year’s Resolutions campaign.’

Challenging Realities Ahead For Small Business Sector

Challenging Realities Ahead For Small Business Sector

Falling confidence, fragile operating conditions and the shadow of inflation are just some of the economic challenges stacking up for small business owners in 2022.

This year’s Pulse Tracker from The Alternative Board tells the story of small business survival through the second year of the pandemic and, while the strong, steady beat of the small business pulse remained consistent through the first onslaught of COVID19, it has now quickened with anxiety as the realities of the pandemic’s midpoint move into view.

The Pulse Tracker charts the progress of small businesses and their owners through a year that has seen them grapple with employment issues, cash flow crises, supply chain breakdowns, port disruptions, rising costs and other problems.

Alfredo Puche, Managing Director of The Alternative Board said: “Confidence remained high until July, despite the many obstacles and uncertainties but the Delta outbreak cracked that confidence with many business owners who had resolutely worked their way through the highs and lows finding themselves exhausted – and some have reached breaking point.

“July also saw the first red flags with business owners warning their prices would have to rise in response to higher input costs. The prolonged lockdown in Auckland plus restrictions across the rest of the country eroded confidence even further, with many feeling it was time to sell up and move on”.

The latest phase of the pandemic is crunch time for many, taking some by surprise with its severity and cementing the view that doing business is likely to get tougher.

With the end of the year in sight, owners are analysing the potential scenarios 2022 might deliver and planning how they will cope. Inflation, rising interest rates, worsening supply chain issues, the implementation of vaccination policies plus the advent of a new variant have fuelled the uncertainty clouding the months ahead.

The Pulse Tracker tells this year’s small business story, as seen through our quarterly Pulse Check, which provides ongoing insights into how owners have managed during 2021, where they are now, and how they will tackle the challenging realities ahead.

The Alternative Board supports small to medium-sized businesses and their owners through advisory boards consisting of other local business owners, expert one-on-one coaching, a suite of business planning tools and business mentoring. The Pulse Check is a quarterly monitor of the sector and the Pulse Tracker aggregates and analyses the research results for the whole year. Each edition of the Pulse Check has a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error.

You can download a copy of the tracker report here.

We will continue to check the pulse in 2022 with the next edition scheduled for mid February.

Each Pulse Check has had a confidence level of 90% and a 5% margin of error.

Is Employee Wellbeing the Key to Skills Shortages?

Is Employee Wellbeing the Key to Skills Shortages?

As we bubble along in this ongoing stew of uncertainty, business owners are finding operational challenges are heating up on several fronts, not least of which is the skills shortage.

Exacerbated by current immigration policies, there is no doubt whatsoever that it is harder and harder to retain staff. One company I know has lost seven staff in recent weeks – two changed professions entirely, three have gone to competing firms and two have gone overseas to be reunited with their loved ones. The company had done all it could to keep the staff but external pressures put paid to their efforts putting them back in the recruitment market looking at a rapidly evaporating pool of talent.

There are macro-economic needs that have to be addressed at government level in order to resolve this and other pressures but what can business owners do in the meantime?

At the time of writing, New Zealand is at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week and the internet and social channels are abuzz with ways to help others – and yourself – manage your mental health. For employers, employee wellbeing has moved to centre stage. As we all deal with the challenges of prolonged lockdowns and restrictions, for some households significantly reduced incomes, home schooling, distance-caring and a host of other concerns, our employees’ wellbeing is paramount. We have to consider how workload can be managed, communication maintained and skills improved in a radically altered operating environment. Money is no longer the only motivator – employees are looking for genuine consideration and a purpose-driven employer – which means wellbeing policies have to be developed and implemented. And not only policies develop – in recent years the management of wellbeing has become a job in itself, with larger companies introducing the role of ‘chief wellbeing officer’ or ‘employee wellbeing director’.

The other great motivator is personal development – which is the cue for all business owners to get training today. Find the right people to sit in the right seats undertaking work they are suited for – trying to ‘fill the job’ with the wrong person will only make things worse. Training and development from within will help you grow your people along with your vision. If you are not sure about the qualities and strengths needed for a role, run a skills audit and identify what’s needed and, if you still find yourself struggling, ask for help – this is one of the many areas where a peer board or business mentoring can be invaluable.

The skills shortage will be with us for some time – building a reputation as an employer of choice with genuine concern for employees is one way to tackle the challenge.

Beating the Lockdown Business Blues

Beating the Lockdown Business Blues

There’s no doubt about it – things are tough. Several weeks of lockdown have done nothing to ease the mounting pressures on businesses and we can all see the business blues are creeping in.

We know the hard hit sectors are hard hit once again and as much as possible is being done to help them through this current hiatus. Those sectors that have not been hard hit to date are also feeling the pinch as the problems that have been building over the last twelve months have compounded to create an operating environment that serves up one set of instabilities after another.

Supply chain interruptions have reached crisis point for many and with Auckland in extended lockdown even local supply chains have stalled.

Working capital is under pressure with businesses having to order stock far in advance – six months in advance is not uncommon – and, as well as ordering far ahead, owners are having to order more and carry more stock, clogging up cash flow, not least thanks to slower payments out of Auckland.

All things considered it is a much tougher environment and although many business eased into lockdown which, despite its sudden arrival was not a new experience for us, many appear to have hit a slump. Emails and phones are going unanswered and in some parts of the country it feels like some operations have ground to a halt as they wait for someone to press the restart button.

How then do we cope with all this? As business owners, how do we tackle the operational issues, the nationwide slow-down and, perhaps the biggest issue of all – our own motivation?

My first suggestion would be start with scenario planning. Forget about ‘best case’ scenario completely and work instead on ‘most likely’ and ‘worst case’. Those who are faring best at the moment took time out months ago to think ahead. They looked at the ‘most likely’ scenarios and realised that lockdowns and COVID problems would be with us for some time, so they adapted their business models and operations to allow for alert level disruptions. Interestingly, worst case for many isn’t an alert level change. It is bound up with the supply issues or working capital and that is certainly something that can be addressed through good scenario planning.

If you have slowed down, stop and restart. Take some time to look at where you are, how much you’ve achieved in the last 18 months simply by staying in business and then look forward. You will be staring uncertainty squarely in the eye and pushing on with ‘more of the same’ may seem daunting, sapping your motivation even further. And this is where my second suggestion comes in – focus on your good leadership habits and get some support. Don’t try to go it alone. Our peer boards have been invaluable for members throughout the pandemic as it brings business owners together to tackle the issues we are all facing right now. When you are the one everyone is relying on to get the business through, find the back-up you need – don’t struggle on trying to cope alone.

Beating the lockdown business blues isn’t easy – but talking with your business buddies on a peer board can certainly lighten the load.

Lockdown wellbeing and trusting your team

Lockdown wellbeing and trusting your team

Employee wellbeing was top of my mind when I started to write this post earlier in the week – then suddenly lockdown was announced and our working patterns were upended once again.

There’s lots of messaging around ‘we’ve done it before and we can do it again’ swirling through the networks and media and, yes, we have and we can – but that doesn’t make it an easy task for anyone.

Each lockdown brings different stresses and pressures for business owners who have to switch into crisis mode to keep their enterprise alive and balance the wellbeing and needs of their teams. Unless you are on the list of essential services, it is inevitable that activity will slow or stop and, as the daily list of locations of interest grows, the probability of your team members spending their day waiting for a test rather than working is considerable.

As we stare at the possibility of a longer lockdown and a significant outbreak what’s the best course of action? Our Winter Pulse Check told us that while owners were confident about the future of their business there was no room for lockdowns. Yet here we are.

Hard as it might be to hear, my first suggestion would be relax. Go for a walk – locally of course – and give yourself a chance to breathe. When you come back, look at the various scenarios that might result from the current situation. Many business owners will have contingency and continuity plans in place drawn from experience after our previous periods of restriction but others won’t. If it all feels overwhelming, ask for help. The challenges will be common to everyone and, as the old saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved, so talk to others – and talk to your team. Let them lead, provide suggestions and solutions. It may be your business but you don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. Involvement, collaboration, inclusion and managed change are all positive outcomes for businesses in these trying times.

When you think of your own – and your employees’ wellbeing in the coming weeks – remember your values and work to them. Sharing your concerns, open communication, empowering others to speak up and trusting people to do their jobs in the most difficult of circumstances will ease the stress, address the challenges and strengthen your business bonds for the future.

When the going gets tough – the wise get moving

When the going gets tough – the wise get moving

Listening to an audiobook this week, I found myself reflecting on some of the issues raised in our Winter Pulse Check, particularly the reports of exhaustion and stress among business owners.

The book – Move by Caroline Williams – takes a look at the science behind movement and the problems that moving very little can cause us all. As well as urging us off the couch, Move looks at how society has slowed down to a sitting position and the harm that results.

Many of our jobs today involve sitting for long periods of time and, for the business owner spending longer and longer at their desk because of the external pressures of a pandemic, shifting economic conditions and government regulations, they can, in a world moving too fast, find themselves not moving at all.

It is easy to unwittingly become trapped by the computer screen and this enforced immobility is without doubt detrimental to the business owner and the enterprise.

Long periods of inactivity at a desk slow the mind, sap creativity and increase anxiety – all of which undermine good mental health. It is also the fastest way to disconnect with your people and your business so my advice would be – get up and move. Walk round your premises, chat with your team – get up and explore your workplace and leave the screens behind. A ten minute move once an hour will make an enormous difference and, if you are completely absorbed by what’s on your laptop and likely to forget an hour has passed, set an alarm or borrow a fitness tracker that will remind you it is time for you to shift gears.

Making a move isn’t the answer to everything – but it will refresh you, heighten your problem solving ability and boost your creativity all of which will help you manage your business in our increasingly challenging times.

That said – I’m going to take my own advice, leave the screen behind and take a walk. I know it will be a wise move.

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