If Carlsberg did Grants (Beware the Grant Raisers!)

Carlsberg don’t do business grants or loans, but if they did, this is how it would be: They’d give you a call, ask if you fancy some free funding, wait a few days then let you know a big interest-free loan is all yours, no paperwork needed, no need to worry about what purpose it’s for. Just pay them a fee of £500 (and no messy VAT involved), and 24 hours later they deposit £40k in your account. Just pay it back if you can, when you can. Could it really be possible that someone else could do this, in REAL LIFE? Well, check this out…

A long-standing client of mine came across a very similar offer recently. He isn’t a newcomer to business, he’s been a business owner for over 20 years and has accessed a number of funding schemes. But even this seasoned businessman was tempted by the offer.

In the course of searching for funding, he found an organisation calling itself GRANT RAISERS,  and they offered to source funding for his business. How kind. A couple of email exchanges and a phone call was all that was needed, and guess what- he was told that £40,000 had been pre-approved as an interest-free loan, and would be his if only he could pay them a £500 fee.

An invoice arrived- but before paying he did a little online research, prompted because payment was requested to be made to a personal bank account in Thailand, but don’t worry, that’s just “so the Director could sign for it”! Oh dear, now it was sounding too good to be true- and not quite how Carlsberg would do it.

Well guess what he found- The Guardian newspaper had already exposed this as a fraud. See this article (it’s genuine). The scammers had created a very convincing but fraudulent web page, looking like a page of The Guardian’s own website, this endorsed the scheme, persuading needy or greedy business owners to go ahead without worry. Must be OK if The Guardian has checked them out, right?


(oh, in case you’re wondering, of course my client didn’t pay the fee, but he did share his discovery with me)

And who is “Grant Raisers”?- it’s
http://www.grantraisers.co.uk (don’t go there!!)

Are You Getting Paid On Time?

I’m finding that payments are being received more promptly this year than previously. Certainly that’s my own experience, and many clients tell me the same story. In part this is due to us being more proactive as suppliers in reminding customers of the agreed payment terms (do this BEFORE payment becomes overdue of course!).

I’ve registered for free with the Pay On Time service, and follow their good advice, printing their inoffensive logo on my invoices. This works as a discreet reminder that I’ll enforce rights and charge interest on late payment, without spoiling customer relationships. As part of that commitment, I’m also scrupulous in making sure I pay by own bills within terms- and usually set up an e-payment as soon as I accept an invoice so it’ll arrive in my customers’ account a little earlier than required.

One sector dragging heels seems to be in government contracting. I still regularly hear that sub-contractors are not being paid within terms by some prime contractors. And more often than not, subbies are so dependant upon this low-margin work that they daren’t rock the boat. Well. that’s understandable. So here’s another way of safely blowing the whistle and getting the government to intervene indirectly on your behalf through their “Mystery Shopper” programme. This is operated by the Cabinet Office, headed by Francis Maude, and is one of the ways government are policing the distribution of government contract payments. Tell him (he wants to know!) if you’re being paid late by a prime contractor, and he can arrange a Mystery Shopper exercise to be instigated- this often has the effect of getting prime contractors to honour their commitments. You can contact him by email at psfrancismaude@cabinet-office.gsi.gov.uk

A Style for all Occasions- Revisited

A couple of months ago I posted here about my new client John, who I’d helped identify the missing link in his application of leadership theory. He was going to try out the idea of situational leadership… so here’s how he got on.

John had tried to be more assertive and dominant in “telling” people what he wanted from them, and his own staff had been telling him that was what they wanted to see from him. He didn’t delegate enough. But he was perplexed when in practice he found resistance to his new, robust approach. What was missing was that John needed to CHANGE his leadership style according to the situation.

So, he’s now had a couple of months to adjust his style- and of course we’ve had a few more coaching sessions too. Bingo! After his initial worries about appearing to be inconsistent, feedback from staff and John himself is positive. Sure, not everyone is now getting an easy ride (why should they!), but respect for John as the business leader is at an all time high. What does this mean in practice- as we know, feelings can’t be measured as profits… or can they?

This is what John identifies as measurable outcomes of applying situational leadership:

1. Management meetings are on average shorter, now accounting for 6 hours a month compared to 10 hours

2. He gets far fewer interruptions from managers and other staff- he estimates now he’ll only have to spend time on 2 or 3 occasions a week with staff one-to-one on an unplanned basis (previously was three times that)

3. He spends much less time (about 1 hr a week down from 8hrs) chasing people up for results or feedback. He delegates well (always has been good, just didn’t delegate enough), and this hour is now all he spends hearing from his managers what they’ve done in response to delegated targets or issues.

4. His managers (there are only 3) now deal with almost all day-to-day stuff. They have weekly meetings with their staff, and he doesn’t even get invited- great! Result is, the teams he created now function as teams, and staff don’t bypass their managers by seeking out John as the soft touch.

5. John takes a day a week off- and enjoys it. Well, I say “off”, but it’s actually working from home.

6. The “killer” statistic? He’s had time to find, research and bid for 6 tenders (3 a month), and the company has heard they’ve won 2 (with 3 still undecided). Now that’s a result- or will be when he gets his managers to deliver on the contracts!

Chicken or Egg?

I quickly discovered that my latest clients had been in a true chicken and egg situation for some time, and their sitting on the fence could have lost them a market opportunity.

Two owner-directors (husband and wife) had been getting more and more stressed and both knew they’d hit on a great new service linked to another part of their electrical services business. And initial uptake from existing customers to whom they could easily cross-sell was very encouraging.

So why the dilemma?

One was risk-averse. Not unusual, and not unhealthy. But that wasn’t the real sticking point. They and their staff (11 in total) were being run off their feet by the upturn the new service had brought. Mistakes were happening  but fortunately being found before customers found them. They knew this couldn’t be sustained. Wasn’t the answer staring them in the face?

Yes- and they knew it! Of course they needed to take on another member of staff- probably two, and certainly more further down the line. Neither was “up for it” though, and they didn’t talk enough to realise why. The unknown issue was that the other partner was unhappy about taking anyone on just in case it didn’t work out; not because of any financial risk to the business, but because it would be harsh on the new employee. Now that’s a concern I don’t hear too often these days!

A couple of hours later, and after much probing and soul-searching, I’m delighted to say the overly-considerate employer came to terms with the reality that people have to take risks, not just businesses. As long as a recruit knows there’s no guarantee, there’s nothing at all unfair about that; wouldn’t it have been more unfair to deny someone the chance of a new job?

Early days, but the new customer service assistant has already settled in well, and the pressure is starting to be relieved! We’re all optimistic the growth will continue, but if not- would it really be unfair to return someone to the Job Centre? Of course not!

A Style for all Occasions

One of the first issues for me to handle with a new client- let’s call him John as that’s his name!- was why his “new, improved leadership style” wasn’t working. John had attended a one-day seminar in Leeds when he learned much about how to lead and delegate. Sounds like he really took it in, made sure he understood, and then had the confidence to apply the new knowledge.

So what’s his problem? Well, John had often been criticised by his managers, and people outside his business, for not delegating enough, Some people told him he didn’t let go, took too much on himself, carried the business on his own shoulders. This isn’t a large business- just 39 staff in total, so John is pretty involved operationally, and certainly day-to-day; not a distant leader who sits in an ivory tower.

He left the seminar and reflected on his own leadership & management style, and made a determined effort to be more assertive- “started laying down the law” was how he described it. He actually enjoyed this change of style, at least for a while.

When we met last week he wasn’t convinced about “management theory”, and was losing confidence. “I’m getting so much resistance, even people who wanted me to be like this are retreating, not talking to me so much. This isn’t shifting the workload from me to them”

By the end of our session, the problem was identified and a different approach is being tried from this week. What John, or the presenter, had missed from the seminar was the essential principle of “situational leadership”. (For those who love management theory, look up Hersey & Blanchard.) There needs to be recognition that as a leader (or manger), you don’t just pick a particular style from the leadership cupboard and use it in all situations- you do however need to know what’s in the cupboard, and when to use it. This applies generally to a team as the team “matures”, progressively adjusting your style from “telling” to “selling” to “participating” to “delegating”. John recognised he wasn’t delegating well, but hadn’t realised that not all his people were yet ready for that. He missed that he needs to adjust his style depending on the team, and individual manager. Ah, the value of coaching! Watch this space to see how John progresses…

How Do I Get My Hands Off?

A coaching client asked me early in the new year to focus on getting her hands off the business. She’d heard all the cliches of course (haven’t we  all!) , but hadn’t accepted she was too hands-on until getting some pretty strong feedback from a manager who was on the verge of throwing in the towel before Christmas.

Our initial exploration of the problem confirmed it was indeed a problem- in fact, she was probably well and truly hands-in, not just hands-on. We explored why it was a problem, why she ought to become hands-off. Yes, you’ve heard it all before- it demotivates and undermines managers, stifles their innovative potential, and worst of all, prevents you as the leader from working on the direction and goals rather than looking after detail. Pennies dropped- recognition was complete, but what to do about it?

We went for a three-stage solution:

1. Log how time is actually spent. A record was kept, for two non-successive weeks, as a snapshot of how time is spent. Not too much detail, but enough to be revealing!

2. Reflect on how wisely that time was used, and choose what should NOT be done personally in future. In this case, there was almost 50% of the total time logged up for grabs- on the high side, but not completely off the scale in my experience.

3. Implement change. This was a combination of several actions, which included starting work later in the mornings, working away from the office at least a day a week, delegating  more effectively and requiring structured feedback (reporting) from all (3) managers.

So, early days so far, but initial results are good. All managers now say (privately as well as directly to the client) they feel more trusted- and in two cases, far more challenged; the client herself still feels in control, mainly because she’s getting prepared management reports and sees how the business is developing regularly, and she has more time to herself. Strangely, that’s the part we’re working on now- there’s a lingering “guilt” to be dealt with.