5 ways to get the most out of your management training

One of the things that surprised me most when I started my training company was a couple of clients who ‘just wanted some training’

They were both large organisations and called me to organise some training but they didn’t really care what I did.

I found this a bit odd, because for many smaller companies the outcomes from the investment that they make in management training is the key thing.

After digging a bit it turned out that one of the organisations had to use up their budget or they wouldn’t get the money next year and the other had made a commitment to provide x hours a year Continuing Professional Development (CPPD) for their staff and were behind on their numbers.

But most of my clients are smaller companies and to them, the important thing is seeing a real return on their investment.

The question is then, how can you make sure you get the best bang for your buck from management training?

Tip 1 – Identify what issues you want to solve

Just organising some training in the hope that it will mke things better is fine but it’s a bit like trying to hit a bullseye with a shotgun, you might get oe pellet on target but the vast ,majority will go all over the place!

Tip 2 – organise your year’s CPD all at once

You could even do this over say a three-year cycle.

But deciding the topics you need to deliver and then planning out the sessions in advance means that you can spend a day working on it and then forget about it for the rest of the year.

Also you’ll find that your programme becomes much more focused and feels like a process rather than a series of unconnected events.

Tip 3 – ask your people

You may be surprised at what turns up.

I did this once for a company as they thought all the engineers would want technical training but actually the most requested training was finance for non-finance managers.

You see the business had made people accountable for their budgets in the past year but the managers had no idea how to read the reams of information that was landing on their desk.

So do a bit of a survey and ask people what they feel would be most valuable to them, get them involved right from the start and you’ll see uptake and engagement increase also.

Tip 4 – Think about the company strategic plan.

This is a really useful tip, especially for growing companies or businesses that are undergoing change.

Don’t look at where the business is now, look at where it is going to be in the future.

What skills will managers need and consequently what do you need to include in your management training?

Businesses that train people to manage change or growth tend to make the transition much quicker and more effectively and naturally, this translates to a better bottom line.

Tip 5 – choose a specialist management training company

I was once sent on a training course delivered by an accountancy practice because they were the company accountants and they could do it cheaper.

Frankly it was money wasted because the skills and knowledge that the practice staff had were applicable to accountants in practice rather than a business.

They also weren’t massively engaging so people started to drop off and talk amongst themselves.

My feeling is that it’s worth spending a little more and getting a specialist in rather than doing something on the cheap.

If you want to talk over your options and see how I can help you develop a world-class management team then why not give me a call?

Value the journey and not the destination

Accountants live in a bit of an odd world.

We spend our working lives on a journey.

We take one exam after another until we’re qualified but it doesn’t end there

We are required to do Continual Professional Development as we go along and if you’re mad like me you go and do an MBA and end up in more exam halls!

In fact, it seems like my working life has been one long journey with no real destination ever being reached.

Or at least it did until relatively recently.

Valuing the journey

It was actually during my MBA that it dawned on me that maybe I should be enjoying the ride.

I really enjoyed the academic experience and although I did actually take the qualification to enhance my career I ended up just loving the professional rigour and research.

That’s when I realised that I should enjoy what I was doing when I was doing it and forget about the destination a bit.

Why my wife is smarter than me

This won’t come as a surprise to people that know us, by the way.

One day Alison told me that, although we were very much enjoying travelling around the world and seeing different cities we really should make an effort to enjoy where we live.

We’re based in Bournemouth and from my house, I can ride my bike five miles one way and be in the New Forest, five miles the other way and be on one of the best beaches in Europe and with a £1 ride on the ferry, I can be in the Purbeck Hills.

What on earth has this got to do with business?

I love being in, and working on my business.

Sure it gets hard from time to time but I wouldn’t change it.

That’s why I make sure that I take time to enjoy the journey.

It helps keep problems in perspective and I think makes me happier when I am presenting.

My challenge to you is to enjoy your journey.

Take five minutes, look around and realise that although you may have problems, they probably won’t be important in a month’s time.

p.s. the photo is of Brownsea Island at seven AM on a warm sunny morning. just an example of enjoying where I live!

How do your people know that they are a ‘Team’?

Team training

It may sound like an odd question but when you are thinking about team training it is always worth asking yourself whether the individuals are ever really treated as a ‘team’.

Of course they know they are a team, after all they all sit in the same area under a sign that says ‘Finance Team’ or ‘Sales Team’ or ‘IT team’.

But really that’s just lip service.

Research shows quite clearly that people work best as part of a shared enterprise, one with shared goals and an understood view of the overall aim.

Just being told ‘you are a team’ doesn’t make people behave like one.

The art of team management is to get a group of disparate individuals to work at a level which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Why on earth does this make a difference?

All the evidence shows that bonding people together as part of something bigger than themselves actually reduces staff turnover (and we know how expensive that is).

There’s also really good evidence that when people are working together as a team rather than as individuals they actually become much more efficient.

So how can you foster a ‘team’?

I’ve seen all sort of whacky theories over the years but I’m only going to include ones that actually work.

Understand your aim

What’s the point of your team?

What are you aiming to achieve?

By when?

Have you told anyone?

If you don’t know what you are supposed to be achieving then your team won’t either.

If you do know, but you haven’t told people then that’s worse than useless as you’ll have people working to all sorts of agendas

Sit down, work out what your eventual aim is for the team and then introduce it at your next team meeting.

Tell people where they fit into the whole

Engagement is increased massively if people know what their individual role is.

Letting people know how important they are to the team boosts morale and more importantly lets them know that they can’t let the side down.

Make time to get together as a team

Seriously, what’s the point of being a team if you never sit together and discuss the issues that are facing you?

How do you formulate a shared understanding of the upcoming workload, performance and future direction?

I like to have weekly 1-hour team meetings where we go through how we’ve done and what we can expect to happen shortly.

What’s interesting is that although these start out in a really stilted manner, after about three or four meetings they start to be really productive in unexpected ways.

Invest and train individuals but also invest in the team

A great way to foster team cohesion is to have shared learning opportunities.

This can be as simple as one person from somewhere else in the company coming in to speak about what they do and what issues they face.

This works super well for getting your team more integrated into the company as a whole too.

Praise your team in public

Make sure that if your team has done something really well then you tell people about it

and make sure your team see you telling someone about it.

Stick up for your team

Now I’m not suggesting that you go around picking fights but if something comes up that is contentious and you are absolutely in the right then I say fight your corner

and again make sure your team see you sticking up for them

Take any excuse to have a bit of a social

It’s so difficult today to make time to get together outside work but if you want to develop a team with a really strong bond then you need to get them to like (or at least respect) each other as individuals.

I like to take random opportunities to take my team out for lunch.

So maybe we finish an audit successfully. I’ll take them off down the pub and buy them lunch.

It’s not going to break the bank and a couple of hours out of the business won’t make much difference to the company but it means the world to people who rarely get thanked for doing their job.

Make sure you invest in team training

So I would say this right? After all, I’m selling team training!

But don’t take my word for it there’s plenty of academic and anecdotal evidence that investing a small amount of money into team training makes people more effective and reduces the dreaded turnover.

Oh, and while we’re about it, don’t just get some team training, start off with some proper, effective management training too!

The overall message is…

Team management is actually a job.

So if you were a decorator you wouldn’t expect that a wall would just suddenly paint itself without you putting in any effort, so why should you expect a team to manage itself without you actually doing any ‘management’?

Management isn’t hard but you do need to put some effort in and you need to think about it.

And you also need to take my first-time manager course!

How to run a 1-2-1

One of the bedrocks of team management is putting aside time for each of your people to talk about their performance.

My favourite method is to institute a 1-2-1 regime where you get together with your staff for an hour a month and just speak about how things have gone and where you see them going.

Now you may decide to have different time frames, for instance, you may decide that in a fast moving company you want to do them more frequently for a shorter period of time, or you may decide that you want to do weekly 1-2-1s with your new staff whilst they are on probation.

But either way if you want to be an awesome manager then you need to speak with your team.

What’s the point

Motivating your team is all about getting engagement, being part of a shared goal and letting people understand where they fit in and what is expected of them.

If you are the sort of manager who doesn’t bother discussing this sort of stuff with your reports then you are probably operating at slightly below average and no-one likes that.

What outcomes do you want from the meeting?

One of the best methods of making sure your meetings are ultra productive is to understand what you want from the meeting before you go in.

When I run 1-2-1s I look for several outcomes;

1 I want to develop a shared view of how the last month went

2 I want to develop a shared view of what needs to be achieved in the next month

3 I want to let the employee know how they are doing overall, especially if the company has some form of annual appraisal or bonus scheme.

4 I want my direct reports to have a confidential forum where they can raise things that are troubling them and where we can work on a solution

5 I want a formal method of saying thank you for their hard work during the month

6 I want to reinforce to them where they fit into my plans and how I see their career developing.

So how do you actually run the 1-2-1?

For my formal ones, such as the annual appraisal then there will probably be a specific form to fill in but for my monthly meetings I generally prefer a more relaxed style.

I take notes, and I refer to them in future meetings, I’ll also use the goals we set at the start of the year as a kind of touchstone to measure their current performance against.

In general though the meeting starts with me simply saying ‘how do you think this month has gone?’.

This does a couple of things; it gives me an understanding of how each of my reports sees the last month in term of workload and their performance but also as an open question (one without a yes/no answer) it allows them to speak about what is concerning them.

At points I will bring it back to my three main themes, how has it gone, what will we do in the future and how is this aligning with the team and company goals.

Overall though you need to find your own style.

Beware of people telling you that one way is better than another, you need to match the style of your 1-2-1s with your style of management.

Overall though you need to remember that this is a forum for the employee, it’s not for you to spend an hour moaning at them and telling them about your cat.

Do’s and Don’ts


  • Don’t use it as a semi-disciplinary- that’s not what a 1-2-1 is for
  • Don’t cancel or rearrange unless you absolutely have to
  • Don’t expect instant results – people need time to get used to the format
  • Don’t try and do some form of group 1-2-1, it never works


  • Explain the format of the meeting and what the aim is
  • let things flow and if they go slightly off tangent then that’s fine, you want your reports to feel comfortable. You can bring them back on point after a reasonable time
  • Be positive – OK so not everyone is going to be a superstar but you can find some positive stuff from everyone’s month
  • Ask what people are looking for from their work. What do they want to achieve? Where do they want to go? What help do they need?

And finally

Don’t forget to say thank you.

Even if things have gone badly, you need to find some method of ending the meeting on a positive.

Why I left my job and what my manager could have done about it

Quite early on in my interim career I took a gig for three months as a management accountant.

It was a very big company, going through a lot of change and I thought I was doing a pretty good job- at first.

But there were some odd things.

Like my manager never said well done for any piece of work I submitted.

Now as an interim it doesn’t surprise me that I am not treated like a close family member but the odd ‘thank you wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Then there was the weekly report

Every week one of my jobs was to submit a weekly report to a fairly anonymous email address.

Nobody knew who it belonged to. I asked around but came up blank.

I asked my manager if it was important – after all if no-one was reading the report why were we doing it?

He said as long as we were being paid we shouldn’t complain.

So I put in a couple of tiny errors to see if someone noticed.


Then I put a great big error in to see what happened. (It was in bold and underlined too).


Finally I stopped sending the report and guess what happened?


I had no idea what my work meant

So it turned out that I was doing all this work and it wasn’t being read.

It seemed like my job was just make-work so that the department could keep its numbers up.

I asked my manager about this and he just shrugged his shoulders.

And then my contract came up for renewal

So here I was doing a job that wasn’t important and that nobody was bothered about.

I didn’t even know if I was doing it well

And nobody mentioned extending my contract so I assumed that they were just going to let it lapse ( I later learned that this is what normally happens)

To protect myself I put some calls in and found myself some work and gave my manager notice for my expected contract end date.

And then something odd happened

He called me into the office and told me what an amazing job I had been doing, how much he valued my work and how much my being with the company had helped.

But it was too late. Although having gushing praise is lovely, I’d already committed to my new workplace.

So what should he have done

This is the important lesson – you should always give people a sense of where they fit in

Let them know how much their work means

How much they are helping you

Give them a vision of where the company would be without them and you’ll see their engagement rocket.

And don’t wait until your staff are heading out of the exit door. Make sure you value them publicly, little and often.

Oh and of course you should use the cheapest and easiest form of morale boosting you can – saying thank you – regularly.

SMART targets aren’t so bad after all

I’ve recently seen a couple of articles that have heaped opprobrium on SMART targets.

Apparently they are old fashioned and not at all fit for purpose for the 21st century.

Then the pieces go on to say how targets should, in fact, be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Not in those words though.

A Rose by any other name…

I remember years ago having a chat with a potential client about project management methods.

He really wanted to use Six Sigma to run his project (I know).

My point was that there are lots of different names for management tools, but the important point is not that we are using the cool and trendy names, it’s that we are actually DOING the thing that it says on the tin.

I didn’t get the gig.

So we can run our project using AGILE or PRINCE but at the end of the day we still have to find a way to communicate with one another about the project whether you call it a scrum or a Colin or a banana.

So are SMART targets bad?

I don’t think so.

The fact of the matter is that SMART is still around because the concept is fundamentally good.

In concept a smart target is simply understanding exactly what you are going to do, when you are going to do it and making sure you’re not running off into the long grass.

If you don’t want to use SMART then why not think up a cool and trendy name like TRAMS.

If you are so desperate to look like one of the cool kids on the bus then put on your dungarees, grow a big moustache and use your TRAMS goals setting.

Why you shouldn’t be worried about IR35 (and why you should)

Have you sorted your IR35 arrangements yet?

The rules around IR35 are due to change in April 2020 and whilst that might seem along time away in fact you may well be engaging with contractors right now who will still be in place come the changes.

If the people I speak to every day about the subject of IR35 are anything to go by then there’s a distinct lack of awareness on the subject.

The problem is, of course that ignorance isn’t a defence in law and if you haven’t started to make preparations then you may well be caught out.

So why should you be worried?

Well to start with you need to understand the rules.

Which is all well and good but HMRC hasn’t published the final rules yet. Having said that we can say that we pretty much know what is going to be in there.

A badly thought out response to IR35 will cause you problems, either through penalties and interest or by increasing the cost and difficulty of finding good contractors.

So why shouldn’t you be worried?

Actually for well organised companies the changes shouldn’t cause too much of a problem.

Sure you’ll need to put in place systems to assess your contractor’s statuses (statii?)

And you’ll need to have a way of producing, documenting and distributing determinations.

But if you are already using contractors and they fall outside of IR35 now then all you need to do is have a way of proving it.

And if you are an official small or micro company then you probably won’t get caught up in all of this.

So what should you do?

The simple answer is to read and inwardly digest the rules around IR35. Then work up a plan to deal with it.

You can take the approach that you are going to become a subject matter expert or you can invest in some training.

Either way pretending it will all go away is unfortunately not an option.

Here’s a thing – I do an awesome IR35 training course. It’s cheap and good and it’s delivered by someone who has spent the last 19 years living with IR35.

As a starting point why not download my free white paper on practical IR35 for the private sector? It’s totally free and when you sign up you’ll get added to my IR35 list which will get you all the latest on this issue delivered directly to your inbox.

Why your job ad puts people off

So I have looked at a lot of job ads

I’ve applied for a lot and I have recruited a lot and I’ve come to a conclusion – most job ads stink.

It’s not that they are inherently wrong, it’s just that they don’t really do what you want them to do.

Job ads are the David Cameron/Tony Blair/Nick Clegg of the recruitment world.

They are designed to appeal to as many people as possible without offending anyone.

Now you may say that this is exactly what you want. After all, you want as many people as possible to be interested in your job ad don’t you?

Pah! I say.

Let me give you a choice.

You can have 500 CVs through the door of roughly similar candidates who are all probably pretty good at what they do and could all probably do your job and would probably work for the money your paying.

Or you could have one CV from an awesome candidate who gets exactly what you are trying to achieve and is ready to buy into the mission even though you’re not paying as much as Goldman Sachs.

Which would you take?

In the first instance, you have to sift through 500 CVs, interview loads of candidates that you probably like a bit and you think could probably perform.

You take them on, they do a decent job, then nine months down the line they get a better offer and leave.

They never bought into you and they never bought into your mission.

In the second you get a committed, engaged and enthusiastic person right from the start.

So here’s a couple of job ads

Job ad 1

A prestigious client based in the area is in the market for a new Head of Finance. Reporting directly into the MD, you will be fully responsible for the production of all the accounts and for the hiring, training and development of its team … currently standing at 9 but with potential for growth.
The principal functions of the role will include: –
– Developing business strategies
– Implementing proper controls
– Preparing the annual budgetary plan
– Identify potential financial risks
The ideal candidate will be an ACA/ACCA Qualified candidate with at least 3 years experience within a Service environment at least at the Finance Manager level.
Please apply in the first instance to and I’ll consider your application accordingly.

Inspired? Interested?

What I found remarkable about this is that it’s all about what the candidate is going to give TO THE COMPANY.

There’s nothing about the company mission, nothing about the culture, nothing about what the candidate will get back and nothing about where they fit in.

Oh and by the way. If you are recruiting someone to run a team of 9 then you need a leader not someone who’s good at budgeting.

Compare it to this one

Job ad 2

5 years ago my best friend Luke and I had a dream to set up our own brewery.
We wanted to brew amazing beers and we wanted to do it in our home town.
We had no money, no premises and no staff but we did have this dream
5 years on and things are going really well but we’re scared.
We are so big now that we need someone to handle the finances for us. We know so little about accounting that we don’t even know what interview questions to ask.
Can you help?

The difference is that the second ad is the one that acts as a filter.

It removes all the people that would have applied but they don’t like the idea of working for a small company, a brewery or somewhere that is a bit in chaos.

It enthuses people who love the idea of making a difference, who love to be challenged and who love chaos.

The first job ad gets mercenaries the second gets disciples.

The problem is that as a society we would see the first ad as a success because more people would apply.

But they’d be the wrong people.

Why you need to onboard properly (unless you like recruiting like an idiot)

Onboarding is really really important. Really really really important.

Let me give you a great example.

I was once hired by a company to run their finance systems refresh. This was a million dollar project that had been mandated by their US parent so it was pretty important.

I got the gig and turned up at 8:50 on the Monday morning ready to start work.

When I spoke to the receptionist she looked at me with a mixture of confusion, derision and disdain.

It turned out that the guy who had hired me hadn’t told anyone (he was a blue but then that’s another story).

He hadn’t arranged any resources. I didn’t even have anywhere to sit.

And best of all he’d gone off on two weeks holiday.

So guess how that made me feel.

And guess how I felt towards the company.

Now as an interim I am used to these types of situation but if it was a permanent hire then I can imagine how they would have felt.

Why it’s important

It’s a fact that the key to motivating staff is showing them that they belong, that they are wanted and that they have a place in the organisation.

Employees that feel that they have a valued contribution to make are much more likely to do awesome work and are much more likely to stick around.

So ask yourself the question – would your business be more profitable with highly motivated, committed and keen employees from day one, or by having a high turnover of bored and unengaged people that turn up just for the paycheck?

That’s why it is important.

The first 90 days thing

It’s an established fact that an employee has 90 days to set the tone of their employment.

If they start off being a keen, go-getter who achieves great things then that’s how people will view them for years afterwards.

But the same is true of the business.

If the employee feels valued from day one, if they feel that they are needed and wanted and that they have an important place in your organisation they that’s how they will feel about your company in the future.

You have 90 days to convince your new hires that they belong.

Maybe less.

So what should you do then?

The best onboarding experience I ever had was with a company that didn’t have a lot in the way of resources.

I turned up again at 8:50 and sat in the reception with another new start.

Five minutes later a guy walks in and says hello and shakes our hands.

Turns out he’s the CEO and he spent five minutes telling us each how glad he was we’d arrived and how important we were to the future of the company.

How do you think we felt after that?

Just 5 minutes.

A few weeks later I found out it wasn’t a chance meeting. He does it with all his new hires.

Reckons that it’s the human thing to do.

Funnily enough, his company was full of people who were committed, engaged and loyal.

So my first tip is to start an employees’ tenure by telling them how important they are to the future of the business and how they fit in with the mission (oh yeah and what the mission is).

Make sure you do the housekeeping thing.

Tell them where to turn up and when (I normally start my new hires at 10am to allow me time to make sure any urgent issues are dealt with).

Make sure someone is there to greet them

And if you ever start a new person and they don’t have a chair, a desk, an email account and a login to the main system then you aren’t worth the money you are being paid.

Have a first two weeks plan and go through it with them.

Introduce them to the most important people in their job universe and make sure you’ve done all the HR things so they don’t distract somewhere down the line.

A word about mentors

You need to appoint one.

Some companies call them ‘buddies’ but whatever you do you need to provide one.

The mentor needs to be someone who has been with the company long enough to understand the culture and unwritten rules but they also need to be new enough to remember what it was like on their first day.

The mentor needs to be local enough to the newbie to be approachable but not so close that they are the only person your new hire speaks to during the day.

And they need to be positive.

We’re too small, we don’t have the resources

Cop out frankly.

In fact if you are a small company you are in a better place to make sure that your new hire has an awesome onboarding experience than if you are a large corporate.

Even if you are a one-person company and this is your first ever hire then you can still take the time to tell the person how important they are and where they fit in.

Onboarding is a pain.

If you think this then there’s no hope for you.

Bringing new people into your organisation is the best thing ever.

Just imagine what awesome people could do for your business.

It doesn’t take long to work out a standard process for bringing new people in and making their joining experience epic.

Recruit right

Often it seems to me that recruiting staff tends to be a bit hit and miss.

So often we tend to fall back on tired old ways because ‘we’ve always done it like that’ but it doesn’t have to be so.

If you’ve read my blog on starting before you start then you’ll already have an idea of who you want, so now you need to think about how to go about recruiting the right person.

As I write this we are at a rare time in the UK economy where there is pretty much full employment and so it’s what recruiters call a ‘candidates market’.

This means that companies have to work a bit harder to get people through the door but it’s my view that they should be working hard all the time to make sure they get the right people.

Attracting the right people

Take a look at the job ads on your favourite board.

Have you noticed that they are all the same?

I call it the old white male politician effect.

You see to get the most votes politicians have to appeal to the widest possible cross-section they can, so they dress, act and talk in as bland a way as possible.

But you don’t want that, because if you behave in this way you will get the same people applying as anyone else and you will get bland grey people sending their CVs.

Think about your job description

Think about your job ad

Does it enthuse the right people?

Does it put off people who wouldn’t thrive in your business?

Concentrate on attitude and behaviours rather than skills, explain how exciting the job is, why it’s a great company to work for and more importantly why you need people.

Because your really great candidates want to know how they will fit in and what contribution they can make.

A job ad full of character is also really efficient because if you are a whacky startup then it will put people off who really don’t want to work in a whacky startup.

Your great job description works as a filter to make sure that the people who apply are your kind of people.

BTW don’t let your recruiter write it. One of the measures of success for many recruiters is how many CVs they get in for a job, not how great a fit they are.

You want someone who has a great personality, not someone that can stuff a CV full of keywords.

Think about sources too.

A job board is an obvious place but you may well find you get a better quality of person by leveraging your staff network and getting them to recommend people.

And if you are in your local coffee shop one day and the barista shows stunning customer service, enthusiasm and talent then why wouldn’t you headhunt them and train them for the job?


Remember that the interview process is actually a sales opportunity. You have to sell you, your business and the role to the person.

The worst thing in the world is if you have a recruiting manager who says ‘I’m not sure that they are going to take the job’.

By the time the candidate leaves the office, they need to be in the state of wanting to bite your hand off for the opportunity.

I’m not saying that you don’t want to understand their capabilities, but you need to know about their personality and attitude much more than their skills.

And if you use psychometric tests then you need your legs slapping.

Have the courage of your convictions, act like the professional manager you are and hire the person you want, not the one a paper test tells you to hire.

Oh and you need to be physically punished if you use one of those interview question generator apps.


An interview is for you to find out if you get on with the person applying, not to see how well they regurgitate pre practised answers to pre practised questions (unless of course they are applying for a job as a politician).

And always, always take the opportunity to go off at a tangent and talk about random stuff. You’ll find this puts you both at your ease and will give you a far better insight than asking them where they see themselves in five years time!

See this as fun

I’m always amazed that most managers seem to see recruitment as a chore.

I love recruiting people.

I love finding out about new people, enthusing them about my company and getting an insight into their lives and talents.

For me, that new person is like a rough diamond that I and my fellow team members are going to polish up until they are epic.

Some people see it as spending hours and hours in interviews but what could be more important than making sure you have awesome people desperate to join your awesome team?

As someone smarter than me once said – recruit attitude and not skills.

How to handle difficult people

Oh man what a thing. Nobody likes working with difficult people right?

There are however one or two tips you can use top make life a bit more bearable and hopefully change things for the better.

So look let’s start with a fact – there are some people who you are never going to get along with. Never.

So you need to accept that most people you’ll be able to get along with, some people might need a bit of work and for others (a very small number hopefully) you may need to just find coping strategies!

It’s not them it’s you!

This is a really difficult one to handle but some times the difficult person isn’t them it might be you.

I’m afraid you have to have more self awareness than the average British MP and actually look at your behaviour.

Are you doing stuff that might be insensitive, annoying, irritating?

If so then the so called ‘difficult behaviour’ may simply be someone reacting to your actions.

So stop it.

Shift your paradigm

Dontcha just love a management buzz phrase?

In real world talk this just means seeing the world from their point of view.

Try to understand their motivations, is something bothering them? Do they have personal problems? Do they feel under pressure or insecure?

I remember once I worked in an office that had a lady who was the most objectionable, moody, angry person I had come across up to that point (Brexit has changed that).

One of the managers had a chat with her and it became clear that all her anger was simply that she was spending all her hours either caring for her mother who had Alzheimer’s or worrying about her mother.

All of a sudden her moods became understandable and her anger at being delayed at the end of the day by 5 minutes was natural.

Once we understood the problems she was having we were able to make changes that allowed her to be more flexible in her work hours, we could take some of the load off and we could cut her some slack.

It was a horrible situation for her but I’d like to think she knew then that we were there to help.

Speak to them

I know right?

And not just about a work thing. Take the time to have a quick chat, find some common ground.

So often we blaze through our working day just hammering out one task after another that we rarely get to know our co workers.

It’s amazing how helpful people become once they know you have a shared interest in trains, newts or Star Trek. (I love Star Trek)

5 Don’ts

Ok so there are some things that you really shouldn’t do when dealing with a ‘difficult’ person

Don’t get defensive.

For older viewers this is like the cold war arms race with one side upping the ante and then the other being forced to respond.

Don’t get angry.

I know that this is often the emotional response we all feel but you need to engage your logical brain and remember that it won’t achieve anything.

Don’t judge them

you’re in no position to judge people if you don’t know what’s going on.

Don’t criticise or belittle them to other people

This will not end well. It makes you look small and if it gets back to them then it will just make the situation worse.

Don’t demand that they play ball.

It just builds in resentment and frustration.

People have to choose to do something to make it a positive development.

5 do’s

Do Reflect respect and dignity toward the other person.

Let them know that you respect their opinion and that they matter,

Do look for what they really need.

They may be complaining or obstructive about a project you are working on but it might not be this that is upsetting them.

Do respect personal space

getting ‘up in people’s face’ might make you feel big and clever but I guarantee that you’ll regret it

Do set limits and boundaries

Yes you want to make the situation better but you shouldn’t have to put up with people swearing at you or shouting.

Let them calm down and then tell them that their behaviour wasn’t acceptable.

Do give yourself a chance to de-stress

If you have been in say a meeting with a diffcult person then take a 5 minute walk around the block or go for a coffee but just allow yourself time to get over the situation.

Then take a look at how you are going to handle it.

And the best coping strategy is…

If there is someone who you just can’t get along with and who you are forced to interact with then ask yourself

Will this matter in a year’s time?

If not then don’t worry about it. Just smile to yourself and move on.

If it will then you’ll need to speak to your manager (or their manager).

I hope these have been helpful – there some more tips on how to handle conflict here

3 things that kill training effectiveness

In an ideal world training will be the cure for all ills and a well delivered course will immediately solve the problems it was set up for.

Sadly it doesn’t always work for that and I’ve seen training courses provided that totally failed – but not because of the quality of the trainer.

These are my top 3 training killers – if you have more then please do comment

Number 1 – Lack of C-Suite buy in

You can provide all the training you like but if the senior management aren’t on board with the need for training and the messages it conveys then you can forget it.

I once had a Director of a company tell me loudly that training was pointless and never solved anything. Luckily I wasn’t training his company!

I wonder if he feels the same about the doctors that treat him? Maybe they were untrained!

Number 2 – Generic training

The very best management training is where it is specific to the people that are attending.

Great training gives people the tools to do their job and enables them to make a specific and measurable changes to their work.

But the problem is that generic training is cheaper.

Of course companies that buy generic training also find out pretty quickly that cheaper isn’t necessarily better and in fact when measure in terms of ROI ends up being more expensive.

Number 3 – no clear aim

You should always start out with the end point in mind.

What changes do you want to see as a result of your management training?

How will your staff behave differently?

Having a clear goal gives you three things;

It allows you to make sure you can target your training budget effectively

It gives your training provider the chance to customise the programme to your needs

It allows you to measure whether it has been successful or not.

Start off with a clear goal in mind and then measure the effectiveness after the course.

If you feel like you need to buy in training for your staff then make sure you beware of these three pitfalls and you’ll have a better chance of success

How to handle conflict

If you’re like me then you probably hate conflict.

It’s nasty, messy and leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

From a management point of view if there’s conflict in the workplace then I feel I have failed (because I probably have)

But it happens, and sometimes, despite your best intentions it can’t be avoided.

So what should you do?

It’s not conflict – it’s communication

Number one has to be to talk with the other person

So often conflict is just a matter of miscommunication.

A misunderstood email

A misunderstood intention

Speak with the person and I’d say 70% of the time it can be cleared up really quickly.

Understand the other persons’ POV

Sometimes conflict arises simply because two people have a different point of view on a particular event.

I remember a row that started because a fellow manager had moved someone’s desk.

The person involved thought they were being pushed further away from the manager because they were being ‘eased out’

The manager thought they’d like a desk closer to the window!

In this case it was important to understand why the person involved thought the company would possibly want to get rid of them.

(this is genuinely a management failure)

Find common ground

It’s important to build bridges, so discuss areas where your thoughts overlap.

You’ll probably find that actually you agree about most things but it is just a couple of points that might cause issues.

Agree on a priority list

Look at the areas of disagreement and decide which things are the most important to solve.

Agree between you what things are actually important to deal with and what things don’t matter in the cold light of day.

Apply the 12 month test – ask yourself “Will this matter in a year’s time?”

(note this isn’t the same as ignoring it, see below)

Then prioritise which things you absolutely need to get done and…

Work on a joint action plan

Agree ways in which you will make things better.

This is the tricky bit mind you.

It will involve compromise and swallowing your pride.

But you can do it, and your life will be better as a result

Remember – keep your eyes on the prize

Things not to do

Don’t interrupt

Don’t belittle their opinion or feelings

Don’t generalise (“you always do this”)

If you’ve setup a meeting to discuss the issue the DON’T cancel or rearrange

And most importantly


Things to do

Maintain a collaborative approach

Focus on the future

Listen carefully to what the other person is saying then

repeat back what you think you have heard and check that your understanding is true

Make sure you jointly celebrate successes along the way

Why bother?

Isn’t life too short to spend time arguing?

Wouldn’t things be much better if you could just get on with it?

If you are a manager then sorting this out will be to your credit

If you are managed then I can promise you’ll be more respected for the mature way you handled the situation

And one final thought.

There have been people who I have worked with that I have loathed initially but actually, after working with them in this way we have become firm friends.

Everyone can use more friends.

10 tips for great employee engagement

Would you like your business to have that all elusive competitive advantage?

Want to steal a march on your rivals?

The biggest weapon in the armoury of the best businesses are the talents of their employees. Having workers who are totally engaged in the ethos and aims of the organisation is imperative.

Of course, the theory is all well and good but how do you actually foster this elusive engagement?

Here’s my top ten tips for how you can increase your own businesses employee engagement.

Tip1 – Communicate the vision.

History has shown that people will rally around a cause and if you are in an organisation that has a clear purpose then you should work out a way of encapsulating this and communicate it at each and every opportunity.

Tip 2 – listen to what people are saying.

There is nothing that increases buy-in more than actually giving people a voice…

…and nothing destroys it quicker than just paying lip-service to what they have actually told you.

Work out a process of getting good quality feedback, make sure you’ve understood what you’ve been told and report back what action you’ve taken as a result.

Tip 3 – Give people constructive feedback.

One of the worst mistakes companies make is to have a kind of ‘letterbox’ culture where someone does work and sends it off and then never hears any feedback, be it good or bad.

Take time to let people know how the piece of work they stayed late to finish has made a valuable difference to the company.

Tip 4 – Walk the walk

Employees don’t suddenly become engaged because people tell them to be.

They have to see the directors and senior management team buying into the ethos of the company and exhibiting the behaviours that they themselves are expected to show.  

Almost ‘management by osmosis’, it’s both the easiest to do and the hardest to fake.

Tip 5 – Hire attitudes and behaviours

…and not qualifications or background.

There’s an old saying that a woman marries a man thinking that she’ll be able to change him and a man marries a woman hoping that she won’t change at all!

Don’t expect that you’re going to take on someone who is dull and negative and then they will magically become dynamic and positive just because they are exposed to your culture.

Instead take on people with a compatible attitude then train them to do the job.

Do what football teams do and hire people who are already better than you and then look to improve them further.

Tip 6 – Invest, invest, invest

If you’ve ever been in the position where someone has gone out of their way to help with your career then you’ll know just how much loyalty that can engender.

Employees that see their managers going out of their way to invest in training and development opportunities for them are always going to be much more engaged than those that are left to stagnate.

Tip 7 – Be transparent and honest

Telling people what they want to hear works for a very short time and then quickly destroys credibility.

Most people behave like adults and if you have bad news but can give them good reasons why they can’t have what they want and you’re totally transparent about the decision process then people will really appreciate your honesty.

Tip 8 – Take time to do something good as a team

a sponsored walk, volunteering at a local food kitchen, raising money for your local hospital, whatever it is then spending a little bit of time to help a good cause can really help with team bonding.

Tip 9 – Take time to have a little fun

Some companies have ‘beer Friday’ as a social calm down after the working week, some play games in the office but all good companies know that having fun together increases engagement from their colleagues and builds a much better supportive environment.

Tip 10 – and my best tip? Say ‘Thank you’

Nothing makes people feel valued and that their contribution is worthwhile more than their boss saying a heartfelt thank you. Make it a habit and make sure you mean it.

And one final word…

Notice that none of my tips really involve paying people more money.

In fact, they are pretty much all about attitude and what’s come to be called ‘emotional intelligence’.

Just simply thinking about your colleagues and being considerate goes such a long way in terms of employee engagement and doesn’t cost the earth.

Is your Business Partnering not delivering? How to give it a boost

Well if you are in this situation then you are not alone.

For a number of years Business Partnering was the phrase on management’s lips.

People spent time and money assembling a team of business partners and giving them the tools to do their job, but often the results fell flat.

From the various business partnering set-ups I’ve seen over the years they tend to have the same basic issues.

Paying lip – service

If the CFO isn’t fully invested in business partnering, and if the board don’t support them then frankly you may as well go and do something else more productive.

Sure there will be one or two forward thinking managers who will love to get their numbers and have a direct line into finance but most will take their lead from the top.

If you are a CFO who hasn’t put their weight behind the initiative then you need to make a decision, and soon.

Action – get fully behind the function, get fellow board members and senior managers on side, relaunch the function.

A business partner isn’t just for Christmas (or month end)

Often the only contact the BP will have with the department they look after will be once a month (or even a quarter) when they present a bunch of numbers.

Business partnering is all about relationships.

If you have a big organisation then sitting the BP with their department is ideal, but if not then making sure there is regular contact and inclusion is vital.

The managers (and staff) need to feel comfortable asking their BP questions and feel like they have someone who actually understands the real issues they are facing.

Action – make sure that your BPs either sit with the department or are regularly meeting with them. Try and get them involved in more operational meetings rather than a regular finance update.


Garbage in – Garbage out.

A famous phrase from the early days of computing but in terms of business partnering it relates to information provision.

If your business partners can’t get quick and easy access to accurate information then they are going to quickly lose credibility with their department.

Action – BPs need the tools to do the job, so ask them what they need and sort it out.

Square pegs

Business partners have to have a combination of technical knowledge, ability to present information in a digestible way and a bit of a personality.

I once saw someone operating as a BP who was the stereotypical accountant but more so.

He was an amazing technical accountant who could quote GAAP for any given situation and was totally across the numbers.

The only problem was he really didn’t like talking to people – at all.

He was miserable as a BP and frankly ineffectual. Luckily we were working with a very big company at the time and he got moved to a place where he was much more at home and effective.

So make sure your BPs are the sort of people that thrive in this environment.

Action – assess your team and make sure that they are the right people for the job.

Give them a chance

An effective business partnering relationship won’t just spring up overnight so you need to give the situation time and space to develop.

Check back from time to time, find out if they need anything but give it time to grow and you’ll be rewarded.

Actions – monitor and assess but apart from giving encouragement just let them get on with it.

Give them a chance 2

I’ve seen many companies set up a business partnering function thinking that all they need to do is to say the words and it will magically be so.

When people get moved or promoted they need to be given training and support in their new roles otherwise it’s likely to fail.

Just because someone is good at one job doesn’t mean that they will be amazing at another without any training whatsoever.

You also need to set it up as a proper function with all of the communication and backup that this requires (see point 1).

Actions – sort out training for your new BPs, make sure they have the information and the facilities they need.


So in short, get the right people in place, give them the training and kit they need, place them in the right areas, throw your weight behind the project and then give them the time to develop and grow.

A business partnering ability within your finance team will give you much better visibility, coordination and will improve the depth of your reporting massively and make your life much easier!

What’s not to like?

Always remember to look backwards

So I’m a pretty keen photographer and one of the tricks I’ve learned over the years is to always look behind you when you are walking along.

You never know what brilliant shot you’ve just walked past because you see it from a different angle.

What on earth has that got to do with management?

One of the things I have learned to do, especially working in change and transformation is to have a method of looking backwards.

At the start of a job I will write down all the things that are wrong, the major issues, annoyances, petty frustrations.

At that point (looking forward) it looks like a massive and daunting mountain to climb.

Because there will be some hard days ahead.

Whenever you are working on any type of project there will always be difficulties ahead of you.

If nothing else there will be a two thirds slump where everyone gets demotivated and can’t see an end in sight.

This is when I bring out my little piece of paper and remind people how far they’ve come.

I remind them that although they are annoyed because they have half a million in uncollected debts, three months ago they had 3 million.

Or that the frustration they feel because it takes 30 minutes to process an auto-invoicing file is fine when you realise that it used to take two days.

Being able to look backwards, from a different angle is really useful motivation.

And at the end…

It’s always good to give your ego a bit of a stroke and show how much good you’ve done for the company.

If you’ve been working for three months or three years on a project you have deserved the chance to celebrate your success.

But you have to have the means to be able to look back.

Why not write your little piece of paper now and in a few months time have a look back and see how well you’ve done?

Want more awesome tip in your inbox? Sign up now for my tip of the month. It’s free and you might enjoy it!

Nobody cares what you say – they care what you do

Years ago I had a manager who always used to say that we’d get together every Friday to have a 1-2-1 and discuss how the week went.

We’d have a chat about what was coming up, any development opportunities for me and any issues I had that week.

Sounds great eh?

Except it never happened.

Not once.

The poor guy was really busy, so I didn’t blame him.

And you could see that he was uncomfortable in personal situations.

And there was always something that came up that was much more important than me.

So it was understandable really.


The problem was that I pretty soon learned to disregard most of what he promised to do because he was always busy

Always uncomfortable.

Always reactive.

So did the rest of the team.

People notice when you don’t live up to your promises

If you say you’ll be having a 1-2-1 on the Friday then have it.

Or don’t say it.

But don’t say you will and then don’t.

Because people value actions more than words, and if you constantly break your promises then frankly your worlds mean nothing.

I can’t believe someone thinks these are the best ways to retain staff!

So like many people I’m on a big bunch of mailing lists and one post today caught my eye for all the wrong reasons.

I won’t say which body sent it out, but it was on the subject of talent retention and two of the ways they suggested were to pay more than the competition and then tie the person into a strict study and non-compete contract.

Why is this so wrong?

Well legalities aside ( I’m pretty sure non-competes are really hard to enforce), it sends entirely the wrong message and in my opinion would probably hasten departure, not prevent it.

Paying people more doesn’t get them to stay much longer

Yes you may have to pay the market rate, or even slightly above to get great talent but here’s the problem, there’s always another company with deeper pockets.

You can bet that as soon as someone who joins you for the money gets used to their new salary you’ll either need to keep paying them more or face the prospect that they will always be looking around.

It’s a fact that we get used to our income level very quickly and it ceases to be a motivator.

Strict contract? – what is this 1950?

Sure you can get people to sign their life away on the prospect of getting a good salary and a different job title but these kind of contracts often don’t hold water.

There’s legal precedent that mitigates against these non-compete clauses or covenants but the problem here goes much deeper.

The company, by getting an employee to sign a non-compete on day 1 is actually putting the thought into their head that they will leave one day.

It’s a bit like putting a red button on someone’s desk with a sign next to it saying ‘do not press’.

All you’re going to think about is pressing that button.

It also shows a massive lack of confidence that the business can retain someone and it shows a lack of imagination as to how that could be achieved.

So what should you do?

That’s the 64,000 dollar question!

What I should say here is that I run a course on building awesome teams so if you want to know then come along to one of them.

But I’m not going to say that.

My first and probably best piece of advice would be not to go to the market with just a wad of cash in your back pocket because that’s only going to encourage mercenary behaviour.

It’s far better to find people that share the vision for your company.

Maybe you want to build the best construction company (pun intended) in the world, or perhaps you want to save the Dorset cheese industry* and start up an artisan dairy?

Whatever it is, if you want to retain staff then they need to feel that they are part of something. In other words they are with you on your journey and they belong.

Sure having a great football table, superb coffee and free parking are nice-to-haves, but they aren’t why you want to go to work in the morning.

Remember the old adage that a person who does something they love will never have to work a day in their lives.

Instead you need to build a sense of belonging, safety, a shared journey and personal growth.

Because it’s really difficult to leave a job you love and a team where everyone is like family, but it’s easy to leave behind a paycheck for another one somewhere else that has better parking.

Why not sign up for my tip of the month? It’s free and might even have some useful information in it!

*I have no idea if it needs saving

How to set up a new training programme

It’s really important that when you are looking at training for your company, whether it be technical, CPD or management training that you take a moment to think about your programme.

A programme can be produced using Instructor Led Training (ILT), online resources or any number of different methods used individually or in combination.

Before you start

So as Simon Sinek says – start with why!

Why are you thinking about workforce training?

What do you want to change as a result?

You’re better off doing a number of smaller programmes that are tightly focused rather than one. massive and unfocused one.

So for example you may have a CPD programme, A compliance programme (GDPR etc.), A management training one or a cost saving training programme.

Understanding exactly what you want to get out of it before you start makes it much more likely that you’ll have a good outcome.

Work out the resources at your disposal

Yes this means money but much more than this.

So for example are you confident that you could gather together all the senior managers to do a three day strategy course? Would you be better offering half day workshops?

Do you have facilities in-house to do this or do you need external help?

Will you have to hire a meeting room or can you do it at work?

Answering these questions guide you towards the sort of provider you need to engage.

Getting resources in

So you know what your outcome is and you know you have a budget and facilities and that you can get people together – now to find a delivery partner.

Look for specialists in the field. Very often training companies (especially the bigger ones) tend to be a bit sausage factory like.

I’d suggest speaking with 3 and asking a few salient questions.

What they do, How they deliver it, What backup they give.

Do they seem like the sort of people who can deliver but have a similar mindset to your business?

Once you are happy then contract them to deliver the parts of the programme you want them to do.

Don’t worry about asking specialists to do different parts of the programme, most decent training companies will provide what they know about and be happy to coordinate their work with other good providers.

Running the programme

Number 1, and this is based in your work right at the start, decide how you are going to measure the effectiveness of the training.

In an ideal world there will be specific and measurable differences in your business after the training but for some things, like management training you may have to go on feedback from the attendees and from their managers.

You can always work with your provider to identify suitable metrics for this.

Make sure you have planned out the sessions on a calendar and publicise in good time. Send out calendar invitations so that people have it in their diaries.

Check with your provider to see if there is any pre-work that needs to be completed and make sure it gets done.

Send out reminders a week before the event and the day before to make sure people have no excuse!

After the training

Make sure you get feedback. Both on the day from the staff but also form the trainer.

How did the day go? Any problems? Set up good?

Once a suitable amount of time has elapsed then you’ll need to track your metrics and see if the training has been effective.

After all the results are in you can use this as a basis to tweak (or completely revise) your programme for future use.

Afraid of being found out? How to cope with Impostor Syndrome

Ever had that dream where you turn up at work and you’re suddenly naked?

Weird right?

Well here’s what Dream Moods has to say about it; “With all eyes on you, you fear that some flaw will be brought to public attention. You fear that people will see through your true self and you will be exposed as a fraud or a phony”

And that pretty much sums up Impostor Syndrome (or to give it its correct title Impostor Phenomenon).

First identified by in 1978 by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes it is essentially a feeling that somehow you are about to be found out, or that people will see through you or that if you just have one more qualification then you’ll be ‘good enough’.

Typically people will be unable to take praise, somehow feeling that their achievements are not noteworthy or they are unworthy of someone’s admiration.*

If this sounds like you then you’re in good company because people like Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Michelle Obama and Maya Angelou have also reported feeling like this

“I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented.  I’m really not very good.  It’s all been a big sham.” – Michelle Pfeifer

So if Michelle Obama and Tom Hanks don’t think they are good enough then you certainly aren’t right?


Now I’m not going to go into detail about the proposed causes of this but let’s just say, the things that your mind is telling you are very likely to be wrong wrong wrong.

So what can you do about it?

Here’s a few things that you can do that may well help.

First off you need to try practising accepting praise.

People are pretty miserable nowadays and so if someone tells you that you’ve done a good job then you can be pretty sure you have.

Accept the praise, feel good about it. I can promise you are not ‘getting a big head’ just because you take justifiable praise for a job well done.

It takes work but you need to keep at it.

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “ – Maya Angelou

Secondly reframe the things your mind is telling you.

So when your brain says ‘I’m not sure I can do this’ then reframe it into ‘I know I can do this’.

Again this takes work and discipline but after all you can do this!

Third – try mentoring someone.

When you are able to impart your knowledge and experience to help someone on their way it does at least two things; it gives you a tremendous sense of satisfaction that you are doing something worthwhile and it proves in a practical and visible way that you do know what you are talking about.

Of course mentoring someone also gives a great new skill that you will be brilliant at.

Tip four – get a mentor.

This can help massively because they will be able to give you clear guidance as to what you actually need to do to improve which probably won’t be the things that you think you are awful at!

Word of warning though, make sure you get a mentor that is supportive and positive and that you feel comfortable with.

The bit where I realise I should have called this entry “12 ways to stop imposter syndrome”

Five – stop comparing yourself with A.N.Other. It makes no sense.

This is particularly important if you use Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or any other social media that shows you EDITED HIGHLIGHTS of other people’s lives.

Trust me, people haven’t got more friends, a better job, more money, a faster car than you and even if they have who cares?

Six – Write down the stuff your brain tells you.

This is like magic because when you see it on the page or screen you suddenly realise how crazy it sounds.

Seven – Give yourself the ability to be wrong.

Imagine the thing you are doing is a test, or a trial or simply a suck it and see. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t but if it’s just a test then it doesn’t matter if you get it wrong.

Eight – Turn the situation around and ask how hard you would be on someone if they did what you did or if they were anxious about what you are.

Would you give them a hard time? Would you laugh? Would you refuse to talk to them ever again?


Nine – remember this is just impostor syndrome.

Give it a name.

Then when you see it rearing its head just say to yourself ‘oh that’s just Colin being a dick. Stop being a dick Colin’.

Ten – tell people what you don’t know.

I learned this from a professor at University but the way he phrased it made me realise what a massive idiot I had been.

You see I assumed that when people said I was an expert at something I had to know everything about that particular subject.

In the middle of a lecture, where he clearly was an expert, the prof told us of a massive big black hole in his understanding of a subject and how he was really looking forward to finding out about it

Did I think any the less of him.


I was enthused by his joy of learning.

11 – Refuse to listen to negative people.

I promise, there are plenty of people out there that really only ever want to tell others how awful things are and how things are all going to be bad.

The Two Andys (Cope and Whittaker) called these people ‘mood hoovers’ and that’s the best description ever.

These people will hoover up your self belief and pride in your accomplishments.

Don’t let them.

And finally – Do something for charity.

Maybe you have some skills that would be useful, maybe you could run a course or paint their office or do their books or redesign their website.

Whatever it is we should all give something back and going and doing something valuable, for free for someone that needs it is a great way of defeating Colin.

Let me promise you that if you told me all the things you’d achieved in your life I would be amazed and think you were brilliant. You are.

Good luck.

And finally finally…

Here’s what Colin told me about this blog

No one wants to read it

No one WILL read it

They will think you are just making it up (I am)

You made a mistake in the numbering and changed format at 11

You should write more formally

You writing is boring

No one cares

No one will comment

I bet the SEO if awful (it is but I don’t care. Did you know my subheading distribution is terrible?)

Don’t tell them about the MBA they will think you are showing off

I bet you made a spelling mistake because your attention to detail is soooo bad.

*So a few years ago when I went and graduated with my MBA I convinced myself that it was no big thing, despite getting great marks, really enjoying it and putting in heaps of effort and learning loads along the way.

One of my best friends got his on the same course on the same day from the same university and I thought he was amazing.

See how illogical it is?

Made a bad decision – give yourself a break

We’ve all asked the question “now why did I do that”?

The fact of the matter is that if you make decisions then you are going to get some of them wrong

There is however a pretty big problem with this. It’s what I call the Facebook effect.

The Facebook effect

Have you ever noticed how when you go on Facebook everyone is having a much better time than you?

Everyone is better looking, doing great in their job, partying hard and have a fantastic family.

They are always out mountain biking with their friends or having a wonderful meal on the banks of the Seine.

Except they are not. In fact most people are just busy doing stuff and all you are seeing is the edited highlights.

The problem with decision making is that you are seeing the edited lowlights.

Yup that’s right. We all focus on the decision we get wrong and not on the ones we get right.

I bet if you think about the decisions you’ve made you can recall loads where you had a poor outcome.

But you can’t remember the time you made a great investment choice, or went the right way round a traffic jam or chose exactly the right clothes for that occasion.

So what are bad decisions?

People don’t generally make ‘bad’ decisions. In general we don’t choose to do a thing that will have a negative effect on us, so the first tip is to stop categorising your decisions as ‘bad’ or ‘good’.

And stop beating yourself up. Remember the Facebook effect. We ALL make choices that turn out to be negative but we do it for the right reasons.

A BAD decision as far as I am concerned is one where you make the choice based on information you know to be faulty, or make it purely on gut instinct (although sometimes you have to do this), or where you make it based on your prejudices and preconceived ideas.

Instead of feeling bad about your decisions, why not change your point of view?

View the ‘bad’ decision as a learning opportunity.

Take a look at your decision making process

Could you have got more information?

Did you give more weight to someone else’s opinion than you should?

Did you base your choice on anecdotal evidence?

Did circumstances change after you made your decision?

And the golden egg here is – Could you do it differently next time?

Here’s the key takeaway – if you make a ‘bad’ decision but it leads to you making better decisions in the future then actually it was a good decision after all!

Accurate Vs Useful – is more accurate data a good thing?

If you’re an accountant (like I am) then you live for accurate data. We love it.

We put it into our spreadsheets, model it, graph it, present it and it makes us feel warm inside.

But sometimes we go a bit over the top.

Accuracy is really important. But it’s not that important.

You see there’s a trade off between accuracy and speed of delivery. Very often it takes forever to get really accurate data and in the meantime the world has moved on.

The opportunity has passed us by

So let’s look at a graph.

The problem with accuracy

There’s an ‘S curve’ of accuracy. The more effort we put in then the more accurate our data becomes.

At the start, if we just get a data set and use it without checking or cleansing then it is potentially suspect. (we could always substitute ‘reliability’ for accuracy here).

The problem with accuracy is that it takes time. If we want to spend forever getting accurate data then we often have to spend time making sure it’s right especially if our systems and processes aren’t great.

The longer we spend cleansing and checking our data then the more accurate it gets, although I’d argue that very few data sets are 100% accurate.

We can also suffer from decision paralysis through data collection.

Drawing conclusions based on crappy data is a bad thing to do.

So we spend time making sure it is correct. We cleanse it, we check it by eye, we cross match elements against other sources, we put it through statistical analysis and we sacrifice a chicken and read its entrail to make sure the gods approve ( we don’t really do the last one, much).

But this all takes time. And truthfully by the time we’re choosing Henrietta from the run the amount of accuracy we’re adding is starting to reduce rapidly, hence the S curve.

Meanwhile the business moves on apace.

While we’ve been doing all this our competitors have launched a new product, we’ve employed a load more people, the Bank of England have put up interest rates and Leicester City have won the Premiership title (they really have).

And suddenly our data set has stopped being as useful.

What we need here is another graph

Data can be useless

The longer we take over getting our data accurate then the less useful it can become.

And when we are presenting our data then we have to add in all sorts of caveats about data age and our credibility starts to wane. Oh dear.

Let’s put this into a business setting.

Imagine you are head of an accounts department and you normally close the month on the 24th.

You’re really proud of your work because you’ve taken almost a month to make sure that your books are as right as they possibly can be. You’re king (or queen) of the world!

The problem is that it takes a day or so to get the management pack out and then it’s a weekend and then people are doing stuff and before you know it your managers and directors are making decisions on information that is a month old!

It’s lost a lot of its usefulness and instead of being a hyper useful decision making document it has become merely an historical record.

It’s interesting but still…

So what to do?

We need to assess individually the requirement for speed and the requirement for accuracy.

So do we need something ‘quick and dirty’ to make a relatively unimportant decision on photocopiers?

Or are we making a (business) life or death decision on the pricing mix?

In other words are we launching The Space Shuttle or putting fuel in the car?

In the first case making a good decision based on bad data could be catastrophic, in the second it could mean we have to fill up again before the end of our journey.

We also need to add in a bit of top quality management here.

We’re being paid to choose the point at which data collection stops and the information we have is reliable enough to make our decisions.

It’s not an exact science it’s more an art, but don’t tell people that.

The best tip I can give is that once you have assessed your speed and accuracy quotients that you make a regular review of whether putting more effort into the data collection process is actually worthwhile.

Sooner or later you’ll get to the point where you say ‘no’ and that’s the point you write up your powerpoint.

A quick guide to Budgeting and forecasting

Budgeting & Forecasting

When you start out in business it’s a good idea to have a budget. You may have a formal one or informal but the better quality of budget you have then the more chance you have of succeeding.

People often get budgets and forecasts mixed up; the best way to think of them is like this;

Budget = allowance

Forecast = what’s probably going to happen

The secret of a good budget or forecast isn’t whether it’s right or not – it’s how wrong it is.This is because you’ll never get it 100% right but if you can get it within a reasonable margin of error then it gives you a fighting chance.

If you are buying an established business or a franchise then you should be able to get some form of information to help you plan, if not then you’re on your own. But don’t despair.

How to build your budget

There are different ways to build up a budget but the three most common top down, bottom up and ZBB.

Top down (or target budgeting) as the name suggests is a method of deciding where you want to get to and making the budget fit. So you may decide a level of profit you need to make or an amount of sales you expect and then work from there.

As an example imagine I decide that I need to make £1000 per month. I would then add on my fixed costs of say £500. This gives me the amount of gross profit I need to make.

I know that my gross profit is normally 1 3rd of my sales so I can work back to say that I will need to sell £4500 per month to make £1000 net profit.

Bottom up is a method of taking a what is occurring and seeing where you end up.

So you’d start by making a budget based on where you are. Let’s imagine that as above I am selling £4500 per month. I know that my gross profit is 25% of sales = £1125. I also know that my fixed costs are £500 and I generally spend £125 on other expenses. This leaves me with an initial budget of £475.

Now if my aim is to do the same as in example 1, earn £1000 in net profit per month then it’s clear I need to adjust my budget. Critics claim that this is more complicated than the first method, people who like it say that it’s likely to be more accurate and honest.

The other option is ZBB or Zero Based Budgeting.  In this method nothing is taken for granted and everything is up for challenge unlike the first two methods that build on prior performance or costs. So if we take our example 2 we wouldn’t just accept that we are going to sell £4500 per month just because we had in the past, what we would do is to work out where the sales were coming from and adjust the amount accordingly.

Similarly for costs we’d do the same but everything would be examined and the questions asked ‘why are we spending this’. This is much more complex and time consuming but people who like it claim that not only is it more accurate but that it drives costs down because money doesn’t get spent just because ‘we’ve always done it like that’.

Budgets are important because they give you that financial line in the sand to start from. They shouldn’t change throughout the year whatever happens but should be used as a way of assessing how you are doing now based on how you thought you were going to do.


Forecasts however do change. Remember that they are a method of working out what will probably happen. Businesses may do forecasts yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly or even daily. A business that’s tight for cash will do a cash forecast very regularly indeed.

There’s no mystery to them, we do them every day of our lives.

For example I have £100 in my pocket, I need to buy fuel (£50), I need to get groceries (£20) and at the end of the day I should have £30 left. That’s a forecast.

If in fact I have £100, I buy Fuel and groceries but when I get home my Daughter borrows £10 I’m left with only £20 that’s an actual.

£30 – £20 = £10 that’s a variance.

Your forecast can be as detailed or simple as you like, it very much depends upon your audience and the reason you are doing it. If you are doing purely an internal cash flow forecast then it may be simpler than a reforecast for the bank.

The first step to building a prosperous company is working out what you are going to do and when you are going to do it and good budgets and forecast form a key part of your business plan.

Budgets and forecasts are very specific skills and you may want to take advice or get help from someone experienced in this area.A professional accountant can help you, either by producing a budget or forecast for you, helping you through the process or sitting down with you and assessing your performance against budget/forecast and helping with a plan.

Franchising – is it for you?

Franchising can be a great way into business. There are lots of advantages to taking on a business model that is proven and established, but there are downsides too. Read on to find out if franchising is for you.


Some of the biggest high street names are franchises – McDonalds, Subway, Pizza Hut. There are other companies that you’ve probably heard of but not realised they are run by franchisees – Pirtek, Snap-on, Europcar and Mister Minit for example. Research has shown that franchise start ups are much more likely to succeed than a go it alone.

This probably points the way to the biggest advantage to buying a franchise – you’ll be working with an existing well known name.

So what is a franchise?

A franchisor takes an existing successful business model and allows you to use it. So as an example they allow you to open up another branch of a well known restaurant chain. They give you all the information you need, show you how to train your staff, how to brand your premises, what fryers to buy, which fridges and how long to cook your chips for. Pardon the pun but everything is handed to you on a plate!

In return you pay them an initial licence fee together with an ongoing fee based on how much you sell. You’ll probably be expected to comply with all of their regulations, buy your stock from them and your uniforms, stationery etc.

Franchises – the good bit

Who would think that the new branch of KFC that opens up is your first foray into the world of business? But of course by the time you are up and running you’ll have been completely trained in the ways of the business you have become part of and may even have spent some time working for another franchisee to get your feet under the table.

When you take on a franchise there’s little to think about, the branding, colours, stationery, uniform is all taken care of. Stock levels and mix will be organised and your selling prices will be set. All of your products will be market tested already and you should have a market full of customers that know your name.

By banding together with a large number of other businesses you can buy in bulk and get access to service levels that small firms can’t compete with. National advertising is possible as with so many people in one group it becomes cost effective.

All of your business methods have been worked out in advance and are proven to work. You’ll have a business plan in place and suppliers and backup will be on hand. So much is done for you that it reduces the risk of business failure and franchises tend to do better and last longer than blank page startups and if you do have problems then there is always the franchisor to help or other franchisees to talk to.

So much is laid on that people with little or no experience can take on a complex business and run it like a pro.

There is so much to be said for franchising you almost wonder why people don’t all do it. Almost…

What could possibly go wrong?

When you read a list of advantages like that above it’s easy to get carried away with the idea.

In fact the list could have been produced by a franchisor, but you have to remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch – even if you do own a branch of a well known burger chain!

The major drawback cited by non franchisees is a lack of independence. Business owners tend to want to own their own business and not run a branch of a big one. Some of the bigger franchises are so regimented that they almost ‘run on rails’ and the experience can be more like being a machine operator than a business owner. The fact is that you are representing the brand in everything you do so naturally the master franchisor is going to want to control that. There may be obligatory monitoring visits, legally enforced discipline and you may feel more managed than manager.

When you start your own business what you make is yours. When you take on a franchise you’ll definitely pay an upfront fee, you’ll pay to fit out premises or buy equipment and you’ll probably have to pay a licence fee paid as a percentage of your sales or profit and on top of that you’ll be required to buy your supplies from head office. It can almost feel like you’ve paid for the privilege of making money for someone else.

When we think of franchises, we think of the top brands such as McDonalds etc. But the majority of franchises aren’t so well known so you may well face the same issues as starting your own business. If the franchisors advertising and marketing is lacklustre then there’s nothing you can do about it. if they charge too much for their products then it’s tough, you’ll just have to pay up.

Many franchisees report feeling as though they never really own their business. After all they really only pay a licence fee to use the name. They may own the shop that they work from but if they allow the agreement to run out then they’ll be legally prevented from trading under the name they’ve worked so hard to build up.

Whilst being part of a group might be good initially, if something bad happens elsewhere then every franchisee suffers. Starbucks recently began selling its coffee through franchises at around the same time it suffered from bad press due to its tax policies.

Liars cheats and vagabonds. Most franchisors are honest trustworthy individuals but there are a few bad apples. They may embellish expected performance, give a dishonest view of the backup available or otherwise gild the lily in terms of the franchise offering. Remember you’re probably going to be asked to pay over a lot of money to join their club and your first contact with the company is probably going to be with a ‘business development manager’ or as we accountants call them ‘salesmen’. Of course there’s nothing illegal in presenting your best side. But sometimes it goes a little too far

If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is

Beware. Out in the ocean full of Nemos is the occasional shark. They’ll present opportunities as franchises when at best they can be described as Multi Level Marketing and at worst a Ponzi scheme.

Think about quality. A Subway franchise will cost you £101500 but franchises are available for as little as £100. What exactly are you going to get for that?

Above all take advice

  • Get someone to look over your plans – ideally a consultant, maybe an accountant but not your mum or the bloke down the pub.
  • Don’t sign anything without talking to a lawyer – get someone who is experienced in franchising and not the person recommended by the people trying to part you from your money, Don’t be swayed by claims of a special cheap rate
  • Speak to existing franchisees that you choose – not ones that are chosen for you by the seller.
  • Visit franchises if possible and assess whether that is the sort of job you want for the next 5 years
  • Check them out online. Do a Google search at the very minimum, try Duedil, companies house or any number of different sites that will give you some background.
  • Don’t believe anything – it’s not a nice place to be but don’t trust anything you’re told especially if they won’t put it in writing.
  • Give yourself time -the more pressure that is put on you the more time you should take. give yourself a cooling off period whilst you think about it. Genuine franchises won’t need to do the old ‘I’ve got someone else interested in that area’ trick.
  • Check out the British Franchise Association website – you’ll find lots of useful advice here http://www.thebfa.org
  • Consider buying an established area – often there will be already running areas that have full sets of books and a trading history. It may be an idea to look for these rather than buying a fresh start.

Franchises can be a great way to get into a business of your own. Like any business though, decide what you want before you start looking and take advice. Don’t accept anything you’re told verbally and get it in writing. Then take your time over the decision. If it doesn’t happen then it wasn’t meant to be. After all your ideal business could be the next one along!