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Author: Kevin Gaskell

Be grateful for the bumpy ride

I seem to be meeting more and more people in business at the moment who are concerned that the economy is bumpy and unpredictable.  You can certainly feel a lot of turbulence in the air; Brexit, Trump, FX rates, inflation, Russia, Middle East, fake news etc. The truth is that if you could fly up to 100,000ft and look down at the last 50 years you would see that this level of disruption is actually quite normal. 

The new normal

Over the last half century there have been over 400 financial crises – 35 of those have been in major economies. At the same time, the level of international trade has grown from $1 trillion to $30 trillion. This level of growth, and the supply chain development needed to feed it, offers a massive range of opportunity no matter what your business does. If we spool forward just 10 years it is forecast that by 2025 The Internet of Things will consist of 1 trillion connections and be a $6 trillion market.

More turbulence, more change – and more growth.

In other words, the current level of turbulence is good news – for those companies and organisations able to think forwards and recognise how lucky they are to be living in a period of such exciting opportunity. 

Be an agent of change 

This is the opportunity that visionaries, entrepreneurs and inspiring leaders look for. They recognise that they are lucky to be living in a time of change. New markets, new technologies, new opportunities. In this new world, it is not about looking for market share, it is about looking for opportunity share. Scanning for new business prospects, thinking in different ways, inventing new services and processes. 

Whatever your role in your business or organisation, you have the opportunity to be an inspiring leader.

To encourage your colleagues or team to consider different possibilities – and to dare to dream about what could be possible; this is about changing the mindset and seeing turbulence as an opportunity and not only as a threat. Recognising, for example, that the European market will still exist in 2 years’ time and, while it may be different, it will still be there. It’s about encouraging new thinking within your organisation to determine how to be fast enough, and flexible enough, to get to the new market before others do.

Think differently, share creatively

The key to new thinking is the creation of a leadership culture which invites every member of the team to bring their ideas to bear. People are incredible. Give your team the permission to dream. Invite them to remove self-imposed limitations and constraints to reach new markets – or to compete more effectively in changed markets – and ideas will begin to flow.

This new world can seem strange and threatening but ignoring it won’t make it less so. Turbulence is energy. Look at major turbulence as freely available energy to drive the game forward. Be grateful that you are living in a period of energy and opportunity. 

Do not consider it threatening. Instead consider it exciting. 

If there’s one thing you should do today…

So my message is: embrace the change. Don’t think of the current turbulent situation as an opportunity to be a harbinger of doom, think of it instead as a stimulating opportunity to move forward in your business with energy, creativity and enthusiasm. And most importantly, free up the constraints around your team to allow them to bring those fresh and inspiring ideas to the table.

Think like a leader and act smart in times of turbulence

You can’t really miss it. The headlines, the endless discussions and debates, the boundless optimism from some and apocalyptic warnings from others. Unless you’ve had your head stuck in the sand for the last few months – and who, at times, hasn’t wanted to do that?! – the turbulence in the markets has permeated all aspects of daily life.

And there’s good reason to be concerned. There’s been more turbulence in the last 6 months than in the last 6 years.

But it’s not permanent – since 1970 there have been over 400 ‘financial and economic crises’ but in that same period international trade has grown from $1 trillion to $33 trillion. This is long term growth. 

You don’t have to look far to see that most of the headline column space is dedicated to short-term reactions. A cry goes up when a political or economic situation develops, and you react by taking your business in one direction. You then react again when the wind swings in a different direction.

There are investors who specialise in making money in these turbulent times by speculating that others will react in a certain way. They know that herd mentality is a strong force. When, as a business leader, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place do you react as others do, or do you keep your cool? If you try and anticipate an outcome based on short term changes then before you know it, you’ve got yourself entangled in a situation that it’s difficult to turn back from.

Let’s turn away from the culture of reacting to supposition, rumours and those infamous ‘alternative facts’.

It’s not good for your own peace of mind, let alone for your business.

Your vision is the key

Instead, let’s focus on the core issue here. What are we trying to achieve? You just need to work on what your vision is (read my blog to discover more); What does success for your business look like? Take time to describe it, work out what it looks like, what it sounds like, even what it feels like.

Remind yourself that this is what you are aiming for. Immerse yourself in your total brand experience; it’s what the visitor sees, hears and feels whenever they walk into your reception, meets a member of your staff or browses your website. Your vision is on show from the moment the receptionist greets visitors and customers are welcomed to your offices.

And having a clear, transparent vision allows you to build a successful company.

Future-proofing your business

Start there, with the vision of where you want to be, and then work back to here, to where you are now.

It’s a straight line. If you start there and work back to here, focusing on your long-term strategy, you can then future-proof your business against reacting to short-term turbulence – which can only be bad for you and your organisation.

You can still be flexible!

I realise that you can’t be completely rigid. It’s not helpful to be inflexible as there will be some aspects of change you will need to react and adapt to. These maybe changes in legislation, currency fluctuations, emerging new technologies, etc.

As a businessman, I understand which of these factors impact my businesses. Which ones do you need to be aware of? How do we counter the negative influences and ride the positive influences?

Let’s look at an example of this:

Porsche GB: how I countered short-term market turbulence

I ran Porsche GB through the massive market turbulences of the 1990s. The financial markets were in turmoil, Black Friday hit, interest rates peaked at nearly 15%, and to cap it all, Porsche was deemed a ‘glitz and glamour’ brand by the press, one that was only focused on fast cars and celebrity endorsements.

porsche-wallpaper-550

To turn this around, we decided what our vision of success looked like. We focused on the key characteristics of quality, heritage, integrity and design and pushed through this message at every opportunity.  All parts of the business were aligned to this vision, from the receptionists through to the boardroom, from the glossy marketing materials through to the factory floor. We did not compromise. And the result? Porsche GB went from being No. 32 out of 32 in the brand satisfaction charts coupled with -20% profitability, to 4 years later hitting No. 1 in the brand satisfaction charts and +20% profitability. 

If There’s One Thing You Should Do Today…

So the message is: don’t lose your head. Slow down, define your vision of success, stick to your plan, hold firm with your strategy (look at my 1000 day plan). Remain the same whatever the market throws at you. Focus on getting better at what you do. Bigger will follow. 

Why an inspiring vision is vital for your business

When you’re building a business, you’re building a dream or a vision. It’s the belief that you can achieve something incredible.

And if you’re not motivated by a dream, then why bother at all? Starting a business, watching it grow, investing in great people – it can’t just be all about the money. You’ll very soon run out of the spark necessary to get you out of bed in the mornings if all you focus on is the figures.

Instead, you want to be focusing on creating something that will change the landscape, something that is exciting and inspiring. That’s what inspires people day after day.

It’s All About The People!

Spend some time describing your dream, really honing it down to its essence. Focus on a vision of the future so you’re asking yourself “When we are successful, what do we want our business to look like?” and ”What it is that we can provide that is really special?”

For a vision to connect, it has to be about the people; people deal with people, people buy from people, and people are the reason we continue to commit to a brand, to connect with an ‘idea’. In our businesses we invite our team to come on a journey. To work together towards our vision of success. To build something incredible and to be proud of what we achieve together.

Online vs Offline

When we buy goods online, it’s a practical, functional transaction. The experience of the website creates the personality of the business, transmitting the brand and generating a feeling of inclusion for the customer.

Even Amazon, as one of the world’s biggest online shops, continuously refines the customer experience. It’s crucial to Amazon that they make their site very clear and easy to use, so you are able to buy the products you want in the smoothest and fastest way possible. The effect of every tiny change to the customer journey is measured and analysed. Direct feedback from the customer experience is objective and evaluated.

As an offline business the experience also needs to communicate the brand experience. Processes and communication must be continuously refined, improved, made more effective. Without the click stream of an online business it can be more difficult to identify where improvements can be made to support and enhance the brand. This is why the team need to understand the vision of success and what that vision means for their role.

People are amazing – if they understand what success looks like, and are encouraged to think and to implement change, then the team will use their inherent creativity to improve the customer experience.  

Expect The Unexpected

Some companies spend time focusing heavily on the current political and economic turmoil we’re experiencing. The fact is that the market is unpredictable. It is unstable and, unless the team have a clarity of vision such market changes can knock the business off course. But the Brexit outcome, the election of Trump – looks like something new but it’s not really. These impacts happen, and they happen frequently.

Keep a close eye on your vision. There will be impacts you have to deal with, ones you should expect. If you remain consistent and clear-headed, you can build your vision and your business, regardless of impacts.

Having a knee-jerk reaction to a political or economic shock does not make good business sense.

You Need To Be In It For The Long Haul

A long term vision is crucial. Vision is where we start and where we finish. You then have to create and work hard to turn your vision into a strategy. This is where my 1000 Day Plan comes in. Be clear and consistent with what you want to achieve. Don’t accept the boundaries and remember to have a healthy disregard for the impossible. Impossible is just a word!

I led a data company, EurotaxGlass’s, as we grew from a regional to a global organisation. We never accepted other people’s boundaries. I was told frequently that we couldn’t integrate all the various companies into one. ”No, it’s impossible,” was the constant cry. So I thought, ‘How do we find a way around it?’ And we did find a way.

The trick is to out-think not out-spend the competition.

If There’s One Thing You Should Do Today…

It’s about inviting people on a journey. Don’t go to your staff and ask them for another 2% return on sales, as this won’t get them motivated or fired up about working for you. It’s not why they want to get out of bed in the morning.

A vision is about having clarity of purpose, something that every business needs. Invest the time and effort in clarifying the vision. Then make sure that everyone in your business understands it. And driving the vision through the business is ultimately what leadership is all about and the cornerstone for everything that you do.

Prepare your business for success like an Olympian

Were you inspired by Team GB’s record-breaking performance at this year’s Olympics and Paralympics in Rio? The athletes’ amazing achievements can be more than just inspirational to you and the way you run your business. You have more in common with these top class sports people than you think.

Preparing for the Olympics is not at all dissimilar from preparing your business for success. Olympians and Paralympians need to be at the top of their game to aim for gold. They are committed, fully dedicated, ready to take risks and to overcome challenges in order to win those coveted medals. All of these qualities are vital, too, for entrepreneurial achievement.

It’s All in the Planning

The way an athlete, and the team behind him or her, prepares for the Olympics is to have a 1000 day plan. It’s the same way that I plan, develop and adapt my businesses for successful growth. Start at the end and work backwards, measuring out your strategic framework on a day-by-day basis.

Although 1000 days is really just 3 years in time, by thinking and planning it out this way, you can break it down into manageable chunks. It’s a structure that raises the heartbeat of the business. It means you have something to aim for daily.

So how can the parallels of training for the Olympics be channelled into measurable business success?

Let’s look at the three stages of my 1000 day planning formula:

You need to commit to making a positive decision, then connect with your team to implement a visible process, so that you can create the magic of shared achievement.

1. Commit

What does success look like? Is the team fully on board with the vision you have set out for the business over the next 3 years? Are you prepared to look failure in the face and overcome any setbacks? Can you really aim high enough to achieve your goals?

These are all necessary questions to ask yourself when you’re setting out on the path to world-class achievements. In order to be rewarded with success, you need to be prepared, committed and have a target to aim for – just like an Olympian.

It requires the whole team to be on board, to pull together. After all, we want to be the best at what we do, whether in sport or in business.

An example of a team all pulling together, so they could share in hard won success, was when one of my technology businesses was recently awarded ‘Best Broadband Pioneer’. This showed genuine commitment to reach targets, and evidence that a having a 1000-day plan does work.

2. Connect

Success is difficult; it takes hard work, it needs dedication and a firm commitment to the long game.

For this you need a plan, one that speaks to everyone on the team and one that requires them to be part of the path to success.

Every part of the operation, everyone in the company, should be aiming to be better than the competition – just like when athletes’ coaches are looking for a way to run faster or jump higher than the competition. Look at the amazing results from the GB cycling team – here, every millisecond counts, every piece of equipment has to deliver to its maximum and if it doesn’t, then you find something that can.

Team members need to know how they can contribute to the business’s success, how they connect to the whole. Feedback is therefore essential. By making your plans visible and transparent, you can encourage and inspire individuals.

In my businesses, no one works on their own; everyone is part of a team, all rooting for the same thing.

By thinking bigger than what’s just on the table, ideas can flourish and take hold. After all, some of the most successful businesses started as a ‘crazy idea’, by disregarding the impossible. You too can be the Fosbury Flop of the business world. (This was thought of as something that would never catch on – leaping backwards over a high jump bar anyone? It’s now adopted as standard practice in athletics.)

3. Create: The Magic of Shared Achievement

It’s not all about hard work, though. We aren’t machines. We need to have a bit of fun along the way, too. And by encouraging creativity in business, you’ll find the magic, the spark that keeps everyone going and reaching for that goal.

After all, sport was designed as a recreation and so in business we need to increase the fun quotient and enjoy what we do. So congratulate your team, celebrate with them, reward them for their part in the success story. Create champions and amazing memories.

The End Game

Teamwork, engagement, communication, goal orientation and innovation – the principles are the same, whether you’re aiming for your first Olympic gold or preparing your business for world-beating success.