Business Plumber…?

Business Plumber…?

Business plumber?

Go on, admit it, you’ve been dying to ask. What exactly is a ‘business plumber’? Do I come and fix the sink in the canteen when Mabel’s blocked it up with old tealeaves again? Do I discreetly sidle into the gents to deal with a faulty cistern? Do I, perhaps, check out the water supply in the boss’s office because his upmarket coffee machine is on the fritz?

Well, basically – no, no, and no.

So – you may reasonably ask – what’s all this stuff about plumbing, then?

Well… let me tell you a tale…

Business Plumber – the origin story

Origin story? You may be thinking radioactive spiders (or not). But as it happens the only radiation on that particular night came from my brow. Because I had a presentation to write. About my business. And I could not, for the very life of me, think how to describe it in a way people would understand.

Let me explain.

I can’t say that I ‘increase efficiency’. Because that makes it sound as if I deal with ‘people problems’. And clients start coming back with all the wrong questions. ‘Do my staff need more training? Do they need coaching? Do they need performance management? (For which read ‘very severe coaching’?) Do they need incentives, perhaps…?’

Well – possibly none of the above. Or some. But that’s not the point. Because I’m less worried about who is doing the work (and why) than how they are doing it, and with what.

The fact is, I’m all about the ‘how’. In other words, all about the process.

Which is tricky in a world where people who otherwise seem perfectly sensible can tell you to ‘just do it’ and actually expect something to happen.

And that was when I had a stroke of inspiration.

(Water) travels with my aunt

When I was young I liked to visit my aunt, who lived in a rather older house than ours. And I couldn’t help noticing that when – as I often did – I tried to run hot water for the washing up it seemed to take an eternity to get to a useful temperature.

Probably because her plumbing was only slightly less complicated than the map of the London Underground. (Making the whole operation rather like a game of Mornington Crescent…)

It was the perfect analogy. Because no special measures would have the slightest effect on the hot water tank. No amount of coaching was going to make that journey from tank to sink any faster. And no incentive of any kind would persuade the tangle of pipes between them to rearrange themselves more sensibly. In fact the only way to make things better was to rip out the plumbing and put back something a bit less reminiscent of Spaghetti Junction…

And that’s what I do with businesses. Because my focus isn’t on the people so much as on the processes they’re working with – the workflow. Or, if you like, the ‘business pipework’. And if that, too, is reminiscent of Spaghetti Junction then even the most motivated, determined, well-coached and super-efficient team won’t get it working any better than it does already.

Enter – the Business Plumber. Ready to disentangle the pipework in your operation. So if that sounds like something that would help you, just call me on 01359 240717 or send me an email. Your first hour is free.

 

 

Business can be a rum game…

Business can be a rum game…

…but gaming can be a very profitable business. And so can the gentle art of ‘gamifying’ – turning the experience for someone visiting your blog, your website or your social media page into a game.

No wonder game designers are having a field day!

‘Gamifying’ something makes it fun, but can also make it a valuable learning experience. Consider the plight of a mother with a young asthmatic child. That child needs an inhaler – but is unlikely to use it properly. An app called MySpira is pretty much guaranteed to help. It makes the whole thing into a fun interactive game. Which will also ensure the inhaler is used correctly, and to maximum effect.

For the record, that app was built by a teenager, and taken to market by a company just down the road from me, Orbital Media.

What game designers do…

Game designers understand how people’s minds work. What entertains them. What enthralls them. But also what can trick them. Mislead them. Take them ‘down a rabbit hole’ to accept an alternative reality. And because games increasingly operate in the real world, for instance with AR (augmented reality) they understand just how easy that can be. Of course you aren’t likely to accept there’s a dinosaur in your living room. Even so, there are other ways to lead you gently but inexorably astray. And conspiracy theories like QAnon could be described not as ‘games for people to play’, but as ‘games that play people’.

At least, that’s the view of one professional game designer.

His perspective is unusual. That’s because he spends his life creating games that draw people into alternate worlds, where different rules apply. And his job is to make that experience engaging, entertaining and addictive. QAnon offers precisely that to its devotees. And like fantasy role-playing games, it delivers something that masquerades as reality – though it is nothing of the kind. Read his article here…

And the lesson for business owners?

Think about your user experience. Think about what happens from the time a client first learns about your business to the moment they complete a purchase. How comfortable is that process? How easy is it to navigate? Are there bumps in the road? Could it be quicker, or easier? Could it even become… addictive?

That’s not a question you will find easy to answer. After all, to you it’s all second nature. So if you’d like a little help, just call me on 01359 240717 or send me an email. Your first hour is free.

Mental health – and business survival

Mental health – and business survival

Mental health in business has always been an important issue, but it’s taken a pandemic to deliver the focus it deserves.

Not surprising, really.

A few months in lockdown with your nearest and dearest can test the strength of even the best relationship. Add the extra pressure of compulsory home working (even if you like it). Sautee with an elegant mix of frustrated children (and the need to home school them), rampant pets, and a frazzled partner. Then bring to the boil with a relentless torrent of bad news. Result – the perfect recipe for a nervous breakdown!

Quite possibly. And quite certainly in some cases. So, what can you – as a business – do about it?

Thinking about that I was reminded of the blog post that Mary contributed back in August 2016.

She was writing about the specific problems a depressive can face with running a business. But the fact is that many of us are now trying to work under intense mental pressure. And with many of the same symptoms.

It may help to think about what’s ‘going wrong’ for people in this situation – the impact on what they perceive as ‘normal’. Regular routines haven’t been disrupted so much as shattered. Much that they’ve quite reasonably taken for granted is now unavailable at worst, or problematic at best. And any kind of planning has to face a haze of uncertainty.

For some that can be challenging. Even exciting. For others it can be simply terrifying, a complete loss of control that leaves them rudderless in a stormy ocean. And with no idea of how long that storm will last. Which is the classic recipe for suicidal thoughts.

Structure – a path to improving mental health.

When everything is unpredictable, the predictable becomes very attractive. Structure. Routine. Something that can be planned, scheduled and delivered.

Which means, of course, that we’re talking about a process.

But it does need to be the right kind of process. Something that offers support and encouragement rather than strictures and penalties. That makes allowances for the realities of working from home. And that is almost certainly different from the process that would be used in a physical workplace.

If that sounds like a bit of a challenge, it might help to discuss your specific needs. Just call me on 01359 240717 or send me an email. Your first hour is free, and right now you don’t even need to buy me a coffee…

The Christmas Creation Process

The Christmas Creation Process

Christmas – ever wondered how we got to where we are with it?

Like most other things that are even a little worthwhile, it’s the result of a long and complex process. Which goes something like this…

  1. It’s the middle of winter, and our (very) distant ancestors are feeling cold, hungry, and depressed. But at least the cold has preserved the meat from their most recent hunt. So they decide it’s time to thaw it out and eat it…
  2. Some less distant ancestors notice that fir trees stay green right the way through the winter. Clearly they are powerful…
  3. Christian missionaries appear in Iron Age Europe. They find there’s a pagan feast at Midwinter involving the worship of a tree. It’s a bit like the Roman feast of Saturnalia, which they’ve already grabbed and converted to a celebration of the birth of Christ. So they do the same up north…
  4. But try to eradicate the tree-worship bit…
  5. Martin Luther (so we are told)  is out walking one day and is captivated by the sight of stars twinkling among the branches of a fir tree. He cuts it down, takes it home, brings it into the house, and decorates it with candles.
  6. Thus inadvertently recreating a pagan festival.
  7. Which is just a tad ironic for a man who thinks the Catholic Church isn’t godly enough…
  8. Germans take the tradition further, decorating their trees with Christmas-themed food items.
  9. They also use silver wire for decoration.
  10. Yup, real silver….
  11. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha – better known as Queen Victoria’s husband – decides that Windsor Castle needs its own Christmas tree.
  12. In 1846 a sketch showing the royal family gathered around their Christmas tree is widely distributed
  13. Suddenly everyone wants a Christmas tree.
  14. Thus demonstrating the power of social media.
  15. In 1895 Ralph Morris, an American telephone engineer, replaces Luther’s candles with electric lights.
  16. He gets a commendation from his Health and Safety advisor. (Or would have done, if they’d had them in 1895…)
  17. In December 2020 Aunty Pru is feeling cold, hungry and depressed because it’s the middle of winter. She’s also self-isolating, meaning no one else has been in the house since March. There’s a blizzard outside, and her helpers can’t get to the shops. But at least there’s a pile of stuff in the freezer.
  18. So she decides it’s time to thaw it out and eat it…

Looks as though the whole process is starting all over again…

Business communication – only connect?

Business communication – only connect?

Good business communication is a much undervalued skill. For example, in an earlier post – Is your cashflow flowing? – I highlighted, as a joke, precisely how to frame an invoice to be absolutely sure that you wouldn’t get paid. And the examples I gave aren’t fictional – I’ve seen all of them at one time or another, on one invoice or another.

Though admittedly not all at the same time – as in this mockup

As you can see, the trick is to miss out vital information like your name and address, what you are actually invoicing for, and your bank details.

For extra security you can add items you didn’t say you were charging for, add VAT you didn’t include in the original quotation, omit any customer purchase order numbes or references, and wait to send your invoice as long as possible after the work has been done.

For a really sophisticated solution, make sure you don’t actually send the invoice to someone who will know anything about it – ideally on a different site.

But…

Having posted that some time ago I came across a real-life example of failed communication – and I can do no better than quote the friend who had the experience.

I have a hospital appointment this week, organised with admirable speed. Individual staff I have spoken to have been lovely. But… but…

They sent me a letter. “Please phone the Unit if…” etc. Did the letter include a phone number? No.

Does the Unit appear on the online list of hospital departments, so I can find the phone number? No.

Hospitals are big. I have been told to go to Entrance 3. Did they send a hospital map? No.

Does their website contain a clearly accessible hospital map? No.

I needed to have a pre-procedure Covid test at the hospital. Did they send me written instructions on how to find the testing site? No.

How hard is any of this, really?

Those who have eyes to see, let them see…

And if you’re even faintly worried about your own processes – or your own business communication – I’ll be happy to assist. Just call me on 01359 240717 or send me an email.

Changing working methods in a family business

Changing working methods in a family business

So you’re a family business, and you’re wrestling with all the palaver that Covid-19 has created.

New regulations. New – and ever-changing – restrictions. New ways of working to keep your staff (and your customers) safe. And, of course, to keep in line with the law.

It’s a lot to deal with.

Some of the changes you need to make seem pretty obvious. Others don’t. And some may seem obvious to you, but not to your staff. After all – let’s face it – no one likes change. Especially when they can’t see the point of it.

And you’re running a family business. With staff who are used to a working environment that’s more relaxed, more focused on people, and less hierarchical. Which means they may not be too keen to embrace new and unfamiliar ways of working.

You think – or even know – they’re essential. Your team may well regard them as ‘bureaucracy gone mad’, and respond accordingly. They may even think they’re helping. After all, they won’t want to see your business drowning in paperwork. Or losing its attraction – to them – by becoming rigid and inflexible.

But you, of course, need those changes to happen. Right now.

So what’s the answer?

Start with a good, positive thought. You’re running a successful family business – and that’s thanks, in large part, to your team. You know they’re invested in what you’re doing, and dedicated to supporting you. So their resistance to change – ironically – is the result of their commitment to you and to the business.

And that’s what you need to build on…

Use that commitment. Work with it. You know your people – so you will know how best to get the same level of commitment to the changes you urgently need to make.

In practice that requires two things: patience, and time. You’ll need to talk to them. To explain what you are doing, and why. To discuss, with them, how those changes can best be implemented. Especially if your first ideas are causing problems.

In other words, wherever and whenever possible you need to involve and engage them. Because that will reinforce the trust and respect they already have for you and for the business.

Yes, it takes longer. And no, it wouldn’t be the right way to tackle an urgent emergency. But it’s the best way to build commitment to new working practices, and to ensure your staff do what’s necessary.

Even when you’re not looking…

You can see earlier posts about change management here on the website, of course. But if you’d like to talk it through, give me a call on 01359 240717 or drop me an email!  The first hour is free, so there’s no catch.