What does ‘Priority’ mean to you?

What does ‘Priority’ mean to you?

Most of us would say in answer to that question “the one most important thing”.

The thing that we just have to do first, in preference to all others.

Priority is singular.

However, in most cases I see the word used as a plural, ‘Priorities’. It seems this is a new word, spawned perhaps by our instinct to cover our bets and our management arses.

We all get what ‘Priority’ means, but how do we separate the ‘Priority’ from the ‘Priorities’.

In most management situations, we do not do that separation job adequately. We end up trying to do too much, compromising the outcomes of everything in front of us.

Pick one priority, and when done, move on.

In 1997 when Steve Jobs (don’t you get sick of examples from Apple and Jobs?) returned from involuntary exile back to Apple, the company he started was on the verge of insolvency, having just lost over a billion dollars. A year later, Apple turned a $309 million profit.

How did he do it?

He focused Apple on the priority: selling the core range of two products, the PowerMac 3 and PowerBook 3.

Most of the huge range of products were discontinued, revenue did drop, but overheads dropped even further, so they made money, and were able to reinvest in the follow up innovations that changed the world.

Italian mathematician Vilfredo Pareto coined what has become known as the 80:20 rule by observing a wide range of totally unrelated situations where 80% of something was generated by 20% of the generators. The truth of this principal was observed by pioneer management consultant Joseph Juran who popularised it as the Pareto Principal.

In 22 years of consulting and contracting, mainly to medium sized manufacturing businesses, I have only ever seen evidence that the Pareto principal holds. In some cases, it is more like 90:10, so the challenge is the same one faced by Steve Jobs.

Which 80% of what you are currently doing do you no longer do?

Never an easy question, there are always reasons for everything that is being done, but survival is often about establishing the priority, and doing just that one thing better than anyone else.




Will this change finally compel you?

Will this change finally compel you?

Back in June 2016 when Microsoft paid $US26 Billion for LinkedIn, we all expected there to be changes. You do not spend that sort of dosh, even when it is just change as it is for Microsoft, without a plan.

The advice from many, including myself was that it had just become even more important than ever to own your own digital real estate, a functional and attractive website, delivering your value proposition,  rather than relying on rented real estate, someone else’s platform like Facebook or LinkedIn.

All the platforms monetise by being wholesalers of eyeballs, they sell advertising by many names to those who want to reach you, and do not care much about how you feel, only that you are reachable, and they have found remarkably innovative ways to do so, and I suspect the pace of innovation is just accelerating.

Early in January, all LinkedIn members received an email from our friendly hosts at LinkedIn saying they were ‘retiring the notes and tags features’ our connections page for those using the free version. This is simply code for if you want it, you can pay for it.

As the platform is theirs, as with a rented house we live in, we have no control over the terms and conditions, we accept them or leave. Not too surprising I thought, but nevertheless, annoying as the tags feature particularly is (was at the end of March) very useful.

Now I opened up LinkedIn this morning and there is a whole new look, no doubt aimed at making my experience better, code for we are going to charge you for something else you have had for free to date.

Again, not surprising, but annoying, not just because it will start  to cost me,  but because I will have to adjust to a whole new layout. I am 65, change does not come as easily as it once did.

Never has the importance of having your own digital real estate been more important, and never has it been harder to build. No longer can you stick up a dodgy website and have people find you, there are millions of sites, and billions of posts daily, being found by chance is harder than finding a particular grain of sand on Bondi beach.

The best time to start building a digital platform you own was 10 years ago, the second best time is now.  It is a bit like the telephone in 1915, everyone had survived to date without one, it seemed that you could continue to do so, but by 1920, no business could survive without a phone.

Do not stuff around, but it is not free, there is a substantial investment of time, skill, and money involved, but like the phone 100 years ago, you cannot survive without one for long.


What do employees really want?

What do employees really want?


If I asked that question of 50 randomly selected medium sized business owners, the first answer would be something like ‘More pay’.

That would be the wrong answer.

‘More pay’ is the default when other things more important to them are missing, and there is no other reason to go to work each day. This is in Australia of course, a place where the necessities of life are covered, nobody is going to starve.

Employees want to work for a successful business, one that offers them security and a chance to learn and develop their talents and interests, as well as supplying the means to  buy the necessities of life. Nobody likes turning up not knowing if the business will be open that day, or if the receivers will be waiting for them.

When was it ever a better feeling to be on a losing team, than it was to be a part of a winning team?

Giving employees this reassurance is more than telling them that the business is profitable, although that helps. It is about taking them into your confidence as you would a trusted friend. Funny thing about trust, it needs to be earned by performance, and once earned, it is returned.

Trust given begets trust received.

Creating the environment where that trust becomes automatic and mutual takes time and effort, but success will put ‘better pay’ way down the list of employee concerns.

Following is the pathway I advise those I work with to follow:

Articulate where we are going. It is difficult to get people to buy into a journey  without telling them the destination. Try getting your young kids in the car just by ordering ‘get in the car,’ but tell them they should jump in the car, we are going to Luna Park, and you will be killed in the rush.

Paint a picture of the destination. Your kids have a mental picture of Luna park, fun by the harbour,  but your employees have no such picture of what success looks like, so paint it for  them, recognising that it is not just about the success of the business, it is about what success means for them, their colleagues, friends, customers and families.

Show them the journey. The kids know the way to Luna park, sort of depending on age, but your employees have no real idea of the journey you will share on the way, so lay it out. What sort of operating targets there will be, describe the workplace, the type of customer necessary for the success, what skills and knowledge will need to be deployed , and which ones will need to be developed, Who are your competitors, what are the expected challenges that need to be overcome, and so on.

Describe why it is important to get there. This is  not about profits and personal success, it is about what difference you are making to the community and people’s lives, a description of  the higher purpose, or the ‘Why’ of the business. It can sound a bit ‘mushy’ and new age, but when there is something that people can relate to at a gut level, the power of that is immense. Profit is an outcome of a job well done, one of the many measures of success, it should not be the primary measure of success.

WIFM. (What’s in it for me) while the objective is to engage with a higher purpose, there will always be a time where this question needs to be answered. When you have succeeded in doing the above, the answer will be  about the satisfaction of doing something useful, being valued, having control over your workplace, being a part of a community, learning and growing, and when those are satisfied, they may ask how much will be in the pay packet.

Personalised feedback. All of the above points are general, things that a leader  could and should do for the whole group of employees. However, employees are also individuals, and managing direct reports one on one is a core responsibility of leadership.  A one on one conversation can be many things, feedback on performance both positive and pointing out areas for improvement, assistance with a problem being faced, collaboratively addressing difficult problems,  advice of a personal as well as commercial nature, professional development,  and an opportunity to build a relationship of trust and respect. The meetings can take many forms, but they should be regular and formal, which means agendas and meeting notes, as well as diarised meeting times.  As a general rule, you would have these meeting with your direct reports, and encourage them to have similar meetings with their reports, indeed, coach them to do so.

When you do all that, you will build a motivated and engaged workforce, and that is a competitive advantage that is really hard to replicate. I can help with all that, having done it several times, and so know how to avoid the most of the traps.

Reflections of a dinosaur on 2017

Reflections of a dinosaur on 2017

Never have JM Keynes’s words been more relevant: “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones

He said this in relation to economics, but it seems to me that it is now ubiquitous across everything we do personally and as communities and countries.

Working as I do with medium sized businesses, particularly those who actually manufacture stuff rather than flogging intangibles,  all are hugely challenged to compete in a globalised and commoditised world. Some common themes that underpin,  define, and are redefining the path to commercial sustainability appear to be largely ignored.


What is old is not new again. It seems to me that this old truism is now redundant, as the pace and scale of change is so vast that the old stuff no longer gets recycled, and while by not understanding history we are doomed to repeat it remains true, the new versions are radically different to the old ones.

The ‘old’ ways of doing things are not  being changed, which implies that there is a progression of some sort, they are being disrupted, by which I mean thrown out the window. Uber and Airbnb are the poster boys, but look at what is happening with artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, and it is hard to conclude anything other than the old is dead, and the most relevant question has become ‘how will we cope with the new?


The fight for attention.  The tsunami of stuff coming at us in a myriad of ways, increasingly mobile, is overwhelming, and most are seeking ways to aggressively filter out the stuff they do not  want, but there are industries out there finding ways around the filters. The old notions of privacy are out the window, and so the tsunami just grows geometrically. So called digital helpers, might claim to make life easier by anticipating what you might need and want based on previous behaviour, but they are really just ways of gaining and holding attention in order to create a transaction favourable to them. Mobility is an absolute requirement of attention. Not just do we require our data to be immediate on demand and mobile, we do our searching and thinking while mobile.


Immediacy is currency. The world is immediate, we want it now, on demand, and will not be satisfied with less. However, it is hard to get immediacy from legacy systems. Why should it take Telstra a week to connect a new mobile phone, interspersed with bullshit from an off shore call centre, when obviously it takes a few seconds on a keyboard. Not good  enough anymore. With the immediacy is mobility, a sort of coinage from the currency of immediacy. Everything in life is on demand, from cabs to grocery deliveries, and not meeting the demand has become a harbinger of failure. If you are  not mobile you will be missing out


Creativity delivers attention. Amongst the tsunami of stuff, the few that stand out will be different, and in some way strike a chord in an individual. It is ironic that the notion of ‘big data’ is really geared to ‘little data,’ picking through the masses of data-garbage to find the few bits that are focussed on the individual.  The customer journey, so easy to map over the past few years, has had its day in the sun. No longer can we rely on the standardised generic journey from which, while we know there will be deviation, remains in general sufficiently true to use as a base for decision-making. No longer. There are simply so many ways to travel the road, that the only way to get them to stop is too be creative, arresting, or as Steve Martin says, ‘so good they cannot ignore you’


Business is personal. Peter Drucker is famous for observing amongst other things that the sole purpose of a business was to create customers, and never has that been so right. However, in order to create a customer, being different is essential, which requires continuous innovation and more importantly the ability to deploy innovation almost in real time. Marketing is now all about the personal, therefore the ability to create  automated personalisation , or perhaps personalised automation, will define the parameters of success.


Success is dependent on attention. This is getting harder and harder as the access to organic social feeds is increasingly limited by those with their feet on the choke point, the digital platforms through which this all flows. In order to be successful the need to own your own digital platform is getting greater by the day, just as it is getting harder to achieve it, simply because the task of gaining attention has become geometrically harder.


Trust requires transparency, and transparency requires trust. The world is a way less trusting place than ever, nobody leaves their front doors open any more, and we are wary of public gatherings. Even in a place like Sydney, where last night’s New Years fireworks on Sydney harbour brought an unprecedented level of security, which really serves mainly to get in the way of most, as the really determined would simply plan their way around the cops on the beat. The most concerning danger is the one we do not see and understand, and by over-reacting we are just making things worse for most while offering solace to those who trade in mistrust.


Are we educating for the future, or reflecting the past? I am no expert in education, but between my 4 grown kids there is 6 undergraduate degrees and a masters, so I claim to have rubbed up against the system a bit. My education goes back a long time, but  the best teacher I ever had was an old Harvard professor, Jim Hagler who was somewhat ostracised even by that august institution because of his ideas about the value of rote learning Vs creative thinking. That was in the 70’s, and I do not see much progress, he would still be outside the mainstream of bureaucratic education implementation. It seems to me that we are setting about the process of education by reflecting the past, and assuming the future will be pretty much the same,  when even the most blinkered thinker will concede this is not  the case. Our universities need to be funded, but the economic rationalists seem to be in control, and are screwing the pooch. The environment of thought, learning and education in its broadest sense is bastardised by the requirement to flog bits of paper to whomever is willing and able to pay for them. Somehow It seems to be a road to perdition, a place where a degree can be bought, and is therefore worth little as a mark of true education. At the same time we have been telling our kids that they are second rate if they do not have a degree. The trades have become dirty, and the skills that built cathedrals, bridges, machines, and the water systems that enable us to be civilised are rapidly being lost to generations who think that manipulating digital currency is useful work.


I am 65 in a few days, so perhaps I am just a dinosaur, but from the perch of all those years in and around businesses, education and the public sector, I am becoming seriously concerned with the world my grandchildren will inherit.

Anyway, I hope that 2017 turns out to be a great year, one that marks a turning point in our capacity to see ourselves as others see us, and understand that as communities we simply have to live and work together, as the alternative is pretty ugly.

Happy 2017 to you all.

Where are your OSZ boundaries?

Where are your OSZ boundaries?

We are all familiar with the term ‘Comfort zone’ as in ‘that is outside my comfort zone’.

When most people speak publicly to a large audience for the first time, it is way outside their comfort zone. That discomfort manifests as fear, they sweat, the knees are rubbery, voice goes up a few octaves, and sometimes nausea takes over, but for most, they become increasingly comfortable with being on stage with practice.

In effect the limits of their comfort zone have been expanded. What was previously in their discomfort zone has become comfortable.  The ‘fear’ of being on stage has lessened, you learn to work with it, manage it, and often turn it to your advantage.  For some it becomes an exciting and stimulating experience.

I would propose then that we go one  step further.

To our own comfort and discomfort zones, which are well populated in our minds, we add a third option.

Our ‘Oh Shit’ zone, or OSZ.

This is not just an increased level of discomfort, the jelly-knee, voice cracking experience of that first gig on a big stage, where you are able to add rational thought and know that whatever happens, you will go home that night at about the same time.

The Oh Shit Zone implies a level beyond  psychological discomfort to one of physical or psychological danger. Manageable but nevertheless, danger, with the attendant fear that has to be managed if you are to get through to the ‘other side’ of the event.

For me, it would be jumping out of a perfectly good aeroplane with a little sack on my back that promised to float me to earth safely.

However, once done, having conquered the fear the first time, the second time would be easier, and the third, easier again.

The uncomfortable things we all need to do, but often do not are the things that hold us back. I am as guilty as anybody, that fear of failure, of public censure or even pity is strong. Those that push through, conquer their fear and get the job done despite the obstacles, are the ones who will be successful.

Considering you OSZ puts a different perspective on  bit of discomfort.


Environmental research: A commercial necessity.

Environmental research: A commercial necessity.

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to a session that outlined the latest Roy Morgan research focussing on Mortgage stress and superannuation.

The data presented by Morgans CEO Michele Levine  was both informative and disturbing in a number of ways. I recommend you have a look at  the slides, and the report, and give some thought to the problems that will evolve over the next few  years that this country will have to address, somehow.

As I considered the data and the implications, it got me thinking more broadly  about one of my long term hobby horses.

Environmental research.

Not the tree hugging type, although there are significant commercial questions and opportunities there, but the sort of research that informs thinking about the long term trends and behavioural changes that will impact the competitive environment in which we all have to live.  Understanding the direction of change has proved time and again to be more important in successful commercial development than the more common stuff that just tests the reactions to a specific proposition. It provides the context for  the varying value propositions reflected in commercial and social offerings, and creates the framework from which you can learn.

environmental research 1


A sensible framework includes an ongoing process to scan the trends, focus on those that will have a long term impact on the community, generate alternative responses, execute responses in a trial format, test , measure and iterate.


In the fortunate circumstances that we had a political climate that encouraged and enabled the sort of decision making that a society needs if it is to optimise the mix of economic and social policy outcomes over the long term, this sort of ‘environmental research’ would act as a valuable input to the debate.

Pity we do not have that sort of political environment, our children will pay a high price for our failure in that regard.  The best I think that we can hope for is to rely on the collective common sense of the electorate, but I sense that cynicism and the resulting self interest are dominating.

Not much of long term community value seems to be coming from the current politics, although the participants all claim to represent the mood and values of the community. They should be publicly considering the implications of research such as that done by Morgan, and we would all be better off in the long run for the informed debate founded on facts rather than supposition, suspicion and hyperbole.

There is however considerable meat in the data useful for the development and informing of commercial strategies and priorities. This ‘meat’ should assist you to optimise your returns while our so-called leaders fiddle.