Tuesday, 22 May 2018

"It's Normal"

Have you ever been in a new situation where you had to do something which seemed really dangerous or risky to you, but those around you accepted as “normal”?  I heard an interesting anecdote from the Manging Director of an oil company who had recently been out to see one of the offshore rigs that the company operated and had been nervous over the process of transferring from the ship carrying the rig crew to the rig itself.

Although the MD was nervous, and asked others transferring to the rig whether they felt the same, they all told the MD not to worry and that everything would be “Alright”.  To them, this was “normal”, but to the first-timer for this experience, it was a scary prospect.

It got the MD thinking: the other workers had “normalised” the risk, even though a few months before, someone had fallen between the rig and the crew transfer vessel.  That person survived, but it proved that things could go wrong, despite everyone thinking it was “normal”.

The MD’s question was this: how many risks in our lives have we “normalised” because we carry out that activity every day?  Think of driving a car: when you get behind the wheel for your first lesson, it all seems so complicated with the steering wheel, pedals, mirrors, gear shift, indicators and so on to remember.  And yet a year after passing our driving test, we get into our card and everything seems to come automatically.  What happened to all that complexity?

On the flip side, we may forget to look for risks because everything seems “normal” now.  The best time to spot risks is to have a new set of eyes look at them.  A typical example might be that new recruit looking at how we do something and asking, “Isn’t that dangerous/illegal/etc?”  When they ask this, we should be stopping and asking, “Do they have a point?  How doesthis look in the real world?” as opposed to resorting to our rose-tinted view of our world.  Again, the MD related how colleagues from a refinery in another country had come to the local one and asked all kinds of questions about safety and risk issues which they had spotted – and they were working for the same company!

It’s never too late to stop and ask, “Have we normalised this?” to the extent that we don't see risk where it might actually be hiding in plain sight.


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Process or Product?

In any organisation there is “process” meaning the steps that people follow to achieve a particular result.  Where paperwork is involved, this might be called “bureaucracy”.  On the other side, there is the end result: the outcome of that “bureaucracy”.  It may be the issuance of a driving licence, the approval for an application for an activity, or registration of something.

Businesses all have processes and results (the latter usually being the product or service they're trying to sell).  When a business starts, it’s all about results: getting those sales in and paying bills.  As the business grows and hires more workers, the owners see a growing need for guidelines to ensure things are done in a uniform way for “control”.  As the organisation grows further, they hire HR managers, accountants, IT specialists and others, each of whom has their own “process” for getting things done.

Having worked in global organisations, as well as SMEs, my opinion on process is divided.  It isnecessary for ensuring uniformity and control, but the key is not to pile paperwork (or “admin”) onto people whose job is to earn money for the business (or at least, not to spend too much).  The advent of the personal computer has brought benefits in terms of being able to duplicate documentation, but also the ability to deliver much more “bureaucracy”.  A tool for productivity risks becoming a tool for paperwork.

To give a highly generalised example, one could say that businesses are about results, governments about bureaucracy.  Governments focus on process, businesses on the results of processes.  There is a definite risk in large businesses that “Cost Centres” (the departments not directly engaged with customers) become more like government in their desire to implement processes to (as the front line would see it) the detriment of making money.  The key is a balance, given the size of the organisation, between “bureaucracy” and “results”.  

As the cost of technology reduces, governments are turning more to the benefits this offers.  In many countries, one can now apply “online” for certain services, reducing time spent going to centralised offices, speaking with functionaries and returning to collect documents.

We need to ask, are our processes stifling us or supporting us?


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Tips For “Service First”

How often do we see complaints in the newspapers, or TV news reports about an organisation’s poor customer service?  When we look on Amazon or (in my case) the iTunes App Store and see comments about slow/non-existent response to complaints, do we want to buy that product or service?  

In an age where many products and services can be copied, the key to survival is outstanding (not average) customer serviceBy the way, has anyone noticed how we never see reports of outstanding service – that’s not newsworthy!

What makes for a great “service first” culture?  Answers differ, but some common points are:

Walk in your customer’s shoes:
What are their expectations, can we meet or even exceed them?  How difficult would it be?

Listen (then listen again and listen some more):
We assume we “know what our customers want” (I’ve even heard this at committee meetings).  Many of our assumptions, especially if not based on walking in our customers’ shoes, are just plain wrong.  

Don’t use “your” jargon:
Every organisation has its own language or “verbal shorthand” to describe certain services, products or situations.  Customers don't speak it, so don't use it with them in an effort to sound superior, it only annoys them.

Happy workplace = happy workers = happy customers:
What more needs to be said? If staff are happy in the workplace, it shows.  Sir Richard Branson knows this.

The devil is in the detail:
We’re often frustrated by little things rather than major issues, but the little things are usually the first things to be ignored or neglected.  Look at top-class restaurants to see how much time they spend getting the table setting exactly right before they seat you.  How do people greet you when you come in?  Do they smile?

We can’t please everyone:
Despite our best efforts, we’ll get things wrong and some people will be unhappy.  It's a fact of life.  We can't let this distract or dishearten us.

If business grows, so must the service:
Does everyone eat, sleep and breathe the same service culture?  As business owners, we’re passionate about what we do, but do we communicate this effectively to others and explain our expectations?

If you’ve got it, flaunt it!  Improve the rest:
We need to exploit our strengths and what we’re good at, whilst continuously looking to improve where we need to.  Over time, this may change, so we can't get complacent.

Deliver more than they expect - always:
We make our customers feel important by going the proverbial “extra mile”.  Why do some people pay more for “Business Class”?

Adopt, adapt, improve:
This is the motto of the Round Table movement of which I was once a member.  It’s one of the credos by which I’ve lived, adopting methods that work, adapting them to changing times and, where I can, improving on them.  In business, the old cliché “What got you here won't get you there” is highly apposite.  We can’t afford to get complacent as that’s where the competition will move in – fast!


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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