The Post of Christmas Present

Post of Christmas PresentIn Part 2 of Think Oak’s Christmas blog posts – The Post of Christmas Present, let’s take a look at the current state of Business, Leadership and Technology. If you missed Part 1 – Click here.

The Post of Christmas Present

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”  Charles Dickens

Business, Technology and Leadership are at a tipping point. All 3! The decisions that Leaders, Businesses and Technology developers are making at this very moment will, in my view, seal their fate for the future. Why? Three things:

Trust, Ease of Doing Business and Value for Money

The table below shows 9 areas where Business, Technology and Leadership meets Trust, Ease of Doing Business and Value for Money

Christmas Present Matrix


Brand Loyalty

Brand Loyalty has become a hot topic over the last decade.

A recent study by ClickFox found that benefits drive loyalty – identifying brand quality (60%), ease of use (46%) and features (40%) as critical for customers when choosing their favourite brands.

First impressions matter: Brands have one chance to win customers over, according to 56% of respondents who said that the first purchase or beginning of service is the deciding factor in establishing brand loyalty.

This is today’s retail reality, and will become the reality for other vertical markets:

  • 79% of consumers spend at least 50% of total shopping time researching products online
  • 82% of consumers will substitute and switch brands due to an out-of-stock product
  • 59% of consumers are willing to try a new brand to get better customer service

A vast majority of all purchases begin online. The expectations have never been higher for retailers to deliver shopping experiences through their website, a mobile app or their social networks.  Although the brick-and-mortar store still accounts for most purchases, the beginning of the transaction starts elsewhere.

Innovative retailers are dramatically changing their business model to stay ahead by shifting their storefronts to the digital world. They’re building apps, integrating social media and ensuring a complete Omni channel experience for the customer at every touch point.

Being visible and available to your customer through every channel is highly important for competitive retailers, but how do you retain your customer? What can you do to stop them using another brand or service that’s equally available? Many brands are turning to loyalty management strategies to create a consistent customer experience that provides incentives, and rewards customers for their loyalty.

Although some companies spend billions each year to try to make their brands resonate with consumers, few ever end up with ‘Raving Fans’

But the perks are huge for those who do. Loyal customers consistently come back to buy more, they’re more willing to stay despite increases in price and they become strong advocates for the brand in their own social circles and online.

Great People

Not many organisations successfully manage to harness the full potential of “people power” day in and day out, but they need to. Organisations that deliver their brand promise through their people reap the benefits that directly impact customer loyalty, market share and profitability.

Too many companies think of their call centres as an expense to minimise. We believe that it’s a huge untapped opportunity for most companies, not only because it can result in word-of-mouth marketing, but because of its potential to increase the lifetime value of the customer.  – Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO

So, how can you enthuse, engage and empower the people in your organisation? Four things are essential if you are to harness “people power”:

  1. Recruit people with the competencies to satisfy customer expectations

Once you know and understand customer expectations, you can move on and create an organisation with the culture and the people to deliver on those expectations. This means identifying the fundamental behaviour your brand requires and the values that are integral to the brand. You must then recruit people on the basis of those behaviours and values. People matter, but the right people matter even more.

  1. Train employees to deliver experiences that uniquely fit your brand promise

New employees do not walk through your doors and instantly utilise their attitudes, skills and intelligence in the best ways to deliver great customer experiences. Nor can existing employees be expected to transform themselves instantly and alone. Not everyone has the luxury of starting with no employees and recruiting those who clearly meet identified behavioural models.

Training can be bolstered by the use of customer experience success stories to help communicate desired behaviours. Spontaneity also needs to be enabled by training. There needs to be a balance between the human and the mechanical. This is something Disney has long proved adept at.

  1. Encourage employees to demonstrate the right behaviours

Once people have the skills and understand customer needs and expectations, their performance needs to be evaluated against the right behaviours. “People power” requires that you also develop metrics for evaluating the use and impact of core and specific brand behaviours. Reward and recognition systems need to be aligned with these metrics.

  1. Drive the behaviours from the very top of the organisation

The way leaders treat employees is reflective of how employees will treat customers. Organisations that treat employees the way they treat customers understand what the customer experience and “people power” are all about. “People power” cannot be delegated. Leaders must communicate a sense of purpose and constantly reinforce the values of the organisation.

A vital part of the leader’s role is to acknowledge achievements in order to provide motivational feedback to accelerate progress. They habitually catch people “doing things right” and publicly recognise their achievements. They link training and coaching to strategic issues. They remember the connection between what customers want and what colleagues want. Above all, they treat colleagues in the way they want them to treat customers and encourage them to observe and challenge the organisation through the customer’s eyes.

One way to look at this is to consider the extent to which your organisation balances making the numbers with living the values. Successful brands are those that hit their numbers whilst living their brand values.

Value Add Relationships

Strong customer relationships drive sales, sustainability, and growth, especially in today’s economy. Organisations that build and maintain excellent customer and client relationships lead the pack, whereas those that don’t put clients first fall off pace and, eventually, disappear completely.

A big mistake made by many organisations is not realising that customer satisfaction does not always translate to loyalty. A satisfied customer is simply someone who has received what he was promised—nothing more, nothing less. Strong customer relationships, on the other hand, imply that you have delivered something extra or provided added value to the customer. Long-term loyalty and the countless benefits that go along with it are awarded to businesses that go the extra mile for their customers.

The push for stronger and healthier customer relationships needs to start now. Regardless of your industry, here are five tips worth considering as you formulate a strategy for improving the quality of your customer relationships.

  1. Engage customers

Successful relationships are two-way. Loyal customers want to be actively invested in the relationship.

Invest time in getting to know your customers, building relationships with decision makers. Talk about their challenges, their opportunities and their hopes and dreams for the future. This kind of insight can only benefit your relationship as you gain a deeper understanding of them leading to tailored communication and even products and services.

  1. Become a Trusted Adviser

Ideally, customers should view your company as a Trusted Adviser, which means that you are the first person they call when they pursue a new line of business or launch a new project, or if they need help.

To become a Trusted Adviser, consider offering assistance before the customer asks, as a way to demonstrate your commitment to the relationship. By getting involved early in the process, you bring added value to the relationship and gain access to additional selling opportunities.

Regularly sending them industry news and updates will also help to position you as an expert and also communicate that they are top of mind.

  1. Get regular feedback

In addition to offering useful and relevant information, regularly get feedback and advice from customers. Insight from regular feedback improves relationships by highlighting problems that exist below the surface—and also because you’ll be communicating, that you are willing to go the extra mile to make sure you’re meeting their needs. Feedback may also reveal ways in which the relationship can be expanded to include a greater scope of products or services.

Ditch the annual form survey and replace it with something tailored to the individual customer. Whether you use a do-it-yourself survey tool or hire a third-party professional, you are sure to gain important insight into the relationship.

Keep in mind that if you gather feedback from your customer, you must be willing and able to act upon it. Customers who provide you with their feedback expect you to act on the changes they’ve suggested, even if this action is to feedback why the changes can’t be implemented – but be sure to explain why. If you gather feedback and sit on it, you may worsen the relationship with your client.

  1. All customers are unique

Although it’s tempting to make generalisations based on aggregated feedback, the best customer relationships are created when you tailor your strategy to the expressed needs of each individual customer. If one of your larger accounts doesn’t understand a new billing process, you need to determine a better way to communicate your system. Over time, it could turn into a more serious problem than you expect.

Be alert and pay attention to your customers’ unique needs and treat each like your only customer. It may require more effort up front, but it will pay off in the long run.

  1. Keep in touch

Healthy relationships thrive on communication. If your business communicates with customers only at their request or when your company needs something, it will be difficult to leverage relationships as a driver of sales. Instead, touch base often with customers to inquire about their progress and to learn how you might be better able to meet their needs and expectations.

Communication is a key ingredient in healthy client relationships. ‘Raving Fans’ are active participants who willingly offer the time and information it takes for you to achieve the best results.


Word of Mouse

Word of Mouse or Social proof is a psychological phenomenon referring to people’s reliance on the feedback and actions of others to determine what is right and what is wrong in a given situation. Social proof is a concept as old as marketing itself—think of the testimonials in ads and the old-school word of mouth. But the rise of social media has enhanced the importance of social proof because feedback from real people is more easily accessible than ever before. As a result, entrepreneurs and small business owners are realising it’s an important part of their overall social presence.

In the world of online retail, social proof can be a strange thing. In the real world of bricks and mortar, we can see if a shop is busy, or if people are lining up outside the door of a restaurant. We look for these indicators to guide our choices, to provide the social proof we need to validate our decisions. However, on the web, with the behaviour of other people not directly visible, we rely on other indicators of social proof – customer reviews.

Online reviews have become a powerful weapon in the battle for our hearts and minds, and more importantly, our wallets. When it comes to recommendations, unsurprisingly many of us rely on friends, family, colleagues or suppliers. According to a recent survey by Gallup, 90 per cent of consumers trust recommendations from people they know. What is perhaps surprising, is the fact that 89 per cent of consumers are just as willing to trust reviews posted online by complete strangers. Essentially, consumers put almost as much faith in the reviews of anonymous people posting on websites as they do in those they know and trust.

This presents a unique opportunity for retailers. Consumers trust customer reviews 12 times more than they do the manufacturers’ own descriptions. It may not come as a complete shock that marketing content designed to sell us products is sometimes viewed with scepticism. Nonetheless, for consumers to trust anonymous strangers more – by a factor of 12 – demonstrates just how powerful customer reviews can be.

Customers that read reviews are more than twice as likely to make a purchase, and on average spend 11 per cent more than those that don’t. The travel sector, in particular, is one where people tend to place a lot of faith in the opinions of others, with 45 per cent of personal travellers planning trips based on reviews, and 54 per cent of business travellers.

Ultimately, bad reviews (whether fake or legitimate) are inevitable, and in some cases even welcome. Customers are smart, and know that retailers aren’t perfect. Sometimes stock runs out, sometimes a courier service will be late – these are things that customers get frustrated over, but understand the fact that they occasionally happen. When the service delivered is anything less than perfect, it’s a chance for retailers to acknowledge their shortcomings and act to remedy the situation.

Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere

We’re at a moment of profound change in our relationship with technology. No longer tied to devices, locations or software – the anytime, anyplace, anywhere culture dictates technology organises itself around us and shapes itself to our requirements.

From e-Commerce, marketing automation, social media, mobility, cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT), Bring Your Own Device (BYOD); new and disruptive technologies are everywhere – and so is the demand from customers and employees to use them. Digital technologies help drive productivity and improve the satisfaction of your customers and employees. But expectations are rising. Customers expect to be able to interact with you at any time and through the medium of their choice. Businesses are expected to operate 24 hours and have global reach. Competition is fierce and the rate of change is only set to increase.

Over the last few years, new channels to market including e-commerce and m-commerce have been introduced and have rapidly grown in popularity, supported by pervasive fixed and mobile internet access and broadband. This has contributed to a huge increase in home delivery, and a reduction in customer footfall for many traditional businesses. Advances in products themselves have driven change, such as digital downloads of entertainment media from books to computer games.

Retailers with many stores recognise that they no longer necessarily need a physical presence in every high street in order to achieve national coverage, and therefore some are reducing their bricks and mortar presence to fewer sites – particularly as long lease agreements come to an end. Other retailers are changing the ways in which they use their existing space to enable new services and new formats. Some are now sharing their sites with other retailers, or partnering with them on a combined customer offering.

Many entrepreneurs test the market through e-commerce before investing in bricks and mortar. Some manufacturers and suppliers are now selling directly to customers via the internet.

These technological innovations have substantially lowered barriers to market entry, making it far easier for new online businesses to be established. Today’s competitors are not just down the road or in the next town, but throughout the country and even across borders. E-commerce is making cross-border trading much easier for retailers.

Customer Experience

While we’ve seen several quick-moving organisations embrace amazing customer experience in recent years and build lasting, trusted relationships with their customers, we’re also still seeing a number of older, slow-moving companies continue to fail on this front.

With the various technologies available today, the competition to understand and serve your customer better than your competitor does is getting fierce. Enterprises should care now more than ever about providing a great customer experience.

A common problem organisations fall into is trying to use technology and software to create a customer experience. This is not recommended as it can lead to the focus being on what the technology can do, as opposed to what you can do to enlighten an amazing experience

I recommend you define a customer experience, and then identify what tools and software you need to assist to make it happen. Do not mould your customer experience strategy around technology. Find technology that you can use around your strategy.

Here are some tools you should look into:

  • CRM tools for relationship management: keep all data and communications between your company and customers in one spot so that the right people can see it quickly.
  • Marketing tools to engage with customers:  send trigger emails based on specific actions.
  • Online survey tools and customer satisfaction tools: survey customers, get feedback and measure satisfaction.
  • Web analytics and tracking tools: Measure engagement, number of site visits and page visits. Build out a customer profiles full of data to help manage the experiences.


Personal Values

In the banking sector, standards have been widely condemned in the wake of the global economic crisis. Corporate values were in the spotlight again when Google was accused by Margaret Hodge UK MP of being “devious, calculated and, in my view, unethical”.

To be successful in the cut-throat world of business, you may think there’s no place for soft values and morals. But holding on to personal principles as a leader is not just about ethics – it can also boost your career and organisation.

Leading with personal values is a leadership philosophy that steps outside of measuring success by job title or rank, personal wealth and power. It is not about emulating the great leaders of Christmas Past. Instead, it is a practice of identifying what matters to you, what you stand for and what values you have in your life. With this basis of knowing your purpose, making the right decisions in life and leadership becomes easier.

Making the right decisions is only the beginning. Leading with values is important for leaders because it creates and maintains company culture, informs employee selection, guides the direction of company growth, and adds meaning to the work required to maintain the organisation. That meaning starts with the leader, and passes down to all levels of the team.

However, understanding your values and doing the “right thing” isn’t simple. In fact, for all of us, it’s a lifetime challenge that requires thought and practice.

Think of it as an oak tree: values are our roots that keep us grounded in what’s important to us. The strength of the values determines the strength of the trunk, branches, leaves and acorns from year to year. A strong oak tree supports the ecosystem around it; a leader with strong values supports the organisational culture and the surrounding ecosystem.

Customer First

With endless options for products and services, instant access to information, and the power to share their opinions more widely than ever, today the customer is almighty.

Some organisations have actively embraced this new breed of buyer – supporting them with free delivery both ways, 24/7 live customer service, and crowd-sourced product input to ensure the voice of the customer is being heard and embraced. But what else are the leaders of these “customer-first” organisations doing to win the hearts and minds of customers? What can we learn from their focus on creating customers for life, and what does that mean for the people who work at those companies?

Creating a customer first culture can mean something different to every leader. The key is to clearly define what elements make up your version of being “customer first,” and then adjust or create processes, operations, culture, and behaviours that make it a reality. These three things can help make your customer-first culture a reality:

  1. Leaders need to define “customer first culture.”

Embrace the reality that your customer experience will never exceed your employee experience. Creating a customer first culture starts with creating an employee first culture.

Engage the hearts and minds of your people by developing a “story” with big-picture visuals that illustrates your brand promise and the optimal customer experience and people’s delivery roles within that experience.

Identify the barriers inhibiting a customer first culture and whether or not they vary by channel. Engage your people in your desired culture, specifying “how we work together” to deliver a great customer experience.

Address the barriers between functions by making operational, process, or behaviour changes, and ensure each prioritises the customer.

Share what’s working and what’s not. Reinforce best practices for moving forward.

  1. Managers need to act as owners.

Make sure managers know their role and understand the customer first strategy as it relates to your brand.

Ensure people have the leadership and coaching skills they need to act as owners of their business and build the capabilities of their people.

Identify and communicate best practice of what the best managers are doing to drive the customer and employee experience; showcase how others can adopt and emulate those same behaviours.

Underscore the importance of leadership and manager transparency around key measures and drive ownership of the results of the entire team with tools like Customer Experience Dashboards.

Develop guides for fostering ongoing conversations about the journey to becoming a customer first organisation.

Implement feedback loops so managers can provide insight on how well initiatives are working and ways to optimise the customer experience.

  1. Individual contributors need to create authentic customer experiences.

Make sure employees on the frontline understand your brand values and vision, as they will be delivering on it most often.

Engage employees in the organisation’s approach to customer experience and give examples of behaviours that support it.

Make sure individual contributors have the skills and knowledge needed to deliver on the customer-first vision, and help them set clear priorities of what’s important.

Build their sales and service skills, including point of sale, merchandising, and others that apply to your organisation.

Set clear service standards and methods to guide employees about making trade-offs and decisions.

Prepare them to anticipate customer needs in order to exceed expectations.

There’s only ever one chance to make a great first impression. Creating a customer first culture that your entire organisation embraces makes all the difference in how your brand is perceived by customers. Take the first step and set the momentum for your organisation to win customers for life.

Customer Value over Shareholder Value

Shareholder value: It’s been called the driving force of 21st-century business. It’s also been labelled “the dumbest idea in the world” by legendary chief executive Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. Welch was able to dramatically increase revenue and shareholder value during his tenure, but GE’s extraordinary accomplishments were not the result of a single-minded focus on beating quarterly profits. Maximising returns is an outcome, not a strategy.

What value do shareholders bring to the companies they invest in? Are most shareholders interested in what is best for the company, or are they in it only for the financial performance of the company’s shares?

Most executives agree that it’s important to create value for the customer. The problem is that despite the good intentions of the leadership team, this mind-set often doesn’t travel further than the company core values posted in the reception of the corporate headquarters or intranet.

Professor Solow, winner of the Nobel Prize for his theory on economic growth, found that only a small portion of financial growth in the world comes from companies making money out of money. Instead, the majority of financial growth comes from companies actually producing a product, developing a new service, or changing the way we conduct business. Consider Steve Job’s unrelenting focus on product innovation and what Apple was able to achieve by creating the iPad, iPhone, and iPod. As we know, iTunes has literally changed the entire music industry!

If you can build a product that will truly change the world, like Steve Jobs did several times, your shareholder value will take care of itself. Your problems will be protecting your distribution channels, defending your intellectual property, and retaining your talent. Which set of problems would you prefer?

I hope you enjoyed the Post of Christmas Present and if you would like to jump straight into the Post of Christmas Future, please click here!

The Meaning of Life

Meaning of Life, Oak Consult, Mark Conway, Think Oak

Both Monty Python in their film with the same title and Douglas Adams’ incredible book (and subsequent TV series and Film) – The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, pondered with great humour, The Meaning of Life. I highly recommend both if you haven’t seen them! The latter piece of  genius, came up with an answer to the meaning of life – 42. Ironically, in my 42nd year and whilst being 42, I’ve had some major life-changing events and some personal epiphanies that I thought may give others some insight into the meaning for them and their lives.

Unfortunately, I’m not going to give you the answers for your life necessarily, but I’m hoping that this post may give you some areas to ponder and maybe help you leapfrog a couple of hurdles along the way. At the time of posting this blog, It’s the start of 2014 and a time when many people reflect on the year that’s gone and make plans and resolutions for the year ahead, but there’s never a bad time to do that in my book!

So, for me as well as Douglas Adams,  the MEANING OF LIFE EQUALS FORTY TWO

M – Money

It’s possibly unfortunate that money happens to be at the top of the list and this may switch some people off straight-away. I hope not, because whether we like it or not, very few of us can achieve our goals, fulfil our dreams, experience all the things we want in life and provide for ourselves and the people we love without it. Money has never been the top of the list in the meaning of life for me, but by achieving a level of wealth through hard work and some breaks, I’ve managed to do many amazing things, visit dozens of countries (I visited 16 countries in one weekend only a few months ago!), and be able to provide enjoyment to countless others along the way.

At it’s most basic, money provides for the hygiene factors of life – shelter, clothing and food. Beyond that, and if used wisely, can open the doors to great experiences and new opportunities, but it should not be the ‘be all and end all’ to life’s meaning.

E – Energy

I talk about and think about energy a great deal. Energy is life. Everything we touch, eat, smell, taste and hear involves energy. Every interaction we have with anyone, anything, at any time in any place involves energy. Becoming an efficient monitor of our personal energy as well as that of others can really make a difference to our lives and those of people we interact with.

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” ― Albert Einstein

If you want to experience something different in your life, whether it is more money, more love, more freedom, more security, more fun, more adventure – then you need to master your personal energy. Feel good, and you will attract more of the things that make you feel good. Feel bad and think negative thoughts then you will attract more things and experiences of similar vibration. The lesson is simple – choose happiness and joy and you will be rewarded with more of the same. Please visit my previous post on energy – High Energy – High Performance

A – Attitude

Attitude links closely with Energy. I recently read a book by Victor Frankl called Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. He was forced to work as a slave labourer and watch as many of his peers died slow, miserable deaths. He was separated from his own wife, mother, and father, and lost them all before the war ended. But what did Frankl learn from his time in the concentration camp? Here’s what he had to say:

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances…

All of us have challenges in our lives, be it loss of someone we love, loss of our jobs, difficult relationships at home or at work. We can choose our attitude for how we deal with life’s challenges.

I, like many of you I’m sure, have lost people I love to cancer and seen how these people react and live (or not) with the disease. Some, upon hearing the news and the prognosis, give up on life and wait to die, others seize the challenge, fight hard with a positive attitude and often outlive the prognosis, embrace life and squeeze every ounce of enjoyment they can from their lives.  I am convinced that attitude is a huge part in their recovery and extended life.

Life is short. Live it.


N – Nature

Anyone that knows me or has visited my sister blog LIfe Spirit, will already be aware of my passion for nature. I’ve spent a huge part of my spare time throughout my life outdoors enjoying the natural world. Nature helps ground me and gives me energy, gives me time to think and helps me relax. It appears I’m not unique!

I recently read a great, if not scary, book by  Richard Louv called ‘Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder’.

There is a growing and significant body of empirical data suggesting that children and adults derive a great number of benefits from interaction with the natural world. Cognitive benefits from play in nature can include increased creativity, increased ability to solve complex problems, improved focus, greater self-discipline, and better academic performance. Socially, children who have had significant experience with nature tend to be more cooperative, flexible, and self-aware. On an emotional level exposure to nature can reduce stress and aggression, and increase self-confidence as well as overall happiness. Physically, health and fitness will be increased through contact with the natural world.

I – Intuition

Steve Jobs based his career on it, but Bill Gates used it too. Richard Branson is a big fan. It helps Alan Sugar pick his Apprentices; it helped Einstein devise the theory of relativity. It is intuition – and its importance in management, leadership and life is growing all the time.

Do you ever find yourself sizing someone up in an instant, noting their gestures and manners of speaking? These “thin slices” of someone’s behaviour can reveal much and form lasting impressions. Harvard psychology professors Nalini Ambady, and Robert Rosenthal discovered as much, after filming fellow instructors. Observers viewed three thin slices of each professor’s behaviour—10-second clips from the beginning, middle and end of a class—and then rated the professors’ confidence, energy and warmth. They found that these ratings predicted with amazing accuracy the average student rating taken at the end of the year. Thinner slices—three two-second clips—also yielded ratings similar to student evaluations.

Some people are naturally more analytical and some are more intuitive. But it’s best to combine both in decision-making: intuition followed by analysis, or vice versa. I recommend a ‘traffic light system’. If intuition and analysis both say No, that’s a red light. If they both say Yes, that’s a green. If one says Yes and one says No, that’s amber: proceed with caution. ‘We have to recognise that if we make an intuitive decision, there’s no guarantee of it being right. In the same way as with analysis; no one expects analysis to be right 100% of the time.’

N – Nurture

Any skill, relationship, career or hobby needs to be nurtured if you want to improve and develop it. Just as a plant or animal without the right conditions and support will not grow to its full potential, the same is true of our lives. Throughout our formative years, certainly for many of us, we are nurtured well by our parents and those around us. During adulthood, many of us don’t continue that investment in ourselves or don’t know how to. This restricts our personal growth and potentially the growth of the people around us.

Find ways to make time for your self-development and for your relationships! There a few tips throughout this post.

G – Goals

It had to be here didn’t it? It wouldn’t be a Think Oak blog post without some reference to Goals! Whether in your personal life or work life, goals will help you towards achieving your ambitions in life. Take some time today and write 10 goals down on a piece of paper or on your word processor; 10 goals that you would like to achieve in the next 12 months. They should ideally be a combination of work and personal goals. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to do. Try and make them as specific as possible. Regularly read these goals to yourself and try to do something towards one of them every day. You’ll be amazed at the progress you’ll make just by doing these simple things.

O – Opportunities

Life has a way of throwing challenges and opportunities our way when we least expect it. How we deal with these can define our path for the future. I’ve been fortunate to have had many opportunities in my life. Like most people, I’ve taken some and missed some. But being able to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible is important. Sometimes just one opportunity can mean the difference between an extraordinary life and an unfulfilled one. Some opportunities you choose to follow may take you down a path that’s bumpy and rocky, but I guarantee you that you’ll learn along the way.

Opportunities and risk-taking often go together. And the best ones are often the riskiest. Someone starting up a new business is not only taking a risk, but also taking advantage of an opportunity. Doing something you’ve never done before is often daunting, but work out what’s the worst that can happen, work out a plan as to how you might deal with the worst, and you’ll find that the opportunity may not seem as daunting. You’ll also find that the more opportunities you follow, the more confident and knowledgeable you become. You’ll also find that you become better at spotting even more!

F – Fun

I’ve known too many people in my life that have worked hard, provided for their families, scrimped and saved to pay their mortgage and pension only to die within months or a few short years of retiring. My father being one. Whether you believe in an after-life, in reincarnation or have other religious or spiritual beliefs, I do know one thing: We were not meant to be miserable in the life that we have today. Enjoy life and have fun. You are in control of how you feel – nobody else. You are responsible for your life – not your partner, your parents, your boss, your siblings, your friends, your teachers or the government. You DO have choices and YOU have to make them. As harsh as it might sound, nobody but you is responsible for any misery you may have in your life. I’m hearing screams of this happened to me and that happened to me. Well I’m sure they were or still are horrible experiences. Only you can do something about it though! You may need some help, and that’s ok. We all need help sometimes. But only you can stand up for yourself, decide that your life has to change, decide that you want to be happy, get the right support if you need it, but do something about it and have fun.

L – Love

I don’t profess to be an expert, but I do know that love is a huge part of who we are as humans. In putting together this post, I tried to think of the kinds of love that people feel, talk and read about. I think C.S.Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, probably gets it about right (although I think the Ancient Greeks got there before him!) – Affection, Friendship, Romance and Unconditional Love. All of these are important for a meaningful life in my view.

Affection – is fondness through familiarity (a brotherly love), especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance. It is described as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves.

Friendship – a committed and chosen love.

Romance –  is a passionate and intense love that arouses romantic feelings amongst other things!

Unconditional – love that sees beyond the outer surface and accepts the recipient for whom he/she is, regardless of their flaws, shortcomings or faults. It’s the type of love many people strive to have for their fellow human beings. Although you may not like someone, you decide to love them just as a human being. This kind of love is all about sacrifice as well as giving and expecting nothing in return.

Well-respected author and medical doctor, Dean Ornish, makes a powerful claim for the value of love:

I am not aware of any other factor in medicine – not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery – that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes. Love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer, and what leads to healing.

I – Inspiration

We all get inspiration in different ways. If you’re a regular reader of Think Oak you’ll have seen my A to Z of well-known Inspirational People (parts 1, 2, 3, 4) and who have inspired me in my life. Inspiration is important for all of us that want to achieve something of ourselves. It could be our parents, a friend, a business leader, a painting, an idea or all of these things. Inspiration drives passion, energy, action and ultimately results if you’re tenacious enough!

F – Family

Some people say you can choose your friends and not your family, but families should be cherished and nurtured, even in the tough times. Things don’t always go smoothly and there are often difficulties on the way, but I’m a firm believer that blood is thicker than water and that we should try to maintain a strong family unit where at all possible. It’s often only when we lose family members through bereavement, divorce or distance that the meaning and importance of family hits our consciousness.

E – Effort vs Reward

Very few people in life get something for nothing. And those that do, often don’t feel fulfilled in their lives. High effort, whether at work, at play or in relationships will bring rewards. I’m not saying be a workaholic. By doing that, other areas of life will suffer. What I am saying is give 100 percent in all that you do and the rewards will come.

E – Experiences

Life is for living. Living isn’t spending 28 hours a week in front of the television – The 2013 Communications Report by Ofcom in the UK reported a staggering average of 4 hours per day as the amount of time spent in front of the television – That’s nearly 12 years of your life! Don’t get me wrong, I love watching a great film, a comedy and I’ll even admit to watching the ‘X Factor’, but I’m certainly not going to spend 15-20% of my life doing it!

Create a list each year of places, events and activities that you want to visit, see and do. Then act by doing at least one of them each month, or even better – each week. You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make to your life.

Q – Quality

What is your quality of life on a scale of 1 to 10? How often do you think about that question and what do I and more importantly you mean by quality? Everyone will have their own view of what quality stands for and where they stand on their personal score. But once you spend a little time thinking about it and give yourself a score, what are you going to do about increasing it? Quality of life could be financial or your standard of living, it could be your depth of relationships, it could be how happy you feel or it could be your career or achievements. For most people it’s a combination of these things. Only you can decide what you want it to be and a will to change things in your life.

U – Understanding

Any fool can criticise, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” – Dale Carnegie

Investing time in truly understanding others pays dividends. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can have a very powerful effect on how you think about others in any part of your life – Your spouse, your friends, your boss, your customers and your family. I will admit that it’s only in recent years that I’ve started to invest time and thought in this on a regular basis. It really can change your behaviours, how you market yourself and in business, how you market to your customers.

A – Action

How often have you put things off that you’ve always wanted to do, only to find that it’s too late? How many things have you put in your ‘When I retire’ bucket?

Action differentiates the ‘haves’ from the ‘have nots’, the entrepreneurs from the pipe dreamers and the educated from the non-educated. Taking the first step, having perseverance, being willing to fail and then keep going marks out the high achievers. I’m not talking just about people’s careers here. The same is true for relationships, hobbies and learning new skills.

Don’t wait for retirement to start living to the full. Start today.

L – Life-long Learning

Many of us when we leave School, College, University or other further education, think that we have completed our education and that we don’t need to study any more. BIG MISTAKE! Learning new things throughout our life is a must if we want to get the best from it. There has never been a better time to learn. There are literally thousands of sources of learning on any topic by using the internet, podcasts, ebooks, audio books, eLearning tools, social networking sites, not to mention the varied more traditional courses available.

Make time to learn – cut an hour from watching the TV, use your commute or when you’re exercising to listen to something that will help you develop or get up half an hour early and read. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn in such a short period of time. Initially it may take a little self-discipline, but it soon becomes habit, believe me! 1 hour per working day for a year is the equivalent of 6 weeks in a class room!

S – Self-Awareness

Self-awareness means that you have a solid understanding about who you are and how you relate to the world and others around you. This means being mentally and emotionally present in situations, and understanding how your actions affect people. It also means that you’re clued into to what you really enjoy and dislike.

Not as easy at it sounds though is it? Many things in life can change us, for good or bad, and these changes cloud self-awareness. Some things that can wreak havoc on our awareness are:

Our upbringing. We are taught to behave a certain way, and that some things are bad or good. This means that we may get stuck in a rut or fail to try new things to see if we really like them.
Media. We’re bombarded with images and messages telling us how to be, and many of these can change our perception of what we think we should act like.
Our friends. We choose friends that we think we should be like, or we look for approval from them.
Society. We understand what’s acceptable in society, learn social grace, and live by the laws of the land. But unless we really have a grasp on our self-awareness, any changes will be on the surface and not at the emotional level where they need to be.

You may find a previous series of posts useful – The Brand New Brand You. You can download them all here.

F – Fear

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Frank Herbert, Dune

We were all born with two fears – falling and loud noises. They are built into our DNA and have been passed down from generation to generation as a survival mechanism. Their sole purpose is to keep us alive, and create emotion that will motivate us to avoid danger. Every other fear we face, we have learned throughout our lives.

From a young age we’re taught to use fear as a gauge. If something scares us, we are to stay away from it. If something is safe, we gravitate towards it. We’re taught that fear as a mechanism to keep us safe, to fear strangers, crossing the highway, big animals, new situations, and risk. We’re taught to use fear to stay safe, unhurt, and alive, by our parents, who were taught to do so by their parents, who were taught to use fear by their parents, and so on, all the way back to the days when you always had to be on the lookout for predators, and your only defence was your mind, your spear, and your fear. So some fear is useful, and other fears can and will hold us back from achieving our potential.

Every day, we make a thousand little compromises, avoid opportunities, actions and people–all so that we can stay away from the emotion of fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of redundancy, fear of not being liked, fear of looking stupid, fear of public speaking, fear of {enter yours here!}

You have a choice – you can let your fears cripple you into inaction or with practice into focussed action. It is a choice.  I would recommend a great book – ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway‘ by Susan Jeffers if you haven’t read it already.

O – Openness to Change

Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realise that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.
― Eckhart Tolle

How we learn to approach change can have a significant impact on the enjoyment and fulfilment of our lives. Change has never been more prolific than it is today. A job is no longer for life as it once was, as businesses and the public sector have to constantly evolve to stay solvent. Our children face very different challenges today than in our generation. Technology is evolving at a pace never before seen and is changing how people communicate, learn, work and in some cases live their lives.

I believe that being open to change, indeed to embrace and drive change, in our lives, helps us to grow.

R – Relationships

Unless your vision for your life is being a hermit on an island with no other people around you, and I have considered that a few times in my life, then you will have relationships. How you develop these relationships throughout your life will in many respects will determine your level of happiness and meaning.

I’m talking about real relationships here – not how many friends you have on Facebook, followers on Twitter or LinkedIn connections. These may help you network and foster relationships and indeed I have met many great people and developed friendships with people I have connected with in this way.

Take time regularly to review your most important relationships. Could they be improved? What are you going to do to improve them? What new relationships and with whom would you like to develop?

T – Trust

I’d like in this section to talk about three types of trust that I believe are important in life.

Firstly, is trust in yourself – self-belief and instincts. If you can master trusting in yourself, your feelings and your abilities you’re well on the way to success in my view. I’ve written a few posts on these topics – Self-limiting Beliefs Part 1 & Part 2

Secondly is trust in others – knowing who you can trust.

The more we count someone as trustworthy, the higher they rate on our internal scale. Obviously, complete trust is something that must be earned. But, could we begin every relationship by giving the other person the benefit of the doubt? Who do you like to do business with, and who are your best friends? The answer to both of those questions is directly related to who has earned your trust. When we feel that we have good reasons for trusting a company and their products, we become repeat customers. When we feel that we have legitimate reasons for trusting other people, they become our friends. Now, let me ask you this: who is the most important person in your life? Isn’t it the person that you trust above all others? Trust is a factor in all positive relationships. The greater the level of trustworthiness, the stronger the relationship.

Thirdly is other people’s trust in you. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in some great businesses and managed hundreds of great people in my career. I don’t take management and leadership lightly. Your badge of rank does not entitle you to your people’s trust. You have to earn it. Every business change activity I’ve been involved in during my 20 years in business has taught me that if people don’t believe in senior management and their intent behind a change initiative, product launch, brand, policy or initiative it will fail. The less senior management engagement, belief and reinforcing behaviours, the bigger the failure in many cases.

A breakdown in trust between you and your team, child, spouse or friend is extremely difficult to repair, so we should think about the impact of our actions and words on others before we engage.

Y – Your Purpose

There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions – in a way that serves the world and you.” – Richard Branson

Do you know what your purpose in life is? Do you believe we all have a purpose?

Some people know from an early age, what they want to do with their lives. I was not one of them! Some people are pushed into careers by their parents or teachers without really having a passion for that career. Many people go through their whole lives without one.

There are a few short exercises that may help you understand your purpose better:

1. Imagine that you had all the money in the world; imagine money was absolutely not a consideration – you have an endless supply. What would you do with this money? How would you spend your days? And after you had indulged your every whim, what work would you do? Who would you help and what vocation or personal pursuits would fill your hours. And when you have an answer to this question; this answer will begin to give you a personal direction concerning who you really are.

The following two examples may seem a little morbid at first, but try them…you may find that they really help you.

2. You are on your deathbed a young family member asks you for your advice about life. What would you say to them? Don’t think too hard about it. Just say it out loud and talk for a minute or so. This will help you understand what’s important to you – your values and priorities.

3. Try writing your own obituary. You’ve had a long and fulfilling life and done all the things you want to do. What would you say about yourself to the people attending your funeral? Keep it to a few hundred words and then read it back.

I have found these exercises very useful and revisit them every year or so.

T – Time Management & Wasting Time

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

There are thousands of courses, books, podcasts and websites talking about time management so I won’t waste my time writing a huge paragraph on it! I would point you towards one of the best books and bits of advice I’ve found and that is ‘Eat that Frog‘ by Brian Tracy. In short, each day, take the biggest and ugliest task you need to do and do it first. It really is that simple. This great book, gives you much more advice, but take that one piece of advice and follow it!

In the world of instant messaging, email, newsfeeds, social media and 24×7 information, it is extremely easy to lose several hours a day just keeping up. You need to allot time for these activities and stick to those times. Turn off all the little beeps, pop-ups and flashing lights and set expectations with others as to when you will be returning their messages.

W – Work

The average person spends approximately 100,000 hours at work during their life. That’s a huge amount of time. Wouldn’t it be great if you spent your time at work enjoying it? Whilst all of us have commitments with dependants and / or bills to pay, we don’t have to earn our money doing something we dislike doing. I’ve told this to countless people during my career when they come to me saying that they’re unhappy at work for some reason or another. I’m not talking about a bad day – we all have those. I’m talking about sustained unhappiness in a role. In my view you have 3 choices when you find yourself in this situation:

1. You can make the best of a situation and put all of your positive energy into your job and work your way to a better and happier place

2. You can do nothing, put the minimum effort in and remain miserable and watch others around you progress and become more ‘successful’

3. You can find another role suited to your skills, experience and passions and do that!

O – Open Your Senses

Our five senses are some of our most powerful tools for enhancing our well-being. Even today, doctors are still trained to rely on their senses to help diagnose and treat illness. Yet the hectic pace of modern life can sometimes drown out our ability to tune in to our bodies.

When was the last time you swam in the sea or walked along its shore listening to the waves crash and breath in the fresh salty air, listening to the gulls squawk above you?

When was the last time you stood on top of a mountain and looked out to the horizon?

When was the last time you gave someone you love a touch or a hug?

For many of us, life becomes a treadmill, where we automate the majority of life and don’t take the time to touch, listen, smell, taste, see and savour the moment.

2013 saw the loss of loved family members, dear friends and one of my personal inspirations – Nelson Mandela. I think it appropriate to finish with a couple of quotes from the great man, that certainly add meaning to my life:

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

I hope you enjoyed this first post of 2014 and that it gave you some food for thought. I would love to hear your views.

Until next time…

Creating Powerful Teams

TeamworkTrue teamwork promotes individual and collective performance. Powerful teams value listening and communicating, sharing work responsibilities, provide support and can even make work more social and enjoyable. Team members are supportive of one another and recognise the interests and achievements of each other. I would go one step further and say that powerful teams actively contribute to the success of each other. When they are working the way they should, they are incredibly effective in achieving high performance results.

From Individuals to Powerful Teams

The essence of a team is joint commitment to a shared vision with shared values. Without these elements, teams are just collections of individuals working together but separately. An average team’s performance is a function of what its members do as individuals. Such teams are prevalent in large organisations where individual accountability is most important. They may come together to share information, perspectives and to make decisions, but the focus is always on the individual’s performance.

Teams evolve over time and have a pattern of development. During the forming stage, teams attempt to define their tasks and decide how to accomplish them. They sort out how the members will relate to each other. During the storming stage, members establish a pecking order within the group. Then in the norming stage, members accept the ground rules and norms by which the members will cooperate. In the performing stage, the group has settled relationships and validated expectations and can turn to work for which they are mutually responsible. At this stage the team is capable of more work together that the sum of the individual efforts would have produced.

Powerful teams differ from average teams because they require both individual and mutual accountability. While they also rely on sharing information, perspectives, and joint decisions, teams produce results through the joint contributions of its members. They are committed to shared objectives, as well as individual objectives, and they share the same vision. Teams develop direction and momentum as they work together to achieve shared objectives. Thus they commit together to work together towards the same ends, even though each member may participate in different ways.

Working together towards shared objectives can create social ties and enjoyment. This is also an important factor that contributes to high achievement.

Management should not leave teams alone. Teams left on their own can be confused. Most successful teams shape their purpose in response to a demand or opportunity put in their path by senior management. This helps teams get started by broadly framing the organisation’s performance expectations in alignment with the organization’s mission and vision. Management is responsible for clarifying the team’s challenges. It should let the team develop a shared commitment to vision, set specific objectives, and determine its timing and work approach.

Principles of Powerful Teams

1. A meaningful shared vision that the team has shaped themselves

The best teams spend a significant amount of time and effort exploring, shaping and agreeing on a mutually defined and shared vision. This activity continues throughout the life of the team. Research on failed teams shows that they rarely develop a common purpose.

2. Performance objectives and measurements that flow from the vision

The best teams also take their shared vision and translate it into specific performance objectives and measurements for the full team. These objectives relate to the vision and build on each another, moving the team forward towards achievement and creating powerfully motivating steps to success. The achievement of objectives along the way builds momentum, fosters trust among members and helps build continued commitment.

Specific Key Performance Indicators may be such things as bringing a product to market in record time, a 50% decrease in customer complaints, or achieving a zero-defect rate while cutting costs by 40%. Transforming broad directives into specific objectives provide first steps for forming the identity and purpose of the team. As the team progresses with small wins, they reaffirm their shared commitment.

The combination of vision and specific objectives is essential to increased performance. Each depends on the other. Clarity of objectives helps keep a team on track, focused and accountable. The broader, overlying aspirations of a team’s purpose can provide meaning and emotional energy.

When people are working together towards shared objectives, trust and commitment follow. Members hold themselves responsible both as individuals and as a team for the team’s performance. This sense of mutual accountability produces alignment towards achieving a common objective. All members share in the rewards. People who participate in high performing teams find the experience energising and motivating in ways that their usual jobs could never match.

On the other hand, groups that are established as a “team” but that do not have a clear common vision rarely become effective teams. Only when appropriate performance objectives are set does the process of discussing the objectives and the approaches to them give team members a clear choice: they can disagree with a goal and opt out, or they can pitch in and become accountable with and to their teammates.

3. A blend of complementary abilities

All members of your team should have the skills necessary to perform their jobs. When there are skills gaps, the whole team suffers. When people have the right mix of skills, the team thrives.

In addition to finding the right size, teams must develop the right mix of skills, that is, each of the complementary skills necessary to do the team’s job. As obvious as it sounds, it is a common falling in potential teams. Skill requirements fall into three fairly self-evident categories:

Technical or functional expertise – Product-development teams that include only marketing people or engineers are less likely to succeed than those with the complementary skills of both. Similarly, medical practices are seldom run by clinicians alone. A mix of technical skills is often desirable if not essential.

Problem-solving and decision-making skills – Teams must be able to identify the problems and opportunities they face, evaluate the options they have for moving forward, and then make necessary trade-offs and decisions about how to proceed. Most teams need some members with these skills to begin with, although many will develop them best on the job.

Interpersonal skills – Shared vision and objectives cannot arise without effective communication and constructive conflict, which in turn depend on interpersonal skills. These include risk taking, helpful criticism, objectivity, active listening, giving the benefit of the doubt, and recognizing the interests and achievements of others.

Obviously, a team cannot get started without some minimum complement of skills, especially technical and functional ones. Still, think about how often you’ve been part of a team whose members were chosen primarily on the basis of personal compatibility or formal position in the organization, and in which the skill mix of its members wasn’t given much thought.

4. A strong commitment to how the work is done

Studies have shown that commitment to a team may translate into a willingness to help team members and improved team performance. Low levels of commitment to both the organisation and the team have been linked to absenteeism, turnover and intention to quit.

Every member of every team has a certain degree of commitment to the team effort. Whether you work in government, health care, or in another business, you have probably seen wide variations in the level of commitment that people show at work. Some people come to work every day and put forth a very conscientious effort. They are enthusiastic. They have a positive attitude about what they are doing. They constantly try to improve what they are doing. They help others. They do not wait to be told to do something that needs to be done.

Committed teammates can be relied upon to do what they say they will do. You can count on them.  If you tell a teammate that you will finish something by a certain date, you have made a commitment.

Commitment might manifest itself as team members’ willingness to do whatever needs to be done to ensure that the team succeeds in its work. Contributing to the larger team’s accomplishments becomes every person’s primary focus; as a result, team members often stop saying “it’s not my job,” or “it was my turn last week,” when difficult work must be done.

Commitment can also be characterised by a belief among team members that they are a part of something special and that they are sharing something that is very important with other people. As such, commitment can evoke strong emotions among those involved, as well as an unusual sense of connectedness among individuals from different agencies and disciplines.

5. Mutual accountability

Though it may not seem like anything special, mutual accountability can lead to dramatic results. It enables a team to achieve performance levels that are far greater than the individual bests of the team’s members. To achieve these benefits, team members must do more than just listen, respond constructively, and provide support to one another. In addition to sharing these team-building values, they must share an essential discipline.

The challenge for senior management is how to build high performing teams without falling into the trap of appearing to promote teams for their own sake. There should be relentless focus on performance and results. Paying constant attention to specific teams and their progress on specific performance objectives is the key.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Andrew Carnegie:


“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision.  The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organisational objectives.  It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on creating powerful teams. Please leave a comment below.

The Brand New, Brand You! ~ Part 2

Brand New, Brand You - Self-discoveryIn the second part of the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the first step in the START process in Brand New, Brand You, namely Self-discovery.

START – Self-discovery

A personal brand is much more than a job title or how you look. This first step in evaluating Brand You is a holistic look at your goals, passions and values and how those figure into, and enhance, what you offer an employer, customer or indeed anyone you interact with. Very often, it’s the individuals who truly know what makes them interesting, compelling, and differentiated who stand out from the crowd. These people capitalise on their differences. Of course, a personal brand is only as good as the reputation you are able to build around its unique promise of value, and what you ultimately deliver. Consequently, authenticity and honesty become the most important building blocks for your personal brand.

First, you need to  start by evaluating yourself and what your current brand is, and compare it to what you’d like it to be. Then identify qualities that make you unique and how they might be valued by an employer. Examining who or what you don’t want your personal brand to be like can reveal what you do want. Just flip these negative qualities around to find the positive.

Self-discovery Questionnaire

Self-discovery is all about asking yourself some soul-searching questions. Be honest with yourself and try to view Brand You from other people’s perspectives.

Take yourself somewhere quiet and write down your answers to the following questions. Take some time to answer them thoroughly. You can download the Brand You Workbook if you prefer to type these up. The action plan has a section per question and also a section for any actions and milestones that need to be delivered to work on any improvements to these areas of your life. At  the end of the action plan is a section for your Brand You Vision Statement. Don’t worry about this for now. We’ll get to that part later. You will see that each question builds upon the last and hopefully as you work through the questions, you’ll start to build up a picture of the current Brand You and hopefully some thoughts as to where you’d like to develop yourself into the Brand New, Brand You. So, let’s get started:

What are your core personal values? Try to keep them to 5 values central to who you really are. I’ve listed some you may want to use in the word cloud below and also in the workbook, but the lists are not exhaustive; feel free to add your own. I found the best way to do this exercise, was to start with a larger list of say 15-20 values, and then work down to a short-list of 5. If you can, try to prioritise the final 5.

Example values for START

What parts of your business life are you passionate about? Stephen R. Covey, author of the bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests asking yourself three questions: Do I like doing it? Am I good at it? Does the world need it?

“If you have a passion that you’re good at but the world doesn’t need it, you’ve got a useless passion,” says Covey. “If you’re focusing on what the world needs and sell out your passion, you sell out what is uniquely you. But if you can make a living doing something that you’re really good at and like-what a combination!”

What have I done / am I doing that I am most proud of? Don’t limit your answers to this question just to your business life. Try and come up with at least 5 things from across your personal and business life. Are there any similarities or themes? Do they link in any way to what you are passionate about? (They don’t have to!) Are there any of your personal values involved in making these activities such a success? Are they recent successes or from a few years ago?

What qualities or characteristics make you distinctive from your competitors or your colleagues? Whether it’s your unique style of leadership, the way you present to an audience or the personal energy you bring to a room when you enter, each of us have distinctive qualities that make us stand out. What are yours?

What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? What do you get compliments about most frequently; your perseverance, the quality of your business cases, your ability to mediate difficult conversations, your telephone manner with customers? What would you like it to be?

What benefits does ‘Brand You’ deliver? If you were a product, and indeed you are the product of Brand You, and had to pull a marketing brief together, what would you talk about as the benefits you bring? You’ve already worked up your Brand Values, so that should form part of your benefits story, you’ve already established what you’re passionate about and what makes you distinctive; and you’ve also established your greatest and clearest strength. Pulling all of these together should start to give you a compelling case as to why somebody would buy Brand You as opposed to Brand Them.

What do I want to be famous for? Ok, I’m not talking about going on a reality TV show, or getting 15 minutes of fame for rescuing a cat from a tree. I’m talking about the future of Brand You. What do you want to be known for?

‘He’s the best Project Manager I’ve ever met – you need him on this programme. He won’t be cheap though, he’s really in demand!’

‘She’s amazing! I saw her talking about Leadership at a conference last year. She’s so passionate about organisational change. We could do with her advice on the changes we want to make to our business’

You get the idea! How do you want to be known and talked about in 5 years time?

How am I measuring myself? Lastly, and arguably the one that always gets left behind with any brand launch, is a baseline measurement. How is your brand currently perceived? If you’re going to improve your personal brand, you need to understand where you’re starting from. What do people think of Brand You today?

There are a number of metrics / methods to use to gauge the success of your personal brand and that of the Brand New, Brand You.

The simplest way to test the effectiveness of any brand is to do market research. The same is true here. Ask for structured feedback – talk to your peers, managers, colleagues and customers and gauge their perception of Brand You. This could take the form of a 360 degree questionnaire, a face to face meeting with a focus on strengths and areas that could be improved or a combination of the two. You may wish to focus some questions to test out people’s perceptions to the answers you’ve given to some of the previous questions around Brand You benefits and what differentiates you from the rest.

Brand You Vision Statement

Now, you’ve had chance to work through the answers to these questions, it is useful to create a statement that encapsulates everything you want your brand to be. This will be your Brand New, Brand You Vision.

A strong vision statement should include:

  1. Your ambition for Brand You, describing the ideal future
  2. Encompass some of your core values
  3. Your differentiators and passions

I’ve posted some examples below, just to help you get your creative juices flowing:

‘I will provide the best technical support and customer service to our clients, helping improve their business and lives, striving to solve problems with a positive attitude that spreads to my co-workers’

‘I will be leading a small team of application developers to build market leading mobile tools for children with learning difficulties to make their lives easier and that of their families. That will fulfil my desire to make a difference to people’s lives, provide enough money for myself and my family to enjoy life and hopefully inspire others to take a risk and do something worthwhile.’

‘I am now running the restaurant I’ve worked in for 5 years. Through sheer determination, hard work, and my impeccable skills in dealing with customers of all kinds, I have a great reputation within the industry. I have also earned the respect of my staff, my superiors, and my customers alike.’

‘I have just published my fifth book on leadership and people management. I am now in the envious position of being able to leave my career  and share my time equally doing the things I love – spending time with family and friends, writing, walking, photography and being surrounded by nature’

That concludes the first step in START. Good luck with your Self-Discovery – I’d love to know how you get on!

In the next post in the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the second step in the START process, Toolkit Development.

If you missed the introductory post of The Brand New, Brand You please click here.