Business lessons from a toddler!

Last Thursday I had the absolute pleasure of being part of Bromford’s final Future Fifty event with guest speaker, CEO and founder of Ella’s Kitchen; Paul Lindley.

The day was the finale in a series of events that we hosted and it marked the anniversary of Bromford’s first ever Board Meeting in November 1963. In reflection of this we brought together old friends, colleagues and board members to hear from Paul, our CEO Mick Kent, see the launch of our YouCan Foundation and listen to some inspirational stories from a couple of Bromford’s customers.

Paul seized his opportunity to reflect on the significant milestones of the past 50 years and talked us through what he felt had changed, and hadn’t, during this time. You can watch the live-stream of the event again through our YouTube channel. But one of the highlights for me came in the second part of Paul’s presentation where he talked about the future of entrepreneurship and leadership. This was it for me, this is the thing that hooked my smile and I think caught everyone’s imagination around the room.

Is it the childlike behaviour or the Superman baby-grow that does it?

Is it the childlike behaviour or the Superman baby-grow that does it?

So here are Paul’s 6 business lessons from a toddler (with a few descriptions from me):

Never give up
How many times have you said to your children, or heard others say to theirs, to stop doing something – yet the little ones continue in their quest to do as they originally intended. Nothing will get in their way! For me, the determination of these little humans is unparalleled.

Be creative
Just this weekend I took delivery of a few Christmas presents that I’d purchased from an online book store. When my daughter copped her eyes on the said box her immediate reaction was; “Daddy a robot”. No, she hadn’t gone mad. She’d seen the cardboard surround as much more than just a box, she wanted me to turn it into a robot suit that she could wear. Don’t you just love that creative spirit?!

“Be childlike not childish in your work; have fun and be creative” ~ @Paul_Lindley

Get noticed
Kids are the life and soul of pretty much every family gathering. They stand out in every supermarket, are the main reason we make so much of Christmas and you’re likely to hear them before you’ve even seen them! Kids quite simply like to get noticed – no different from all aspiring colleagues and businesses I guess.

Be honest
Sometimes we don’t like to hear the truth, but if we’re not prepared to listen how can we possibly learn and move forward? Similarly we need to be honest with others, if they ask for feedback, are looking for advice or want your opinion – tell them what you really think. Toddlers have to be some of the most honest people you’ll ever know – they’ll tell you how it really is.

Show your feelings
Much like the honesty point above, it’s not often we will say to others how we really feel – but we should. We should open up more to other people, let them know if we’re feeling low and when we’re not ‘in the room’. A child is much the same, they will tell you when they’re hungry, when they are hurt and when they’re feeling poorly and could do with a hug – now, how good is a hug!

Use different strategies
Why do we continue to do the same things in the same ways time and time again? We tend to know what our objectives are and yet, despite our commitment to get the best result possible, continue to go about it in the same way we always have. Now, how often do we see children climb over things, go under things and around things that we say they shouldn’t? Is it really so wrong or should we just allow them to take on a new challenge just as we would want for ourselves and our customers?

“Some advice to new business: always, always be a toddler” ~ @Paul_Lindley

Being a parent to a 3 year old I totally get these points from Paul. So let’s cut through the waffle and the jargon and align our approach to business through the eyes of a toddler.

I’ve come up with a few extra of my own which I’ve turned into a Haiku Deck. What do you think? Are there any that you can think of that you’d like to add? Go on be honest, be creative, show your feelings and get yourself noticed!

Just to remind you that the recording of the live-stream from the event is available on our YouTube channel where you can see all of Paul’s presentation. You can also see the launch of our YouCan Foundation, hear from two of our customers whose lives have been touched by the work that we’ve done, and see an ‘interview in hashtags’ with our flamboyant leader; Mick Kent. You can also follow the tweets from the day in the two Storify’s we’ve put together here and here.

 

If you’re interested in reading more from Paul Lindley, his new book “Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler” is available to order now from Amazon.

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The Bromford DNA, Let It Be

This is my latest post that first appeared as a guest article over at All Things IC courtesy of Rachel Miller (thanks again Rachel). I hope you enjoy it.

*The Fab Four - can you name them?

*The Fab Four – can you name them?

I wonder how many of us could name The Beatles? My guess is that most would name the Fab 4 without breaking a sweat, right? Now, how many of us could reel off our company’s mission statement, vision and values without hesitation? Not so easy is it.

Anybody that follows me on twitter, reads my blog or knows me personally would have almost certainly heard me bang on about the company that I work with and how much I love it! Like The Beatles we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary here at Bromford and it’s been during this milestone that we’ve opted for a cleaner and more leaner approach of inspiring people to be their best.

We’ve ditched the tradition of a mission statement, a blurred vision and an exhaustive list of values. Instead we look for colleagues to work with us who share our newly launched DNA; Be Good, Be Brave, Be Different and Be Commercial, our very own awesome foursome!

Our very own 'Fab Four'

Our very own ‘Fab Four’

Just this week, 6 months since their launch, a number of leaders from across Bromford (including me) were presented with a challenge; to go and investigate our DNA and then feedback to a wider audience what we found. We were asked to visit other teams, see how colleagues are embracing ‘the Be’s’, look at how they are bringing them to life and to, well, Be Nosey!

The day arrived and we had our usual army of tweeters and yammerers (is that the right word, do we even have one yet? If not let’s invent one!), who were on hand to pledge their support and give real-time updates to those who couldn’t be in the room. We were treated to a great variety of presentations ranging from videos to Haiku Decks, a specially built website to a live recording of a podcast! The session was absolutely brilliant; not only did it showcase the wealth of talent we have across Bromford, it also gave us insight into our teams that may have only surfaced previously during lunch breaks and through team meetings.

So for me, someone who relishes a challenge and wanting to #BeBrave and #BeDifferent, I prepared my findings in a unique and inexpensive way. I presented back through our first ever Bromford comic book.

Our first Bromford comic has arrived.

Our first Bromford comic has arrived.

The comic’s content is taken from video screenshots of our HR team’s away day. What really stood out for me is the fun and engaging way in which colleagues were able to represent and demonstrate the respective Be’s from their team’s viewpoint. Inspirational lyrics, poems, amateur dramatics, avatars and future gazing – this team had it all, and don’t forget they were talking about something that had just replaced all that corporate jargon we used to have!

Now, how many of you reading this can honestly say that your mission statement, vision or values truly enable your colleagues to bring them alive in this way? Will they still be circulating like the Beatles are now; 50 years since they formed? We certainly hope that our new approach will stand the test of time and who knows, we could still be talking about our DNA come our 1st century!

If you’re interested in hearing more about our DNA and the #BeNosey challenge, visit our website and keep checking back for updates as they are released.

*Credit for The Beatles image goes to artist Meredith Kresge. Prints are available to buy here.

A Chic approach to success

Chic at Glastonbury 2013

Chic at Glastonbury 2013

Glastonbury, arguably the world’s largest festival, came to a close last weekend with veteran rockers The Rolling Stones drawing the curtains on an estimated 135,000 fans. I’ve not yet seen all of the coverage but did catch a couple of performances from the Friday night and one band stood out for me by a country mile.

Chic played on the West Holts Stage to a packed crowd, belting through a series of hits such as Everybody Dance, Good Times and Le Freak. But what surprised me most was the back-catalogue of hits and interludes that followed. These included (amongst others):

Let’s Dance – David Bowie
The Sugarhill Gang – Rappers Delight
Like a Virgin – Madonna
We Are Family – Sister Sledge
I’m Coming Out – Diana Ross
Get Lucky – Daft Punk

Not only was I taken aback by the songs they performed but even more so that I came to learn that all of these hits were either personally written or co-written by Chic frontman; Nile Rodgers.

After I’d finished dancing and prancing around my living room I took a seat (and a breath) on the sofa next to my daughter and reflected on what I’d just witnessed. Yes the music, dancing and costumes were brilliant. The sound and lighting looked great too, and a special mention goes to the larger than life Welshman in the crowd, pint of beer in hand, who happily sang along to Chic’s version of Madonna’s Like a Virgin. But I’d now started to think about what I could learn from Nile Rodgers’ genius.

Although I’ve dabbled in DJ’ing and attended plenty of concerts and nightclubs in my time I am by no means a musical expert but, having watched that performance and learnt a little more about Chic, I realised I could apply something from them to my career. Chic have demonstrated brilliantly that you don’t need to be constantly blinded by the media limelight to be at the top of your game; leadership and influence come in a range of guises.

Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, some 30+ years ago

Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, some 30+ years ago

For Nile Rodgers and Chic it was about being part of a collective; a production team that has this inspired ability to work with a whole host of individuals to deliver a series of successful hits, the world over.

These guys have built a résumé for themselves that is not only glittered with some astonishing personal achievements but one that is adorned by some of music’s greats; some of the best in business who simply have to work with them – not just them with they.

You see, to be successful in business it’s not always about being the Rolling Stones of Glastonbury who (deservedly so) took all of the pre-festival headlines, it’s as very much about; the consistent performer; the team-player; the flexible approach; the diverse talent; the innovative architect; the relentless trainee.

So for this valuable lesson; Nile Rodgers and Chic, I thank you.

United Leadership (part 1)

“Innnn West Midlands Wolves, born and raised, in a playground is where I spent most of my days…”

OK, it doesn’t have the same impact as the opening theme tune to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air but having seen Will Smith bring the song alive again on Graham Norton recently people like me, who grew up watching the exploits of Will and Carlton, couldn’t hide the goose bumps and feel good factor whilst watching it.

The same has to be said for football fans watching Manchester United dominate the English game, and for a short period Europe too, over the past 20 years or so. And it’s in no small thanks to the living legend that is Sir Alex Ferguson that the Red Devils rode this successful train for so many years.

On the 6th June 2013 I rode a short train journey of my own, from Wolverhampton up to Manchester, to attend a brilliant session organised by HouseMark and facilitated by the Manchester United Foundation on what it takes to build a high performance team through teamwork and leadership.

John Shiels delivered the session, CEO of the Foundation, who has worked with Manchester United for the past 7 years – so it’s fair to say this guy has some first hand experience of this club and what it takes to taste this success and, just as importantly, to maintain it.

You don’t need me to tell you just how big Manchester United are. With an annual turnover of over £330million they are more than just a football club, they are a brand – a very large brand – but one with a very expensive shop window. So to survive they need owners who do not throw money at it – their finances needs to be properly invested. They do things on purpose – not by accident. Some of the new kids on the block throw money at the shop window, but that doesn’t guarantee them longevity. It’s not just about today or tomorrow, it’s about building the foundations for a successful future.

This wasn’t a one-on-one session by the way, I went along with my colleague Josie and we represented Bromford in a room of 20 or so other Housing professionals. So, why would we be interested in what a football club has to say? Well, there are some significant leadership examples for us all here, applicable across many businesses, not just football or housing. There’s a lot to fit in, lots of stories to tell, so I’ll share some of the highlights of the day with you in two parts. This is part one.

Think BIG

To succeed in business your vision has to be big – mediocre is not good enough. When he joined the club as manager 26 years ago, Sir Alex wanted to beat the 18 league titles that Liverpool Football Club had won – it seemed an impossible task at the time but having recently stepped down from the helm he leaves the role with the club having won 20 league titles – when he joined Manchester United they’d only won 7!

Sir Alex Ferguson Stand

Have a shared vision

To continue in these successes, like any other business, there has to be succession planning at United. So, who have they brought in as Sir Alex’s successor – a manager with a track record for winning trophies, right? Wrong. They’ve appointed their new manager (David Moyes) because he had remained consistent throughout his last post at Everton (12 years as manager), had kept them in the top flight of football during his time and built a very good team and structure within a club who had very little investment in the transfer market (Manchester United spent £48m in 2012/13) and City (£76m in 2011/12). So, United have reflected their faith in him with a 6 year contract – a long time in football terms – because it’s all about creating stability and having a shared vision to build success.

Never stop learning

When you look at today’s top footballers, most of whom are multi-millionaires, how do you keep them focused when money is not a driver? It’s about knowing the individual’s needs and working with them to achieve their goals. John told us a story about Ryan Giggs – for those of you who don’t know him he’s the most decorated player in English football of all time (and still playing at the top level at the ripe old-age of 39). The club were looking for a volunteer to help out on a training session with some young kids one afternoon, and when the first team were asked that morning who could be available Ryan was the first to raise his hand, although he did explain that he couldn’t make it for the 1pm start as he had a prior engagement. When he did arrive shortly after 1.30pm the coach asked why he was late. Ryan explained that he was taking swimming lessons! Despite being a tuned athlete, fit as a fiddle, and still performing at the highest level Ryan wanted to do more, but it didn’t stop there. Ryan is learning to swim as he’s training to become a triathlete, amazing! If you want to be the best you’ve got to keep pushing yourself.

Create a positive environment

We often hear stories of how United bounce back in games where defeat seems to be staring them straight in the face. During the 2012/13 season there were 14 times where United came from behind to win the game, but they can’t always be victorious. John told us how, after seeing United lose one particular game, he got to see them warming down shortly after. Some players were seen laughing and joking – which he couldn’t understand. Why was this? Because they need to be focused on the next game; they had quickly put the loss behind them and were now preparing themselves physically and mentally for the next challenge. John said:

“Manchester United are better at losing than winning!”

Performance is key; get the performance right and the right result will follow.

Sir Alex rant

Communicate effectively

Some of you reading this may already be familiar with the model that effective communication is:

7% words

38% tone

55% body language

The power of body language is emphasised in this great story: United were having a bad day and weren’t playing particularly well in one of their home games. So, at half-time the manager came out first – before all the players – something he doesn’t normally do. He went over to the loudest section of fans (the Stretford end) and worked up the crowd by throwing his hands into the air and applauding them – he’s now got their attention. With the entire crowd watching him he now walks to the linesmen and follows them onto the pitch. He makes his way towards the referee to have a word with him, pointing his finger and looking typically animated. Nobody knows what is said but through his body language has communicated to 76,000 fans that there could be a problem and that “we need to do something here”. The second-half began shortly after; the fans got behind the team in rip-roaring fashion and united went on to win the game. Enough said – or in this case – hardly anything at all!

Learn from mistakes

Experience is about learning from the mistakes that have gone before, Manchester United are no different.

Great people like to be challenged, and that’s exactly what happened in the close season of 2011/12. Manchester United had just won their final game 1-0 meaning that Manchester City had to win their game to clinch the title; 27 seconds after United’s game finished City scored to win 2-1 and claimed the title. The following day was United’s player of the year awards and the body language around the room said it all. Sir Alex stood up to addresses the room saying something along the lines of:

“That was yesterday, we’re Manchester United and we will learn from that – I’ll go away and sharpen my saw and we’ll come back and win.”

Sir Bobby and Bryan Robson addressed the room too and said some similar things to that of the manager – all of a sudden the mood in the room was transformed. The United culture instilled. The following season United went on to romp the title beating their City rivals by an 11 point margin. Inspired by the top and believed in from the bottom.

I hope you enjoyed part 1. Keep checking back, or enter your email address at the top of the page, to hear more stories in part 2 and what Sir Alex meant by ‘sharpening his saw’.

*Part 2 is now available by clicking here

Let’s share facts about the Bedroom Tax

Bedroom Tax 1

In less than 3 weeks time there will be some big changes across the UK that will shake-up 1000’s upon 1000’s of people. Sadly I’m not talking about the long-awaited Glastonbury Festival line-up, nor am I talking about One Direction’s 23,000 capacity sell out gig at the O2 Arena in London. It’s of a serious matter that will see the launch of the Bedroom Tax, the first wave of changes brought about by the coalition government’s Welfare Reform.

Tickets for that One Direction gig I mention are selling for around £125 each on eBay. For somebody whose weekly rent is £100, that ticket price is equivalent to an average shortfall of under-occupying by 2 or more bedrooms, in a 5-week calendar month!

I’m no expert on these changes but I was asked recently to deliver a session on Welfare Reform as part of my Leadership journey. It was decided that we would use the time to open this up as part of a wider-discussion, to realise the impact these changes would have on our business, on our teams and most important of all; on our customers.

We could have spent forever discussing all the reasons why these changes are wrong, how sorry we feel for one another and asking the how’s and why’s. But we didn’t. Instead we had a small moment for reflection and spent a large sum of time digesting these changes, checking in with one another’s understanding and looking at the bigger picture implications of all this and what we need to do as a business, as leaders and as individuals to get us through this.

Goal posts

There is so much to absorb in all that is Welfare Reform, the goalposts are forever moving. Only yesterday Inside Housing reported of yet more amends to the Bedroom Tax which has led to planned protests being axed today. But my best guess is that yet more changes will come about as more pressure mounts on Iain Duncan Smith. This piece in the Telegraph included an online poll where over 83% of people felt that the changes were not fair.

So here at Bromford we’re doing our upmost to keep abreast of the changes; we’re forever updating our website; sharing our stories through Social Media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Yammer; and we’re continually checking in with our customers to gauge their understanding of the changes and the impacts these will have upon their lives.

And I’d like to urge you and your organisation to do the same. The changes are going to happen regardless, we can’t do a lot about that, but we must ensure that our customers and colleagues are kept well informed and supported throughout this. I heard somebody say the other day that they felt there had been more publicity about the Digital TV Switchover than there has for Welfare Reform – and I agree. But could we, as a society, be doing more to change that? With the world going more and more digital and with social media becoming further acceptable in the workplace – do we have good reason not to share in our knowledge? The power of communication is in our hands.

Does the classroom make you smarter?

Blackboard b2s

A couple of week’s ago I became a student once again for the first time since my days of University almost 12 years ago. This was also the first time I’d had to sit any exams since I was 17 years old as, having chosen to study Design, my degree was more of a practical style examination.

The week long course came as a result of my place in our Talent Academy and one of the commitments from Bromford was to enrich my personal development plan. Having spent the last 18 months working on the Home Rewards Club I wanted to further my knowledge of Project Management so it was suggested that I should immerse myself into the world of PRINCE2.

To say the week was intense is probably my biggest ever understatement. The 6am get ups I was fine with. Public Transport by way of bus and train each morning and every evening wasn’t too bad; the fact I could check in with my emails (don’t get me started on those) using Virgin’s free on-board Wi-Fi was great. The homework wasn’t pleasant but it allowed me to reflect on the day and put some of the learning into some of the mock exams we’d been set, so yes, I was OK with that too. But, (there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there?!) the 8 hour long classroom environment just didn’t do it for me.

As I mentioned earlier; my last experience of education outside of the workplace was in my University days where energy was in abundance, creativity was the norm, teamwork was essential and thinking outside the box was encouraged – in fact just like my workplace! So to be sat behind a desk for hours on end, nose in book and where the infamous ‘death by power-point’ was portrayed – you can probably sense that this wasn’t overly stimulating.

Don’t get me wrong I totally get PRINCE2; I get its Principles and its Themes and I understand why it’s considered as the leading method in project management – the world over. It brings together considerations for all types of project, no matter what the size, and if used correctly and widespread will instil a common language of project terminology throughout your organisation. But, (there it is again!) I’m not sure that the week long course was necessarily the best use of time on this occasion. Perhaps just a couple of days getting to grips with the ‘Foundation’ element would have been sufficient.

PRINCE2 themes

We are very fortunate to have an extremely experienced Project Manager here at Bromford; Barry Hodge. Spending time working alongside Barry and under his close supervision I would deem as being a far more worthy approach to learning about the curriculum. Barry will know his audience far greater than any external speaker would; he can put his own unique style of delivery into any training and engage with the room with some real-life examples of how PRINCE2 projects can be applied here at Bromford – I see this as bringing the whole experience alive.

Where I’m going with all of this can be summarised in this fab quote:

“Going to college doesn’t make you smart it will teach you to memorise things from books. Real knowledge comes from experience”

So, if you’re thinking of expanding your knowledge – I encourage you to do it, but I would ask that you first think about what experience you have within your organisation before committing yourself to an external source – and realise your inner talent.