Book Review: Innocent Drinks – Smoothie’s Done With Style

You know a company has got under (literally) the skin of its customers when they have a tattoo of the brand on their arm ‘a la Harley Davidson’. Let me give a much more British version. Sitting in a coffee shop on the way to a client with a colleague, we get up to leave but not before she has completely read the label on the Smoothie bottle. I mean completely read the label, looking for the typical jokes and trademark irreverence. You will have guessed the company to be Innocent Drinks. This business autobiography tells their story in their typically quirky way.

[geoads2]

If you don’t do cute, you won’t like some of the tone. The authors have made a good attempt to replicate their culture in the way the book is put together. The authorial voice is the Innocent culture. Particularly vivid is how the business was founded, being at a festival with some samples and asking anybody who would try one to throw the empty bottle in one of two bins labelled ‘YES start a business’, or ‘NO keep the day job’.

There are strong chapters on their values development, people management and some original marketing ideas. They downplay their obvious professional training in high octane consulting with McKinsey and Bain and useful experience in marketing. It’s all very English, studied amateurism hiding a real flair for business and objective decision making.

Witness their recent decision (post this book) to sell a majority of their stake to Coca Cola, giving the US giant 58% of the equity being testament to their lack of sentimentality.

The best idea in the book isn’t their own (they are very good on giving others credit where it’s due) it comes from Michael Wolff the advertising legend. They recount his 4 rooms idea as follows:

The first ‘room’ is the ‘room of great work’. Exposure yourself to the best the world has to offer in ideas. Literally visit the art galleries of the world. Spend time in design museums. Read the magazines and reviews and experience the finest of every art form. Track down what is regarded the best of its kind; be it architecture, technology or the world’s greatest teapot. Revel in them. Be inspired by them. But don’t do your work in this ‘room’ as you will find yourself dominated by their greatness, creating a lesser version of what has come before.

Next, visit the ‘room of understanding’. Whatever industry you work in, make sure you understand how it works; the fundamental drivers of the way things are. If you are trying to come up with an idea for a new pair of trousers make sure you fully understand the process by which trousers are made – where the material comes from, how it is produced, how tailors cut the cloth, why they might choose a button over a zip. Gain a true understanding of how it all works but never do your thinking in this ‘room’ as you will feel too constrained by existing rules.

Third, visit the ‘room of precedent’, where you should study all that has gone before in the sector that you operate within. If you are writing an advert for a car company, look at all the ads for car companies that have ever been written. Do this to learn what has come before, what was successful and what was less so. But don’t do your work in this room as you will end up plagiarizing.

The ‘final’ room is where you should do the work. It is the ‘room of creativity’. It is dark and the only person in that room is you. You should go in that room naked and it is here where you should start to think of ideas.

[geoads3]

This book is a perfect representation of their culture, just like that bottle we have to keep reading as well as drinking from.

Taking Over A New Senior Role – The First 100 Days

When taking over a role that puts you in charge of a business it’s critical you use the first 100 days wisely. Much of the success you have in the first 2-3 years in the role will be determined by how effectively you use these 100 days. It’s surprising how many people think this early period is one for reflection and review rather than for action and change. As Napoleon observed when appointing a new general, you can do nothing to them in the immediate days after they are appointed, they can do what they will, because to criticise them would make the appointment look a mistake. Senior managers/directors should use this time accordingly.

[geoads2]

Below we’ve put together a checklist developed from our senior executive coaching work. Doing these things more or less in parallel fashion will use those 100 days to real purpose.

Engage With The People

  • Informally meet all staff you are responsible for face to face ASAP. This can be onerous and arduous if you cover a lot of territory but it needs to be done. Town hall style is fine if a lot of people are involved.
  • Communicate a high level ‘impressions’ based overview of what your leadership will mean and what people can expect to see from you in the first few months. Communicate a date 120 days after you have started where you will talk about what you have learned and what your first year plans are going to include. This will inject a sense of pace and purpose into your approach. Stick to the timetable.
  • Conduct a 1-2-1 interview with all direct reports. Get them to present their KPIs and plans for the relevant period.
  • Meet all second line reports 1-2-1. Informal discussion to get their views establishes another line of communication without undermining their bosses (your direct reports).
  • Hold a team building workshop with your direct reports team. Focus on developing/reviewing/inventing a Purpose Framework of Vision, Values and Strategic Goals.
  • Start to form a view around the shape and composition of your direct reports team.
  • Set up a regular meeting process with your boss. Drive the agenda, make it your own. Spend time getting to know them and what pushes their buttons.
  • Network like mad across the organisation and in key adjacencies.
  • Begin gathering your key team; you need people you can really trust and relay on. If you are going to bring in people from a previous organisation try to balance their appointments with some incumbent promotions.
  • Key early relationships if you are at MD/CEO level will need to be with your Chairman, FD/CFO and HRD.
  • [geoads3]

Think About Your Personal Leadership Style

  • Decide what kind of leader you want (and don’t want) to be.
  • Correlate that to the immediate needs of the business. Does it require transformation, remedial action, a steady hand, shaking up???
  • Be prepared to make clear statements about your management/leadership style, what you won’t tolerate and what you really like to see in others. Clarity here will send out clear signals of intent and begin the important early process of expectation management.
  • If relevant, make sure people you have managed previously recognise that things need to change; old relationships cannot necessarily carry on as before.
  • Change things. Symbolic change can be hugely significant in setting out a new style, a new way of doing things. Never say “I’m not going to change things until I’ve had a good look at things”. Do not begin with a strategic review, this creates a period of stasis and anxiety at the same time

Getting Your Hands On The Things That Matter

  • Get your arms around and understanding of the key data sets with the three requirements of
    – Full disclosure
    – Absolutely correct
    – Available in a timely fashion
  • These data sets will be:
    – Financial, including; cash, profit and loss and the balance sheet. Make sure you understand the balance sheet as well as the FD. Go through the overhead line by line to understand what the business spends its money on.
    – Operational, including all key functional metrics especially those relating to customers, margins, input and output costs. Test the effectiveness of the Board/Management Report. Improve/change as required.
    – Compliance, all issues to do with risk, regulation, health and safety, HR policies etc.
  • In these early weeks is more critical to understand problems/issues than to blame people for poor data. Openness is more important than quality (for now).
  • Planned decisions. Capture all decisions that are in the pipeline. Understand those that are legally binding, those that are committed, those that reversible.
  • Reputational Risk. Make sure all currently known issues are known to you. Be very clear with your DRs that for you, surprise (not bad news) is the worst sin of all, and will be very negatively received.

Engaging With Stakeholders

  • Map all key stakeholder groups.
  • Develop clear views around stakeholder risks, where power resides and think about where you need to quickly build relationship equity.
  • Develop engagement plans for individuals and groups.

Getting Your Strategic Point Of View Organised

  • Become the expert in understanding the current strategy and why it exists (or not) in the form it does.
  • Ramp your learning on understanding the market context, competitive pressures and major change drivers ASAP.
  • Get out and meet key customers, use it as an opportunity to evaluate the Sales Director.
  • Keep testing the organisation against the critical capability – Do we have the people, processes and proposition to GROW this business? Make this a standing agenda item.
  • If you need additional resource/focus to make this happen – do it.
  • Use the emerging Purpose Framework development to inform the major strategic themes.
  • To begin with remain as open and neutral as possible, opinions and decisions are a next stage.
  • Look for quick, small wins, improving the figures is a short cut to increasing your credibility, licence to operate. Do not become a ‘jam tomorrow’ leader.
  • [geoads4]

Activate Real Performance Management

  • Understand all key performance drivers. Make sure accountabilities are clear and the reporting line from top to bottom is transparent and understood.
  • Validate current practice and improve where necessary around the right things being focused on by the right people in the right way at the right time
  • Review performance management system, develop as required (tactical). In the first year make a more strategic appraisal and to its effectiveness.
  • Focus on accountability, responsibility and ownership. Evaluate how expectations are set and met.
  • Review and reset consequences model (positive and negative).

Remember, you’re going back to the organisation after 120 days. This is as much to show what you have been doing as what you are going to do more/less/differently.

A Rave From The Grave – When Closing Techniques Were Almost An Art Form

The kind of pressure selling styles that came out of post war America took some time to take hold in the UK, but when they did, closing techniques became a specialist subject in themselves, reaching a zenith in the 1980s.

[geoads2]

The principle of closing will always be valid. After engaging with, even stimulating, the customers buying motivations it’s critical to bring the process to some sort of conclusion, otherwise the customers’ heightened awareness could be captured by a competitor. Trial closes and identifying buying/interest signal s should always be part of a sales professional’s end of sale focus.

But what about those actual closing techniques? Below we give a quick tour of the 1980s finest, best to worst:

The Direct Close:
Just ask directly for the business, the worst response you can get is a no.

The Alternative Choice Close:
Offer two equally attractive (to you) choices, red or yellow, the decision is not whether to buy, but which version

The Assumptive Close:
Proceed as if the business is already won; ask for the necessary logistical next steps, order number, delivery address, detailed spec etc.

False Negative Close:
Reveal to the customer something that your product/service can’t do that you know the customer doesn’t want or need. This implies that what you offer does everything the customer does require.

The Benjamin Franklin Close:
Make a list of positives and negatives with the customer, making clear the plus side is much more heavily weighted. This is sometimes also called the Balance Sheet close for obvious reasons. You can also choose your famous person to taste – Winston Churchill used to be quite popular.

[geoads3]

The Cautionary Tale Close:
This can be delivered either way round. An example of someone who didn’t buy from you and lived to regret it; or someone who did buy to their huge benefit, the caution being your prospective customer will miss the same opportunities.

The Fear Close:
A more extreme version of the previous one. In life insurance this was sometimes known as ‘Reverse the hearse up to the door and let them smell the lilies close’. Buy our insurance, you might die tomorrow.

The False Concession Close:
Give something away that doesn’t cost you anything, or you were going to give anyway, in return for the customers’ commitment.

The Lost Sale Or Hat Stand Close:
First seen in a 1930s sales manual. The sale having been ‘lost’, the salesman (in those days) would reach for his hat and make to leave. The customer begins to relax, the difficult situation now over as the losing salesperson leaves. However, the salesperson uses this as an opportunity to come back with a final attempt. The modern equivalent might be the shut the briefcase close.

The Job Interview

If you’re reading this whilst out of work or you know someone (especially a young person) who is looking for work please pass it on. In our outplacement work we have found these to be significant drivers in peoples’ success rate when attending the job interview*.

[geoads2]

Use These Phrases At The Appropriate Time

I am very aware of what your organisation does.
Make sure you can back this up. Talk compellingly about their products and services, who are their major customers, what might their pain points be, how are they using social networking. Demonstrate you have done proper homework. Going to their web site is compulsory, but try to see behind the content every other candidate will have done the same.

I am a hard worker and always try to be a positive influence.
Employers want people who will make an effort, not just to do the job but who make a difference to those around them. Make sure you cover being a team player. Don’t be somebody who just does what they’re told, be someone who does what it takes. Have evidence ready.

I like change.
You are implicitly saying you are flexible, but explicitly showing that you can adapt even help implement change. Have examples ready to talk about.

[geoads3]

I have the experience/skills/mind-set you are looking for.
This shows you have read the advertisement/job profile/application form and explored what it is the employer requires. Depending on your own background and age emphasise accordingly, i.e. the younger you are focus more on skills and mind-set, the older focus on all three.

I understand what motivates me and (if relevant) how to effectively motivate others.
Can you make a difference to your own and to others performance? When talking on this subject the person interviewing you will be hooked on to what you say. Make sure it’s interesting.

I’m passionate about my learning and increasing my expertise.
This one is tricky if it isn’t true, because you can’t swot up in advance. You are going to have to show how you keep your learning curve as vertical as you can.

I will be successful in this job because…..
Try to prep this answer because you don’t want to be making this up from scratch. Don’t waffle, stay focused.

* Usual rules still apply about demonstrating professionalism etc.

Mercenaries Or Stakeholders? How Engaged Are Your Employees?

Charles Handy rather famously suggested that nearly all organisations are made up to some extent of both mercenaries and stakeholders. If this sounds a little over-simplistic it still helps us to look at how this split affects employee engagement in organisations across the spectrum from global businesses to local family firms and from national public sector bodies to small not-for-profit organisations.

[geoads2]

Many of our clients say they feel as though they have more mercenaries in their organisations than stakeholders and that seems to be a growing trend. Now they are trying to tackle this by improving their employee engagement for better performance/productivity all round.

First of all it helps to define what we mean by the terms ‘mercenary’ and ‘stakeholder’:

Mercenary: literally this is someone who’s in it for the money. For our purposes this is someone who is looking out for themselves and feels little or no loyalty for the organisation that employs them. They are motivated by personal things; reward, recognition, status, achievement, even glory – and if they don’t get it from their current employer they will up sticks and move without shedding a tear.

Stakeholder: this person is deeply attached to the organisation – their whole being is associated with the central core values of the organisation. They care passionately about its history and its future goals. They may grumble from time to time but will always go the extra mile, without being asked, in order to meet their shared goals and objectives. They are like a stick of rock and have the organisation’s values running all the way through them – they couldn’t conceive of working for anyone else.

Between these two extremes most people have some of the qualities from both of these sets. The thing with these ‘in-betweeners’ is that they are persuadable one way or the other.

So how do we ensure we have the right balance of mercenaries and stakeholders in our organisation? And more importantly how do we convert more of the right people to become stakeholders when and where we need them?

[geoads3]

Attraction: it’s all about attraction. Most organisations go to a lot of trouble to attract the right people through their recruitment and selection process. And then once they’ve got them on board they then start managing them and stop attracting them. All organisations must strive to continually attract the right people no matter how long they’ve been on board.

Attraction works at three levels:

  1. the role must be attractive to that individual
  2. their manager must be someone they want to work with
  3. the organisation must be one where they feel in-tune with the core values.

And if you do all this, you would probably spend less time managing people and more time taking the organisation where it’s aiming to go.

How Are Your Negotiation Skills?

As we write this newsletter a hung parliament looks to be the most likely outcome of the UK General Election. For a country unused to coalition government there will likely be a lot of negotiation going on in the background to ensure favoured policies get on to the agenda.

[geoads2]

Meanwhile out in the workplace negotiation is a key part of the salesperson’s toolbox. Many people feel that they can sell well, they have confidence in the products and services they are selling, and they know they can demonstrate to customers that their solutions are better than their competitors. What they feel less confident in doing is defending the price of their offer.After years of low inflation, customers are more likely to expect price decreases rather than price increases, and discounts are increasingly common.

Managers also spend much of their time negotiating, whether they see this as a key element of their role or not. Whether it’s agreeing project timescales, planning work schedules, or even agreeing the holiday timetable, negotiations of differing sizes and different levels of importance take place in the workplace everyday.

Mastering the art of negotiation can give you a real edge, leading to more productive outcomes, whilst ensuring that your colleagues and customers feel that they are achieving great outcomes too.