The Risks of Consulting – remember the Referendum!

What consulting risks do I mean?

I am not thinking of the risks involved in consulting for a living, like me. That could be a series, but not now. I am looking at the risks of holding a consultation, either withing your business or externally.

Do I not now recommend consulting?

I have written about the Four C’s of management, and Consult is one. It is definitely a Good Thing, but like anything else, it has risks, and they need managing. The Referendum on the EU was a classic example of how not to do it. See my other blogs on that subject.

The First Risk of Consulting: confusing questions

Remember “Brexit Means Brexit” and weep! Nobody knew then or now what Brexit means. What was it people wanted to gain or to lose?

  • Immigration?
  • Benefit tourism?
  • Foreign students?
  • Regulation?
  • Agricultural subsidies?
  • Our contribution to the EU budget?
  • Access to other markets, such as China, the USA or Japan?

Always word the question, or better a series of questions, so that you will know what the answer means.

The Second Risk of Consulting: failure to manage expectations
  • Some people thought leaving the EU would happen as soon as the votes were counted.
  • Others thought all foreigners would be sent back.
  • There were even some who thought we would have an extra 350 million a week for the NHS!

This has led to discontent. Do be clear as to the likely process and timescale for implementing the results of your consultation.

The Third Risk of Consulting: Polarisation

Many people now treat the 48% who voted Remain, plus all the non-voters, as anti-democratic if they raise any criticisms of the process or express any views as to the way forward.  The Brexiters claim to represent The People. Could your consulting lead to a feeling of anger among the “losers” and/or arrogance among the “winners”?

How to reduce the polarising effect of consulting

I did not specifically cover consulting in my book How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics, but you might find it helpful when interpreting the results of your next consultation exercise.

The front cover of 'How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics' which could help you with your consulting.
The front cover of ‘How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics’ which could help you with your consulting.

On most issues, a simple “yes/no” answer is not much use: there will be a spectrum of opinions, like this.

  1. It’s an overdue improvement
  2. I quite like the idea but I’ve got reservations
  3. Don’t know/don’t mind
  4. I don’t like it, but might give it a try
  5. Over my dead body

You will often find the proportions in each category evenly spread or forming a gaussian bell-shaped curve. Getting 51% to say “Yes” doesn’t man you’re home and dry. How committed to the idea are that 51%? They aren’t all going to be in category (1). What can you do to get the ones in category (2) on board?

And what about the other 49%? How many are going to be won over, how many will put up with it but winge a lot, and how many are going to resign, take their business elsewhere, take legal action, demand a public inquiry, start a protest movement or join a terrorist organisation? Obviously, it will depend on the seriousness of the issue, but you get the point? How many employees, clients, suppliers or volunteers can you afford to lose?

You need to think how to manage the minority so as to win them over if they are in categories (3) and (4). Can you amend the plan to take into account their concerns?

The Final Risk of Consulting: complacency.

You probably know that the majority are not always right, but it is tempting to think that, if you’ve done a  “successful” consulting exercise, you have all you need to enable you to go ahead with your project.

Wrong! The majority could be wrong. You still need to do enough research beforehand and also to monitor for signs it’s not working. And have a plan B. It’s a good job we’re not talking about Brexit, isn’t it?

 

 

 

2018 – Happy New Year: Ready for New Risks?

What New Risks are there?

Most risks are the same as in the old year and previous ones, of course, but the level of some is new.

Three dice - is this how you will manage your new risks?
Three dice – is this how you will manage your new risks?
Is anything really new?

One fairly new risk is Fake News, which has probably always been around but has become more of a phenomenon in 2016 than ever. I agree with David Cameron and Barak Obama that this is very dangerous, as some people don’t know who they should trust, whilst others are apt to believe lies put out on social media, especially if they listen only to people they think they’re going to agree with. If people believe either anything or nothing, will they believe your messages? I’m talking about:

  • sales
  • offers
  • guarantees
  • your businesses community involvement
  • replies to complaints or allegations

This means that we need to manage the reputational risk more cleverly than ever.

Want to talk to me about any of the above? Send me an e-mail or use the contact form on the website. Or even phone me 01925 445215.

Whatever you choose to do, I wish you a

HAPPY NEW YEAR

John

New Year Non-fiction Book Offer

Why a New Year Offer?

I have made a Christmas offer of my detective novel, Accounting for Murder, Double Entry, for FREE on Kindle for the five days ending today, 22nd December 2017. It has been so successful that I wanted to offer some of my other books, the non-fiction ones, free for limited periods in the coming year. If you have not taken advantage of it, you can still buy the book, follow this link to Kindle’s website.

Back and front covers of Accounting for Murder
Back and front covers of Accounting for Murder
What’s on offer in the New Year?

I am offering a free Kindle version of How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics for the five days from the 15th to the 19th January 2018 but if you can’t wait, you can always buy it! Follow the link. It has had only one short review. A favourable one. The more I hear about Brexit, the more important I think it is to know how to interpret statistics sensibly.

The cover of How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics
The cover of How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics.
What will I offer after that?

I hope to make How to Cope with the Church available free around Easter and Be Victorious! in November, just before Armistice Day. I don’t know about Load the Dice, as I am writing another book on Risk Management and this might not be a good time to promote it.

I’ll post the details on this blog and on Twitter nearer the time. Keep reading. Of course, you can buy them anytime. Follow the links.

I wish you a Happy New Year and enjoyable reading. 

 

 

The fifth phase of the creative process: elaboration

Why is elaboration a phase in the creative process?

Elaboration is listed fifth in the seven steps of the creative process that I have written about. It comes after you have done your preparation, allowed time for incubation,  had some inspiration and carried out your evaluation. It is unwise to rush into one phase before you have completed (well nearly) the ones that need to precede it.

What is elaboration?

Elaboration is the working out of the details of your project. This is where the perspiration occurs. It is not to be confused with implementation. This phase should take place before you go live. You have still time to change things or even abandon the project. With a book, it is writing the first draft. Not going to a publisher, not even self-publishing. There’s work to be done after this is finished. You do not go into elaboration while sitting in the garden or walking in the countryside. You need to be in the office, putting it all on paper. Probably discussing it with the people who will have to carry it out.

A man studying a computer screen with a magnifying glass: working out the details of his project?
A man studying a computer screen with a magnifying glass: working out the details of his project?
What not to do during elaboration: Risk Management!

At this stage, try not to do too much Risk Management. (Did I really write that?) You can pour cold water on your ideas before you’ve had time to work them out fully. You can overthink or overanalyse everything. Once you’ve got something fairly well thought out, you should ask what are the risks and how can they be managed. Remember that risks need to be evaluated in relation to the potential costs and benefits of the project. That will enable you to see whether the cost of possible control measures is likely to be justified.

For more on managing risks, read my book Load the Dice.

Three dice: risks need managing!
Three dice: risks need managing!

The fourth phase of the creative process: evaluation

What is evaluation?

Evaluation is the fourth of the seven steps of the creative process in business which I have written about. This is the process of deciding whether to commit your time and money to a particular project. Not every idea is worth following up. You have to select or at least prioritise.

A man with a question mark. Wondering how to conduct evaluation?
A man with a question mark. Wondering how to conduct evaluation?
Why is evaluation the third phase?

Until you have done your research, you don’t know enough to make any meaningful evaluation. You also need to have had at least one lightbulb moment so you know what you were planning on doing with all the information you have gathered. And that doesn”t usually come until after you have allowed the ideas time to incubate. You don’t want to leave evaluation much later or you will be in danger of doing too much abortive work.

How should evaluation be conducted?

You need to decide what are the criteria you are going to use. What is important to you? Think of positive and negative factors.  Cost? Availability of resources, including expertise? Lead time? Ultimate benefit? Dealing with an immediate issue? Nonfinancial benefits? Risks?

Three dice. Not the way to manage risks.
Three dice. Not the way to manage risks.

I suggest you list all the criteria you think are important and give each a weighting. Then give each project under consideration a score against each factor, multiply (a x b) and rank by score.

How many projects should you have in your evaluation?

This is a subjective decision. However, if you are doing only one, you can get very frustrated when you hit a brick wall, such as ‘writer’s block’ if the project is a book. I switch to another project and come back to the first one. You also don’t want to come to a halt once the first project is finished. You want to be able to get on with the second one, but not from scratch. I always have several on the go.

Can you have too many projects in your evaluation?

You can spread yourself too thin. You can be doing everything at once and never complete anything. I have heard that some very successful businessmen work on five projects, with another twenty or so in reserve. This means each project is at a different phase most of the time, so if you are fed up with, say, research, you can go to a project that is in a different phase. That keeps you fresh.

Remember, if you need help with evaluation, have a chat. I may be able to help you. 

The second phase of the creative process: incubation

Why do ideas need incubation?

Incubation is the time when the mind works behind the scenes. A lot of your best work is actually done when you are not consciously doing it! Ideas seem to sort themselves out. Perspective develops. You can suddenly see why something was a bad idea, or a good one, and you spot the gaps that need filling.

A man with a question mark, needing to give his ideas time for incubation.
A man with a question mark, needing to give his ideas time for incubation.
Why is incubation the second phase in the process?

Until you have done your preparation, as explained previously, you won’t have anything to incubate. It needs to continue until you’ve had at least some inspiration. But inspiration based on the sound basis of knowledge gained in preparation and allowed time for ideas to incubate. The other phases will work much better if you’ve let the first ones take place in the right order.

How can you forget about your project to allow incubation?

I know it is difficult but it is best to leave the project alone and work on another for a while. I’ve always got several books in my head and at least some partly on paper, so I can switch easily. It helps. Don’t try to force it. This may take only a day or two or it may take weeks. It depends on your makeup and on the problem or project in question. Anyway, it will be worth taking the time the process needs if you are to find a creative solution.

 

The third phase of creativity: inspiration – that lightbulb moment!

Inspiration is part of a process.

In an earlier post, I have promised to say something about each of the seven stages of creativity. The one most of us think of first is inspiration. Although it is an essential part of the process, it is of little use without all the others, beginning with preparation, as I have explained in another post. 

Of course, this lightbulb moment can occur at any stage of the process, but it is unlikely to do you any good if you haven’t identified the problem properly through preparation. You also usually need to have allowed time for your ideas to incubate, before the inspiration comes. Don’t try too hard to force it.  On the other hand, it is unwise to rush to the next phase until you have experienced at least one blinding flash of inspiration to set you on your way.

Where does inspiration come from?

It is hard to say. We are all different. It is, however, not the logical result of your reasoning. Not only. It is the bit that comes out of the blue. Often as a complete, or near-complete, idea.

How can you encourage inspiration?

Sometimes it just comes. But you can help inspiration to come. Usually it does not happen when you are in the office, working on your project, because you want your analytical brain to take a back seat and let your creative imagination take over for a while.

Inspiration often comes when you are relaxed, say in the shower or in the bath. Being close to nature often helps. This does not have to mean going to the jungle or climbing a mountain. A park or your own garden will do.  When you are surrounded by green, even green wallpaper, you may be more creative.

A man with a magnifying glass, looking for inspiration. That's the wrong way!
A man with a magnifying glass, looking for inspiration. That’s the wrong way!
Does physical exercise invite inspiration?

Another way to relax and put the creative side of your brain into gear, while turning off, or down, your analytical side, is to take some gentle exercise. That can energise you. Not excessive exercise. You won’t think of anything useful, or think at all, if you’re exhausted. What you do should depends on yourself: your preferences and your state of fitness. For some an hour’s jog is fine. For me, it would be too much. A half-hour’s brisk walk is about right. A swim, a bike-ride, a session in the gym, whatever. Just do what comes easily: don’t tire yourself out.

This does not mean you shouldn’t do hard workouts or long runs. Just don’t expect many good ideas to come to you when you’re collapsed in a heap gasping for breath.

Capture your inspiration!

Don’t waste it. Always have a notebook handy. And a pen. Or be modern and use the notebook facility or your phone or tablet, so long as you can access it quickly. The note needs to be only as long and as detailed as you need, in order to recall what that blinding flash was about.

Good luck! Be inspired!

How would you manage an allegation of sexual misconduct in your business?

Why is sexual misconduct an issue for you or your business?

The media have been full of allegations of sexual misconduct  concerning people in politics, sport and the movies, but so far they have left the business community alone. However, some have alleged that this sort of thing goes on in all areas of life. I tend to think that is the case. Without making the headlines, people make claims for sexual harassment in the workplace every week. Perhaps nobody has ever made such a claim against anyone in your business. If so, ask yourself is it a result of  luck or good management?

What do I consider to be the sexual harassment risk?

There are two risks. It is important to be aware of both and not to  focus on either to the exclusion of the other.

Firstly, there is the risk that someone might bring a claim or a complaint against the business or an individual in it. It may or may not be justified. There are several aspects to this risk:

  1. Damage to the firm’s reputation.
  2. Compensation to the complainant.
  3. Diversion of resources into investigating and processing the matter.

Secondly, there is the risk that people will commit acts of sexual misconduct with impunity. This happens if there is a culture where people seem to regard it as acceptable and where victims are afraid to complain. In such places, some people usually appear to be above the law.

This can result in:

  1. High staff turnover.
  2. Stress and strained relationships.
  3. The failure to promote or retain good employees who fail to cooperate or fit in with the culture.
Sexual harassment is a risk that can be managed

As with any other risk, there is no guarantee that any controls will work all the time, but you can take measures to reduce the risk and not just leave it to  chance.

  1. Have a clear policy setting out what is and what is not  acceptable.
  2. Ensure you communicate it.
  3. Ensure you enforce it and challenge remarks or actions you consider unacceptable, before they lead to complaints.
  4. Have arrangements for people to complain to an independent person without fear of recrimination.
  5. Have a procedure for investigating and adjudicating complaints.
  6. Maintain records of complaints, how they were handled and what was the outcome.
Allegations of sexual misconduct must be properly investigated
Allegations of sexual misconduct must be properly investigated

A sound policy and procedure should give everyone confidence due to certainty and it should deter bad behaviour and also discourage trivial complaints. If in doubt, consult an HR professional or other expert in this field.

Finally, remember that sexual harassment often goes with a culture of bullying and intimidation. It is especially prevalent when a few people have apparently complete power over others. A lack of transparency will make things worse.

 

Is it time to restart my Newsletters? I need feedback.

What’s happened to my newsletters?

It has been months since I last sent out any newsletters, for various reasons. It has been an interesting time for me, writing, editing, blogging, and having work done on my house. I am still working on two sequels to Accounting for Murder, Double Entry and am trying to produce a book on Risk Management, in response to an enquiry I received via Linkedin from an American academic publisher.  Now I think it’s time to restart communicating with readers, but perhaps I could improve my output. What do you think? I need some feedback. If you were never on my mailing list, you can still have your say. I would particularly like to hear from my Twitter followers. How can I serve them better?

What do you think of my newsletters?
  • Would you like to be on the mailing list?
  • How frequently should I send them out?
  • Any comments on the format?
  • What sort of articles do you like? Risk Management, claims, writing fiction, religion, general?
How often shall I write newsletters to you?
How often shall I write newsletters?

 

How will your answers affect the newsletters?

Depending on the responses, I am considering separating readers into two lists. I would produce two newsletters, not necessarily at the same time or with the same frequency, each with a different emphasis. Unless I discover that most people prefer the same things.

You can reply on the contact form on either of my websites, or just send me an e-mail.

The first step to creativity in business or anything else: preparation!

What has preparation got to do with creativity?

Preparation is the first of the (click here) seven steps I have recently written about concerning creativity in business. Although you might not think it involves your creative side, preparation is an essential part of the process. If you are looking for a solution or planning a new initiative, you need to understand the question before rushing to an answer. You want to know what research other people have already done on the subject, if you don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

What preparation do I do as a writer?

I research the background. I want to be as authentic as possible. Of course, in fiction you can alter some of the facts to make the story work better, but do it intentionally. I recently took a trip to Cardiff to remind myself of some of the locations I am using in Accounting for Murder, Book II, Old Money. In particular, I visited Castell Coch, where I have set much of the action. I am glad I did so. I will change a few things to make it more realistic but overall I am more certain than ever that I have chosen the right location for the story.

When do I do more preparation?

For historical novels, which I write under a pseudonym, I always need to do more research, so as to be true to the period and to incorporate as many historical facts as I can. They give a framework for the fiction.

Preparation for me includes reading other fiction and other kinds of reading. Studying modern grammar comes into it too. I am amazed how much has changed since I was at school, especially capitalisation.

Pic4
The things I have learnt about writing, including preparation, are helpful in my business too.
What if you have begun working on an idea without preparation?
Risk Dice
What if you have omitted preparation?

Do not despair. Preparation obviously ought to come before anything else, but your situation, although not ideal, is not necessarily beyond repair. Go back and do it now. Be ready to rethink some of your ideas. It’s only too late once you have gone live. Doing things in the right order usually saves time in the long run, but we live in the real world. Even fiction writers!

Coming soon: the lightbulb moment, aka Inspiration!