November 20, 2014
Scotland will, later today, swear in its first female First Minister. It’s a watershed moment in many ways, not least because it helps to break down gender barriers.
Yesterday she pledged to work towards gender equality and said of her appointment, “I hope that it sends a strong, positive message to girls and young women, indeed to all women, across our land – there should be no limit to your ambition for what you can achieve.
“If you are good enough and if you work hard enough, the sky is the limit and no glass ceiling should ever stop you from achieving your dreams.”
This makes my heart soar. As a woman in business, I would like very much to say that my gender hasn’t impacted upon my career potential, that I have been treated much the same as any colleague regardless of gender. Or that I haven’t experienced gender discrimination in the workplace. But that wouldn’t be completely true. From the female boss who declared that of two candidates of similar experience, she’d always take the male to avoid potential maternity leave, to the male boss who outright told me my chances of promotion were limited because I was a mother. I’ve also managed men who were employed on a higher salary than me (“because they negotiated better”) and I’ve missed out on promotions and pay rises as a result of being on maternity leave.
Being a woman working in technology has made me think very hard about women’s role in business and what difference gender can make. Here are three conclusions I have come to:
- Women like to network in a different way from men. I find men are keen to measure themselves up against other men – like an exercise in sizing each other up. Women spend more time finding common ground. I have spent time trying to network more like a man and then I’ve spent time thinking men have got it wrong. Now I realise, it’s just different. And that’s OK
- Some men will naturally gravitate towards my male colleagues. Whether consciously or subconsciously they might find it easier to have a business conversation with another man. Which is fine. On some occasions this means they might be missing out (although not always – I am not the font of all knowledge). And on other occasions I am sure it is a deliberate tactic. When it’s the latter – that’s their problem and not mine
- It’s OK to talk about a woman’s shoes. Whether I like it or not, the way women present themselves will always be scrutinised more than the way men present themselves. But then, women have more choice. We can use colour and we can accessorise. Men don’t have the same opportunity. I wear unusual shoes specifically because they can start a conversation and they can make me stand out in a room full of people. So I can hardly complain about our style being scrutinised as a result
Of course, this is just one woman’s take on gender difference. It may not stack up to your own experience (although I’d be interested to find out). I have made a pledge to just try to be the best version of me under every circumstance and not to worry if I don’t always get it right for everyone all of the time.
To talk to some really experienced men and women who can help your business become more efficient please get in touch
Written By Emma Stewart
(all thoughts expressed are entirely my own)
November 17, 2014
Just 6 months after being fined £750k by Ofgem for price differentiation, Scottish Power are in the firing line again….this time for poor customer service. Three areas which Ofgem found the company lacking include – customer service waiting times for existing customers, billing back logs and failure to resolve ombudsman complaints.
How can these organisations get it so wrong? Our energy bills have never been higher. Fuel poverty has never been more prolific. And yet, the big six continue to grow profits at an exponential level. Just how can such an organisation so rich in cash and custom fail to get the basics right?
Similar to the Ulster Bank (who I wrote about last week), Scottish Power are blaming the implementation of a new IT System. The transition between systems has been “challenging” for them and even the hiring of 250 additional staff hasn’t eased the process.
Here’s what I think. It’s very easy to blame the implementation of new systems. We all know that it can be hard to integrate new solutions into an existing framework. The bigger the company, the harder it can be. The irony is that the new system was put in place to help deal with some of the other catalogue of blunders which Ofgem have called Scottish Power out on.
Software implementation failures happen, and often. Cofficient have had our fair share of calls to salvage implementation failures. But the issue isn’t often the software. What about the people whose role it is to integrate the solution into the business? It can be a huge project which needs to be managed well by the business and the key stake holders within that business. The scoping of the project needs to be accurate and always have the end goal in mind. If the aim is to improve the customer experience or create a better service level, it’s essential that this end goal is kept in mind at all times through the scoping, customisation and implementation. Sometimes, what falls out of this process is that YOU NEED TO CHANGE YOUR PROCESSES. The new system can facilitate that but any subsequent failures, when all else has been said and done, falls to the people who operate within the business.
I commend Scottish Power for implementing a system with the intention to facilitate the required change. But ultimately, if they continue to get it wrong, I say customers should vote with their feet.
To talk to people who know a thing or two about properly implementing new software please give us a call.
Written By Emma Stewart
November 12, 2014
You only need to ask Ulster Bank who have today, been fined $3.5million as a result of an IT failure in 2012.
The cost to the business is more than just the fine however. More than 600,000 people were left without basic banking facilities for a month back in 2012. The cost to the business in terms of reputation and trust is immeasurable. Alongside this massive inconvenience and loss to customers, it also proved catastrophic for the retail banking sector since the issue “effectively prevented [Ulster Bank] from participating in the process used to settle payments among banks”.
So what caused the failure? Well, according to Central Bank they “failed to have robust governance arrangements in relation to its IT systems”. It outsourced part of its IT Service and the problem was created when maintenance on the systems which are operated by staff in Edinburgh, caused an error in the automated processing of payments. The built up of delays had such a deep impact it took over 28 days to rectify – manually. It was effectively caused by a computer failure.
Accepting the failure as a result of IT arrangements not being robust enough, the bank are on damage limitation. Improvements have been made now to the resilience of the bank’s IT. But for how long will they be counting this cost?
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Written By Emma Stewart
November 7, 2014
My favourite question to ask when interviewing sales people is “what is the key attribute of a good sales person?”. I get all the usual responses: “I’ve got the gift of the gab me”, “Knowledge is King, know your product”, “Being a good networker”, “not taking no for an answer”. I only once received the answer “be a good listener”. I hired her on the spot. I later found out that she had learned that nugget of information from her granny who was Scotland’s best Avon sales rep for many years. Who knew?!
- Be Trustworthy
Notice I say “be” and not “act”. You can’t pretend with this one. You have to actually practice trustworthiness. People are dying to pigeon hole sales people into the sleazy, used car sales category. Give them a reason not to. It all starts with things as simple as following through with a phone call you said you’d make to them. If you say you’re going to phone at 3pm on Tuesday…DO IT
- It’s Not All About You
In fact, it’s hardly ever about you …ever. You will know how well your sale is going by how little you talk about yourself and your products. You should only ever start talking about your products once you have exhausted absolutely everything your client has to say about themselves. Remember you are selling them something which is going to improve their lives in some way or another. How can that possibly relate to you in any way?
- Tenacity Pays Off
There is a BIG difference between pestering a client and being tenacious. If you genuinely believe that what you have to offer will benefit your potential customer (and you really should believe that) then you simply can’t allow them to side line you. They have to hear what you’ve got to say. This comes down to good customer relationship management. If you say you’ll call back, call back. If they don’t have time to talk, ask when they do. Make a note of it. Call back. Send an email letting them know you still need to talk to them. It’s not about wearing them down.. it’s about making sure you are doing everything you can to help them help themselves.
- Practice Self Leadership
In other words, accept responsibility for your position, your success, your failures and your goals. Ultimately what an employer wants is someone willing to take initiative, someone who is respected enough to make good business decisions and people who act with integrity regardless of whether management are watching or not. In other words, employers want you to work as though you own the company. If you practice self leadership guess what will happen? You’ll become a leader.
Written By Emma Stewart
November 6, 2014
According to RSA Insurance, bad weather costs the UK economy £470m per day. Have you considered the costs to your business in say, lost man power or reduced service levels?
Here in Scotland the Scottish Government have just launched their Get Ready For Winter campaign (slightly later than planned) in anticipation of what may lie ahead of us. Of course, Scotland often gets the worst of the bad weather. So here is some of their business advice:
- Some staff may be unable to get to work – make sure you know how you would operate in their absence and consider remote flexible working
- Getting ready for severe weather is a good opportunity to check that you are not taking unnecessary risks elsewhere in your business, such as equipment failure or IT
- Invest in a company snow plough
OK So I made that last one up. But they offer some sage advice. Here are some more ways you can “winter proof” your business through cloud:
- Cloud enables productivity. If your staff don’t have to spend time trudging through snow or waiting for cancelled trains, they can get on with just doing their job from whatever device they have via whatever access they have
- Cloud helps improve your service levels. Your clients and customers don’t need to experience diminished levels of service as a result of any “act of God”
- Cloud hosting your software means that your business is less at risk from IT failures brought on by bad weather or security breaches brought about by staff copying files to take home
- Cloud keeps staff happy (when else can you work in your slippers?). And if they’re happy, they’re productive. And if they’re productive, you’re more profitable
Written from home By Emma Stewart (wearing slippers)
November 3, 2014
I recently attended a conference for women, organised by women, which was attended by over 400 women. It occurred to me while I was sitting there that I have never attended anything more collaborative, intelligent and well organised before.
Whilst I didn’t agree with everything being said, there was no denying that each contribution was well thought out, and smart, and crucially there was no requirement to agree with every statement. People felt able to freely challenge opinions in a constructive way and nobody took any offense when having their theories tested.
Having never attended anything of this kind before, the most surprising thing about it was this: I am totally and completely not surprised.
We all know that the gender battle in the work place is a long standing one. Companies, who have knowingly or unknowingly closed off this particular talent pool, are only just beginning to realise the untapped potential of female employees. Those with a female quota at board level are generally better performing.
Run this in tandem with organisations inability to allow staff (of any gender) to disagree with them -as highlighted here beautifully in this TED Talk. 85% of employees in organisations refuse to raise an issue they think should be addressed because they are too afraid of conflict. In other words, we spend a great deal of time and money attracting the right people then we fail to optimise them. You can really start to see why this glass ceiling is stubbornly not shattering.
Investigating the basic principles of female empowerment it all starts with this: leadership promotes gender equality. Now, I am only in my mid 30s but already I have been told by leaders within organisations, when going for a senior position, that my ability to do the job may be compromised by the fact that I am a mother. I have also been told that I can be “too challenging” at senior strategy meetings. How’s that for shutting down an employee…
I wish I could have brought these gentleman to my recent conference – if only to show them what can be achieved when women are empowered to live up to their potential.
Written by Emma Stewart.
October 31, 2014
This Halloween I’m Going Out as … Me. Motivating Sales People All Year Round
Driving to work this morning I was extolling the virtues of working for a sensible company where there was no expectation for me to dress up like a moron on Halloween to motivate the sales staff.
I’ve never really understood why companies think that sales people respond to egg decorating or ringing bells or bursting balloons or dressing up. There’s nothing inherently inspiring about your boss behaving like a monkey which makes you suddenly more capable or willing to do your job.
Call me old fashioned but here’s what I think works (all year round):
- Praise your staff (often)
- Give them public recognition
- Give them autonomy to complete their work the way they see fit
- Let them “own” a task – if they think it’s important, it probably is
- Be collaborative – for God’s sake give them the opportunity to disagree with you
- Give feedback but in a way they don’t feel like their being attacked
- Don’t micromanage them to within an inch of their life
- Do not foster a culture of fear
- Don’t expect them to be you
It’s also important to practice reflection. Have I always followed my own advice above? No. Have I got it wrong in the past? Absolutely. When I dressed up as a fairy did it motivate the staff? No. But it gave them a good opportunity to point and laugh. It was only good for allowing them to vent any built up frustration they might have been secretly harbouring against me.
So what’s the lesson? Don’t waste your money on egg decorating kits and wigs. Step out of your witch costume and just become a real human being.
To find out how to get more from your sales team come and talk to us
Written by Emma Stewart.
October 29, 2014
I had a really bad shopping experience at the weekend. A salesman at a shop counter which sells male grooming products accused me of touching a cosmetic which I ought not to have touched (even though it was one of a few items which were out on his counter top) and then tried to harass me into buying said product on the basis he couldn’t resell it. I wondered how many sales he achieved in this way and whether or not he made commission on this basis. Then I wondered whether his company believe him to be a really effective sales person – without really knowing how he uses bad behaviour to achieve sales.
There’s nothing I hate more than a bad sales person. I have been selling and managing sales people for over 15 years. I have managed more than 150 sales people over my career and I have literally seen them all – the A star employee, the steady performer who’ll never set the heather on fire and the worst of them all the badly behaved, high performing, sales idiot.
I recently read a whitepaper about these kind of people. The headline grabber for me was:
- High performing organisations were 3 x more likely to have fired their badly behaved high performers
- Most companies don’t know how their actual cost of sale measures up against individuals sales performances
At this point, as a sales manager I am thinking…PLEASE give me a reason to get your ass out of here! Let me prove that you burn through leads, that you reduce the life value of a customer, or that you undersell the product….. An effective sales manager and high performing business ought to be able to identify these kinds of issues at least. I only wish I had had access to this kind of information in my previous incarnations! Perhaps I will revisit that retailer and try and sell MY product to them. God knows, they need it!
To talk to someone about how to improve your sales visibility or how to measure your cost of sale more accurately, click here
Written by Emma Stewart.
October 27, 2014
In an apparent massive hacking leak, “a flagrant violation of privacy” according to Lawrence, naked photos of Hollywood starlets have been traipsed all over the internet. In an article published by The Telegraph Edd Hardy (Head of Security Assessment somewhere important) said that they were accessed from the cloud server they were hosted on.
Apart from the obvious response which any sane person would have of “why the hell are you taking nude pictures of yourself?!” this is actually quite a useful turn of events for people like me who sell cloud hosted software like NetSuite and SAP By Design.
Although articles like this don’t help with the misconception, it remains true that a major concern for businesses considering cloud is that it isn’t secure enough. Of course, if the cloud weren’t secure, we should all stop internet banking now. Not to undermine these concerns, if you are committing all your business information to the cloud, I get why you really want to make sure it isn’t going to be hacked or pilfered. But just a small scratch under the surface and it’s easy to see how everything is not as it seems.
Think about how hard your company works in order to keep your data secure. Think about the amount of time and effort you invest in your own security when your servers are sitting in the next room. Now imagine the amount of energy and money invested by big multinational, market leading companies like SAP and NetSuite. Would they really compromise your data by allowing someone to guess your password through the recovery function?
Of course not. NetSuite, for example, employs round the clock monitoring tools and a dedicated team of security experts to ensure security for their customers. Deloitte are so comfortable with the security from these cloud solutions that they have approved it from an auditing perspective. In fact, Forbes ranked Netsuite as one of the top most trusted companies scoring them a near perfect 99.
So in short, Jennifer Lawrence was (*cough*) “exposed” as a result of a mix of high self-esteem, no self-control and really really poor password control.
To talk to someone about how cloud hosted software can enhance your business (and keep it safe) come and have a chat with us.
Written by Emma Stewart.
October 24, 2014
How the mighty fall. A few years ago no one could touch Tesco. Most other retailers were in a David and Goliath situation with them. They had the right strategy, the human touch (remember “Every Little Helps”?) and the ability to be everything to everyone. Oh, how we all desire to be that business.
But something as simple as “accounting errors” looks likely to be the stone in the forehead of this mega-giant. 92% fall in half year profits…eesh!
I know it isn’t this straight forward. Tesco was being squeezed on both sides by competition. They rolled out a massive store make-over in order to compete with high end Waitrose and Whole Foods whilst also being squeezed out the market on price by bargain food chains Lidl and Aldi. Tesco no longer fit nicely into one space or another. But, at the end of the day it was “accelerated recognition of commercial income and the delayed accrual of costs” (an attempt to feed the beast), which did it in.
So what’s my point? Well, if a big business like Tesco can get it wrong, think how easy it is for a small business to get it wrong. I’m not suggesting that Tesco’s error could have been prevented by using better software, but perhaps it’s time for you to think about how you can run your business more efficiently.
I don’t know any business which hasn’t had a “hairy” moment or two – perhaps in its embryonic period. It’s scary, but possibly preventable. Consider this: do you have accounting software which integrates your sales so that your forecasting accurately reflects your trends? Or do you still have someone hand cranking a forecast each month? Do you set your business goals based on real time information? Or do you have to wait until the current accounts cycle has run its course? Are you “Doing a Tesco”? Or are you being the most effective and efficient (and truthful) version of yourself you can be?
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Written By Emma Stewart