Virtual coffee meetings with Metis Ireland
Part two: Management through turbulent times


In our latest Virtual Coffee session for business owners we were delighted to bring together three amazing speakers to give their thoughts on how we can all find our way through the difficult times we face.


Since we’d like as many people as possible to share that insight, we’ve decided to turn each speaker’s thoughts into a short blog. Last week we looked at Joe O’Connor’s views on coping with stress, and this week we’ll hear from serial entrepreneur Donal Daly on the fundamental lessons of management and how to be ‘fast, bold and brave’ in all that we do.
Helpfully, he’s supplied his own blog on the topic, so over to you Donal.


1. Without a vision you can’t see where you’re headed

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” – Book of Proverbs
It always has to start with the Why. Why does the company exist? Why are you embarking on this project? Why are you going to work today? Why are you building this product?
At Altify, as an example, we had a perspective that enterprise sales was broken (lots of investment/very little return) and if we could fix it – maybe partly automate it – we could improve the lives of the salespeople and their customers. We also knew that software, on its own, unless infused with sales methodology knowledge, would not help. So we decided to be the first company to embed sales methodology in software that sellers wanted to use. With the right software guidance, the salesperson would select the right customer, understand the customer’s business problem and then sell the right solution.
Lesson #1: It’s critical to have a vision that people can understand. At Altify, this was the vision – improve the lives of salespeople and their customers. It reflected the direction of a company and its purpose thereby inspiring people to make it a reality.


2. Commitment should not be an accident


I’ve often been asked what it takes to build a great business. Let me start by saying this:
Any time an entrepreneur starts a company he or she is embarking on a journey that is often unclear, and the responsibilities that come with it will be borne personally.
If you’re starting a business it can be the most exciting and rewarding journey you can possibly take. But it should be an active and informed choice, something you believe in deeply, care about with a passion. You need to be prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to make it succeed.
Once you hire your first employee, secure your first customer or take external investment, you have a moral obligation to make every personal sacrifice required to do the very best job that you can. You don’t get to walk away when things get tough. You have to take your work home. You’re not the boss, you’re working for your employees and your customers. You have responsibilities that transcend your personal interest. You have to follow up.
Think about how this also applies when you’re leading a team, starting a project, entering a relationship, selling a product, signing a contract, hiring an employee, or making a promise to a customer.
Lesson #2: Commitment shouldn’t be an accident. Think hard. If you’re not prepared to see it through and sustain your effort through the painful parts that will inevitably come – then don’t start.


3. Customers don’t own innovation (that’s your job)

It can be difficult to get the balance right between investing in today’s business and tomorrow’s vision. The customer cares about what you can do for her today. She has enough to worry about and is fully occupied with the problem she has right now. She really doesn’t need to borrow problems from tomorrow. If she’s going to complain, she’s going to complain about today – not tomorrow.
Customer feedback is a thing to be cherished and complaints should be treasured. If you’re lucky your customers will tell you what’s wrong with your product (today). That input is precious. They’re investing their time in helping you make your product/company better. They could have said nothing and called the competitor.
The customer can tell you what they don’t like today, but most customers can’t tell you what they will need tomorrow. They’ve not had the time to think about the problems they will have or the solutions they will need. That’s your job. You own the future vision, not your customer.
Lesson #3: Innovation matters. Company strategy and product design should blend customer feedback, market research, and most importantly, your vision. It’s your responsibility to see the future. If you don’t have the vision you’re average at best, and you can’t have sustained growth with ‘average’.

4. Listen and leave space

There are always people in your company or your customers with fabulous ideas. Sometimes these ideas are ignored because they don’t come from the person with the title. In my experience, the opinions of the most senior person in the room are not necessarily the most valuable. I’ve always felt that we only earn the right to express our own opinions when we listen to and value the opinions of others. I’ve found that when I’ve taken the time to listen, I’ve been better for it, as a CEO and a person.
Listening isn’t just sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for your turn to speak. If you’re one of these early jumpers, it only shows that you’re not really interested in what the other person has to say. That’s both disrespectful and ineffective. When someone pauses, it doesn’t mean they’ve said all they have to say. Give them time to continue. There might be more you can learn. Leave space.
Lesson #4: Listen and leave space. You’ll definitely learn more from your employees and customers if you let them know that you really want to listen, pause, consider and respond.


5. Without perspective it’s hard to see straight

None of us is just an employee, a customer or a supplier. We’re also mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, daughters and sons, friends and partners, trying to juggle many balls and balance multiple roles.
• The accountant who signs your pay slip coaches his son’s football team at the weekend and volunteers at the local homeless shelter.
• The top salesperson who always goes the extra mile for her customers is also a marathon runner.
• The support engineer who couldn’t work late to fix that software problem has a husband with cancer.
• The quiet lady in customer service plays the lead role in West Side Story for her local drama group.
• The customer who didn’t turn up for the meeting had to attend to their terminally ill child.
Everyone has a story. We have no idea that behind what we see as their annoying delay, their selfishness or lack of consideration, or their ‘not-noticing’ our efforts, they may be dealing with some industrial-strength problems. Their lives may be in turmoil. They may be struggling with pressures or personal obstacles that are consuming their attention. It’s always good to try to find out, before lashing out.
Lesson #5: Perspective is a Superpower. Remember the last time you complained … ‘I don’t understand why … [Insert complaint here]’? Stop. Think. Focus on the ‘I don’t understand’ part. Try to empathise so you have common ground for discussion, debate or even enlightenment. “Aha, I never thought about it that way. I get it now.”


6. Employees first, customers second

This one is easy and it could have been the first, second and third lessons. As I said at the outset, I feel privileged to have taken this journey enriched by so many talented and generous co-travellers. That’s where I’ve found joy every day.
There are so many clichés about people, and I’m not the first to say this, but the success of any enterprise usually comes down to one thing – the team.
When you take care of the people, and share with them a purpose worth pursuing, they take care of the customers, and the customers take care of the business. It really is that simple.
Lesson #6: People matter. Your employees are investing a large part of their lives with you. Take care of that investment in the best way you know. It’s priceless.


7. Knowledge matters. Be a student for life

When I started my first company I was a young graduate engineer. I knew nothing about starting a company, building a product or running a business. The one thing I had going for me was that I knew I was clueless. So I read voraciously. I read the seminal texts by Kotler (Principles of Marketing), Porter (Competitive Advantage of Nations), and Ries and Trout (Positioning, Immutable Laws of Marketing). I also read ‘In Search of Excellence’ by Tom Peters, ‘What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School’ by Mark McCormack, ‘Up The Organization’ by Robert Townsend and other less reverent (and honestly more fun) books about business.
Since then, I’ve tried to be a lifelong student and become sufficiently expert in my domain to have an informed point of view. How else could I advise my customers or guide the company?
Lesson #7: Be a lifelong learner. That’s especially important today where the fusion of technologies is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres and transforming every industry in the world. Knowledge truly is power.

I’m learning new lessons every day. But these are the seven things I think about all of the time. If you nail all of them all of the time, you’ll be exceptional. Probably no single person embodies all these virtues. But anyone who can do these seven things, who possesses these seven qualities, will be a formidable leader.

More about Donal
If you’d like to know more about Donal, and read more of his blogs, subscribe to his ‘Think for a Living’ blog or connect on LinkedIn.


In our next update we’re in the hands of Dr. James Ring, who’ll be looking at the qualities (and the burdens) of leadership through difficult times.



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