Time to face reality

A tourist was walking in the mountains and asked a ‘local’: “Which is the best way to the top?” The ‘local’ replied, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here”.

Many people set themselves goals in life and in business and many people set targets for their staff. In principle I don’t have a problem with people having goals, after all it’s something to aim for.

However, if you don’t really know where you are, where you are starting from, how do you know the best way to achieve your goals.

Mountain peak hidden in clouds in Himalayas. Pictured in Nepal

Imagine you are walking in the mountains with some friends and you are responsible for navigating (a bit like a boss in a company). You know where you want to get to, but you don’t know exactly where you are. How do you work out which way to go?

When I’m in the mountains, I worry when I hear someone say “This must be the right way!”. One of the keys to navigation is to know where you are, so you can work out the best way to go. There is no “This must be the right way!”.

My point is simple. You need to know where you are in order to work out which way to go.

Lhotse is the fourth highest mountain on Earth (after Mount Everest, K2 and Kangchenjunga) and is connected to Everest via the South Col. In addition to the main summit at 8,516 metres above sea level, Lhotse Middle (East) is 8,414 metres and Lhotse Shar is 8,383 metres. It is located at the border between Tibet (China) and Khumbu (Nepal).

Why is choosing the right way important? Because the wrong way can be longer, more tiring, riskier, stressful, and possibly even deadly – whether you are on a mountain, or in business.

In business, knowing where you are, means you know about the competition, what’s happening in your market, what’s happening with legislation and technology, etc; and perhaps most important, knowing what your customers are doing and thinking.

We live and work in an uncertain world and like being on a mountain, the conditions can change quickly, so as well as knowing where you are, you also need to know who you are. That means you need to know your capabilities, your strengths and face up to your weaknesses.

Why is this important in business?

In the Autumn statement (2016), one of the Chancellor’s, Philip Hammond, objectives is to ‘revive lagging productivity’ in companies. His answer is to invest in infrastructure.

I wonder if there is another approach, which may make a more significant impact to many businesses, especially small businesses.

Many businesses are structured around systems, processes, roles, because it gives control. What many employers do is find people to deliver work against that process or role. And the ‘franchise world’ has been very successful, doing just that. Work done to a process with the cheapest possible staff.

I would argue that to fit people to a role has an implicit inefficiency. You are not using your people’s full potential. You are not using their strengths.

I believe if we want higher productivity from our people, we need to be less focused on control and roles and much more aware of the potential within our people (and ourselves). We need to shift the balance.

“We need to release the shackles of administration and let our people flourish”.

Of course I am not saying we don’t need process, in fact I would say some small businesses could do with a bit more process. What I am saying is that our people should manage and adapt processes as their environment changes, we should not be over reliant on process to manage our people.

When process is too dominant, people switch off, they do, they monitor, they report – they switch off, they do, they monitor, they report.

I believe we need people to be much more aware of themselves and their environment.

If I am on a mountain and bad weather comes in, I want to be with people that know what to do, that are prepared, that know how to navigate, that know how to get through the difficult times to safety.

If you are using your strengths, you are better able to adapt in a changing environment. If you are using your strengths you are better placed to deal with issues and also be creative, innovative – and think about the future.

To summarise, I believe that as well as setting goals, you need to know where you are and who you are. You need to get the balance right – not too much process stuff. You need to understand and accept your strengths and your weaknesses. Value and trust your people more.  Make time so you can establish the best way forward.

Practically – what can you do? (if you run a business)

Understand your customer before you try to grow

Move forward a step at a time – lots of small steps are easier (especially when you have a mountain to climb).

Do away with the clutter: be brutal about the unnecessary reports, processes, meetings, however ingrained they may be. You need to free your mind and business of useless stuff; e.g. stop offering services to people that you are not very good at, and they probably don’t buy anyway.

Trust people more than you feel comfortable with: stop meddling, stop managing the stuff that doesn’t need managing; let them do it. Build confidence in your team, build your confidence in your team; they will respect you for it. Release ‘mountains’ of time for you to think about the future.

Communicate effectively: so you know what’s going on, so they know your thoughts and they know you are interested in them.

And then, see the strengths and weaknesses in yourself, your team, your business. Look at your people and see what they get excited about, what they enthusiastic about – it will often be a sign of their strengths and where opportunities lie.


I believe it is time for many to face reality – and let your people flourish.

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