Here in the middle with you

Kate Purnell’s article in the West Australian on the 20th of July,  Stuck in middle of vax risk highlighted the importance of Australia’s middle-market businesses as a powerhouse that drives our economy.

The article, whilst addressing WA centric issues, references Pitcher Partners’ Business Radar report – Understanding the businesses that drive Australia’s economy.  Released earlier this week this research focusses on the global, national, and local issues that impact decision making and success in the sector we all work in. Highlights:

  • The ability to adapt quickly to the COVID-19 related headwinds of the past 18 months saw an overall improvement in middle market business owner’s sentiment.
  • The sector contributes 25% of total national revenue.
  • As a sector it continues to lag in terms of succession planning and refreshing the leadership talent pool with over 58% of businesses stating they have never engaged in this thought process.

Click on the full article below and Business Radar report here.

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Putting your finger on the pulse in coaching

A short text message from a client opened-up a world of understanding for me on the impact a coaching conversation can have.

In my wonderings with Ak Sabbagh, my coaching colleague at Beckon Business, I often reflect on how much visible evidence clients see from their coaching sessions and how little evidence I see! My perspective is usually on ROI – revenue shifts and increased capacity and behavioral shifts and the like. I base this on “the more time I put in the more benefit the client will see!!” Ak so often asks me “what would you see if you took another perspective that wasn’t time based but impact based? For instance, the client’s well-being may be just as valuable to them as the revenue shift they get and it doesn’t matter how much or how little time you spend, it is still very valuable.” Quoting from Ak – “a short conversation can bring about significant awareness if the client is in that space.” Let me explain…

Situation:

  • I made a ‘quick’ call to check-in with the client who was finishing up a heavy week during COVID. No agenda on my part other than to check the client’s well-being heading into the weekend.
  • It had been a difficult week with one of the client’s staff causing a lot of friction in the team when everyone was busy. The processes in a tightly-managed, highly-geared business were being overlooked by this particular staff member.
  • My client felt highly frustrated, which was demonstrated by being short-tempered and angry in front of the team. Not only that this client was going through some health issues, which added to the stress and feelings of overwhelm, etc.

Invitation: Would you like to talk about it?

  • Unload – In a few, short sentences my client unloaded all the frustration, disappointment and anxiety burdening the week. Much of the disappointment was about ‘going back to where we were a year ago’ and the sudden awareness that the disappointment felt was with their reactive behaviour.
  • Slow-down – Slowing down, pausing and questioning helped this client see they were not back where they were a year ago and significant shifts had been made in the overall team’s growth. It was this one staff member that hadn’t shifted.
  • The self-judgement in my client had been high at the beginning of the conversation and shifted to a considered responsible action at the end of our 30 minute conversation. I finished it there.

Revelation: A few minutes after hanging up I received a text message with screen shots:

  “[My Blood Pressure and Pulse] this morning when I arrived at work”

 

“and [my Blood Pressure and Pulse] after talking to you.”

 

“…..Thank you for your care, knowledge and support.”

The shifts in Blood Pressure and Pulse rate were significant for my client. I have heard Lyra Puspa, neuroscientist and leadership coach speak about the impact a coaching conversation can have on a person’s heart rate and blood pressure, but never considered it as ROI in my coaching.

In short, what I have learnt is that there can be much value in short conversations. Quality not quantity always wins the day!

Margaret Armitage

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Ted Talk that made me think…

Good morning!

Thought I’d share a Ted Talk that my daughter forwarded to me today to discuss over dinner tonight. It brings to the surface some very interesting thoughts and perspective around age and ageing.  I found it well messaged in the main.  Be interested in your thoughts.  Mine are below.  https://youtu.be/WfjzkO6_DEI

What I like is that the presenter has brought to the surface many blind spots that we have within our social system around the topic of age and ageing.  She counters them with really good arguments that allow us to ponder upon our own judgements and beliefs, and perhaps even help us to change just one of them.  That is a good thing.  I love her line about “I am getting old because my left knee hurts – but your right knee doesn’t and it’s the same age!” What a great paradigm breaker!

I disagree with some of her argument and constructs.  Whilst arguing  the need to break down the old beliefs, patterns  and judgements, she uses judgement and beliefs of her own to “make wrong” constructs like capitalism, ‘big business’ and ‘big pharma’ (and a lot more)  in the same breath.  What I think she is trying to do but doesn’t quite get there is to argue that ageism – or any ism is a part of the whole system.  That any “ism” needs to be brought to light – not in judgement but in acknowledging that it exists (even if just in our minds). .

Blaming one part of the system for the ails of another part of that system is flawed logic, a circular argument, and uncreative.  For example, I don’t personally believe that big pharma is out to conspire to make us feel old/sick/bad/wrong – (that’s marketing’s role if we choose to listen to it – and we unconsciously do).  While blaming them for being the bad guys, she fails to recognise that big pharma is still a part of our overall system.  And we cannot change the system from within it (to paraphrase Einstein).  By observing the whole system in context, we can address the beliefs and behaviours we need to address within ourselves (and that helps change the whole system).   My belief is that, on balance, big pharma scientists go to work ‘on purpose,’ perhaps thinking how they could make all lives better by reducing pain, eliminating suffering etc. What we have done, as part of the same system, is to wrap it all in judgement, blame and an unconscious belief that we must ‘make them wrong’ to ‘make us right.’  After all, “those big companies rob us of our money by making us feel bad about ourselves and then sell us stuff to make us feel better.”  No.  If I feel bad about myself – that’s me doing that. That’s me buying into a marketing campaign.  I can change that belief pretty quickly really.

I just need to take full responsibility and ownership for all my stuff – not outsource the issue to ‘the bad guys’ (which I believe to be another mental construct!).

I am reminded by words that my late mother used to speak around being delighted in ageing and gaining white in her hair – a privilege to be able to do so compared to the many that never get to experience it.  She also said once when I asked if she would retire at 80 “Why? I get up and my hip hurts, my foot hurts and it takes a bit longer to get to the bus, but why would I want to not go to work? Why would I not want to be with people half my age, active, alive, aware, thinking, challenging? My hip will still hurt at work, but my mind will be on other more important things.”  Purpose-full.

For me the message is – keep surfing!

Ak

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Foundation Coaching Skills Program – Commencing 28th January 2021

As a business owner, leader or individual we understand attending one-day workshop is not ideal or possible in the current climate.

So, we have taken our 1 day intensive workshop and turned it into a online program over a short 4 weeks for 2.5hrs per week starting on the 28th of January 2021.

This program is intentionally designed to build your coaching capabilities to bring out the best in you and those you work with. Not only does it provide uplift for you and your team it is also accredited by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and provides the first stage toward becoming a certified coach with this world-leading organisation.

The program has plenty of interaction and embedding of your knowledge. You will apply your learning during the online sessions and leave equipped to effect change.

Keen to know more? The flyer here provides you with a full explanation, dates, times and pricing.

Spaces are limited to ensure maximum value for each participant, so enrol with us by emailing info@beckonbusiness.com.

 

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Is there a way to fail better? (6PR Interview – Ak Sabbagh)

Are we a nation that fears failure? Leadership expert Ak Sabbagh thinks so, and he thinks it needs to stop if we want to move forward.

See Aks recent podcast with 6PR Chris Ilsley  here: https://www.6pr.com.au/podcast/is-there-a-way-to-fail-better/

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Successful succession: An eight-step approach to passing the business baton (Ak Sabbagh) Smart Company Article

The average age of a mid-size company owner in Australia is between 57–75 years old, and yet more than 75% of them don’t have any form of planned succession.

It’s no wonder that we regularly see business transitions occur with frantic, unplanned haste and no real value for current owners.

But it doesn’t need to be that way if you plan out your process.

Below are eight considerations to get you and your business ready to pass the baton onto the next owner.

1. Are you really ready?

First, decide whether you are really ready to sell your business. Ask yourself what is motivating you to sell.

If the business is underperforming, while you may want to exit now, it might not be a good time.

If you have a major life event (divorce, death, illness) in your personal life then it might not be a good time either.

If it’s just ‘time to sell’ and you have planned for it, then you have many options. You could sell to some of your key staff (or help them acquire into the business), to a competitor, or to some form of financial investor (like private equity).

2. Are you running to or from?

Secondly, ask yourself if you are moving towards something important to you, or running away from something you don’t want anymore.

Your answer will change how you exit and who you engage with.

In particular, the answer to that question gives an indication of how quickly you want to exit and why.

If your driving motivation is to simply get out, and speed is the most important factor, then you want to engage with as many people as possible and have a clear understanding of the minimum price you will expect.

3. The buyer’s mindset

Third, be in the buyer’s mindset, not the seller’s.

Will you hand over the business to just ‘anyone’?

Are there any persona non grata? Are there organisations you would hate to see own your business?

What should the new owner be like, since they can’t be a replica of you?

What is your ideal person or company as a buyer and why?

Identifying your ideal buyer means you’ll know them when you see them. Otherwise, anyone looks good.

4. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s

Once you’ve figured out your plan, the fourth step is to get your house in order.

If you have no formal contracts, no formal documentation, a shoebox full of receipts, do you really have anything to sell?

It’s time to ensure you have invested in the right structure, systems, processes, people, and documentation so that the business is ready for sale.

5. What’s it worth?

The fifth step is to understand what your business is really worth to someone else.

Don’t confuse what you want for the business, or need for future life, with what the business is worth.

The first step is to do your own research. Find businesses that are similar to yours that have sold recently and go and speak directly to the past owners about it, not only what they got but also what the process was like.

But don’t just take one person’s word for it; consult widely.

6. The sales process

Step six is to understand all your options and make a choice.

To understand your options, don’t just ring your accountant or broker. Your sale process should be tailored specifically to the answers above.

Engage a professional who will help you find the right buyer who meets your criteria and can pay what the business is worth.

That buyer could be an employee, a customer, competitors or supplier.

7. Get flexible

Next, think beyond price. What someone is willing to pay will be different depending on when and how they have to pay.

Vendor terms, deferred components and conditional components are normal for reasonable sized businesses.

Flexibility may get you more, so if you want to maximise the price, expect to offer vendor finance and/or get a deferred payment.

8. Passing the baton

Step eight is to remember the business is yours until you pass the baton, but not a minute longer.

Be sure to plan for the distraction of the sale process, but you must continue to drive the business until you’ve sold it.

When you’ve finally got past the sale, you will have changed your identity overnight.

You are no longer a business owner. So, what are you?

The real work starts now. Plan for what you will be doing and how you will be talking about yourself.

https://www.smartcompany.com.au/finance/buying-and-selling/eight-considerations-business-succession/

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Key success factors in any change program is to determine ‘quick wins.’

“Good things come to those who wait.” It is a saying that we are all used to, but sometimes in business quick wins are equally important.

This week I (Ak Sabbagh) was delighted to be invited to speak to a dozen or so CEOs as part of Bruce Fielding’s CEO Institute chapter here in Perth.  The topic was about not wasting a good crisis and using the time to be innovative and creative in your business.

We agreed that innovation does not mean that the business has to invent the cure for cancer or a new revolutionary app.  Indeed, many of the CEOs present were able to share how smaller innovations (like changes to current products and services, and tweaks to processes) have helped them to remain “business fit” in uncertain times.

With innovation comes ‘change.’ Change is an interesting thing – and right now, for many of us it feels like we are experiencing ‘change fatigue.’  Who isn’t exhausted by the amount of change that we are experiencing either directly or indirectly at the moment?

This led us to a conversation on our personal relationship with ‘change’ itself.  How do you feel about change?  For some, it is an exciting opportunity to challenge, create and grow.  For many, the mere thought of change brings up fears.  The fear of loss of control or agency, the loss of security and certainty, etc.

It turns out that these fears stem from deep seated chemistry within our brains.  In recent conversations with applied neuroscientists Lyra Puspa and Dr Paul Brown, I learned that our brains are naturally ‘lazy’ and love habit because it preserves energy.  This trait is essentially a key to survival.  Brains learn to become lazy by creating habits.  And as we get conditioned to those habits, (i.e. become creatures of habit), this reduces how much energy the brain exerts on doing things.

It’s why we look at systemising processes and creating procedures in what we do.

But there are times where we need to change the systems or the processes.  That means we need to change our habits, and our natural tendency is to resist the change.  Why? Because it means our brains have to work more to learn the new way of doing things.  This works at the most fundamental level – can you recall the agitation created the last time an invited guest sat at your dinner table in ‘your spot’ or your 2nd child’s usual chair?  Breaking the norm challenges us.

So one of the key success factors in any change program is to determine ‘quick wins.’  Incremental changes that move us towards the ultimate goal without a need to make major shifts all at once create an environment where ‘quick wins’ get associated with positive rewards (I guess that’s why they call them ‘wins’). A quick win sets off good chemistry in the brain.  Small, incremental, habit forming changes that are positively reinforced set off ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ chemical markers of motivation (opioids and dopamine).  In contrast, change that cause negative reinforcements sets off cortisol – a key stress marker.

So, what are the innovations you are introducing that are creating positive motivations? Creating new, constructive habits? We’d like to know what’s been going on with you in your business.

Join us this coming Friday 21st August at 9am WST with other business leaders and owners for a Zoom conversation to discuss what we’ve collectively learned, what we take forward, leave behind, and how we Find a New Balance.

Join us to Find a New Business Balance, click here to register now.

Ak Sabbagh

Coach & Mentor

Director

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Making lemonade from the Covid-19 lemon

As business coaches and mentors, my colleague Margaret Armitage and I are often asked by clients and contacts “what are you seeing ‘out there?’.” Over the past 6 months of our shared Covid-19 winter in Australia, we have lost count of how many times this question has been asked.

Our response feels somewhat ‘bi-polar.’  It all depends on what lens you see the world through and how you interpret that input.  We do see the tough side of how some businesses are not coping well, but in the main we are experiencing and seeing positive outcomes.

Part of the reason for this is that, as generally positive people, we tend to attract clients who are optimistic by nature, are open to learning and growth, possess a ‘on-purpose’ mindset, and have a creative ‘open’ quality about them.

When I shared this observation with a client last week, her response was “So I guess you’d call yourself a ‘glass half full’ person, then?”  My response: “Well that depends…”

I find the “glass half full/empty” analogy problematic as it never really considers CONTEXT.  And context determines (consciously or unconsciously) so much.

With respect to the glass, we must consider its purpose.  What is the glass for? If it is for beer, then for a beer enthusiast, half full OR half empty is not a good situation – it’s only a half a glass of beer.  If it is half full it will be too full for a red wine lover.  And if cognac is your thing, then the glass is most certainly over full – even at half.

You can apply the same logic to most things.  When it is raining, is that good or bad weather?  It’s great if you are on the farm and need rain, and not so great if you promised the kids a camping weekend!  In the end it’s a judgement call on a situation, and in the same way we judge anything as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ our attitude and perspective/context dictates the outcome.

The “glass half full/empty” concept is often used as an analogy to describe a person as being either an optimist or a pessimist.  Australian research just released by the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute  shows a link between pessimism about the future and a greater risk of dying earlier.  It showed that, on average, participants who scored higher on pessimism were likely to die two years earlier than optimists.  Interestingly, a highly optimistic perspective did not show extended life expectancy above the average life expectancy.

Regardless, what I take out of the research is that while you may not live longer than average by adopting a positive/optimistic attitude towards life, business, and the world at large, it certainly doesn’t hurt.  And when we work with positive, and optimistic business owners, we witness incredible creative energy that spins off opportunity and a sense of Agency (refer to Margaret’s blog last week) and certainty in a world that for others seems out of control.

It’s time to stop thinking about how bad (or in some cases, good) the whole Covid-19 situation is – enough energy is wasted there already.  Instead, if we simply acknowledge that it is what it is and ask how we can make the most of it, then we can begin to see a way out.

So what are we seeing out there? We are seeing optimistically minded business owners making lemonade from a pretty bitter lemon.  Among other things we see them:

  1. Redefine their businesses, seeing growth in new markets that were unavailable to them only 4 months ago.
  2. Learn more about themselves and their personal relationship with “change” and “risk,” often surprising us with bold moves to expand when competitors have shuttered up.
  3. Take stock of Covid-19 Lockdown #1 – learning and determining what they will take forward, leave behind, or adapt if and when Covid-19 Lockdown #2 occurs.
  4. Be real about the situation – not being over-optimistic and betting on a cure-all vaccine by Christmas (although wouldn’t that be great), instead, they are pragmatic and prudent in their planning for what may be.

Above all they are not waiting for a ‘new normal’ to form.  They are pro-actively creating, defining, and shaping the new normal for themselves and their businesses.

What are you seeing out there? What have you heard?  What have you learnt?

We would love to know…

Are you waiting for a ‘new normal’ to form or are you pro-actively creating, defining, and shaping a new normal for yourself and your business?

If you belong to the optimists doing the latter, then please join us on 21st August at 9am WST with other business leaders and owners for a Zoom conversation to discuss what we’ve collectively learned, what we take forward, leave behind, and how we Find a New Balance.

Join us to Find a New Business Balance, click here to register now.

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Brains, Drains and Webinars: How a Leader’s Brain Works in the Virtual Covid19 World

Margaret Armitage, 22nd April 2020

Amongst the flood of valuable online material, webinars, zoom meetings that make up life in COVID-19, there are one or two that have really resonated and bring a whole new awareness to me as a Leadership Coach (and a person, dare I say) in both an online world and when we return to ‘normal’.

The first that resonated was a revelation for me at a personal level regarding my own energy, or lack of! Many of us – me, my clients, colleagues and friends and family are feeling more exhausted being locked down, working from home, which is strange when you think about it because I for one expected to have so much more time and be more  relaxed without travel (in the air or on the ground) to fit into my life, or to negotiate my time around grandchildren’s school runs, or an exercise class or a myriad of things.

Well, it isn’t as I expected!

The online environment is more demanding – this new intimacy significantly amplifies the need for those in leadership to be present and expand our awareness. In other words, we need to stay focussed, we cant doodle, check social media or let our minds wander and then plug back in. It is more demanding because we are “missing many of the environmental and personal visual cues which enable us to easily speak or present face-to-face”.

I learnt this in a post from Claire Braund, Executive Director of Women on Boards, “The ON-switch is never OFF in this new World of Work”

The message to take from this is that our brains are working in a different way which accounts for some of the exhaustion we are feeling and we need to develop extra muscles used to build intimacy and presence at the same time as we are managing other tasks, such as checking the ‘chats’ and questions in our zoom meeting , ‘admitting’ people to the meeting, helping out those who ‘can’t get on’ –  all this whilst remaining fully engaged with the webinar we are running and of course – looking into the camera. It can be exhausting!!

The second amazing series of revelations came from an equally incredible woman, Lyra Puspa a neuroscientist and leadership coach who gave a webinar titled “Decoding the neuroscience of Leaders” or in my lay terms “How do Leaders Minds Work?”

The first significant fact that I discovered is that even when we aren’t using them our brain consumes around 20% of our energy! Which explains why this new world of work which demands much more brain activity is causing leaders to feel drained.

Another amazing insight from Lyra was the impact that stress and lack of sleep can have on our leadership brain’s mechanism. Now we all might know this intuitively and even have experience it, but Lyra explained why. The mechanism our brain follows when making decisions are almost involuntary – we have Fast, intuitive thinking 95% of the time and Slow, reflective thinking only 5% of the time. It is much easier to think Fast, like being on autopilot than it is to Slow down and be deliberate and intentional. When we are tired our default is Fast thinking – although we might feel like we are slow!

In addition to that we have two distinctly different Thinking Neural networks to inform our decision-making. The two networks cannot work at the same time – the DMN (Default Mode Network) manages the Relational thinking for feelings, empathy,other-centered information whilst the TPN (Task Positive Network ) manages Rational thinking, based on judgement, task, action and goal oriented neural activity.

Therefore, leaders cant work on a Financial Report and actively support the emotional needs of staff at the same time. It is impossible for our brains to do this.  Switching from one network to another quickly and easily is what leadership is about.  If we have had a bad night’s sleep or are stressed and anxious we will flip too quickly into Rational/Judgemental TPN thinking and may even show up as more racist or harsh in our decision-making.

 

Finally, leadership isn’t located in one part of the brain, however, there are two hormones, testosterone and cortisol, that influence our leadership style.  These hormones are present in everyone but the aim is to have higher Testosterone levels to help us be inspiring, fearless leaders and lower Cortisol levels to keep us healthy. Cortisol, sometimes called the ‘stress’ hormone blocks testosterone and reduces our immune systems. Studies show that high performing leaders have high testosterone, are resilient, bounce-back easily and see stress and failure as just another event. Whilst low performing leaders have high cortisol and take failure very seriously. Lyra’s research showed that cortisol reduces when we are at peace and in a deep reflective state and testosterone lifts. Brain measurements showed that during facilitated leadership coaching leaders can move into a deeply reflective state that induces a mindful state, similar to deep meditation in Buddhist monks. Following this deeply reflective state, an ‘aha moment’ frequently occurs resulting in transformational change. As a leadership coach, I hope for that for  all my clients.

So, it isn’t just an old wives tale that sleep and reflection builds strong leaders – It is proven by neuroscience that good rest, good food and mindfulness build up the muscles in our leaders brains helping us lead through difficult times. Please look after yourselves.

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Vacuum bigger killer than the Virus?

Just got off the “Zoomiverse” from countless calls to clients and contacts this morning.  Key themes coming out are around keeping staff connected and engaged, motivated and focussed.

What I’ve heard is that younger staff who haven’t experienced a major downturn or calamity, displacement, war or existential threat are really struggling.  And in some organisations the “end users” – i.e. front-line staff are not being communicated with enough right now.  The term “being treated like mushrooms” is being used a bit.  It’s probably because leaders don’t want to ‘throw more s**t onto the pile right now,’ and I get that.  But communication is our secret weapon in this fight.

One of the true signs of effective leadership is to know that you can be vulnerable.  In fact, it is that very vulnerability that leads to creativity.

Being able to say “I don’t know…” is a real leadership strength and in our experience leads to a very open and honest conversations that brings a whole team along.  We also know the power of a collective goes well beyond the sum of its parts.  Shared ideas, wisdom and insights from a team most times lead to great ideas and initiatives.

During this time please remember that a vacuum of communication and connection with your people and teams will be a bigger killer than any virus.  Vacuums kill confidence. Vacuums beget noise that is not constructive.  Vacuums suck the life out of your personal and commercial brand.

So how do you bring atmosphere to the vacuum? I don’t know!  I asked around and here are a few ideas that have come about from not knowing:

  • Make time to connect right now. Yes, you are busy, but connect right now.
  • Create Friday “happy hours from home” to connect with your people over a drink (because no one likes drinking home alone).
  • Diarise 2-3 times in the week where all teams can connect online with no agendas – it’s a virtual coffee machine chat.
  • Create internal buddy systems for people to support one another. Structure it. Leaving it to be organic won’t work. Structure creates purpose and beats confusion.
  • If you are a ‘shy’ leader who really isn’t comfortable in the front line, this is your time to step up, adapt and get out of your own way. Be present, vulnerable and real.

Create the atmosphere.

Seek the innate wisdom from within.

 

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