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Posts for May 2012

All work and no play: why we need to challenge corporate culture

May 31, 2012 by David Pearl

Will there be Donuts?{{}}I woke up last week to screaming headlines about David Cameron ‘chillaxing’ at the NATO summit in Chicago when he should be working.  What is he doing enjoying the Chelsea-Bayern penalty shoot out, harrumphs the Daily Mail, when he should be saving the free world?

This comes hard on the heels of ‘revelations’ that “DVD Dave” watches films in bed with his wife – shock horror - and also has an impressive score on the addictive iPad app Fruit Ninja.

What alarms me about these headlines is not the track record of our current Prime Minister but the unhealthy assumptions about work they rest upon.  These are four classic ‘work confusions’ I see every day when I am helping clients work in smarter, more creative and interesting ways.

We confuse Working Hard with Working Well

When I was growing up everyone had something to say about the virtue of working hard.  I learned to sweat is noble, to strain is virtuous.

I can’t recall anyone encouraging me to work well.  Years later in the corporate world I see people still valuing exertion over elegance every time.  Actually, while high performance may require you to put in the effort, sustained high performance is all about conserving energy and interleaving intensity with rest.  Only robots can work at peak output 24/7.  Criticise a Prime Minister for relaxing if you like.  I see it as evidence he is, well, human.  It has become fashionable to praise leaders for being ‘driven’.  I think this explains why a good deal of top CEO posts are currently held by quasi-Arspergic types only inches from burn out.    Do we really want leaders who only work?   If we did, Gordon Brown would still be at No 10.

We confuse Looking Busy and Being Busy

There was a time when you could assess someone’s output by how many acres we had ploughed, trees felled or tons of coal dug up.  In these post-industrial times it is less easy to give hard proof of how productive you have been during the day.  Instead people have perfected the art of looking busy.  And David Cameron has broken this cardinal rule.  If he had stayed in the meeting room, brows knotted, sleeves rolled up burning the midnight oil, perhaps the papers would have had less say.  In fact they’d probably be on his back for being all work and no play like his manically conscientious predecessor Gordon Brown. 

We confuse Serious and Sombre

The criticism of Cameron has an important message for business, where the accepted wisdom is that serious problems need to be tackled with appropriate brow-knitting seriousness.  Business people feel they need to look all serious to be taken seriously.  My observation is that the more serious you become in your thinking, the more real and massive the problems appear.   By contrast, in the arts world, where I’ve spent a lot of my own life, the attitude is reversed.   The bigger the problem, the more playful you need to become.   As the great director and writer Ken Campbell would famously say: “This is all far too important to take seriously”.  

And finally…

We confuse Meeting and Meetings

 Having spent the last couple of years studying meeting cultures at leading international businesses and small businesses alike for my new book Will There Be Donuts? I am struck by how often we confuse ‘a meeting’ with the act of Meeting; mistaking the noun for the verb.  We’ve come to think that a meeting is something that happens in an airless room around a big formal table.  It isn’t.  We’re forgetting that the act of meeting covers a huge range of human interactions and can happen virtually anywhere.  The real work of a meeting often happens in the down-time between formal sessions.  Indeed, the whole purpose of a facility like the rustically informal Camp David is to encourage leaders to unwind and really connect as people.  When people do really meet, rather than what I call ‘nearly’ meet, old enmities can break down and new solutions can be found.  That is presumably why Obama invited the G8 for a ‘VIP Sleepover’ last week.   In the book you’ll find examples of where this kind of ‘real connection’ has helped avert war, resolve conflict, invent new ideas and create fresh wealth. 

So, whatever you may think of David Cameron, let’s not be hypocritical.  Let he (or she) that has never vegged out cast the first stone.   If DVD Dave watches films in bed, so be it.  Better – and less spooky - than reading Hansard into the small hours while Sam stares at the ceiling.   And “chillaxing” isn’t getting in the way of work, it’s an essential part of the process.  

Now take this meeting test to discover the shocking amount of money your company is losing in wasted meetings.

David Pearl, founder of the business inspiration agency Pearl Group, acts a creative adviser to business leaders internationally. His new book Will There Be Donuts? Start a Business Revolution One Meeting at a Time is published by HarperCollins.

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The Apprentice: Lesson ten - wheeling and dealing

May 28, 2012 by Rachel Miller

BBC Apprentice - Mapping out the deals{{}}The last few candidates have to do some high-end wheeling and dealing on this week’s The Apprentice. They will be working for an up-market daily deals website, sourcing big discounts on luxury experiences.

Last week, Stephen stuck his neck firmly on the line — he offered to be the next project leader and promised a win. Famous last words are always the order of the day on the Apprentice. Will he live to regret them?

The teams are reorganised once again and look like this:

Team Sterling: Stephen, Ricky and Gabrielle.

Team Pheonix: Tom, Nick and Adam with Jade in charge.

Jade starts strongly by doing a great deal with the luxury spa Sanctuary. But she flounders when she meets the celebrated chef Marcus Wareing in his new restaurant at St Pancras Hotel. Jade is woefully ill-prepared and is like a rabbit in headlights when it comes to discussing the numbers.

I’m sure that Marcus Wareing, once Gordon Ramsay’s right-hand man, doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Amazingly, he gives Jade and Nick five minutes to sort themselves out and ends up shaking hands on a deal.

Meanwhile, Stephen is being his usual passive aggressive self, explaining that he wants to keep Gabrielle on a “short leash” and sending Ricky off on his own to impress some of London’s top restaurants.

Ricky has his work cut out for him — not all of the restaurants are willing to do deals. But everywhere he goes he is rewarded with a tour of the kitchen and a sample dish. As he is offered his third plate of scallops, he looks like the cat that got the cream. Way to go Ricky Martin. Talk about livin’ la vida loca.

While Ricky lives the high life, Stephen and Gabrielle are scrabbling around for deals in the far less salubrious world of fish pedicures, teeth whitening and virtual golf. They seem to have forgotten that they are representing a very discerning daily deals website and have completely lost sight of the fact that not every deal they make is going to be featured.

All is revealed in the boardroom. Out of nine deals, team Sterling gets three accepted (a dinner deal, a lunch deal and a golf deal). And team Pheonix only gets two deals accepted out of six — the spa offer and a lunch deal.

The star performer is the Sanctuary spa offer — it brings in £8,613 for team Pheonix, giving them a total income of £14,563. Team Sterling only manages a total of £6,440.

So Stephen is back in the boardroom and — despite what we were promised — there’s no instant dismissal for him. Lord Sugar says he will be fair and see who is responsible for the failure. Ricky holds his hands up and admits his own errors. But it is Stephen and Gabrielle — the “headless chickens” — that Lord Sugar has in his sights.

Gabrielle has to be prodded to stick up for herself. When she does, Stephen congratulates her. “This is the most passionate I’ve seen you.” It is odious. And so it seems terribly unfair when Lord Sugar points his finger at Gabrielle. Or at least it does until he then fires Stephen as well.

Justice is done. Only five remain. Who will win? In this series, it’s anybody’s guess — and sadly that just goes to show that none of the candidates are standing out for the right reasons.

Next week: There’s a special show about the final five on Tuesday night.

Find out more about the candidates on the BBC Apprentice website:

Highly recommended: Matt Edmondson’s hilarious Funny Bits video review on the Apprentice website.

What is the key to surviving your first year in business?

May 24, 2012 by Agnes Cserhati

business survival: life-ring around piles of coins{{}}This question is particularly close to my heart. When I started my very first business venture at the age of 17 in Communist Hungary – where at that time 'entrepreneurship' was virtually unrecognized – some of the points you will read below were key to my survival. Now, 22 years later, having set up numerous enterprises and working with various entrepreneurs - I often ask the same question to my clients – what is the key to surviving your first year in business?

The points below are the result of my own experiences and those of others. I hope it will be of some value to you. So what is the key to survival?

1 Cashflow – nobody mentioned this when I started out, even nowadays when there is much more awareness of cashflow, people still focus too much on profit. Potentially, this could be a big mistake, especially in your first year of trading.

2 Determination – well, this is something I’ve always had, even as a child. In the first year some people around you will often say: “It will never work”. If your business idea is viable – go for it – and keep going until you succeed!

3 Resilience – I often say to my clients you have to be like a 'bouncy ball' when you are an entrepreneur… There will be ups and downs, but the resilience you have to bounce back will determine your success

4 Support by a coach/mentor – back in early ‘90s I didn’t have a mentor or coach – I do now. This is something I hear very often from my clients: lack of experience and clear goals are where a coach/mentor can help and save you lots of money by encouraging you to make the right decisions and helping you to grow with your business while reaching your own potential.

5 Ability to identify and focus on priorities – an entrepreneur’s life is a very busy one. In your first year of trading you’ll be particularly overwhelmed by opportunities and offers, which are very tempting. At times, you’ll find there aren’t enough hours in the day. That is the time when you need to consider what are the priorities and focus your energy on the most important ones.

6 Sense of humour – probably among the most important things you’ll need to survive your first year in business. There will be lots of happy, funny moments, but also slightly scary and stressful ones. This is when putting things into perspective and having a sense of humour is vital. It’s certainly helped to keep me going for the past 22 years!

Agnes Cserhati, entrepreneur, mentor, CEO and founder of AC PowerCoaching

Travel tips for small firms from Olympic legends Sally Gunnell and Chris Boardman

May 24, 2012 by Feven Iyassu

Olympic runner from Ancient Greece{{}}With some businesses offering employees flexi-time and with Sunday trading hours being extended during the Olympics, it’s easy for employees to overlook something as simple as getting around during the Games. 

With this in mind Sally Gunnell, 400m hurdles Olympic gold medalist, and Chris Boardman, Olympic cycling gold medal winner and world record holder, challenged each other to find the easiest and quickest route across London to the Olympic Park to encourage employees to think about alternative modes of transport during the Games.

This race has been inspired by new research from London 2012 and Transport for London (TfL), which suggests 86% of central London businesses are planning one or more initiatives to encourage employees to consider alternative forms of transport. Of this, 60% of businesses will encourage their staff to walk or cycle.

And it’s not just London that will be affected, of course. With Olympic and Paralympic events happening across Britain, public transport elsewhere will be affected too.

As part of the London 2012 and TfL challenge, Sally ran and Chris cycled from Liverpool Street Station to Stour Space, opposite the Olympic Park on the River Lea. The aim was to demonstrate to businesses and their employees the alternatives to getting public transport and using the road network.

Sally Gunnell and Chris Boardman have produced some top tips to help businesses encourage their employees to cycle and walk/run during the Games.

1 Make the most of the commute – encourage staff to walk down to the next bus stop or get off a stop early.

2 Plan your business travel – if employees have a meeting that is a walkable distance, encourage them to walk instead of getting public transport or a taxi.

3 Issue a pedometer to each employee – they can be a great way to get people thinking about how much walking they really do. Consider introducing a league table or online tracking system, so colleagues can compare their results against others.

4 Start an employee running club – group running is good fun and can really help to motivate people to keep up their exercise routine.

5 Motivate staff – a workforce that regularly walks, cycles or runs will be more fit and healthy.

6 Plan journeys in advance – businesses should encourage employees that cycle to plan their journey to and from work in advance.

7 Build a cycling or running community at work – it’s a great way of encouraging workplace relationships and increasing motivation.

8 Hop on a Barclays Cycle Hire bike – If employees don’t have a bike, they’re a great way to get around in the heart of London.

Watch our video to see who won the race and how employers and employees can plan their journeys effectively during the Olympics.

For more information on travel during the Olympics, see

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What can your business learn from a grocery store in Sedona, Arizona?

May 21, 2012 by Paul D Foster

business tips: man in grocery store{{}}Why is it that we can look at another small business and see what they are doing right or wrong so easily?

I was looking for a grocery store in Sedona, Arizona. The store in the plaza only has the name on the façade as signage. I could clearly see if they added the word ‘groceries’ to their sign they would get more business from the out-of-state tourists who didn’t recognise the brand name.
But when was the last time I carefully considered the sign on my own building?
So how does the trick work? Easy: As you go about your day, analyse all the businesses you interact with. How did they do at increasing the average transaction value? Did you get up-sold?  Did the frontline employee impress you? Then simply apply these ideas to your own business.

Start with the basics. Ask yourself these “self-help business advice” questions:

How does your signage appear? Maybe you have premises or maybe your business is web-based – this question still applies. Do you directly communicate what you do with your potential customers?

Do your frontline employees use systems to give consistently good service? This little trick works well for me as long as I am humble enough to self-reflect. What is your system to ensure your customers or clients are receiving the best service possible?

Please don’t forget to give feedback regarding your observations to the business. In Sedona, Arizona I asked for the manager of the grocery store and shared my thoughts. It turns out there are 120 stores in the chain and all of them in Arizona – the vast majority are located in non-tourist towns where the locals know the brand name very well.

The Apprentice: Lesson nine - more cheese less wine

May 18, 2012 by Rachel Miller

BBC Apprentice - Sorting the wine from whining{{}}We’re in another transport hub this week on The Apprentice — and still no sign of an away-day anywhere. Lord Sugar has called the troops together at the champagne bar at St Pancras station. It’s six in the morning. Bit early isn’t it Lord S?

This week’s task is to raise the profile of English sparkling wine. Know-it-all Tom can’t hide his excitement — he’s a wine connoisseur. Ricky, meanwhile, says he’s only had a couple of glasses of wine in his life. “I hate the stuff”, he says.

Guess who the project managers are this week? Yes that’s right. It’s Ricky and Tom— or David and Goliath as Ricky sees it. But will the underdogs win?

The teams get a reshuffle and look like this:

Team Pheonix: Tom, Nick, Adam and Jade

Team Sterling: Ricky, Stephen, Jenna and Gabrielle

Each team has to create a website, produce a TV advert and come up with logos and taglines. Sub-teams are created and the responsibilities are divided up. On team Pheonix, Tom and Adam go off to get drunk (I mean taste wine) and Nick and Jade do some real work designing the website.

The sparkling wine advert calls for a touch of class. But neither team gets anywhere close. Adam and Jade come up with a dinner party scenario. Adam calls himself the “choreographer” but there’s not a dancer in sight. I think he means director. He tells the actors to “just touch each other up a bit” — he’s talking about hair and make-up by the way.

On team Sterling, the brief for the TV ad from Gabrielle was “quality, quality, quality”. But Stephen and Jenna are making an ad that’s more cheesy than an ad for English cheddar. It’s a wedding scene and the bride practically spits out the champagne, calling for English sparkling wine instead.

The judge and jury in this task is a panel of experts at Bibendum restaurant. They like some aspects of the campaigns — especially team Sterling’s tagline, “Less fizz, more sparkle”. But that can’t save them from the car crash that is their advert.

Mind you, Lord Sugar’s not that keen on the other advert either. He calls it, “www dot yawn dot com”.

But team Sterling’s ad is much, much worse. So it’s off to the loser’s café. It’s a grim place, that café. Empty, grey, cold — everyone keeps their coats on — and those awful polystyrene cups of tea. Stephen sums it up: “It was a bad day at the office, it’s as simple as that.”

When they get back to the boardroom, Lord Sugar is still fuming about the ad. “I didn’t tell you to make a carry on boozing movie,” he says. Who is responsible for that “piece of rubbish” he asks.

Gabrielle gives her own version — in some depth it has to be said — with Stephen trying to trip her up by saying, “specifics Gabrielle please”. Be careful what you wish for Stephen.

So who gets the chop? It’s a choice between Ricky, Stephen and Jenna. Somehow, Jenna’s taking all the blame for the ad and slippery Stephen seems to have got away with it. And so it’s Jenna that is the sacrificial lamb this week.

In classic style, Lord Sugar, then turns to Stephen. “You are this close to going outside that door,” he growls. “You’ve thrown the gauntlet down. You are going to project manage next and I expect you to win. You don’t even know what the task is.”

Next week: Stephen gets his toes nibbled by tiny fish. Bring it on.

Find out more about the candidates on the BBC Apprentice website:

Highly recommended: Matt Edmondson’s hilarious Funny Bits video review on the Apprentice website.

Storage tips for start ups

May 16, 2012 by D Davies

storage solutions: image of cardboard boxes piled up{{}}Whether you're starting a business or looking to grow an existing one, space is an important factor. And storage is key to ensuring your work area remains clutter-free, whether that’s in your home, premises or another location.
Knowing your storage options – and the benefits/risks – can help you choose the most effective storage solution for your business.

Keep it dry

It's no use storing something if it ends of getting damaged by mould. If you have equipment or products to store at home, make sure that the room is dry (avoid storing things directly on concrete floors can help stop them getting damp). Moisture control products or a humidifier can help eliminate excess humidity too, but however dry your storage space is, check items every now and then to ensure their condition isn’t deteriorating.  


This sounds like a no-brainer, but make sure that you have good access to storage space. If pick-ups and deliveries will be made, you need to ensure good vehicular access. And if you're storing heavy items, you could well need a trolley or pallet truck.

If you're storing things at home, accessibility can be even more of an issue, especially if you're receiving deliveries regularly. Drivers will be in a hurry and a pallet of small goods might be bigger and heavier than you imagine.

Also think about having space around whatever you're storing so you can break up bulk stored items for use or redistribution.


The biggest issue when it comes to storage is security. Home storage needs to be as burglar-proof as possible. An alarm, security monitoring system and contents insurance is a good start. For warehouse or industrial units, check to see what security is included in the price.  

Drew Davies writes for Big Yellow Self Storage. Start-up businesses can harness the security and flexibility of our industrial units, with 50% off for 8 weeks.

Recruitment tips - the induction plan

May 14, 2012 by Paul D Foster

Do you have a formal induction plan for new recruits? An induction plan will help ensure that the initial impressions on the first day of a new job are positive and that the new employee starts off productively.

Here are some points to consider as you develop an induction plan for your business:

1 Identify key current employees to be ‘buddies’ with, or provide hands-on training to the new recruit. You want to be proactive in freeing up time and resources for the ‘buddy’ to be effective and train the new person to be productive as soon as possible.

2 Have a checklist of items to have ready when they get to work on their first day:

  • Computer
  • Email account
  • Locker
  • Phone, stationery
  • Clean desk
  • Etc

3 Have access to training items, safety rules, passwords and keys ready for what may be applicable.

It may seem like a little thing, but imagine the impression a new employee would have upon arriving for their first day and hearing: “Oh, is today the day you start? Let’s look around and find you a place to work.” Compared that to: “Here is your clean desk, and your email account is set up. Let me introduce you to the team and make sure we give you a great first impression.”

Depending on the significance of the recruit, you might even consider arranging a social event for the team to meet and greet them. When compared to the cost of turnover to replace an employee, the initial investment in making sure the new recruit will become productive quickly is well worth it.

If your business doesn’t have a formal process now for new recruits, consider starting a system for this process. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect at first, but you should review it and tweak it with your team after each hire to make sure the process continues to improve and evolve.

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The Apprentice: Lesson eight - the art of selling

May 11, 2012 by Rachel Miller

BBC Apprentice - Artsy fartsy?{{}}The candidates on The Apprentice are going to Waterloo Station this week to hear about the next challenge. They’re obviously hoping for a nice day out somewhere but Lord Sugar, Nick Hewer and Karren Brady are waiting for them in a smelly old railway arch that’s covered in graffiti.

Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to sell urban art. Of course they accept it, even though Adam claims he had never heard of urban art until now. In sharp contrast, Tom rates himself as a bit of a graffiti guru and is soon voted project leader on team Pheonix (with Laura, Adam and Jade).

On team Sterling, Gabrielle says she has two useful strings to her bow — she has worked with artists and she has catering experience — perfect credentials for schmoozing art buyers. So she’s voted project leader by Ricky, Jenna, Nick and Stephen.

There are three key elements to this task. First they’ve got to find two artists to represent. The teams are in competition, so it’s vital that they make a good impression. Then they’ve got to meet two corporate clients to find out what kind of art they’d be in the market for. And finally they’ve got to sell pieces by their chosen artists in their own pop-up galleries in London’s Brick Lane.

What the Apprentice does brilliantly is show us how not to do things and this week is no exception.

Tom tries to win over the artist Pure Evil by showing off his knowledge of the urban art market and by name-dropping left, right and centre. He hardly says a word about Pure Evil’s art though. Honestly, if you were meeting Beyonce, say, would you babble on about Adele, Madonna and the Pussycat Dolls? Not surprisingly, Pure Evil doesn’t choose team Pheonix to sell his art.

In contrast, Gabrielle’s approach — admittedly somewhat gushing and gurning — wins over Pure Evil. And it really pays off — at the end of the day his art makes team Sterling over £10,000 in sales.

But Gabrielle is hopeless when it comes to the corporate client — Beefeater Gin. She fails to ask them what their budget is. It means team Sterling ends up proposing they buy a painting that costs a few hundred quid when their budget is actually £10,000.

But they don’t get a bean from Beefeater in the end because of the shoddy way Stephen handles these important clients when they turn up at the gallery. He’s all over the place and despite waving his own glass around as he talks to them, he doesn’t offer them a drink for ages. It gets worse. When they say they’d like a gin and tonic, he says, “I wish”. Karren Brady calls it “a masterclass in how not to treat a corporate client.”

When it comes to selling, Adam is the star, yet again. He makes the majority of sales but even his efforts aren’t enough to turn the tide. Team Pheonix fails to rise from the ashes and loses the task.

Tom invites Laura and Jade to face the music with him. There’s lots of analysis of the mistakes Tom has made. When he fails to secure Pure Evil, Tom chooses a high-risk strategy — selecting James Jessop, an artist whose paintings are massive with a hefty price tag to match. Sales came there none.

But you can tell Lord Sugar likes Tom’s gumption and the fact that he “rolled the dice”. So the focus turns to sales. Laura, who has her own wedding dress shop, is totally at sea when it comes to flogging urban art. And so it’s Laura that has to walk the plank this week.

Looking ahead to next week’s task — marketing English wine — I can’t help wondering if Tom has been saved so he can demonstrate his knowledge of fine wines — his real-life business. Then again, when he tried to play the expert with the artists this week, he came unstuck. It should be interesting.

Find out more about the candidates on the BBC Apprentice website:

How to survive beyond the start-up stage

May 10, 2012 by John Sollars

John Sollars of StinkyInk{{}}In the past 30 years I’ve set up three businesses. I started my current business,, on 22 April 2012 (yes, we were ten years old last month!), knowing nothing about ecommerce. To make matters much worse, within months of starting the business I was almost bankrupted by a national ring of scamsters who defrauded me out of £32,000 using stolen credit cards.

The police could do nothing and I was at a very low ebb. But I’m not a quitter. I discussed it with my dog and decided to carry on! That really coloured the first four years of the business because it made it hard to get credit from suppliers as our balance sheet was so weak. It taught me the importance of having cash in the bank and watching my P&L like a hawk.

However, the gamble paid off and within two years my company was in profit and today employs 14 staff and turned over more than £3m last year. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved together over the years in a highly competitive market. We all work hard to look after our customers and that has paid off with them staying loyal and recommending us.

I’m often asked for my tips for new businesses. It’s different for everyone, of course, but these tactics have worked for me:

1 Stay single

If you start a business with a friend, you will fall out eventually. That’s my experience, anyway. When my first business failed the bank chased me for the total amount of the guarantees when my partner couldn’t pay his share. This was £40,000 and took 10 years to clear.

2 Plan ahead

Putting time and thought into a business plan and revisiting it regularly is worthwhile. Unless you have a target to aim for you won’t know when or if you’re succeeding.

3 Minimise your liabilities

Never take a charge on your house and try to avoid providing more information than a lender requires.

4 Stay on top of your books

Do your accounts, get invoices out promptly and don’t accept being messed around over payment. Pay your suppliers on time, too – it gives you their goodwill and possibly more credit.

5 Monitor metrics

One of the many bonuses of online selling is you can find out where your customer has come from; how they searched for you; how quickly they left and whether they actually bought anything from you. Using this information will enable you to improve your website and also your customers’ satisfaction, which can only be a good thing.

6 Hire the right staff

It’s impossible to place a value on a hardworking employee that cares about your business and where it’s heading. Spending the extra on wages for key skill sets or talents that are suited to your business can be the difference between a 5% and 20% growth in a start-up’s early years.

John Sollars is MD of printer ink retailer


How (not) to motivate your employees

May 08, 2012 by Paul D Foster

Happy employees{{}}Shocking news for most small-business owners – it’s not about the money. In the discussions I have with the majority (but not all) of small-business owners, there is an assumption that employees are motivated most by money. “If I give them a pay rise, they will work harder”. Unfortunately, I have also heard, “I gave the employee a rise and they didn’t work any harder!”

In his great book Drive, Dan Pink explores the rift between what science says and business does.

The reality is, money is more a satisfier than a motivator. Every person needs enough money for their basic needs and comfort. Until they meet these basic needs, money is a motivator. But in looking to obtain extra efforts or performance improvements, money has been proven in research to produce the opposite results – negative performance improvement!

When you think about any employee bonus plans that you may have had yourself or for your employees, did they ever actually motivate anyone? Was the bonus calculation even tied to activities they had control over? Usually, it is a mystery what the bonus is, right up until they get it.

If an employee makes a complaint about ‘not enough money’, there is another assumption that this is the actual problem. This is a great example of ‘the problem is not the problem’.

A complaint about money is usually a way of saying there is some other unhappiness or unfairness. If an employee feels there is unfairness between pay rates, this could be a result of a number of factors, including a simple misunderstanding. If an employee is unhappy, there is a natural tendency to ask for more money to compensate for the unhappiness. If the employer could explore and determine the cause of the unhappiness, the money problems may disappear.

What are your thoughts? Do your employees care about money more than respect, opportunity for advancement or flexibility? Have you ever had a bonus plan that motivated employees?

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The Apprentice: Lesson seven - it's all about margins

May 04, 2012 by Rachel Miller

BBC Apprentice - Essex market traders{{}}Lord Sugar is taking the candidates to his old stamping ground on this week’s The Apprentice.

The candidates have to buy stock from an Essex wholesaler and sell it at local shopping centres and markets. It’s a simple task — but it’s guaranteed to reveal just how much business nous each of the remaining candidates actually have.

The trick is to spot the best sellers and flog them for all they are worth. They’ve only got £150 to spend so the idea is that they keep on restocking as they start to sell out. At the end of the day, Lord Sugar will count their assets — stock and cash — to see who has won.

The teams get a reshuffle and look like this:

Team Pheonix: Laura, Tom, Adam and Azhar, with Jade in charge.

Team Sterling: Stephen, Ricky, Jenna, Gabrielle, and leader Nick.

Jade’s team is a bit of a mess. They take ages deciding where to sell the stuff and leave themselves with just ten minutes to actually choose their stock.

Jade calls herself a “born leader”. But you have to question the truth of this statement since she’s the only candidate who has not been a project manager until this point.

At the market, Adam is “totally at home in this environment” and by sheer force of personality sells out of everything, albeit for rock-bottom prices.

But there are rifts in the team. Azhar has no faith in Jade and rings her every five minutes to quiz her about her strategy. Granted, she’s not on top of things, but it’s a blatant attempt to undermine her.

The star on team Sterling is Jenna, who is selling fake tan at a hefty £10 a time to queues of women desperate for a healthy glow. Meanwhile, Ricky and Stephen have transformed themselves into Essex boys. It’s all “lovely jubbly” and “happy chappy”.

But it’s the fake tan that’s the star of the show, with its impressive margins. Unfortunately, Nick leaves it far too late to restock and they end up manning an empty stall for two hours in the middle of the day. But once they’ve got more tan in a can, they’re back to business as usual.

In the boardroom, it’s no surprise that team Sterling has won the task with assets of £955.20. Team Pheonix have managed to amass £838.21.

The post-mortem is clear. Team Sterling bought well, sold well and made good margins. Team Pheonix bought a bit of everything and sold it too cheaply.

Jade is quick to point the finger at Azhar but struggles to find a second contender for the chop. No sooner has she chosen Tom than she is apologising and singing his praises.

So it’s clear that Lord Sugar has to decide between Jade  — who is enthusiastic but ineffective — and Azhar, who is probably right but not a team player.

This is a hard one to call. No doubt about it — Jade has stuffed up. But Lord Sugar doesn’t like Azhar’s subversive tactics and in the end, he gets the finger.

Next week: Psst, wanna buy a Banksy? — selling urban art

Find out more about the candidates on the BBC Apprentice website:

Why your business should hire an apprentice

May 01, 2012 by John Davis

apprentice{{}}My company BCSG recently conducted some research to understand the attitudes smaller companies have towards hiring apprentices. We thought the results might be interesting in light of the government’s appointment of entrepreneur Jason Holt to review the success of UK apprenticeship schemes.

Most businesses have never had an apprentice

I was surprised to uncover that 78% of the small business owners we surveyed have never hired apprentices to join their workforce. They don’t have any plans to start, either. When asked what was stopping them, 44% said the associated training costs were too high and 30% said the red tape was too complex.

This perhaps explains why the government has recently introduced a flurry of new measures to encourage small businesses to hire and train apprentices:

  • Jason Holt is working to improve how apprenticeships are marketed to businesses. He’s also exploring how to cut red tape to make it easier to take on and train apprentices.
  • Small companies are being offered a £1,500 incentive payment to take on their first apprentice aged 16 - 24. Around 20,000 small firms are expected to take advantage of the funding, which is being managed by the Skills Funding Agency.
  • From August 2012, small businesses taking on apprentices will be required to employ them for a minimum of 12 months in an effort to raise the bar on apprenticeship standards.

I hope these measures help to boost apprentice recruitment, because although hiring apprentices may seem an expensive and labour intensive process, these aspiring business stars can make valuable contributions to the small business market:

  • They’re enthusiastic. Apprentices are generally keen to get stuck in, prove themselves and learn as much as possible, bringing a fresh boost to the company.
  • They’re loyal. When you invest time and money training apprentices, they feel motivated, valued and grateful to join a skilled team. This increases the chance they’ll remain with the company for longer. 
  • They have new ideas. Trainees often bring fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to business challenges. This input can play a vital role in keeping a business flexible and relevant.  

Has your firm had any experience of employing apprentices? Has the red tape put you off? Leave a comment and let us know.

John Davis is managing director of Business Centric Services Group.

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