Posts

What can young people bring your business?

In this article I explore what we can learn from the youth in our businesses. When the full-length version was published on LinkedIn Pulse it received more than 2000 views and some wonderful comments. Here you can find a summarised version with the key points or you might like to head over to LinkedIn to read the article in full.

In my early days as a manager, I believed staff should fall in with the way I wanted to do things. As I got older – and colleagues, younger – I realised this new generation would not change. Which meant I had to. From then on, I tried to never close my door, or my ears, to youth.

What we can learn from their enquiries, and their different worldview, is very beneficial for business. To think these days we devour business insights from the likes of Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs, but they were between just 16 and 21 years of age when starting their respective, and rather successful, businesses. Yes, they are indeed extraordinary cases, however, it does demonstrate what insight the young people in our enterprises could have to offer.

And trust me, when you do give young people in your business a platform to query and challenge, be prepared. Often you’ll find what they have to say is far from what you might expect.

In a business that I was once managing we were required to implement a major restructure where we would make more than 10% of the staff redundant. Believing the best way to handle the rumours about the restructure was head on, I called a meeting with all 200 employees. It was, of course, a very charged meeting but it went as well as possible considering. We responded to all the questions we had been expecting and were just about to close the meeting when a last hand was raised. It was a young man.

“I agree with what you are doing and it is long overdue,” he said. “Anyone that works here knows we are overpaid and underworked. My only surprise is that it’s only 10% going; I think could be more like 25%. If I can be of any help, then I’m happy to give you some further advice.”

Give these young people in your business a voice and it might just mean a significant difference for your company because they often view things from a completely alternative perspective.

So how you do take advantage of what the youth in your business has to offer and how do you shape their insights into tangible initiatives you can use in the development of your enterprise? My belief is that as we grow older (and hopefully wiser!) we have much to offer to these young people in return. To help such bright individuals flourish. To go beyond alternative perspectives and interesting ideas. If we pass our experience on we can help them shape those ideas into practical business solutions.

So open your mind to what the young employees in your company can offer you; and open your door to offer your experience in return.

If you enjoyed this, there’s a great example of how I nearly ignored youth to my peril here in the Rare Breed Insights section. If you’d like to explore how to apply these insights in your business, or are looking for sound business advice about any other challenge you’re currently facing, I’d love to help. Learn more about how our business retreats in Tuscany could help your business.

Have the courage to face the truth about your business

Lesson #5: Don’t be afraid to change course, even when you are in front.

In this article I discuss the dangers of complacency.

Over the years, there have been amazing success stories of companies who knew they needed to make changes in order to prosper. Not many of us know it but Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram evolved from apps that never gained traction in their previous incarnation. Nor that Suzuki’s origins were in looming and Nokia’s as a paper mill. There are just as many who didn’t. Blockbuster and Blackberry anyone?

Within our group of publications at Newbourne we had a publication called The Baby Book (not the most intriguing name), and it was a very successful publication. We distributed 650,000 copies to expectant mums through 250 UK hospitals. Uniquely at the time, we over-printed the front cover with the name of the hospital, and inside the front and back cover we inserted information specific to each hospital, such as visiting times. So to the expectant mum it looked like the publication was produced by their local hospital.

This was 1975 and no small task to personalise a book for 250 hospitals, but it worked really well and was extremely profitable. Moreover, this one publication generated more than 100,000 reader inquiries per annum, from mums asking for more details from advertisers. After five years we had a database of more than 500,000 names, which in turn allowed us to earn additional income from list broking (there were no data protection laws like today).

At the same time, the Midwives Association were very concerned about the amount of advertising material being made available to mums, so they were calling for more and more and restrictions to be put in place. One day Lionel called me into his office and said we needed to start looking for alternative distribution channels to reach mums. He believed within two years the hospital distribution of The Baby Book would be severely restricted if not stopped entirely.

“That won’t happen,” I disagreed. It was our most profitable title, we had good relationships with all the hospitals and the hospitals wanted the book so why change course?

Lionel insisted we start to plan for such an eventuality, so within the next two years we launched two new baby publications, with very different distribution channels. We now had our contingency in place, and of course (as so often happened), Lionel was right. The Midwives Association’s voice got louder and slowly eroded our distribution at hospitals, to such an extent that within three years only 100 hospitals were still taking personalised copies of The Baby Book.

The lesson was very simple. Just because you are in front it does not mean you are going to stay there, especially if circumstances beyond your control are looming in the background.

Thinking of print publishing more generally is another good example, this time where a whole industry failed to look ahead not just a single company. Through the newspaper industry ran “Rivers of Gold” (recruitment, real estate and classified advertising). Then websites started being launched, not by the publishers but independently. I remember a very well-known newspaper publisher saying to me that a recruitment website wouldn’t work. He thought it was a waste of time (how he regrets that statement now) and he was not alone. The Rivers of Gold were deep, many thought endless, and by the time they realised what was happening for many it was too late.

Custom publishing was no different. In 2009 at Edge (formerly Edge Custom Media), where I was CEO for seven years, we were doing really well, winning many new clients and all looked good. But it soon become apparent that custom publishing was going to be affected to the migration to online publishing just as much – or more – than mainstream publishing. So we decide to completely change direction and transform ourselves into a content-marketing agency.

“Why? When you are doing so well, winning all these new accounts. Why change, why reposition?” one of our major competitors asked me when we rebranded. But thank God we did. Edge made it through the transition and through the financial crisis, while many of our original peers were not so fortunate.

So what is it that separates those companies that evolve and prosper from the rest? I think author Steve Tobak puts it well:

“The truth is staring you right in the face. Every company I’ve watched go down the tubes in agonising slow motion – from Sun to Blackberry – had one thing in common: executives and directors living in denial. Don’t live in denial. Have the courage to face the truth and deal with reality.”

The world is changing at such fast pace, what is successful today can become irrelevant tomorrow. It’s more difficult to predict the future than ever before, but if you stick your head in the sand, one thing’s for sure you will get run over.

If you could use some help wrestling with challenges in your business why not join our mentoring retreat in Tuscany this October?

This is an article series based on lessons learned from my great mentor Lionel Morely Joel. Read the first article to understand the background and then dip in and out of the lessons as you please. 

Next: Why you need to know the finances better than your accountants.