Networking - a luxury or a necessary evil?

The word ‘Networking’ sends a shiver down many a business person’s spine. We conjure up images of walking into a room, on your own, to be greeted by huddled groups in deep conversation. The courage required to approach a group, particularly if you don’t know anyone, can dissuade even the most confident of people. So, all too often we dismiss opportunities for networking because it is “too difficult”, or “it is just a talking shop”.

However, my interest and energy in networking has been re-awakened as a result of attending some truly excellent events over the past few months.

Participating in the Enterprise Ireland Going for Growth Programme has been a real eye opener for me. The opportunity to discuss my business with other business leaders, and with a lead entrepreneur (Monica Flood – Thank you), a proven success in business in her own right was an opportunity not to be missed. The annual Forums are an opportunity to learn from some of the leading women entrepreneurs in Ireland (Norah Casey, Anne Herathy amongst others) and an opportunity to network. The networking conducted through this Programme has been highly effective as all the businesses tend to be at a similar stage, and are all open to new ideas.

The Irish Executives Summit held in Galway a few months ago was mind-blowing, the standard of the speakers (including our own Mike Gaffney), the use of technology and the positivity evident that day was a real turning point for many people. For us in LEAP, the Summit was the conduit for us reviewing and updating the presentations we use with clients and for speaking events. It also introduced us to a dynamic and energetic group of business people who together will achieve great things by creating business opportunities together.

The recent MeetWest event organised by the Chambers of Commerce (and other agencies) in Galway, Roscommon and Mayo was another great event. The concept of networking was taken to another level through the use of a “structured, pre-arranged networking meeting” schedule which allowed for 10 meetings during Day 2 of the event. To experience the level of conversation, to see the exchange of business cards, and to hear the arrangement of follow-up meetings was inspiring and comforting – business is being done and will continue to be done, despite the economic situation.

In summary, there currently exists an appetite and an energy for business leaders to access very high quality opportunities for networking.

These opportunities should be grabbed with both hands as they

  • Provide the environment to make new, valuable contacts
  • Provide  the opportunity for self and business improvement
  • Generate the positive energy that is a welcome break from the constant negativity that is now the norm.

Happy networking!

Maureen Grealish

The Deliberate Leader

Mike Gaffney The Deliberate Leader_leadership developmentLeadership Development

The Deliberate Leader blog has been written to distil the insights I have uncovered in working with entrepreneurs and company owners throughout Ireland. The first insight is to dispel the myth that leaders are born, not made. The skills of leadership are like any skill-set, If you work at it correctly and diligently you can deliberately, step by step, become an effective leader. It takes time and patience, but, most of all, it requires a willingness to observe yourself in thought and action, with a view to actively learning how to improve your behaviours and capabilities.

The second insight, is to be aware of the human’s obsession with certainty. This desire for certainty permeates multiple facets of our existence, from religious/spiritual beliefs, to personal wellbeing, to how to best manage our careers. Playing it safe, ensures survival but not excellence. Beware of certainty – certainty can lead to stagnation and a resistance to change; to preserving with the status quo. Uncertainty maintains the need to keep going; learning and acquiring new ideas and behaviours to successfully negotiate new challenges, which are coming at us constantly.

The Deliberate Leader is succinct and hopefully to the point, because entrepreneurs typically have a low attention span and look for ideas that they can immediately apply as they quickly move on to the next challenge or opportunity. As our immediate history in Ireland is teaching us, there is a significant requirement for both an understanding of leadership and development of leaders if our country is going to grow and to enable each of us to better realise our individual and collective potential.

The Deliberate Leader Growth Dynamic

The Leader’s Growth Dynamic is reflected in the following bullet points which are interlocked, and demonstrate that as you make movement in one area, you are correspondingly bringing positive movement to the other two areas of focus.

  • Have a clear sense of purpose
  • Increase your self awareness
  • Making the journey

The  bullet points below simplify what you as Leader need to focus on:

  • Become more Aware of Yourself
  • Develop and hone your Sense of Purpose; give it the space to grow – Trust yourself
  • Start now – today; make a step that propels you on your journey to becoming an effective Leader

The above three areas overlap and support each other. The human mind likes to put things into discrete categories. This is contrary to the multi-facetted challenge of being an effective Leader. Your level of Self-Awareness is intertwined and overlaps with your Sense of Purpose and with having the discipline to make your Leadership Journey. The interfaces between the three constituent parts merge, which strengthens the overall impact of the three discrete areas and keeps the three cogs moving smoothly, in unison.

For example, the greater your self-awareness as to what you excel at, the more you can align it with and compliment your sense of purpose; which as you make the journey and develop the habits you need to deliver on your sense of purpose – those habits will complement and enhance your level of Self-Awareness.

Unemployment can affect people in all sorts of ways. It isn’t just about a loss of income, it goes deeper than that. How we respond to it is crucial in terms of survival at any time, but particularly in times of low economic growth with all the feelings of anxiety that surround it. Unemployment is something that has to be managed like anything else in life. The process of managing it involves effort on the part of the individual and a support system that can respond to their efforts. Managing unemployment means doing things to maintain your health and your self esteem, so exercise and a healthy diet help a lot. But the crucial factor in managing unemployment is to be proactive in terms of getting back into employment. Personal contacts, social networks and recruitment agencies are various ways people can be proactive. Another way for people to do this is through internships.

Kathryn’s story

Kathryn’s life was very different not so long ago. This time last year she was unemployed and experiencing the various symptoms that accompany it – loss of confidence, frustration, disillusion. Kathryn, like a lot of people today, had plenty of experience under her belt, but finding herself jobless in a shrinking job market put her under a lot of stress and a sense of panic set in. Kathryn had 15 years marketing experience working with tech companies in London and Silicon Valley in the US, as well as Baltimore Technologies and O2 here at home. Unemployment was frustrating but Kathryn was proactive in her response, and so began a process of reaching out to find people and companies to which she could add value. Through a friend of hers, Kathryn heard about a 12 week programme called Begin Again. Facilitated by the Irish Centre for Business Excellence (ICBE), a non-profit organisation, the programme’s objectives were two- fold:

  1. Assist unemployed people with qualifications and skills to re-enter the work force.
  2. Enable host companies complete a project that adds value to their business.

Kathryn liked the basic objectives of Begin Again and decided to forward her CV. She went to the Begin Again website and completed the application process. The process, as it turns out, was pretty quick and Kathryn was called in the next day to meet up with one of the programme’s facilitators. Begin Again was about trying to find a ‘good fit’ between applicant and host company. To determine this good fit, the applicants were chosen based on CV content and an expression of interest. Positions were assigned and meetings with host companies began. The first two weeks with Begin Again involved basic training in planning and managing, communication and awareness, leadership and resilience. In the third week, the interns began job placements with companies looking for the skills matching those of the applicant. Kathryn’s placement began with Blue Moon Communications, a PR agency specialising in communications skills for individuals and companies seeking brand promotion.

The Trainer

Kathryn’s experience at Blue Moon had its pros and cons. On the one hand she felt like there was little by way of direction on the job, but on the other hand this forced her to use her own initiative. Or as Kathryn puts it, “I focused on achieving results by myself.” Which, in the rough and tumble world of PR, is probably a good thing. Week three also saw the introduction of a Trainer; for Kathryn this meant receiving guidance from Tricia Cunningham, co-founder of LEAP. Having spent time in America as a training professional, Tricia returned to Ireland to join Nortel Networks as a Training & Development Manager. After Nortel she co-founded LEAP as a leadership and management consultancy firm. Much of her time is spent with clients who are entering a new phase in their careers, that of management. A big part of this transition involves clients asking themselves, “What value can I bring to this new role?” There are similarities between her work with new managers and that of her mentoring role with interns on the Begin Again programme. Firstly, there is the issue of transition, something which many people can find daunting. Just as employees are being considered for management roles in their companies and must embrace this change, the unemployed are facing a tough transitional phase of their own. Supporting people through this transitional phase is part of the mentor’s work. Secondly, mentoring both management clients and interns is largely about building up their confidence to a level whereby they recognise their own worth, and start to believe in their own capabilities. Thirdly, Tricia focuses on setting goals and this is an aspect of unemployment that can often suffer due to the stress of being let go from a job. People lose focus and goals are not pursued; in some cases goals are never set in the first place.

For Kathryn, having a trainer who understood where she was coming from made all the difference. “Tricia was brilliant to work with. She focused on practical things and provided great support. She believed in me,” says Kathryn.  This was a crucial part of the recovery process for her because, as anyone who has experienced unemployment knows, one of the first things to suffer is your own confidence. You may have the skills and the qualifications, even high levels of experience, but when the number of job opportunities decreases and the competition for jobs increases, even experienced people can start to doubt themselves; its human nature I guess.

FBD and recovery

Kathryn’s journey took her from unemployment to Begin Again to an internship with Blue Moon. However, the struggle for employment didn’t end there. The internship ended in March 2011 and afterwards Kathryn spent another period of time unemployed, but the confidence she had gained from the Begin Again programme helped her through this. Then in September 2011 Kathryn got the break she was looking for. Irish company, FBD Insurance advertised a position for events and marketing. Kathryn applied and got the job and her new role has given her a whole new lease of life. FBD are an insurance firm with over 40 years experience and are one of Ireland’s largest insurers with over 500,000 customers. They have local offices nationwide. So did such a prestigious firm intimidate Kathryn? The short answer is no. Her very first assignment for FBD was the National Ploughing Championships (NPC), an event which drew over 150,000 people to Athy in Kildare. www.npa.ie/. The fact that Kathryn was able to handle an event with such huge scope as the NPC is not just a reflection of her own abilities and experience, but also a reflection of the confidence she gained from Tricia and Begin Again.

I asked Kathryn what advice she would give to others who find themselves unemployed. She had this to say: “I would encourage people to get involved in a programme like Begin Again. I would also recommend that people devise a plan for themselves. Start researching companies that you would like to work for, the more research the better. Try to learn as much as you can about them, do your homework, don’t go in blind into the interview. Be assertive and believe you can add value to the company. Believe that I can do this.” So how is life now compared to this time last year? “Much, much better,” she says. “I’m excited about things now.”  This story had a happy ending for Kathryn after a challenging year of unemployment. But this happy ending only came about because of her willingness to engage with an internship programme, something some qualified and experienced people won’t consider. This open minded approach is proof that creativity and tenacity are as much a part of the recovery process as upskilling.

Funding stops – why?

In Kathryn’s case the internship didn’t immediately lead to employment, but her time with Begin Again gave her a renewed sense of focus and confidence and that in itself can make the difference between short and long-term unemployment. No-one is suggesting that internships are a panacea for unemployment or a stagnated economy, but since June 2010 more than 720 people have participated in the Begin Again Programme. More than two thirds of the participants are now re-employed or have started their own businesses with advice and support from their trainers. The programme was funded by the Labour Market Activation Fund set up by the Department of Education and Skills. When you consider the results the Begin Again internship programme produced, it makes the decision to cease funding of it all the more bewildering. In June 2011 funding for the programme ceased, presumably due to the pressure of the current fiscal crisis our government faces. However, according to the Begin Again website they are continuing to seek funding and will re-launch if successful. The site also states that ‘unemployed people with transferable skills – and businesses interested in providing work placements – may continue to apply online.’

One would assume that the more interest expressed from both the unemployed and host companies, the more likely the Department of Education and Skills would be to re-launch the programme. It is in everyone’s interest to do so because the more people Begin Again can place back into the workforce on internships, the more people are likely to be hired on a full or part time basis as the previous round of funding already proved. This in turn will lead to people earning a wage and paying tax which is what the government needs to ease their fiscal problems. It also takes pressure of the social welfare system. So the intern wins by getting back their confidence and hopefully getting a job. The employers win because they get the ‘good fit’ they need to fill the role on a specific project their company is working on. The government wins by receiving more tax and paying out fewer benefits.   It’s a win-win-win situation for all considered so the decision to cease funding this initiative couldn’t have been made at a worse time. Now more than ever this country needs precisely these types of initiatives to help both the unemployed with skills and qualifications, and employers with project staff requirements, to connect with each other in a much more efficient and effective way. The cost of operating such a programme must surely outweigh the benefits for the Irish economy as a whole. And it can certainly help individuals like Kathryn to find a new direction.

 

There is a lot of negative noise out there at the moment regarding JobBridge and work placement programmes in general, which has a bad reputation in the media. This is understandable as they are primarily passive leaving them open to abuse by companies. Potential participants are naturally adverse to being exploited adding further insult to their current situation. So how to make an internship programme work? There is a solution – and it is simple. For an internship programme to work it needs to be:

• Active
• Focused
• Demonstrably Supportive
• Deliver Results – Create Jobs

JobBridge, although well intentioned is falling short on each of the above. Let’s look at the most effective internship scenario:

1. A company with a resource need – preferably a specific project
2. A person with the attitude to make the most of the internship
3. A possible job if the internee delivers sufficient value to the host company and the position is rewarding for the individual

Why am I so confident that the above approach works. It is because it already has been tried and tested in Ireland and has delivered compelling results. The Irish Centre for Business Excellence has run a hugely successful internship programme – Begin AgainTM in 2010 and 2011. Over 700 internships were created and over half of the participants have secured jobs which is an un-precedented success. The success of Begin AgainTM is due to the integrated approach:

• Rigorous matching of individual to the right placement
• Focused training – building self-esteem and the skill set to secure a job in Ireland
• Dedicated mentor support to each participant
• Internship’s of value to the company and the participant

If this is our ideal scenario, let’s build our internship programme around creating this scenario as frequently as possible:

Participants and Companies

Key Requirement Participant Company Country
Active – Support participant to find the best
fit internship
– Provide matching expertise
– Vet company’s intent
– Define internship –
project- Business mentors liaise with companies
– Every applicant actively supported in
getting an internship- Build self esteem of
applicants
Focused Dedicated training to build confidence, self esteem and skills to get back to work Clarify company requirementsFind the most suitable candidateProvide alternatives A collaborative programme between companies, participants and supportive entity
Demonstrably Supportive Individual mentor support for each participant to ensure internship is working for the internee Mentormonitor internees progress, make correction as required – with company agreement Right person
Right company
Right project
Right result – Job
Delivering Results – Secure Jobs (25)
– Develop individual self esteem and confidence
– Expenses Payment provided by the
company (and retention
of all benefits)
-Tangible improvements
to company
performance- Opportunity for
individual to secure job based on performance
Report success:
– Jobs created
– Other labour activation
solutions, eg: Further
Education, Start Your
Own Business

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tricia CunninghamWe’ve lived in our skins for as many years as we’ve been on this earth and many of us walk around in the naive belief that we know ourselves intimately. We take for granted our actions and when they create a difficulty for us (when we annoy someone or disappoint them) we often swiftly move on, or perhaps simply blame the other party. We rarely sit back and scratch beneath the surface to understand why we behave the way we do, and yet others are impacted by our actions. When an issue exists, managers or leaders often encourage us to look to training to solve the problem – hey, there must be a management course out there to solve the issue? Instead isn’t it time we looked to understand ourselves better? Isn’t it time to take responsibility for ourselves and consider what behaviours serve us well and what behaviours need to be swept away? Where do we start?

Personality Types

Each of us has a personality type with a distinct motivation that drives our actions and responses. Understanding our type and that of our colleagues provides us with the opportunity to work more effectively together. The starting point is to recognise that not everybody responds to situations and individuals in the way we do or indeed are motivated in the same way as . We need to get to grips with this and not understand it at a superficial level. When we really “get this” we understand how others function in the world and therefore how we can relate best to them. This is what’s at the heart of successful communication, successful working relationships.

enneagram management testing tool

Psychometric Tools

Using psychometric tools such as the Enneagram shines a light on our behaviours and provides us with insights we can use to help us interact with others more effectively. It acts as a mechanism for understanding ourselves. This tool reminds us that, while unique, we share common traits with others. Understanding what drives us, what lies behind our behaviours, helps us to identify ways in which we can change those behaviours.

“When we use an objective psychometric tool we can often hear the findings more clearly.”

For example, when we recognise that we have a tendency to be defensive in the face of perceived criticism, then the next time someone provides us with critical feedback that insight into our behaviours creeps to the surface providing us with an opportunity to either continue being defensive or to pull ourselves back and be more open to what’s being said. Perhaps we’ve received such feedback either formally (annual appraisals) or informally but do we really hear it, do we really accept it? When we use an objective psychometric tool we can often hear the findings more clearly. We don’t allow ourselves to get caught up in another’s “agenda”, there is no agenda.

Re-framing Responses

Now if you add in an understanding of other people and what motivates them and we’ve potentially powerful insight into making relationships work.  Once we are aware of different personality types, we begin to see that our own style will not be equally effective with all types of people.  Now we can start to change how we manage our relationship with others.

“Surely this will help us create more effective work environments, better teamwork, less stressful interactions…”

Instead of expecting others to see things our way or to respond the way we want them to, we can come from a different perspective, we can reframe our responses, our reactions and thereby move them towards a more positive response. Surely this will help us create more effective work environments, better teamwork, less stressful interactions and overall better relationships with others. This is also a critical requirement if we have individuals reporting directly into us and is a key aid to management development. Using our insights into how we see others behave enables us to demonstrate effective leadership whether or not our title includes the word “leadership” and doesn’t every organisation want individuals to be effective leaders within the scope of their roles?

Tricia Cunningham

 

 

 

”They f**k you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were f**ked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.”

Philip Larkin

Family Business

The dynamics of family life is complicated enough but when you add the complexities of business to the mix then you have the potential for a really explosive situation. When your work colleagues are also your brothers and sisters, or your boss is your father or mother then the appeal of a family holiday isn’t quite so attractive. One of the most amazing facts of life in Ireland is that over of all businesses are family owned and account for 50 of employment in the economy . Despite these numbers there is little attention paid to this sector by the political classes, policymakers and state agencies. In fairness, this may be as a result of the fact that this is an extremely complex area and it is difficult to know where to start.

The most startling statistic of all is the high failure rate of family businesses. Only one in three family businesses survive the first generation. In turn, one in two of the businesses survive the handover to the grandchildren. So how can we lessen this rate of failure? One of the problems is that many families turn to accountants and tax advisors for direction in how to best hand over the assets to the next generation. It is understandable that the advice they get is focused on the numbers and there is a natural reluctance to stay clear of the tricky stuff. By “tricky stuff” I mean the relationships between some of the family members may be fraught. In some cases the parents maybe separated, sisters don’t get on, brothers aren’t talking and inevitably there is a black sheep in every family.

Business Assets

Problems become worse when there are grandchildren. The business may not be substantial enough to support the growing needs of the family. The assets of the business might be more valuable than the business itself so that some family members might want to sell out. Every family has differing tensions that can spill out into the wider family and sometimes succeeding generations. So what can you do?

From my experience of working with family businesses there are four reasons why the business fails. Firstly, the business is not viable. In this case there is little that can be done and the inevitable takes its course. Secondly there may be reluctance for the founder to hand over the business to the siblings. This is understandable in that the skills required to start up and build a successful business are completely different from the ability to stand back, plan and develop the next management team to take over the leadership role. Business founders are not known for their ability to delegate.

Different Generation With Different Needs

The third reason for failure is that the children of the founder may have no interest in continuing the business. In some cases, when the children are old enough they can’t wait to get away from hard graft that they may have had to put in after school or during the summer holidays. Or very often the children’s education is paid for from the business and the next generation are qualified in an entirely different field, therefore may not only lack the interest but they may also not have the necessary skills to run the business.

Planning Failure

But the primary reason for failure is common to all businesses….the failure to plan. The difference here is that the family business requires a different type of plan than a standard business plan. LEAP is a company dedicated to developing leadership in Irish businesses. During my time with LEAP I have gained a lot of experience in working with family businesses. I take a holistic approach that combines the needs of the family with the needs of the business.  Through its work with business owners, LEAP identified that there are particular problems in dealing with family businesses and as a result has developed a specific programme for this sector.

The approach covers four main areas:

1. Good Fences Makes for Good Neighbours
This is essentially a strategic plan that has a short-term and long-term requirement. In the short-term we need to establish Key Performance Indicators for the business. There must be clear divisions between the various strands of the business and individual accountability. There must be a well-defined organisational structure and roles and responsibilities assigned so that each individual’s contribution can be measured. This element of the programme can go a long way to reducing the tensions between family members and helps to clarify who is really contributing to the success of the business. Once this portion of work is completed it will help to lay the foundation for the long-term plan for the organisation. It is only then that we can address restructuring, leadership and ownership issues.

2. Family Planning
Now that your family is maturing you begin to realise that “family planning” is more than contraception. A plan is needed to maintain a healthy and successful family unit. For example it may include each individual developing their own personal plan that meets their own wishes while at the same time dovetailing their plan with the overall family business plan. It may also cover the entry and exit policies of the family members working in the business.

3. The Crown Jewels
The transfer of wealth and property can be a cause of major stress for family members. A plan that covers the legal and tax implications of the restructuring of the business will need to be developed. How to determine the most effective transfer of the ownership the business, the division of the proceeds of the sale of the properties etc. will require sound professional advice.

4. Succession Planning
There are lots of examples in history of family dynasties succeeding through the generations. There are some very bad examples also. The difficult subject of succession planning must be addressed in an open and frank way. Very often the only way this can be achieved is by having an outside person facilitate the process. Someone who is fair-minded and has no vested interest in the succession plan is the best option. I believe that the underlining danger to both the business and the family can be avoided by taking a methodical and structured approach in developing the above plans. If the problems are addressed in a professional manner, and a structured facilitated approach is adopted, then there is great potential for positive outcomes for all concerned.

Families, or more importantly, family businesses don’t have to f**k you up! The message is, don’t leave things to chance, get some professional help and plan your way through this potential mine field!

John Raftery
Senior Partner, LEAP

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