This month’s guest contributor, Richard Brewin, Joint Managing Director at Progress BB, provides an in-depth look at taking a positive approach to the problems in a firm.
It’s very easy to think the worst of our own firms and certainly to have a more jaundiced view of ourselves than our clients and contacts have of us.
Maybe that’s better than having it the other way around but it doesn’t necessarily help us.
As business owners we tend to focus on the negatives within our firms. We spend our time addressing problems, looking for the failings and trying to tackle our weaknesses.
Successes and strengths can too easily be taken for granted or quickly passed by as we head for the next area that troubles us. This can leave us with a disproportionate view not only of the health of our firm but also the scale of the problems.
We can feel that there is a mountain of problems to climb because that is all we see.
It’s very important to celebrate our successes in order to have a more balanced view of ourselves. An exercise that I strongly recommend is to gather your team together in front of a flipchart, smartboard or whiteboard and list out everything that has been a positive in the last 12 months…and I mean everything, big and small. From great results, new clients, successful projects and exam successes to rooms tidied up, new kettles, clients sacked and better coffee, we’re looking to list out everything that makes you and the team smile. The list will be long, I guarantee it.
As well as feeling better about ourselves, we also need to address this issue of the psychological mountain of challenges. One of the most common hurdles I come across is simply knowing where to start, it feels like there are so many things to fix. The problem here, of course, is that delaying the decision, or being unable to focus on any particular challenges means that we end up making no progress whatsoever.
I have a tip for getting over this hurdle.
First, list out the 10 best things about your firm, your 10 greatest strengths. Don’t overthink it but don’t stop until you have 10 strengths listed either. However poor you think your firm is, you will have 10 strengths.
Let me create a fictitious accounting firm, Typical Accounting Limited (TAL) and use them as an example. For their list of strengths, this is what they came up with:
- We care
- We’re nice people
- We’re local
- We’ve got good systems
- Our clients like us
- We’re a good team
- We’re honest
- We’re professional
- We know the basics well
- We’re really good at payroll
It’s an entirely random list but it shows how easy it is to pull out 10 strengths.
Now, think of one of the big challenges that you face right now. What troubles you most on a daily basis?
What we are then going to do is to apply our strengths in addressing the problem. In the case of TAL, the challenge that came straight to mind for them was workflow, they have a backlog that is getting worse. How can they apply their strengths to address the problem? Let’s go back to their list:-
1. We care
We should remind ourselves of this. We see it as a problem because we do care. This should give us the desire to fix it.
2. We’re nice people
Therefore we will find a solution that is fair for all.
3. We’re local
What other resources exist locally that could help us here? Are their freelancers, other firms, flexible workers, new recruits that we should be talking to?
4. We’ve got good systems
What is good about them and can we utilise this more? Are we making the most of them or do we need to be talking to our account managers about further training or upgrades?
5. Our clients like us
Will improving our communication with our clients help us here? Is there more that the clients could/should be doing to help address the challenge? Can we do more to keep our clients onside and reduce the pressure?
6. We’re a good team
Are we approaching this issue as a team? Are we making the most of our skills and what we’re best at?
7. We’re honest
But are we overpromising in our desire to keep clients onside? Are we being honest where we are underperforming? Are we being honest (realistic) with ourselves and planning accordingly?
8. We’re professional
Our clients and outsourcers need to reflect this. A one-sided professional relationship is harder than a mutually professional one. Are we standing up for our professionalism?
9. We know the basics well
Is it time to get back to basics for a while? Also, are we focused on the basics or are we over-servicing? Are we delivering ‘good enough’ in its literal sense?
10. We’re really good at payroll
What is it about our payroll that works really well and what can we learn from this?
By focusing on our strengths and using them to the maximum, we change the dynamics of our problem solving. Rather than “How do I fix what I’ve so far failed to fix?” our focus is on “How do I get even better at what I do well?”. It’s a positive approach built on positive thinking.
It’s also an approach that enables us to more easily engage the team in our strategies as they become part of the solution rather than waiting around for you to deliver the solution to them.
Of course, once you’ve started to eat into that first challenge, you can then pick another and do it again. You may choose to use the same 10 strengths or you may revisit it and see what others you have added, having progressed with one of your issues.
Give it a try. You may find that you are better than you thought!