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SmallJigWhilst it’s pretty vital to choose the right mentor and understand how to work with your chosen mentor it’s also important to make sure that you give the best to the relationship so that you get the best from it. Being a successful protégé is more likely if you remember a few key things.

Your Mentor wants you to succeed and there’s nothing you can do to honour them more than remembering to PRACTICE
 
Prepare well
Before each session think about your goals and aims from the session. If necessary write down a list of questions and areas for discussion and send them to your mentor in advance. That will help to to make sure that the session remains focussed and delivering what you need.
 
Respect your mentors time
Mentors have, like you, limited time and resources available, so being respectful of their needs to stick to times and stay focussed on the meeting goals is important. The more that you can do this the more that trust grows and relationships strengthen. As that happens you’ll find the value of each session really accelerates.
 
Actively listen
Listen to what’s being said without preparing your response mentally as you go along. Pauses for thought are something that will develop strongly in the greatest mentoring relationships and respecting silence and giving your mentor space to think is as important as it is for them to respect your need for considered thought too. Play back what you have heard even if you think you fully understand. Your mentor will know that his information has been received when you do.
 
Constructively discuss
So, now that there is a better understanding of the information it’s time to hone it. Your mentor has brought their knowledge to you, but in the context of their skills and experience. Your needs and experience are based on your context. Through constructive discussion you can, between you both, synthesise the best outcome.
 
Test
Take time though to reflect on what you have heard and learned. After all the decisions you are making with your mentor are important – you wouldn’t be paying for their support if their input wasn’t valuable to you. It’s important to give decisions and actions the right amount of thinking and checking time, and remember, if questions come up when you do this, your mentor should be able to comment and support you too.
 
Implement
Implementation is the key to putting the knowledge and skills that have informed your decision to work to turn them into real outputs for you and your business. Without this step the information you have had and the knowledge gained is valueless, so make sure you know what you need to actually implement it. Implementation is also about planning and sourcing the resources you need, as well as doing the work.
 
Check
Now do an immediate check, have you done everything that you said you wanted to do? Is the work complete? or are there elements still to do? What went as it should? What new knowledge did you gain?, What problems did you encounter? How can you improve the implementation process? These checks mean you can start to document how you implement things in your business. Businesses that really understand implementation and have the right checks in place are more scalable (and more valuable). Do this well and when you next need to implement the same thing, you’ll find it easier and more reliable.
 
Evaluate
A little time later you may want to look back and decide if the work you have done is delivering what you expected. Measure the things that you can and compare them to the expected results. When you have done that, spend time with your mentor to discuss the results and look at what worked for you and what has not. In other words we are back to the P of PRACTICE, it’s time to prepare well again. 

Perfect PRACTICE makes perfect.
Working with your mentor your main aim becomes about substantially improving the outcomes you achieve – and the more you PRACTICE the better you’ll get.  



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William Buist - 07880 794127I was watching the start of the new Formula one season with some interest, especially as the long term McLaren protege Lewis Hamilton has slipped his wings and moved to a team whose performance was shoddy last year. How would he fare? This can be the making or the breaking of men, and he’s stood up well, McLaren have performed poorly without him, Mercedes have advanced in leaps and bounds. 

Of course he’s not the only factor, but he’s a big one. I think we have seen that teams DO have charismatic key men and sometimes it’s an individual that matters more than the collective. In some things.

Yet, I also wrote earlier this week in the Abelard Community on Google plus about how teams shouldn’t always push things to the team member best able to do the job. (more here >) I think that when we recognise that innovation and insight comes from allowing the less able to have their share of time on the problem we can get a better overall result. In a football team sometimes it’s the defenders who score and the strikers who clear the ball from their own line.

Also this week though Leveson still rattled through the news as the realisation of the challenge that a royal commission really does bring to the issue. It’s going to run some more particularly as the risk of individual publishers (like me for these series of letters) could be drawn into the risk of exemplary damages. A slim risk is not no risk, it needs watching.
So, we have chilled down, the snow came, and melted, the wind rose, and turned to the east, and I was reminded, if fleetingly of the earlier snows that caused so much disruption. Spared his time, but those in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland who lost power will have shivered and cursed the weather, just a week or so before Easter, it’s not how it should be. For an hour we joined them – for Earth Hour - A small sense of camaraderie with others who share my concerns about the environmental damage that we cause. 
Makes you think doesn’t it? 
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Mentoring for Business : The Three R’s of Business

CSI - Call us: 07880 794127Much store was put, by our forebears, on the value of a good education as a footing for life. The three ‘R’s – ‘Reading – wRiting – (a)Rithmatic. There’s a lot of good sense in these educational values, (and a delicious irony too). There’s a basis that underpins educational strategy that drives from getting the fundamentals right, and that’s true in business too. 

Over the years, working with entrepreneurial business owners and the leaders of companies moving towards exit I’ve seen success and (many more) failures (at least in the sense of failing to maximise the opportunities), the successes have all been built on foundations of three R’s too – In a business context these are Robust, Resilient and Reliable

Robust

Businesses built robustness by having clarity of their core value, of understanding the processes they need to bring value to their target market, and a laser focus on that market too. Robustness is about being clear about the internal workings of the business and being able to make it efficient and effective;  low cost and high value.

Robustness is important because it means that the business is properly defined, it knows its place in its market and is recognised as an quality expert ‘player’ in that market.

Resilient

Resilient businesses can weather the business storms that face every business, for example through the loss of clients, economic cycles, regulatory change, accidents etc. The truly resilient bend but never break, adapting and changing to the conditions they find themselves in and always remaining capable and strong. Resilient businesses have great leadership, confident decision making and exceptional risk management capabilities. Clear vision and purpose and a strong strategy are the building blocks. 

Reliable 

Reliable businesses are recognised by their customers as reliable, they have trust in the business, they know what it will do and how they will feel when they do it. Given most people buy the solution to a problem from the companies they deal with, reliability is important because it gives customers certainty of outcome. Provided the cost is good value we return time and time again to the most reliable businesses. Reliability derives from having outstanding implementation capability.

Mentoring for success

Mentors provide the means of ensuring that all three areas grow and become stronger, bringing Knowledge, Skills and Experience to bear on the business that builds Robust Resilient, Reliable businesses, and when it’s done really well they create, from those three, a fourth. Repeatability. Get that and an exit becomes both possible and highly valuable. 

Take a look at our mentoring series for advice on choosing a mentor, working with them and more. The articles are here >

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William Buist - 07880 794127Today is a fascinating day for sport. There’s the start of the new Formula one season, the six nations reaches a conclusion, the Cheltenham Festival has just finished, and the football season is drawing towards the last phase of the season, there’s much still to be resolved. It has to be said that, after today’s results, the premiership’s unsolved matters no longer realistically include the title itself.

So there is a lot of competition and mostly the sports we enjoy the most are team ones, games that involve collaboration alongside the competition. Players whose alliance at club level, who may just a few days ago, have competed against each other, for club, now acting in harmony for country. Then there are those where other club teammates line up against them as a result of their country of birth.

Yet the true professionals perform at the optimum in all circumstances, something that is done by recognising the power of shared purpose, and focus.

More important perhaps is their ability to seperate personal and professional, to play against an opponent in one match or championship, and line up shoulder to shoulder in another context. Creating shared purpose mean that people perform beyond ability, beyond expectation, becuase the purpose drives an extra push and a willingness to step beyond and stretch.

It made me think about the business environment, are things the same there? Creating shared purpose is a real challenge for employers, more so for those using suppliers too perhaps, but it can be done. The winner is often not the most technically capable, nor most knowledgeable, but the most committed, of those with sufficient capability and I think that’s true in business too.
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Mentoring for Business : Coach – Mentor – Consult

CSI - Call us: 07880 794127Based on the name, you may think a business mentor uses only the techniques of mentoring. However, good mentors use additional techniques and angles to bring out the best in their proteges (or “mentees”).  A truly great mentor will act as a coach, mentor and consultant to you and your business. While at first it may be difficult to distinguish between the approaches avaialable in the mentoring process, it is a technique that spans the spectrum from coaching to consulting as appropriate.

Consulting 

Consulting, by definition, is “giving advice to others in the same field,” but it also implements a fairly hands-off approach.

  • For instance, a mentor acting as a consultant may meet with you only a fraction of the time that someone putting an emphasis on mentoring or coaching would.
  • Additionally, a consultant may focus more on giving you timely advice, unlike the detailed input that a mentee with less industry experience needs.
  • A consultant will give statements such as, “We think you should…” as opposed to asking questions, as a coach might.

In essence, a consultant will give you an analysis of your business, provide feedback and return some time later to see what improvements have been made — then repeat the process over again.

Coaching

The coaching technique that a mentor will use is by and large a less directive approach. In many ways, it is similar to a professional sports coach watching from the sidelines. More specifically, a coach will:

  • Elicit plans and strategies for you to implement in your business.
  • Review and evaluate which you did correctly and assess those actions you can improve upon.
  • Ask open questions such as, “What have you considered?”

In other words, a mentor assuming the role of a coach will often give you specific goals or assignments to tackle in your business, then adjust or further develop them based on how well you carry them out.

Mentoring

Mentoring is a thorough process that requires a hands-on approach by the mentor and very attentive involvement from the mentee. This technique often produces a close working relationship and usually requires more time spent between the mentor and mentee compared to the consulting and coaching techniques.

A good mentor will make himself or herself available to you via monthly, weekly or, in some cases, daily meetings to see how you and your business are progressing.

Together, you will work to better implement and solidify the company’s core values and target other aspects of the mentor’s field of specialty. For example, a mentor with 30 years of marketing experience will not likely focus on your balance sheet or income statement. Instead, she will probably stick to her area of expertise — target marketing and developing a solid campaign strategy.

In theory, if you are the owner of a business, and you need to be involved with many facets of the company, you may have a separate mentor for each area of the business.

Conclusion

A good mentor continuously implements the three major facets of consulting, coaching and mentoring at various times when needed throughout the process. In the beginning you may need the hands-on approach of a mentor, but once you get a bit of confidence, perhaps you will benefit from the more hands-off approach of consulting or coaching.

And once you really start to flourish, you may only need periodic engagement to ensure your business development continues to progress toward your goals.

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Business Survey 2013

AbelardDuring January and early February Abelard ran a Business survey. We’ve been analysing the results and they are very interesting.

Firstly only just over one in three business has an active business plan:
Businesses with a business plan
Yet those with a business plan expect to get significantly higher revenues:

Revenue impact of a Business PlanHaving a business plan won’t in itself lead to more revenue of course, but it’s clear that expectations are higher, and a big part of business success is confidence. That’s our experience with clients too. when the business plan is an active operational one, and often updated to reflect changing market conditions, then the businesses tend to thrive.

Our full report goes into a more detail on these findings. If you would like a copy of our full report please complete the form below:
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William Buist - 07880 794127At the time of writing, we are still of the midst of a curious crisis in the processed food market where it’s become clear that most of what we eat has not been what’s purported to be in the packet by the manufacturers.  It’s still unclear whether this is a deliberate fraud that’s systemic through the industry as a whole or whether it’s arisen through the illegal activities of one or two elements of the supply chain.  Fortunately,  in the context of health there seem to be few worries – see here >

However, what is has highlighted is that in a market that has become complex and with long distribution chains from supplier to customer with a lot of intervening manufacturing and processing steps, that it becomes possible to fool and dupe elements of the market very easily.  Food production is not the only place where this has happened over the last 30 – 40 years in the developed market, but it’s always happened for the same reasons.

Firstly, there’s a need to drive down costs, now whether that’s driven through competition or an expectation of making ever higher profits is unclear but the results are consistent.  Higher profits don’t materialise because the competitive pressures outweigh the ability of individuals or companies to be significantly cost-different in commoditised markets.  That suggests that the driving force is more systemic than is perhaps being suggested right now.  Systemic flaws in a long-chain market may even be an inevitable consequence of the nature of the business model and the market structure.

So where does that leave us, in our local butcher last weekend the queues were clearly longer and the willingness of people to pay a premium for provenanced meat was very clear.  They have always sourced his meat from within 30 miles of the shop, identified the farm, the herd and often even the original animal from which the meat was derived.  His poultry is organic and free-range and he makes sausages and hamburgers on the premises in full view of his customers and has roasting joints of meat in view too. They provide cooked and prepared meals that are prepared on the premises by chefs.  I would contend that this kind of business has a rosier future in the medium term as a result of the food crisis now facing British and European markets and that processed food will shrink as a proportion of the overall food spend for the UK and elsewhere, at least in the medium term.

The question then is not just whether criminal prosecutions will ensue for what has happened, but also whether regulatory change to facilitate and reduce costs in the local short chain distribution markets can be created.

From an Abelard point of view, our focus on business models suggest to us that there is an opportunity to attract business in a new niche created by the crisis. That niche is of time-poor but relatively money-rich families who will now consider paying an additional premium for personally prepared and provenanced food.  We will be watching to see if that market does indeed grow and develop.
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CSI - Call us: 07880 794127Achieving business clarity is substantially easier with an exceedingly knowledgeable and understanding mentor. In a business mentoring relationship there is generally an emphasis on the business owner and their role as the mentee. However, at the same time, the mentor is faced with the challenge of questioning, understanding, challenging, and ultimately elevating the mentee’s business clarity.

Yale University School of Management senior faculty fellow, Bruce Judson, says a good mentor should ask questions about the mentee’s end result, their idea of success, the ultimate objective of the business, and what it means to be financially stable on both the business end and in their personal life. Judson has a good point, as these questions will lead to a better understanding of your business, and ideally, show you how to proceed. (Source here >)

Questioning

For a mentor, questioning the mentee is a vital part of the process. Of course, this sort of questioning is much different than, say, that a Congressional hearing, but more so, it is questioning to gain insight into the core values, as well as, many other facets of the business. Through the questioning process, both the mentee and mentor should find clarity on where the relationship and business will go from here.

Challenging

On the path to help you find business clarity, your mentor will undoubtedly challenge you. Without challenging your current business model, ideals, and subsequent results, your company will almost assuredly hit a plateau and never get any better. While some businesses are fine hitting such a plateau and consequently coasting into mediocrity, it is the great business minds and their willingness to be challenged, eventually evolving into something greater —something clearer — that thrive in the mentoring process.

Understanding

Your mentor should work off the concept of questioning in order to gain understanding of the many facets of your business, including operations, core values, and other aspects like its target market and marketing strategy. Lois Zachary, author of The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work For You, says the ideal mentor should listen, be well connected in the industry, have expertise in a specific field, and perhaps most importantly, be accessible to the mentee. Zachary goes on to say that while it may be unlikely to find all of these things in a mentor, you should prioritize which matter most, and then seek out someone that fits the bill. Working with your mentor can then lead you to figure how to improve your business moving forward.

Elevating

Taking your business to the next level with clarity is the ultimate goal of working with a mentor. Their questioning, understanding, and insight, should allow your company to flourish and your business development skills to further progress as a leader. Whether you have a mentor in mind, or consult with industry experts like those at Abelard, your main objective should be to realize your business’ clarity — identifying your customers, why they are in the market, and how you can effectively target them.

Conclusion

As mentioned, in the mentor-mentee relationship, the prime objective should be to reach business clarity to better understand your business model and those it serves. As your mentor challenges you to make the business better, take their inquisitions and discussions as a sign of good things to come. A mentor may not divulge his or her method during every step of the process, but every good mentor has a mental infrastructure of how to help a mentee. Keep in mind that they have almost certainty been in the same position as you. Every mentor has likely been a mentee in some degree, at a point in his or her career.

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William Buist - 07880 794127Another interesting week slips  by as we slip from February into March and towards the end of the first quarter of 2013.

Interesting because we’ve seen the impact of a loss of the UK’s triple A rating, an Italian election, a by-election and the confusion of a leader.

Nick Clegg found himself tied in a few knots over what he knew and what he didn’t know about the inappropriate approaches of a peer in his party. His emotions showed when he blamed the media as ‘self appointed detectives’ and of course they are. It’s what a free press means. This faux pas, perhaps, will be the thing that shifts the public opinion pendulum towards equilibrium after Leveson , it had to come, it always  does.

George Osbourne found himself caught in knots having steadfastly said that the policies they had were right because they allowed us to keep the triple A rating and then having to say the policies were still right when we lost it. Saved by a standup comedian and a philandering executive in Italy as their fight for power confused and depressed world financial markets, meant George didn’t have too much downside from his confusion. This time.

David Cameron found himself caught in knots when UKIP took second place in a by election held by a party whose previous MP is a self confessed lair and in the middle of a sexual scandal involving members of the party. To see the tories as humiliated, the Lib Dems as victors, or UKIP as growing stronger could be a mistake. The real victor was representative democracy. It’s my assertion that Eastleigh just voted for the person most likely to acts their representative in Westminster.

Good on them.

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Mentoring for business: Working with a Mentor

CSI - Call us: 07880 794127The idea of mentorship is nothing new. Since the days of ancient Greece, apprentices have worked beside masters to learn a trade. This journeyman tradition was so strong that it even became the foundation of surnames like Carpenter, Fisher and Baker.

But mentoring has changed too. It is no longer a simple father/son transaction, or even a master/student relationship. In more recent years, more people have learned their trades in university settings, rather than from a mentor. But now mentoring has returned to a more modern, cooperative relationship occurring between the master and the student.

The Role of Mentoring in Small Business

Today, mentoring is being recognised as an important component of small business development. Many see a void in the business world and want to fill that void, but don’t have the confidence and expertise to succeed without some assistance. This article in Forbes highlights How to make a business mentoring relationship work. 

Benefits for the Mentor

While new business owners are pleased to work with those established in their trade, veteran business owners yield their own set of benefits from serving as a mentor. Many are highly passionate about their business and fully embrace passing on their knowledge. A good mentor does not simply serve as a friend in the business, but offers honest insight that a protege (often called a “mentee” these days) can apply to their own business.

By embracing the role of mentor, a business owner can:

  • Develop a relationship that becomes a professional networking contact
  • Rekindle the excitement that comes with contributing to a new and budding company
  • Improve their own confidence and abilities by collaborating and sharing ideas
  • See their ideas from a new angle, and use the insight gained to improve their business.
  • Make an extra contribution to develop their field in a way that makes a positive difference

Expectations of the Protégé/Mentee

There is also a sense of responsibility and accountability that occurs when an entrepreneur begins working with a mentor. They should not expect to simply follow their mentor around and hope to absorb knowledge as if they were a sponge. They should always bring their own ideas and questions to the table and offer respectful feedback. Chances are someone new to a business has some misconceptions about the way things work. Still, it is important to offer those ideas that can at least be used as a starting point in which to build better ideas and new innovation.

While a greater element of collaboration exists in today’s mentor/protege relationship, there are still times when mentors will give special guidance and advice that the mentee can apply to their own business. Here good communication skills come into play as well as a sense of graciousness as they keep their mentor informed regarding how successful their suggestions proved to be when they were applied to the new business.

What to Expect from a Mentor

Individual mentoring styles can vary considerably depending on the mentor and whatever ideas are presented, but always an environment of mutual respect and a desire to succeed should be at the forefront of the relationship. Even when a business is competitive in nature, it is in the best interest of both the business and the customer to encourage the highest-quality products and the most efficient operations and marketing plans. We’ve provided some guidane to choosing a mentor in a previous post.

Our approach

A collaborative approach and partnership that is representative of a quality mentorship is central to successful mentoring. 

  • Our business model is rooted in helping other businesses discover and embrace their strengths and individuality.
  • Our proven strategies have helped many businesses improve their operations, marketing, and sales initiatives.
  • As we work with organisations on their business development, we never lose sight of our core values of collaboration, objectivity and empowerment.

At the end of the day, no two businesses are exactly alike. By helping businesses develop effective strategies that emphasise their strengths, each company finds its own niche and customer base.

Once businesses have a grasp on these ideas, the results are often greater workplace satisfaction, reduced costs and increased profits. And that makes for a good recipe for everyone. 

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