Simon Jordan's Blog - August 2015

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Powering Up for the Northern Powerhouse

Almost twelve months ago, George Osborne declared the need for a focus on the “Northern Powerhouse”, fittingly, at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry. This would be an attempt to harness the force of the North's 15 million person population and use that collective of skill and knowledge to better rival London and the South East. It was said at the time: "The Northern Powerhouse will be a collection of northern cities sufficiently close to each other that combined they can take on the world.” Now, MP James Wharton has been elected as the minister for the project, which is hoped to redress the balance between the economics of the north and south of the country. What’s interesting about this is that although the south’s economic boom came from financial services, the north’s potential is phenomenal, with strength gleaned from the rapidly growing manufacturing, science, technology and service sectors. East Lancashire has already begun to seize the importance of our home-grown manufacturing industry, with a “skills crisis” already on the horizon thanks to unprecedented growth and a need for the expansion in almost all manufacturing sectors. Themis is already foreseeing a need to push recruitment in these areas to avoid the skills crisis already knocking on our doors. Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to curtail the effects of said “crisis”, and of course, the Northern Powerhouse couldn’t operate without them. Boosting the economy in the “core” Northern cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield will see benefits stretching throughout our more diverse regions, however it’s up to us as employers and trainers to ensure this programme of boosted growth affects us in the best and most meaningful ways possible going forwards. The increase in funding to LEPs using the City Deal to help determine local economic priorities and lead economic growth and job creation within the local area has meant that the time has never been better to begin preparing for a skills shortage. Are you ready for the challenges ahead? Northern Powerhouse Themis Graphic  

What the Northern Powerhouse could do for us - how would you make the most of it?

On Your Playlist

I love music and I feel like it helps me mould my mood and motivates me when the going gets tough. Most people I speak to have certain songs that help prepare them for big meetings, briefings and sales pitches, so I thought I’d put together some of my favourite tracks with an explanation and suggested usage. Listen with caution!

Dealing with a crisis

Not every day is a perfect 10 hours of ticked-off actions and schedule-abiding workloads. Sometimes real crises can occur within your organisation and guess what? It’s your responsibility to make sure things are contained, managed and the effects are reduced. The Stone Roses – "Love Spreads" It’s not the lyrics I care about in this song, more the laid back feeling I get from the rhythm section and the build-up of power brought on by one of the most underrated guitarists of the 90s. It’s five and a half minutes of musical pep talk and if by the end you’re not ready to single-handedly get HS3 off the ground, you’ve not been listening to it loudly enough. See also for some instant crisis aversion: Stevie Wonder - "Don't You Worry About A Thing"  The Beatles - "Getting Better"  Maverick Sabre - "I Need"

Getting the team on board

Last month I talked in some detail about the necessity of positive change within organisations to keep processes running as efficiently as possible and re-invigorate your workforce. It would probably fit here to put my entire “inspirational” playlist here, but perhaps the world has had enough lists of Sígúr Rós songs in various orders. In my head, there are two options: The Beatles- "With A Little Help From My Friends" Uncle Kracker - "Follow Me" 

Dealing with traffic

In East Lancashire there are a number of road closures and roadworks planned over the next few months. One of the most disruptive is expected to be the closure of Junctions 10 to 14 on the M65 spanning from Colne to Burnley. Here are some songs that can calm my frayed, traffic-jam-worn nerves (and are also strangely appropriate): Sebastien Tellier – "La Ritournelle" Stereophonics - "Traffic"  Oasis - "Part Of The Queue" and of course no traffic jam would be complete without "Pump Up The Jam" by Technotronic Listen to my playlist below and let me know what you'd add on Twitter - I'll add the best for next month!

Building a strategy for world domination

Maybe your business plans are for astronomical growth. Maybe you want to expand locally with a strengthened customer base and better relations with regional suppliers. No matter your plans for the future, you need a strategy to help cohesively place your ideas into actions that will change, improve and inevitably grow your business. “If everybody likes the strategy, it is probably wrong!” – Andy Green, Former SEO, Logica (Now CGI) I’m currently reading “Making Your Strategy Work; How to go from paper to people” by Chris Outram, a strategy consultant who’s been helping businesses harness the benefits of change for more than 30 years. In it, he explains how to create strategies that really work (as well as explaining why sometimes, companies just get it wrong). Outram is a big advocate of “End-Gaming”, a strategy that looks to the future of your goals and deals with the impacts these events will have on your business retrospectively. He says that managers spend too much time focusing on cost-cutting, avoiding expensive confrontations with competitors and cancelling investments to support modest growth and good financials. Outram says, in order to break out of this restrictive way of working and thinking, “End-Gaming” informs forward-thinking decisions and defines where the leaders of the organisation really want to be in five years’ time without worrying about getting there first. “You need to populate your company with people who can cope with whatever complexities there will be in five years’ time, not just today.” (Martin Lamb, CEO IMI) In summary, according to the “End-Gaming” strategy, having bold goals and striving (and sometimes failing) to reach them is usually better than having mediocre ones and easily achieving them. Here are Chris Outram’s top five explanations of strategy failure. Do any of them sound familiar to you?
  1. Lack of attention to detail: this often results in the collection of inadequate (or irrelevant) data, some or all of which is processed inappropriately. As Jez Maiden, CFO of National Express puts it: “More data + less time = poor decisions”
  2. A false sense of security: it’s easy to ignore fundamental shifts in the structure of an industry, to lull yourself into accepting business as usual
  3. Underestimation: companies frequently underestimate what the compeititon (particularly the left-field competition) might be able to achieve
  4. Overestimation: companies very often overestimate the power of their own business model, their own staff.
  5. Over-elaboration: most strategies can be boiled down to the need to get a few things right. If you over-complicate your strategy, then you risk people not understanding it, including those who need to come to grips with it: the employees. ‘Strategy has to be simple,’ insists former CFAO Management Board Chairman Richard Bielle. ‘It shouldn’t be a book that only experts can read. If it is complex, it means it is unfinished.’
Next, he rigorously tests these hypothetical failings with pre-reviews on the following eight areas:
  1. Customer needs: who needs what and why? How much will they be willing to pay for it?
  2. Market trends: what is changing and why? Do we understand where these changes will take the market (and us?)
  3. The competition: what are our competitors – the obvious and not-so-obvious ones – doing and why? Do we understand their strategies? Can we find ways to outpace them?
  4. The economics of participating: how can we make money in a sustainable way? How much will this cost? Do we understand the economics of our (potential) models and those of our actual and possible competitors?
  5. Positioning and capabilities: how are we different? Is our level of differentiation sufficient to sustain our strategy? Can we resource our efforts with the right people, working in the right roles?
  6. Radical option elaboration: without taking risks, rewards are often meagre. Are we taking on enough risk? Have we been as bold as possible?
  7. Financial modelling: in describing our strategy financially, does it all fit together? Can we afford it? Will it satisfy our stakeholders?
  8. Looking ahead to execution: Are we clear about what we need to achieve? Do we understand what needs to be done and who will be accountable for specific parts of the plan? Have we got the right people to execute the strategy? What are the milestones for tracking success? What are the potential mitigating factors if some of the bets we make prove unsuccessful?
By pre-reviewing your strategy, it’s far more likely that you’ll be able to devise a plan that’ll have a little chance of coming up against challenges as possible. This extra time spent planning is probably the most effective use of your time throughout the whole strategy planning process – I’ve found it invaluable! I’d love to hear your thoughts about strategy planning. What are you working on at the moment? What plans of your past do you wish you’d pre-evaluated before ploughing ahead with? Find me on Twitter and let’s discuss.

What would an Ultra-Productive person do?

I like to think of myself as a productive person. I never leave things hanging, I work to deadlines without overstepping them and, without starting to make this paragraph seem like a CV, I always have time to fit in the more exciting ‘surprise’ elements of my job. Being productive isn’t a natural skill for all though, and admittedly it does take some work in order to reach the higher enlightened state of “Ultra-Productivity”. That extra effort is made all the more worthwhile however, when you can leave on time on Friday knowing everything you could possibly have needed to work on has been completed, filed, efficiently delegated, explained, planned and prepared for. Here are some of my top tips for nipping procrastination in the bud and getting on top of complex projects right from the start. I’d really like to hear what your favourite tips are too, so tweet me with yours and I’ll RT my favourites: @simonthemis

Eat frogs for breakfast

This is by far my favourite exercise, but perhaps that’s because it speaks to my competitive nature. Take the task you’re really dreading, the one you think will require a ton of planning and a lot of hard work and get started on it straight away. You’ll be surprised how manageable it actually is. Getting your ‘worst’ jobs over and done with leaves the rest of your day free to tackle tasks that you’re truly excited about (and it gives me a lot of satisfaction when these slippery customers are well and truly eaten because it means I’ve beaten them! What could be better than that?)

Live for tomorrow

Before you leave the office of an evening, plan the day ahead of you. I used to find that planning my day’s tasks in the morning took quite a bit of effort, especially when I’d already had phone calls and emails demanding my attention. Sometimes projects I’d wanted to work on managed to slip down my schedule. You know what they say – the squeakiest wheel gets the most oil. Once you’ve got your next day planned out it’s much easier to set time aside to tackle projects that are really deserving of your attention.

He shoots, he scores

In business, there’s no time to keep hold of the ball. Don’t hang on to emails or put off calling somebody back if you need to deal with something. ‘Get rid’ of that task immediately by dealing with it straight away. Act, delete or delegate. Score. Done. Next task please!

Set dates with your inbox

Make life more special. Create some one-on-one time for your inbox. Email inboxes can be the downfall of even the most prepared and productive people, but in the name of Ultra-Productivity, we’re going to slay this particular dragon. Make time every day to read, respond to and send emails. Then, once that time is over, ignore it. If you need three or four designated inbox dates, by all means pencil them in. Just don’t let me catch you sneaking peeks outside of those hours.

Themis Inspire and Achieve Awards 2015

It's that exciting time of year when the finalists for our #themisawards are announced and we begin the meticulous preparation for our annual Inspire and Achieve Awards. Every year I am inspired by the hard word and achievements of our Apprentices, Trainees and Employers and am looking forward to this year's ceremony intensely! Visit the Themis Awards page to find out who this year's finalists are.  And that's it for this month! Roll on September, the busiest time of year for Engineering Apprenticeship applicants... just saying. (Let us know if you're looking to recruit.)
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