The courage of your convictions

I have written previously about the current Ashes series, and the fact that predictions of a 5 nil whitewash to England were fanciful in the extreme. The summer series was much closer than a neutral observer might think, and it was only the fact that England seized the key moments which meant that they won so “convincingly”. This series, England have not seized these key moments – in the first test they bowled Australia out cheaply, but couldn’t take advantage, in the second they had Australia in trouble but dropped three simple catches and today had Australia at five wickets down for not very many.

The key point about sport is that often the best games hinge on critical moments; this autumn, who can forget the drama of the Ireland/New Zealand rugby union test, and the England/ew Zealand rugby league world cup match, both decided with the very last kick of the game. You could say that New Zealand on both counts were lucky, but they got the chance to be lucky by playing until the very last whistle, not assuming all was lost. Were Manchester United lucky in the Champions League final of 1999? Or did they just keep going, until the fat lady sang?

The same is true in industry. Fortune favours the brave, not the reckless. For many years our business leaders grew their companies, not on the back of cheap loans or dodgy finance but by seeking out emerging markets or introducing new products. Understandably, with a contraction in the global market, new opportunities have been thin on the ground but I haven’t heard a single instance of a well run company with intelligent management and solid product base going under at any point in the last five years.

We are told that confidence is flooding back into the market, but how do you define confidence? That you have enough money in the bank to survive another year, that you will not be making anyone redundant this year? Or that you are looking to expand, bring on new staff and drive your business into new markets? If the markets you were looking to target are no longer there, then surely your original business plans were flawed…………..

I appreciate that this is very simplistic, but surely the best indication of returning confidnece is if companies were doing what they were doing five years ago? Even such simple things as Christmas parties have gone by the wayside in recent years. But five years ago, clients were looking to take on new staff, not because they had vacancies, but because they could see the potential of bringing someone into the business who brought skills to the business that they currently did not have.

This year, we have seen a partial return to the good old days. Clients have been keen to meet candidates who might offer them something different, that may help them return their company to the levels they want to trade at. But the key problem has not been the quaility of the candidates; indeed the quality of candidates currently seeking work is much higher now than at any point in the last five years. The key problem has been how clients are planning to fund such appointments. Five years ago you would take someone on knowing that they would pay for themselves within twelve months, if not six. Now clients want the money in the bank first, before investing in someone.

If you are going to run your business in that way, you will end up with the same business that you started with. If you want to sell it, if you want to grow it, if you want to set it up that you can have the retirement your hard work deserves, then you have to be bold; not bold as in feckless, but as bold as you would have been five years ago. And that means believing that new blood will bring fresh impetus. If you use last year’s results as a benchmark rather than a springboard, then you will find yourself in exactly the same position in five years as you are now. And as you were five years ago.

My message to our client base is this. Have the courage of your convictions, have the belief in your business that you used to have (failure to invest is an indication that you no longer believe in your own business strategy, not an indication of the market), and if you interview someone who you think on paper can provide a boost to your business, and on meeting them find that this is the case, be prepared to invest in them, and by inference, in your business.

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