The obligatory predictions for 2017 – with a twist

Have you ever noticed, that around this time of year – if not a few weeks earlier – pundits start to espouse their predictions for the year to come? In the past, you will have no doubt seen headlines similar to “What to expect from Big data in 2016”, “AI, is it likely to replace human thinking?”, “Marketing Automation this, real time bidding that” and so on and so on.

Out of interest, have you ever stopped at the end of the year, gone back to the predictions of the various experts and weighed up what they got right, what they got wrong and evaluated the lay of the land? More importantly, I wonder if the pundits have taken the time to go back and review their words to see what they got right and wrong.

And this got me to thinking. In looking to the year ahead, why do I not look back at the year that was and do what I tell all my clients to do – look at what has happened, what has worked, not worked or even failed – learn from it and then make assumptions for the future. This year, that is exactly what I have done. And without further ado, the five things I have learned in 2016 which help me with my aims and goals and predictions  for 2017.

First do no harm

In becoming a qualified doctor, students must take the Hippocratic Oath in which they vow to “First do no harm”, right? Wrong. This is mistakenly represented as part of the Hippocratic Oath, when in fact it is quoted in another of his works.

I don’t know if it was just me, but the cases of misrepresentation through 2016 seemed rife. I worked with clients who had let staff go because the staff member has falsified their skill set and could not do what they were hired to do, with others who had hired firms to deliver a project, only for the 3rd party to turn around and under deliver and in one instance, deliver a solution that was clearly shoe-horned to fit the client, when it was probably first delivered to another completely different business.

These circumstances at times made working with my own clients harder at first. There was distrust, micromanagement and continual questions. I do not begrudge them of this, I understand it totally. Over time, as I delivered what they wanted, and what they in fact needed to achieve their goals, we built a solid working relationship.

Towards 2017, my philosophy when dealing with new clients will be to prove I do no harm and in fact can and do deliver not only what is wanted but what is needed to achieve the goals the clients have.

The era of cross-pollination

There has for decades been a collectively held adage; it is not what you know but who you know.

Seriously, what rubbish!

Whilst I acknowledge it is important to have contacts around the place who can put you in touch with the right people, as a consultant, it is imperative that you can add value to the bottom line.

In the era where budgets are being cut yet goals are being raised, I have found it ironic that businesses often look within a closed paradigm for a new solution. People within industries often describe their own industry as incestuous, noting that people move from one company to another. Whilst I concur that new collaborations can lead to new results, we all know too well the folly of incest over time. Rather, I believe that there is a stronger argument for the bringing in of new talent which has extensive experience in the provision of solutions.

Through my career, I have had the pleasure of working with and within Not-for-profits, the automotive industry, the software industry, pharmaceuticals, fertility, advertising agency, digital agency, specialised building remediation, finance, home building and more. What links each and every one of the roles and projects is well-defined and executed strategy. My philosophy is simple, If I have value I can add to a client, I will explain what I can bring to bear in meaningful ways for clients, providing strategic insight which makes my clients stand out from their competition and which can be leveraged for time to come, not just for the moment.

The aim for 2017 is to make more SME businesses aware of the strength a contingent workforce can bring to them. In leveraging non-industry specific talent, clients will find they grow and expand the way they think, not just in marketing, but in how they see the market and thus what they produce for it.

Despite physiotherapist recommendations, stretching is not always good for you

2016 was the first full calendar year Mesh was in business. I wanted to ensure my clients were happy by doing everything I could to provide what they needed. As such, I often found myself biting off more than I could chew – not in terms of the type of work so much, but in the time frames I allowed myself to provide the work.

I found myself working at all hours of the night to get work done, down-weighting less time-sensitive work which would inevitably through the course of time become urgent thus perpetuating the cycle. It meant that I then took my eye of the next cycle of pitching for business meaning I got caught in a boom/bust or feast/famine cycle. Yes, I know it is part and parcel of being a small business, but in stretching myself, I have learned that I was at the risk of something snapping.

So, does this mean I will be cutting back how much I tackle? No, absolutely not! What it does mean it that I will be changing the way I work in three key ways.

  • I will set realistic expectations with clients and explain why
  • I will allow exploration of scope but will not allow scope creep
  • I will maintain perspective recognising that there must be balance between what I am doing for my clients and what I am doing for my own business. (Perhaps it is time to bring on someone else?)

Technology uptake is only going to be as successful as Management allows it to be

Through 2016 I have made many recommendations to clients. Align this with that, project this, build that, utilise this platform and then refine and go again. Yet one thing has come back a few times which means I need to re-shape what I do in 2017.

Through 2016 I have made various recommendations to clients which require them to utilise different technology platforms to achieve optimal results. These have variously included CMS platforms to allow them to update their own site to maintain relevancy for their audience, using social media to engage with and converse with their prospective and current clients and to disseminate messages via email.

The client’s eyes light up when you explain the upsides, the potential reach you can give them and how it will benefit their business.

Sadly however, I have at times found some clients do not have the capacity (or maybe it is understanding) of why it is important to do things on a pre-defined basis with knowledge of what you are saying and why. Sometimes it is not understanding why you don’t use every hashtag you can think of on Instagram (#overkill #notrelevant #spammy) or why you need to maintain consistency in the style sheets used on your website, but the point is, lack of understanding means the optimal solution is not reached.

So, what I need to do is to understand a client’s requirements, their skill set, their capacity and their desire to do what can be done and then and only then provide them with the tools and instructions to do what they need.

The definition of success becomes a fluid construct

There is a new constant I have learned: Markets are fluid, circumstances change. It’s true in life in most everything we do.

  • “I will get up tomorrow to go for a run” becomes “I have a meeting I need to prepare for so I will go later in the day”
  • ‘Let’s meet at that rooftop bar” becomes, “It is raining, so let’s meet inside instead”
  • “This year, let’s go to Europe” becomes “We want a summer holiday, so let’s go to Asia instead”.

We take these types of circumstances in our stride, barely pausing to worry on them. Why is it then in business we fail to consider that the same can happen? Something changes and too often people worry and lose site of the goal.

For the year ahead I am going to work on myself to understand that what I want to achieve and how I do it needs to be fluid. I am also going to ensure clients also are aware of this. That whilst we may want immediate results, things may take time to achieve due to circumstance, or unforeseen events. But, staying on strategy will get us there.

Five, four, three, two, one….

Ultimately, looking back 2016 has been a galvanising year. I have powered through some of the busiest periods of my life, have worked with some amazing clients and have delivered to them solutions which they and I are proud of. But that said, there is much I can change and that is what is exciting about 2017. I have a solid base and a tangible platform for improvement.

Bring it on I say.

About the author

Hamish Anderson is the Founder and Director at Mesh Consulting. Hamish is passionate about pushing the envelope and has a track record of success across offline & online marketing, strategy development, customer acquisition, web, SEM, social and content development. His philoophy is there is always more than one answer to any one problem.


2016 insights to take into 2017

One of our gifts as humans is the ability to reflect, learn and adapt. Reflecting on 2016 there’s no doubt it has been a personal and professional adventure. I left my transformation role in August, travelled around the states, started studying again and am consulting independently.

It has been a pleasure to have more time to be able to write, connect more deeply with people, and to align my passions with my career. Over the last year I have learned so much that I will take into 2017 – here are some of my insights from the year and thoughts on how they may shape my 2017.

Insight 1: Customer experience could move to customer hospitality

Customer experience has been a major 2016 buzzword. In my own work I have spent much of my year focused on building customer strategies, go-to-market models with a higher level of customer centricity, customer journey mapping, creating customer centric culture, and developing customer service standards.

During my travels to the US this year I caught up with friend who is a former hotel general manager from leading five star chains all over the world. We spent time talking about the fundamentals of customer service in the hospitality industry and the type of leadership seen in the world’s best hotels that drive customer (guest) centricity. The question occurred to me ‘how can our mainstream business models better incorporate learnings and strategies from the hospitality industry to evolve the focus on ‘customer experience’ to an even deeper level of customer hospitality?’ Imagine if we treated our customers as our guests? It was a great insight that I will explore and write about again next year.

Insight 2: Muscle in agility comes from living it

Agility and resilience are also key themes of 2016. Over the last few years I’ve worked on various projects focused on building workplaces of the future – where agility and resilience are core characteristics. Let me say that in 2016 – it is clear to me that talking about agility, resilience and coping with uncertainty is different than living it and building muscle in it. My time since leaving my role and living with less certainty has been incredibly eye opening. There is a special type of confidence and determination you need to build to hold the course and stay cool when things aren’t quite going as expected.

The two greatest strengths that have helped me build resilience during this more agile time have been patience (finally I have developed that skill!) and the ability to draw on the support of an amazing network of talented and wise people (to whom I am eternally grateful!)

With big corporates going through continuous transformation and reshaping (a nice word for restructure) and the growing gig economy there is a need to enable people to be better equipped to deal with this level of liquidity in foundations. My prediction for 2017 is that the talk has to move more into experiential development and muscle building if we really want to have impact on developing resilience.

Insight 3: Strategy and communication should be married

I have always been a huge believer in the importance of bringing people along on a strategy journey and keeping people informed on what’s happening in organisations, however, I wanted to call this out because I believe this even more given the shift in approaches to strategy we have seen this year. Good strategy is developed with people, and not just for them, and good strategy builds a narrative that galvanises people around a common purpose, not just kitsch corporate speak.

In my view, the days of ‘being the smartest person in the room’ are over. I heard a great line this year ‘the room itself is the smartest person’ because an open room provides the opportunity for a creative milieu where ideas can be brought in, considered, and built upon – which enables something something better than any single ‘smart’ person can build.

So 2017 will see my strengthened commitment to collaboration where strategy and communication are combined, tapping into the collective wisdom of teams and broader a network to create really cool stuff.

Insight 4: The humans are making a come back

Organisations operate in a social context with real people and it sometimes amazes me how we decompartmentalise our roles as people and workers.

Recently I heard the CEO of Vinomofo state ‘we are in the human era’ – leaders who are real and who get what it means to be human can create tribes of people who want to be part of something bigger. Equally important is recognising that trying to be authentic is not the same as simply just being authentic.

With so much corporate transformation going on, it is sometimes easy to take cost out in the short term but the caution to companies is that in the human era, there are much longer term risks by cutting the programs and core elements in your business that are part of the DNA of your culture. Trying to solve organisational issues as mathematical equations is not the answer – and will never lead to long-term success, in my view. We should always remember the ‘human’ part of human resources – and remember that how we treat our people is how they will treat our customers.

Insight 5: What makes you relevant is you!

Perhaps the greatest lesson for me this year has come from letting go of the identity that comes from being associated with certain roles and being a ‘busy’ person. We all get caught up in our own relevance associated with our various roles in life… but what this year has taught me yet again (and it’s a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over again for years) is that the sense of self must come from within, a sense of relevance must come not from what you do, but what’s inside you and what you stand for.

This is something I have experienced personally and also observed in friends, clients and colleagues either as they have changed roles, had circumstances change unexpectedly, or have considered retirement. The question of what makes us relevant as individuals seems universal.

So into 2017 I take strength from the experiences of this year and the many many conversations I’ve had – from those with strangers to the closest of friends – that while enjoyment and success comes from many awesome facets of life – the real answer of relevancy comes from within.

No doubt I have learned many more things this year, but these are the most salient that stand out for me. Thanks for reading! And I’d love to hear your reflections of what are your personal and professional insights from 2016.

About the author

Heidi Sundin is a management consultant working with businesses to drive growth. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop customer centric tailored solutions. Her experience spans creating transformational programs and change across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors.

Distributed teams: The growth strategy used by the savviest startups

By Heidi Sundin and Nina Sochon

Growing an amazing business requires strategy and breakthrough thinking. In this article we propose an approach you may not have thought of to address one of your key challenges: building your team.

For many small businesses seeking growth, there are some essential elements required for your growth strategy.

Whilst it is important to have a good understanding of your current state – ‘where are we now?’ –  and your desired state – ‘where are we going? -’ having clear objectives is not enough.

Clarification is required around your target market, size of the addressable market, and your tailored value proposition for selected markets. One of the challenges for startups and SMEs is building the right skill sets within the business to be able scale and rise to the growth challenge.

Growing a small business or start up can often raise the chicken or egg question, should we wait until we have locked in revenue before hiring or shall we invest in recruiting essential resources and skill sets to generate leads, sales and ensure delivery capability?

In many cases entrepreneurs or small business founders play multiple roles (leader, owner, manager, operator, marketer). The catch is, in order to scale, there is a need to delegate parts (or entire functions) of these roles by bringing in more capacity and skill sets, both on the delivery side as well as in support services. Those skill sets enable more leads and conversion of sales, management of workflow, administration and people issues, as well as efficient procurement or supply chain management and logistics.

Of course recruiting full-time office based resources involves risk, especially at these early stages. The thing is, as a small business you know there is a sizable market to tap into and you know you need to improve your marketing capabilities, workflow management, delivery capability and technology resourcing, but you also know this is adding fixed costs before increased sales are made.

Adding to the conundrum, there are considerations around having more or too many direct reports, finding the right talent, integrating new staff members into the team, ensuring the right cultural fit, and investing the time it takes to get team members inducted and up and running and ultimately adding value.

Breakthrough approach

One option is to think differently about how you bring in talent to help your business grow. Recruiting full-time office based staff is clearly not the only option. Alternatives may include part-time staff, hiring consultants or utilising contractors.

Start ups experience a real breakthrough when they expand their thinking beyond consideration of only their local area. Specifically, there is a huge difference between the size of the talent pool in the commutable area around your office and the talent available nationally and internationally. What this means for your business could be huge.

Distributed teams enable you to recruit the best in your industry. Quiip is Australia’s most experienced community management firm. Talking about their completely remote work arrangement, Julie Delaforce, General Manager says, “It really helps us attract the best talent”.

One distributed team Nina recently worked with faced the enviable challenge of choosing between too many high quality candidates for a recent position. They shortlisted 30 high quality candidates after advertising the position as a remote working position.

Frederic Chanut, Managing Director and founder of In Marketing We Trust, a medium-sized marketing firm, looked outside Sydney to find contractors he could afford. Buying that labour in Sydney was simply out of budget.

Ultimately, there are multiple benefits of building a distributed team if your SME is in a growth phase: avoid locked and fixed full-time employee costs; tap into a broader talent pool, who may be based interstate or internationally; access a greater diversity of skill sets; and avoid the need to take on additional office space costs. Successful distributed teams can create a more agile cost base while bringing in talent to accelerate progress.

A distributed team is a unique arrangement. Whether your team consists of part-time workers, contractors, consultants or full-time staff, the challenge is to achieve strong team communication, performance and culture while working across distances.

For businesses going down the path of building a distributed team, here are some suggestions to kick things off:

  • Determine the areas of the business, activities or projects where you need additional expertise, but don’t have the budget for full-time or even part-time resources
  • Determine the overall budget available for additional resources
  • Put the call out for assistance – social media channels such as linkedin or new platforms such as Expert 360, Freelancer and Airtasker, can be useful
  • Look for people with deep experience of working remotely, don’t assume that people with a strong skill base in other areas have developed the skill of working effectively as a remote worker
  • Before working together with your remote team members, define the ‘rules of engagement’ for your distributed team. Successful distributed teams often implement a team charter, which outlines team members’ agreement on how they will communicate.
  • Use technology to your advantage by including videoconferencing. Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom are free and easy to use. Other collaboration tools should complement video: document sharing, screen sharing and instant messaging.
  • Replicate the water cooler. Social conversations don’t ‘just happen’ in remote teams, a dedicated channel is needed.

Distributed teams are a powerful way to grow your startup. Why limit your growth strategy with traditional thinking, when a global talent pool is at your fingertips!

Nina Sochon creates distributed teams that outperform co-located teams by up to 22%. Nina led a cutting edge strategy team that delivered on the Australian Government’s goal to double the number of people working from home. She shows organisations how to rethink flexible work styles to succeed both here and now and in the future of work. Her flexible work framework is considered leading practice in Australia and New Zealand.

Heidi Sundin is a management consultant working with businesses to drive growth. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop customer centric tailored solutions. Her experience spans creating transformational programs and change across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors.