Wednesday 30 June 2021

Strategically are you leading ahead of the curve of behind the curve?

For a Managing Director or Chief Executive Officer, knowing where your business sits within its market is an important first step in leading it to where it needs to be. Where you are today is the result of action taken years before. For leaders' determining where they want their business to be is about deciding where a business is best positioned to succeed within its market over the leaderships tenure. 

Strategic Brand Positioning

That conversation of where to be (and where not to be) requires careful consultation with the shareholders, and key stakeholders as well as the people within the business.  What are their aspirations for the business today and over what horizon?  If a business is a mid-market player within a sector then is everyone happy to stay there and defend their market position and market share, or do they want to move to somewhere else?  Pressure mounts as other players within the market accelerate their growth by moving to other areas of the market. Staying where you are needs to be defended, then the leadership team must be able to defend these strategic decisions.  

That desire to shift should be based not just on a simple aspiration, or the selection of a new MD / CEO to move the brand, but on key factors which will include growth potential within segments of that sector, short-term opportunity analysis of moving compared to staying where you are as well as long-term goals including profitability and sustainability over the a long-term strategic and team culture goals.

Leaders' Biggest Decision

Moving position is not about dropping what you currently do, unless that is redundant within the market, but more about where will the business will be over time. Deciding where make prioritisation of future investments and place resources, including your energy is how businesses naturally migrate. Dramatic events such as Covid where businesses have to overnight pivot their model is the most often need to make complete shifts. Traditional change models are often driven by macro market drivers, (PESTLE) factors most of which are driven in response to consumer demand, reflecting changing preferences or within markets by changing dynamics of a market. 

The big decision for an MD / CEO is where to go from where you are today. That decision starts by answering why where you are today not where you want or need to be tomorrow. For a new leadership team moving the company's position is the reason they have been brought in as shareholders are not happy with the current position in terms of profits, ROI or sustainability. Deciding where to go requires some deep sole searching as well as emerging market opportunities from existing key customers but also in where and what impact emerging trends will make on the business. Dealing with the conflicting pulls and pushes of advice as to where to go, requires detailed analysis and evidence building, so as not to be pulled from pillar to post in strategic thought.


Leading ahead of the curve, or behind the curve.

Moving a business requires a thought process of where is that business sitting today within its market. Is the business ahead or behind the curve? Is the first and most important question to answer.  The gulf between the two is a huge chasm, are you a brand leader or a sector follower. 

What is the curve?

The curve is where a company/brand sits within a market. Any and every market are structured around the technology levels within them. From cars to computers, fashion to furniture, to energy to engineering every sector has its own defined structure. The curve is how customers see a market, and how customers engage with brands along that curve. In effect the curve shows where customers are by their buying behaviour, what they will spend based upon their value perception of each brand. It's why Rolex and Tag Heuer can charge more than Swatch and Timex. Those ahead of the curve invest more in research and their product across their marketing mix than those behind the curve.

Leadership Decision Making on strategically where to compete

This understanding of a market is a strategic issue for leader's to assess, understand and determine where and how they position their company to develop their long-term success. Where to position a company for long-term success is fundamental to the business's success.  Where you sit within a market provides you with a place to defend and an according accessible market presence, it is easy to use an existing cash cow to sell more downstream, it is harder to reposition yourself upstream with a new product as the brand perception is outside comfort or competency  The danger of growing using just cash cows is that it naturally slips the brand down the curve, a dangerous precedent which is hard to stop or reverse. 

Growth curve for leadership strategy

Strategic Curve Positioning

This structure, the normal distribution curve is a line along which every player in the market is mapped by perception as to where they sit. At the far left are the innovators, small technical product/service creators at the cutting edge of the market who develop bespoke new products. While there are always very few of these players (in a mature market) they are vital as the develop the new and innovative products and services the sector is known for. To do this they require the right mix of talent, creative space to succeed and deep pockets to support their innovation development. That makes them small players but with disproportionally  big brand presences and are often funding (owned or in Joint Ventures with main stream players).  

As the curve increases businesses are seen as early adopters, where higher growth companies sit who have developed sufficient market size to stand alone, and who quickly adopt ideas form innovators and take it to the mainstream market. for many people these flagship companies are what determines a market as they reflect the innovation but in a larger scale than then the pure innovators. Typically good at marketing and sales as well as product development these companies can premium price their products and services to the discerning customer who buys the pure value proposition that early adaptors offer.

Early majority companies, play in the mainstream, safe, established with a wider value proposition than the product they bring innovation in once proved. By being a mainstream player the brand USP and value proposition has to be clearer across the entire marketing mix and unlike the earlier sections a wider skillset of people are needed who can identify trends and develop them into the mass market position early on in which those companies operate. 

Late majority companies gather trends and repackage them with lower priced versions of that trend, but bring it to new audiences with enhanced convenience, more support and rely upon mass acceptance using a wide range of marketing mix techniques suitable to their sector.

At the tail end of any sector are the laggards, players in the market who hoover up trends that are now past, but have some lower price or new laggard customer segments who they can resell these products too. Laggard markets can be extremely successful where they extend lifespans of trends to keep them alive by repackaging them to wider, often high value alternative markets. 

Why being ahead of behind the curve matters

Where a new or existing customer, sits on its sector curve is a core strategic issue. A company must play it its competitive advantage, and shifting that takes time and resources to achieve.  The gulf between the front of the curve, the innovators compared to the laggards is huge. Players within the same sector but at significantly different market positions are almost speaking foreign languages to each other and certainly very different cultures.   

Innovator and early adopters will more heavily invested in new products and services while those behind the curve invest significantly less, sometimes very little in products and services.  This reflect sin visual differences in the relative prices they can charge for their comparable products and the timeline with which they bring bring their respective products to market.   

That investment in new products require high investment which is offset by higher profit margins to premium customers, while those further down the curve have to offset lower gross margins with lower costs in product development coupled with larger market segments increasing sales volume and therefore lower costs to come to market. Choosing where to sit 

Strategic Sustainability

Choosing where to position your company is therefore a vital strategic decision to take. The key criteria of a long-term strategic view is essential, where does the company want to compete over the next 5 years, not just to capitalise on next years' opportunity. It takes time, even in agile companies to orientate, become established and achieve positive ROI's and develop a sustainable position within a market.   

This means that strategic positioning defines a leadership's success or failure. Picking the right strategic position is the biggest single decision which a leadership team has to undertake, it will determine what your business future looks like, determining your business model through to defining your long-term success.

Getting your strategy right.

Strategic planning is the most reliable way to develop a sustainable and successful market position. Evaluating all options, stakeholder and shareholder needs aligned to the current and future market opportunities and risks. It also focuses leaders on setting their goals and aspirations in context with those key factors aligning the whole business with a focus and shared direction to take. 

For leaders to lead they must be going someone and that requires them to make the big decisions, but make them strategically not tactically.

Friday 11 June 2021

Did you and your business Pivot, Furlough, Hibernate of Fold during Covid19?

Business Leaders Did you and your business Pivot, Furlough, Hibernate of Fold during Covid-19?

Everything is easy in hindsight. 

In history everything is clear and simple, some would say obvious to the point where the reader is left thinking what was all the fuss about. Well off course Britain would be on the winning side at the end of World War 2! How could they not be with the Americans and the free world all supporting them against a deranged megalomaniac.
  • Except that in 1939 after the collapse of France that was not the perception. 
  • The rescue of The British Army of the beaches of Dunkirk that was not the perception.
  • At the beginning of the Battle of Britain that was not the perception.

History is only in Hindsight

History of anything only tells you want happened from the view point of hindsight, that 20 / 20 vision in which all things are clear, simple and obvious.  For those who lived through those difficult times would have seen the debate first hand things would have looked very different. Requiring difficult decisions against conflicting advice to be made with uncertain outcomes from each step they took. When things are tough its easy for leaders to say dig-in, but the real challenge for all leaders is not just when its tough, but when we are in the unknown and it's tough. That's when leaders will show their true colours in leadership.

Leadership skills by Richard Gourlay leadership consultant, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, #UK

The Covid19 era, March to July 2020 is one of those occasions. In January and February we saw a disease far away causing small problems. Like a huge wave approaching a calm beach, we stand and look not realising its impact upon us until it is too late.

Shock and Horror 

When it hit us in the west at first we stood in disbelief, a pandemic had arrived. Some seemed oblivious to it. The daily commute did not change, the polite conversations were around isn't a shame. Then came the realisation phase that a pandemic was like the black death or the Spanish Flu (which was not Spanish at all, just before anyone things it was, it came from the USA). Having seen the initial impact of Covid19, overwhelm northern Italy then came the sobering understanding that this was now everywhere and we all had to change our behaviours.

Leaders look for Certainty 

Few leadership teams had prepared their risk model to include pandemic (despite Bill Gates's 2015 TED talk forecast). They had in their risk model locker room, Millennium bug (2000), Terrorist Attack (2001) and financial crash (2008), and so had contingency planning in place for those such activities, but not for a pandemic. This meant that for many, form politicians, to health professionals down to business leaders they were stepping into the unknown and with no experience of anything like it. The Black Death and Spanish Flu being too long ago to fit with modern economic thinking.

For business leaders this pandemic has (and is) outside the playbook. There is no this is how we deal with this one, turn to page 101.  The response of business leaders has been a real eye-opener for us all, and if you worked in a company how your company reacted tells you a lot more than you might expect about the leadership within your company.  

Many carried on as if nothing was happening until told to stop. Others ran for the hills (Caribbean or such like) to find shelter leaving their underlings to hold the fort. Some froze, some panicked, some just buried their heads and carried on until told to stop, while a few saw the wave before it hit and changed their business not only to survive but for some to thrive during the pandemic.

Leaders Speed in Response 

The speed with which businesses leaders responded to imminent arrival of Covid19 depended upon several factors, but being a unknown meant everyone started on the Back-foot. Those financially over-stretched or totally depended upon current markets were left with fewer options, so closing or furloughing were their only realistic options.  Airlines, pure retail shops, pubs and event businesses immediately went into total hibernation.

Many will have to wait until their market re-opens for they can be brought back and their leadership teams are left modelling how do we re-emerge and what world are we likely to re-emerge into? The new normal, won't be normal, instead we are most likely to see  paradigm shift has occurred in every market. As Barclays and Twitter have already identified, why do we need offices if our people can work better at home? Technology, lifestyle and the customer prefers our people to work from home, so why not change the success we are now finding.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, who is going to want to spend money on locked-in white elephant buildings, when they have learnt how to work remotely, butting the 2 to 3 hours commuting to zero. Why go back if you don't need to. The agile and flexible business models are where people want to be. Technology has made the shift happen and while people want to be part of a physical team they will not be doing that 5 days a week.    

Opportunity is there if you look for it.

For many business leaders there is always opportunity if you look for it, and I don't mean toilet roll manufacturers.  There are many businesses which pivoted, some overnight, some took longer. From making medical PPE, to pubs doing takeouts and some becoming pure mobile pubs, the rate of change, the pivot has been impressive to see how quickly leaders have responded to the adversity and looked for and seized the opportunity.    

The people who looked and worked out how to survive in the short term also have the first mover advantage in developing their model for the future.  If you can be agile then you can adapt quicker. Huge potential markets for loungewear have opened up. The home group exercise market (think Joe Wicks and Davina McCall), and the clothing, and paraphernalia around these areas are seeing huge growth.  

Change has happened, it was not just a short nightmare

As individuals, families, communities and businesses all adapt to what some have called the new normal, or bounced back as their channels to market have reopened, the requirement for leaders is not to just go back to what's there before. The world has changed for good. It will not be life as before it will all be new. It might look the same and even feel the same (with facemarks), but this pandemic has accelerated, magnified and accelerated changes that were happening. 

Shops did not just suddenly stop trading, they were already struggling to deal with market changes, Covid just accelerated that change. Restaurants that have not adapted were unlikely to adapt to changing demand patterns of home eating which Just eat etc have developed. Change is always happening sometimes we see it, once it becomes mainstream, but change is always with us. 

Covid has accelerated and magnified those changes that were happening. from home working, which was 14% before the lockdown is likely to stay either as a permanent move, or become part of a shorter office working week for many, some believe that over 60% of people will not come back. Major companies such as Twitter and Barclays are not planning for everyone to ever return.         

Covid has (and is) a step change Prepare for it.

For leaders of any business, they need to understand that there is no new normal, only a new way of working. Now is the time to make step changes to keep up with changes as they impact upon your longterm future. Your business plans for 2021 onwards need to reflect the world we are likely to operate within towards 2025, not the world in 2019.

Build your model for tomorrow built upon what you can see and feel today, not what happened last year.  For many 2025 is here now and the landscape they have come back to has changed, a step-change forward in many markets. Home delivery for example is now the normal, as is working from home. For many why go back is a reality and for many businesses, not being tied to high cost, high profile HQ, when you can run a global business without the cost. Retail is a changed landscape, many aren't there any more, bye bye Debenhams etc, and demand has gone online for affordable retailing. This is just the tip of the iceberg of change, so leaders must look at the real business landscape they will be operating within.      

Learn more at and learn how Richard Gourlay supports leaders grow and develop their skills though his online mentoring support. 

Monday 7 June 2021

How to STOP Pointless Meetings

How to STOP pointless meetings 

If I were about to walk into a lamp post, what advice would you give me? I imagine…
And you'd be right.  Why would anyone keep going on a path which was only going to get more painful?
Which brings me onto meetings…
Some of those meeting you attend will be pointless, useless and mind-numbing wastes of time. To keep going on this path will only make things more painful. Meetings are often seen as an essential element of working in a company or organisation, but why are they so prevalent in todays' working environment. 
And, by this, I mean meetings that…
  • Add nothing to the business – then stop having them
  • Add nothing to you – then stop attending them
  • Include people who can't contribute – then stop inviting them
  • Substitute discussion for decision-making – stop them being an excuse for inaction
  • Are too long – stop putting an hour if you don’t need it, if it can be done in 5 minutes
  • Always start late – stop starting them late! It's disrespectful of everyone's time
  • Nobody has done the prep for – stop the meeting, and say you’ll re-convene when people have done the necessary pre-work. Anything else will waste everyone's time
Sounds easy, but it is not. People often see this type of advice as challenging how companies operate, breaking the  Comfort Zone is often seen as tacking a great taboo. Meetings are seen as a management function, a control mechanism, and above all as a core element of business communication. Meetings are often a default mechanism, rather than a productive communication tool. Habits are difficult to break, the key challenge in breaking them is how to replace them with mass physical (of Zoom) communication with something that looks familiar and is seen to engage (even if it does not) with all levels of the organisation.   
Classically a senior manager calls the meeting, runs the meeting, talks the entire meeting and looks for nodding heads, produces the meeting minutes and tells other senior management that it was successful. Engagement is self-certificated self-rewarding and there is often no understanding of its real impact upon the other attendees.

Action point

List the bullet points above.
And how many of them happened and impacted upon you?  Definitely more than none!
Identify better ways of communicating with your colleagues and make a plan to try these to replace pointless meetings. 

Thursday 18 February 2021

What Will Business Look Like After Covid19?

What will Business Look Like After Covid 19?

As we've reach the point where we have been living with (or locked down by) Covid 19 for a year it is difficult to remember what impact the pandemic has had on all of us. We have become conditioned to living in lockdown. What started as a novelty, the no commute working lifestyle of Zoom and Teams, became a slight inconvenience, then a limiting way fo life. 

Business post Covid19 bounce back, strategic advice from Richard Gourlay strategy Consultant, #dumfries and #Galloway, #Scotland, #Uk.

I've been working with people across multiple business sectors, from public sector to senior leaders in both PLC and SME leaders throughout, supporting them through the unforeseeable pandemic challenges.  As governments clumsy responded to the emerging pandemic, so business tried to keep everything running as normal as possible throughout the turbulence. 

Business leaders like stability, normality and predictability, it lets leaders work within the known parameters of a market and deliver results accordingly.  So uncertainty creates a whole series of challenges for business leaders depending upon their sector. Some where shut down over night, others were not immediately affected at all, but most fell somewhere in-between left to pulled back to a survival model or  tried to pivot into this new market reality. 

Uncertainty unsettled all. Every basic business assumption overnight was challenged. Leaders were left with shifting foundations of their business. What was solid and certain, became quicksand and uncertain. Were order books valid? Were orders still able to be honoured or delivered? Where had customers (b2B and B2C) gone? Confidence took a hit and business assumptions evaporated.  

The debate and planning for Brexit had taken years of analysis and scenario planning across every business sector, while many businesses had no time to plan their response to the Covid pandemic. We watched what was happening in Wuhan and elsewhere for months without fully understanding its impact on our business environment. 

Covid 19 Impact

UK business was suddenly trying to deal with the complete unknown, and even worse than that, ever changing business scenarios. From complete shutdown and furlough staff, to the yoyo open, shut, partly open and shut again, through to the carry-on your essential workers, to adapt and onto expand as you are now the future.  

Many sectors such as travel companies have shut down (nearly full hibernation), the high street (bricks only) through to events and leisure sector. These casualties of the pandemic are now about to reopen as the vaccine reaches the tipping point, but are they opening just as they shut, or will they have seen the shift in the market. The Government may provide a prime pump investment to kick open these markets (and significant pent-up demand and money exists), but will it be 'business-as-usual' or will the real shift be understood by these sectors? 

Other business sectors which has operated and thrived (yes there are sectors which have seen significant growth from home improvement, builders, home deliver and technology companies) who have seen exponential growth such as those involved in every aspect of lockdown Britain. 

Business did not stopped, but it has changed and here is what we know so far.

There's No Going Back To Normal after Covid19

The impact of Covid has been to jump the economy 5 years forward from its natural evolution for nearly every sector, and for some that could well be 10+ years forward.  That's not an evolutionary move forward but huge leap forward throughout society and one that it will not step back from. This is described as a paradigm shift within a market. In the same way a the iPhone changed the world of mobile communication so Covid19 has changed the business world forever. 

As we unlock post covid, many voices just want to get back to normal, book holidays, get back to the office and reopen the high street. These leaders voices are those who have not seen (or refuse to believe any change has happened). The reality is that while a semblance of what was normal may be seen (Government money often puts a short-term smokescreen over reality), in reality each of those markets has irreconcilable changed.        

Will the high street simply return once the lockdown ends? This is unlikely as much of it has been mothballed, some of it permanently, but the impact of a year of lockdowns has changed how society looks at shopping. The customer and business has changed, what and how people shop. Home delivery is now the normal for many people and the sector has changed. Why would it change back?  While segments of the population like the old shopping experience, the high street is not there to support it. It has been replaced by pure online / home delivery coupled with click-and-collect services.  The large format stores have shut up shop permanently or reinvented themselves as online retailers. 

The high street is not just mothballed but has jumped forward. Home delivery of fast food now dominates the market. For example Cinema's once the preserve of the new blockbuster release, must now compete with straight to home services form Netflix, Apple, Now (etc) services.  Huge investments by vertically aligned providers supported by the customer who have upgraded their home cinema experience and new infrastructure of 5G  (and 6G on the horizon). With home delivery of food and drink (you can order anything by Uber/Deliveroo (etc), why go out?     

So this is not a short-term hiatus between the norms, which normal can bounce back from, this is a complete paradigm shift across the entire business world. Let me explain why.


In any market the macro factors which drive the market are defined within the PESTLE assessment of macro drivers.  PESTLE (Political, Economic, Social, Technology, Legal and Environmental impacts) a good as any model to summarise this, defines changes and their impact upon a market. A pandemic does not just impact on one factor for a short period time. A fuel shortage does make people sell their cars, but not needing commuting cars, city centre offices, business HQ's or regional offices through to high street shops, mean that the business world has changed forever.   

What governments' have done to insulate this change through bounce-back loans, furlough payments, tax breaks and deferred loans, will soften the impact, but will not be able stop the change for the normal to return, but soften the rate of change for a new normal to emerge with the least impact that any society can afford. The impact fo Covid is not just on one element of a the PESTLE analysis, but on every aspect of the macro environment within which any business operates. Learn more at: PESTLE

People's behaviours have irreconcilable changed. Let me start with just one simple example: Work From Home will become the normal, it was on a growth curve, now it will be the expected normal for a workplace.  Why commute to an office, if people do not need to?  People are more productive working from home and provide lower costs to the company and less commuting will means that while the office is still needed, it is now somewhere to connect with the team, it is not the place to actually do the work.  

If people are not going to work then the commuter travel, parking, petrol stations, work fast food outlets, shops and support services are all redundant. While some can pivot, the fast food outlet can joint the Just East home delivery network, others such as the large format high street shops designed for high footfall cannot. The later high street features were slowly dying as pure shopping moved online through Amazon home delivery, this shift will mean that the high street will need to look very different.         

Our towns and cities can become something else. Somewhere where people can connect with society, but not somewhere people need to be 5 days a week.  PESTLE macro market factors cannot be ignored by business. PESTLE factors drive markets and create growth.

Where's the Growth?

For business owners in every market sector even those which have successfully pivoted so far, this shift is only the start of this unknown and unchartered new world. Change in business is usually seen at the edges, with a paradigm shift, the whole world shifts, except for the laggards (who just complain louder). 

Looking for growth is therefore a real challenge. Leaders cannot just look to their innovator or early adopter customers, but need to recognise that everything has shifted, new players, substitute products and services and whole markets have sifted overnight. 

The first thing for leader's to recognise is that the people have not gone away, they still exist, and so do their needs and expectations. They have been moving house, upgrading their homes and becoming more self-sufficient at unprecedented rates.  Customers still have needs and wants, it will simply not be the business suit.  Growth will come as the vaccine rollout takes effect, but will companies be ready for tomorrow's growth opportunities. 

The First Bounce of change is happening now across all sectors as a result from the Covid paradigm shift. The growth in markets from house sales, home building is just the tip of the iceberg off the growth that will come from this shift. As change happens so clarity fo the change will be seen and Second Bounce growth will also happen, as new and emerging markets become established and begin to shift into profitable volume.  

Looking for growth from historic analysis will be challenging for business owners. Paradigm shifts require owners to look for horizontal parallel examples rather than linear historical analysis.  Is Covid19 more the the arrival of the internet to a sector rather than your business performance over the last 5 years?   

Uncertainty is the New Reality 

Now is an excellent time to review your business model. We know that markets will open up, but what they open up looking like is not yet certain. For some markets such as tourism (in hibernation during the pandemic) knows that people want to go on holiday and that delayed and latent demand will enable an immediate short-term bounce-back of this sector as people will still want to travel (and probably more than ever before).  

The longer term effect of change for travel will have several major long-term impacts. Business travel will certainly change, why travel around the world when you can click a button and connect to them through Teams?  Couple the introduction fo 5G and the move to SaaS delivery of many services and suddenly established travel models will need to be redefined. Couple all of those factors with people's rapidly growing awareness about the environmental damage which long-haul flights have on their carbon footprint and suddenly safe assumed business models, may not be any more. 

This is true for many markets, every market has become uncertain.  But do remember that uncertainty is always an opportunity for the entrepreneur. It's the entrepreneur leadership mindset, between fixed and growth, do you see the opportunity or see change as a threat?  

Two mindsets by Richard Gourlay business strategy consultant, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, UK, GB

Strategic Planning Workshop

Strategic planning enables leaders to review and plan out where they are going and how how they will compete and succeed within their chosen market(s).

Looking for direction, focus and an action plan to deliver success? 

Like to review your business strategy, find growth and develop a growth mindset and look for growth and plan where you re going and where, then why not look at our Strategic Planning Workshop  to support you redefine your market.

Learn more see our other blog posts or see my website for support leaders grow and develop their business at

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Working ON Your Business NOT IN Your Business

Working ON Your Business not IN Your Business

The pressure on directors and leaders to be not only great role models but also to be involved in every aspect of the business is relentless. But successful leaders in any sector, no matter their personality or background, can't be everywhere and know everything. Those that try quickly suffer from stress and burnout. Trying to be everything to everyone is exhausting and futile.

Successful leaders have the ability to focus ON their business rather than IN their business. What that means in reality is that they do not loose sight of their most important role, that of leading their people and organisation. Here are some of reasons why directors get sucked into their business so easily, and what to do about it. 

Working On your business is key for successful leadership, leadership consultant, #dumfries and #galloway, #scotland

Directors: Being Pulled from Pillar to Post

The urge for directors to jump in to your business as the chief fire-fighter or executive management is the most natural reaction any director or owner has when it is under pressure to demonstrate their leadership. 'Keep calm I'm in charge' is the key message leaders want to portray. That position of fire-fighter extraordinaire (superman without the lycra) the man (mainly) who can, is a powerful pull to keep leaders hands on, but its also one main reason why companies don't succeed.   

Directing is what a business expects directors to do in demonstrating their leadership skills. From making the big decisions through to setting an outstanding example to others, the pressure is always on to be seen be in the control and to be the ultimate arbitrator of problem solving. The problem is that while firefighting looks and feels vitally important, spending time working out why things have gone wrong is actually what is ultimately important, and what we directors should be investing our time and energies on solving.   

The hardest task in doing the right thing as a leader is to know how and when to stand back and not get drawn into the day-to-day stuff in any business. By ensure they stay directing, not doing, and making the future happens successfully. It's always easier to pick up someone else's ringing phone rather than educate them to do do it.  But in doing so you've just become a firefighter rather than a director directing. Successful leaders have to learn how to stand back and understand what is happening and why. They must learn that their actions in directing people lead to the results they can see. To change their people's behaviour which leads to a change their activity and outcomes requires leaders to change their behaviours first.

Being a director is an official role, often a badge of great success and a role of not only legal significance but also as a role model of leadership. Leadership, the act of leading is about directing others towards an agreed shared goal, and that is where leaders deliver results. Leadership is a action, an interaction in how leaders support and serve their people, not a title but a series of actions which impact upon others.

The best leaders are the not the ones people see, but like great teams, from sports teams to kitchen chefs, where everything happens as if by magic and no-one can see how it is done. But like a great orchestra everyone knows their place, their role and how they contribute to the overall success of the business. 

Work: ON it! Not IN it!

Working ON the business, deciding where the organisation is going and why rather than IN, getting stuff done, is where people really see the value of an effective leader. That requires leaders to focus on both where they are going as well as how they a business is operating in getting to that destination. 

The biggest mistake leaders can make is wanting to be seen to be busy in the business. Being seen as doing something within the company process, directly adding to the value chain, while it is being seen can lead to the leadership looking sight of its real role, that of leading not working in. Being a 'hands on' person is one of the classic perceptions which people inside a company feel they need to deliver to be valued. 

While stepping in to pacesetter is a good tool, it most often pulls directors out of their role and means they become a boss not a leader.

Leaders define the business strategy of their organisation, #richard gourlay leadership consultant, #Dumfries and #Galloway, #Scotland

Directors Need to Be Seen to Lead

I've just worked with an advanced manufacturing client to develop an operations director who said in response to my suggestion: "I can't be seen to sit down and read how to do something new, I have to be busy doing something so all my people can see me working hard." This classic trap, of having everyone working IN their business leaves no-one working ON their business. It's an example of the classic challenge for leadership of being seen and being seen to be busy.

Being seen and involved in everything is part of being in charge, and able to offer advice, make decisions and drive people towards their objectives. The effect of having to be always seen is that directors have to be first to arrive and last to leave, draining the batteries of many directors particularly in rapidly changing companies.

Where being seen becomes the culture of leadership, suddenly everything has to be run past them which leads to vertical management structures, creating a lack of empowerment throughout the organisation which results in reduced moral and hierarchy control, putting further pressure on directors and undermining ownership as deference to authority becomes the normal acceptance. This change makes all decision making hierarchical, creating control and in result reducing flexibility to respond to changes, which no-one, the leadership, is now looking out for.

The other common problem with being seen all the time, having your door open at any time is that directors become the only people able to make decisions, resulting in increased pressure on directors to know what is going on. This pull factor into the day-to-day and the politics of micromanagement eats resources and kills innovation.  

Successful leaders understand the importance of being seen effectively in business today is more about communicating when you are available and that you are available to them to provide dedicated support not just being there for people. Being seen therefore in today's business world is about being able to provide quality of time support not just volume of time. Keep your distance from the day-to-day, don't walk all over the management process and respect people's talents to solve problems rather than tell them how to do things.  

Understand the difference between a manager and a leader, to lead people, by Richard Gourlay leadership Consultan, #Dumfries and #Galloway, #Scotland, #UK.

Leaders must 'Know What's Going On'

Directors have to know what's going on.  But the danger is that if you are working in your business as a director, then you can be a bull in a china shop, wildly spinning round treading all over other people, who aren't directors, and their roles.

Directors getting involved in every detail of every process within the business can lead to a culture of  micro-management. Micro-management, where every decision is analysed and scrutinised by directors, not only undermines good employees but often leads to reactionary and damaging over-rullings of effective processes and procedures. Which leads more often than not on the process breaking down.                                                                                                                                              

Knowing the process and how it works is vital for success, but micro-managing processes often lead to confusion on decision-making and the over-ruling of the existing tried and tested process.

What makes successful knowledge of what's going on, is the ability to see the process happening and recognise where it is under-pressure and where it needs resources to deal with the pressure points.

Being able to step back and see what is happening while not being dragged into the process is a vital ingredient for directors to lead from a position of overview knowledge not micro-managing detail, leave that to those who run each section. Let them own their area then they will care about it. Review how people are delivering and working out what support they nee rather than walking all over what they are doing unless things are going seriously wrong is the best behaviour leaders can demonstrate. 

Hidden problems which leaders do not see and how to understand the impact those issues are having on the business performance, by Richard Gourlay Strategy Consultant.

Leaders MUST Lead By Example

'Lead from the front, lead by example,' is first rule of any leadership development course.  But it is also a phrase which is poorly understood, here's why:

'Leading by example' is one of the most commonly misunderstood terms leaders fail to appreciate and causes the biggest mistakes directors make in doing their job. When directors are told to lead by example they look at  the role of the person they are demonstrating their leadership skills to and then they lead them by doing that person's role, not theirs. That 

In doing that person's role they are not leading but replacing that person in doing the role. The result is that in leading by example directors do, but don't lead. Doing someone else's job is not leading or directing it is doing, the trap which anyone can of fall into, particularly when we are busy, under pressure or when we see someone not doing it as they should.

'I'll do it so it gets done,' mentality is the quick fix, but not the right solution. How will they learn unless they do it, not only in theory but day-to-day. The best help you can give someone is to train them how to do a job and ensure that they know why they are doing that job, reward them for doing it and motivate them to do it even better, but don't do it for them (unless you want to swap roles).

If you would like to learn more about how to work on your business as a leader and avoid becoming a leader working n their business, then click here to learn more:

Or click here to see more blogs on google+:

Or click here to see more about us at

Like to learn about Strategy then buy the book: Strategy The Leader's Role by Richard Gourlay 

many thanks


Richard Gourlay, business strategy consultant, Dumfries and Galloway Scotland, UK

Monday 4 November 2019

How to deal with a Toxic Work Culture

How to deal with a Toxic Work Culture


How to Create And Sustain A Positive Workplace Culture

Culture at work and how to improve it by Richard Gourlay #Leadership Consultant, #Castle Douglas,  #Dumfries, #Galloway, #Scotland.

I was working with a new client last week they asked me about how to deal with a poor workplace culture. 

The MD said it had started with a several months ago when he heard a few slights and a couple of individual negative comments between team members Then he looked into it and he saw that this negativity had spread throughout the company, from a minor issue it had exploded into a "real storm in a tea cup." Suddenly everything had become an issue, some people not speaking to other people, or only under duress with backbiting, a general lack of trust and a lowering of morale throughout the whole business.  
He was amazed at how fast this toxic culture had spread and created such a hostile environment in which to work. His first question to me was how do you banish toxic workplaces and foster a positive culture in your business? 

Leadership challenges, how to deal with poor culture by Richard Gourlay Leadership consultant, #Dumfries and #Galloway, #Scotland

Here are some key tips which leaders find as effective ways of resolving toxic cultures.  

Take ownership of the Problem.

Culture starts at the top. It is caused by leaders not leading. Owning the company culture is at the very heart of leadership skills.  That requires leaders to continually feel the pulse of their company culture and not forget that leaders lead people to get results. 

Negative environments need to be resolved by creative mechanisms to hear, take ownership and resolve employees grievances across departments. Identify the relevant real underlying concerns is a vital first stage for leaders to take ownership of the company culture. Leaders need to be seen to be taking charge of the culture and not expecting it to be someone else's responsibility. 

Find the root cause of the problem

Root problems are not usually the people, but situations which drive the wrong behaviours in those people. How those root problems manifest themselves in establishing a negative culture are the symptoms which you can see and feel. Identifying common root causes fostering and driving a toxic culture enables leaders identify and correct their leadership style while developing an appropriate action plan to change the cultural environment and build morale through positive actions.   

Positive action must start from the top. It starts by leaders taking ownership for the current culture. Changing the dialogue at the top, and throughout the organisation, is the first stage of culture change. Change has to start with the leadership, this is the essential part of leading change, but it takes everyone to step up, but do not do it until you have all the staff, particularly senior staff to be fully engaged. 

Staff engagement is the ultimate solution

Ensuring engagement throughout the organisation is the cornerstone to shifting cultures. Not just engaging with department heads and the 'vocally aggrieved.' Staff engagement requires everyone seeing the impact of a toxic culture and how it impacts upon their personal and the whole business performance.  Key to this stage is engagement with the solent majority, not letting the client or directly unaffected duck out of making change happen. 

Don't tell, always sell the solution to the problem. Ensuring that everyone is bought in to change is best achieved when it is the people inside the organisation who come up with solutions, which resolve issues. Moving workloads, skills development, shifting responsibility for outcomes down the line all support culture shifts as it is employees who are driving change, but those actions only happen if people are engaged and understand why those changes will benefit everyone. That ownership and engagement, even the collective recognition of the need for change ensures that you have whole team engagement with your desire to make change happen. 

Make a plan of action

Now you have everyone onside with removing the toxic culture it is now the time to devise a plan. Involve everyone in making a small first step (quick mentality) this promotes engagement, supports action and delivers change. It is in effect a team building exercise ensuring everyone is part of the solution. 

Don't do the hard stuff on day one, build up changes in behaviour you want to see. Start with the end in mind, but don't expect a one day team building exercise to change the culture of an organisation. It could be something as insignificant as instigating a clean desk policy (led by the leadership team) through to supporting a charity event throughout the company. Whatever it is it must be a step together in the right direction, that everyone sees and feels.

Owning behavioural standards 

Once you have the first step forward together, then it is the time to to lead the culture shift. This is where you carry the momentum forward with energy and enthusiasm to shift how the company behaves. How people treat each other is at the heart of a positive cultural shift. That starts and finishes with the leadership team.

Own the behaviour means that leaders have to walk the walk with everyone and show them how to behave both publicly and within private groups. Thinking about the impact a leader wants to make is at the heart of leading culture change. Do as I do is vital in building trust in a new culture.  

What does good culture look like and feel like needs to be clearly experienced. It is not an email or a piece of wall art, but a feeling people experience. Managers need to be managing to the positive culture and recognising in their people good cultures at work, what is called soft skills analysis and measuring that, not just the hard KPI's of department. People falling short must be brought to account immediately, privately and given guidance and support to achieve the behavioural standards that have been established.

Poor management issues in Leadership by Richard Gourlay leadership consultant, #Dumfries and #Galloway, #Scotland

Positive behaviour role models

Identifying champions of change is an exemplary way of driving change. Creating champions within and across departments to take ownership and drive individual initiatives ensures that change can be embedded at a local level. 

Enabling these people to support (not drive) culture change means they need to be recognised as role models in delivering good behaviour. This recognition by everyone to see the positive behaviour standard and measure themselves against it. Leaders need to provide recognition for role models who are leading the change in behaviours within the company. 

This shift is at the heart of driving positive cultures, from the top down, so that effective leadership behaviours cascade down to sub-ordinates and across departments. 

Establish strong company values

A company's core values need not only exist, be seen and lived from the top down.  The fundamental beliefs of any business need to be clearly defined and relatable to everyone's individual role and reflected in their behaviours. That correlation between those core values and people's personal positive behaviours have to connect. 

To make values stick they need to be transparent across an organisation. That requires people to see those values in other people so that they can feel that everyone is living those fundamental values. That shared appreciation of values ensure that they exist in every else's role. 

Company values are the guiding principles that govern how the business operates, an unseen language which everyone shares. Strong values matter, but they need to be more than a lip service or wall art. They need to be lived, re-enforced and therefore owned from the top down. 

Traditionally that meant when people were not following those behaviours they were held to account by their senior management, today that has been reversed so that people self diagnose what the right behaviour and their colleagues guide and re-enforce them.    

Bring those values to life

Living values, bringing them to life every day is something which leaders need to focus on. Leadership teams need to define clear touch points with employees on how can they demonstrate the values they want to see in others. Living company values matters today more than ever before.  

Connecting company values to everyone's role seems an extravagant exercise, but it is an essential investment. Positive cultures have to live within an organisation.  So creating tangible touch points for values brings them to life.

Keeping values alive requires total involvement of employees, in reviewing their living of those values in ensuring they are kept alive.

Measuring what Matters

Removing negative behaviours requires people to measure what matters in culture.  Leaders need to ensure that what they expect the organisation to do does not conflict with but actually compliments those values. 

Often measuring the wrong outcomes means driving the wrong behaviours. Classic errors include bonus payments and other incentives for individual performance which may be detrimental to the company culture. Growth drivers particularly those around sales are often the most damaging to company cultures. 

Measuring what matters requires leaders to focus on the long-term culture and strategy, not the short-term tactical drivers. If leaders focus on short-term tactical goals, it is often at the expense of culture, damaging the long-term success of the business.

Culture has to be measured, how do people feel, how much do people work for each other, is everyone pulling together. It is often the quiet and unsung people who set the tone of how a culture is being lived throughout the organisation. 

Leaders must measure the culture throughout the organisation and ensure that strategies and tactics fit within the cultural framework you have, and how leaders implement new strategies within the positive culture framework you want to have.      

Leadership: the importance of soft skill development

Creating and instilling behavioural standards of what leaders and managers need to demonstrate in every action and interaction is the essential soft skills development leaders need to invest in. Creating clear demonstrable standards of positive culture they need to sustain to ensure that best practice by everyone is driving and supporting that culture. 
Cultural behaviours should also be linked to your appraisal process, so that their role and personal objectives are tied to developing and and supporting others in driving a positive culture.

Like to know more about improving workplace culture then get in touch with Richard here or learn more at

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Do LESS Be MORE As A Leader


Do less be more as a leader by Richard Gourlay #Sheffield leadership development consultant and trainer, mentor and coach.

The Art of Leadership: do less and BE MORE

The challenge for leaders today is that expectations about leaders are so high. They are in charge, and that means that they must know everything that is going on, be able to wave magical wands to fix anything at a drop of a hat and have answers to unforeseen issues. This expectation puts unbelievable pressures on leaders, pulling them into operational doing inside the business rather than leading their business. 

Leaders to stay focused on leading, must therefore member the golden rule that any business is a group of people delivering something. If you want them to succeed then the leader must create the successful conditions for that success to happen. Leaders therefore must design and build the environment for success, and then make it sustainable, so the environment becomes a stable one to continue that success. 

Leaders need to therefore focus on their people leadership skills, not task or output.  

Leadership skills by Richard Gourlay Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland learn how to lead better.

Leadership Vision 

For leaders to lead they must first identify their core purpose in leading, or as Simon Sinek calls their WHY, why are they running this business? What is their vision for their business, which defines them as a leader, who are they, what do they stand for and ultimately what difference do they intend to make. That clear and shared vision drives the purpose and establishes the direction of travel for everyone. Without a clear vision and purpose leaders are often left dealing with internal politics between differing factions pulling the organisation in differing directions. 

Creating balance between work, home and self is an important aspect of leaders. Avoiding being overdriven, having time to think and reflect is vital for leaders to be able to research opportunities, evaluate options and balance their work within their life. Taking on too much, juggling too many competing elements will lead to poor leadership decisions, personal pressures and often leads towards burnout.  Balancing your life is a key skill in being a effective leader.   

Two Key Skills in Stepping Back

The first key skill of all leaders (except the one-man band business) is that you need to make yourself redundant from all operations. This statement often shocks leaders I work with, but if you are in the business you cannot be working on it, and you cannot be leading it effectively. Do less within the business enables you to do more for the business.

If the business can operate fully without you then you can lead it effectively. This means ensuring you are not critical to how it works, from sales to delivery, from operations to overtime you must not be essential. That means empowering your people to run everything, with the autonomy and responsibility to deliver what the customers needs. The more you empower the simpler the business becomes, and the more rewarding it is for its employees. 

Empowering people and letting them fly in their role, frees leaders to walk the floor and see how their people are performing, removing the blockages of the flow (the smoothness of operations) is an important first leadership stage in what is called the servant leadership role. 

The second is in looking at developing people, from praising people for doing a good job, and challenging them to develop their own solutions to their problems. Called safe failing, it is allowing people the freedom to try solutions and see what works rather than having to wait for something to fail before it is escalated up to the leadership. While praising people is a positive human touch skill, challenging people to solve their own problems within safe boundaries is a real leadership skill. It takes trust and a changed mindset to encourage people to try to create solutions rather than always asking what to do.  

Leadership skills delivered by Richard Gourlay, Dumfries and Galloway Scotland.

Challenging people to come up with solutions to improve their role, changes the dynamics of employees perceptions of their leaders. How many solutions have you tried is a great way of suggesting that they have not yet find the right solution, and even better might be to  point someone in the right way by offering them a resource to go to, or providing a mentor to support their development into a solution. 

Leaders work through their people, so how a leader positively influences them is the success of their leadership of that person. Developing a variety of ways to influence people is a key skill of leaders in today's world. having a variety of ways and tools to influence people requires leaders to keep learning how to influence people to drive and support them to do try and do new things. 

Leaders must therefore build an effective management team around them who can deliver that vision. Developing an effective team is vital if a leader is to succeed. 

Leadership Focusing on the Future

Leadership is about being future-focused, hence the requirement to create and sustain your inspiring vision as a leader.  Leaders are always looking forwards, assessing tomorrow's market, where and how it is changing and then engineering the business to exceed within tomorrow's business environment. 

Leaders are visionary architects, focusing on the big picture and the long-term future. It is for others, the management to do the building. Leaders create the problem, here is where we are going and why, now get us there. It is for the managers and Senior Leadership Team  (SLT) to develop the execution.   As your business grows and you have employees it has different needs of you. The proportion of your time spent on doing is likely to need to decrease as the business grows.

Many business owners find it difficult to let go of the control and to pass on the operational doing to others enabling everyone to learn and grow. Letting go means that you are sustainable and thriving in your own role as the leader and are able to create the conditions for others to thrive as your business grows.

When you create the time to lead you are able to stand back from being involved in doing and identify what the business needs to continue to be successful in the future. Thinking about the challenges ahead and orientating the business to take advantage (or avoid) of them is the ultimately role of a leader. 
Stepping up as a leader first requires you to trust yourself and secondly to trust others to deliver instead of doing it all yourself. Doing less and being more is a mindset which leaders must develop. As you build trust in the capability of the person you are empowering and as they become more confident in the task they are being empowered to do, your involvement will become less. This frees you up to grow as a leader and add more value to the business.

Growth Mindset

Having a growth mind-set is key to sustainable leadership. If you and your people don’t continue to grow as the business grows there will come a stage where the business has out grown your capabilities. So making time to be coached and to coach your people so that they develop and grow creating the space for you to grow is vital. 
As a leader you need to take people on the journey with you in such a way that they feel they have played their part and that the outcome is one of mutual success. Carrying people forward is a key part of what makes a leader successful, they must be able to create, share and carry people forward with their vision of where they are going and WHY.  Overcoming stagnation is a major challenge for leaders in shaping the future and making changes to achieve that future.  
Leadership skills are not about being busy but being effective, visible and steering your ship, by Richard Gourlay lbusiness leadership consultant, Galloway Scotland.

Growth is not a single action, a one-moment activity. Leadership requires leaders to continually scan their market for new opportunities then assess them as to their potential for their business in terms of fit and Return On Investment (ROI) compared to other options.  To keep looking is a mindset, not a single action. Working out what an opportunity might look like to a business and if and when it should be researched requires leaders to keep scanning and develop ways of assessing, good fit criteria, cost to undertake and likelihood of success within their market, which comes with experience and by developing systems of assessing good ideas.   
Assessing opportunities requires leaders to develop a robust assessment process that buys in the team to the opportunity from a number of different angles. The growth mindset requires carrying people forward into making change within a company. So if they can see what change those opportunities might mean.   Bringing people with you in assessing an opportunity and modelling up what change will look like, its impact and how different departments and customers might respond. 
Change is emotional. It is often seen as a threat so people go into fight, flight or freeze modes, and many employees will resist change. Your job as a leader is to connect with them at an emotional level and help them to identify their own reasons as to why the change is necessary. Move everyone forward,  not just the laggards, but the whole body forward together, so that they can all see the trajectory that they need to follow.  Your role as a leader is to steer the ship not run round being a busy fool.
So as your business grows are you doing less and being more, if so you maybe on your way to be a successful leader.
Looking for mentoring support by Richard Gourlay then get in touch with Richard today here.

Featured post

Working ON Your Business NOT IN Your Business

Working ON Your Business not IN Your Business The pressure on directors and leaders to be not only great role models but also to be invol...

Most popular posts by Richard Gourlay