Tag Archives: management

2 “same same but different” philosophies I use in business & sport


Employing people means you must treat everyone the same but everyone differently.

Ask anyone in business and they’ll tell you employing people is great if you didn’t have to deal with people.

It can be hard work because we are all different with different views, wants, needs and goals.

Ask anyone who has coached junior sport a similar question and you’d get a similar response except that the “different” can be two or three (or more) fold (I’m talking parents, divorcees, grand parents, etc).

Both can be rewarding though and one of the great joys I have is watching the growth in people you coach or employee (yes employing people can be like coaching) over the long term.

In the case of business I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a few companies where I/we have employed people at their start of their career or ready for their next professional challenge.

I’ve always had the philosophy of employing people being a win-win-win (link to post) for the employee-manager-employer where one of the techniques I like is helping to build their resume (link to post) as a way of growing them professionally by seeing it visually.

At DMi we employed quite a few young people who didn’t have much experience but certainly had good attitudes to want to have a go and learn.

I loved coaching them in a way of bring them along the journey and giving them the opportunity to swing high or hang themselves. I challenged them to always improve their resume; that is, improve their value and their resume was a tangible way they could see it.

I love even more to see, over 10 years on, where they are now and it gives me satisfaction knowing that I may have played a part in the base skillset they are using that makes them a valuable commodity to the current business they are working for.

Same deal since I’ve been at carsales; I love seeing those who I have worked with or mentored kicking some goals years after coming into the business.

My philosophy for coaching junior football over many years was to give kids the skills and passion for the game to keep involved over the long term (senior football) as opposed to teaching them skills that a kid can/should practice on their own if they have the desire – this is not too dissimilar to business.

For instance, in my opinion, a more important skill to teach to juniors is not to fall over in a competitive situation rather than kicking on their opposite foot (which they can practice themselves).

Seems pretty simple but go to a junior game of football and hear the parents clap the kids who make an unrealistic attempt to get the ball falling over in the process – “Good effort Johnny” and then “C’mon boys, all try harder like Johnny” – when in fact once they fall over they are out of the contest and can’t win the ball.

These efforts are not good enough as they get older and play higher level football or just senior football no matter what level.

If junior players can grasp this concept early they are not only ahead of the curve they have developed a skill that a) they can’t learn/practice on their own and b) will take them through as senior players, my ultimate goal.

The goal is necessarily not to produce players that will be AFL stars as that is a possible by-product but rather the skills and understanding of the game that will stand up as the competition gets bigger, quicker and better.

So my measure of success and satisfaction out of my junior coaching is to see how many are still playing football beyond the junior years as this is usually a drop off point.

This is a similar measure of success for business.

Yes employing people or coaching kids can be tough but it is the rewarding parts that keeps us doing it.


Equity – Who do you work for?


I have always been one to consider the company I work for as “my company” in a sense that I’ve always treated their money as if it was my own.

This has a little bit of a moral compass about it and not for everyone but hey, we’re all different.

I’ve worked for employers in private and public companies, started my own business which I divested to work for employers again and invested in private businesses as a passive and non-passive shareholder and/or director.

From an ownership sense though, a company can only be your own when you own 100%; the moment you have partners the company is not yours.

I remember a conversation with the owner of a competing business years ago who was insistent that partnerships in business didn’t work and he had to always have 100% of the business so he could do what he wants. Isn’t control good enough?

I put this to a work colleague recently – “You have a business with a few shareholders of which some work in the business and some don’t. If you were one of the working shareholders would you consider that you were working for yourself since you owned the company?”

His answer was “yes” very quickly with the argument that he didn’t care how much percentage he owned of a company, he would consider that he owned the company.

So I put another question to him – “What happens if you as a shareholder don’t work in the business yet the shareholders working in the business decide to purchase a capital item worth $80,000 when the clear written agreement is that any capital item over $10,000 requires unanimous shareholder approval and when you question the process the answer is ‘it is my company and I have this benefit being my own boss’?”

A smile came over his face. “Good point”, he said.

How can you be your own boss with business partners and/or shareholders?

Isn’t your responsibility to all shareholders to follow corporate governance?

What’s stopping you from buying whatever you want with the company’s funds?

Most people going into business want to do so to “be their own boss”. A lot of people do not think about the fact once you have other shareholders you are working for them and that you can only be your own boss when you own 100% of the company.

It should feel good to the passive shareholders that they have partners with “skin in the game” working in the business keeping on top of things.

Either way, I am adamant that unless you do own 100% of a company then you do not “own your own company” and you work for the shareholders.

Having “control” of a company through majority equity or greater then 50% shareholding is a whole other topic; I’ll leave that for another thread as it is/can be a whole new beast.


Football v Career – Actions Defined by Subconscious Thinking


Have you ever thought about your subconscious actions and how they affect the course of your life?

I am amazed at how our subconscious thinking defines our actions; when I think back now to the late 80’s, early 90’s it was my subconscious thinking that drove actions that set the shape of my professional life.
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This was when I commenced my employment with Reynolds & Reynolds in the automotive technology space (the space I am still around today) and played my first AFL Senior season in that same year (VFL back then).

Now looking back, the path that both of those took is a lesson in itself. This is not about me looking back thinking “what if” (maybe a little, sometimes) but more a real lesson in what shapes our beliefs and ultimate actions.

Football
I loved football and still do but it has never been my life nor did I ever set out for it to be my life. I didn’t work hard to play AFL, it just “happened”. One week I was playing local U18 football (no training, out on Friday nights before a game) and the next week I was playing with Richmond U19s, appointed Captain the following season and played my first senior AFL game the year. Yes I did all the hard training including the long pre-season but nothing extra or out of the ordinary (unfortunately). Football was just meant to be fun.
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Technology
Now I compare that with my software development career which kicked off in the same year. Almost from the start I was driven to do more and be better than the other programmers. I quickly got a reputation for not letting something go before it was done. That meant late nights, weekends, etc, going above and beyond, doing the extra work.

Dad always said to me about working to “work hard, be loyal and you’ll get looked after”. Football to me was always short term thinking. Work, my profession, has always been thinking about the long term.

What if I worked my butt off in football to get every bit I could out of myself? What would I be doing now? It might be exactly the same. It might be different. I don’t really care and don’t dwell on it because I made that choice many years ago subconsciously and divided by effort/time accordingly (or maybe I subconsciously knew where my talents really were….).

I still love football and I am still involved today as a Board member of the EFL and through my kids playing. It is and always has been an outlet for me. Would I have loved to have played more senior AFL football? Definitely but not necessarily at the cost of what I’m doing today. Remember too, it wasn’t fully professional back then either and let’s face it, I was never going to be in the elite bracket!

I like to think I’ve “worked hard, been loyal and been looked after” to get to where I am today so I’m pretty happy with my lot and it was my subconscious thinking that defined it for me.

Have you thought about your journey and how you made it to where you are today?


I Survived Business With Family & Friends, You Can To


We’ve all heard it before, “don’t go into business with family or friends”.

Well I mustn’t have read the memo too well because I went into business with family AND friends! Overall the experience has been a positive one for over 10 years now but that’s not to say we all haven’t learnt a few things along the way.

In 2005 I went into business with my best mate when we acquired my father’s small, successful business that he ran with a business partner. They were ready to retire and the proceeds of the sale were to be their superannuation.
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Within months my brother and brother in law entered the business. The three of them were to work in the business and each of them having skin in the game made sense to me as I was to be the only passive shareholder.

The first thing we did was put together a Shareholders Agreement to set some governance and protect our collective interests in the case of an exit (read problem). Of course controlling an exit was an important piece but being the only shareholder not working in the business, I also wanted to ensure I had some comfort around governance, things like:

  • What required unanimous board approval like the cap on a capital expenditure item, cap on services to be agreed to, hiring employees or altering salaries over a dollar amount, etc
  • Setting expectations for directors meetings, forecasts, plans, etc
  • Creating the process and rules for an exit by a shareholder

It is one thing to have a Shareholders Agreement and it is another to adhere to the specifics with friends and family. This is where conflict can occur especially when you are the only one of the shareholders not working in the business.

It can leave you with a choice to make – dig your heels in and make sure it was followed to the letter OR suck it up a little since they are doing a good job, making money and was it really worth jeopardizing relationships with family and friends over? I chose the latter potentially sacrificing some money each year for the bigger picture (for all of us I might add).
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What would I have done differently? The easy answer to this question is “don’t go into business with family and friends” but I don’t look badly at that decision. I should have ensured that every detail of the Shareholders Agreement was followed for the benefit of all of us; after all what was the point of it?

A business needs to be run as a business and when you have multiple shareholders you have responsibilities to each and every shareholder to do the best thing by all. A Shareholders Agreement is constructed to ensure this objective was met and we failed ourselves by not adhering to it all the time.
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Would I do it again? Absolutely!

It’s all a state of mind and anything where more good than bad can come out can’t be a bad thing.


Make Money While You Sleep


I saw a quote from Warren Buffet recently that read “if you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die”.

With Buffet’s background and track record you know that he was most likely referring to investing in businesses via the stock market but it also reminded me of a quote from my Dad that had similar connotations – “you need to find a business with a recurring revenue stream to build on otherwise you will always be limited to the number of hours you can work”.
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He was specifically talking about getting paid an hourly amount to do something. For instance, if you are a plumber and charge by the hour or per job completed, you are limited to the number of hours or jobs you can complete in the day/week/month.

Running a business specializing in road detector loops, he was able to turn his business from purely getting paid per job completed into a monthly recurring revenue business with any work beyond the scope of the contractual requirements a bonus. This gave him scope that was never there previously.

I remember in my early days as a software developer, the goal being to have enough Systems at our clients where the recurring monthly service contracts would cover all fixed costs so that sales were actually profit. Eventually the compound effect of the monthly service contracts would also add to the profitability. This was my first glimpse of what recurring revenue was.
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When we started Digital Motorworks in Australia, obtaining contracts with a guaranteed recurring revenue base was the cornerstone of our business planning. We worked with our clients to find a model where they would guarantee a minimum monthly amount in return for getting exclusivity and/or economies of scale if they secured volume use of our services.

This way if our client failed to sell our services we would have a win in getting a minimum monthly payment. Conversely of the client was able to sell more of our services, there was a tipping point where our profitability per service would be reduced and they would achieve economies of scale benefits for their investment.

The Internet has opened up more and more ways to “make money while you sleep” by allowing to put your goods and services in front of people to transact at all times.
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Whether it be investing in good businesses via the stock market, investing in property or working in a business that is structured around a recurring revenue model, the concept of finding something to make money while you sleep is a very sound one.

Hard to argue with Warren Buffet on anything to do with making money. And I think my father has been pretty successful in his own way to.


Leadership and People – Same, Same But Different


Whether it be in life, sport or business, I think recognising and appreciating that we are all different can give you an advantage over those that don’t.

I’m an avid people watcher; I’m fascinated by the way in which we are all different. I love sitting in a cafe or bar in a different country (as I’m usually on my own) and just watching people. What are they doing there? What are they thinking? Are they on a first or third date? What is their relationship? Married, business, selling to a client? What are they talking about?
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I used to describe coaching senior football clubs as “leading 50 blokes who all need to be treated by the same yet all differently”. This is no different to business. Different people have different drivers, different tolerances, different personalities, etc, etc.

Sounds logical doesn’t it? Why then do we get upset when it appears some people seem to treated differently to others?
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That’s more of a rhetorical question. I do not know the answer but I am sure we can all have our opinions. My opinion is simply that we are all different which is why some get treated differently and why most get upset at this. Confusing?

I believe the answer to managing this from both sides is with the leader. In the case of a football club, the coach must give as much time to players ranked 25-40 as they do to the handful of top players. It is just that the time is/should be spent differently.

The key is transparency. To make a general statement like “anyone who doesn’t train won’t be playing this week” is pretty stupid. Let’s get serious here.

Same in business. Should a leader spruik a culture, not actually live it themselves or worse, allow a few to not live it and expect all others to live it?
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I love the quote “the culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour the leader is willing to tolerate” (Gruenter and Whitaker).

Worse still, what about when it appears the leader(s) are more content to keep a few happy at the expense of many others?

It comes back to transparency and the recognition (or lack thereof) that we are all different, think differently and act differently. It is ok to treat everyone the same but different.


2 Pieces Of Career Advice


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I found a great article recently through a LinkedIn post titled “Is My CareerOn Track At Age 30” which had some significance for me.

When I was in my 20’s the age 30 held something for me. My first goal was a financial one where I was determined to be earning a dollar amount as my base salary by the time I was 30. This was a benchmark for me for whatever reason (I have no idea or good reason for it other than that’s what it was). My second goal was to run my own business.

As I got closer to 30 and not closer to my goals I started to look at what I had to do to get there and beyond.

My father had given me a couple of pieces of advice when I started work:

1) be loyal, work hard and you will be looked after; and

2) if you want to get somewhere you need to do it yourself, take charge
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So it was with hitting 30 and the second piece of my father’s advice that I left my 10.5 year secure employment (where I believe I had been very loyal and hard working) to take the chance on a start-up even though I had to re-mortgage my house with our second child on the way. I am fairly risk adverse and to this day unsure how I managed to take the jump!

As it turned out, within 1 year of starting my business I had achieved the salary level I had set at age 30. I was happy with myself that I had taken affirmative action to achieve both goals.

Fast forward to when I was approaching 40. I had sold my shares in the business I had started and was running the same company for a US based company. Whilst the previous 6 years as CEO had seen good growth with CAGR for Revenue at 31% and EBITDA 24%, I could see the writing on the wall for a decline as our legacy services were being replaced and the investment started we required to reinvent ourselves was drying up.
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I didn’t want to be running a business that wasn’t growing so it was time to be in charge of my own destiny again and start the next chapter of my career. Was it coincidence that this was at 40 when I then joined carsales.com? I don’t think it is a coincidence either that my boss at carsales was my boss for the time I was with Reynolds & Reynolds (see the first piece of advice my father gave me).

Does this mean that over the next few years I need to start looking at my next career change? You never say never and I do have new goals and expectations but given the passion I have for role and the company and given the short, medium & long term goals we have in place, I don’t think so.

I think the two pieces of advice dad gave me are applicable to most; and they can be interpreted in different ways. At the end of the day attitude and aptitude overrides skills and for me, these two things are the essence of what the advice means.


2 Lessons on Diversity


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Ok, I’ll put my hand up to say that until less than a year ago I was ignorant about diversity.

As part of carsales‘ programs, I attended a session called Unconscious Bias. I went in to the session negatively I have to admit because I had been told it was about diversity so I immediately put my unconscious bias hat on (even though I didn’t know I had one).

I was ignorant on two fronts in particular and learnt a lot about them:

1) I had no idea what diversity actually was. What would happen if I had to solve a real world problem and I surrounded myself with people just like me? I’d get answers that would be similar to what I was already thinking. Now what if I had a diverse group of people around me to solve this problem? I’d most likely get a much more diverse discussion with lots of points of views that I would never have thought of and most likely get a better result. Pretty simple philosophy in hindsight. Lesson learnt.
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2) I had no idea what unconscious bias was. Well, it is a bias that we are unaware of, happens automatically and is outside of our control. To get the most out of any situation we are faced with, we need to be aware of the unconscious bias that we have and how it influences what decisions we make. For instance, we were advertising for a job a while ago and had 8 male applicants. HR told me that they’d prefer if I could interview at least one female in the candidate short list. “How can I when only males applied?”, was my call. Our unconscious bias when we penned the job ad lent itself to male applicants. By tweaking the ad (i.e. adding we are an equal opportunity employer) and re-posting, we quickly had a female applicant. Lesson learnt.

And here’s one tip I learnt and I liked which I think has a practical use in the office for everyone:
Get people to write down ideas in brainstorming sessions rather than getting them getting influenced by the first talker. This will give the introverts the chance to show their wares.

Again, pretty simple stuff in hindsight.

Well, it ended up being a fantastic 3 hours as I found enlightening answers and meaning in learning about two of my ignorance’s.


Managing Up Is A Skill Worth Mastering


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I read an interesting article on LinkedIn recently by Dr Travis Bradberry titled Curious Things That Will Kill Your Career. One of the things listed was “Sucking up to your boss” and says “Some people suck up to their boss and call it managing up, but that isn’t the case at all“. I couldn’t agree more!

(A disclaimer before continuing – I do not profess to be an expert in this area, these opinions are purely based on my experience.)

While sucking up to the boss could kill your career, managing up is a skill that most professional people will need to master (in my opinion) to get to the top but not everyone realises the need, know how to go about it and/or really want to go there.
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There is a fine line; spend too much time or not enough time and the result can be the same. You need to be able to do it well; some just don’t get it right and that can also be a career killer. So what do you have to do?

Here’s my two pointers to getting it right:

1. Think about what the boss needs/wants (what’s important for him/her); if you can be the person that is helping your boss achieve what they need/want then you are on the way

2. Keep front and centre; that is communicate regularly in a format your boss enjoys (not what you enjoy), building your relationship with him
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And here’s what to avoid:

1. Trying to achieve the two points above to the detriment of your peers or your boss’ peers

2. Trying to “over-impress”; this isn’t about sucking up, this is about it being all about “me”

Getting to an executive level of a reasonable size company means that you are probably good at at least one of the two pointers to getting it right and usually that would be the first one, after all this about providing value. It’s the second one that is the hard one to get right because to do it properly requires a focus and discipline to make it part of what you do.

Managing up can be pretty simple really but also easy to get wrong. It’s also not a negative and guess what, I reckon if you get the balance right, your boss will like and appreciate it (probably stating the obvious there!).