So often we speak of needing more hours in the day and yet there is also the adage of “if you need something doing, ask a busy person!” We moan about it and yet we thrive on it too! I think it is worth reflecting on the issues arising from the daily juggle of multiple projects and the how my business and clients benefit from it.
I am currently working on three projects. I am managing the Local Growth Fund projects for the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership; I am working with Central Bedfordshire Council to gain approval for their ERDF project Innovation Bridge which will deliver innovation to 350 enterprises across 3 LEP areas; and I am working with Innovas to deliver the growth plan for the sports and physical activity sector in Leicester and Leicestershire LEP. This week I have also contributed to the Aldwyck Housing Group Service Delivery Committee where we are grappling with the challenges of upholding customer service in tightening financial times of the social housing sector.
So what are the challenges of this juggling? Keeping abreast of all the issues is a challenge and does need a clear head and some time spent reading up and staying up to speed. I need to ensure quality on all commissions and need to manage time carefully to allow time and attention on all projects. That requires careful diary management, focus and application as well as keeping on top of emails! Taking breaks, family time and exercise is also key to ensuring I stay fresh enough to see the wood for the trees and think strategically and operationally about each activity.
So why do it? Would it not be easier to just do one project at any one time? Possibly but I thrive on the variety and enjoy working with so many different clients who are taking forward exciting initiatives for the benefit of local communities. It also makes business sense as I increase my knowledge, my expertise and reduce the risk of being without opportunities in the future. Each current project brings the potential for further work so it is also part of my marketing plan.
The connectivity is also beneficial. I always have an eye on confidentiality and conflicts of interest but I believe the learning from each project is helpfully shared with my clients so they learn what others are doing and how they are progressing. This best practice sharing is part of my offer to clients. I can connect projects and people and offer some added value to the commission.
Multiple projects allow me to develop and reinforce my own skills – for instance, as I continue to do direct business and stakeholder engagement in Leicestershire, I am providing at financial and output programme management for SEMLEP. I am always learning and strengthening skills.
It is a challenge but that is necessary to reach the a higher level and think what the next steps are for my business. I have a meeting next Thursday to do just that so watch this space for the latest updates on business development and carry on juggling!
At the start of a new year, we all start talking about planning in our professional and often personal lives. It is something many of us intend to do but then put off as it seems too hard. In planning my workload for the next few months and how I aim to achieve my business objectives, I have developed the following guiding principles. Let me know what you think…
- Time – you need quality brain time to review your business and workload – if you work best at 10am then that is the time to act – not when you have done your ‘to do’ list but as the top priority on the ‘to do’ list
- Share your ideas – 2 heads are better than one and a business colleague or associate may be able to offer some sound advice and help you think through your ideas and plans. It is not one for the darkened room!
- Background information – you don’t have to start from scratch and you may have last year’s plan as a basis for this – alternatively there are templates out there for everyone to access. you may need the project and work plans for your workload and need to factor this in from the beginning. Also don’t forget that Easter holiday you have planned!
- Milestones and targets – make sure you set some goals and plan how to celebrate success when you achieve them!
- Stakeholder engagement – who else needs to be involved and with whom does the plan need to fit in? If there are some key changes coming up, then factor those into your planning. Consider local elections and Government reviews if you work with public sector partners.
- Timeframe – you may wish to plan over the next 6 months, a year or longer but focus on the timeframe that is most achievable while remembering the long term plan. It may only be headlines for future years at this stage.
- Taking action – What are you going to do to make this plan happen? Start taking action now and set aside time to bring the plan alive.
- Tell people about it – when you have written it, make one of the actions to tell people about it – your colleagues and associates will support you and hold you to account – this will keep you on the straight and narrow!
As you wrap those presents and seek out the mince pies and mistletoe, what are your five working highlights of the past year? I have chosen these five from the past 12 months.
- Completing 2 maps of business support provision for SEMLEP and Buckinghamshire Business First – 100s of national providers and local schemes have been noted – all helping business grow. Department of Business, Innovation and Skills circulated the report to all the LEPs as a example of good practice. The landscape has already changed and the map will need updating but it is good to understand what is working and where so we can work more effectively in partnership.
- Visiting businesses across Bedfordshire and brokering over 30 capital grant applications and claims. It was great to see so many different businesses and meet so many people working to grow their business, jobs and opportunities. The variety of the Bedfordshire economy was amazing – signal boxes for railways, ice cream makers, craftsmen and hauliers in just a few months.
- Seeing innovation in action with the University of Bedfordshire on Innovation Bridge was exciting as the project came in exceeding the outputs we had forecast. A strong platform for the current bid.
- Continuing to develop other interests in my business – working with colleagues in Local Archives across the South of England was fun and the partnership that project evolved will be one to watch for 2016 – such a positive vibe from the last meeting!
- Finding time for coaching sessions with Bird Table was also a success – setting aside time for reflection and business planning helped me to review my business and re-launch my website in October.
It is a time to look back on the past year and there are always ups and downs but as we reflect on 2015, can you choose your 5 business highlights of the year? I wish you a merry Christmas and peaceful new year!
Which are the best questions to ask to add value? Through Inspiring Partnerships, I am committed to offering a new insight or connection at each meeting. As an external partner, organisations are seeking new insight and expertise from me. The best value from my recent coaching experience with Bird Table is the fellow participants and coach asking me challenging questions. I hope, that in economic development, I offer information and insight but so often the best way to work is to ask the right questions and the staff, within the organisation, are then empowered to find the solutions to their dilemmas and ones that they are best placed to implement.
The trick then is being able to ask the best questions and often that is about having a fresh perspective. It is also about really listening and immersing yourself in the topic and your client’s issues. I am developing some key content to ensure I explore all bases with clients and ask the best suite of questions to provoke thought and new solutions. I’d be keen to have your feedback as the definitive list emerges. The current questions are:
- Engage positively. To have a external partner look at your work is a challenging process and can be uncomfortable. To make the most of the feedback, any officers engaged need to be thinking positively. Recognise the effort that has already been applied, use respect, humour and teamwork to move the content forward.
- Understand the story first – ask the officers to summarise the work so far. The story from their perspective is critical and the element they are aiming to deliver. This gives them the opportunity to share ideas and lead the discussion.
- Always ask open questions – don’t ask questions that require yes or no answers but ask why, how, when will that be delivered? Challenge the participants to think really hard about the activity they are planning.
- Challenge assumptions – how did you reach that conclusion? Can you develop that further? What is the natural conclusion of that? What is the impact?
- Ask, don’t tell! Avoid giving solutions – help the the participants find their own solutions. How can you solve that? What is the first step? Who needs to be involved to move that forward?
- Don’t feel pressure to fill the silence. Thinking time is vital. Let people answer the question and don’t fill the void. The question is a tool to provoke an answer that is owned by the person developing that answer. It may take time.
- The stupid questions are great – they are often the questions that need to be asked. Why do you do that? “Because we always have” comes the answer. It needed to be said but only someone external can say it.
- Being a devil’s advocate is another route? Ask the “what if” questions to really stress test a proposal. If that wasn’t funded, what would happen? If you can only do half of that project, what would you do?
So that’s my 8 tips on questions to get the best value from a discussion. What do you think?
Inspiring Partnerships has a new website! Our focus on enabling sustainable economic growth is sharper and we have three fields of work: research and business case development; project management; and stakeholder engagement. Do have a look at the new site which sets out our business offer and how we work with our clients. Thank you to existing clients for all the testimonials and we are hoping for many more! The logo has changed from bluebells to sunflowers to represent the vibrancy and growth of the business and the outcomes we wish to deliver.
To reach this relaunch has taken months of behind the scenes action and I have not been alone. The purpose of this blog is to celebrate the new website and its potential to grow the business but also to recognise the contributions of others to the process. Without them this website would not be here.
We received great business advice from the local enterprise agency funded by the local authority. They helped me look at the business offer and really clarify what we do best and can develop the best income stream. Geraldine reviewed the business plan and website and acted as a brilliant critical friend – it is much easier to change something when someone tells you what needs to be done! It is also hard to see the wood for the trees in your own business.
I participated in a female business coaching group locally. The coach, Karen, was supportive and her techniques really drew out what I needed to focus on and helped me plan a path for my business. The other ladies attending the group asked challenging questions and forced me to think what I really wanted for myself and my business. We have the next autumn session next week and I’ll be able to go back and say “thanks ladies, I did it!”.
I appointed a wonderful web designer to help me redesign and understand how design and function of the website could help me sell my business online. She also helped me understand what value means in terms of web design. Many of the technically challenged (like me) need honest and trustworthy advice and a ready explanation for things we don’t understand. I got exactly that from Susie.
I recognise now how much business benefits from the advice of other business people who understand our business. I have been privileged to deliver business support but this summer have experienced this for myself. Constructive criticism is key to making progress and I am pleased to present the result of this dialogue in my new website. Let me know what you think….