Creating a Culture of Growth: Square Pegs and Round Holes?


Creating Growth from Strong Customer Service

At a recent meeting with a long-standing client, we reflected on recent success and how delighted they are with the growth and progress of their team.

With customer service high on their agenda, many loyal customers and high retention of customers, the business had recruited people with a keen desire to do the very best to satisfy the Customer.

I wrote a post recently which spoke about the power of strong customer service and how this plays a significant part in growing any business.

So, like many small businesses, the opportunity my client faced some 12 months ago was how to take this platform of strong Customer Service and develop strong sustainable growth.

The Challenges We reflected on the challenges we faced when we started the conversation about developing a sales strategy. At that time the business had one genuinely experienced sales person, one of the Directors.

The goal was to develop the sales function within the business and we had looked around the small team of people and saw engineers, admin and finance strengths.

Despite all of them being a real asset to the business, and highly motivated & engaged, none of the team saw themselves as “sales people”.

Perhaps, we needed to look outside the business for our next sales person…. or did we?

The Goal

The business owners decided that the team of people they had with them were so capable, with so much potential, that they wanted to develop them into a highly effective team who all contributed to the sales process and growth.

Every member of the team had some level of interaction and contact with either existing customers and prospective customers and through their role could contribute towards growth.

Our goal was to train, develop, encourage and support the team in contributing to that growth in how they went about their jobs.

The Process

  1. We shared the vision and established goals.
  2. Created a new technical sales role.
  3. Adopted a recruit on attitude, train for skills approach
  4. Identified the right candidate and recruited from within the team.
  5. Put in place a programme of training and coaching support for the new Technical Sales person.
  6. Developed a training programme for the entire team focused on “Building a Culture for Growth”
  7. Developed a reward and recognition system for role contribution to growth.

The Results

  • Ahead of sales and profit forecast; for financial year so far.
  • Increased number of sales opportunities; developed from within the business from every person in every role. From engineers to admin to marketing and finance, everyone contributes.
  • A highly motivated, capable technical sales person; trained, supported and confident in generating new sales opportunities.
  • Customer Service: stronger than ever before

Morale to the Story

Creating a culture of growth requires high levels of engagement amongst your people and teams. Inspiring, visionary Leadership is vital to achieve this.

Managing a change to roles and responsibilities and developing non-sales people to play a part or contribute to the sales process is possible and can be highly effective.

Like the team of people working for my client, we all have the ability to adapt, step outside our comfort zone to develop ourselves and support our colleagues, given the right training and coaching.

The results are clear to be seen when it comes to my client and the culture they have created will benefit every aspect of their business as they continue to grow and recruit new people.

Imagine how your business would develop with everyone in your business powering up your sales engine?

Creating a Culture for Growth: Customer Service as Your Competitive Advantage

Best Service Stamp Shows Top Customer Assistance

You may have read a post from a few weeks ago which highlighted four key factors in creating a workplace culture which would support growth through turbulent economic times. Here, we will consider the power of Customer Service Excellence in driving profitable growth.

I was recently working with a client working in manufacturing on aspects of their strategy which related to quality of work, meeting deadlines and, to use, Quality Management language, how to manage Non-Conformance.

It reminded me of when I started my career in Management in 1995 and the task I faced. To improve contribution to company turnover from an internal sales team.

Where did we start? At the beginning… by strengthening the levels of customer service from the internal sales team.

The Challenge

The number of non-conformance’s which started at the order taking stage from the sales office was significantly high and not improving.

Correcting errors quickly, on the face of it, seemed to demonstrate great customer service.

We experienced the obvious impact on the office and the business of correcting those non-conformance. It was important to identify the root causes and put a plan together to address these and improve quality of work.

The Customer Service Common Denominator

What do we know about people who work in customer service or sales related jobs? They want to do a great job for their customers. Very often their customer is the most important person in their working life.

It’s also true that, in general, businesses and their management team invariably care as deeply about the customer and the service it provides as much as the member of staff.

Taking these fundamental principles, that we all have the same common goals, leading a team of people to improve their error rates was going to be simple. Right?

Reversing a Blame Culture 

We know the term and many of us have experienced this type of workplace culture. Point the finger at someone else and deflect. How do we improve quality when we have a blame culture:

  • Share the Vision: make sure your people know the end goal
  • Transparency & Togetherness: We are all in this together
  • Humility: Practice what you preach
  • Communication & Language… Reduce error rates or Improve Quality?
  • Valuable People or People who are Valued?: personalise your approach, appreciate effort and achievement

The Process

Together the team went about discussing the vision for the future which involved our customers and improving quality.

We set boundaries and codes of conduct for how we communicated any non-conformance and over time became more comfortable with talking openly about our own personal learning opportunities.

We used any non-conformance to share best practice, learn from each other and develop and improve systems and processes which in turn impacted upon other departments.

We engaged with other departments and the customer for every non-conformance to help us and above all we learned together. No one was singled out and the focus was always on customer.

Finally we acknowledged effort and achievement, not with monetary reward but thanks, praise and appreciated. The team felt valued and confident.

The End Result?

A group of individuals became a team who recognised each others strengths, supported each other and excelled in the way they managed quality.

Each person in the team became innovators in their own right, they had a voice, one which was empowered to drive changes which would improve on customer service.

  1. 80% improvement in quality
  2. Consistent & sustained achievement of sales targets
  3. Engaged people who became advocates
  4. Stronger working relationships between departments

Is their a Moral to the Story?

I believe so. That the principles used here, 20 years ago are as valid today as they were then.

That focus on quality of work and ultimately stronger levels of customer service separate you from the competition and will provide a platform for growth.

Imagine your business where your people and teams are contributing towards driving improvements in customer service levels?

Our next post will be a more recent example of how Lancashire business has developed a workplace culture where everyone, from Engineering to Administration to Finance and Marketing staff feel part of the sales engine of the business and contribute towards growth. 

Creating a Culture for Growth:Perspective


Creating a Growth Focused Culture

This post is the first in a series of posts relating to Creating a Culture for Growth. Prompted by today’s result and a reflection on past experiences.

Undoubtedly, today’s result will have implications. We must remind ourselves, however, that the debate on political and economic unions is not a new one.

The fact we are a democratic society and we turned out in numbers to have our say should be embraced by political & business leaders and seen as an opportunity.

Reading one of my previous posts also reminded me of how resilient we are. We manage through change, we not only survive, we come out stronger.

The worst recession most of the working population have experienced didn’t beat business growth. Surely, we won’t let Brexit affect our goals for economic growth. We will find a way to create an opportunity from this.

For business it’s maintaining a focus on creating a Culture for Growth.

Why is Culture so important?

Regardless of the challenges of the economy, recession, uncertain times, the pace of change has quickened. An organisations culture, based on a set of values, can be the one thing that remains constant in an ever changing world.

What do we mean workplace culture? By definition, does it describe “how things are done around here” and the habitual practices of people throughout every level and in every department?

If we agree this is what we mean by workplace culture, then creating a culture where everyone in the business:

  • Is aware of how their role contributes towards growth
  • Acknowledges & embraces the responsibility they have to contribute
  • Understands that the business needs to be agile and flexible and how this impacts on their role
  • Actively takes responsibility for developing strong, collaborative relationships with their colleagues
  • Actively seeks out ways to positively contribute towards the growth of the business

How this impacts on Business Strategy


Visionary leadership, with the ability to connect and communicate with the people at all levels inside and outside of the business, creating united teams is vitally important.

Given that change is inevitable and more frequent, organisations need to be adaptable, agile and flexible and Leaders able to inspire people to follow, giving belief in the strategies.

Operational Effectiveness & Structure

Find the right level of structure for your business. One which allows the business and it’s leaders to be adaptable, flexible and agile during changing times yet lean and efficient at the same time.

Creativity and Innovation

In changing times creativity and innovation is the fuel of business champions.

Create an environment and culture for people to be successful. Communicate with those people who matter the most in your business…. customers and staff.

Develop processes which allow involvement and inclusion of customers and staff in the business in it’s continuous improvement.

People Power

People make any business work. It is widely researched and reported that at least 70% of how your business (and brand) is perceived by your customers and future customers, is based on the experiences they have with your people.

When your people believe in what the Leaders are trying to achieve, have a strong, positive working relationship with their immediate leader and feel they are working in an environment where they can excel and achieve, then your business will achieve regardless of any economic turbulence.

How would we conclude?

Invest wisely through recessions, economic turbulence, changing times, call it what you will.

Invest in yourself as Business Leader. Take time to look at what your business needs from you to be successful.

Invest in communicating with your customer, even more so than you have done before….. and listen.

Invest in talking to your people, support them and give them the tools to do the job you ask of them….. and listen.

Imagine the feeling when you know your team of people are all with you and contributing towards growth, even in the toughest times.

I work with ambitious business owners with a strong will to succeed. It would be great to hear other business owners stories as we go along.

The Most Competitive Market

If you talk to people in business a lot, you will have noticed that being in a competitive market comes up more and more as a reason for many of the stresses, failings and poorly considered decisions in a company. I hear this kind of talk in every sector you can imagine, with each of the people who say it claiming that their sector is in one of the most competitive markets in the UK, and that people outside that sector can’t possibly understand. In hospitality for example, the seasonal nature of the work is cited as a reason for the inevitability of high staff turnover and lack of engagement. Yet some of the best hotels around the world pride themselves on recruiting and retaining the best core staff all year round despite seasonal peaks and troughs…and the service and atmosphere tends to reflect this. So what is the truth?



The North West’s most competitive market…

Here in the North West of England, one of the best examples of a truly competitive market is Manchester’s Curry Mile in Rusholme. With more than 70 South Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants within half a mile, it would be easy for aspiring restaurant owners to avoid the whole situation by thinking that the level of competition is too high. Yet most of those restaurants have been there for many years, even decades, thriving directly next door to other, very similar restaurants selling very similar cuisine from the same regions.

What do you think makes the most popular restaurants stay popular year after year, as new restaurants come and go around them? Why is it that some restaurants are outwardly quite unassuming compared to some of the flashier modern ones, and yet customers flock to them, talk about them, post on social media about them and still describe them as a ‘best kept secret?’

How do businesses continue competing?

The answer is that those restaurants keep quietly doing whatever it is they do best, working to their strengths. Often they are family run businesses with the same senior staff in charge, meaning that service, food and overall experience is consistent. This makes people want to come back again and again despite the competition – they know they want exactly what they are going to get, and the restaurant takes pride in knowing it can deliver.

Let’s be honest, most sectors in business are competitive. This is a fact.

It’s time to take control…

Creating a truly successful company that can weather any storm isn’t about worrying about the competition.It’s about taking control, ownership and responsibility and developing the mind-set of an ambitious business. It’s about looking at the USPs of your business and being willing to invest in developing them and over time, becoming known for them.

The truth is, when a business fails it is the responsibility of the business owner, not the marketplace.
Imagine how much more you could achieve, and how much more motivated you and your staff would be if you could work on controlling the marketplace through establishing competitive advantage rather than blaming poor performance on a crowded market?

When talk of competitive markets becomes the norm and people struggle with fear and negativity, how much less effort are we putting into recruitment, service, engagement and good management practices?

It is important to look at our competitors to keep our understanding of our sector as current as possible…but imagine how much better businesses could be if people put the same energy they put into worrying about the competition into becoming the competition, by working on the things we do best.

Connecting Brand, Strategy and People

So far the conversations that I’ve been having in 2016 seem to revolve around very similar themes; Brand, Strategy and People.

Over the coming months I intend to explore these in more detail one at a time, but right now the interesting conversations seem to be about how these issues overlap.

The New Age of Marketing

There is plenty of research out there suggesting that marketing these days is far more about using the personal relationships of your staff in order to grow your business. Take employee advocacy marketing for example, the concept of using staff social media to increase reach of company messages. This type of marketing relies very much on social proof coming from people and using this influence to attract new customers to your brand.

Furthermore, networking offline has never been more prevalent. The last few years has seen a huge uplift in breakfast meetings, lunch time networking, after work groups all for the purpose of doing business. Once again it’s the importance of the personal brand, this time in offline situations.

The person centric focus on growing business is clearly now a focal point for many organisations and fundamental to a growth strategy.


Allowing staff to speak on behalf of the organisation comes with challenges. Simply allowing people to talk to the whole world on your company’s behalf can result in some quite major issues. I was talking to someone who I regularly collaborate with, discussing the challenges of staff using social media to market the business and some common challenges arose;

What happens for example, when the person you allow to share your posts on social media is also prone to sharing extremist personal views through similar channels?

What happens if the person you are asking to share company information just doesn’t like their job or the company?

Or what about if 9 out of 10 staff are more than happy to engage with social media promotion, but 1 member of the team does not know how to use it? There is a clear risk of isolating someone in the team.

If Marketing through People is important than Engagement is Vital.
As your people become more valuable in getting the company message out then the relationship they have with the company is vital. It’s no good asking someone to speak when they don’t know what to say or how to say it.

Connecting Brand, Strategy and People

As we move further into the 21st century, where organisations are becoming more entrepreneurial in their spirit, and staff are often being tasked with more rounded tasks outside their job role, it’s important that the brand, strategy and people are aligned.

The strategy in place should take into account the people. When it comes to the message of the brand is it enough to tell staff, or do you need to involve staff in creating that message? If they are to breath the company values then they’ll need to be living them as well.

Imagine the benefits to your business when the people who work with you are highly engaged and well trained on how to communicate the values and vision of your business to the world.

As a business owner what are your concerns for 2016, particularly regarding brand, strategy and people? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Personality Tests: When we find Gold what should we do with it?

Photo Credit: Rachel Sapp

Photo Credit: Rachel Sapp


Personality profiling tests are very common these days and many companies are interested in using them to gain a profile of their teams. I’ve spoken before about how self-awareness is one of the most important attributes of leadership but the same can be said for any of us. Having an understanding of who we are and what makes us tick is very important.


For anyone who is unsure of what I’m referring to you may have heard of tests such as the ‘Myers-Briggs Type Indicator’ or the Carl Jung Personality type tests. There are others available too. In Layman’s terms these tests help to become a little more self-aware, understand your social interactions and see where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

Typical outcomes might tell you whether you are an introvert or extrovert, which types of social scenario you feel most comfortable and how you work with others.

The tests are great for individuals and also teams. By understanding your social interactions and those of others you can see quite clearly how to manage different roles within teams to gain maximum performance outcomes.

At the back end of last year I was speaking to staff at one of my client’s companies. Recently all staff had undertaken a personality profiling exercise. “What did you find out?” I asked.

“I’m a red, and all my team are reds pretty much,” was the reply.

“Great, so what did that mean for you guys?” I inquired.

“Not much, we’re all pretty similar.”

This was a strange conversation. I was surprised to hear that the team had all this information and hadn’t done anything with it.

I then spoke to someone else I work with regularly. He’d also undertaken a similar type of test only to find that thereafter the information hadn’t been used in the commercial setting. In fact, what was worse, was that the tests had revealed ‘weaknesses’ for individuals with no advice on how to cope with this information. His test feedback had informed that he took criticism personally.

If we think about how this could impact on the person who was an extremely capable and talented individual. Information like that above given to the a person at the wrong time, or lacking any advice on how to process it, can have a detrimental impact on that person and the organisation. Potentially de-motivated and disconnected from the organisation and their work.

What’s the alternative? Given the right support after this sort of feedback, could have meant weeks and months more of realised potential, and productivity. A positively engaged and high performing member of your team.

Personality and psychometric testing is a great way to help your business advance. It can help planning for the future, for example a talent pipeline, or ensure team projects have the right members. They can be enlightening tools for staff, helping them to identify blind spots and enhance their own performance subsequently. Self-awareness, after all, is the key to improved performance.

Next time you consider using profiling or assessment tools what might we do differently to get the results we intended in the first place? What happens if we don’t?

Lets find Gold and invest it wisely.

2016 New Year Resolutions

Being Goal Focused in Business

Multi-Ethnic Group of People and Imagine Concept

With 2015 becoming a distant memory quickly and as we hurtle into 2016 many of us will have reflected on our achievements in 2015 and also thought about some of the things we didn’t achieve.

I hope that 2016 is going to be the year that you want it to be. Last year I started the year with a blog relating to Adding A Goal Focus and it struck me that we don’t need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to being goal focused. Yet, often knowing what works is the easiest part and putting things into practice becomes the challenge.

Perhaps the most synonymous thing with the new-year is the resolution; those little plans to eat less, exercise more and quit one vice or another. According to research from the University of Scranton in the Journal of Clinical psychology 75% of resolutions make it past week 1 and 46% past 6 months.

Are you surprised by these figures and do they ring true for you?

Despite these statistics, the figures show from this research that there is a certain degree of success for many people who set goals in the shape of resolutions. Those who make New Year resolutions are TEN TIMES more likely to achieve their goals than those who don’t.

In fact, we can probably all think of someone who has lost significant weight, quit smoking or picked up a new hobby all because of a new year’s resolution.

Imagine how we can relate this to our business planning and setting of goals and what lessons can we learn from those who achieve success with their personal New Year Resolutions.

Being Goal Focused 

The thing with resolutions is that quite often they describe something you want to stop, an action for example such as eating, drinking, smoking, or something you want to do more of like socialising, exercising or networking.

From a business perspective resolutions may be, for example, gaining new market share, growing sales of certain products or reduce the amount of customer service issues.

As a Business Coach in Lancashire, I know that the challenge with making resolutions within business is to ensure we align every action with what our brand promises to deliver to our customer. All roads, resolutions or goals need to be linked to the over-riding business purpose. The Vision.

Hand with marker is drawing Action change things on the transparent white board.

In his book, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ Stephen Covey talks about beginning with the end in mind. This is a great place to start when you are thinking about what you want to achieve. Your business started out with a Purpose, a Vision and regardless of the time of year we need to review and assess our Vision for the business.

With that in mind we then start planning our Goals or Objectives for the forthcoming year. If we take the principle that we can achieve TEN TIMES more if we set goals then it makes sense to establish processes in our business to ensure this occurs.

Again, taking some principles from advice for achieving success in our New Year Resolutions (Mental Health Foundation)

  1. Planning. 
    • We all know about being SMART with setting goals or objectives but let’s remember to;
    • Involve and Include. There is creativity and imagination in your people.
    • Set expectations about roles & responsibilities
    • Establish milestones and stepping stone short-term goals for the journey.
    • Plan for obstacles and challenges
  2. Share the Vision and show the Journey
    • Remember, your team will buy in more if they are involved
    • Empower and Engage
    • Create Accountability
  3. Measure 
    • Check where you are and how you are performing against goals
    • Share success and failure with your people and teams.
    • Create a positive team and solutions led culture to handle failures
    • Be prepared to change the way you achieve your goals and objectives.
  4. Reward & Recognition
    • Take opportunities to recognise reaching milestones and short term goals
    • Reward your people and teams as you move closer to your overall goal
  5. Embed process as part of Culture
    • Empower your people to adopt these practices and Inspire like a Leader should.
    • Coach, Mentor and Support as you develop Business Ambassadors

I hope that’s been useful in helping you to consider those goals and put some imagination into your business resolutions for the new-year. If you want to know more about how to embed a goal focused culture within your business then drop me a line for an informal chat about how  I can help.

All the best for a hugely successful 2016.




Beyond Employee Engagement

Dark chalkboard with a Strategy diagram illustration.

As a Business Coach in Lancashire I talk to business owners on a regular basis who know the power of coaching, training and other people development activities. Mandatory training requirements aside, Business Owners and Leaders are keen to invest in themselves and their people to develop the ability to deliver the business performance they need to continue growth and success.

It is becoming more widely understood that many businesses invest in leadership development activities which are ineffective and do not deliver the outcomes which are really needed for the business to flourish and succeed.

A recent HR Magazine article gives some insight into the reasons why. The article highlights that, in many cases, leadership development initiatives are not aligned to business needs or strategy and that inappropriate and ineffective methods are being adopted.

The Impact of the recent Spending Review

Over recent years the financial burden on businesses, small and large, has increased. In many a Boardroom across the nation, discussions on how to “get more from less” continues to be a theme.

So, in light of the recent Spending Review from George Osborne and the cuts to the Business Support budget, how will this affect the mind-set of Business Owners in terms of how they invest in their people in 2016?

The Employee Engagement Question?

For several years the principle of raising and strengthening Engagement levels throughout the workforce has gathered pace. Happy people at work are productive, right? That seems like common or business sense.

It makes the Boardroom conversations more palatable. To think that raising Engagement amongst the workforce is going to create happy and productive teams.

Talking to business leaders it’s clear that we are increasingly aware that engagement is inextricably linked to Leadership behaviours. Training organisations have adapted their initiatives and focused their promised delivered outcomes based on the Employee Engagement theme.

After all, we are told that:

“70% of how our customers and potential customers perceive our business and brand is based on their experience with our people”.

If this is the case, what part does the customer play in how we plan for development initiatives?

So, what challenges does this present?

Given that we will continue to invest in our people with less business support from central government, the question of Return on Investment plays an even more significant part in decision making.

What does this actually mean for businesses for the future?

Are there other real challenges for senior leaders? To look beyond the Employee Engagement as a “buzz-phrase” or a one-stop leadership training solution or a series of surveys and understand how to:

  1. Link Learning to Strategy & establish what the real end goals are when starting any learning & development initiative
  2. Create a Sustainable Culture & embed Employee Engagement as a culture not a project & align with strategic business needs and goals.
  3. Complete the Link to the Customer & connect engagement with advocacy
  4. Measure Effectively & to develop really smart data which will support your sustainability strategy connecting People with Strategy and Brand.

How will you think differently about your people strategy for 2016? I would really like to hear your thoughts.

I’m Paul Aisthorpe, Business Strategy Coach & Trainer specialising in developing people strategies to deliver accelerated & stronger business performance.

Managing Freelance Relationships

collaboration (3)

Managing Freelance Relationships requires Collaboration

Using freelancers is a great way to help grow your business. The nature of the work means you can relieve time pressures by giving certain tasks to a quality freelancer you can trust. For freelancers themselves the nature of work can be very attractive, particularly when managing work/life balance.

However, the freelancer relationship often provides quite a challenge to manage from both a client and service provider point of view. Freelancers often do so because they like freedom and flexibility of picking and choosing their work load. For the client it makes sense to use freelancers for a number of reasons. Sometimes these relationships can break down.

Freelancers are not Staff

The freelancer doesn’t want the same structure in their work life as someone who is a company member of staff. They forego the security of the guaranteed pay check as part of the risk for freelancing. They also often forego the upside benefit of any work they do such as bonuses or income generated by the client for a set fee.

Master/Slave Relationship

One of the strange issues with the freelancer relationship is the fact it is often a very master/slave type of relationship, with little flexibility. If you are in the client’s shoes and you outsource work to a freelancer then you have your expectations as part of the paid for service. If that freelancer was a member of staff then there are all sorts of other factors that come into play such as managing employee well-being, work life balance, job satisfaction and so on in order to strengthen levels of engagement.

Engagement and Quality of Work

When you engage staff on a deeper level we all know it generally results in better outcomes in terms of quality and productivity. In a freelancer relationship, where you outsource work in a mechanical fashion do you risk the upside benefits of getting more from your freelancer by not engaging on a deeper level? If your expectations are set to the lowest common denominator, i.e. here are the specifications of my requirements, then will you only get back what you want and no more?

Using freelancers is beneficial to everyone and as the freelance economy grows then more and more people will benefit from the superb opportunities this way of working brings. At the same time though, as the out sourcing party its worth considering your regular freelance relationships and considering how you can get the most from them. Is it deeper engagement? Is it bonus related payments? As rumours spread that George Osborne intends to clamp down on certain types of freelance relationship how do you think you could make the most of these relationships?

I’d love to hear your thoughts below.


Working as a business growth coach in Lancashire, I spend time with many businesses owners who want sustainable growth. Supporting them in developing leaders and strengthening relationship with their people, customers and suppliers. Please inbox me for more information.