Some of the brightest lights on the Cheshire business scene have been urged to take time out and plan for an even better future.
Around a dozen winners of previous Cheshire Business Awards were brought together by leading law firm SAS Daniels - sponsors of The Chronicle’s business awards in recent years - for a workshop on strategic thinking.
The workshop lunch event, at Oddfellows in Lower Bridge Street, Chester was opened by Jonathan Whittaker, senior partner at SAS Daniels - whose brainchild it was to celebrate leading businesses across the county and build networking and collaboration among them to help drive on their successes.
De-mystifying business strategy
Mr Whittaker, whose law business operates out of Stockport, Chester, Macclesfield and Congleton, introduced leading strategy expert Andrew Carroll, who went through a series of tips and tools to help past winners understand what they needed to do for build for the future.
Mr Carroll, a Fellow of the Institute of Directors and tutor on the Chartered Director Development Programme, focused on Strategic Change and Organisational Leadership, giving his insight into the “rules” for developing the right strategy for business, and posing the question “Is there a right and a wrong?”.
He told those gathered: “Everybody in this room is probably as much of an expert on strategy as I am - and that is probably the first demystifying note.
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“Strategy is about what is going to happen tomorrow and the day after and the day after that.
“In other words, how can I organise myself, how can I organise my business so it is going to coincide with lots of other unpredictable, uncertain things. And when you phrase it like that (you’ve got to be in London to meet someone tomorrow, so what time do you get there and where do you go) it’s an impossible question.
“But on another level, when you draw in a lot of views, if you draw in people who might actually be your customers and who you are trying to coincide with, then that impossible question - it still is pretty tricky - but it gets narrowed down quite significantly.
“There is no great mystique about being able to predict the future. It’s about thinking and about getting diverse views.”
Think about what made you successful
Mr Carroll offered those present a series of tools and techniques to help them drive forward with their planning, processes, cultures and communications.
He added: “Rather than thinking about what you are doing as a business, think about the process that led to your success.
“In other words why have you been successful? What was it about about the choice of that strategy in the first instance that made for the success of that strategy?
“Was it that you just happened to be in the right place at the right time? Or was there something more about it?
“Be really appreciative of what it is that is your reason for success. It’s one of the things that Warren Buffet the great American investor said. The most successful businesses have got an extraordinary good grasp on what it is that makes them successful.
“So one of the things you might do is ask those questions.”
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He also urged business leaders to concentrate hard on leadership and team-building - cornerstones of success in strategic thinking.
He stressed: “Sustainable, great businesses, it is really important to understand, are those that can create a team - a leadership team - that has got that ability to be cohesive around some common values, very often strategy - the vision, the thing that we really stand for.
“But you need to have the most robust, direct and challenging discussions - where the threats and the opportunities can be really tested within a great, high performance team.
Don’t get yourself boxed in
“How often do we in business feel that we get boxed into a place where we are thinking short term, thinking about supervising management, focusing on performance and budgets and results and capabilities - all very short term and internal.
“The really successful and sustainable businesses are those that can drag themselves out of that. I’m not saying that those things aren’t important - but it is really important to get some kind of processes in your business so that people can be dragged out of the short term, be dragged out of medium term and get into a place to formulate policy embracing purpose, vision, values and culture monitoring environment.
“If you don’t have a clear understanding of what your values are, what your vision is, then every other difficulty starts coming into it. There is so much power to be got from getting that policy right in the first instance.”
Learning lessons President Kennedy had to learn
Mr Carroll explained: “The classic story would be JFK and the classic difference between when he first came into office and the new Democratic regime took over a plan to invade Cuba - the Bay of Pigs. And it was an absolute disaster.
“Kennedy learned from that and he learned that the plan had been there and all the generals were saying ‘go’ and it was that group thing.
“There was no challenge to it at all. It seemed the obvious thing to do and absolutely no challenge whatsoever.
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“Within a couple of years he then handled the Cuban missile crisis absolutely brilliantly. And the way that he described it is that he learned from that first instance and said ‘I want us to have a really strong, challenging process around the cabinet table’.
“Kennedy ultimately had to make the decision - but they had gone through a process where there had been really robust challenging before they made it and it was such a marked contrast between one disaster - and one brilliantly handled crisis.”
SAS Daniels supremo Mr Whittaker wrapped up the workshop and backed up the advice telling those present: “What we have been told today is that you have to spend time outside the normal day to day running of things. You’ve got to understand it takes time - and you have to devote time to it.
“It’s an ongoing process. It takes time.
“And don’t beat yourself up about the fact that you won’t get that answer within two weeks or even three months or six months.
“But when you’ve got an answer, you’ve got to make sure, as Andrew tells us, that you continue to get the right answers.
“What we learn in business is that there are these benchmarks and these principles which can give you that confidence and structure to make the right decisions.
“In business we all need a strategy but how do we get from not having one to there? Well, there are these principles.”
PAST WINNERS PRESENT WERE:
Greg Mulligan, Mulbury Homes (2012)
Richard Lee, Cube Surveys Limited (2013)
Russ Kavanagh, LeanerVerse (2013)
Janice Atlay, Chateau de sable (2014)
Michael Winstanley, The Greener Group (2014)
Gill Murgatroyd, Weaver Vale Housing Trust (2014)
Holly Wood and Alison Webb, New Moon Pub Company (2014)
Bex Hassett, Bexy Boo (2015)
Roz Hill, People Potential Possibilities (2015)
Samuel McGarrigle, Beer Dock (2015)
Naomi Wynn, Staycold Export (2015)