30/01/2013

By Robert Craven, Managing Director of The Directors Centre


Jerry runs a lovely professional service firm. To be specific, it is a web design agency. In the past his problem, which he openly admitted, was that he never got that much done. He was Mr. Nice Guy who was a bit of a busy fool — too forgiving, too patient and altogether too nice. His staff, clients and suppliers walked all over him and he didn’t even realise it. He was too busy trying to be on the right side of everyone. In my opinion, he had lost the plot.

To an outsider there was no sense of urgency and no sense of direction. Vitality and passion were nowhere to be seen.

A good dose of economic reality has changed all this; suffering a rather large bad debt due to a client going pop and losing two major clients in the space of one week changed all that.

To pre-empt another meeting that would create yet another ‘To Do’ list that he would fail to complete, we worked together to create what became known as Operation Bish Bash Bosh.

So what was Operation BBB? Essentially it was a series of short, sharp shocks to get him to start running the business rather than letting the business run him. BBB became a manifesto, an aide-memoire, a series of simple rules to enable him to actually do a proper job. In some ways this was an extension of the ‘Not To List’ featured in an earlier article.

The list in no particular order:

Decide and communicate your one single, most compelling over-arching goals for the next 12 months - make sure that everyone knows what it is and everything is measured in relation to how it contributes to the goal

Define what makes the business different from the rest in a maximum of eight words — make sure everyone knows these eight words

Be unreasonable — most people are reasonable and that’s why they only do moderately well

One key important task to complete each day — do nothing till it is complete

Don’t accept low quality/standards - you get known for what you put up with

Don’t encourage artificial harmony — let the team argue then they can regroup and commit

Refuse to work with energy-sappers — only work with people who energise you

Don’t turn up just on time… work in Lombardi Time — insist that you and your team always turns up for meetings at least 10 minutes early, having done all the right preparation; people who don’t turn up early can’t attend!

Don’t attend any meeting that has no clear agenda and timing

Never answer calls from unrecognised callers — get the PA to filter/re-direct all calls

Never email before 10:00hrs or after 16:00hrs - emails scramble your brain and dilute your focus.


These simple rules enabled Jerry to take control of his own time and hence the business. He hadn’t realised that playing it safe, playing within the boundaries, was actually the riskiest of strategies for the business.

Fed up with his former mediocrity he set about transforming the firm. He became a changed man, doing what he was meant to do, designing then growing a remarkable, professional service firm.

The ‘new’ firm was going to measure itself, on a monthly basis, on its ability to do all of the following Tom Peters-esque activities:

• Work on high-value projects

• Work with challenging/pioneer clients

• Deliver ‘wow’/remarkable work, work worth paying for

• Employ hot talent

• Have a proprietary point of view, an ‘ology’

• Have a list of gushing testimonials and endorsements to die for.

Just six weeks later, our gentle man had become an action man, running a team that showed visible improvements in morale, attitude and results.

Yes, one swallow doesn’t make a summer, etc., but Jerry has taken a business that would probably not have survived the economic car crash that everyone is experiencing and given it all it needs to survive and prosper.

And now Jerry can see a time when he works less and has more fun. There will be some casualties on the way and they are in the “high maintenance/low profit” category of staff. A small price to pay. After all, he is now going to be running a business to be proud of.