Author Archives: valerie

About valerie

I work with business owners to help them reinforce their business sustainability . I coach and train professionals working in an international environment or being part of a multinational team.

Creating Value Within Your Organisation.

The Value Of Any Organisation Is In Its Sustainability. A business that cannot survive over the long term has no value.  There are very few organisations which can boast continued success from the day it was launched to the present date. Most organisations had to go through a number of transformations over time to survive. Those who failed to review and adapt, were either bought out or shut down. The most well-known example is Lehman Brothers. The main lesson learnt is size does not matter when it comes to survival.  Economies of scale if they can be achieved, eventually reach a point where they become counterproductive. According to Margaret Heffernan, “we need organisations that are robust, that can survive the vicissitudes of political, social and economic change. Expecting any organisation to be infallible is madness. What we want are organisations that are functional – but can fail safely.”

The belief that size makes you invincible has been disproved again and again. Yet, people continue to believe that there is safety in numbers and that scale commands respect.  Large organisations lead to organisational complexity which makes it difficult for the company to fix itself. The voice of those involved in the operations or having proximity to the market is not heard and they are sometimes discouraged to provide feedback due to the steep hierarchies involved in those organisations.  As a result, changes in the trends of the market are not taken into account in time so that the organisation adopts more of a reactive attitude rather than a proactive attitude.

For smaller organisations, succession planning is a typical challenge faced by most founders. Tackling succession planning at an early stage is recommended if you are looking to leave your business/organisation as part of the legacy for future generations or for society at large. It is challenging to create the right blend of people to succeed to the founder(s). Most owners of SME’s or of small charities would rather continue on their own than invest time, energy and money to building a team that will end up leaving them after a few years or that may not live up to their expectations.

According to Margaret Heffernan, collaboration is hard because so little in our culture trains, rewards or even seems to notice great collaboration. True collaboration is characterized by passionate curiosity, modest confidence and mild obsession. Creativity and innovation is derived from the careful nurturing of relationships and a commitment to the long term. Trust requires constant communication. There is a lot of give and take.  The more power you delegate the more people feel they are empowered and as a result, they take ownership and will not let you down. What we need is to build the structures and processes, the habits and relationships that draw it out and make it grow.

Creativity clearly challenges the status quo and this is how new ideas and concepts emerge. You don’t learn when people tend to agree with you. You actually grow and learn when people challenge your beliefs and your way of doing things. It is then an opportunity for you to make your self assessment and learn from their point of view.  Great leadership is not the result of the efforts of one single individual. It is the ability to acknowledge and integrate the contribution that each person brings to the team.

It is also important to bear in mind that the success enjoyed by most organisations is the result of inspired teams made up of highly collaborative and creative individuals. The CEO or leader of any organisation can be a great visionary and highly charismatic individual but it takes more than that to materialise the inspired vision into a positive contribution to the performance of the organisation or to society at large. The idea that only a great leader can lead an organisation to success is not realistic. There is neither a single hero who can master the complexity of the economic environment nor one single brain who can comprehend the amount of data required to be analysed to make the right strategic decision.

As Margaret Heffernan explains in her book, A Bigger Prize, managing an organisation is not the same as running the 100m sprint where athletes can focus on short term goals to achieve perfection. “A competitive mindset may help you hit achieve tomorrow’s sales target or get through the week’s call sheet but it is a terrible way to manage complex projects over the lifetime of a business”.

Organisations are set up to implement a series of ideas be it for profit or for the greater good of society. Ideas come from people and people provide ideas when they are inspired. People are inspired when they are able to mix work with pleasure. 100% focus on work only creates a tunnel vision that does not have the necessary diversity needed for a human brain to think outside the box. Corporate cultures that encourages their workforce to stay long hours – exceeding 40 hours a week are actually putting a limit to productivity, Research has shown that working long hours for a number of years tend to lead to more mistakes and therefore, more resources spent to clean up the mess.

When the workplace is all about individual performances – the heroic soloist, the team is focused on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies. People are encouraged to “play safe” leading to “people pleasing” attitudes rather than striving for excellence and creativity, stifling innovation – much needed for the sustainability of any organisation. Every person craves for a sense of belonging and connectedness and an environment conducive to collaboration fulfils this very need. Employee loyalty and commitment is not solely linked to financial remuneration but also to the desire to belong to a group which personifies the values that they cherish and uphold as part of their overall identity.

The bigger prize is a creative activity that everyone in the organisation can own. People tend to focus on the bottom line when in truth; it is the implementation of a series of winning ideas that make an organisation thrive. Also, the most successful organisation has an inclusive approach when it comes to ownership. Employees, who have proved their commitment, are invited to be part of the shareholding of the organisation. When you own part of the organisation, you want everyone to be at their best. “When anyone wins, everyone wins”.

The book: “A Bigger Prize by Margaret Heffernan” has been used as reference for the write up of this post.

Managing Your Learning Curve

For the past few decades, the economic landscape has changed with the automation of many manufacturing processes. Online shopping, e books and internet banking has led to the closing of many high street shops/bookshops. Banks have cut down their number of retail outlets. Jobs such as running a printing press and shorthand are obsolete. Concepts such as digital marketing, tech entrepreneurship have emerged and their corresponding skills set are now “in demand”.

To survive in this new world, you cannot possibly be expected to have all the skills and knowledge needed throughout your entire career. Most people have had to adapt to the continuous change in their job requirements over the years. For one to have a successful career, you need to have retained the love of learning and exploration. Progress depends on new ideas and challenging the status quo. Having a creative and courageous mindset and being resilient when making mistakes are important. The ability to accept the unknown and to remember that we always have a choice of turning back and choose another route facilitates your learning curve. Being in touch your emotions allows you to check in with yourself and understand what your learning style is. Learning by doing is one approach. Mind mapping or listening to podcasts are other strategies used for learning.

As part of a team, you can leverage the collective wisdom of the team for your professional development. It is sometimes a good way to fast track your learning curve as each team member can contribute to the pool of knowledge and skills. This is why it is critical to acquire the skill to work within teams. A group of people with different skills set, personality types and life experiences working together allows for divergent thinking – generating as many solutions as possible.

However, not everyone enjoys working in teams and it takes a lot of hard work to be a great team player.  Collaborative skills can be challenging to acquire for a number of people. Groups of people may start as equals at first. Over time, a drift towards inequality of participation emerges with people segmented into roles and ranks: leader, moderator, chronic objector, advancing ideas, etc.

For some people, winning at all costs is what matters. They seek to dominate others and they fail to learn by experience. They are “sociopaths”. Unfortunately winning means that there are losers and focusing on winning dampens creativity as trust, safety and fairness is not part of the equation. An obsession with score keeping constrains thinking and undermines the very innovation it hopes to spark. Sociopaths are unable to change as they don’t see the need to and they tend to have poor judgement of wrongdoing.

People with Asperger Syndrome also have persistent difficulties with social interaction and communication. They process information differently from the “mainstream”. There are a number of strategies that they can use to communicate better. Contrary to a sociopath, someone with Asperger Syndrome can add huge value to a team if they are aware of their personality and have received training to make up for their lack of social skills.

Your learning curve can be fun if you are able to continuously fuel your internal motivation. For example: the energetic desire to make a great contribution or to make the most of what is given to you can facilitate your professional development.

This post has been inspired from the book: “A Bigger Prize” by Margaret Hefferman.

How Does My Dual Cultural Heritage Influence Business Practices?

How Does My Dual Cultural Heritage Influence Business Practices?

There are a number of us living at the cross roads of 2 or 3 cultures. We may have parents of 2 different nationalities and have grown up in a third culture. The most typical example would be that the parents or grand parents migrated to another country and have brought with them their ancestral heritage. Their children or grandchildren grow up with a mixed cultural heritage. Growing up as adults sometimes brings up a few soul searching questions as to who we truly are.

When Eny Osung and I met, our discussions inevitably led to Africa, a passionate subject for both of us as the continent brings up memories that have largely influenced our lives. I have spent a number of years travelling to various parts of Africa for work and Eny was brought up in Nigeria.

I have invited Eny to share with us how his cultural heritage has shaped his life.

How Does My Dual Cultural Heritage Influence Business Practices?

The Oxford Dictionary defines cultures as ‘The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of Ia particular people or society’. Coggins goes further in stating that ‘Culture is the values, attitudes, and ways of doing things that a person brings with them from the particular place where they were brought up as a child. By definition, culturally, I am a confused nomad as I have been brought up in two distinctly different cultures, United Kingdom and Nigeria. Perhaps you may conclude by the end of this post that I am better categorised as ‘culturally schizophrenic’ in my outlook and behaviours.

If asked, I would instinctively answer that I am more a man of rational decision-making based on the situation rather than conforming to any particular pattern of beliefs and behaviours. However, writing this post has been a journey of self-discovery, moving from assumptions through the process of analysing and documenting my ideas, approaches and practices in my life today as the owner and managing director of Small Business eMarketing Ltd, a growing digital marketing consultancy that I founded two years ago. I want to know am I quintessentially British or Nigerian in my outlook and behaviours? Am I the product of one dominant cultural influence or perhaps a mixed hybrid version of common beliefs and approaches of the two?

Answers to these questions matter in the context of Investopedia‘s assertion that “Corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviours that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions.

So within the context of being a business owner, the big question is whether the corporate culture I have developed, the way I treat people and run my company, is determined by the British or Nigerian culture? As with any journey of self-discovery, it is impossible to know exactly where I will end up. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the conclusion is that I am more of a freak than I care to believe.

Let’s start with a brief background of my childhood and how I came to be a British child raised in Nigeria and then living and growing old as a British adult into my now middle age. I will then examine the parts of my life where the evidence of cultural influences is clearly evident before concluding with insight into the effect of my cultural experiences on my business approaches and practices.

Background

That’s me in the middle with sister (front) and uncle (right)

 

My story begins at birth to a pair of academically successful parents (Dad a doctor and mum a professor in a multinational food manufacturer) who moved to the UK in the late 1960s. Their busy work schedule and burning ambition saw my sister and I taken to Nigeria at the age of two and one respectively, to live with our maternal grandparents.

Mum and Dad soon divorced. Mum re-married a British man and started a new family. Inexplicably, she promptly forgot about us two children that were in Nigeria, apparently because we were safe and happy with our Grandparents. We had the good life in Nigeria, living as the privileged first grandchildren to a world-renowned Doctor and village royalty – Granddad owned several hospitals with orphanages for children whose parents were not able to care for them and was also a village Chief with large expansive compounds to boot. We spent our childhood befriending and playing with the children in the orphanages and the servants’ children.

After years of our father begging annually to be given custody of his children to bring back to the UK  we eventually left village life in Nigeria aged 11 (me) and 12 (my sister)  to live in Tooting, South London. Granddad would go on to be Nigeria’s Secretary of State for Health soon after we left the country. To our dismay, coming back to the UK soon saw the three of us living in one room in a Bed & Breakfast Hotel in posh Wimbledon Village. Spending the remainder of our childhood in state care as ‘looked-after’ children cemented this period as the most traumatic we had experienced up to then. My sister and I survived children’s homes and then foster care, before both moving into our accommodation (bedsits) on our 16th birthdays. So ours was a childhood of neglect as babies, followed by living in luxury with a sense of superiority over less-privileged children in Nigeria, to teenage years in the UK living a similar existence to the orphaned children we grew up with in Nigeria. At least we were somewhat prepared for the lifestyle reversal!

A degree and Masters later I have since married a British wife with whom I have three dual heritage children, Crystal, Perry and Kobias.

Identity

I am certainly thankful that my sister and I came back to the UK when we did as I fear the outcome of staying in Nigeria for even one more year and the difficulty that would have presented in my efforts to re-integrate into British society.

Looking back, I always identified myself as British even when I was a child because I was born in Woolwich, East London and always dreamed of coming back to the UK. In my mind, Nigeria was always going to be a stop-gap in my upbringing. I can admit that in my youth, I used my Britishness to justify my privileged status and lifestyle in my mind. I have often described myself as more British than most other British people because of my good spoken and written English as well as my enjoyment of British foods, values and general way of life.

Cultural influences

Now 30 years on it feels like the right time to reflect with eyes wide-open. Am I am more British or Nigerian in my outlook, beliefs and business practices?

Without a doubt, my childhood in Nigeria plays a large part in many things I enjoy and who I am. However, as I intimated earlier, I would like to think that my life experiences both in the UK and Nigeria define me in equal measure for reasons that I will outline in the remainder of this post. Let’s look at the evidence

Personal life

On a personal level, my upbringing in both Benin City and London has affected these areas of my life:

 

The Benz

Any Nigerian worth their salt is judged on one fact only: owning a Mercedes – it doesn’t matter how old or the condition of one’s Merc as long as you drive the car with that star on the bonnet. To paint a picture, Granddad only ever drove or travelled in his Mercedes. Furthermore, one of my uncles, Vasco was a very wealthy man who owned every Mercedes model from the two-door to the jeep, all gold-coloured, obviously. Yes, he had them all parked in his heavily protected garages every evening.

I can safely say that I achieved this Nigerian goal in my late 30s when I bought my Mercedes E240 Avantgarde. Now my quest for driving heaven has been satisfied, although admittedly, I break out in a cold sweat at the thought of what my next car should be – I cannot contemplate driving any other vehicle to make until my dying days.

 

Education 

I grew up with nine uncles and aunts in Nigeria – four doctors, two accountants, one architect and two lawyers. So education was always going to be a priority for the family and I. Learning and getting qualifications was even more of priority given the fact that Nigeria does not have free education at any level, so Granddad had to pay our fees. Furthermore, schooling is Nigeria is essentially a process of learning to pass exams as failure resulted in physical punishment, disapproval of the fee-payer and subsequently staying a year behind your age cohort, which could go on indefinitely. There was a 16-year-old man with disabilities, Elise, the Head servant’s son, who failed the end of year exams so many times and repeated year after year until I caught up with him when I was ten years old, for example.

I have approached and been relatively successful academically in the UK because I brought ambition to succeed academically as well as the skills to pass exams, thankfully. I lived for test and exam days at high school and university, with a little inherent interest in attending classes or the learning process itself. I was even awarded a Professional Doctorate at 21 years of age!

 

Food

While I enjoy tasty fish and chips, Sunday roast, bangers and mash as much as any other British person, I have to admit that I would climb mountains for good old jollof rice and meat stew! Give me a plateful of incredibly slimy okra soup and pounded yam and I will be your friend for life! In fact, I am a sucker for anything with chicken and gizzard stew and rice or yam with cow foot stew (See pictures).

My passion for spicy Nigerian food is so strong that I keep healthy relationships with some Nigerian people for no reasons other than the fact that they are willing to cook my favourite dishes every so often.

 

 

Distrust of government

You’d have to be living in a very deep cave not to have heard about the plague of corruption that is virulent in Nigeria. In fact, David Cameron was recently caught discussing this with the queen. My experience of living in Nigeria is that corruption has and continues to cripple the country. It is endemic at all levels of Nigerian society from the average member of the public right up to government levels. Put simply; you have to pay someone a back-hander to get anything done.

Consider an entrepreneur who wants to open a new petrol station in the oil-rich country, which sounds straightforward, but is nothing of the sort! He would first have to buy the land for the petrol station, which cannot happen until he pays a bribe to the local chief to stave off unwanted attention from the authorities and criminal gangs. A bribe also has to cover the local Police for them to guarantee the safety of the enterprise. The risk includes staff, facilities, products, deliveries and operation. The State Governor obviously has to be paid off to give permission to the business, as does the relevant Secretary of State. Depending on how far the materials have to travel, it is likely that other chiefs, state police and regional officials also want their cut too.

Indeed it is hardly surprising that few people start innovative businesses in Nigeria.

The putrid corruption machine in Nigeria led me to have a deep distrust of government and authority as a child. For better or worse, this distrust is now part of who I am today. The effect is that I can’t bring myself to vote for any government that I believe is not on the side of the average man on the street -not the squeezed middle class but staunchly socialist and firmly on the side of ‘benefit man, wife and children’, even if that bankrupts the country.

 

Parenting

My youngest son can’t help but accept his is partly Nigerian as he has a Nigerian middle name that he happily recites to my delight when asked his name. I have done my best to drum being the Nigerian into my children, spectacularly unsuccessfully in the case of my older twenty-something offspring.

I have deliberately stayed off the over-controlling practices that many Nigerian parents typically exhibit behind closed doors. They include routinely physically chastising children, believing that children should be seen and not heard, and assuming that they know best what is right for their children. The over-zealous parenting does not stop there. Add the dreadful insistence that the children must go to fee-paying private schools in Britain and a ridiculous demand that religious belief must be part of children’s control mechanism and you get the picture of ‘healthy’ love for children in Nigerian culture!

You will see the most Nigerian part of my parenting  in two areas:

 

  1. Good manners

My kids also know that I am a fanatic for manners – that the quickest way to cause a meltdown in the home is to forget to be courteous to anyone older than them. However, a simple ‘hello’ ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’ virtually gives them a free pass to have a joyous day.

 

  1. Ambition and academic effort

Another essential part of my Nigerian identity that my children cannot ignore is my focus on academic effort. Again while I accept individual differences, they know that I will not accept anything less than them trying hard to do well in any academic task. Admittedly this has been a challenge for my two older children. Initially, I sought to make them adopt my values but quickly realised that doing so would require me to be everything I hated about the adults in my life when I was growing up – over-dominant and resorting to corporal punishment at the drop of a hat when they didn’t do things my way. However, it quickly became evident that taking a harsh stance with them was placing an enormous strain on our relationship so for better or worse, I chose to back off and used a light touch parenting technique instead.

 

Religion

One part of my Nigerian heritage that I have sought to leave behind is the irrational religious belief that appears to afflict Nigerians. As a child, I dressed up in my best clothes and went to church with the family every Sunday. I have to admit there was a sense of status turning up in our Mercedes and sitting in our allocated seats; such was my granddad’s influence and status in the community. I also admit that I regularly failed to put all of the money that grandad gave me into the collection bucket. Instead, I would sneak out to the shop to buy sweets/snacks.

My reasoning was simply that the church did not need the money given that the priest had his own Mercedes, a lovely big house and dressed far too smartly for a poor man. As I grew up, I began to see the church as a corrupt organisation that was part of the oppression of the people rather than a force for help and good. Materials I read about things like the slave trade and colonisation of the third world when I got back to England reinforced this belief. The incredible sight I witnessed when I went back to Nigeria as an adult in my early 20 further reinforced my doubts about the church. I saw the entire village trooping off to church several times a day with all of their worldly goods, including food, to give as offerings in exchange for Holy Communion.

The following poster beautifully captures my distrust of the church.

This distrust has fuelled my passionate belief in taking action to achieve anything in life or business. Never will anyone hear me pray to a divine being for anything, much less when things do not go as planned. My belief in taking action is one of the most important things I have actively encouraged in my children. We live by the mantra of self-sufficiency and taking personal responsibility for everything that happens; we never resort to praying or hope for divine intervention. I believe this has a massive impact on our outlook on life in that every day; we strive to be better and achieve more each day.

 

Impact of cultural heritage on business

Picking out discernible cultural-specific business practices is difficult. However, I will highlight three here that are important to me: Business with a conscience, customer service and management.

From as long as I can remember I have always had an entrepreneurial streak in me. My uncles and aunties reminded me that as a little boy, I started a business reselling sweats and food to other children with a huge markup, naturally. My struggle to understand why I am so determined to succeed as a business-owner in my current business was the hardest part of writing this post.

I eventually found the answer many months after I started writing in an article by Bisila Bokoko. It is that “African entrepreneurship is unique and laudable in the fact that at its core, profitability and gain are not bigger than the will to substantially improve living conditions of local communities… providing the impetus for economic growth and social equality.

Here’s how this entrepreneurial mindset plays out in my my digital marketing business.

 

Business with a conscience

Having spent most of my childhood playing with children in the orphanage in Nigeria, it was a stunner to find myself living on the other side as a child in care in the UK. I am enormously grateful to Social Services for actually raising me, regardless of the challenging experiences that go with the care system.  Both of these experiences have resulted in me having deep empathy with people, especially children, who are less fortunate. I turned my back on the typical Nigerian parent’s ambition for their child to be a doctor, accountant or lawyer, much to my father’s annoyance – determined to put right the wrongs of my childhood for children in care and disabled children. In fact, I spent 15 years (most of my adult life) managing Advocacy Services and doing business development roles for the charity until I set up my digital marketing consultancy.

My digital marketing company is motivated in large part by this empathy for those less empowered small businesses and start-ups who are handicapped my market forces in the digital marketplace. Put simply; most consumers are online these days, and if a business is not online, they are as good as finished. However, most local small business owners do not have the expertise to make the Internet work for them. Neither can they afford the exorbitant prices that many professional marketing agencies charge. As a consequence, local small business’ Do-It-Yourself (DIY) marketing typically leads to wasting ridiculous amount of time to stand still or worse still, lose money and sink. The alternative option is no more palatable because it involves spending a king’s ransom that they cannot afford with digital marketing agencies that do the bare minimum and more often than not, does not bring a Return on Investment.

You have to know Rachael’s story to understand what fuels my perspective.

Rachael’s story in brief

  • Child in care
  • Became her advocate at 13 years of age to secure funding for university course in contemporary dance
  • Advocated successfully on her behalf of financing for books, materials, course trips, accommodation on school holidays, etc.
  • Paid Rachael’s’ tuition fees for Masters course
  • Rachael starts company making handmade Union Jack brogues
  • Rachael can’t get buyers despite having a website, mentor and bank loans

The reality is Rachael is not the only entrepreneur with a brilliant idea and products for whom the Internet seems rigged against getting customers online, making a profit and growing their business. The plumber and electrician you know, and the local shop near your home, have the same problem as Rachael. The Digital economy is passing them by while the big businesses with large marketing budgets and teams dominate every sector – do a quick Google search for any area you like and you will see that only large companies appear in the top results!

I am driven to change the equation by providing professional results-driven digital marketing that will enable local small businesses to compete with the market leaders!  The challenge is finding the digital marketing formula that gets sales online consistently and replicating that cost-effectively to clients. My mission is to give 500 businesses the knowledge and services to reach their ideal customers online and get sales by 2020.

The following graphic illustrates the current situation of the company at the time of writing this post, two full years into my mission. 

This graphic is significant in highlighting the reality that the road to achieving our mission is a journey that involves continuous improvement and frequent changes of strategy based on applying the best knowledge and expertise that we have at any particular moment in time.

 

Customer Service

I am a staunch believer in exceeding customer’s needs and expectations. I exist to delight my clients and leave every one with better systems and processes to benefit in the digital marketplace. To that end, I am probably more American than either British or Nigerian in that sense as I feel both are lacking when it comes to delivering exceptional customer service as a norm.

My customer service ethos comes from some Harvard Business Review articles I came across in my early days in management consulting. We reflect this in our firm by the enormous sense of failure that we feel when a client leaves because we have not delivered to their expectations.

A forensic examination of what went wrong and ways to improve for the future typically follow these experiences. To be honest, it is usually one of many reasons that are not always down to our poor performance. The issues include not being clear about what we can deliver, and not explaining the complexity of achieving the client’s goals. On the other hand, the issue could be not being forceful in getting the client to do their side of the commitments to make marketing work, etc.

As you will see in the following section, we actively take steps to address the issues that arise in the business.

 

Management

I have been to the proverbial entrepreneurial well and drank from it! I have lived the startup life in which every day was a challenge full of ups and downs, feast and famine, etc. To be honest, I quickly realised that trying to do everything myself was getting me nowhere except exhaustion and burnout. Something simply had to change!

That change came from talking to other business owners in the digital marketing sector and beyond. Perhaps business coaching has had the biggest influence on the way I run my business today. One of the first and best pieces of advice I got was to read books. Michael Gerber’s E-Myth was a massive eye-opener that gave me understanding of my journey up to that point and how to move forward.

I have since read many books and attended many coaching sessions that have emphasised being deliberate, structured and consistent in behaviours and actions being the foundations for growing a business. Implementing the strategies have involved getting rid of my lax approach to time that results in being late to every appointment which I blamed on African time.

Another essential part of managing my business is empowering my team by using participative management style. Other effective business practices I adhere to include documenting/testing/refining systems and adding more structure to everything I do by working to a set weekly diary, building a team, delegating tasks and working on my business.

I feel it is important to emphasise my dislike of paying tax –in fact any mention of the word or indeed HMRC brings me out in a terrible rash. That is not to say that I avoid paying the tax I have to pay. However, like most small business owners, I am happy to take advantage of any opportunity to delay and reduce my tax bill by any legal means necessary!

 

Conclusion

This post has been a therapeutic self-reflection in which I hope you agree have kept my promise not to be my judge and instead leave it to you to decide if my Nigerian or British upbringing primarily dictates my outlook and behaviours. Maybe you can see a mixture of both cultures or perhaps neither. I totally accept that I addressed this topic (cultural influences) based on personal and therefore anecdotal evidence. Doing so runs the risk of irking British and Nigerian people who may feel that my representation of the culture does not do justice to them. Rest assured, my aim is to inform, educate and entertain in equal measure.

Am I a cultural schizophrenic? It is over to you!

 

Bio

Eny Osung is Founder and Managing Director of Small Business eMarketing Ltd (http://smallbiz-emarketing.com), a Croydon-based digital marketing consultancy that provides email, social media, search optimisation, Pay-Per-Click, Video, and Mobile App marketing as well as coaching for small businesses to reach more people on the Internet.

He is passionate about helping business owners get essential services, knowledge and skills – which he satisfies through his marketing business, business networking group (South Croydon Omni Local Business network) and his podcast show: Eny’s Happy Hour that goes out on www.businessradio.co.uk at 12 pm every Wednesday

 

 

 

 

Bâtir Le Relationnel Sur Du Solide.

Aujourd’hui, l’interaction humaine prend une toute autre dimension. Il est facile de “se faire des amis” grâce à Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. On a l’impression de voyager à travers les continents en se liant à des gens habitant à l’autre bout du monde. Les relations deviennent éphémères et ne se construisent plus sur le vécu et sur le temps. Ce sont désormais les intérêts communs tels que le sport pratiqué et les loisirs qui sont mis en valeur par les photos prises et partagés en ligne. Se rencontrer pour prendre un café et discuter de tout et de rien n’est plus aussi important pour bâtir des liens solides.

Malgré ce changement social au niveau de l’interaction humaine, on se rend compte au fil du temps que certaines personnes vous ont influencé inconsciemment. Vous avez changé de perspective sur certains sujets. Vos habitudes quotidiennes ont évolué dans le temps, non pas parce que vous l’avez souhaité, mais par les conversations que vous avez eues avec vos amis.

Le relationnel a un effet catalyseur pour la connaissance de soi. Il y a eu de nombreux philosophes tels que Socrates qui ont prêché la connaissance de soi pour faire des meilleurs choix dans la vie. Aucune personne n’arrive dans votre vie par accident. Il y aura toujours un échange qui aura lieu. Cela peut être des leçons à tirer ou un partage de connaissance ou des moments inoubliables à partager.

Toute personne rencontrée est un miroir de votre subconscient. Votre subconscient régit vos attitudes, vos croyances et valeurs. Chaque amitié ou relation met en valeur un ou plusieurs aspects de votre subconscient. Vous avez un choix d’en interpréter et d’en faire usage de la leçon à tirer ou de ne pas en tenir compte. Certaines leçons reviennent sans cesse jusqu’à que vous soyez prêt à bien les retenir.

En jetant un regard sur votre passé, vous allez peut être vous rendre compte qu’il y a eu des moments où vous avez souhaité prolonger une amitié sans succès. Il est possible que certaines personnes existent dans votre vie pour une raison quelconque. Une fois que cette raison n’existe plus, la personne part de son propre accord. Il arrive que les liens se détériorent et, malgré tous les bons moments partages ensemble, il est mieux de laisser partir la personne. Vous faites ainsi place pour d’autres personnes pouvant contribuer positivement à votre vie. C’est toujours douloureux de terminer une amitié qui n’a plus de sens. Il est cependant souhaitable de continuer votre route avec des personnes pouvant mieux vous comprendre et vous soutenir dans vos efforts.

Se culpabiliser pour avoir “abandonné” certains de vos amis ne vous apporte rien. La vie est faite de choix difficiles et nécessaires à votre bien-être. Construire votre vie en renforçant votre confiance en soi vous donne les moyens d’être heureux et de faire des rencontres qui valorisent votre bien-être émotionnel, intellectuel et physique.

Libérez-vous des ressentiments que vous pourriez avoir à l’encontre de certaines personnes, ceux qui vous ont blessé dans le passé. Les rancœurs n’amènent à rien de bon. Construire son avenir sur de la colère ou l’utiliser pour se motiver à aller plus loin est la même que bâtir les fondations d’une maison sur du sable mouvant. Prenez votre temps à vous pardonner d’avoir fait le mauvais choix ou d’avoir été aveugle aux comportements malsains de certaines personnes.

En écoutant votre cœur et votre instinct, vous sauriez au fil du temps vous entourer de personnes ayant les mêmes perspectives de vie. Votre instinct vous poussera des fois à faire des choix difficiles et c’est en les faisant que vous allez être plus en contrôle de votre vie.

La vie est un lieu d’apprentissage et c’est en faisant des mauvais choix qu’on devient plus sage!

Why Are You In Business?

Your life is a maze of relationships: how you relate to people you meet, how you relate to your business, how you interpret events going around you. Everything in your life is about managing, building and letting go of relationships. Some relationships are easier to let go and some others come around smoothly. Relationships are great places to learn, to raise self awareness, to acquire new skills. So pace your learning and be kind if you are making mistakes. The most important thing is to begin with a sincere intent.

The Law of Attraction states that you attract what you are. It means that you attract clients, business associates or friends having similar emotional states as yours. There are times when you think of someone and that person just happens to be calling you. You are both at similar emotional states and given that you have thought of that person, you both meet “accidentally”. It is the same principle when it comes to explain the state of your business. Life is, generally, a reflection of who you are. It is sometimes difficult to interpret from what you see, feel and hear. Put this need of understanding aside. Let things be until clarity comes. It will always come at the time you most need it.

Any relationship is, therefore, the product of your thoughts and your emotional state. If you don’t like what is happening around you, change your thoughts – easier said than done! You won’t always get it right and you may have to try it a few times before the desired changes come around. There are times when you won’t even achieve your goals. It is important to allow yourself to let go of being always on target.

There will be days when you will feel you have not given your best or your ego has got the better of you. It is OK. You are learning to honour your personal power. Your personal power is your freedom to create desired opportunities. You are not waiting on the sidelines for things to happen. You are actively co creating by focusing on the actions that you can do to make it happen.

Your ego, sometimes, gets in the way. It will tell you “why are you doing this?” “You should not be the one having to do this” or “What right do they have to treat me like this?” It is true that mutual respect should be expected from your interactions from others. However, you don’t control the attitude of others nor can you impose your will on others for your own vested interests.

Resilience is one of the most useful traits to have when you are running your own business. Resilience is about being determined to pursue a balance between the heart and your ego. Both are needed in this world to succeed and live fully. There is no way you will find satisfaction or happiness in what you do and achieve if you are constantly led by your ego. Happiness is a state of mind. You can be happy right now or you can continuously postpone your happiness for the sake of your ego.

Your daily interaction with the world forces you to do a reality check every day about your why. It is important to remind yourself why you are creating this maze of relationships. Is it worth all the efforts you are putting in? Is it to impress some people or is it because your heart is in it?

A few people would rather give up at certain point and choose the easiest option – to be driven by their ego, fears and doubts. This is because, for many people, running a business is a means to an end. When this end has been met, they don’t understand why they can’t go any further or why things become a chore. Doing business should be something that your heart feels part of. It can actually be a work of art for you – something to be proud of and to pass on to the next generation of entrepreneurs or a source of inspiration and learning for others or it can be a driver of positive changes.

Self Empowerment To Achieve Your Goals

Goals setting is a very popular exercise. You become more aware of your goals once the last quarter of the year has started. The approach of a new year reminds you of the goals you have set yourselves at the beginning of this year. It is sometimes very frustrating to find out that some goals tend to be more elusive than others. Old habits die hard and goals such as eating healthier or becoming financially free tend to be more challenging to achieve. They can become lifetime goals if you are not ready to make the necessary changes in your lives or you don’t have the necessary support.

Your skills and talents are not being questioned here. It is more about having the right mindset: those beliefs and values which empower you to achieve those goals that influence your present and future. It takes discipline, love, commitment and self awareness. Discipline is combining willpower and actions to turn them into empowering habits.

When your habits stall you, learn to understand the payoff so as to change them. Simplify your life by focusing on what is most important to you. The rest are distractions. Having fun is an important part of the journey because it makes the journey interesting, motivating and shorter.

Goals are not about figures, targets. They are in relation to your dreams: financial freedom, legacy to your loved ones, to the community etc. Emotional goals are those that really motivate someone to move forward. Connecting your goals to a purpose ensure that your heart is into achieving them. The emotional aspect strengthens your commitment and builds your resilience to the challenges that you face in your journey.

Caroline Neita, the Money Mentor, is well aware of the challenges that someone can face to achieve their goals of being financially free. In her talk at SBN Croydon, she emphasizes the need to review your daily habits to ensure that you are not “sabotaging” yourself. She helps her clients to review their “financial” habits and raise their awareness about what is getting in the way of them achieving their financial freedom. Debt management and repayment is also part of the financial mentorship program that she offers to her individual clients.

In going through your monthly expense, Caroline helps you identify those cost savings that will allow you to grow your pot of money so as to buy your property or save for the business idea you want to implement in the very near future. Being a qualified accountant, she also helps business owners to review the financial situation of their business so as to assess whether their current corporate strategy is having the desired impact.

Most people seem to think that financial literacy is about being able to count money and do a monthly budget. Caroline Neita thinks otherwise. It is all about having the right attitude towards managing your personal finance and being focused on the results that would give you your own financial freedom. If you need some help in reviewing your financial literacy, Caroline Neita can be reached on englishneita@gmail.com

Self Awareness Is The Best Tool In Periods Of Transitions

Self-Awareness is the ability to observe yourself without any judgement. You accept everything about you: your strengths and your weaknesses. Everything about life is about ups and downs and this is reflected in human nature. What is dangerous is not making any effort of nurturing a strong relationship with yourself.

How you relate to others is more to do about how you relate to yourself. Managing your fears and hopes, learning new skills, using your guts instincts are all part of managing your relationship with your own self. Assuming that there is nothing that you can do about your own personality and everything is about others’ attitude towards you is more about being the “victim” and not being your own master. How many of your existing relationships do you have where you feel comfortable to be in your own shoes? If it is over 90%, then you are living true to your spirit. On the other hand, if it is a struggle to interact with people around you whether at work or in your personal life, then it is time to raise your self awareness.

Self awareness takes you out of your comfort zone as it challenges you to think differently. Your set of values and beliefs may need re assessment. What has served you so well in the past, may be getting in the way of you achieving your goals. There is no need to discard everything and adopt new ones. There is always some fine tuning to be done. Flexing your behaviour is not achievable if you are not ready to discard your pride. It is your pride that “tells” you that your past achievements give you the right to think that you know best. Each level of success requires you to go through a learning curve and that can be done most effectively when you are ready to be the “student”.

You have to take risks: to be in that place where nothing is for sure – you can be winning or losing. Whatever the outcome, it is the experience that matters. It may sound cliché. The human brain – all it knows is limits, potential, options. If you show the way to a range of possibilities then the mind gets used to think out of the box. There will be less “what ifs” on the next round. Of course, failures have a negative impact. They can stop you in your momentum. It is not your potential self that is stopping you. It is that part of you that is all about “know it all”. Well, that is part of your limitations. Your potential self is more excited about adventure, getting to do things differently. There may be parts of your personality that you will get to know better when you are willing to open your horizons.

Of course, there will be those moments where you feel inadequate as a true beginner is. You are used to know what to do next and you are now totally confused. This state of confusion, if taken too seriously, undermines your confidence. If you tackle it by making it more as a game then the pressure eases off considerably. At some point in time, you will feel that this is becoming something of second nature to you. Getting used to not knowing everything is a great skill when you start a new job, make a career change, relocate or start a new phase in your life.

Taking steps towards goals are real affirmations as your unconscious can actually “witness” your actions. The more steps you take towards your goals, the more you are comfortable in doing them. That raises your self confidence, boosts your morale when you focus on your ease in doing them rather than the missed attempt.

As Lao Tzu once said: “Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it. So, be like water:).

How To Build A Strong Performing Team Across Different Cultures And Borders?

With cloud computing, web conferencing and other technological tools, more and more people are expected to work in virtual teams. Teams are often set up for a specific purpose such as an investment transaction and they are then disbanded upon completion of the transaction. It implies that the newly set up team have to learn to collaborate, within a short space of time, so as to be able to complete the tasks or project that they have been assigned to. Team work now takes a whole different meaning.

Virtual teams are sometimes large in size involving 50 people or more, based in various countries and coming from different professional background. How to ensure that such teams are able to live up to the expectations of their employer(s) ?  Working in such teams requires a number of soft skills: flexibility in behavioural style, ability to put yourself in the shoes of others (empathy), keeping an open mind and self awareness. They are skills that are not acquired through technical training but mainly through trial and error, coaching and commitment towards oneself if you intend to pursue a career in multinational companies.

It is also the responsibility of the employers to create an environment that encourages a collaborative culture and minimises intercultural disharmony. When employees are valued for their contribution and value based behaviour, they are encouraged to be a valuable team player. Incentives that focus on credentials and age are restrictive as they do not reward those who go the extra mile to ensure team cohesion. It is true that some cultures value seniority and hierarchy. Building team cohesion in these cultures would mean encouraging the senior executives to set the right example. A great performing team would certainly lead to more career advancement for everyone including the team leader and the senior executives involved.

Efficiency needs to be measured by how the team as a whole has reached consensus in making choices. Rapid and fast decision making sometimes leads to frustration amongst the team members as they may feel not being listened to. Frustration, anger can lead to disruptive behaviour from those same team members. Implementation of any decision becomes more of a challenge as no team consensus was reached. Decisions will then have to be reviewed or changed at a later stage leading to additional unexpected costs.

Culturally diverse teams are indeed more complex to manage and lead. It is important to set certain ground rules: conflict resolution, setting up and running meetings. As human beings, we tend to pay more attention to negative information because it is a sign of danger. Unresolved conflicts or tension amongst team members of different cultures may lead to the wrong assumptions being made about these cultures: “They are incompatible and cannot work together”. All efforts of building a strong team spirit have then been wasted and having to start from scratch once more is very disheartening for those involved.

A great team is one which can regularly attract the right talents because people are more than willing to join them. The team dynamic is such that it encourages the right attitude amongst the team members. Performing teams are able to resolve day to day issues on their own and lean towards their team leaders or senior executives for strategic direction. Team leaders do play an important role in helping the team members resolve issues. Mentoring and coaching become embedded in their attitudes towards managing their teams.

Encouraging and nurturing social relationships amongst the team members is an important investment to make as it helps them to bond and build trust from within. Over time, they tend to genuinely care for each other and are open about what works and what does not work in terms of team dynamics. When the team, as whole, become conscious of their weaknesses and discuss openly about them, they become stronger as they are willing to face their inherent challenges and find solutions that work for the team. Hiding behind excuses or blaming others actually undermines the respect that outsiders have for the team members.

It is essential that team performance is not limited to quantitative targets such as number of investment transactions achieved or level of sales attained, time to implement or complete the project. Other indicators such as level of absenteeism amongst the team members, regular review of the soft skills set of each team member, how well each team member know each other are important to assess the team’s performance. Incentives need to ensure that the interests of the team members are all aligned and they are meant to cooperate and not compete with each other.

Mixed Marriages/Interracial Relationships Are About Being With Each Other.

I would like to thank all those who participated in the survey. Your feedback is very useful and I am grateful that you have been willing to share something of your personal lives. A big THANK YOU!

50% of the respondents have been together with their partners or spouses for more than 15 years. One third of the respondents have been in a relationship for less than a year. There have been more women taking part in the survey than men.

Interracial marriages require a lot of personal commitment from each partner or spouse. Based on the responses received, some couples have overcome challenges to be together. They have had to face family dissent in some cases and have remained firm in regards to their personal engagement towards their partner/spouse. It shows that mixed marriages/relationships are more about breaking down the barriers of cultural ignorance and learning to be with someone, more for the person as he or she truly is.

Two thirds of the respondents chose “shared core values” as one of the foundations of their relationships. Common interests seems to be the second most important factor in building strong bonding between the two partners or spouse. “Love, adoration and respect” has been the basis of the strong bonding according to another respondent. In this case, mixed marriages/relationships do not seem to be any different from any other relationship that someone builds over time. Friendships, family bondings, business partnerships also require some of those ingredients for them to last over time.

Listening to each other and continuous communication have been chosen as the means to resolve conflicts between the partners/spouse. Over 80% chose to resolve their disagreements internally. Very few have chosen to use an external party to help them and in a few cases, time heals the rifts between the partners/spouse.

For those who have children, raising their children is about teaching them their shared core values. Some couples have chosen to give their children the freedom to choose their own religious faith. None of the respondents choose to educate their children in both religious faiths, indicating that religious education is not a priority. It is difficult to imply anything as I have not made any survey for marriages/relationships of the same race.  However, it is true that most parents educate their children those core values that they believe their children need to endorse.

The main advice that the respondents give, based on their own experiences, is to focus on building the bonding between the two partners/spouses. What others think is less important. It is also important to be aware that a mixed union comes with different challenges and be prepared for them. Being curious about each other’s cultural background helps to nurture mutual respect for each other.

My biggest take away from the various responses received – interracial marriages or relationships are about being with each other as they truly are… it is not about the partner’s social status or what he or she represents but more for the person as he/she is at the time of the relationship. Because of the additional complexity of the challenges, it is difficult to be in a relationship if the motivation is anything other than strong feelings of love and respect. I hope that the results of the mini survey is useful to the readers and gives you some useful insights as well.

Social Media Networking Strategy – Demystified by John Coupland

Like most SME owners. I have been told that it is important to have an online presence so as not to lose any sales opportunities. True, 90% of our sales come from our online presence.  More and more people make online purchases, look for online reviews and research online before they make up their mind. So, I have decided to include social media in the business strategy. A few years ago, I have been to a number of workshops about social media. I tried to use my notes to help me navigate the online landscape. In terms of business management, I tend to try out on my own first so that I understand the implications and build a working knowledge of it. When the time is right, I can then go and hire the person whom I think will fit with what I need.

Is Social Media a hype or is it truly something that can be leveraged in any business strategy?

I attended a talk by John Coupland, some years ago. He offered a number of practical tips. I bought his book: “ ACCELerate Your Social Media”, thinking that it may come useful. Like any typical business owner, I have allowed things to get in the way and focused more on operations rather than strategic vision. I opened the book very recently when I have been reviewing the marketing strategy of my business. It is the first time that mapping out a strategy that includes both online and offline networking strategies became reality. Within 2 months of implementing some of John’s tips, I am now seeing the results with increased sales leads.

John talks about “return on investment” – a measure that clearly indicates a results oriented approach. This is what he mainly preaches when it comes to an overall online strategy. He helps you determine the target Return On Investment and plan the strategy that will help you achieve it. In his book, John provides a number of tools to review your social media strategy and it actually helped me to identify the gaps that I need to address to make my online strategy more effective.  Whatever works – replicate, replicate and replicate!

Integrating your social media strategy into your overall business strategy is critical. However, many people think that it is about having an online presence. It is goes beyond that. Engagement creates sales leads and strengthens your network. So, merging the offline with the online is crucial. Everything is about People First. Very few people follow up once you have accepted their request to be part of their Linkedin network. In many networking events, not many people would ask you what they can do for you… The reason to meet should be of potential benefit. “Great networking is about bringing the best out of people. If you achieve this, you will be bringing the best out of yourself too.”- John Coupland

It is difficult to engage with your network all at the same time and on a regular basis. So creating a “Core Network” that can add value and whom you can also support is recommended. The Core Network may account for only 20% of your whole network and will bring 80% positive results – the Pareto Principle.

Social media should be used as a means to support the other appropriate channels to market your business. John recommends to start with a couple of social networks. “Less Is More”. There are No “must have” social networks. As a business owner, this is very relevant as being in the driving seat means that you are overseeing the whole operations, thinking strategically and reviewing occasionally to assess your progress. Building strong relationships with your network is more effective in generating business rather than spreading your engagement too thinly across many.  His next advice is “KISS” – Keep It Simple Stupid.

Also, networking is about leveraging the collective wisdom and experience. So, it is important to network not only with potential clients but also with experts in your industry too. Clarity and consistency is key in your communication. Your online presence across different social media network needs to be consistent.

Effective and great networking works when you

  1. Have a positive Attitude
  2. Think the bigger picture
  3. Are Creative
  4. Are giving
  5. Have a “Can Do” approach

As Anon says it well: “ if you want to be incrementally better, Be Competitive! If you want to be exponentially better,  Be Cooperative!”