Week End…

My weekend is nearly over. Today I took my son back to college. I packed, I drove, I unpacked, I assembled and I helped. Well OK – that last one may not be quite right. I tried to help. In truth he doesn’t need that much help these days. My son impresses me. I am biased I know of course…but I am still impressed.

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday. We were all there – the whole family. She received cards, gifts, cake, candles and a wonderful sung rendition of Happy Birthday. Well OK – that last one may not be quite right. I tried to help with the singing. Suffice it to say my singing was passionate and loud. Actually there isn’t really much else to say about my singing than that.

We took my wife out for a boat ride – punting to be precise – with a guide…in our local city. On the river and canals that pass through and around the town. It was wonderful. Relaxing, peaceful, interesting, fun. And all of those are right. We even discovered some things about the city that we never knew…as well as seeing parts and views we hadn’t seen or experienced before.

It was a superb and relaxing weekend with my family at the end of a week. It is what week ends are supposed to be. Family and/or friends – people you care about and who care about you – relaxation and/or enjoyment. Any weekend. All weekends.

And this weekend in particular. I wanted this weekend to be special of course – it was my wife’s birthday…but I also felt like I needed this weekend to be special. I needed that reminder of the importance of our family and friends. I wanted to recognise the pleasure of their unconditional love and affection. We all need balance not just between our lives in work and our lives out of work…but we also need to balance how much of our time and energy we devote to both.

Last week felt like big news every day…and that was just at work…and Monday was a vacation day in the US! There seemed to be news about people, about roles, about leaders, about change, about challenge and about opportunities. Many weeks include some of this information…some weeks can even feature a little on all of these. It’s not often that any of us get a lot of news about all of these areas in one week.

Whenever a person leaves an organisation I am part of, it always has an impact on me…whether their reasons for leaving are good or not so good…and even more so if the person leaving is someone I know and have worked with…respect and admire.

But I know that people leave. People leave for good reasons, for personal reasons or for business reasons. But people leave. All I can ever do is to wish anyone who leaves the absolute very best. I know from experience that there isn’t often anything I can do to help…but I also know that it isn’t often that anyone leaving ever really needs my help. Good people always find – or create – great opportunities to be both happy and successful…however they chose to define both happiness and success.

And organisations move on. New people, new roles, new leaders…change and challenge and more opportunity. Someone once said that challenge always follows change. I think that’s true. But – more importantly – opportunity always follows challenge.

My weekend is now over. My family are happy. I am happy. I am relaxed and recharged. I am ready. Ready to embrace whatever next week has to offer…

Cheers

Steve

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Mother’s Day…

I had to travel to the North of England at short notice last Sunday. One of my sisters called to say that my mother was not well. I cancelled my scheduled US trip and caught a train.

As my wife drove me to the station – she passed me a card. It was a Mother’s Day card. Mother’s Day in the UK is today – Sunday May 26. My wife knew I needed a card to give to my mum today. I still have the card.

My mum passed away on Tuesday. I was with her and my sisters when she left us…holding her hand and their hands. Tuesday was thirty five days after my dad passed. And ten days after his funeral. My mum was there at his funeral…she had looked radiant. Beautiful. Lovely. I love my mum.

She and my dad had been married for over sixty years. Together and inseparable. She knew my dad had gone. Even though she has suffered recently from Alzheimer’s…she knew he was no longer with us…with her. And now, somewhere somehow, they are together again. Together forever.

And here we are planning my mum’s funeral…to celebrate and remember. It just seems so soon. So soon after my dad. But yet I feel comfort in them leaving together. They were meant to be together and now they are.

My mum and my dad loved each other unconditionally and absolutely. They had four children and ten grandchildren. Their family was everything to them and they would do anything for them…for us…for me. My mum and dad had friends, good friends and best friends. Friends were essential to my parents. My parents’ friends knew what it meant to always have someone there for you.

Both of my parents have gone. Together. In a few weeks.  I have pictures. I have memories. But I don’t have either of them. I have my mum’s mother’s day card. But I didn’t even have chance to write it. She died in our arms two days after I came to see her. To be with her. To hold her. To tell her that I love her. That her children and grandchildren, our husbands, wives and partners, love her. And to say good bye.

I see my parents in me. I have their values and beliefs. I learned from them. I look like them. I was loved by them. They will be with me forever. I see my parents in my children. My own children are our future. It is their mother’s day today and they have cards to give. I bought a new card to give my wife. She had travelled north to be there with me on Tuesday. I love my wife. I need my wife.

I will never forget the moments my mum passed. She looked at us with her beautiful eyes wide open. She stared at us and listened to us as we spoke. She didn’t say anything…but she told us she loved us and that we would all be all right. She was peaceful and she was at peace.

I feel I have lost so much but I know I am lucky to have had so much. That our whole family were fortunate to have had so much. So much I will always treasure and will never forget.

I will keep the card I had with me last week. I know it is just a regular Mother’s Day card. But it was a card for a special mother. It was a card for the first person I ever loved…a card for the first person who loved me. For my mother…

For my mum…

Steve

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Immediate Value…

I was in Maryland last week. I learned a great deal. Including how to pronounce the state in question. I had assumed it was pronounced as if it was the ‘land’ of ‘Mary’ – two separate words joined together. I now know it flows as a single word. Merriland. (It’s the best I can do). The additional nuance being that – as with many US words – the emphasis is all on the second syllable ‘ril’ and – unlike most UK words – isn’t on the first syllable ‘Mer’.

I also learned science last week – it was a scientific conference after all. And I met with many of our customers, partners and sponsors. These big scientific symposia present wonderful opportunities to network and socialise, to debate and discuss, because so many of us are in the same place at the same time.

I learned something else…something I remembered being taught previously by one of our Business Development team members. I relearned the power of Immediate Value over Future Value.

My BD colleague asked me if I ever see ‘buy one get one free’ offers when out shopping for packets of oranges. Yes. What happens? I come home with two packets of oranges. He then asked what would happen if the sign above the oranges suggested that if I ‘eat an orange a day for six months I won’t catch a cold next winter’. Nothing.

Buy one get one free, along with other point of sale discounts and special offers, are classic examples of ‘Immediate Value’. Making a purchase in order to gain some possible benefit in six months is all about ‘Future Value’.

In the world of commercial sales, Immediate Value is much more important than Future Value. Both together is OK; but if we have to choose, we always choose Immediate over Future.

And value is absolutely not the same as price. Price discounts are simply an obvious manifestation of Immediate Value. Immediate Value could as easily – or as importantly – be a near-term start or delivery date. Or it could be the people or team we would be working with. Or the expert advice or guidance offered regarding the product or project we are buying or working on together.

Many businesses in many industries inadvertently find themselves emphasising their Future Value. Quality is a classic example of Future Value. Our product will last longer, will have less errors or faults…will delight you for longer. All of these are good, but in truth, we all know that many of these events (or benefits) will never materialise any time soon.

Companies who sell with ‘quality’ as their mantra can often struggle in competition with others who discount on price…unless that manifestation of quality is very real (and ideally very quick). Brand is important. A brand that inspires trust, quality or status can often materialise as Immediate Value. I feel better wearing my Apple watch today even though it doesn’t tell the time any differently…and even though I doubt I am any fitter.

In all of my discussions last week, current and future partners were most interested and passionate about what we could do to help them today…help them to solve problems or seize opportunities they have immediately in front of them…

Whenever our discussions moved onto how we could help them in the future…when we develop capabilities we don’t have today, or when their projects move through the R&D phases…they were less engaged and excited. They could see and understand…but we were describing Future Value. Immediate Value will always supersede Future Value.

Now where are those oranges I have to finish before they go moldy…

Cheers

Steve

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Breathe Deeply…

She was out of reach but I could see her. I was standing up at the front of the room and she was sat three rows back next to my two children. I felt strong. Proud. Together…but alone. I hadn’t seen the room before so was surprised at the distance. And the desk in front of me had the microphone so I felt I needed to stand next to it. But I could see her.

I had known this day was coming for just over three weeks. I just didn’t know how it would be, how I would feel, how we would cope. It was my dad’s funeral on Friday.

We all knew we would arrange and run the funeral ourselves. We are all so like my dad in so many ways. I wanted to do the welcome and the close. And I wanted to take responsibility for making sure the music we chose together was played at the right time. Both my sisters and my brother spoke beautifully and passionately about our dad. And all the grandchildren stood up as a group and talked wonderfully about their granddad.

It as the funeral we wanted it to be. Everyone said what we wanted to say. We all did what we wanted to do. There is no good or bad scale for funerals. They just happen. We recognised and we celebrated. And I know my dad would have been so proud of us all.

Carrying his coffin was harder and took longer than I expected. The room we were in was longer and thinner than I had expected. And I soon found myself standing up at the front welcoming and thanking everyone.

We had chosen music that meant something to us and we felt told the story we wanted to tell. True Love by Bing and Grace. It seemed so appropriate. I pressed the button and waited. There seemed to be more talking at the start than I expected. And as I looked out it seemed that no-one could quite recognise what they were listening to.

And then the singing started. I breathed deeply. I looked up. Everywhere I looked there were tears. I could see my mother sat on the front row but I knew I couldn’t look at her. I could see my wife, three rows back, with our children. She was further way than I thought she would be. She was much further away than I wanted. She was so much further away than I needed her to be. I breathed deeply.

I don’t really understand the impact of music on our memories or emotions, but I do know it is real. Sometimes it is those first familiar notes, sometimes the first words…but the impact always happens. I guess that we know music is never threatening and is always a source of expectation, anticipation and pleasure. Music conjures up images and feelings.

Standing up in front of my dad’s family and friends…my family and friends…on Friday, I could see memories, emotions and tears filling the room.

The song finished, we all breathed deeply again…and somehow we moved forward together.

As our last hour together finished and the final music started to play, I pressed the close curtains button in front of me. I turned and looked over my shoulder one last time before my dad was gone, I said good bye and I told him I love him.

We walked outside and I looked for my own true love. I found my daughter first and then my son. I hugged them both. I found my wife. I held her tight. I held her close.

Love forever true.

Cheers

Steve

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Who Knew…

Most weeks something happens. Something amazing. Something exciting, rewarding, engaging, positive, laugh-out-loud funny…something truly inspiring. Some weeks moments like this happen every day to all of us…some weeks there is just that one moment.

Other moments happen also happen. Moments of frustration, disappointment, unease, sadness, worry…something truly disillusioning. Once a day or once a week…but these moments definitely happen to us all as well…

No surprise there then. But as I sat watching another dissatisfying soccer game on Saturday…at home after a busy, complex, complicated and tiring week…what struck me was the moment of the week that were still circling in my head.  Frustration was overriding amazing. Disappointment was beating enjoyment. Rewarding trailed behind unease.

Is that human nature or more specifically my nature? Or was it simply indicative of – or maybe a consequence of – other things going on in my life outside of work? Was last week any different from any other week? I started to consider…analyse even.

My immediate (re)discovery was that thinking and considering is always much better than worrying. Worrying about events that have happened is – almost by definition – wasted time, energy and emotion. I know I can’t go back and change anything that has happened already.

My first decision was to identify three things that happened last week that lined up against the amazing-through-inspiring criteria. I quickly realised this ‘decision’ also became a significant moment for me in the week. I had no problem coming up with a long list. My only challenge was to identify the top three.

My wife had travelled with me last week. This is not always the case. Amazing. My daughter was having another article published in the national press. Exciting. My son asked for help about a project at college. Rewarding.

My team met for a two-day leadership meeting where we focussed on immediate plans, future strategy, leadership and us as a team. A new member of the team excited us. An old member of the team engaged us. The whole team energised me.

New customers reached out to us to help them. Exciting. I met with an old friend who is also a client of ours. Positive. We discussed how we could better help and delight all of our sponsors.  Engaging.

I realised of course that I had cheated. I had identified three significant ‘moment themes’ and then had listed three moments in each. It was the best I could do. I also realised that I was smiling well before the end. And that as I worked through my list there were many ‘laugh-out-loud moments’…so much so that my wife had come in to see what was going on.

I felt inspired. I was inspired by my family, my team and all my colleagues.

And my wider family would have easily had their own list…a list of love and care… as we work through our recent experiences together.

My original plan had been to move on from my ‘moments’ to assess those ‘counter-moments’…those that would align against the ‘frustration-through-disillusioning’ list. But at that specific moment I just decided not to.

I didn’t want to. I didn’t need to. Next week will come round soon enough and my family, colleagues, leaders, team, family and friends will be there with me. And we know what we need to and want to deliver, do and achieve…together. Next week, this month and in the future.

So instead I stood up and went to find my wife. I wanted to talk about our inspiring moments from last week…including how wonderful it had been to have her travelling with me.

But first I just gave her a hug…

Cheers

Steve

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Leading Laggards…

Strangely enough, I found myself thinking a great deal last week about leading and lagging indicators. A leading indicator predicts a future event; a lagging indicator is only measurable after an event has taken place. Leading and lagging indicators originated from the world of finance. But the concept and detail manifest in most of our day to day lives.

A simple example would be a personal goal of losing weight. The relevant ‘lagging indicator’ is obvious and easy – we step on our bathroom scales and we have our answer. But what would be good, or relevant, leading indicators?  Two obvious options would be calorie in-take and calories burned. But as with many ‘leading’ indicators although both can appear easy to influence…both are hard to measure accurately and – unfortunately – neither are guarantees of successful outcome.

Leading and lagging indicators appear everywhere – unemployment figures are a lagging indicator for economic strength…and stock prices are a common leading indicator. In medicine and health – which is why I was thinking leading and lagging indicators in the first place – cholesterol level is a leading indicator of heart disease…and pain is a pretty impressive lagging indicator for many sorts of injury (including my bad back).

What about our industry – pharmaceutical R&D where a key ‘event’ is Regulatory approval of a New Drug Application (NDA)? What leading indicators do we have for NDA delivery in any year? Dollars spent? Clinical trails run? Unfortunately, there isn’t anything with high predictive value. It is research after all…which by definition is unpredictable

What about a service industry? An industry where revenue and profit are key outcomes? Sales performance – necessary but not enough. There is a inherent dependency on cycle time between sales and revenue. For a grocery store…this is rapid. In advertising – where a commercial can be booked months in advance – this can be slow. And in either case, the connection between sales and profit can range from direct to tortuous.

It feels – either on a personal (health) or professional (business) basis – essential to have or develop leading indicators with high predictive value. The best answer seems to be detailed analysis of historical data looking for trends and themes, experiments and opportunities, cause and effects, success and failures.

Most industries and businesses generate massive amounts of data on performance all the time. And companies seek to predict the future (and thereby ensure their future success) all the time. Where do we invest in technology (or not)…where do we recruit more talent (or not)…where do we need new solution offerings (or not)…where do we seek new customers (or not)? Are our existing customers or talent happy (or not)…our existing technology or solutions successful (or not)?

But leading indicators are never easy. High predictive value is difficult to achieve. Consider how often we talk about instinct or intuition – both of which imply a lack of quality predictive data. But equally consider how much time and effort we can spend on disputing or correcting data that are created (or the conclusions based on those data).

And of course we need clarity over the outcome we are after for our organisations – is it better for a business to be extremely profitable…or exceptionally valuable? Or for ourselves – is it better for me to be superbly healthy…or supremely happy?

The size of the challenge we face to identify quality leading indicators then, is also indicative of the size of the opportunity available.  A good quality, easy to measure (crucial), straightforward to influence (as crucial), confidence instilling, sufficiently predicative, leading indicator is intricate to achieve, but invaluable to have.

Professionally or personally…

Cheers

Steve

p.s. Thank you for all your care, support and friendship last week. I am so grateful.

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Wednesday Morning…

I woke up last Wednesday morning around 7:30am to the sound of my sister’s dogs barking. I was staying at my sister’s house in the North of England and had been for a week. Every morning her dogs were up and about by 7:30. They were awake…asking to be fed and wanting to go for their morning walk. Wednesday was no different for them.

Wednesday was different for me. Wednesday morning I woke up knowing my father passed away the night before. I was there with my sisters when he left us…holding his hand and their hands. Wednesday morning was different for me.

I had no idea how I was going to feel…I didn’t really know how I felt. I knew the dogs were barking so it was morning. I knew I needed a coffee. I knew my wife was with me. I knew that someone would be downstairs. I knew I wanted to hug my wife. I knew she was still asleep. I hugged her anyway and held her hand.

I looked at my phone – some habits never change – and read the overnight messages from my children. Calling them the evening before to let them know the news was so hard. I felt better as I read their words…and at the same time more upset…their words to me, about their Granddad, about themselves and about us.

I looked at my email as well. Not to see what was happening…but because I had received so many messages of support from friends and colleagues…reading them just made me feel better.

I thought about my dad. In my father I could recognize who I am and where I have come from. I am so like my father was but I am so different. I have had such different experiences at such a different time. My father was a child during and after the Second World War. I wasn’t. I was brought up by him and my mum – he wasn’t. He loved me. He gave me my work ethic. He gave me my love of family. I loved him. He was important to me.

I thought about my own children. I want to be important to my children. Today and tomorrow…next week and next year….I want to be there for them. To encourage them when they need encouragement; to offer advice if they need advice. To hold their hand when they need a hand to hold. As they grow. As they experience. As they express themselves. As they make their own choices. I want to be part of their lives as my father was part of mine…of theirs…of ours.

I thought about the future. Tomorrow is nearly here. Next week is about to start. Looking back, remembering and reminiscing, celebrating and missing, is so important. But so is looking forward and anticipating everything we are going to do together. I don’t know what the future will hold. But I know the future will be different. We will create our own future together.

I thought about the night before. Vivid memories. Raw even. How peaceful it was at the end. How caring everyone was. How we all knew what was happening but didn’t say anything. Didn’t need to say anything. How we moved closer to my dad. Took his hands and held on.  For him and for each other.

The dogs were still barking. I still needed caffeine. My wife wanted her hand back and needed some tea. I kissed her and told her I love her. I texted my children and told them I love them. I went downstairs. It was a new day. The next day.

A lonelier day.

Cheers

Steve

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Sunday Week…

Last week was a week unlike any other and a week so different from what I expected. A week when I felt confident enough about what was happening to travel a long way away in order to work..but a week when I had to turn around and come the same distance back very quickly. And it rapidly became a week of long days, short nights, and little sleep.

It was a week when I was sure I was saying goodbye to my dad for the last time several times…but it was also a week when he chose to stay with us. He is peaceful and is not in any pain. He has a strong heart and is strong willed. I am happy and thankful. I know how fortunate I am. He is my father.

It has been a week of family for family with family. A week when I was able to be with my dad and my mum. A week when my wife was immense for me. A week when I was with my daughter and then with my son as well as with both my sisters, brother, their partners, my nieces and nephews. An emotional week…a week of so many emotions…a week of so much love. It was a week of messages and emails and phone calls to each other. It was a week full of tears and laughter, of hand holding and stories, of smiles and memories and hugs, and of more tears.

I have always thought friends and colleagues who care and want to help are extraordinary. Now I know this is true. I am so grateful to my friends and my colleagues.

What I don’t know is what will happen next, or when what will happen next will happen. In truth, I am not really sure of anything at the moment. But I do know that last week we have had chance to all be together and to spend more time with my father, our dad, their grandad. These last few days have been an opportunity that we could so easily not have had. I am pleased and I am grateful.

I have always believed that family are everything and that family are always there for each other. Now I know this is true – it may even be the meaning of life. I also know I am so fortunate to have my own family, my mother, my brother and my sisters, and their families.

And my dad? I love my dad. I always will…

Cheers

Steve

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