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August 2021

Winning the war on talent

Winning the war on talent 150 150 Cypher

Winning the war on talent

I’ve had a number of meetings with clients, all of whom tell me how hard it is hire people at the moment. Simply put there aren’t enough quality candidates to fit all the roles available. There is a talent shortage and everyone wants the best available. This blog is about winning the war on talent.

The lack of quality candidates is represented on a national scale as according to the Office for National Statistics, job vacancies have hit a record high of 953,000 in the three months to July. The unemployment rate meanwhile fell to 4.7% in the three months to June, while the annual growth in average pay was 7.4%. Despite this overall increase in optimism, finding – and keeping -the right talent is a challenge.

Every business owner wants the best people. But, as the ONS stats show, it’s a candidate-led market and the abundance of jobs available, means the cream can pick and choose who they sell their skills to. You need to create a culture that’s conducive to attracting talent, enabling it to grow before you can reap the benefits as the best people stay and attract more talent.

The new hybrid or remote working models have provided a further challenge to creating this culture; while remote working offers more flexibility and demonstrates more trust, when people aren’t all together in a physical space there is a potential loss of team dynamic, of collaboration, or of idea creation.

Two types of leader
For me hybrid working has developed two types of leader; there’s the ones who, despite not doing this before the pandemic, are now clock-watching to check productivity, they are micro-managing their staff and stressing about how to monitor their work because they can’t physically see them. Then there is another group that has embraced remote working, provided the tech and the systems for their staff to work autonomously – with support- who are now five steps ahead of the competition and frankly killing it in the war for the best talent.

Put yourself in your candidate’s shoes
We work with a lot of recruiters and their feedback is that to attract your talent, like you would any potential customer, you need to wow them before they even step through the door –or join the Zoom call. When they’re checking your website and they’re looking at all the other little touch points within your business, or speaking to colleagues or contacts about what it’s like to work there, you  need to wow them because – like any consumer – they’ve got a number of alternative choices.

You have to put yourself in their shoes. Think, if you were a candidate now, what else would you look for in addition to the brand name and the name of the person interviewing you? There’s the history of the business, Google reviews showing who the customers are and what they say- are they good brands themselves? Will it excite someone to work with those businesses? What’s the full package you offer? Is it flexible, hybrid or office-based what sort of hours do you work, what hardware or software is there to support them and this model?

What’s your Employee USP?
If you want the best people, there needs to be a reason why they want to join you. What is your unfair advantage? Usually it’s who you are being are as a leader, the quality of the conversation you have with them, as well as your purpose and your legacy.

Don’t forget throughout the pandemic a lot of energy, ideas, motivation and passion have gone into creating new start-ups as workers have decided to go it alone, so now you have to convince candidates that working for you is better than working for themselves.

It’s not all about the money
The majority of clients and recruiters reinforce this point consistently; it isn’t always about the money. The candidates that are still in a role, or juggling more than one opportunity will receive a counter offer to attract or retain them. If that offer blows yours out of the water, the chances are you will lose out, but that business may then have to offer similar raises across its workforce whicj will eat into its margins. Or, if the candidate is out of the door enough to be looking for – and taking- interviews there is a good chance that something else has motivated them to leave.

Alan talked on the Podcast about a recent signing for his team, Glasgow Rangers. The player had offers from clubs in England and France that would undoubtedly have offered him more money. The deciding factor for him was a conversation with the manager Steven Gerrard. Many of you will know of Gerrard’s exploits on the pitch for Liverpool and England, but off it, his pledge to make the new signing a better player – ultimately enhancing his career -was what sold it. Can you offer your candidates the chance to simply be better at what you do?

Marketing to candidates
Most businesses are really good at understanding who their ideal clients or customers are and marketing to them. You need to use this same strategy in any recruitment drive. Identify who your ideal candidate might be in terms of skill set, personality and cultural fit and then market to them as if you’re trying to attract customers. Think about all of the energy, resource and creativity that goes into attracting potential customers into your sales funnel and replicate that. Create your talent strategy to win the war.

Communication and role clarification
We talked a lot about bringing people in, but you also need to keep what you’ve got. Start by reviewing and clarifying your team’s roles and the positive difference they make to your company and to your customers. Be transparent about what a good job looks like, what a great job looks like and if someone wants a pay increase what sort of contribution they need to make to get it, so then you can start to talk about career progression and development within their role.

The second thing is your internal communication; how often do you talk to your teams and not at them? What tone do you use, what subjects are discussed, are you motivational and inspiring, is it a two-way conversation and how much do you- or do they think you care about their lives and situations away from work?

These two things have a massive impact on culture – and then make it more authentic when you talk it up at interview.

Right person, wrong role
Separating the person from the role, looking at all the skills you have in your business versus the jobs you need doing can be another way of getting the right person into the right job. Businesses can learn to move things around and create the right role for the right person. Allowing your people to grow, move up or change what they’re doing will create different roles underneath.

Talent pipeline
Ill use the example of a manufacturing client; their work is specialised requiring a specific skills set. Historically, these skills were widely available in the market place, now they are in short supply. To support their talent pipeline they recruit an apprentice every year. Now in my school days – the 90’s- apprenticeships, and particularly trade apprenticeships, were reserved for the kids that weren’t particularly academic. These kids were pushed towards trades and 30 years on are all doing very well. But in the 2020’s, while apprenticeships are growing in popularity, are the same levels of apprentices in these traditional trades coming through? The manufacturing business owner has decided to push the boat out and recruit three or four to safeguard his business for the next 10 years or so.

It is important to ask yourself where your talent comes from and if the pipeline is still strong! If not, do something about it.

There is a war on talent. The game has changed. If we thought people were becoming more demanding pre pandemic, post pandemic it’s going off the scale. Unless you want to be at the back of the queue, you really do need to have a strategy for winning talent, developing your people and putting the best possible team out there.

Find out more

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.

Waiting Brain

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Waiting Brain

This blog is about a concept called Waiting Brain, which came about from an article that I read and that rang very true for me.

Waiting Brain is the concept that your brain enters a kind of standby mode where you are very unproductive in the lead up to big events or important tasks.

As an example, let’s say you finish a meeting half an hour early and have another one coming up. You have thirty minutes back that you weren’t expecting, but rather than complete a few easy tasks, your brain says ‘well there’s no point starting anything new because I’ll have to stop in 15 minutes’ so you do nothing.

Or, you’ve got something big happening, whether it’s a doctor’s appointment or a big sales pitch at two o’clock in the afternoon and by mid-morning the thought of it has consumed your day and you can’t concentrate on anything else. The fact is in either scenario, you could still be productive, but rather than achieve anything you let ideas ruminate without actually doing anything about them.

It was interesting to discuss with Alan Clark , why we allow ourselves to get into this productivity-squashing cognitive funk, and importantly, how can we combat it?

An obvious solution would be to talk about productivity and time management and how better we could fill those empty minutes, or plan better to avoid big gaps leading up to events. As an example, in a typical day, I can have nine or ten Zoom meetings back to back. Usually, because everyone is prompt and on point, they finish five or ten minutes early. This means I often get an hour back in my day. In that time I tend to do a number of small, two-minute jobs that don’t require me to switch my brain on, or I do my bookkeeping because  a) it’s my comfort zone, but b) it’s something that I can pick up and put down and it doesn’t cause me any stress or bother.

In my mind every time I use one of those five or ten minute blocks to do something that I would otherwise be doing at the end of the day, that’s feels like a win.

But another school of thought we explored on the Mind Your Business Podcast is do we necessarily want to fill this time, or can we be smarter about how we approach these gaps and perhaps use them to create a break and maybe reduce a feeling of overwhelm? If we took these opportunities to step back, make a clearing in our schedule then rather than seeing it as losing 20 minutes, we might instead see the gaps as a chance to just stop and think and use the space to replenish your resilience and create insights that you can use to improve your service.

Prior to lockdown, my gaps between meetings would be spent either walking or driving to the next meeting. My default, at least in the car, would be to call a client, so I didn’t really experience the procrastination of Waiting Brain. Now I rarely leave the office – or house- and my day is Zoomed out, it’s more apparent so I think there is definitely a link to movement, which causes energy and engages our brain and prevents it getting into ‘waiting’ mode.

The second way Waiting Brain manifests itself then, is when you have a big event; a meeting, an appointment, a pitch and while you aren’t on standby mode from nine o’clock in the morning, it’s in the back of your mind throughout the whole day. And then by the time you get to an hour, or two hours out, it’s become such a momentous thing that your brain enters waiting mode and it’s game over until the thing is done.

There are two ways I deal with this. The first is that I try and break my day down so that if I can achieve three identifiable things in it, I am winning. I work around the important event by making sure that my three wins are small enough to be achieved around whatever or whenever that is. I confront whatever it is and change my working habits to maintain my productivity.

The other thing I try to do is to book those sorts of things in as early in the day as possible. I eat my frog for breakfast so I am not stressed about it all day, I get it done and then I can be productive afterwards.

The third approach is self-confidence; nothing is ever as bad as your mind lets you think it will be and if you have already spent time making your business and your approach as good as it can be then you are going to be able to deal with whatever situation you find yourself in and can have absolute confidence that you are prepped in advance and that your product or service is good enough.

Whether you use the time to plan, complete small jobs or take the time to step back and breathe, the key is to have a system that works for you.

The opposite of waiting brain is another procrastination zone created by putting things off until the last minute. I’ll use the example of my school days and homework set during the summer holiday. I was given five bits of homework, I had the whole summer to do them and yet I ended up doing them the last weekend before I went back to school. I am sure I am not alone in this approach.

Interestingly, there’s a lot of research that suggests the reason we do this is because the brain works best at a certain level of stress and pressure and that actually it’s hard to be productive without a pressing time boundary. Although we operate months in advance of our formal deadlines, I combat this by booking in client meetings for a fixed date so I create my own deadline, knowing that two days before the meeting I will deliver the product.

Rather than having a fixed event that causes a lack of productivity, it’s the lack of a fixed deadline that allows our brain to dance around and stop something coming to the top of the priority list and choosing to do other things instead.

The key thing here is clarity. Clarity on what we actually need to do, what the task or project is, what the commitment is, how long it will take and importantly when we will do it. Then add it to the calendar.

A phrase we hear a lot to combat this procrastination is time management, but I think time ownership is more useful and fits with both concepts discussed in this blog.

If you really own your time, then you are probably more mindful of how valuable it is and what you really want to use it for. So, then if you get an unexpected half an hour back it probably becomes an easier decision for how you want to spend those 30 minutes.


Waiting Brain is a cognitive state that occurs typically either when you get given half an hour back between meetings you weren’t expecting and yet you can’t be productive, or you’ve got one big thing in your diary that consumes all of your thoughts and also stops you being productive.

The different ways to combat it is to:

  1. Use the time to make a clearing in your thoughts or schedule and step away and just let your mind go
  2. Use the time to get a number of little jobs out of the way, so you don’t end up doing them in the evening or at the end of the day
  3. Use the time to re-energise, exercise and build up your resilience again
  4. Take the time to call other clients on the spur of the moment, connect and keep your brain working

The opposite; procrastination brain occurs when you don’t have deadlines. There’s no fixed timeline and so your brain wanders in a different way. To combat this, the insertion of artificial deadlines feels like an easy win. Alternatively, if you find yourself in a meeting or situation that is wasting your time, have the confidence to get up and walk out.

Find out more

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.

Why aren’t all business owners thriving?

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Why aren’t all business owners thriving?

This blog set out to answer the question that given the abundance of knowledge available – the majority of it being freely accessible and even organised for us by Google- why doesn’t every business owner have a thriving business?

If everyone can find out how to do it at the swipe of a screen, why aren’t they?

We see this a lot; two business owners doing roughly the same thing, in the same place, in the same way and yet the outcomes for their businesses can be very different.

On the Mind Your Business Podcast of the same title, we distilled it down to three things; mindset, time and asking the right questions.

The power of a mindset
Previous blogs have covered the effect of a positive mindset and the sheer power of belief for business owners. Belief in your business will help you skyrocket, while doubt, uncertainty or a lack of vision about where you want to be hold you back and create a ceiling for your potential.

I do a lot of talks for start-up businesses or pre-start business about how to set a business up and I tell them to build the structure for the business they want, not the one they have on day one. A bit like dressing for the job you want. Ee set Cypher up in a way that would allow us to be roughly where we are now, more than two years on, even though we’ve grown by 300%. We created the systems and we got everything in place to be the business we wanted in the future. That was our mindset, we knew where we were going and with the right systems and structures in place we got there quicker.

Other businesses stay exactly the way they are on day one.  In the beginning they don’t want staff, don’t want additional systems because it’s just them. Their mindset is to crack on, do the work, get it done, send the invoices and bank the cash and that’s fine but the point is they don’t grow.

There is also nothing more frustrating than meeting a business owner who is struggling but who won’t accept that there could be another way of doing things. They say ‘this is the way we have always done it, so this is the way’. No, it’s not; it doesn’t have to be like that and if it does, and the only way leads to a struggling business or is way too hard work then more fool you for getting into that position. There is always another way.

Put simply, if you don’t have a clear vision about where you want to be and how you will get their – and have the confidence that this is your path, then by the time you get to a point three years in the future, your business is not very efficient, maybe because you’re doing all the jobs plus being the CEO, maybe you’ve got the wrong clients, paying too little for too much, because you’ve taken on anyone with a pulse, or maybe your brand isn’t doing what it should. Whatever it is, there will be things in that business that could have been changed from the start because of a vision and a more posituive mindset.

If you build it, they will come.

Make time
Ask yourself how much time in the last month you have sat down and just thought about your business? I would suspect it’s fairly limited. It might be when you’re in the car on the way to work or last thing at night before you go to sleep because you’re too busy doing the do. You could have all the free advice in the world, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t have the availability to take it.

Managing time is critical. I think too many business owners are too busy but not necessarily productive. They spend a lot of time doing lots of jobs they shouldn’t and then don’t have the time to clear a space in their diary or in their heads to think about their business, expand their knowledge and make the most of the information available to them, which means they don’t have time to ask the right questions of themselves.

Now it might be that you are this days old when you realise that there isn’t a one size fits all approach to a thriving business. It is very much bespoke and situational. We have a bookshelf full of business books in our office and I don’t get on particularly well with them, the reason being that every single one of them has a different way of approaching the same problem. So if you read them all, you would never be able to implement everything from every book, or indeed pair philosophies from different books, because in many cases they are at complete cross purposes and very contradictory.

If you’re running a one-man, one site shoe shop, while you may take a bit of inspiration from the guy that founded Nike, excuse the pun, but you’re just not in his shoes. So many authors write from a perspective that is completely different from that of a start-up business, or indeed one that isn’t already thriving.

Google it
One of the solutions we discussed was to simply Google the answers to the questions posed in any given situation. It may not feel like the natural reaction, but why wouldn’t you do it?

Now, given that Alan Clark my co-host on the Mind Your Business Podcast is a business coach, who is in business himself to help other business owners solve their problems, you might wonder if this approach changes his mindset to business. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t.

You might Google the error codes on your washing machine, get your hands dirty, learn on the job and maybe even solve the problem, which will give you great satisfaction but when you can’t you call the repair man and sometimes it costs more! Getting good people, real experts to help you in your business can be priceless.

You might be firefighting 18 different situations at once; problems with suppliers, problems with teams, a loss of market share, the pressure is on. Or more positively you have a phenomenal, new idea that you want to get to market. It’s a huge opportunity but you need help realising it. Using experts can go deeper into your issues or give you a higher level of emotional support.

Start with a question
Your solutions or gateway to a thriving business can start with the quality of question you’re asking yourself. I didn’t know all the questions and certainly not all of the answers, but I did know that at Cypher I wanted 200 clients and 10 members of staff. That was my vision and then we went all the way back to what do we need to do to achieve this? We need to astonish our customers, we need to have all the systems in place, we need to bill monthly and set our prices correctly.

Most of the answers for how a business can thrive are within the business owner. No one knows their business more intimately than them. But unless you know what the question is, how will you find them. I often go into a coaching session not knowing what the questions are that I need to ask, but through the coaching process the questions bubble up and at the end of a session can have a profound effect on my business. You can Google and get the answer, but you cannot get that accountability that another human will give you.

What questions are you asking yourself around the possibilities for your business?

Double your business
Could double your business by setting that target and giving yourself the space and time to come up with the big questions that need answering to achieve that goal and then find a set of answers either by reading literature or engaging another professional?

We’re not saying it’s simple, but we are saying it’s a possibility that a large amount of business owners simply are not accessing.

Find out more

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.

Silencing your inner critic

Silencing your inner critic 150 150 Cypher

Silencing your inner critic

Most of us have experienced our inner critic: that little voice in our head that’s sniping away, bringing us down, criticising our efforts and ultimately convincing us that we’re not good enough.

Overall, it gets incredibly bad press. But on a recent Mind Your Business Podcast, Alan and I wondered whether it can have a more positive use?

Where does our inner critic come from?
According to psychologists the roots of our inner critics are found in childhood. Sigmund Freud, in particular explained the formation of our superegos as a process during which we internalise external views of ourselves – predominantly those of our parents, while at the same time, accepting wider social expectations and ethical norms that begin the generation of ego ideals – of which we then regularly tend to fall short.

A more scientific explanation locates our inner critic in the older parts of our primitive “survivor brain” that is tasked with physical survival and the fight-or-flight response to danger. Originally, our inner critic had a positive function: to ensure our survival. This includes not just spotting danger in our environment but also inner work in the form of psychological sense making.

Two things we have discussed, and written about, previously support the work to combat the inner critic; firstly, we discussed how not to create a business horror story, for which your inner critic seems a very willing and able co-writer. But also we talked about the brilliance of resilience and how to view everything that goes wrong as a learning opportunity and an opportunity to improve.

Separate yourself from your inner voice
At some stage in our lives we all listen to our inner critic, but while recognising it exists, and accepting it isn’t going away there are practical steps can we take to deal with it. The key is to be able to take on board what it says- to keep us ‘safe’- but then to ultimately move past it.

To do this, first of all, try to get a level of separation from your inner critic. For example, instead of the voice being yours, consider it’s an employee or a colleague. This allows you to manage it like you would any relationship with these people in real life. Their negative views may have some validity, but ultimately you are able to largely ignore them and move on.

Alan used this example when dealing with a business coaching client. They had a mix up on times and his inner critic immediately went into overdrive, telling him it was his fault, he was incompetent and had basically ruined his business; why would anyone want to be coached by him again? His response was to smile, actually take time to consciously thank his inner critic for its input but graciously decline to take the feedback on board.

He moved from catastrophizing the event to actually dealing with it in a calm and productive manner. The dates were sorted, the client was happy. Job done. In this way, giving your inner critic a personality is a step forward to actually managing it, but also being able to deal with it before it can have any further negative impact on your response to a situation is crucial. I know there are people that don’t have that ability, their inner critic is too loud to just silence.
I think it’s important to understand that it’s very rare for anyone’s inner critic to be a hundred percent right. The doomsday scenario doesn’t happen every 10 minutes of every day. Accept that there is an inner critic, everyone has one, but it doesn’t reflect reality, it’s a separate thing and a lot of what it says is absolute tosh.

Optimists v pessimists
I have talked a lot about the difference between optimists and pessimists. I think a natural born optimist is probably able to compartmentalise their inner critic better than a pessimist does, what brings out the pessimism is the louder inner critic’s voice and their view on the world.

Consider this concept; if the words and language we use, including our self-talk, reveals everything about how we perceive situations and how we feel, then –shocking headline- the more negatively we perceive something, the more we worry and the more anxious we feel  which informs our actions and ultimately outcomes.

So if you are consistently listening to your negative inner critic and taking its views to heart then you are probably going about your business in a far more negative way and displaying behaviours and actions that are not conducive to building relationships and growing businesses. Whereas, if your inner critic is more positive, more balanced, then it probably feels better being you and being with you.

Give your inner voice chance to speak
A way I used to deal with colleagues that were always very negative was to get them to write down all of their gripes. That process often allowed us to focus on real grievances and bat off things that weren’t an issue. If at certain times you subconsciously – or even consciously – allow your inner critic to vent then maybe there is a learning opportunity in there somewhere. Maybe you’re inner critic telling you that you are about to lose a client suggest that perhaps you aren’t paying them enough attention.

From this perspective there are parts of the inner critic that are definitely useful. It could be intuition. It could be sent from the universe. It could be something built into our evolutionary fight or flight response but there’s something going on that you might want to pay attention to.

If it brings our attention to something, it has done its job. Manifest in negativity and criticism it certainly isn’t a truth detector and 80% of what it says is potentially noise around the edges of reality but there are some nuggets in there you should listen to. If we know that then we can listen to our inner critic, not take it too seriously and maybe even love it.

Imposter Syndrome
Another way your inner critic raises its voice is as the lead cheerleader for imposter syndrome. A way to deal with this is to quickly list facts and not base decisions on assumptions. For example, what is going on with your business? How good is your performance? What are you doing to get better? How are you leading? What are people seeing and saying about you and your business?

Then expose the lies, the made up horror stories that you have created by shining a light on them and asking yourself honestly what are you basing the decisions that you aren’t good enough on? By bringing clarity to a situation it can demonstrate that the whole imposter syndrome that has limited you as a human being for decades is based on an untruth.

A technique I use whenever I get critical thoughts about the business I score areas of it out of 10 as honestly as I can. I use industry benchmarks and competitors, but often other sources sometimes to keep it interesting but if I feel we are on a par, or better than many then we are ok to be doing well. It’s a powerful tool.

Everyone has an inner critic; we all listen to it and its voice, no matter how quiet or strong, will have an impact on our response to a given situation. Listen to it, that’s its job, and why 8 billion human beings have one, but remember, the inner critic is not you, it’s going to be negative, probably hurtful but it’s not a truth detector. Engage with it, shine a light on it, sift through the noise and find the nugget that can help you actually deal with a situation.

Find out more

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.