Olive Strachan North West Export Champion 2016
Inspiring Business North West
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A lot of people have spent a lot of money and invested a lot of effort into creating The Perfect Work Environment. This imagined utopia is a calm, peaceful place, where ideas roam free and everyone works at maximum productivity from dawn 'til dusk.

In all likelihood, The Perfect Work Environment doesn’t exist. There will always be problems to solve, conflicts to quash, and precious minutes wasted. However, that shouldn’t keep us from trying to achieve the best possible workplace; even if we never become ultra-efficient androids, we can still create a great working environment that encourages creativity and exudes positivity.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones recently wrote an article called Creating the Best Workplace on Earth, and while the content is packed with plenty of fresh, interesting ideas, it’s based around ideals that OSR have always believed in. Goffee and Jones come to the conclusion that a good working environment has to be authentic: in other words, there should plenty of honest communication to make sure that everybody knows what they’re working towards. Everybody at the company should feel like an important contributor to the cause; they should feel valued, influential, and free to express themselves.

There’s a lot more to it, of course, but the main takeaway from this article is that we should all be aiming to create work environments in which people feel meaningful. That means being honest with your employees, keeping them in the loop, and treasuring any input they might have. If someone feels like their work isn’t important, or that they’re not being given the freedom to develop and grow, they’re not going to stay put for very long.

If you’d like to bring your office a little closer to being The Perfect Work Environment, OSR offer a range of training courses that will help. Our Managing Workplace Problems course will help you to turn conflict into positive, productive exercise; the Effective Communicator training day will ensure that you are communicating clearly and authentically with your colleagues at all times. Email info@olivestrachan.com for more information.

Photo by Anne Burgess

Over the coming weeks, Olive Strachan will be sharing her thoughts and advice on the subject of becoming an influential woman. In this first blog post, Olive talks about how she got started in the world of business.

Image credit: Lee Jordan

The first step is always the hardest, and that's especially true in the world of business! Starting from scratch can seem like an impossible task, but bear in mind that every business has to start somewhere. Even Bill Gates was an unknown, once upon a time.

The first thing you'll need to do is identify your own skills and abilities. I spent many years in the recruitment industry with companies like Reed, Blue Arrow, and Ardecco, for whom I worked as a manager and trainer. Relatively early in my career, I realised that I was able to match the right person to the right job with uncanny precision. I also discovered a talent for building long-term relationships with people in both social and business contexts.

It wasn't long before my employers spotted these skills, and they started giving me the new recruits to train. I saw many of the people I mentored go on to have successful, illustrious careers, and my work in the recruitment field really helped me to build my confidence and self-belief. "If I can do this for an organisation," I thought, "why not do it for myself?"

After being turned down for promotion on the ground that I didn't have a degree, I decided to strike out on my own. The next step was self-improvement: it was time to acquire some new skills. I started taking night classes at Salford University, where I successfully completed a post-graduate diploma in Human Resource Management. It was around this time that I realised my true calling: the development of people. I found a job with the Video Arts training company, who were opening their first office in North West England and needed a manager. By combining my own natural talents with study and self-improvement, I had found a career that suited me, and set myself up to succeed in the world of business.

In her next blog post, Olive will be looking back to the birth of OSR (her own training company) and offering a few tips for women who are looking to get a new enterprise off the ground. Don't miss it!

Insider North West recently included Olive Strachan - OSR's founder and CEO - in their list of the 100 Most Influential Women in Business. Olive established her own company in 1998, and since then she's expanded her reach into the four corners of the globe, delivering training sessions all over the world and growing Olive Strachan Resources into a truly international training company.

Over the coming weeks, Olive will be sharing her thoughts on being a woman in the world of business, as well as offering some tips for women who wish to become influential in their chosen industry. This series of blog posts will cover everything from getting a company off the ground to gaining a foothold in the international market, and we're sure that her tips will prove helpful to budding businesswomen everywhere.

Here's a message from Olive herself:

There has been much research regarding women in business and, sadly, women are still perceived as a risk. My belief is that the problem stems from a lack of confidence in ourselves. In my series of blogs about how to become an influential businesswoman, I will share with you some of the challenges I have faced and how I overcame them. I will also write about the amazing experiences I have had that led to my inclusion in Insider Magazine's list of the 100 most influential women in business. 

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

Stop, look and listen! It's a mantra we all had drummed into us at an early age, and while those three imperatives are mainly intended to keep people out of car accidents, they're quite handy when it comes to handling problems in the workplace, too. The business world could learn a thing or two from Tufty the Squirrel!

So next time you're faced with a problem in the workplace, follow these three simple steps:

  • Stop!
    Don't just spring into action without a moment's consideration. You wouldn't stride blindly into the road without pausing to check for oncoming traffic, and you shouldn't start hacking away at a problem until you know what's going on. When an issue presents itself, stop and take a breath instead of acting on the spur of the moment.
  • Look!
    Once you're ready to tackle the problem, be sure to examine it closely. Not everything is as it first appears, and acting on false assumptions can have dire consequences further down the line. Consider the problem from every angle - this will enable you to feel a lot more confident in your actions thereafter.
  • Listen!
    Of course, you can't know everything just by looking. Cars can speed around the corner as if from nowhere, and that's why we teach our kids to use their ears as well as their eyes. If you want to make the best possible decisions, it's important to hear what everyone involved has to say, so sit everyone down and listen to each person's argument in turn. Encourage your employees to do the same; if somebody is explaining themselves, don't let anyone else interrupt them. Simply listening to the other party's opinion is sometimes enough to solve a dispute!

In the long run, resolving a workplace problem will be a far quicker, far cleaner job if you stop to think about it first. Take a good look at the situation and listen while everyone has their say. This will allow you to make an informed, effective decision and restore peace to the office!

Every manager needs good problem solving skills. If you feel that this side of your management could be improved, book your place on OSR's Managing Workplace Problems training day - the next course will take place on the 22nd of October, 2013.

Management and leadership are often used interchangeably, but while they are related, they are far from the same thing. If you're in charge of a company, it's important to have a firm grasp of both concepts, and if you don't know the difference between leadership and management then it's high time you learned.

So let's imagine two people: one is a manager, the other is a leader. Both are responsible for a team of employees, but that's where the similarities end.

Okay, so they look kind of similar too.

The manager has a specific goal to meet. He or she must work out what needs to be done, give each of their employees a set of tasks, and make sure everyone is working hard to meet the goal. The big challenges for a manager are staying on top of everything, keeping everyone motivated, and tackling any obstacles that might prevent the team from achieving its goal.

The leader has a slightly more open-ended task to deal with. Where managers give commands and make sure they are being followed, leaders have to give their followers inspiration - arguably an even tougher job. The leader has to create a positive atmosphere that's conducive to good ideas; they must enable their employees to be a little more independent and, yes, lead them towards bright, innovative new horizons.

Good management is key to getting the job done efficiently and effectively; outstanding leadership is what you'll need if you want your business to break the mould and push the boundaries. Of course, both skills are crucial to a company's success, and so the best company directors will have a good blend of both qualities.

Want to take your leadership skills to the next level? Book a place on OSR's Essentials for Managers with Experience training course. The next course will take place in Manchester on the 3rd of October, 2013 - call 0161 838 5692 or email info@olivestrachan.com to book your place.

Everybody has an ego, and egos often lead to arguments. When a problem arises - in the workplace or anywhere else - it's often caused by a clash of egos. Person A has one way of doing things, Person B thinks their way is better, and the ensuing dispute means that things don't get done at all.

Mocking Bird Argument

Photograph by Chiltepinster

The main causes of conflict are poor communication and personal differences. OSR's Managing Workplace Problems training course is largely based around this maxim. Here are some tips to bear in mind next time you're trying to tackle a problem in your place of work:

  • Stay positive
    Remember, you're trying to solve the problem and make things better. Getting angry or being negative will most likely worsen the situation. and the relationship between you and the problem person will grow even tenser.

  • Remember, they're human too
    People have feelings, opinions, and - as we've already discussed - egos. When you're addressing a problem, you must do your best not to hurt feelings, bruise egos, or insult anyone's intelligence. Whether they're your employee, your colleague, or your boss, they're only human, and it's good to look at things from their point of view before you take action. Belittling the problem person or ignoring their views will only give them a reason to dislike you, and what might have been a simple difference of opinion will devolve into an unpleasant personal battle. Speaking of which...

  • Don't make a fight out of it
    If you can possibly avoid it, you should never let the dispute become a fightbetween one side and another. There isn't always a right or wrong answer, and if you can find some common ground, you're far more likely to arrive at a solution that makes everyone happy.

Essentially, the best approach is to address the problem directly, acknowledge that everyone's opinion is valid (even if you don't personally agree with it), and work together to resolve the issue. Don't fight tooth and nail to prove that you're right, and don't start thinking that the other person is working against you. In most cases, both parties will want the same outcome - that is, a peaceful, productive work environment - so try to look at the issue from both sides and remember that no problem was ever made worse by communication.

if you'd like to learn more about the effective handling of problems in the workplace, why not book a place on our Managing Workplace Problems course? The next course will take place on Tuesday the 22nd of October, 2013, so call 0161 838 5692 or email info@olivestrachan.com to book your place.

We're in pretty high spirits at OSR headquarters today, and for good reason: our CEO, Olive Strachan, has been chosen as one of the most influential businesswomen in North West England by Insider Magazine! The Top 100 list (featured in the August ‘13 issue of North West Business Insider) is comprised of women from all kinds of different industries: PR gurus rub shoulders with media executives, and many high-profile companies are represented in the countdown, including Nichols and N Brown. 

As you can probably imagine, Olive was over the moon to see her name on the list, and this accolade is testament to OSR’s success in both the North West and beyond. The list was put together was put together by an elite group of prominent businesspeople from throughout the region; each woman who made the list was chosen for her influence on North-Western business and her contribution to the business world at large. Based on those criteria, we’d say that Olive is wholly deserving of her place on the list!

Everyone here at OSR would like to congratulate Olive on her fantastic achievement – we’re sure that she’ll pick up many more accolades in the future. If you’d like to find out more about the list and the other 99 women who made the cut, head over to the Insider North West website; if you’d like to find out more about what we do here at Olive Strachan Resources, we’d recommending starting from the homepage.

fired stamp

It’s often said that staff are a company’s greatest asset. Not everyone will agree, and if your employees aren’t living up to their initial promise, you may well find yourself tempted to do some sacking and start again with new ones.

Dismissals are sometimes unavoidable, but on the whole, it’s always better to stick with your current employees than to ditch them and find new ones. Here are five reasons why:

  1. Recruitment
    Job hunting is no barrel of laughs, but finding someone to fill your own vacancies can be even more frustrating. You’ll have high hopes at first, but if your dream candidate hasn’t materialised after a few weeks, you’ll soon lose your enthusiasm for the whole process. You might well regret getting rid of your problematic former employee in the first place – at least they had the necessary qualifications!

  2. Training
    Even the most outstanding new prospect will most likely require a little training, and if you’ve already put a lot of time into training your current employees, it makes more sense to keep trying with them than to go back to square one with somebody new. Don’t let your efforts thus far go to waste!

  3. Loyalty
    Admittedly, if you’re on the brink of sacking someone, that person probably isn’t all that committed to your cause anyway. But even your least productive employees will probably have some sense of company loyalty; the person who has been with the business for a couple of years will almost always be more invested than the person who’s only just started. Loyalty is a rare commodity, and it should never be thrown away.

  4. The Team
    This point is especially pertinent for small companies. Once your staff members have been working together for a little while, they will form a tight-knit group, and introducing a newcomer to the group will sometimes leave the newcomer feeling alienated. It’s even harder for a new person to integrate when they’re taking somebody else’s place; if your remaining employees were fairly fond of their ex-coworker, they might not be all that welcoming towards their replacement.

  5. Your Competitors
    What does a person do upon losing their job? Some will use the opportunity to re-invent themselves and try their hand at something completely new, but countless others will simply look for similar work elsewhere. Unless the person you’ve just dismissed wants to relocate or swap careers entirely, they’ll probably try for a job with a local company in the same industry as you – i.e. one of your competitors. And since that person has worked for you, they’re probably capable of telling their new boss more than you’d like them to know about the inner workings of your business.

So even if your employees are causing you headaches, you should always do what you can to keep them. Talk to them about the issues you’re having, consider investing in some professional training, and only dismiss them as a last resort.

Oh, and hanging on to your employees doesn’t just mean sticking with the bad ones – it also means keeping the good ones happy! If somebody is doing good work, make sure they know it, and try to reward them appropriately so that they don’t think about leaving.

While browsing through the Leadership section of the Management Today website, I came across this article, which warns against making assumptions in day-to-day life. You can read the full piece for yourself, but basically the author received an invitation to a barbecue and decided to go along, only to discover that the host wasn’t who they thought it was. The moral (and indeed the title) of the story is that you should never assume anything, lest you be punished with awkwardness at best and unpleasantness at worst.

The story was certainly interesting, not to mention amusing, but at first it was somewhat hard to see what any of it had to with leadership. Going to a barbecue, mistaking one acquaintance for another – there’s no real relation to the world of business.

But as it turns out, people who land on that page looking for leadership advice need look no further than the article’s heading. ‘Never assume anything’ isn’t merely a helpful social tip; it’s a crucial rule of thumb for managers and leaders everywhere. The story that Avril Millar relates is just one example of where false assumptions can lead, and one hardly needs to spell out how much higher the stakes are when the situation is business-related.

Good leaders should never make assumptions. Whether it’s assuming that your employees are doing exactly what you expect of them, or assuming that a problem will work itself out given time, you need to stop assuming and start finding out for sure. Listen to what people tell you, and eliminate any ambiguity by asking questions and checking your facts. When your business is on the line, the consequences of a mistaken assumption could be far worse than an awkward evening with a forgotten friend.

If you’re looking to improve your leadership skills, OSR offer a range of Leadership & Development courses that may help. Call 0161 838 5692 to find out more.

LED light bulb

Regardless of which business you’re in, innovation is always a big deal. While it might well be possible to coast through the dark waters of your industry without making any waves, those who want to make it big will need some big ideas.

Many people have a pretty two-dimensional view of what ‘business innovation’ means. Come up with a great idea for a cool new product, develop and market that product as best you can, and ringing cash registers will soundtrack the rest of your life. Sure, sometimes it is that simple, but invention is not the only way to innovate!

In truth, more or less everyone has the opportunity to be innovative. You might wish that you worked in a more ‘creative’ capacity, but you don’t have to be a designer or an artist to get creative. From data entry to senior management, all lines of work can benefit from a little bit of innovation. It’s hard to imagine the company that considers ‘creativity’ to be a negative trait in their employees, and if such a business does exist, their office must be very dull indeed.

A lot of businesses put a lot of emphasis on innovation when it comes to products and services, but innovative management and creative business operations are far less sought-after. No matter what line of work you’re in, a bit of innovation is no bad thing!

Attending OSR’s Emotional Intelligence training course is a great way to breathe new life into your managerial style and bring a little innovation into your business. Our next course will take place in Manchester on the 12th of September, 2013 – call 0161 838 5692 email info@olivestrachan.com today to book your place!

Photo courtesy of Karl Baron (via Wikimedia Commons)

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