Olive Strachan North West Export Champion 2016
Inspiring Business North West
phone +44 (0) 161 509 2017

Dare to begin achieving your goals

"All glory comes from daring to begin" is an apt quote by Eugene F. Ware because today's blog is all about achievement. And to achieve we need to take action. Often we do nothing because we are paralysed by worry, guilt, pessimism and fear, and we miss an opportunity to shine.

Here are my key tips to tackle the underlying attitudes and thoughts that may hold us back from achieving success:

  1. Understand your potential. Take some time and complete your own personal SWOT analysis. We often do this for organisations, but it also works well for individuals. Look at your personal Strengths and Weaknesses, as well as Opportunities and Threats. Doing this exercise helps me to focus my mind.

  2. Take responsibility. There are always aspects of our lives that we need to take in hand and stop leaving them to other people. Or things that, if we focused on instead of avoiding, would improve our lives considerably. Stop procrastinating, put some time aside and just do it.

  3. Monitor your self-talk. Be kind to yourself - there are many people we encounter daily who make comments that can hurt or crush us, so why do it to yourself? I create my own positive space where I bring together positive and uplifting experiences in my life together with visual reminders. In no time, I am feeling fabulous again.

  4. A sense of humour is so important! I googled 'laughter', and this is what I found (from HelpGuide.org): "Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals." I rest my case - find what does it for you and go for it. I often sit at home watching the comedy channels with tears of laughter running down my face. It's the best kind of therapy!

  5. Associate with positive people. There was a great Huffington Post article on why you should surround yourself with good people. People have a significant on your life - according to American entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn, "you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with". He describes a good person as someone who inspires you to be a better person, provides you with the motivation to succeed, and cheers you on to success.

  6. Live life with a passion. By this I mean enthusiasm and demonstrating a strong positive emotion. When someone demonstrates passion and enthusiasm, it is contagious! I have used a DVD called FISH in courses on teamwork, customer care and attitude; this DVD has had a positive impact because of the passion, positivity, enthusiasm and fun demonstrated by the staff on the DVD. The 4 key themes are 'choosing your attitude', 'play: make someone's day', and 'be there'.

  7. Finally, have a positive self-image. If there is one key lesson I would want to share with my younger self, it is this: 'other people's opinions shouldn't become your reality'. The only person who can shape your life and achieve your goals is you.

So stop holding back and go forth and succeed. Let me know how you get on!

Keep Employees Happy

In an ideal world (or should I say company!), people would bounce into work each day with smiles on their faces, motivated to be productive and engaged. But, as we know, the truth is that most people are completely disengaged. That tends to leave just a small section, usually categorised as the 'Talent Pool', who are actively engaged and motivated to make a difference within the organisation.

As we know, there are endless reasons for disengagement, as people and organisational culture can be so different from organisation to organisation. In my opinion, there are a few familiar ones in the many years I have focused on engagement within businesses:

  • Poor working environment
  • Pressure on employees, which affects some people's mental well-being
  • Lack of salary growth or employee benefits
  • Lack of meaningful progression or development
  • Poor management - this is probably the hardest to break through negative leadership culture norms

Sadly, for many organisations, engagement has become a to-do list of activities:

  • Annual engagement survey - tick
  • Benefits and compensation initiative - tick
  • Celebrating success - tick

And while these things are vital, what many managers and leaders lack is the understanding of how they can impact and improve engagement. It's really worth investing in attending an employee engagement course to learn practical solutions, such as:

  • Alignment of company and individual values
  • How to retain talent and setting targets to measure this
  • Developing trust and being a supportive leader
  • Addressing the gaps and putting an action plan in place

If you improve your employees' emotional commitment to the organisation's goals, they will start to care more. And in turn they will become more productive, giving better service internally and externally and even retaining the talent in their jobs for longer. That will lead to happier customers/clients who refer, which drives sales.

At OSR, we run Employee Engagement courses and off consultancy on this subject - please get in touch to find out how we can help.

Going Global

On 10th October 2017 in my role as a North-West Export Champion, I was invited to a joint event between the Institute of Directors and The Department of International Trade called 'An Introduction to Exporting'. It was a thought-provoking event hosted by KPMG Manchester.

It was a round table event with a variety of organisations, some already exporting successfully and some new to exporting looking for guidance. As a seasoned exporter having worked as a Learning and Development Consultant/Executive coach in 25 countries around the world, I was there to share my experience of working globally and to share some of the successes and challenges of working with diverse cultures.

The key points for discussion were:

Why should companies export?

There are myriad reasons including growing your market and increasing sales, it also allows you to reduce your reliance on the UK market. If your product or service is experiencing a downturn, being able to offer it globally means that you offset this by exporting, plus it could increase the shelf life of your product or service. I can confirm that this has been my experience of exporting. During the recession in the UK from 2008 onwards I identified clients who had an international reach and was able to win a contract which allowed me to work globally, thus keeping my business solvent during the difficult and challenging years. As someone who was born in Dominica in the Caribbean, the opportunity to see the world whilst working in a profession that I love has provided me with some amazing opportunities to build a global network of contacts.

Academic research confirms that exporting companies see the following benefits:

  • They are 11% more likely to stay in business
  • More productive and innovative than non-exporters
  • 30% increase in productivity in the first year
  • Higher profile and more credibility

I can confirm that if I had not won my international contract during the recession I would not be in business today. Being able to work abroad whilst the UK was in the doldrums allowed my company to withstand the recession and keep going. It has also given me a firm foundation in the global market with organisations offering me work in the countries where I have some experiences. For example, I have worked in Oman, Bahrain, Dubai, Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait and Yemen on numerous occasions. I have also worked in Bangkok, Sarajevo and Uzbekistan. So, potential clients understand that I am versatile and have cultural awareness.

Barriers to exporting

The organisations that attended the event had quite specific barriers which they shared with us. We were also given some barriers reported to the Department for International Trade; which were finding customers, payment terms, logistics, communication and legal risks. One of the big issues is also around culture. I was very fortunate that a lot of my work was for the British Council. Part of their support for consultants who work for them involves sending you guidance prior to travelling which gives information regarding the culture and the do's and don'ts whilst working in a location. This information was invaluable in helping with dress code and language etc. If the organisation that you are working for does not supply this I would recommend the excellent services of the DTI who have 1,200 staff in over 100 overseas markets and around 400 people across UK regions, working locally with UK businesses. They can provide advice about culture, language and can also arrange meetings with potential customers on your behalf.

My lessons learned from 14 years of working globally:

Explore and immerse yourself in the culture.

I have always learnt how to say good morning, hello or welcome in the language where I am delivering training or working. This sometimes can cause amusement due to the accent, but I find everyone appreciates that you have tried. But also, it is important to dress appropriately and respect the dress code.

Learn laws and social etiquette

This is vital in order to do business that is sustainable, in some countries you have to build a relationship where there is trust, which means some face to face contact and delivering on your promises. This also includes your website, it is important that your website respects the social mores and culture of your clients. For instance, having someone with parts of their body exposed in your marketing material when selling bathroom equipment is not suitable for the Middle East.

Build your global brand by:

  • Using your unique selling point (USP) - what is different about you? What can you offer that others can't?

  • Presenting yourself and your product or service in a way that is tailored to your market.

  • Dress and speak appropriately - use humour appropriately. If unsure, leave it out rather than risking offence.

  • Know and use your social media channels. 88% of the Middle East's online population use social media daily. It is estimated that 58 million people in the Middle East use Facebook, with 6.5 million people on Twitter and 5.8 million on LinkedIn.

So, if you have not considered taking your business to a global audience, now is the time! If I can be of any help to you starting on your global journey, feel free to contact me - if I can't help you myself, I will put you in touch with Bobbie Charleston-Price, my international trade adviser.

Abraham Lincoln statue

I recently facilitated a session for a senior leadership team called 'inspirational leadership'. Part of the pre-course preparation was to identify a leader they admired and to prepare a short presentation on:

  1. Why are they an inspirational leader?
  2. What impact have they had?
  3. What is their legacy?

It was extremely interesting to listen to the different presentations and to learn about what each member of the leadership team felt that good leadership looked like.

The leaders selected were as follows:

  • Sir David Brailsford, Olympic Coaching Superstar

Brailsford once referred to himself as a conductor of an orchestra. His role as performance director of British cycling saw him recognising talent and encouraging professionals, experts and athletes to perform at their best.

His approach is a collaborative one, he speaks about creating an enjoyable environment for his athletes and rather than dictating the steps they take to success, instead he works together with them to help them on the way up.

  • Richard Branson

He was chosen because he has a sense of fun, he is not a remote leader but gets involved at all levels. He takes time to listen, is not afraid to take risks and he demonstrates respect for his employees. He gives to charity and one of his challenges is that he has had to overcome dyslexia, and he dreams big.

  • Winston Churchill

Dynamic, able to mobilise people using his great inspirational quotes. He was courageous and creative, he didn’t sugar coat the message he ‘said it as it is’.

His key skills were that he could: influence and engage, he was bold and had a unique style, he was team spirited and made powerful speeches.

  • Abraham Lincoln

Was known as honest Abe, he was not afraid of taking risks and he was a good situational leader. He could share his goal and vision, he took the blame when things went wrong, but was happy to share success. He was aware of his weaknesses.

  • Rosa Louise Parks

Was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement, whom the United States congress called “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”.

Rosa helped spark the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat in Montgomery.

Her strengths were: a keen sense of justice, a profound sense of conviction, integrity, she was quietly confident and she took a significant risk.

  • Emmeline Pankhurst

Was a British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women win the right to vote. She was named one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. She shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back. She took drastic action to achieve her goals.

Her style was: transformational, visionary, charismatic, empathetic, goal focused and she left a strong legacy.

  • Lord Baden Powell

He was especially talented in military scouting and is best known for starting a worldwide scouting movement. He was also a prolific writer who often chose his military experiences as the subjects of his work. The legacy of Baden-Powell lies in the popularity of the scouting movement throughout the world.

Leadership Qualities

You may not agree that the leaders chosen by the senior leadership team are good examples of leaders, also certain styles of leadership used in the past are not practical for modern day, however, each leader named had a lasting impact and left a legacy.

After listening to all the presentations there are 8 lessons in leadership that are the common thread for most, if not all, of our leaders:

  1. Inspires and motivates others
  2. Displays integrity and honesty
  3. Solves problems and analyses issues
  4. Drives for results
  5. Good communicator
  6. Displays strategic perspective
  7. Develops others
  8. Innovates

I would love to know who you would have chosen as the leader you most admire and why - please contact me at olive@olivestrachan.com.

As a training consultancy, one of the most important things we help our clients with is employee engagement.

Ryan Cheyne @ Rentalcars.com

What is employee engagement?

There are a number of different definitions available, but according to the CIPD, employee engagement is:

"Being focused in what you do (thinking), feeling good about yourself in your role and organisation (feeling), and acting in a way that demonstrates commitment to the organisational values and objectives (acting)."

I've been fortunate enough to meet Ryan Cheyne, Director of Rentalcars.com, on a few occasions, and he recently shared with me the employee engagement strategy that's in use at his present organisation. It immediately piqued my interest as it sounded creative, innovative, and fun! As leader of the HR Leaders/Fellows group of the CIPD's Manchester branch, I asked Ryan (pictured above) if he would host an event for us at his offices and demonstrate how his employee engagement strategy works.

On the 6th of October, a group of HR professionals and business leaders attended the event at Rentalcars.com's offices on Fountain Street in Manchester. It was a very interesting event indeed, and each person took away some key hints and tips on how to improve employee engagement within their organisation.

The CIPD Factsheet on Employee Engagement quotes the MacLeod Review of 2009, summarising four 'enablers' that should be fundamentals of any employee engagement strategy:

  • Leadership that gives a 'strong strategic narrative about the organisation, where it's come from and where it is going'

  • Line managers who motivate, empower and support employees

  • Employee voice throughout the organisation, to challenge or reinforce the status quo and involve employees in decision-making

  • Organisational integrity: stated values, embedded into the organisation's culture ('What we say is what we do!')

I feel that Rentalcars.com have drawn together all of the above strands and more in their employee engagement strategy.

Rentalcars.com were excellent hosts, with Ryan Cheyne and Damiana Casile welcoming us to their offices with some lovely refreshments and giving everyone the opportunity to network.

Ryan then opened the event by taking us through his background in employee engagement. Prior to joining Rentalcars.com, Ryan was People Director of Pets at Home, the UK's leading pet specialist retailer. During the 9 years he spent with Pets at Home, the company was repeatedly recognised as a retail employer of choice, notably being named as the #1 Big Company to Work For in 2013 by The Sunday Times. In his role as People Director, Ryan found innovative ways to being the company's core values to life, and as a result, Ryan's expertise in the area of employee engagement is well known in the business community.

Here are some of the thoughts that Ryan shared with us:

It doesn't matter what your company does - people generally want the same things from work.

Here are some of the benefits that Rentalcars.com employees receive:

  • Free tea, coffee and fruit
  • A cool working environment
  • A subsidised canteen
  • Meeting rooms
  • A space that is fun and fit for purpose
  • A workplace to be PROUD of!

Having received a full tour of the Rentalcars.com office, I must say that it's somewhere I would be proud to work as well.

Ryan also shared his belief that:

The road to engagement starts with listening - the journey to engagement starts with doing.

We then discussed the purpose of Rentalcars.com, linking back to the Macleod review, which states that 'there should be a strong narrative about where the organisation is going'. I believe that the purpose of Rentalcars clearly states where the company would like to go and the contribution required from their employees.

Empowering People

Ryan then demonstrated how the organisation listens and involves its employees in the decision-making process. In order for employees to feel that they have a voice and that their contributions are of value, Rentalcars.com held an event around shaping their values, giving each employee the opportunity to have some input.

Rentalcars.com 'V' Festival

Ryan also told us about the Rentalcars.com 'V' Festival. The aim was to create:

  • A values-driven event
  • An event where people come together with a common purpose
  • Something that was fun, vibrant, trendy and cool
  • A buzz and a discussion
  • A memorable point in time where colleagues felt involved
  • A mass of data and feedback to uncover the company's values
  • Something that would 'launch' the values event before it took place

Ryan shared with us details of the 'V' festival, which included colourful bunting, live music, a photo booth, and interactive sessions intended to gather employee feedback. As someone who enjoys involvement and participation, I could visualise the event and very much wished I had been able to take part! Following on from the event, all the data was analysed and the stated values were then agreed upon and shared throughout the business. As each staff member was involved in shaping these values, the work required to embed them into the organisation's culture was partly achieved. The next step for Rentalcars.com is to live those values and make sure that 'what we say is what we do'!

The values of Rentalcars.com really resonate with me. Love plays a big part, together with creativity, togetherness, fun and honesty.

Rentalcars.com Company Values

The final part of our visit was a tour of the company's famous offices, hailed in the Manchester Evening News on the 27th of May 2015 as potentially 'Manchester's coolest office'!

Rentalcars.com Offices in Manchester

Ryan and his team gave us a guided tour of their offices, and I must say that I feel they are truly fabulous - we didn't want to leave!

Olive Strachan and friends

“Effective people management and development is essential in supporting productivity, effective skills utilisation, innovation and growth.” Peter Cheese, Chief Executive, CIPD

3 Top Tips for Driving Performance

In order to be productive it is important that managers drive performance within their team. Often a team’s performance is hampered by lack of clarity and direction. Here are my top 3 tips for driving performance and ultimately increasing productivity!

  1. Personalisation

    Create an internal ‘brand’ which draws a line in the sand regarding the past and agree the working methodology for the future! Branding can create leverage and team spirit. The brand should demonstrate the behaviours that the organisation expects from its staff and should have an internal focus as opposed to an external one encouraging employees to get involved and be part of it. An exercise that would get all staff involved would be to create a list of the emotions and adjectives surrounding your brand, then allow your staff to assist in refining the list. Your brand personality will inform all the decisions and form your visual identity for the future.
  2. Strengthen Leadership

    “Leadership is an activity, not a personality or a position”. This is taken from Fifteen Lessons on Leadership from the Video Arts film about Jamie Oliver taking 15 young people and training them to become chefs. The five key lessons which he shares are:
    • Lead the way
    • Show them how
    • Believe in them
    • Deal with it
    • Learn and adapt
    Managers and leaders should be role models to staff by embodying the values and beliefs of the organisation. They need to set the standards they expect and live and breathe the values. Problems that arise should be dealt with promptly and managers need to be consistent and, of course, they need to learn and adapt.
  3. Provide a support framework

    Where people are falling short of expectations for whatever reason there needs to be a series of support mechanisms. They may include coaching; mentoring; learning and development programmes or stress and emotional support.

    Mentoring is a fantastic tool that can boost performance. Mentoring in the workplace can describe the relationship in which a more experienced colleague uses his or her greater knowledge and understanding of the work or workplace to support the development of a more junior or inexperienced member of staff. But there is also reverse mentoring where the junior member of staff may have a skill e.g. the use of technology, where they mentor the more mature member of staff to increase their knowledge of social media.

    Pulling these together, creating an internal brand, having strong leadership and providing development opportunities will boost staff performance and productivity!

6 tips for getting things done through people!

One of the most challenging aspects of being a manager is getting things done through people. Often, the reason why someone is promoted into a management position is because they are good at their job. To achieve your own personal objectives takes a single-minded determination to succeed; this trait does not lend itself to managing other people. Another common factor (drawback!) of line management in many organisatons is that managers have a dual role of achieving the requirements of their own jobs as well as managing others, which can cause conflict.

Having managed staff for 30 years, here are my top 6 tips for delivering through people!

1. Know your team. Often when coaching managers who are struggling with getting their team motivated and on track, I ask "how well do you know your team?" Unsurprisingly, there are members of their team who they like and get on well with so they can easily describe in detail this person's needs. But other team members are not so well known, time spent with your team in one to ones or staff meetings gives you valuable insight into who they are and what they want and need from you. Models of leadership often stress that effective leadership lies in what the leaders does to meet the needs of each individual and the team itself.

2. Learn and adapt. In conversation with managers they may discuss a certain employee who they have struggled with for years, and with whom they are not making any progress. We then probe into what tools and management techniques they have used to resolve the issue. It often turns out that they have continued with the same method over and over again in the vain hope that it will work. When informed that Einstein's definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same results; the usual refrain is that “it works for me”. But the point is your staff member is not going to respond in the same way that you do. Adapting your style may mean a change in behaviour and sometimes that is not easy. However, a successful manager needs to demonstrate the appropriate leadership qualities and style at the appropriate time.

3. Coaching. One key role of any leader is to coach team members to achieve their best. As a coach you will typically help your team members to solve problems, make better decision, and learn new skills or otherwise progress their role or career.

4. Do not over-promise and under-deliver, particularly during performance appraisal meetings, when staff make requests that are not aligned to the organisation's goals or that are just not feasible. Rather than being honest some managers hint or give vague assurances. You then have an employee who believes what they have been told and is waiting for confirmation that, as agreed, their request is being considered. Many managers, particularly if they are managing a large amount of staff, hope that by just letting it drop it will soon be forgotten about. It may be by the manager but never by the staff member! Trust and credibility will have been lost - two things that are very hard to regain.

5. You can't be everyone's friend! Many problems managers face come from their quest to be their team’s best buddy, rather than their manager. When this happens, they become entangled in a web of their own making. Unfortunately, one day as the manager you are going to have to give feedback which may not be well received regarding quality of work, attendance, attitude or behaviour. Not everyone can separate 'my friend with whom I have a bond of mutual affection' with this person who is telling me what to do! It is a hard one, so I always look for mutual respect and try to be fair and supportive to all my staff.

6. Communication is key. Say what you mean and mean what you say! Ambiguity is the scourge of both staff and managers alike. One refrain that we often hear is "I keep telling them what to do, but they just don’t do it!" But ask yourself: how clear is your message?  Did you type out your request by email at 4.30 just before going home, so you could not be questioned?  Did you share enough information so that the member of staff had a clear vision of your exact requirements? It is vital in this modern age of managing remotely and managing virtual teams that we craft a skilful message, and that what you say is aligned to the company’s goals so that everyone has clarity. Also, give the other person the opportunity to respond and ask pertinent questions.

If you would like to know more about 'Delivery Through People', I will be delivering this programme on the 7th of July at our offices in Manchester:

Olive Strachan Resources
REGUS, Peter House
Oxford Street
M1 5AN 

Click here to find out how to book your place.

I recently attended the 2016 IoD Director of the Year Awards at the Gala dinner ceremony at the Hilton in Manchester.

The Institute of Directors exists to inspire leaders and support organisations. It is the UK's largest and longest-established membership organisation for directors and professional leaders.

The IoD Award ceremony recognises the achievements of business leaders across the region, from entrepreneurs driving innovative start-ups to global organisations with multi-million-pound turnovers.

It was an evening of laughter and joyfulness for the winners and their organisations, and those of us not nominated for an award were just really pleased to be there to support entrepreneurs and be part of a really positive and joyful occasion.

In a beautiful room at the Hilton, there were 350 of us dressed in our finery and doing something we all love doing: celebrating success.

I was invited by Clive Drinkwater from UKTI (encompassing my role as Export Champion), and we were seated at the front of the auditorium, near the stage - which was great because I like to be near the action!

One of the Directors commented on recognition and that resonated with me. He mentioned Maslow and how important it is to receive recognition for your efforts. Whether you use Maslow, Herzerg, or Neuroscience to understand what drives and motivates us, Directors - just like anyone - need someone to say 'well done!'

When I was working in recruitment back at the start of my career, we would view the 'Directors' of the organisation with envy as they walked through the office in their lovely suits. In preparation for their visit, we had to wear our uniforms, have the office cleaned from top to bottom, clear our desks of any paperwork, and sit in anticipation of possibly being the member of staff they spoke to during their visit. I would look at the Directors and think 'what do they do?' After they had gone, there would be lots of grumbling about how privileged they were because the visit would normally end with our manager taking the Director to the best restaurant for dinner before they departed. From my point of view at the time, Directors did not need any recognition as I felt that their salaries, cars, and all the other benefits they received were reward enough.

Fast forward 20 years and I am now the Director of my own business, with staff, offices, a bank loan, two children, and a mortgage. I now have to be the swan: serene above the surface whilst pedalling furiously below. The training market is a turbulent one; as the saying goes, when money is tight, the first thing to go is...training.

My company, Olive Strachan Resources, has weathered two recessions, and this involved sometimes having to make tough decisions (and, consequently, staff redundant) in order to survive. At the height of the recession, I used to go home every night unable to sleep; my hair started falling out, and I was constantly worried. During these difficult times, friends - no matter how loyal they are - eventually get  bored with listening to you sharing your distress, and so this is the time when you need a mentor or a coach to keep you keep on track. 

I would recommend that every director should avail themselves of a coach or mentor at some point in their career. As someone who has run a business for the past 18 years, I also coach and mentor others helping them to reach their full potential.

Fortunately, OSR have been able to withstand two recessions - I am extremely resilient and, with the help of UKTI, I was able find new markets abroad, win an international contract, and bounce back.

My point is that being a Director can be a lonely experience. You have to be a risk-taker and live with the consequences of those risks. When things look impossible, you have to somehow have a vision of how to make it better, think of a solution and mobilise your team to achieve your goal.

So any opportunity to champion business success, recognise and congratulate Directors for demonstrating strength in leadership to drive their organisations forward is extremely positive.

A great source of pride for me was the number of female Directors recognised on the night: Chartered Director of the Year Jo Rizema of WCF LTD, International Director of the Year Emma Sheldon of Vernacare Ltd, Public Sector/Third Sector Director of the Year Yvonne Harrison  of GreaterSport, and Diane Modahl who is CEO of the Diane Modahl sports Foundation she received her award for Director of the Year Leadership in Corporate Responsibility. It was an excellent event and I left feeling extremely positive! 

I recently returned from a fabulous two-week break in the Caribbean to visit and spend some quality time with my family. I have returned rejuvenated and refreshed, re-engergised and refocused. This is how I would describe myself after a lovely holiday on the beautiful island of Dominica.

I meet with dozens of Senior Leaders every week, helping them to grow their teams and get more productivity out of themselves and the people they work with. Some feel the time to just think and switch off is limited, and a great deal of research has made clear the need for Leaders to take a quality break in order to re-energise, revitalise and refocus themselves and thus boost their businesses.

The great Microsoft guru Bill Gates has been known to escape to a secluded spot for what he calls 'think week', during which time his family, friends and employees are allegedly banned from disturbing him. This time to himself, with just his thoughts for company, serves as his thinking and creative time, and it has helped him to come up with his most innovative ideas. Another entrepreneur, Michael Karnjanaprakorn, has commented that 'think week' (which Facebook chairman Mark Zuckerberg also advocates) will "invigorate your thinking!"

Professor Cary Cooper's research supports this theory, suggesting that 'people who take holidays return feeling healthier and psychologically more robust'. I can certainly endorse this theory myself.

Spending time away in a tropical paradise definitely gave me the boost and thinking time I needed. I have reflected and identified the ways in which this timely and much-needed break benefitted me and my business.

The trip to Dominica allowed me to get away from my organisation, people, media, and business culture and get back to nature. This enabled me to return refocused to lead, inspire, and close deals. I had time to put major challenges into perspective, and various solutions arose about how these can be expedited. Standing on a volcanic, mineral-rich beach with the waves of the Atlantic Ocean roaring in the background, the sun setting in the distance, and lush vegetation all around helped me to focus my mind on the issues that are of vital importance. Although only recently returned, I will continue to reflect and refocus, and I will certainly be recommending the beautiful island of Dominica to my clients! I just can't wait to go back!

Meanwhile, as founder of OSR, I'll continue to nurture aspirations and fulfil professional dreams.

In her last blog post, OSR founder Olive Strachan discussed the work she did for some of the company's earliest clients. Today, she moves forward a few years to talk about recognition: the appreciation and accolades that make all the hard work worthwhile...

A couple of beauties from the OSR trophy cabinet!

As anyone who runs their own business will tell you, the whole affair can get pretty lonely at times. Fortunately, I love what I do – just being part of the Learning & Development/Human Resources industry gives me a great deal of pleasure, and all the hard work and long hours seem more than worthwhile when you begin to garner some recognition for your efforts!

OSR won its first award in 2004. In recognition of the high-quality training delivery that my company was providing, the Learning and Skills Council chose me as the winner of their Women in Business award for that year; the ceremony was a grand affair, involving a trip to London and a rather luxurious stay at the InterContinental Hotel. My husband came with me for moral support, and after receiving the award (having been chosen from hundreds of potential winners) I came back to Manchester with renewed vigour and a feeling of euphoria!

Such is the boost that recognition can bring. Days, weeks, months and years of effort are validated in an instant when you realise that your work has made an impact. Recognition needn’t come in the form of a trophy, either (although it’s certainly nice when it does!) – a little positive feedback from clients is often enough to completely reinvigorate my sense of purpose. As you can probably tell, on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I score very high on recognition!

Our second award didn’t require a trip down to London – the ceremony was right here in the northwest of England. By this time, we had delivered training in over twenty countries around the world, from Germany to Thailand to Uzbekistan, and in recognition of this, the Northwest Regional Development Agency awarded OSR the prize for Achievement in International Business. This one was even more of a nail-biter, as the winner was decided on the night via an interactive audience polling system. The five nominees were introduced, and then it was up to the audience to choose the winner. The other nominees and I simply had to wait and see how many people voted for each candidate, and I must admit that I nearly leapt out of my chair when I realised I had won. It was a wonderful moment of my life, and one that I will always look back on with fondness.

It takes years of hard work and dedication, but if you are doing good work, then recognition will come. I love knowing that, whether by coaching, mentoring, or training, I have made a difference to someone’s life, and it is this feeling that has kept me enthusiastic about my work through the years. My job is still as rewarding as ever, and I still love hearing back from the people and businesses I have helped!

For more information about the recognition that Olive and OSR have garnered over the years, take a look at our Awards & Achievements page.

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