Olive Strachan North West Export Champion 2016
Inspiring Business North West
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The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has recently been focusing its research on three primary themes: work, the workplace, and the workforce. All three fields are experiencing a great deal of change at the moment, and all are key concerns for business owners and managers. They’re very closely related, of course, and if you’re having problems with one it will likely have a negative effect on the other two. For example, an unpleasant workplace environment can result in an unhappy workforce that produces sub-par work.

These three subjects are undeniably useful when looking to the future of work – that’s why the CIPD are basing their research around them - but they can also be beneficial to your business in the here and now. If you’re experiencing problems in the workplace, try sorting those problems into these three categories:

  • Problems with Work
    The work your company does is getting sloppy, or it’s not getting done as quickly as you’d like. Perhaps people aren’t sure of their own roles, or perhaps they’re using outdated technologies. Even if they do everything right by you, you may find that their hard work isn’t having the desired effect. Some of these issues are merely symptomatic of other problems (with the workplace or workforce, perhaps) but if the root of your trouble lies with the work itself, that’s the area you’ll want to address. Don’t punish your employees or waste money on a new office when it’s your process that’s at fault!

  • Problems with the Workplace
    The work environment you provide isn’t working for you. It’s uninspiring, it’s disorganised, it’s not conducive to productivity...in a nutshell, it just isn’t a nice place to be. Note that this can go beyond mere surroundings; ‘The Workplace’ covers every aspect of an environment, including the conditions you place on your employees. Enforced silence, excessive red tape, and general over-strictness can all ruin an otherwise perfectly pleasant workplace. Resolving a workplace problem might mean an office makeover, or it could mean a slight relaxation of the rules, but one thing is certain: you need to change your environment.

  • Problems with the Workforce
    These are people problems, so if someone isn’t pulling their weight, or two colleagues have fallen out, or someone is consistently doing things wrong, you’ve got a problem with your workforce. Is it an issue with the team as a whole, or one person in particular? Don’t assume that sacking the problem person represents a good solution here; some corrective training or even just a brief chat can often be enough to sort everything out, and these tactics will be less damaging than an outright dismissal.
As mentioned above, there can be quite a lot of overlap between these three categories, and one problem can often be caused by other, more fundamental problems. When trying to solve problems, remember that communication is crucial, and jumping to conclusions foolhardy. Dig beneath the surface, and you might be surprised: what first seemed like an environmental issue may prove to stem from the workers themselves, and it may transpire than a suspected slacker is in fact as diligent as can be – they just haven’t been working as productively as possible.

If you would like more advice on solving your workplace problems, why try OSR’s Managing Workplace Problems training day? The next course is scheduled to take place in Manchester on the 22nd of October; email info@olivestrachan.com or call 0161 838 5692 to book your place.

Last week, Olive Strachan told the story of how she founded her own business, offering a couple of entrepreneurial tips along the way. This week, Olive reminisces about her first few clients, and highlights a great approach to growing one’s customer base.

Of Mascots and Medals: Olive's souvenirs from the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

There is a saying: ‘Find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.’ Even after 15 years, I still get out of bed every morning with a sense of anticipation!

My very first piece of business was a two-year contract with Terminix, an international pest control company.  I met the training manager at an event and we bonded straight away; my experience in the recruitment industry appealed to her and after an initial trial (which was met with extremely positive feedback), I was brought in to deliver training all over the UK and in Amsterdam. This training covered customer services, sales, and negotiation skills among both the team and the managers. There were some surprises along the way - I would arrive at one of their venues to set up and I would hear the tapping of tiny feet. It was the rats, Henry and Henrietta, happily playing in their cage! And then there was the sound of all the beetles and bugs, scuttling around in various glass containers...

Collecting Feedback

I asked the Terminix training manager to put her positive feedback in writing, and used this initial testimonial to demonstrate my abilities to new prospects. I would recommend this practice to anyone in any industry; if you collect written feedback and testimonials from your satisfied customers, you’ll be able to present a far stronger case when trying to attract new business. Positive feedback is even more useful nowadays, because you can display it on your company’s website and social media accounts. You can even ask clients to recommend or endorse you on LinkedIn.

The Terminix testimonial attracted several new clients, including Thomson Holidays; I trained their whole call centre on how to build good customer relationships, and this gave me great insight into the travel business! Once again, I requested feedback in writing and this, in turn, attracted a client who has since become one of the biggest debt management companies in Manchester. I delivered training to the entire call centre for two years, and then I completed a train the trainer course with three members of staff who set up an internal training department.

Reaching New Heights

My list of satisfied customers continued to grow and one day, as luck would have it, the team organising the 2002 Commonwealth Games walked into my resource centre. They wanted to discuss the resources required to train their volunteers, and I offered some recommendations. Once again, I made a connection, and the team asked me if I could deliver training – an offer which, after going through the correct channels, I enthusiastically accepted. Before I knew it, I was delivering ‘Crew Culture’ training to hundreds of volunteers! And that’s not even the best part: at one point, a film crew came into the room and started filming my session. The following week, I was on TV!

The run-up to the Commonwealth Games was such an exciting time; I made some lifelong friends, and to be part of something so special makes you feel very fortunate indeed. As a thank you, the organisers gave OSR a commemorative medal, a mascot, and a few other goodies. It was an experience that I will never forget.

And how did the Commonwealth organisers find me? Through a recommendation from another client, of course! If there’s one thing that’s sure to attract new customers, it’s making your existing customers happy – that way, they’ll sing your praises to everyone they know, and they’ll give you some great feedback that you can use to grow your business even further!


Don’t forget to check back next week for more stories from Olive’s illustrious career.

On Wednesday the 11th of September, OSR founder Olive Strachan will be speaking at the Natwest Entrepreneur Breakfast Seminar in Manchester. The seminar will focus on the topics of engagement and flow, and how businesses can use the FISH! Philosophy to really engage their staff.

At this point, you may be wondering what exactly the ‘FISH! Philosophy’ is. It may have an unusual name, but the big idea behind FISH! is universally pertinent – quite simply, the philosophy is built around the assumption that people do better work when they enjoy their jobs. As for the peculiar piscine name, that’s because the FISH! Philosophy started in Pike Place Fish Market, Seattle, a stall that’s become internationally renowned for its excitable fishmongers and outstanding customer service. The staff shout orders to each other, fling the customer’s fish around the stall, and generally do everything in their power to put smiles on faces.

The aim of Natwest’s seminar is to get businesses thinking like the Pike Place fishmongers. Olive’s speech will be all about ‘flow’ and how to achieve it – if you’re enjoying your job, and thoroughly engaged with the task at hand, you’ll get into the ‘flow’ and lose all track of time. This is the perfect state of mind for productive, creative work, and the Entrepreneur Breakfast will help you and your employees to get in the zone, achieve a pleasant sense of flow, and do better work than ever before.

The Natwest Breakfast will take place on the 11th of September on the 7th floor of the RBS Building on Deansgate, Manchester. Breakfast refreshments will be available from 8am onwards; Olive Strachan’s speech will begin at 8.30. To RSVP to this event, email Julia Chisnell at professionalsunit@rbs.co.uk

In her previous blog post, Olive Strachan shared some of her early experiences in the world of work, and offered some advice for women who are starting their careers. In this second post in the series, Olive talks about establishing Olive Strachan Resources, her own training business.

Image credit: Tribalicious

I worked for Video Arts for two years, advising clients on a range of training resources, running events around ‘Learning at Work Day’, and generally building good client relationships. Video Arts then decided to centralise the operation back to London, and this was the catalyst for the creation of my own business. I walked down Deansgate in Manchester, armed with my Barclaycard and an overwhelming feeling of excitement that I had taken the first step in shaping my own destiny. I moved into my office and OSR (Olive Strachan Resources) was officially founded in July 1998. At the same time, I completed my Post Graduate Diploma in Human Resource Management at Salford University, which I attended in the evening over a 2 year period.

I had always had success in my career previously - I am known for my tenacity and drive - but owning one’s own business is a different kettle of fish entirely. I spent the first month sat in my office with the Yellow Pages, calling up and booking appointments with all the large companies in the area. I had a lot of rejection, but did not let it deter me. I also got in touch with the Manchester Evening News, who after many phone calls ran a story about me (complete with picture!)

So if you’re just embarking on a brand new business enterprise, I can offer you two important tips:

  1. When you’ve just started a new business, do everything you can to get the word out.  Networking is key; speak to anyone and everyone who might be able to give you an early boost, from newspapers to radio stations to established companies. Do a few laps of your social circle - you’ll find that there are influential people in the most unexpected of places. Talk to your friends, acquaintances, and family members, and even if they can’t do anything for you, they might well know someone who can. Oh, and get connected! Twitter and LinkedIn didn’t exist when OSR was getting started, but they’ve become essential tools for getting a young business off the ground.

  2. Be confident and stay positive. This is important in any situation, but especially crucial at this early stage. You’ll make a better impression on potential clients if you appear confident, strong and determined, so believe in yourself and everyone else will soon follow suit. And no matter how many issues you encounter, don’t let them faze you. Be patient, and remember that success takes time; Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if you let slow going or minor setbacks bring you down, you’ll never achieve your business goals.

Nikos Kazantzakis once said that “In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can.” Turning your fledgling business into a success will be difficult, but if you work hard to make yourself known – and keep smiling in the meantime – then you’re sure to do better for it.

Next week, Olive’s blog post will focus on her first big business triumphs, and there’ll be more great advice for women who want to grow their company. Watch this space...

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.

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