Do simple
stuff well

I had an interesting experience once in organising a major conference. What made it interesting was we managed to get the Prime Minister to come to the event and spend an hour and a half sitting at tables with the Managing Directors there talking to them about their businesses.  Networking on steroids!

Naturally, as event organisers, we were pleased to be able to arrange this as extra value for the business leaders present, and had, of course, hoped for positive feedback.  What I didn’t envisage was the degree to which people seemed to think we were really, really clever or really well connected in order to have this special guest attend. 

Given the plaudits, I don’t want to admit it, but I don’t really think either was true. It wasn’t really that difficult.

All the positive remarks about ‘Brilliant’, ‘What a coup’ and the like got me thinking though.

Just how had we achieved so easily something seen as such a success?  

The conclusion I reached was the same as I have many times before: Success in business is often the result of having a vision, a goal to focus on, and then simply doing the basics – what ought to be obvious – really well.

And in this article I thought I’d write up my reflections on what enabled us to succeed on this occasion.

Success in business is often the result of having a vision, a goal to focus on, and then simply doing the basics – what ought to be obvious – really well. 

Exploring the detail there are six key points and two further ones that emerge from this reflection itself:

Taking these one at a time:

Think hard about how you can delight your customers

The Prime Minister attending was no chance event.  It resulted from a conversation two years earlier about how the event then had gone and how we now had to make the next one even more outstanding! A process I strongly recommend.  

Ask not just how you can run a good event. Ask how you can make it exceptional.  How can you stand out from the crowd? To use Seth Godin’s phrase: “How can you be remarkable?” (From his great book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable)

Anyway, we came up with the idea of inviting the Prime Minister and decided to put in the thinking and effort to ‘give it a try’.

Focus on an ambitious vision / goal

Having decided to go for it, we spent some time assessing how to make it happen.  We’d seen others have him at their events so we knew it was achievable.  We simply had to work out and focus on doing what needed to be done.

Plan ahead

We could have planned for the Prime Minister at the next event.  But that was less than a year away, we already had some plans in place and we didn’t think we had time to do it properly.  So we decided to take the time we felt was necessary to make sure we had the greatest chance of success both in attracting him, and in making it happen. Inviting him two years later, when we next planned to be in his constiituency would be good, but then we moved on to what I suggest is the next tip from me:

Think about what drives other people (WIFM – “What’s in it for me?”)

Key to our success was, I think, our careful consideration of what was in it for the Prime Minister and how we could make it easy for him to accept our invitation.  We suspected his diary (for most things) would be planned well ahead – so giving ourselves more than a year would help.  We knew he, like most MPs, would be in his constituency on Fridays so we made the decision to locate the event in his constituency on a Friday.

And then we thought about the timing of the General Election.  If we clashed with the run up to the General Election year he'd have to pull out. But  ayear earlier would make a lot of sense as a time when he’d probably be wanting to gently set the election agenda with a group of business leaders.

Be prepared to ask (and be rejected)

Then we took the big step.  Actually Allie (she’s much braver than me) contacted his office to ask politely whether it might be possible. They said it might, as long as it was on a Friday when he was in the constituency and we could make sure he could talk to his constituents. And they said call back about 9 months before the date we were planning.

Deliver the promise – Do the detail

It’s obvious and simple, but missed so often.  We then followed through on their requests.  We planned the contact date in Summer 2013, approached them again, gave them a couple of preferred Fridays to choose from and committed to ensuring he’d meet his constituents.  And after consulting, the PM came back and said he’d agreed to do it! All we had to do then was make the rest of the detail happen – like confirm a venue, get a panel, get an audience etc.

Which just leaves two final learning points I’m drawing from this experience:

Solicit quantitative and qualitative feedback

At the ‘pinnacle’ of my corporate career I was responsible for 500 people being trained across 16 training centres every day. And we collated analysed and acted on feedback from every one.  It enabled us to be the quality brand and the market leader.

Proactive comments are valuable, you can only understand how well an event has really gone if you collate feedback from the 80% of people who don’t proactively offer their views.  And it’s that feedback and the number of people making very strongly positive comments about our ‘Coup’ in attracting the Prime Minister that took me down this path of reflection.

Review and learn from every experience good and bad

And finally, it’s only because I read through every feedback form and thought about the patterns in what was being said that I got to think about the learning I’m sharing in this blog. There is an element of me that thinks what I’m saying here is simple and basic, but in some ways that’s the point.  Much of business is largely about getting the basics right, and if this blog reminds you of a few basics and challenges you to check you’re doing them, then I’ve achieved my goal in writing this blog.

My intent is that by sharing my thinking I stimulate your own thoughts and by doing so help you lead your business more successfully!