If you do what you love …

JessGoodwinThe past couple of months have been a bit of blur, travelling across the South West and UK whilst working at a variety of events – I am writing this sat in my hotel in Manchester having spent the week at Tatton Park Flower show. Earlier this week Joey and I were chatting over dinner and how we came to know about Mackerel Sky, which I thought would be a good intro into my first blog.

I first met Claire 5 years ago; I was an enthusiastic events management student in my 2nd year at Plymouth University. Claire was a guest lecture sharing her knowledge about sustainability in events and talking about her company Mackerel Sky (then known as Event Cornwall). I didn’t speak to Claire after the lecture but I left inspired, thinking what a cool company Mackerel Sky would be to work for.

Wind the clock forward and I now work for Mackerel Sky Events. I have now been an associate for nearly 4 months and I have already had a great (and busy) summer! From day one I got stuck in, spending my first weekend at St Ives Food & Drink festival. Despite it being a long weekend, I enjoyed every minute of it. Meeting lovely traders, eating delicious food and spending 3 days on Porthminster Beach in the sun, who could complain?!? Since then I have worked at Tunes in the Dunes, 2 prestigious flower shows and I am getting ready to pack my bags for France to go to Lorient Festival (I’m a little excited for that!).

I have been welcomed into the Mackerel Sky family with open arms and so far it’s been a blast. As they say ‘if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’.

Jess Goodwin, Event Associate, Mackerel Sky Events homepage

Professionalism should never be underrated

Sometimes it is only when one is working with people who are unprofessional that one realises what being professional is all about. I have tried to define this a number of times but fail to find a definition that works completely.

Is it about wearing a suit? Sometimes

Is it about complying with industry standards? Yes but so much more

Is it about being paid to do a job? Not necessarily

Is it about knowing it all? Definitely not!

Is it about paying attention? Yes

Is it about caring about the quality of your work? Yes I think so

Is it about how other people define you? Important perspective but not vital

Perhaps if we look at those we consider to be professional we can get a clearer picture of this. David Cameron? Richard Branson? Karen Brady? We might not like them or agree with them but I think all are professional in their fields. More locally, I look at people like Toby Parkins, Sarah Trethowan, Allyson Glover, Michael Rabone and Simon Tregoning who are consummate professionals in their fields. Successful, yes but also have integrity. They always get back to you when they say they will. They don’t belittle the new emerging talent in their industries, but rather foster it. When you meet with any of them, they pay you full attention. They are honest and believe in what they do wholeheartedly.

And I think most of all, true professionals are those who rise above the challenge of working with those who are difficult, obstreperous, stressed, thwarted and encumbered, to focus on achieving objectives and creating positive impact in all they do. Importantly, they also recognise that sometimes we fail and that this is ok so we learn from it and move on. Professional people find a balance between not taking things personally but taking valid points on board and they are brilliant at managing and developing the people they work with, partly by setting a good example and partly by recognising their own strengths and weaknesses.

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events homepage

What’s Your Luxury?

crownOne of the current exhibits at the V&A museum is ‘What Is Luxury?’ And I am fascinated by the concept of what we would each constitute as luxurious.

Maybe it’s about investment of time as much as money. I know that for me, time to myself is an incredible gift. As is spending a small fortune on a dress that I might wear four times. Or it might be the incredible skill and expertise in the creation of a gold pocket watch. We often think of luxury as being expensive and it often is, but it is relative to our earnings, background, ethics etc. What I perceive as luxurious will be different to yours but that doesn’t make it any less or more valuable.

In business particularly, time is also a currency of sorts and can be very expensive! Think about the amount of money that a meeting costs in terms of staff salaries, room hire, catering….let alone the time that could be spent on other aspects of work that directly generate income. So are we getting the maximum benefit from our time? Is wasting time a luxury that we can’t afford?

Perhaps it is but I would argue that what might be perceived as wasting time for one is a productive informal chat with a colleague whilst making a cup of tea. So it becomes about how we value our time and manage it as a resource that has a cash value against it. Think about what is most important to you. And how much time do you spend doing that?

And remember that it is not just about what you spend your time doing but are you the best person to be doing it? Is it your strength? Is it your interest? Perhaps there is someone out there who can enable you to focus on what you are good at by looking after the stuff that you don’t actually need to do. Those tasks where you don’t actually add any value but it costs in time that could be spent on delivering your product or service.

It might even feel a little luxurious to be building a team, or handing over the accounts, or letting someone help you with your admin, but what is the cost of not doing it?

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events

We Tread A Fine Line Between Stress and Pressure

Stressed businessmanFeeling stressed? Epic to do list and no end in sight?

Stress is endemic in our industry with constantly high (and increasing) expectations of clients and attendees as well as the need to be great at everything and deliver amazing experiences on a budget of 20p. Let alone any personal challenges that might come into play.

It is important to recognise the difference between pressure and stress – pressure is what enables to work quickly to meet a deadline or step up to take responsibility whereas stress is a destructive force that is counter-productive. Pressure drives efficiency and effectiveness; stress can make us flap!

More importantly, stress can erode our mental wellbeing and lead to any number of mental health issues including depression and anxiety so we have to face up to how it impacts on us individually and collectively. We as organisations need to support our people in creating a workspace and workflow that is productive, adaptable to individual needs, flexible and can accommodate the challenges and changes within our work. As leaders and managers of teams, we need to flex to accommodate the personal stuff. And individually we need to recognise the symptoms and impacts of stress on ourselves and those around us.

It’s not just our industry either – it’s everywhere. Any job, any context, anybody. And we all need to do something about it. We can start by talking openly about mental health issues and creating a culture where it is ok to struggle and ask for help. Two of our third year Creative Events Management students at Falmouth University are taking the lead on this, particularly in the context of higher education, and they are running a smile appeal followed by a conference for their third year final assessment.

Ben and Hannah both have personal experience of the challenges of mental health and the stigma around it and they want to help fellow students to recognise it and do something about it. The Smile Appeal will run for a week and will engage over 20 other students in running activity and promoting the campaign, which will hopefully in turn generate interest from the 4000+ students at the Penryn and Falmouth campuses. For Ben and Hannah, it’s not about being ‘woe is me’ but rather having fun with it, making it acceptable and opening up conversations.

They are following the Smile Appeal week with a one day conference targeted at health and education organisations and practitioners as well as students. These guys are nothing if not ambitious! The point is that they really want to help others and this is not just a single project. They are crafting this project into a saleable service for other universities and higher education institutions to buy in. It’s all on a social enterprise basis and has the potential to be a truly viable business.

We need more of this to make our world less stressful and more productive, more enjoyable. So good luck Hannah and Ben – let’s make the world a better place!

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

We Can Be Heroes

bowie

We all need a hero….and we can all be heroes…

In creative problem solving methodology, there is a technique called superheroes. A technique that I introduced to the second year event management students at Falmouth University this week.

Think of a superhero. It could be a cartoon figure, a real person, a celebrity, an Imagined character.

What are the characteristics that you admire about them? Perhaps think of superheroes who complement your own skill set or bring new abilities.

Think about the problem you are facing. How would your superhero deal with it? What would they think about it? What would they do?

Perhaps view the problem through their eyes. What insight or fresh ideas does that give you?

In Mackerel Sky, we have a whole team of superheroes that everyone in the team has been involved in selecting. We use them as additional collaborators in our strategising, problem solving, performance management and evaluation. It might seem a bit bonkers to have this imaginary squad of heroes but it is just a creative (and enjoyable) way of gaining perspective and extending our thinking,

Bear Grylls is one of my superheroes and he is a member of this unique cohort because I value how he approaches life.  That is, the idea of being comfortable in your own perspective but being able to appreciate others by having confidence by being in your own natural habitat. When Bear is out on a mission of some form, he is in his natural habitat and he is confident. That confidence enables others to be comfortable with the challenge and to feel the fear and achieve.

The process of enabling one’s team to thrive and achieve is a fundamental aspect of leadership in any context so I utilise Bear’s perspective to help me see how I can be comfortable and confident in my natural habitat in order to support and enable the team.  I also keep Bear’s voice in my head supporting me and enabling me to take on the next challenge, feel the fear and achieve.

Helping someone else is a pretty heroic thing to do so I think this definitely qualifies Bear as a superhero. Who would your superheroes be?

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Let’s Not Forget … The Customer Is King!

In a meeting recently, a client expressed their frustration with a service provider. In fact, that appears to be a misnomer as there was no concept of service in what this provider was, or more accurately was not, providing.

The provider is a website design company and my point is not to name and shame (however tempting it might be!) but rather to recognise the importance of customer service as part of building effective and profitable relationships.

This provider made 4 key errors:
1. Failed to consider the position of the customer in the network
This particular client is really quite influential but even if they weren’t obviously so, their ability to influence the choices of others is vital in building a strong brand. We all need our customers to recommend us, to recognise the value in what we offer and deliver, because word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of marketing. And it works both ways. The client is now actively recommending alternative providers….

2. Not considering the lifetime value
This provider has a short-term focus on profit that will only be beneficial in the immediate future. Every customer has a lifetime value, that is the total that they might spend with a given business in their lifetime. Over that period this could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not more but this provider is sacrificing this lifetime value for £80 now. This means that they will have to find hundreds of £80 customers when they could have had one significant customer so they will end up spending more on their marketing budget and spend more time getting to know each of those new customers.

3. Ignoring comparison to competitor offer
Whilst this provider is focused on pricing, other providers are focusing on quality of offer. It is a competitive marketplace and none of us can afford to simply be transactional. It’s all about the actual provision and the relationship. Our customers can pick and choose where they go and who they use so we should all be working to become the provider of choice. If we ignore what our competitors are doing, we are potentially ignoring our customer’s interests and they will leave us behind…

4. Going out of their way to make it difficult
This provider has locked down the service that was provided so that only they can do anything with it. The client has no access to documentation and can no longer self manage the website because the provider has put blocks in their way, closed down the portal or changed the passwords. A defensive strategy that has served no purpose other than to annoy the client and highlight their lack of confidence in their services.

Being defensive and protectionist gets us nowhere in any context. This provider has also started to try to deflect all responsibility for the escalating costs to the client saying it is her fault! In this case, for the sake of considering it all from the customer perspective, this company has lost credibility and clients. The customer is king after all!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Planning for Every Eventuality …

riskassessmentIn this business we ask ‘what if….?’ quite a lot – in every risk assessment, every emergency action plan – and we can apply the same thinking to our organisations. The process of strategic risk assessment is a vital health check for a company and can highlight areas where the organisation is dependent on certain factors.

We start by asking ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ and by exploring some potential future scenarios, we start to identify the key risks that could jeopardise the existence and success of the organisation. It can be a challenging process and can uncover issues and challenges that haven’t been considered previously.

One of the major challenges is considering the key people that the organisation is dependent upon for its success.  This group may include clients, suppliers and staff and the organisation needs to understand how manageable that dependency is. If the company is dependent on one client for over 50% of its turnover, then what happens if that client contract ceases? Perhaps the portfolio needs to be revisited and new projects sought to ensure that the pipeline of work keeps moving and dependency is reduced.

It may be that the company is dependent on one or two key members of staff for managing the organisation (and avoiding some of the financial or operational risks) as much as for producing the company output. It may be that the company is built on the skills, ability and personality of the chief executive or other key individual and so there is a risk that the company’s capacity is therefore limited by the individual, meaning that the
company simply cannot grow. Let alone what happens if that key person can’t work for some reason.

For founder managers, it can be particularly difficult to critique how the company works and to plan for their succession. As much as we are taught that business is business, I would argue that it isn’t. It’s personal, particularly for entrepreneurs and small businesses. So in considering these big challenges for an organisation, we must consider the people affected by and involved in them and how we respond to those challenges also influences how we are perceived internally and externally.

There are some brilliant things we can do to mitigate these strategic risks. We can insure our key people in case of injury or similar. We can create delegation structures that share workload, information and responsibility as well as develop skill and capacity across the organisation. We can talk to other people and get support and advice from sources you trust and respect. For me, I do this by having a non-executive Board including a freelance Finance Director, all people who know a lot more than I and who I trust to advise in the best interests of the company. My Board is invaluable in assessing and managing these strategic risks, keeping me on track and enabling me to take all of those mitigating actions, enabling all of us to work to our best and enabling the company to succeed.

 

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky