Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Fail to Prepare & You Prepare to Fail

In business it is essential that there are structures to any organisation and from within those structures it is crucial that the business prepares strategies and plans. These strategies and plans will take into account areas such as the market sector the business operates in, peaks and troughs in relation to sales trends, staffing levels in relation to busy and quiet periods, marketing planning, staff training, budgeting, and cash flow analysis and so on.

There really is a huge amount of preparation needed in order for a business not only to function properly but to ultimately survive. The stark reality is that without a sufficient amount of time set aside preparing a business for what lies ahead then that business is more than likely staring down the barrel of a gun.

I myself do a significant amount of my own business planning when cycling my road bike. I recently joined “The Biscuit Club” who has an appropriately club motto “Everything Stops for Tea!”

Since joining the Club in August I have literally cycled thousands of kilometres around our wonderful County and dare I say further afield into Kilkenny and Wexford. I have been inspired by some of the most jaw dropping scenery that would quite rightly find pride of place on the Channel 4 programme Location, Location, Location – I hope you are reading this Kirstie and Phil. We are simply surrounded by some of the most stunning backdrops in Ireland – FACT. And it is not as though I have not explored these routes by car, as I have, it is just that when you are moving much slower you have the time to take it all in and believe me there is an awful lot to take in.

This easy access to coast, mountain and valley give me the time to plan in my head and in many respects take back what has inspired me whilst out cycling and build those experiences into my forward planning. And in early November I prepared an article whilst I sat on the strand, in Tramore, chatting to the Mayor Lola O’Sullivan, bathed in sunshine, surrounded by people in t-shirts, having returned at warp speed from Kilkenny that was bathed in nothing but cold damp misty fog!

As a side, I do know that we need to more to do promote what is on our doorstep and we must push the semi state bodies such as Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland to bring more and more tourists into Waterford and the South East, as we really do have so much to offer. And each and every one of us who live, work and play in Waterford have must also start espousing and championing what we have to offer. The simple fact is that NOT enough of us from Waterford champion the City and County to the extent you see in other Cities and Counties. And if we don’t start shouting soon we will very quickly become the Nations bad news story.

The need to prepare is paramount to driving an organisation forward and it is essential that the constituent parts i.e. staff/personnel of an organisation contribute. You may not be aware that the new City and County Council are currently preparing a very comprehensive Corporate Plan that will cover the next five years of the Council’s operations. The discussion around this plan started a number of Council meetings ago and at the November full Council meeting the draft and updated plan was considered by our 32 Councillors and the Council Executive.

At previous meetings Councillors were asked for their own input and at the November meeting it was revealed that of the 32 Councillors OLNY 3 had supplied and put forward written submissions, and it was inferred that there may have been a number of additional “verbal” submissions. During the meeting, and perhaps due mostly to the media presence, there were a number of Councillors wishing to add to this document by giving additional suggestions and contributions, but as the Mayor pointed out the time had passed and there had been ample opportunity to contribute. Full credit to those few Councillors who took time to give an input, but to have such low level of effort from everyone else is to say at the very least disappointing, but more crucially it does show a complete disregard for the need to prepare.

A business organisation would not have the time to fail to prepare as they are operating in a commercial world that plainly does not stand still. It is constantly moving and evolving at an accelerated pace and if everyone from within an organisation is not prepared to take the time to invest in that business then said business will fail. We do need to see a businesslike approach to Council with our Councillors preparing for meetings and more importantly preparing their contribution to documents such as the Corporate Plan well in advance of scheduled meeting dates. This will in turn free up Council time for much wider and important issues such as job creation, job retention, promoting the City etc etc.

I often see many businesses and organisations not investing enough time and energy in the pursuit of accurate preparation and planning. If you lose sight of where you want your business to go how can you properly prepare for what is coming.

You often hear many people saying that “practice makes perfect”. This of course is complete and utter rubbish as the right phrase should be “correct practice makes perfect”. If your practice simply consists of repeating the wrong processes over and over again you will never get it right. The right thing to do is identify where you are going wrong, correct those mistakes and practice doing the right things at the right time. This way you will continually improve your performance and more importantly you will bring your colleagues along with you as they will strive to better themselves as they see your performance levels increase.

It is therefore essential that business leaders, business owners and organisation engage with their greatest assets, their staff, and get them involved with the planning process. Time must be invested with personnel to ensure that preparation becomes part of the day to day workings of a business or organisation.

If the “Boss” is not prepared to invest his or her time and energy into strategic planning then he or she has quite simply failed to prepare and therefore they need to prepare to fail.


Michael Garland, founder of bizBoost.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Purple Flag will restore some balance to City spend.

As a wee boy growing up in Glenrothes, in central Scotland, our family lived on an estate that was designed as part of a number “New Towns” built to house the overspill of the redevelopment of Glasgow’s infamous tenements.

These new town planners had designed self sufficient housing estates that contained the entire infrastructure needed for modern family living in 1960’s Scotland. This included compact modern housing, a “village green” type grassed play space, secure garage lockups for your modern car, local shops, primary schools, a post office, lots of open space and one of my most enduring memory’s was a state of the art playground with new shiny brightly painted playground equipment that was in my mind the best in the world.

The playground that serviced Cromarty Court was on the way to my school, Rimbleton Primary, and was the most wonderful of places to start an adventure from. Included in this playground was one huge monolithic slide (or "shoot" as we called this in Scotland) that was in my eyes simply the highest structure I would ever have to climb, a series of three swings, the essential (yet lethal) brightly painted steel and wooden roundabout, but the most impressive of all these items was the yellow and blue seesaw that sat at the very heart of the playground. This to me was the best of the best of all the things to play on and partly due to the fact that a fall from the top of the shoot one sunny day put me off this once favourite play structure.

One of my many memories of playing on the seesaw was of course seeing just how many of your friends you could get standing on this balance beam on what would today be seen as a health and safety on no. Unfortunately, the once common seesaw has been replaced by those wobbly and springy ducks, hens and elephant contraptions that break ALL your teeth or give you children whiplash.

One abiding memory that will stick with me forever would be when one of my, shall I saw heavier playmates, would sit at one end of the seesaw and I would be left dangling one hundred feet in the air helplessly bumping up and down on the seat to try and bring my end of the seesaw back down to terra firma. On the odd occasion, when I would be feeling brave, I would push myself over the brightly painted safety handle and edge inch by inch towards the central pivot point and through the powers of some mystic magic seesaw fairy I would somehow make myself heavier thus levelling out the weight distribution and bringing the seesaw back down to ground. I would later learn in Physics classes, at Bell Baxter secondary school, that at five years old I was in fact implementing one of Newton’s many laws, which to this day I still do not understand and so I will be sticking to my fairy theory.

It was this memory that sprung to mind in early December when I was in the City Centre and several businesses from the George’s Street, Gladstone Street and O’Connell Street area of the City stopped me and asked why there were no additional Christmas lights etc in these areas when compared to Christmas of 2013. I believed that the reason is due to the fact that the ice rink this year had been moved and was set up further down The Quay, towards Rice Bridge, and that this meant there was no additional emphasis on the entrance to Winterval up and through Gladstone Street and along George’s Street. In 2013 there was a greater importance stressed on bringing footfall through the City Centre by directing people up Gladstone Street and along George’s Street and thus in 2013 there were significantly more lights, a number of craft cabins, some food stalls, better signage and even a gigantic blow-up snowman or bear or something on The Quay showing you the way through Winterval.

This year there was very little in the way of Christmas decorations in these areas and many traders and businesses were feeling that they had been forgotten in 2014.

Some traders and businesses had even said to me that there was a clear inconsistency in terms of investment in this area of the City when compared to other areas of the City and this of course has led to many metaphors coming my way.

But the one that seemed to be coming to the fore was the idea of an unbalanced seesaw where one side of the seesaw had seen significant and continued monetary investment at the cost of the other side. Thus there will always be one area of the City looking better than the other and for a City the size of Waterford this is extremely noticeable and sticks out like a sore thumb.

Clearly, there has to be a rebalancing of the seesaw and this cannot be the sole responsibility of the traders and businesses that have chosen to invest, work and trade in this once bustling area of our City. Over the last few weeks we have seen and heard of numerous entrepreneurs investing in property in this part of the City to start that renaissance process. But this would be made much easier if it was felt that there was at the very least some parity in terms of future investment. If we are truly to drive the City forward then we need to encourage more investors into the City and this will be made much easier if the current set of entrepreneurs feel that the seesaw can be balanced.

The proposed Purple Flag for Waterford City will incorporate this area of the City Centre and in fact extend right the way down The Quay towards Rice Bridge. If we are to be successful in marketing the City as a future Purple Flag destination then we need to see an accelerated investment outside of the Viking Triangle area. There are a significant number of commercial rate payers across the City Centre that wish to see not only an increased investment but fairness in terms of balancing that investment. An investment that is ultimately partly paid for in the commercial rates contributions made on an annual basis by the businesses and traders across the whole City Centre.

Through the wonders of Google maps I have discovered that my playground still has the slide and three swings, but sadly the roundabout and my seesaw have been removed – no doubt removed by the mad health and safety world we live in today.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Here’s hoping the optimism continues in 2015.

In Scotland we would celebrate Hogmanay or the last day of the year, and thus we would be celebrating the passing of the Old Year rather than the tradition of our Auld Enemy south of the border who celebrate the coming of the New Year.

All across Scotland there would be regional variations to Hogmanay including places like Stonehaven that would have a parade of flaming fireballs down the main street, Dundee would have the traditional first-footer (or first visitor) bringing into the house not the usual gift of coal but a fancy herring, in Falkland there would be a torchlight procession up the Lomond Hills (an extinct volcano), St.Andrews would have a tradition of specially baked cakes but in reality we Scots are of course known for one huge party on the 31st December that may continue for two or even three days into the month of January.

The formula for a traditional BIG party on Hogmanay has now been exported around the globe and Edinburgh led the way many, many years ago and this winning formula has now morphed into a celebration that lasts several days, starting pre-Christmas and finishing in early January. Our celebrations would also guarantee many a sore head and the serious threat of one biblical hangover for hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults. But as I have grown older and wiser the ability to balance alcoholic intake in smaller measures has now come to me and the years of celebrating Hogmanay with such gusto are now few and far between. The tradition still carries on in the Garland household that we celebrate the passing of the Old Year and we remember the good and try to forget the bad on 31st December of each year.

Away from the commercialisation of Hogmanay many families will sit down with friends and neighbours and recall the best and worst of the past year. And the worst of the year will be made all the more palatable with the supping of a good Scottish malt, the singing of Auld Lang Syne (crossing arms only during the last verse) and of course the obligatory countdown, with BBC One Scotland on the television, to signal the passing of the Old Year and the beginning of the New Year.

2014 has been a hugely busy year for the Waterford Business Group (WBG) whom I am immensely proud to say I am a founding member of. The main committee is made up of 5 females and 7 males, which gives the committee a unique dynamic unlike any other group I have been involved in, and believe you me I have been involved in a staggering amount of committees and groups.

Founded in March 2013 and formalised with a full constitution in January 2014 the WBG has achieved an astonishing amount in not even 24 months in existence. The achievements are made all the more remarkable considering that the Group is entire voluntary, is membership based, and receives no funding from any other sources bar membership income and through fundraising.

The committee members are giving their time and energy for FREE for the betterment of the City, County and the people of Waterford and yet we and many other voluntary groups still hear firsthand the negativity and pessimism towards our work, and through the wonders of social media we continually read from keyboard warriors of how it could and should be done better. Perhaps these keyboard warriors’ New Year resolution would be to get involved – only a suggestion!

To get back to celebrating the passing of the Old Year I have highlighted below some of the WBG achievements for 2014. This is by no means an extensive list and has been created in no particular order, as ALL of our achievements no matter how big or small, are important to us. So here are some of the Waterford Business Groups 2014 highlights:
  • Lobbying the previous Minister of Environment for commercial rates support to allow the balancing of the City, County and Dungarvan Annual Rate on Valuation in the 2014 and 2015 budgets. 2015 will see no commercial rates increases for businesses.
  • Lobbying Government for additional grant funding to allow capital works such as the painting of Michael and John’s Street buildings to be carried out.
  • Integral part of the City Centre Management Group and are one of the most active stakeholders on said Group.
  • Working with new and potential City Centre investors to ensure that they invest in Waterford City.
  • Creation of a new Waterford Business Group website specifically developed for members and businesses to use –
  • Creation of Waterford Street Ambassadors who support the Group’s activities, act as a contact point for local businesses and can be the “eyes and ears” for businesses in the City.
  • Creation of the Waterford Retail Watch Scheme. A closed texting service that circulates information and descriptions about potential shoplifters, know criminals etc. The scheme has netted some excellent results in 2014.
  • City In Bloom initiative that saw the City blooming with flowers throughout the Summer of 2014. This project will be extended in 2015 and beyond.
  • Shop Local Saturday supported by the WLR FM outside broadcast unit and supported by a Live Local, Love Local, Shop Local campaign.
  • Summer In the City musical festival with Waterford City Council and ArtBeat.
  • Purple Flag initiative stakeholder and one of the most active stakeholders working on this project for the City along with City Council, Chamber and Garda.
  • Guerrilla Gardening project along The Quays and throughout Ferrybank.
  • Founders of the Waterford Shopping Voucher along with the Chamber. This local shopping voucher scheme has the potential to keep literally thousands of Euro circulating in the local economy.
  • Support for many local projects including the New Street Gardens, Winterval and many others.
  • Liaising with local Garda to keep our Waterford City safe.

The WBG have done so much in the past year and we would hope that come the end of 2015 we will have an even bigger list of achievements to publish.

On a final note I do hope that we can all march through 2015 with renewed optimism and a sense of pride in our City knowing that there are individuals that are willingly giving their own free time to make Waterford the best place in Ireland to live, work and play.

Our collective efforts will bring real rewards and remember that there is strength in unity and strength in numbers. So support local when and where you can as you know deep down it makes sense.
I hope that 2015 brings everyone health and happiness.

Michael Garland, founder of bizBoost