Thursday, 26 March 2015

Communication is the key to our success.

Over the weekend I watched in awe as the RBS Six Nations climax unfolded on the BBC and RTE over the course of Saturday afternoon. One dramatic turn after another and at the end of a marathon session of rugby indulgence Ireland were quite rightly crowned the 2015 Six Nations Rugby Champions and my beloved Scotland were once again to receive that much coveted Wooden Spoon Award. I now have enough of those blasted Wooden Spoons to build a log cabin in my back garden!

Then to add insult to injury and just 24 hours after the slaughter at Murrayfield the Irish Women’s Rugby team humiliated their Scottish counterparts and ooh joy of joys I was to receive my second Wooden Spoon of the weekend courtesy of Irish Rugby. The second award was of course made all the more palatable by the fact that the Women’s Captain is of course Niamh Briggs from Waterford, my adopted home.

It really was a great weekend of sport when on Sunday the Waterford hurlers secured promotion back to the top division and the lift that this will give the City and County cannot be under estimated.

I have always said that our various sporting achievements, locally, regionally and national do reflect our mood and to a larger extent our outlook. If we regularly celebrate sporting success then we are more likely to have a positive outlook for our place of residence and we are also more likely to celebrate commercial business success as well. If we have been hard wired to celebrate on a regular or annual basis then we will be more akin to beating that “drum of positivity”.

We only have to look across the recently named Thomas Francis Meagher Bridge to see that Kilkenny City (Town) and County oozes positivity. This is in no small part due to the phenomenal recent success of the hurling team and it is this positive aura that permeates right down through every citizen of Kilkenny. No matter how business is actually operating, good or bad, the business people and businesses of Kilkenny will always give the impression that they are doing exceptional well. This constant positive outlook certainly brings it own success and own additionality to Kilkenny and the City (Town) is a tourist trap for a huge percentage of overseas visitors. And remember that it was only in the late seventies that Kilkenny really decided that it would become the “Medieval City of Ireland” and as such would draw hundreds of thousands of annual visitors from around the world to visit its Castle and bustling retail sector.

The success of Kilkenny as a destination has mirrored the sporting success of the County and the many smaller club hurling teams that annual compete in GAA fixtures. Their own sports stars are seen as the envy of many and they are elevated to superstar status, and boys and girls throughout this County want to be the very sport stars they see week in week out on the playing fields. 

In business you need staff to fulfil roles and positions that best suit their individual talents and skill set. These must all be cohesively combined by the CEO, General Manager, etc into a “well oiled machine” with everyone knowing their place and function.

However, just how many staff members are communicated to effectively so that they know what is expected of them? How do they know if they are performing correctly? How do they know if they are contributing to the company’s profitability and therefore the company’s future stability? These questions are often left unanswered in many businesses.

Perhaps businesses that are clearly underperforming need to take a lesson from the likes of Schmidt and Cody. Both of these Managers are completely different people yet they both get the absolute maximum out of the players at their disposal. They evidently have two completely contrasting management styles yet both are achieving astonishing results on an regular basis.

What links the two men is their ability to communicate with those around them.

They both have an uncanny ability to get their message across, get their instruction out on to the field of play, get their game plan embedded into every player’s mindset and they always seem to have a plan B that can be turned on at the bark of an instruction. These two men are some of the very best communicators you will ever come across and there are many lessons to be learned from them.

Many businesses assume that their staff are fully aware of the function of the business, the role they play within that business and the contribution they make to that business. But the stark reality is that many businesses are very poor at internal communication. There is often no clear messaging route for staff members and there is more often than not no communication strategy for staff whatsoever. When a business is not communicating with its staff how can they expect that business to perform in the market place?

It therefore follows that if a business is not communicating properly with its own staff members then how can they be communicating correctly with their very own customers? Remember that every staff member is a band ambassador for their place of work and if they do not know what a company’s communication messaging is, then how can they be expected to interact on a one to one with a customer?

Many businesses spend literally thousands of Euros a year on PR and communicating strategies and yet forget to communicate these very messages with their own staff members. The result is a lost opportunity and more often than not confusion of messaging.
To get the very best out of our people we need to take a leaf out of the Schmidt and Cody book of management and put communication at the very top of our priority list when dealing with staff members.

A winning team requires clarity and communication of messaging and as Waterford looks to a more positive future we need to see a better communication of the positive messages from around our wonderful City and County.

Maybe I should ask Joe Schmidt if he would like to move to Edinburgh for a wee while, as the last thing I will require in 2016 is another bloody wooden spoon.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Flying the flag for Waterford.

I often have people asking me “What is going on in Waterford City?” and I also tend to get asked the following supplementary, “How come you know so much about what is happening in the City?”

The simple fact is that due to the nature of my own business, bizBoost, and the various groups and committees I am involved with I need to “have my finger on the pulse” to coin a well worn phrase. I go out of my way to read ALL the local newspapers, listen to the local radio stations, attend as many Council meetings as I can, keep an eye on the social media traffic and of course I make take time to meet and network with a huge volume of people. And it is when I have the opportunity to meet with people that I take time to listen first and then answer the many questions I inevitably get asked.

Today is Thursday the 19th March and the last two weeks have shown Waterford City as a beacon of positivity and a series of one good news story after another. These stories have been covered by ALL our local media and across the various social networking platforms. But just in case you missed these here as some of my highlights of the last two weeks (in no particular order):

1848 Tricolour Celebration, covering the 6th to 9th March; over 110 guests attended a Gala Dinner on Saturday 7th March in the presence of the Mayor, Minister Coffey, Ambassadorial representation from the US, Canadian and French Embassies, and members of the 69th Infantry Division (New York). Sunday 8th March 1500 people attended the flag raising ceremony on The Mall with musical accompaniment from the Thomas Francis Meagher Fife & Drum, Barrack Street Band and the Island of Ireland Peace Choir. All of these events were organised by the voluntary 1848 Tricolour Celebration Committee.

Naming the Thomas Francis Meagher Bridge; on Thursday 12th March, in the presence of President Michael D Higgins, the Suir River crossing was formally named The Thomas Francis Meagher Bridge in a closed ceremony, in horrible weather conditions, in an area just off the toll plaza. This really was a mammoth team effort on behalf of the 1848 Tricolour Committee, and the Councils of both Waterford and Kilkenny.

Lions Club National Conference; over the weekend of 6th to 9th March the Tower Hotel hosted the National Conference of the Lions Clubs of Ireland. Over 400 delegates from all over Ireland and further afield attended this national event.
VLM announce flights from Waterford Airport; on Monday 27th April direct flights from Waterford Airport to London Luton will resume. The new Belgium based airline will fly 12 times in each direction every week from April. These flights replace the FlyBe routes.

President Michael D Higgins is greeted by 1500 school children; on Thursday 12th March President Michael D Higgins presides over the launch of Flag Week. A programme by the Thomas Francis Meagher Foundation to educate the Irish school children around the history of the Irish Tricolour and the connection with Meagher and Waterford City. Over 250 schools attended this event and each school received a Tricolour flag that was flown at 33 The Mall, Waterford City. This event was attended by a whole host of dignitaries and perhaps my abiding memory will be everyone, and I mean everyone, participating in a Mexican Wave!

St.Patrick’s Day on Tuesday 17th March; we were once again witness to a magnificent parade on St.Patrick’s Day and full credit must be given to those who organised the event and more importantly a big thank you to those who marched in the parade. The Waterford influence was not confined to the City as members of Spraoi also provide costumes and support for parades in Dublin and Cork.

Glanbia opens €180 million facility in Belview Port; the opening of the state-of-the-art facility by Glanbia should contribute around €400 million to the Irish economy and will create around 75 directly related jobs and 1,600 indirect jobs. Currently Ireland produces around 10% of the world’s infant milk formula but the future hope is that this will rise to over 60% with plants such as the one in Belview coming on stream.

Ballybeg Brick by Brick Appeal gathers strength; over the last two weeks we have seen an increasing number of local events raising money for the Brick by Brick Appeal and money is starting to come in to fund for many projects that will rise out of the ashes. There is so much local support for the Appeal that it you cannot fail to notice the momentum this is gathering.
Waterford United hosted the Irish Football Manager Martin O’Neill and Assistant Manager Roy Keane on Thursday 12th March for a club fundraiser with John Delaney also present. Over 200 people supported this event and efforts of the fundraising committee.

These are just some of my own memories of the last two weeks and I know that there are so many more good news stories out there as well.

Sometime we have to actively look for the good news and it is just such a pity that we cannot lead with good news stories ALL the time. As they say in the newspaper world “Bad News Sells Newspapers” but the good news stories make us feel much much better in ourselves and in our communities.

Waterford as a good news story had unprecedented local, regional and national news coverage over the last fortnight and just imaging if we could replicate that over the 52 weeks of a whole year. Attitudes to this City would change instantaneously and investment would flood the City, County and Region.

Good news stories do so much more for the moral fibre of the City we live in than the bad press we seem to always focus on. We are ALL responsible for finding those good news stories and promoting the good in our City, County and Region.

If we ALL ensured that we could regularly replicating the last two weeks of positive press coverage the City and County has received then Waterford City would in no time at all get back its rightful place as Ireland’s fourth City of the Republic. This in turn would lead to lower unemployment, better third level attainment, higher wages and so on. It really is a win win!

It is all about OUR positive attitude to make Waterford the very best that it can be and looking forward with a positive mindset is something we all need to do.

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose” (Lyndon B Johnson).

Thank you to Paul Dower for his photographs.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Building Bridges!

On Thursday 12th March 2015 the Suir river crossing was named The Thomas Francis Meagher Bridge by President Michael D Higgins.

The naming of the bridge was an idea spawned a number of years ago from the 1848 Tricolour Celebration and the voluntary committee who organise the Celebration also reached a milestone this year with the organising of the 5th annual Celebration that commemorates the first ever raising of the Irish Tricolour by Thomas Francis Meagher at 33 The Mall, Waterford City. The flag raising ceremony took place on The Mall, in Waterford City, on Sunday 8th March and was attended by Minister Paudie Coffey, Mayor James Tobin, Mayor Lola O’Sullivan, Ambassador Vickers (Canadian Embassy), Ambassador Thebault (French Embassy), Lt Col Sean Cosden (US Embassy), 69th Infantry Division (New York) and many other dignitaries. Approximately 1000 members of the public were also in attendance.

The annual Gala Dinner took place on Saturday 7th March in The Granville Hotel and 110 guests attended the dinner where they were entertained by the Island of Ireland Peace Choir. The key note speech was presented by Col James Tierney and the subject topic was “Building Bridges” a very apt theme bearing in mind the bridge naming ceremony that took place on Thursday 12th March.

The theme of “Building Bridges” has been fostered by the organising committee for the last five years and during those five years a considerable number of friends, family, Ambassadors, Governors and politicians from all sides of the political divide have attended the weekend events. There can be no doubt that the Celebration is now a recognised National Event and there are significant plans to make the 2016 Tricolour Celebration a very special event.

Organised by a voluntary committee who annually manage to attract high level delegations from the United States and in particular the 69th Infantry Division (New York), also known as the “Fighting 69th”. The 69th Division have annually send at least five serving members and during Col James Tierney’s speech he explained the impact the organising committee and the people of Waterford have had on the members of the 69th Infantry Division.

Col James Tierney spoke about the fact the Tricolour Celebration committee had without doubt helped the Infantry Division reconnect with its Irish heritage and therefore reconnect with so many of the Divisions past traditions. The reaching out of the Committee to connect with the 69th has in so many ways been beneficial to both side of the pond.

In 2014 a delegation from the Waterford branch of Irish Naval Reserve and a number of Committee members self-funded a trip to New York to march in the St.Patrick’s Day Parade and I was lucky enough to be part of that delegation who, to a man and a woman, represented Waterford City with pride, dignity and passion.

It was only when I returned home did I realise the significance of what we had just experienced. Through the friendship we have built up with the 69th we literally marched at the head of the parade and we marched in front of all the senior politicians, mayors and other dignitaries. We were without doubt being treated as guests of honour.

I should really have noted just how big a role we would play in the Parade when we attended St.Patricks Cathedral, just off 5th Avenue, for mass early on the morning of the 17th March 2014. We were seated with the members of the 69th four and five rows from the front, just behind the An Taoiseach, the Mayor of New York and other political figures. We would then play in integral role in the Parade itself. And after a long march up the length of 5th Avenue we and the members of the 69th got on our very own private subway train and we thundered back to the barracks with green lights all the way – now that is a very impressive level of “pull”.  

I have to say that 17th March 2014 will also be remembered as one of the coldest days I have every had to wear my kilt on and almost one year later I am still waiting for some bits and bobs to come back down.

Away from the formal involvement of the Parade we received unprecedented access to the 9/11 Memorial Site to lay a wreath, on behalf of the people of Waterford City. The wreath was laid with a naval honour guard of the men and women from the Waterford branch of the Naval Reserve and hundreds of visitors to the site also participated in the wreath laying ceremony. Access was also given to the United Nations building and the tour we received took us to every debating chamber and to all the areas you would occasionally see on the national news channels. We really were being given the full VIP treatment.

Our trip to New York in 2014 has certainly left me with wonderful memories and also built bridges of friendship across the Atlantic Ocean.

The naming of the Thomas Francis Meagher Bridge really has been a huge team effort on behalf of Waterford and Kilkenny and in many ways the significance of these two sporting rivals working together on the bridge naming cannot be lost.

As a region we do need to work more cohesively and work more closely. The South East has a population of circa 500,000 and yet we are still under achieving in terms of employment, third level attainment, international tourism etc etc. And perhaps the bridge naming will be that start of many other coordinated projects and programmes that will benefit Waterford City, the County and the wider region. By pulling together we can accelerate the development of the City and the wider region.

But to do this we will have to build bridges and we will have to compromise.

We need to position Waterford City as the economic driver for the whole of the South East and that will mean finding the right people to drive the right projects that will position the City as a place of investment. To do just that we will have to work with people and partners that perhaps we feel we should not even be talking to. But failure to find a common ground will be far more disruptive than taking no action at all.
We have to be mature enough to start “Building Bridges” and we have to look at which voluntary groups are getting it right and how we can learn from and foster their success.

Maybe more people should be looking to the voluntary group called the 1848 Tricolour Celebration as there can be no doubt they have a successful formula and they are flying the flag Internationally for Waterford City and the wider region.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

It is Team Work that really counts!

It was with much disappointment that I watched my beloved Scottish rugby team lose yet another Six Nations rugby match in 2015. That is now three loses in a row and there is a very real chance that I will be adding one more “Wooden Spoon” to my ever expanding collection.

I once again found myself shouting expletives at the television set on Saturday afternoon and in the dying minutes of the match I began to look for scapegoats. Unfortunately, I started blaming the Irish referee Mr Georgio Clancy-Cappuccino-Cinquecento for what I felt, in the heat of battle, were some very unjust decisions and the awarding of the penalty try in the dying minutes was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. I could not believe that I was to witness another defeat on the back of some very dodgy and biased refereeing decisions!

How could Scotland be so unfairly treated by two consecutive referees in two consecutive Six Nation’s matches?

I was of course feeling hard done by and was naturally looking for someone else to blame, as often happens when poor performance is witnessed and experienced. I should have just accepted that Italy were the better team on the day and out muscled and outsmarted Scotland. In the cold light of day they deserved to win and I should not have been looking externally for excuses and I should have been focusing on how poorly the Scottish team performed.

“Honourable in victory and gracious in defeat”, my Grandpa once told me as a wee boy on holidays in the North East of Scotland in the beautiful City of Elgin. This mantra takes pride of place in my sporting life and yet sometimes due to passion and adrenalin I do wander off this track and become the ubiquitous bad loser. My family and friends will testify to that.

It is very clear that in sport and business we should be benchmarked by our own performance and to succeed on and off the field of play we do need to perform at the very highest possible level. This often means working as part of a larger team and knowing what you are or perhaps more importantly what you are not contributing to any given set of goals. To succeed as a team all the constituent parts have to work together for a common cause and every cog, wheel and motor must work in unison and work as one. Should any part malfunction then the whole mechanism will grind to a halt or break and subsequently fail.

It is therefore important to have very clear goals aims and objectives within any organisation or when attempting a project.

My disappointment at yet another Scottish rugby false dawn was soon forgotten when the Waterford Business Group (WBG) “Night at the Dogs” followed on from Saturday’s Six Nations climax with Wales beating France in Paris. The “Night at the Dogs” was a fundraiser for the WBG, with a pledge of money going towards the Ballybeg Brick by Brick Appeal.

A cold crisp evening awaited the WBG, the dogs, the race punters and the supporters of the Appeal at Kilcohan Park Greyhound Track. We had 11 great sponsors supporting ALL 11 races on the night and the highlight of the evening was the Waterford Business Group Sweepstake with a €1000 prize available for the winning dog.

The whole evening went by extremely smoothly and without a hitch due to the teamwork of the WBG Committee, support of Willie Moore and his Committee, and the great work of the staff at Kilcohan Park ably led by Carl Pallas, the Stadium Manager. Like a well oiled machine everyone knew what they had to do and what was expected of them and the success on the night was simply due teamwork and planning.

There were no scapegoats and no one to blame, as nothing went wrong on the evening because everyone performed to the very best of their ability.

And this ability to perform at the very highest level leads me on to ask these very simply questions “Is Waterford really performing to the very best of her ability?” and “Are we ALL really pulling the right direction or are we pulling in opposite directions?”

These two questions really should initiate considerable debate and if the answer is “No” to the first question and “No” to the second question then how do we turn that around and how do we ensure that we are all, to use a well worn phrase, “Singing off the same hymn sheet?”

When we see so many of our competitive towns seemingly stealing a march on Waterford City is it because they have a more cohesive approach to working together or do they simply get projects over the line by “Hook or by Crook”. Do our competing towns take the attitude that this will be good for our town so we will make the project work?

It does seem that getting projects off the ground in Waterford is difficult and securing support also seems to be rather laboured and full of ever-present barriers. Yet when driven people have the strength and determination to keep going the rewards are there. And projects that are lead by driven people do come to fruition, but why oh why does it have to be so difficult?

There are many great projects, schemes and developments going on in and around the City and yet there could be so many more if we just fostered a culture of being willing and able to identify what projects will put the City back to its rightful place as Ireland’s fourth City of the Republic.

We need to encourage those with drive, vision and determination and help them deliver for the betterment of ALL. We need to see REAL teamwork at play and REAL strength of mind to work with the right people who can deliver for this great City of Waterford.

By finding the right people and creating the right “Team Waterford” we will not have to find scapegoats such as I had to do towards the end last weekend’s Six Nations rugby match. Instead we can create a well oiled machine that delivers for Waterford City, County and the South East.

“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm,” said Winston Churchill, maybe secretly he was a Scottish rugby fan.