28 07 2011

With the demise of Business Link the already growing army of individuals and companies which offer ‘mentoring’ is likely to continue growing, especially given that Business Link itself is promoting a service titled ‘MentorsMe’ as an online resource to fill the gap after their demise.

It seems a good time to ask; ‘what is a mentor?’ not least because, as the market floods, telling the good from the bad from the ugly could have vital consequences for the health of your wallet and the future of your company!

The word ‘mentor’ evolves from Greek Mythology where Mentor was Odysseus’ trusted counsellor in whose guise Athena became the guardian and teacher of Telemachus. That evolution ends with a modern meaning which can apply to an advisor, a wise man and/or a trusted counsellor.

In a business context, what does this then mean that a mentor needs to be able to provide if offering that service to you?

There are four corners, four styles of counselling that a good mentor must be able to provide and, in truth, it is unlikely that many mentors will cover all four styles in other than a very general way. This is because the styles ask for different blends of skill, knowledge and experience.

Confusingly, one of the four corners is referred to as ‘pure mentoring’ giving the impression that as long as the mentor provides this corner then they are a ‘mentor’. Even more confusingly, they are. However they are not necessarily providing sufficient mentoring to service your needs if they are not also able to cover the other three corners.

If you think of the four corners as if they are traffic lights for the mentor. One is Red, where the mentor does not want to go but, in an emergency will need to ignore the red light. Two corners are Amber, where the mentor will proceed but with caution and the fourth is Green where the mentor can proceed. However, just as with real traffic lights, they are liable to change as the mentor and mentee make their journey and so quality counsel demands the mentor be ready to adopt amber or red if called for.

Let’s start in the Green corner with what is described as ‘Pure Mentoring’.

With pure mentoring, the mentor will avoid providing the mentee with answers, instead guiding him through questioning and occasional prompts to discover the answers for himself. Knowledge is best retained when the learner is actively involved in the process hence this is (and should be) the preferred style of most mentors. It does not necessarily require an in depth knowledge of the mentee’s specialism or business; what it demands is an ability to ask the right question at the right time to encourage the mentee to identify the right direction to go in order to find the right answer. This is a very difficult skill to master consistently. It is a relationship built on (over-simplistically for purposes of an example):

  • Mentee; “I want to be better at what I do.”
  • Mentor; “How do you think the best way to go about that might be?”
  • The issue is both raised and solved by the mentee.

Of course, for someone who lacks a degree of subject matter expertise, such mentoring could be frustrating as he will lack the knowledge with which to furnish the mentors prompting with solutions, either taking him down the wrong road or simply hitting a dead end.

This is where the good mentor requires knowledge of those Amber corners. It is in these areas that the mentor needs to have some subject matter expertise (or access to it – as suggested above, it is unlikely one mentor will adequately cater for all four corners).

The first of the Amber corners is ‘Expert Advisor’. Many mentors are, in fact, expert advisors. They have a lot of knowledge in specific industries and are great at sharing it however, that knowledge can get in the way of pure mentoring as the urge is to provide answers rather than guide the mentee to them; it is human nature. Indeed, when many of us talk of needing a mentor, what we are often referring to is actually an expert advisor, a provider of simple solutions, which is not necessarily providing learning of quality.

Where the pure mentor would ask questions and cajole encouraging the mentee to discover their own solutions, the expert advisor will listen to the questions of the mentee and then provide the answers himself. Where the mentee lacks the knowledge, skills or experience to seek the answers for himself, the expert advisor comes into his own. It is a relationship built on:

  • Mentee; “This is what I need”
  • Mentor; “Here is your solution.”
  • The issue is raised by the mentee and then solved by the mentor (or expert advisor).

The second Amber corner is ‘Qualifications’. Although termed, ‘qualification’ this corner includes all study based learning. Here, it is likely that the knowledge of the mentee lags somewhat and the mentor recognising this also recognises that saying, “do this” or “try that” will not solve the problem. It then becomes encumbent on the mentor to ask and the mentee to solve. It is a relationship built on:

  • Mentor; “You lack knowledge in this area.”
  • Mentee; “I must improve my learning.”
  • The issue is raised by the mentor and the solution is provided by the mentee (by gaining the required learning).

Finally we reach the Red corner. This is where ‘Instruction’ lives. Instruction appears to be the preferred style for a significant minority of mentors where it should be a house of last resort. It is coded Red to remind the mentor that it should only be passed in emergency and then with extreme caution. Instruction is where the involvement of the mentee in any learning is reduced to the minimum, not the best way to improve learning but, on occasion, a necessity. It is a relationship built on:

  • Mentor; “This is your problem.”
  • Mentor; “And this is what you must do.”
  • The issue is both raised and solved by the mentor, the complete opposite of ‘pure mentoring’.

Mentors who can cover all four corners well are rare but that does not prevent them from being good mentors provided they know where their weaknesses lie and will refer to specialists in those areas when the time/need is right. If your mentor does not, it is time to find one who does.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, July 2011


Twitter @cowanglobal



22 07 2011
I was recently part of a group briefed to come up with some statements for Communicate East Midlands (CEM)*, a newly formed group of like-minded individuals and companies who needed to better define why they exist, who they are, what they stand for and where they are going. We were briefed to avoid words like ‘Mission’, ‘Values’ and ‘Vision’; CEM wishing to distance itself from standardised and/or bureaucratic norms. I suggested they might be ‘Adhocratic’ before needing to explain what I meant. The group loved it and have adopted it as part of those over-arching descriptors. However, the initial lack of understanding left me wondering whether it is a term which needs wider understanding……

In short-hand, ‘adhocratic’ is the opposite of bureaucratic. While a good starting point, in long-hand, it is a bit more than that.

Being the opposite of bureaucratic, adhocratic is, in theory at least, unstructured, decentralised and responsive.

The term was first used as long ago as 1968 when Warren G Bennis, a US leadership theorist, proposed that the successful business of the future would rely on nimble and flexible project teams within a structure he called ‘adhocracy’.

Adhocracy then made fleeting appearances in theories ranging from “a new freeform world of kinetic organisations” (Future Shock, Alvin Toffler, 1970) to being one of four organisational structures defined by Henry Mintzberg in The Structure of Organisations (1979).

In my view the best description is “any form of organisation that cuts across normal bureaucratic lines to capture opportunities, solve problems and get results” stated in Robert Waterman’s 1990 book ‘Adhocracy.’

The fact so few have heard of, let alone employed, Adhocracy suggests that Bennis read the future wrongly when he was, in part, spot on. However where Bennis suggested that adhocracy was the future for all successful companies, Mintzberg and Waterman saw that it is not a structure suited to many.

Local authorities for example are often slated for being bureaucratic when, the truth is, they could not function effectively in any other way. It is when they become over bureaucratic, as they frequently do, that frustration arises.

Where adhocracy has, and continues to, come into its own is in the creative industries, in the new technologies and as creative departments within larger bureaucracies. However, even in those areas it appears ideally suited to, it can soon be the undoing of the organisation concerned if, at the very least, some form of guiding structure is not in place.

This ‘guiding structure’ creates two forms of adhocracy (sub-divisions):

  • The Operating Adhocracy which innovates and solves problems on behalf of clients (think advertising or software).
  • The Administrative Adhocracy which operates through a managed, project team structure in order to serve itself. NASA would probably not describe itself as adhocratic but in fact comes very close to being an Administrative Adhocracy.

It is often mistakenly thought that to be truly adhocratic the organisation will be so ‘freeform’ that it does not require direction or strategy. This is not the case, however successful adhocratic strategy would be far lighter touch and flexible. Think Pareto’s Law as your rule of thumb and apply it to flexibility in strategy; a healthy bureaucracy would be 80% rigid and 20% flexible. Less than 20% and bureaucracy starts creeping into the over bureaucratic referred to above.

A strategy for an adhocracy would be the reverse; 20% rigid and 80% flexible becoming over adhocratic the more it creeps below the 20% ‘guiding’ rigidity.

Adhocracy is not for everyone; neither is bureaucracy, and in reality most organisations will be positioned somewhere on a sliding scale between the two. And, as I often state, if strategy is to serve any/all of these organisations to their highest potential it must be highly personalised and avoid ‘templated-thinking’ at all costs.

It is not that adhocracies don’t exist, there are many of them operating extremely successfully in all parts of the world. It is that the term ‘adhocratic’ is poorly understood and therefore rarely applied.

*To find out more about Communicate East Midlands, the new voice for the Region, visit them at one or all of the following; Website, Linked In, Facebook or Twitter. To view the result of our group deliberations into why they exist, who they are, what they stand for and where they are going, please click here: CEM Statements Jul11.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, July 2011


Twitter @cowanglobal



18 07 2011

Earlier this month, I revisited the SWOT Analysis and discussed how it might be used with some purpose rather than used and forgotten. In this blog I look at the SWOT Analysis’ close relation; the PEST Analysis. Often mistakenly considered to cover similar ground, where the SWOT analyses your organisation, the PEST analysis the environment in which you operate.

The PEST analysis is not as widely used as the SWOT analysis but is nonetheless an extremely valuable tool which, when applied in tandem with a SWOT analysis can provide a more in-depth understanding of the overall environment your organisation is operating within and might face in the future; vital considerations when developing strategy.

The PEST analysis considers the external macro environment (i.e. the ‘big picture’) in which a business operates and considers factors which are beyond the direct control or influence of the organisation but are important to be aware of when doing product development, business or strategy planning.

PEST breaks the environment into four sections to enable more focused analysis; Political, Economic, Social, Technological.

The PEST analysis enables you to consider the implications of changes to the environment in which you operate (whether current or future) and thus can assist in planning to address them in place of becoming a victim of them.

These are some examples of PEST factors that may affect your organisation although you should ensure you conduct your own comprehensive analysis:


  • A change in government
  • A change in government policy towards the sector(s) in which you operate
  • Local Authority priorities, such as funding and investment
  • Legal aspects such as tax policies, labour laws, environmental law, health and safety, employment law, etc. (sometimes analysed separately, see below)


  • Interest rates and their effect on (e.g.) the cost of capital items
  • Inflation and its effect on (e.g.) different spending priorities of consumers
  • Exchange rates and currency values around the globe (e.g. in countries where you manufacture or to whom you export)
  • Unemployment rates and the availability of cheap(er) labour


  • Demographic shifts in the population (e.g. geographical ‘expertise clusters’ seen in high-tech industries)
  • An aging population could impact (e.g.) on the cost of labour
  • Attitudes towards careers and career progression
  • Lifestyles, fashions and trends
  • Standard of education
  • Attitudes to the work/life balance
  • Entrepreneurial attitudes and opportunities


  • Rate of technological obsolescence (e.g. mobile phones in the communications sector)
  • Government investment in research and development
  • Access to and changes in technology (e.g. IT, mobile, internet, etc.)

In recent times some consultants have stretched (and rearranged) PEST into SLEPT and then PESTEL. In the first of these (SLEPT) the L represents Legal, traditionally included within political under PEST but not necessarily. The second, PESTEL (sometimes written as PESTLE) adds Environmental to the acronym. Still another step on is STEEPLE which adds in Ethical, for example the issue of child labour would be considered under this heading where the traditional model (PEST) would include both environmental and ethical within political and social. The growing importance of both has seen their introduction under separate headers to ensure they are covered.

None of these variations are wrong and none are better or worse than others. The key is that you use a model which assists you in gaining the information you need to the required depth and quality.

And, as Hill & Westbrook reminded us in 1997, having invested time and other resource in your SWOT and PEST analyses, don’t then forget to use the intelligence you have gained to inform your strategy!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2011


Twitter @cowanglobal



14 07 2011


Francine Pickering

Francine Pickering’s passion is to bring professional marketing knowledge to small and growing businesses.  As a Chartered Marketer, she helps business owners move away from marketing as an ineffective piecemeal attitude to promotion and towards a strategic planning approach designed to get pragmatic results.

People who don’t understand marketing have been known to use the word to describe dubious behaviour in business: “marketing spin”, “marketing ploy” and such as if there’s something underhand about it.

But a vital part of building long-lasting customer relationships is to build trust – and you don’t do that by being unethical. Here are the key things that you need to consider when developing and conveying your trustworthiness.

1. Values, ethos and reputation come first for your brand

Contrary to popular belief, your brand is not about your logo – it’s about the beliefs and attitudes of your customers. You can’t control these but you can influence them by being clear about your values and protecting your reputation. Your logo should represent what matters to you in ways that are meaningful to your customers but don’t expect a glossy logo to cover up ethical cracks.

2. Stay true to all your values

Chances are you’ll have values and brand personality characteristics beyond those typified as “ethical” so you should make sure that your ethical stance reflects these too. If your brand is fun, youthful, innovative, pragmatic, the last thing you want is to start being labelled as dull and worthy just because you’ve brought some important principles to the fore. Consistency builds trust too.

3. Think about what does being ethical means in your sector

What are the baseline requirements for ethical behaviour? What else can you do to make a difference in your sector? What matters to your customers most and how can you work with this understanding to build trust in your own unique way? Can you learn anything by observing what people do in other sectors?

4. Keep your promises

Building trust is not about what you say – it’s about what you do. Your actions will speak louder than words. Whilst your stakeholders may well check out your web site to see what you say about ethical, green or sustainable principles, that’s not what they’ll form their opinions on. They’ll want to see from your actions – and, indeed, hear from your staff – that what you claim gets put into practice.

5. Don’t pretend you’re perfect

The perfect ethical decision is elusive for any business and can be especially so for small businesses with limited resources. If you can’t make the perfect decision every time, don’t pretend that you can. Better to set out your stall about what matters to you and what you’re doing to move towards the standards you have set yourself. This way you can be honest about your efforts and how you balance any conflicting standards.

6. Consider developing an ethical policy

Not for its own sake and not just to try and impress but as framework for making business decisions that you can be comfortable with. In a constantly changing world consider it to be a living document and review it when appropriate.

7. Look at your whole marketing mix

As we often discuss on this blog, marketing is not just about promoting your business; there’s a whole “marketing mix” of elements than need to work together cohesively to ensure that what you offer your customers is attractive to them and makes good business sense to you. In particular you might want to consider the “process” element – the way you work with your customers is an important part of keeping your promises and will
reflect on how much they trust you.

8. Ensure your claims are honest

Whether they are directly related to your ethical stance or not you should ensure that your claims hold water and abide by all relevant legislation and codes of practice. Take into account:

  • The CAP Code from the Committee of Advertising Practice which covers all aspects of marketing communications.
  • The Code has a specific section on Environmental Claims and also covers sensitive areas such as advertising to children, and advertising
    health-related and beauty products.
  • The Direct Marketing Association supports the GreenDM website with information on the PAS 2020 standard for environmentally friendly direct marketing. The standard is more for professional direct marketers than small businesses but there is a useful guide to the DM process that will allow you to do your own “ethical check”.
  • You should also check out DEFRA’s Green Claims Code which outlines best practice for the claims you make about your products.

9. Expect to be scrutinised

Consumers are increasingly unlikely to be fooled by “greenwash” and other ethical claims. The more ambitious the claims you make, the more likely they are to expect higher standards throughout the business. Don’t let that deter you – remember what I said about setting out your stall and being honest about your aims.

And please don’t mislead indirectly. Certain types of name and certain styles of imagery raise certain kinds of expectation and people won’t be appeased by weasley apologies if your business practice doesn’t meet the expectations raised.

Be honest in your pricing

The reality is that many best ethical practices can incur additional cost. And, traditionally, businesses have been able to charge an extra premium for ethical products – think a certain high street coffee chain which made a big extra mark-up on their Fairtrade coffee compared to the relatively small additional cost to them.

These days, however, it’s also the case that consumers are looking for higher ethical standards but are less prepared to pay that premium. Can you raise your own standards in ways that don’t involve raising prices?

Some creative thinking called for, perhaps.

© Francine Pickering, Clarity Marketing Ltd, 2011

Clarity Marketing Ltd


Mercury House, Shipstones Business Centre,

Northgate, Nottingham, NG7 7FN

Tel: 0115 964 8222

Mobile: 07775 947472

Twitter @fmpickering


9 07 2011

In August of last year, this blog asked; ‘Is The SWOT Analysis A Waste Of Time?’ The intention was not to provide the answer but to provoke debate, a debate started in 1997 when Hill & Westbrook asked the same question. That blog has gone on to become, to date, by far the most read article on these pages. I thought that therefore the time was right to share my own view on how this commonly used analysis tool, can be employed (and it isn’t that it is a waste of time).

One of the best known and most popular tools in strategy development is the SWOT analysis. Carried out properly, a SWOT analysis should provide you with a clear picture of your Strengths and Weaknesses together with Opportunities for and Threats to your organisation.

It is important to remember when conducting a SWOT analysis that honesty is vital, the analysis will only be of use if it reflects reality in place of cherry picked facts; what might be instead of what is. It must therefore be conducted in a recrimination free environment, regardless of how uncomfortable truths are.

A further issue with the conducting of a SWOT analysis is knowing how to apply it to the development of your strategy. In fact, in 1997, Hill & Westbrook* reported that a survey of 50 companies showed that none of them applied results from their SWOT analysis in developing their strategies.

Some strategists have wrongly interpreted this as SWOTS being of little value. In fact, they are of great value but only if conducted honestly and then only if applied correctly.

At the ‘intelligence gathering’ (consultation) stage of developing strategy it is important to understand what a SWOT analysis looks like and how to conduct one.

is working well?”
needs improvement or change?”
opportunities are around us?”
THREATS – “what
obstacles do we face?”

It can be beneficial to use questions to solicit responses otherwise they may be too non-specific. Some generic examples of questions are:


1. What are our assets?
2. Which asset is strongest?
3. What differentiates us from our competitors?
4. Do we have immensely talented people on our staff?
5. Is our business debt free?
6. Do we have a broad customer base?
7. What unique resources do we have?
8. Do we have a sustainable competitive advantage?
9. Do we have specific sales or marketing expertise?


1. What areas do we need to improve on?
2. What necessary expertise/manpower do we currently lack?
3. In what areas do our competitors have an edge?
4. Are we relying on one customer too much?
5. Do we have adequate cash flow to sustain us?
6. Do we have adequate profit levels?
7. Do we have a well of new ideas?
8. Are we over leveraged (too much debt)?


1. What external changes present interesting opportunities?
2. What trends might impact our industry?
3. Is there talent located elsewhere that we might be able to acquire?
4. Is a competitor failing to adequately service the market?
5. Is there an unmet need/want that we can fulfil?
6. Are there trends emerging that we can profitably service?
7. If we package our product differently, can we extract a higher premium for it?
8. Can we take advantage of the historically low interest rates to refinance our debt?


1. Is there a better equipped (funding, talent, mobility, etc) competitor in our market?
2. Is there an entity who may not be a competitor today which could possibly become one tomorrow?
3. Are our key staff satisfied in their work? Could they be poached by a competitor?
4. Is our intellectual property properly secured (trademarks, copyrights, firewalls, data security plans, etc) against theft & loss (both from internal & external sources)?
5. Do we have to rely on third parties for critical steps in our development process that could possibly derail our delivery schedule?
6. What if our supplier runs out of product and we experience an extended shortage?
7. What if there is a natural disaster?
8. What if our customers go bankrupt?
9. What if our website is hacked?
10. What if we are sued?

Some of these questions may be relevant to you, some might not, be sure to consider the sector in which your organisation operates and any current business trends (models/processes) it employs. For example many businesses relying solely or heavily on a ‘Lean Business Thinking’ model failed to grasp the importance of questions 6 & 7 under Threats and are still struggling to service customers following March’s Tsunami in Japan (think cars and electronics).

Or maybe they saw the danger but failed to apply what their SWOT told them to their strategy, the very thing Hill & Westbrook highlighted as a major problem 14 years ago!

Regardless, the benefits of not only conducting but also applying a thorough SWOT analysis are ably demonstrated through this one issue. It is perhaps surprising that not a single company spotted this flaw in thinking and was prepped to capitalise if/when the inevitable occurred.

*T Hill and Roy Westbrook (1997). SWOT analysis. It’s time for a product recall. Long Range Planning. 30(I), 46-53

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2011


Twitter @cowanglobal



3 07 2011


Danny Bermant

Danny Bermant is director of Brainstorm Design, an internet agency that helps businesses and charities to promote themselves online, including through social media. Along with Jim Cowan and Cowan Global, Danny and Brainstorm are also a member of the Branduin Business Support Group, one of the UK’s leading private sector business advisory services (more details at www.branduin.co.uk).

Using social media to generate contacts and work is crucial to many business plans. But it’s not enough simply to start Tweeting or starting up a Facebook page; you need a well-thought-out social media strategy. And key to this is deciding on a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for your social media campaign –  that is, something that clearly differentiates you from the competition, particularly on social media sites with millions of users.

For example, it’s not enough to market yourself as “a lawyer”. To stand out, you need to explain that you are a lawyer who offers fixed prices, or who specialises in some niche area. Instead of promoting yourself as “a freelance writer”, state that you are a freelance writer specialising in  science reporting, or higher education.

Your USP needs to be clearly stated on your Twitter bio and at the top of your LinkedIn profile. People only spend a few seconds looking at your details, so it is important to sell yourself as powerfully, and concisely, as possible.

You then need to focus on this “mission statement”, as it were, as you methodically promote yourself online.

Use case studies that show how you are different, and broadcast them through social media channels. You can post written case studies on your blog and promote them on Twitter and Facebook, or better still, use video, which has far more impact than words. LinkedIn (via Slideshare) and Facebook both support this.

Make sure that most of your Twitter and Facebook posts relate to your USP so that you are properly displaying your expertise and become the “go-to” Twitterer on the subject.

Try and generate conversations about your specialisation, inviting questions from your audience. This is a great way of demonstrating credibility, making yourself accessible and drumming up interest in what you have to offer. It can also lead to a greater audience if you answer a question on Twitter from someone who has a significant following themselves. Polls are a good way of generating a response.

Share regular tips to demonstrate your expertise. And educate your followers by offering your expert opinion on current affairs in your field and sharing newsworthy items that relate to your niche area.

All of this doesn’t mean that you cannot ever write about, or link to, items of broader interest in your profession — of course you can. But you do need to stay focused on your USP if you are to stand out in a crowded social media market place.

© Danny Bermant, Brainstorm Design Ltd 2011

Brainstorm Design Ltd.

Helping you grow your business online


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