28 12 2012

new-years-resolutionsEvery year is the same; depending on which survey you read somewhere over 70%, 80% or even 95% of all New Year’s Eve resolutions are doomed to fail. Where will yours stack up in that statistical pile? 

Here are a few tips to ensure this year your resolution becomes reality.

Here at Cowan Global we spend our time helping businesses and third sector organisations become successful by helping them be better at strategy. This means not only better at delivering strategy but in establishing challenging but achievable targets to pursue in the first place.

And every year, where so many organisations fall short of their potential (and even fail), most of the population follow. Every year people set targets (aka New Year’s Resolutions) they have absolutely no chance of delivering.

Key to your being successful in whatever you resolve to do in 2013 is to be smarter when you set your target now. By smarter, I mean SMARTER because it is an acronym you can test your resolution against:

S stands for specific. If you aren’t specific about what you want to achieve how can you honestly know when you have succeeded? “I want to lose weight,” simply won’t cut the mustard; “I want to lose half a stone” will. It is specific so that you know what it is you are setting out to achieve.

M stands for measurable. You need to be able to measure progress or you risk losing motivation. “I want to get fitter,” is a laudable aim but is hard to measure. “I want to be fit enough to run 10km without stopping” puts a measure on it and you can tick off 1, 2, 3, 4 and more kms as landmarks along the way to help keep you motivated.

A stands for agreed. If you are involving other people, they must all agree or you will fail. Beyond that people have a penchant for setting resolutions they think others will be impressed by instead of setting targets for themselves. Put another way, your resolution must be something that, deep inside, you agree you can and will pursue, you must agree your resolution with yourself! Half-hearted = half-arsed = doomed to fail.

R stands for realistic. You will know people (you might be one of them) who have big, often alcohol driven dreams every December 31st who wake on 1st January to realise there is no way on God’s earth they will achieve their resolution and it bites the dust before it sees its first sunset. Unrealistic can mean plain crazy (eg I’m going to swim the Atlantic using butterfly) or ill-conceived such as committing to hit the gym for two hours every day when you know that work and family commitments will make one hour every other day far more realistic.

T stands for time-phased. In short; give yourself a deadline and, if it is a large undertaking give yourself some time-phased check points along the way. So, if you are going to run to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for charity it might be wise to have some progressive targets along the way as you prepare.

E stands for exciting. Does achieving your resolution excite you? If yes, great; if no, bin it and get another because if you aren’t excited by it now the further we get into 2013 the less you will be motivated to achieve it and that will lead to only one thing – failure.

R stands for recorded. Not just a record for yourself but a public record to which you agree to be accountable. This might be as simple as telling your friends you are going to raise over £1000 for your favourite charity or it might be sharing your progress towards fitness, weight loss, giving up smoking or whatever else on a public blog. By recording what your resolution is you make yourself accountable for failure.

There are other acronyms you can employ. If you are aiming to improve at something you already do try CRAMP. Your resolution will need to be Challenging but Realistic, Agreed and Measurable not forgetting Performance orientated. Of course, if you forget to make it Measurable it becomes something else altogether!

Whether SMARTER, CRAMP or February wash out, thank you for reading the Cowan Global Blog during 2012, I’m looking forward to writing more in 2013 and hope you will join me then.

Have a great time on New Year’s Eve; see you the other side!

Clough Taylor LogoIf you are looking for a great charity run (or walk) to make your resolution target, why not consider the Clough Taylor People’s Run on 10th March? Organised by social enterprise People’s Events (of whom I am Chairman) and supported by Cowan Global, the event is a 10km run (or walk) around the historic Donington Park motor racing circuit in memory of two great men, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, and in support of some fantastic causes. Every participant gets a free T-shirt and every finisher a commemorative medal. For more details click here.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2012

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7 11 2012

Photo: The Guardian

In recent weeks the media has reported numerous stories surrounding Lance Armstrong’s cheating through the taking of performance enhancing drugs. At the same time, even more space has been given to reporting the scandalous tale of Jimmy Savile’s alleged long running abuses of young people.

What no one in the media has done is link the two. No one has looked at the startling similarities in the broken and/or dysfunctional organisational cultures will allowed the cheating and the abuse to go unpunished for so long. And those similarities present a warning to us all.

Most of us would like to think that if we were confronted with a Savile or an Armstrong in our organisation, we would speak up. Most of us are also kidding ourselves. The sorry fact is that most people will not risk a career by being the only person speaking out; will not risk the scorn of others if questioning the actions of a popular colleague. In reality it is only a tiny minority who will speak up regardless.

That presents a serious problem for organisations which like to consider themselves as fair and honest; who do the right thing. If the reality is that most will not risk speaking up and the culture does not encourage the reporting of misdeeds in a non-judgemental way, then in the vast majority of cases they will go unreported.

Photo: The Guardian

Since the news of Jimmy Savile’s alleged years of abusing young people broke numerous people have spoken up; “we all suspected something,” “it was accepted that was how Jimmy was” and “I didn’t want to risk being the only one who said anything” have been regularly repeated by numerous people in various guises. In the Lance Armstrong case, retired cyclists and coaches, team masseurs and managers have spoken out not just about Armstrong but about the culture of cheating that existed in cycling at the time.

Of course, there is another side to most (but not these two) stories. Misunderstanding, misinterpretation and deliberate false accusation must be guarded against. Therefore it is encumbent on the organisation to ensure not only a culture where speaking up is accepted but also where privacy and confidentiality are respected until any case has been properly examined or reported on to the correct authorities.

This involves very deliberate plans which foster a culture where no one is worried that highlighting wrong-doing might adversely affect their career or undermine popularity. It means very deliberate plans which design in a system and structure for reporting wrong-doing which does not expose truth or falsehood before being properly investigated. And, like all good planning, it is regularly ‘stress-tested’ to ensure it works.

Such deliberate planning will not only protect against paedophiles and drug cheats; it opens the door for the addressing of work place/organisational issues such as sexism, racism, homophobia, disability discrimination and more. It opens the door to protect against petty theft and fraud. It opens the door to a place where your staff are happy that they can take up issues in a fair, honest and reasonable way in the safe knowledge that they do not risk themselves (unless deliberately false) in any way.

In pointing fingers at the BBC, Stoke Mandeville, the UCI and others, many have taken the risky view that ‘it can’t happen here.’

Can’t it? Is your organisation’s culture assumed or is it known?


© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, November 2012

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22 07 2012

‘That Was The Week That Was’ was a satirical television programme from the BBC back in the early sixties. The last seven days would have provided the show with plenty of ammunition and, for strategists, provided lots of examples to highlight how things can (and should) be done better. I’ve picked the top three, not for satire but to highlight how seeing others getting things wrong should provide as good an opportunity for learning as for mockery.


Any infrastructure investment is welcome in the UK right now so how does the announcement of a £9.4bn package of investment for the railways qualify as a bad plan from which we can learn?

In reality it’s less about a bad strategy and more about an absent one. Back in January when the Government announced the HS2 high-speed link between London and Birmingham I made the same point; until there is a national transport strategy then any investment in the railways (or other forms of transport) is based on current understanding and guesswork not on informed, future need.

For example, with HS2 there is the idea of a ‘spur’ linking Heathrow and with the new investment there is the idea of new and improved electrified links to Heathrow from Wales and the West Country. It sounds great until you consider that until a decision is made as to where London’s much needed new airport capacity will be built new links to Heathrow might end up being investment in links to the wrong place.

Lesson: Ensure you look at your strategic planning from a globally integrated perspective to ensure it joins up. Planning (what should be) allied elements separately and independently does not guarantee your planning delivers the necessary outcomes.


Last week the IMF suggested that the UK Government should consider slowing the pace of austerity and boost spending to rescue the economy. The Government intends to continue with austerity. In the same week, the IMF also slashed the UK’s growth forecast.

Time and again during the Eurozone crisis we have seen Europe’s ‘leaders’ too focused on an unguaranteed future while ignoring the present, pressing need. Meanwhile the UK government has addressed that present need while not planning a route to the future.

Lesson: If you face a crisis, deal with it but don’t forget the need to also plan for the future. No one ever achieved the future they desire by ignoring it.

Lesson: If you face a crisis, deal with it. Don’t ignore it while planning solely for the future, if you ignore the crisis of today, tomorrow might become irrelevant.


The most surprising thing to me about the whole Olympics security issue is that anyone has been surprised by it happening.

LOCOG has escaped relatively unscathed and yet should be asked why it took five years from being awarded the Olympics for them to award the security contract for the Games. Given the July 7th London bombings took place the day after London won the bid, they can hardly claim security was a low priority.

Lesson: If you have a seven year window in which to get things done, don’t be surprised that if you do nothing for five of those years you make them more difficult to achieve.

G4S has taken the brunt of the flak and rightly so. They accepted a contract and in doing so must have considered its delivery achievable. And when the number of staff required trebled they happily agreed they could still deliver.

A bemused Nick Buckles, G4S Chief Executive, told the press that he had no reason to doubt his company would deliver as it had robust processes and plans in place. Except, patently, it didn’t. What G4S had in place was a plan not a good plan, a strategy but not the right strategy.

Lesson: Having a strategy in place offers no guarantee of success if that strategy is not adequate.

Lesson: A strategy should be a ‘living document’. Don’t write it and wait for it to deliver, constantly monitor it, check it and challenge it. Times and circumstances change, ensure your strategy does so too or, don’t be surprised if it falls short.

Time and time again I hear executives and managers of failed, failing and underperforming organisations recite a similar line to Nick Buckles; words to the effect of “but we had a strategy.”

Final lesson: Strategy is not the same thing as GOOD Strategy.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, July 2012

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29 03 2012

It may seem that the general lack of understanding of strategy so regularly displayed by our politicians offers little of a positive nature. However, if we look at examples of their general misunderstanding they can provide great opportunities to learn and to improve how we conduct strategy in business and in our day-to-day lives.

The ‘Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia’ has made the news this week for all the right reasons. The UK really does need to up its game when it comes to tackling the poor understanding and low standards of care afforded this condition.

The aspirations and goals laid out in the document are likewise laudable and all are steps in the right direction. So, what of learning from the mistakes of politicians to the benefit of business?

I am going to focus on one general and one specific point which, if addressed in your business (or elsewhere in life) will directly lead to sounder strategy thereby greatly enhancing your chances of success.

The general point is to highlight a common misconception about strategy not confined to Westminster but regularly seen in all walks of life; that of confusing goals for strategy. The Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia lays out a number of aspirations, a pre-requisite for strategy but not the strategy itself. Yes, you need to know where it is you wish to get to, but it is in describing the journey which delivers you to that destination which is the strategy.

In fairness, nowhere in the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia does it describe itself as being a strategy, the development and delivery of the goals (the strategy) will be the responsibility of the NHS. It is David Cameron himself who confuses things when he refers to the document as such in other communications, perhaps reinforcing the view that politicians simply do not understand what strategy is.

The more specific point business (and others) can take from the document as one of learning is in one of the ‘key commitments’ listed within which define each aspiration.

Key commitment 6, Dementia-friendly communities across the country, reads:

By 2015 up to 20 cities, towns and villages will have signed up to become more dementia-friendly.

It is a fundamental requirement of good strategy that success is clearly defined, that it is specific and can be measured. This should be as true for your business as it should be for an elite sports-person, as it should be for someone aspiring to lose weight, as it should be for government.

How the government, or the NHS, will measure success on this key commitment is far from clear. There is a big difference between 20 cities and 20 villages signing up. There is an even bigger difference between 20 cities and only one village. Yet the latter measure (one village) could be included as a measure of success by the inclusion of the words “up to” in the commitment. In short, as long as someone signs up, the government can claim success on this commitment. It is hardly a commitment born of a hunger for excellence, more an acceptance that mediocrity will suffice.

Consider this when planning for your business or other aspirations in your life. How clearly, how specifically have you defined success? Are you driving excellence or accepting mediocrity?

While many of us continue to despair at the poor understanding of strategy demonstrated by our current crop of politicians, at least we can turn this to a positive by ensuring we learn lessons for our own lives from their poor performance.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, March 2012

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18 03 2012

Guest Blog by Danny Bermant of Brainstorm Digital.

There are only two weeks to go until the Facebook Timeline changeover happens. This means that your branded Facebook page will completely change in appearance. Make sure you don’t get caught out.  Here Brainstorm Digital’s Danny Bermant shares the seven key things you need to know.

Bye bye landing pages.

Up till now you were able to automatically send new visitors to a customised page with a special offer. From March 30th, you will no longer be able to do this. All visitors will automatically be taken to your Timeline.

Instead of five thumbnail photos, you will have one large photo at the top of your page.

You will need find a landscape image that illustrates what your business is about. It could be an image of your staff, or it could be an image of your products. The ideal dimensions for this are 851 by 315 pixels. The thumbnail image that sits beside status updates is 180 x 180 pixels. If you want to find some good images for your Facebook account, go to (see visuals). Images sell for as little as £1.

The section that used to be buried in the “Info” tab on your company page is now front and centre along its very top, so make sure you fill it in!

Keep it short and to the point; think mission statement rather than an entire company biography. Ensure you have a completed profile. Missing information looks unprofessional. E.g. If it’s a company page, make sure you fill in: About, Overview, Missions, Products / Services, website address etc…

Control how your posts are displayed.

With Timeline, you can pin a post to the top of your Facebook page for up to seven days to highlight popular or relevant content. You can also change post dates, which will help you prioritise up posts that you want to keep at the top of the page. e.g. An ongoing event or promotion.

You can “star” a post to feature it more prominently, increasing the size of the post to take up the full width of your Facebook page.

This is great if you want to post YouTube videos. But this means you want to use higher res photos that end up on your Facebook page; you’ll need them sized at a minimum width of 851 pixels so they can be featured as a “starred” post without pixelating.

You can add company milestones.

You’ll be able to create company milestones on your Timeline, which gives you an easy way to promote key events in your company history to Facebook. You can also feature events such as client briefings or product launches.

You can control posts on the activity log:

This admin panel lets you hide and reveal posts, “star” posts to feature them, and change post dates. For example you may have a repeating event. Rather than advertise the same event as a new post, you can resurrect an existing post.

The new Facebook layout may be harder to customise but on the plus side it’s far more visual, enabling you to post large images and videos far more prominently. For Facebook audiences, photos and video say a lot more than reams and reams of text, so I think that ultimately, Timeline will be a change for the better.

Danny Bermant is Director of Brainstorm Digital an online marketing agency that trains businesses how to profit from social media. Brainstorm Digital are members of Branduin Business Support Limited.


© Danny Bermant, Brainstorm Digital Ltd, March 2012

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14 03 2012

“There is not a manufacturing company in the world that could afford to abandon close to 15 per cent of its production capacity, and the same applies to every country whether it is small, like Scotland, or enormous, like China or India.”

A little over a week ago, I wrote about a couple of horrendous and inexcusable gaffes by two large organisations. I went on to state that when it comes to equality ignorance is not an excuse, that shaking your head before stating ‘it is common sense’ won’t wash. I suggested that we all take a look in the mirror and ask where we could do better. I stated that for business equality needs to be a question of strategy, of planning to reach those people with one or more of what are termed ‘protected characteristics’ in the 2010 Equality Act.

Since writing that article a number of people have asked me to explain what I mean by this and, in real terms, what is the business incentive?

The quote above is from double Formula One world champion Jackie Stewart’s excellent autobiography ‘Winning Is Not Enough.’ It is more than the usual sporting biography, in that it covers his career after Formula One where he went on to become an extremely successful businessman.

A common thread throughout the story is Stewart’s struggles with Dyslexia. How he went through his childhood believing he was “thick”. How despite being one of the most successful sportsmen ever to live he was continually aware of a sense of inadequacy. Until a chance meeting with a doctor who was running some tests on his son led to him also being tested and, in his 40s, finding out he wasn’t thick after all. He has a learning disability called dyslexia.

Ten per cent of the population of Britain is dyslexic (source: the British Dyslexia Association). Think about that figure. That is six million people. Four per cent are severely dyslexic; that is 2.4 million people.

It is right and proper that every one of those people should reasonably be able to access the products and services that everyone else does. It is also right and proper that every one of those people should reasonably be able to expect the same treatment as everyone else does. Indeed the 2010 Equality Act does not insist that companies make all adjustments it asks only that they do what is reasonable.

But beyond that, can your company afford to reduce its potential market by 6 million people because of something as inexcusable as ignorance? Surely not, it is common sense isn’t it? And yet thousands of companies do exactly that every day simply by (through ignorance) using inappropriate fonts or colour schemes in marketing paraphernalia, in communications (sic) documents and on websites. In short, they deliberately reduce the potential size of their market.

I call that ignorance driven insanity.

That is ten per cent of the population. Where does Jackie Stewart’s 15% come from? Dyslexia is different from but shares characteristics with dyscalculia, dyspraxia and colour blindness. Individuals with one of those disabilities often have one or more of the others. In total they make up fifteen per cent of the population.

Nine million people. More people than live in Greater London. 9,000,000 people. More people than live in Scotland and Wales combined. A lot of people.

I recently came across an example of this ignorance driven insanity when attending a business meeting at a hotel. During a break I nipped out of the meeting room to visit the toilet and found them easily enough. However it struck me that the signage did not consider one of the characteristics often seen in people with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and/or colour blindness – the tendency to take things literally.

During the lunch break I revisited the task of finding the toilets but this time took every sign I saw literally. In short, the signs took me via a couple of stair cases on a loop back to the place I had started, not to the toilets. I double checked with a colleague attending the same meeting who is dyscalculic. “Yes,” she said, “it took me a while. In the end I waited until someone else wanted to go and went with her.” Good thing she wasn’t desperate!

What has this got to do with business? Putting a couple of signs in the right place would cost very little. Being in ignorance of the discrimination caused by their absence could cost……? The hotel will never know because the dissatisfied customer might say nothing but simply never return. And among fifteen per cent of a population you can be sure there are more than a few decision makers who will be booking conference facilities based on their judgement of suitability.

One step removed, companies booking the facilities at this hotel are trusting their corporate reputation to the hotel’s ability to deliver. Think about the feedback; “great conference but poor venue.” That’s more lost business for the hotel as that conference goes elsewhere next year.

And if you are in competition with that hotel……do you really need me to explain both the gap in the market and the potential market in the gap?

There is a serious business imperative for getting equality right. Ignorance is no excuse. Equality is a very wide area and is not just about minority groups, women, for example, are a majority group (30.6 million/51%).

I have focused on only one group of people who sit under the broader umbrella of disability. In all, people with one or more disabilities make up 25% of our population (15 million potential customers).

Other ‘protected characteristics’ covered by the Equality Act are age, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

In advising companies on equality strategies I have come across all kinds of oversights, some even driven by being well-meaning but, nonetheless ignorant thinking. These are just a small sample:

  • The sports centre accessible toilet whose door opened inwards.
  • The ‘buy 2’ special offer which was more expensive than buying two singles.
  • The government agency equality monitoring form.
  • The ‘required’ qualifications on a job specification.
  • The bus time table.
  • The university marketing campaign.
  • The white ‘design feature’ at a conference venue.

Fortunately, none of these organisations assumed knowledge they lacked. None allowed themselves to be led by ignorance. However, sadly for equality, unfairly for significant sections of society and unfortunately for the businesses concerned, I do encounter those who clearly didn’t ask on a more than daily basis.

Understanding equality is good for business. Don’t be guilty of ignorance driven insanity.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, March 2012

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4 03 2012

With the London Olympics and bookmaker Paddy Power joining the rapidly growing list of individuals and organisations making gaffes around the issue of equality, how can you avoid making the same (or similar) mistakes?

Ignorance really is no excuse; if you don’t know or don’t understand – ask!

The last couple of weeks have seen two rather public gaffes from large organisations who really should know better. I’m not talking about bankers and their bonuses, I’m talking about getting equality right.

First, the bookmaker Paddy Power thought it would be a real hoot to mock one sector of our society in an advertisement which asks the viewer to play spot the difference; “stallion or mare.” The advertisement was set at Ladies Day at the Cheltenham Festival and involved spotting transgendered women in the crowd.

Harmless fun? To many maybe, but to that section of our society which is transgendered (an umbrella term covering various forms of gender dysphoria such as cross dressing, transvestism and transsexualism) it wasn’t so amusing.

The Advertising Standards Authority said the general nature of the complaints was that the ad was “offensive, transphobic and derogatory towards transgender people”.

You may or may not agree however consider the current debate around racism and homophobia in football and transplant the Paddy Power commercial to a football stadium and ask the viewer to ‘spot the gay’ or ‘pick out the black man.’ Offensive? You bet!

I’ve heard more than one person say; “it’s different, they choose to be that way.” I also remember when some people used to say that about homosexuality; talk about publicly announcing your ignorance!

Gender dysphoria is a recognised medical term, transsexuals do not choose to be that way, they are born that way and, in case you are in any doubt and need the law to guide you, it is a ‘protected characteristic’ under the 2010 Equality Act.

The second gaffe I refer to was in the official London 2012 Games Makers Workbook, an official document staggering in its lack of knowledge (and therefore research into) disability.

In the section ‘Understanding Disability’ four categories of impairment are listed; Visual Impairments, Hearing Impairments, Mental Health/Mental Distress and Learning Disability. You will note there is no mention of physical impairments however the gaffe I wish to pick up on is the listing of both Cerebral Palsy (CP) and Epilepsy under ‘Learning Disability’. Neither are; both in fact should be listed under the absent physical impairment category.

There are other gaffes in the document which some might say are excusable, after all the term disability covers a wide range of impairments and conditions.

I disagree; ignorance is no excuse. If in doubt there are a range of organisations that will be happy to advise and educate, in the case of the 2012 Games Makers Workbook, how hard would it have been to (for example) pick up a phone and speak to CP Sport for guidance?

Ignorance is not an excuse, it never is. If you don’t know or you’re not sure do the intelligent thing and ask someone who does know. Admitting you need guidance now and then is not a sign of weakness or stupidity, it is a sign of understanding and awareness.

And before you start shaking your head and muttering under your breath “its common sense” look in the mirror. Do you know which sections of our community are ‘protected characteristics’ under the 2010 Equality Act? Does your business (or organisation) do everything it reasonably can to make itself accessible to all sections of society?

It is a far bigger question than one of ‘common sense’ or even one of legal compliance. It is a question of sound strategy. If you haven’t considered how you speak to the many different sections of our society or how and whether they can access your services or products then you are grossly under-achieving.

Not understanding equality doesn’t only affect minority groups (although it should be noted women are a majority group) it affects us all and we should all be sharing the responsibility for a fair and equal society.

If you still think it isn’t your problem, remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller (1946):

When the Nazis came for the communists,

I remained silent;

I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,

I remained silent:

I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,

I did not speak out;

I was not a trade unionist

When they came for the Jews,

I remained silent;

I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,

There was no one left to speak out.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, March 2012

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