Monday, 15 February 2016


The way in which leaders create both an environment and desire that lead to sustainable change is the art form of leadership.

Like other types of artists, leaders can be quite varied in their approach to these objectives. Some preferring to move swiftly and others favouring a slower approach: testing, exploring and designing until their optimal change vision emerges. Thereafter, of course, it is all about execution.


In times of stress, however, leaders have neither the luxury of time to hold back and get their change vision absolutely right, nor can they afford the risk of moving forward in haste whilst potentially being off course.

Unfortunately, as smaller businesses need to operate at a higher ‘urgency’ level than their bigger siblings to begin with, this problem is magnified and is the reason that small business failure is frequently due to their poor or slow response to a problem.



In parallel to this dynamic, most stress ‘events’ are also accompanied by a negative cash flow consequence, which they are often blamed for causing. Whilst sometimes this is correct, a business weakened by poor cash management is not equipped to withstand much in the fist place, let alone a substantial event such as:

– Decreased sales

– Supplier problems

– Loss of key staff

– Litigation

– Owner is unwell or unavailable

– Product quality problems

– Shareholder dispute

– Market shift

Asking the right questions can unearth whether the event is really to blame or, in fact, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Irrespective, our critical first step towards recovery and growth is establishing exactly “where we are”.

In practically terms, this means assembling necessary people and information quickly and then truthfully answering those tough questions that will allow us to build a viable change vision and recovery plan. To begin with:

– What constraints do we face (time, supplier support, cash, personnel, customer patience, contract terms… etc)?

– What opportunities are available to us (sales, alliances, investors, supplier arrangements, alternate use of IP, negotiable areas…)?

– What are the financials (honestly) saying?

My tip – To make sure you don’t sugar coat the truth involve independent experts who are sufficiently distant to ask the tough questions that others may not. Your level of honesty in answering these is directly correlated with both identifying and surviving your real predicament!


It might seem that feeling a change vision would be the last thing required when your business is under stress, however let us not forget that a key reason for this step is connecting your change-driving-team to your deep-and-heart-centered-reason for change.

Only through properly connecting your team and vision will they ever choose to follow you towards it.

In undertaking this step, remember to consider how you would feel if you were a team member rather than a leader in your organisation: chances are that the reason you are looking for will need to be much more than just “survival” but will also need to be realistic.

My tip – dig deep and find the personal, substantial and achievable vision you really want to achieve. Not only will this vision become your means of connecting with your team, it will also be your fuel to persist when times are really tough.


winston churchill


Although most of us will have heard that the definition of insanity is repeating the same activities whilst expecting different results, it is often the case that “the same activities” are so entrenched in our habits that we continue to repeat them unaware.

For this reason, we should firstly consider “why” we do what we do. What are our objectives?

Thereafter, “what activities” we do is of greater significance if our aim is to turn around our whole business, so that it “thrives”, than if our change vision is only to achieve a financial turnaround (ie – cutting costs and restructuring the balance sheet so that the business “survives”).

With objectives clarified, let go of any attachments to old ways and make room for what you need to do: reinvent, move forward, adapt. This means identifying those simple, teachable and repeatable activities that will lead to different results and then setting about doing them.

My tip – Work out how to build feedback loops into your core activities so that your business is constantly learning, improving, re-aligning to its market and better engaging with its staff.


In most situations, this is where it starts to get very messy and personal!

Achieving positive and sustainable change from a stressed situation is only possible when your team choose to follow YOU. Not surprisingly, this requires a deep connection and then an ongoing commitment to maintaining it by keeping your leadership environment tight.

In the absence of this connection, any improvements gained are likely to arise form your personal effort or as a result of your micro-management. In both of these cases you become a (tired) bottleneck and changes are seldom sustained.

As a heart-centered leader, however, you will connect with your team in a human way first; parking your ego, taking 100% responsibility and conceding your contribution to getting the business into the situation it is in.

If you feel this is something your ego may really struggle with, try to remember that most of your staff probably already know the real situation even if you have not told the directly. The best thing you can do is to open up and let them help.

My tip – In connecting with your team, it is both your humanity and your willingness to take ownership of problems that lead to success – both of these lead to trust.

If you would like to contact me for further information, or to discuss anything you read in this blog, you can reach me here:

Stuart Hayes Leadership

(03) 8737 9333

Sunday, 31 January 2016

The 4 Steps to Starting a Strong Business

Whichever way you look at it, the central theme in a business start-up is change.
Change is also the cornerstone of betterment, progression and growth, but in these ways it is often referred to by its another name: creation.
Our challenge as new business (start-up) leaders is both to create and at the same time to capture these positive forms of change. It is also our role to remember that change will not always yield its intended benefits and to make sure we plan around those possibilities too.
Let me concede at this point that I am well qualified to speak on both the highs and lows of new business, having personally enjoyed both great success and also tasted the bitterness and humiliation of loss.
Although the losses were hard to take at the time, I am aware of the great self-change they lead to and I am now openly grateful for each of them. There is no doubt that my approach to new business is now richer and more robust than it was.
In this article, we explore the challenges of new business and study how great leaders move through the start-up and commercialisation phases of business life by applying the 4-step change formula we discussed in this Blog previously.
In very general terms, there is a scale of entrepreneurial activity that is directly related to start-up risk. It is important to recognise where you are on this scale – it will help you to understand your new business “start-up” risk and why this is the case. Beyond this, your leadership of your business will either magnify or reduce the risk that remains in your business.
Stuart’s New Business Risk Assessment – Where Are You?
Stuart’s New Business Risk Assessment – Where Are You?
LOW RISK                                HIGH RISK
Early Cash Flow Positive from Day-One    1 . . . 5 . . . . 10 Zero at Day-One
You High Industry Experience    1 . . . 5 . . . . 10 No Industry Experience
Your Industry     Highly Established    1 . . . 5 . . . . 10  New

On the far left side of the scale are new businesses launched by skilled and experienced industry professionals who have either inherited a business, lock, stock and barrel, or who have access to a starting portfolio of clients that underwrite a positive cash flow from day-one.
Without question, the combination of their industry experience and their positive ‘day-one’ cash flow means these new businesses have the lowest risk profile. As we move right from them, risk slowly increases.
Firstly, we find businesses started by similarly skilled professionals, but without secured day-one cash flow – risk here is a little higher, even though these types of entrepreneurs often know a ‘recipe’ for success in their industry.
Further to the right of this group we find business owners who, whilst not having experience in an industry themselves, enter an established market in a way that allows them to leverage off the resources, systems and support of others. This is the domain of most franchises – precisely where they are on the New Business Risk Scale will vary with the level of support they are provided.
The scale of risk from this point onwards increases tremendously, starting with new businesses who are launched within highly established industries but in which the owner has no experience or support and eventually reaching those entrepreneurs who seeking to create a new market for a product that does not exist and without any experience in its relevant sector at all!
Looking at this scale, its easy to see why some people maintain that risk should proportional to return – unfortunately, its not.
As we considered above, where you sit on my New Business Risk Scale indicates the level of your business’ start-up risk. Left being low risk and right being high risk.
The actual risk that remains in your business beyond start-up, however, is entirely proportional with how it is lead.
Let’s now take a deep breath and apply our 4-step ‘leadership-during-change’ formula:
Although it is true that establishing crystal clear goals is important (the surest way to get nowhere is to aim at nothing), it equally important that you truly recognise your starting point to properly do this.
Asking yourself the tough questions that need to be asked and then answering them truthfully is the only way to achieve this. Tough questions and truthful answers are the way of great leaders – there is little to be gained by sugar coating the truth.
The first area in which you need to embrace this philosophy is in completing the New Business Risk Assessment, above. Before reading further, take out a pen and be ready to mark on the diagram where you honestly are. Now pass the pen to someone you can trust and ask them to do it from their perspective (not yours)! Chances are their insight is what you really need to receive!!
My tip – in assessing your starting point, make sure you take a realistic view on the constraints you face too. Constraints such as the funds you will need to invest, the cash you will need to continue living, industry barriers and the availability of your own time are all very real and need to be addressed.
More than at any other time in business life, it is important to feel why it is that you wish to embark on your business journey.
As humans, we should never dismiss the strength and commitment that arises from having a deep and heart-centered motivation. When you align your passion in life with a compelling service based motive and connection to a target market, you are placing your business in a situation where it is aligned to what you love to do and to what your market most seeks from you.
Actually then operating your business occurs from a deeper place than the simple objective of producing a financial return – in my experience, entrepreneurs who tap into this dynamic are more prepared and equipped to survive the tough times that will inevitably arise.
My tip – Do not dismiss this step, even if you feel you know better. Take the time to find that pathway that most resonates with you and then test it with your target market: make sure that what you feel you want to offer them is something that actually resonates with them. If the feedback is adverse, keep looking!
Having established a realistic understanding of your starting point, what your target market most seeks from you and both your objectives (personal, business market share and financial) you are now equipped with the three main reference points that will allow you to finalise a plan on how to satisfy them.
At this point, it is important for me to clarify that my version of a plan is a little different and a lot more practical than other plans you may have come across.
The plan you need to make now is actually your commitment to the series of very specific and practical steps that will move you directly towards your goals with the least fuss or diversion. You may wish to rename it your ‘commitment’ plan for this reason.
In creating your commitment plan, you should start by identifying the day-to-day activities that will progress you towards your goals. You should then structure all of your business activities, processes and systems so that everything you do is built around these and aligned towards them. This is a very basic but highly effective way of ensuring everything you do is aligned to where you are seeking to end up.
My tip – Taking time to align each of your daily business processes directly towards specific objectives is best done during start-up and before an attitude of “that’s not the way we do things around here” sets in. Do not rob yourself of the benefits that flow from this step by being hopeful that simply because you know your objectives that they will automatically occur – hope is NOT a strategy.
In the previous edition we explored how achieving positive and sustainable change is “a 99% leadership and 1% management mixture of fuel, context and accountability.”
Let’s consider how we apply this in a new business.
For some new businesses, fuel (or “motivation”) is not much of a challenge; in fact it is often the case that the owner’s “fuel” at start-up is higher than it will ever be again! This does not mean, however, that the owner’s enthusiasm is equally shared by everyone (or even anyone) else!
My tip – Be prepared to open up and authentically share your vision with your team and why you are passionate about it. Even if this only leads to one or two of people subsequently sharing your enthusiasm, they will be prepared to move mountains to achieve it – just like you!
On the other hand, during the start-up phase the creation of a leadership ‘context’ and culture of accountability may be as simple as walking into the bathroom and being accountable to the person in the mirror!
Even if this is the case, it is still important that a culture of accountability is created and embraced within your business (Not to mention that achieving this is much simpler during the new business phase than at any other time!).
My tips –
1. Start by looking at the commitment plan you made in Step 3.
2. Consider the type of behaviour that your business seeks to be renowned for – both within itself and with outside world. Use this to form a Code of Conduct.
3. Commit to both of these
If you would like to contact me for further information, or to discuss anything you read in this blog, you can reach me here:
Stuart Hayes Leadership
(03) 8737 9333

Monday, 14 December 2015

The 4 Steps to Achieving Change that Sticks

In business, most of us have been cautioned at some point that, “if you’re not moving forwards you’re actually going backwards.” In essence, this cuts to the core of why change is so essential to positive and healthy business.

Change is the process of becoming different. Change is the central element of growth and it requires vision, a driving team and a tight context to be delivered positively. It is the domain of leaders.

On the other hand, consistency, which may apply to product, quality, profit or even, to some degree, organic growth, is a different objective. It is the domain of managers.

Considering these two side by side, it is not hard to see why consistency and change (indeed managers and leaders) are often challenging to tie together.

In the next three editions, we will explore how leaders effect change in three specific circumstances, being:

– New business (start-up);

– Stressed business (turnaround); and

– Owner’s exit (including succession)

Before we begin that journey, however, let us explore the central elements of great leadership and how they work together to effect positive and sustainable change.


The #1 secret for achieving change is that there is no secret for achieving change! Indeed, achieving change in itself is quite easy, as our political leaders show us time after time!

The real challenge in achieving change is achieving change that is both positive and sustainable: taking steps to ensure these occur is the art of great leadership. It may also be the difference between business success and failure.

As a professional leader, the formula I use to deliver change involves a simple four-step process that I highly recommend! Here it is:


I sometimes wonder whether it is harder to know where you are really starting from or where you are specifically trying to get!

As business owners and entrepreneurs, we often fall into the trap of looking at the world through tinted glasses and fail to truthfully appreciate where we are starting from – our ‘point A’.

Recognising your real Point A is tough stuff: it is only achieved by having the courage to identify, ask and then truthfully answer all of the in-your-face questions that relate to your business, your strategy and how you are moving towards it. You know the questions; they are the same ones you typically stumble over when they hit you without warning at a dinner party!

My tip – pull on your thickest skin, get someone else to identify and ask the questions that need to be asked… and don’t let your ego rob you of the truthful introspection that should follow. It may make the difference between your success and failure.


Identifying both the specifics or your ‘change vision’ (your “Point B’) and also the specifics of your deep-and-heart-centered-reason-for-change is also tough. If there is a #1 secret for achieving positive and sustainable change, however, this is it.

Without specifics, your vision is just a dream. Without a deep and authentic reason as to why you wish to pursue your vision, you will struggle to move people towards it. People need to share your passion. You must be able to move your team to move your team.

The good news is, those colleagues who do share and then embrace your vision will stick with you and become the driving force for delivering it. This is why great leaders know the carrot is mightier than the stick.

My tip – recognise the types of people you need to drive your change vision. Take some time to identify specifically who they might be and then what it is about your vision that might move them.


From here on, the key elements of your success are sticking to what works, keeping it simple… and continuing to fuel the passion that binds your driving team to your vision.

Having clarified your ‘why’, allocating uninterrupted thinking time to identifying the key components of your ‘how’ is critical.

My tip – try to involve your driving team in this process:

– Identify the repeatable tasks that will achieve your objective (keep these simple)

– Identify both the resources you have available and the resources you will need (actually need!)

– Identify the finite list of things that could block your progress. Develop contingency plans for any that are legitimately risky


Keeping on track and achieving positive and sustainable change is a 99% leadership and 1% management mixture of fuel, context and accountability.

The fuel component is PR in its purest form. Its purpose is to build and then maintain momentum: communicate the vision, teach the simple, repeatable steps, celebrate successes… and ultimately teach your driving team to do the same things each reinforce that the change vision is valid and that the team’s approach is the right one.

Importantly, as leader, the code of conduct or ‘context’ you establish around your team and its behaviour is central to their ability to stick together and achieve results. Your team will look to you to uphold this code at all times and when you do it will begin to take a life and power of its own.

This is where keeping on track and achieving positive and sustainable change requires your personal commitment, courage and discipline: being consistent with the message you preach and connecting with your team in an authentic way when delivering it is important.

Your ability to create and maintain a strong context is directly proportional to your ability to do these things, and with a strong context your team will self regulate; self align; move mountains; and deliver the positive and sustainable changes you seek.

My tip – Take a deep breath and be prepared to be human, to concede error and to be open to change yourself. You will be respected and followed as a leader in a far more powerful manner when you have the courage to do these things.

If you would like to contact me for further information, or to discuss anything you read in this blog, you can reach me here:

Stuart Hayes Leadership
(03) 8737 9333