President's Message July 2015
As traffic eases up around the main arterial roads in to St Albans, seats become suspiciously available on the early morning trains in to London and are parks are filled with the sounds of kids having fun, one becomes very suspicious as to what has brought about such a fundamental shift in the dynamics of the daily commute and the normal working day. Then comes the sudden realisation ... the school summer holidays have announced themselves with a bang! I must admit that my first reaction and overriding emotion at this time is one of jealousy as I leave the house with the kids still slumbering in their beds with a day of football, cinema and other delights awaiting. Indeed, Ned my guide dog appears to share my emotional state. It is with a resigned look that Ned struggles from his bed and agrees to commence guide dog duties muttering "can't believe your dragging me out of the house so early" under his breath..
There is of course a huge upside to the summer holidays in that having a young family, I do get the opportunity to spend a significant amount of quality time with them. This is particularly true when we are fortunate enough to spend two whole weeks together on our annual summer holiday which generally provides a fabulous mix of entertainment, lasting family memories and vital relaxation allowing time for the batteries to recharge. It wasn't always like this though. In fact, as I look back on some of our earlier holidays, I wonder whether I actually recharged my batteries at all.
When I go away from the office these days for a prolonged period of leave, I truly disengage from the business until my return. This means enabling my email out of office, closing the laptop, turning off the blackberry and diverting my mobile to voicemail. The consequence of these actions is that I am able to truly take a break, re-energise and consequently return to the business fully refreshed and genuinely excited to be back.
Ten years ago however, this was not my way of working. I would breeze out of the office letting everyone know that I was freely contactable during my holiday and would be keeping an eye on my emails. Things came to a head however in a hotel room in Sharm El Sheikh when I found myself negotiating the finer points of a business transaction when I should have been playing water polo with the kids by the pool. The inevitable stress coupled with such situations along with the inability to switch off from matters back at work essentially resulted in feeling like I hadn't been on holiday at all.
While I committed to myself at this time that I would never allow this to happen again, I also got to thinking about the consequences that this latter approach has on the people around us in our places of work. I understand that many people choose to be self employed or run micro businesses and are very successful at achieving incredible outcomes on very limited resources. However, for those of us working in or owning small or medium sized businesses, not switching off from matters back at the office during our planned break is in my opinion detrimental to both ourselves, our work colleagues and our businesses.
In the first instance, what does it say about our opinion of colleagues working with or around us when we effectively indicate that we do not trust them to make a decision in our absence and expect all matters to be referred to us for a decision. Similarly, what does it say about the training and development we have provided them with and our ongoing assessment of their skills and capabilities.
Secondly, the controls and governance within our businesses along with the legal framework we all operate under already provides significant guidance to colleagues and hence the chances of someone making a catastrophic mistake in our absence I would argue is minimal assuming the business is structured and governed effectively. Finally, one of the key reasons for progression in my career was the ability to make decisions afforded to me by business leaders and owners early in my career. In many ways however, this was only afforded due to circumstance. If the business leader or owner was out of the office, there was usually simply no way of contacting them and as such a decision simply needed to be taken and therefore I took it. I would argue that the proliferation of mobile phone calls and emails has encouraged business leaders and owners to take on too much responsibility when they would be far better focusing on the immediate matter they are dealing with whilst simultaneously empowering those around them to take the initiative and gain valuable experience along the way.
So as my summer holiday approaches, I will be practicing what I preach and feel comfortable knowing that the team I work with have the skills, experience and know-how to keep the business moving forward safely while I take the opportunity to recharge the batteries and return to the office refreshed and energised. While our business often takes priority over everything else and we often like to see our role in this as fundamental to success, in my experience it is always pleasantly surprising what just happens when you are not there and the opportunities provided to those around us brings real benefit to everyone. If you are having a summer break then I wish you a very relaxing uninterrupted holiday.