11 January 2015

How do you continuously improve something, year on year? Is there an ideal vantage point where you can clearly see your strengths and weaknesses? Are there limits on how far you can go?

In business, if you are going to have any chance of standing the test of time, measuring your progress and performance is imperative. For me, canvassing the insights and opinions of your team members is a big part of that, which is why I’m currently reading over an eighty page document detailing the mechanics of UKFast; where we’re spending money, where we’re not spending enough, and where we’re going to end up.

It’s a long read, but I’ve got the UKFast directors coming out to Verbier next week for a powwow about what the plan is for the year, from where we need to go, what we did well in 2014, and what we could have done better at. After taking stock, we’ll start dreaming up a plan bigger and better than the last.

Holding a summit next to a summit

Having a summit next to a summit

We always have these directors’ meetings at the beginning of the year and we try to have a couple throughout the year, although they’re not all about UKFast. Sometimes we’ll simply get everyone over for a BBQ with their friends and family, which is more about supporting the whole internal family than focussing on business strategy, but no less important. However, these summits at the beginning of each year are always exciting and I think that being further away at this time of year allows me to not get distracted by the general operation of the business. When you’re in the thick of it, you get people knocking on your door, walking in and asking questions, which can become a huge distraction. Some of the questions you might feel need answering and if you can answer them quite well, you get caught up in projects.

So, by being away from the coal face, reading through this information and looking at where we need to get to, you start to spot things you might have overlooked. It’s also paramount that the meeting is away from the office. It has to be otherwise you get the same distractions.

In the past, we’ve had them in Wales; we’ve done them in Verbier before, and in hotels in Cheshire. One of the aims is to combine it with fresh air and sport so it’s not just all work. Why? Well, you can work and hang out with somebody. When you’re sitting on a ski lift or walking up a hill, you’re able to talk about the lessons you’ve learnt or some of the things that are on your mind.

Would you achieve the same outcome by holding these meetings in the office?

I would argue that it’s actually a lot harder. It’s very easy to put up barriers when you’re sitting behind a table. I mean, a table itself is a barrier. If you’re walking together and your heart rate’s pumping and you’re doing some sort of exercise, you’re both creating and sharing an occasion. So you’re much more likely to be inspired or influenced by that. People are more natural in these sorts of situations.

In fact, one of our directors came to us through a similar situation. He joined us in Wales and we went on a seven mile hike with my dogs in the rain. I just spent time getting to know him. We didn’t talk much about business and I think that surprised him, but later he rung and said he’d like to work for us. If I’d had that meeting over a coffee in a work environment, I don’t think I’d have got that same result.

If you want to get to know a person, it’s always better to do something fun and spend time with them. The barriers are removed straight away. That’s why we started taking the team down to Wales and throwing them in the lake and marching them up a mountain. It’s very difficult to have a barrier when your heart rate and your body are working at 90% anyway just to get up a hill.

I’m looking forward to getting outdoors with the directors when they arrive, and setting some goals. Ultimately, if you set a target for where you want to get to, you’re much more likely to aim at that point. If we just carried on from the previous year and didn’t really reflect on what we did well and what we could have done better, we would just carry on in the same way and making the same mistakes.

So, if you’re wanting to take your business to the next level, I’d suggest taking a step away from it. The best vantage point you can get is one where everyone brings their own perspective to the table or – in our case – the mountain. Only then can you start seeing things clearly.

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