How do I… engage my team in our vision & mission?

May 10, 2016

by Paul Kinvig, Business Growth Coach & Facilitator at Aspirin Business Solutions

Rowing Team

One of the more annoying things about visiting supermarkets, (apart from the apparently random “unexpected item in bagging area” announcements from the self-service checkouts”) is the time honoured challenge of pushing a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel!

We’ve all been there, pushing the trolley in the direction we want it to go, only to have it veer sideways into the red peppers or the legs of an innocent shopper. Using one of these trolleys takes additional time and effort as well as building up a significant amount of frustration and all because one wheel is out of alignment!

This issue of alignment is the spine of our ‘Seven Factors to FASTER Growth’ programme, the first step of which is ‘business vision & values.’ We’ve discussed what makes a strong vision in a previous blog – I have a dreambut too often MD’s, CEO’s & senior teams construct vision & value statements that they’re inspired by then hit the “wonky wheel” syndrome.

Why? Simply put their vision is out of alignment with what really motivates & drives the people for whom it was intended to inspire, align & energise – the staff!  They then don’t understand why their teams are not equally or even remotely enthusiastic about it – and push the trolley harder just to try get it to move rather pausing to ‘align the wheels.’

In our experience here are three common causes of misalignment:

  • Words vs Experience – The employees experience of working in that organisation is different from that which the vision states it to be! Nobody should expect perfection, however, if the real life impact of the way the organisation operates bears no resemblance to the stated vision & values then the likelihood is that not only will staff not buy into it but actively kick against it. They will see no authenticity and authenticity is one of the key drivers in employee engagement. If you lead an organisation then it’s sometimes a painful but necessary question to ask “How does the experience of my employees working in my company/team match up to what I believe it to be/want it to be?”
  • Company Motivators vs Personal Motivators – “What motivates us may not motivate them” – we know that to be true and yet in the heat of everyday business we often go for what we think is the easiest route….the one we’d pick for ourselves!! For example the vision might focus on growth, innovation & agility (because that’s what really lights our fire) yet the team are truly motivated by customer service and security. There would be a very real chance that the team would be resistant as they fear the vision would somehow put this at risk. Sometimes we have to let our teams know ‘what we won’t do’ as much as what we will do – otherwise they pull back to manage the perceived risk. The RNLI in Poole, address this issue clearly & concisely on their website. Do you REALLY know what motivates your people or do you just assume it’s the same things that motivate you?
  • Not Hardwired………There are times when the culture AND structure of organisations are not aligned with the vision/mission etc. For example the mission statement may talk about innovation and yet there is no route or structure for new ideas to be put forward or no way in which those ideas are encouraged and supported. Alternatively, the organisation may profess a commitment to customer service and yet have no clear and agreed way of understanding customer issues or handling things effectively when they go wrong. Again, a question worth asking is “Do we have the structure & culture in place to reflect and deliver the vision and mission?”


George Labovitz in his book “The Power of Alignment” puts it brilliantly when he says

“Vertical alignment implies more than employee compliance with strategy that is set at the top. It’s a two-way street… employees in the middle of the organization and on the front lines almost always experience greater intimacy with customers and competitors than do senior managers, and their insights can enrich strategy-but only if they are actively solicited.” 

Are you brave enough to “solicit insight” from your front line, understand what truly motivates them and build a culture that reflects your vision in the company?


Here, at Aspirin Business Solutions, we help leaders create visions that inspire them, written in a way that motivates their team.  We help them to identify clearly, and as a team, what they want to change and what they won’t.  And we help them articulate the values that truly drive the business, because they drive the business leaders.  Then we help them ensure every aspect of their business plan links, from the vision, through the values, strategy, 12 month mission & mantra, through the business objectives and team missions to the individuals, who clearly understand how their work contributes to the vision and to the organisation and team as a whole.  In a nutshell, through our Seven Factors to Faster Growth:


seven steps


We’d love to help you explore how the Seven Steps could add more value to your organisation, and avoid the ‘wonky wheel’ syndrome.  Please get in touch to arrange a conversation.


T: 01202 801187

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Creating Strong Bonds through Employee Engagement

April 12, 2016

Employee Engagement

If you’ve been in business in the past 15 years then the phrase ‘employee engagement’ has been as ubiquitous as the phrase ‘X- Factor’. Over the years there have been strategies, consultations, symposiums, innovations and exhortations as to the importance and implementation of ‘employee engagement’.

However, over the years, the top drivers of employee engagement have remained constant, and common across most of the globe. This has been recently reinforced through an excellent survey from Quantum Workplace in the US.

Even though it’s been around for what seems like forever, the concept of employee engagement remains critical to business success.  So just how seriously do you & your organisation take it? Maybe the following statistics & findings from Quantum’s survey will provide either a confirmation of your people strategy or a stimulus to do more…

The Top 6 Drivers of Employee Engagement

The staff of the organisation trust & believe …

  1.  that the leaders of the organisation are committed to making it a great place to work.
  2. the leaders of the organisation to set the right course.
  3. the organisation will be successful in the future.
  4. that the leaders of the organisation value people as their most important resource.
  5. that there is professional growth and career development opportunities for themselves in the organisation.
  6. the senior leadership team to lead the company to future success.

The challenge for us as leaders is how we deliver on those six key drivers consistently, authentically and in a meaningful way for our people. The following graphs clearly indicate the benefits of doing so, in terms of improvements in retention, sales & profitability.

If you wish to receive a full electronic copy of the survey then contact

Employee Engagement graphic 1

Employee Engagement graphic 2 - change in profit

Employee Engagement graphic 3 - change in sales

Avoiding confrontations?

April 12, 2016

Susannah Brade-Waring, MD & Business Growth Coach and Facilitator at Aspirin Business Solutions


Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil – it’s the easiest way to avoid having to address an uncomfortable situation.

In our role as business growth coaches and facilitators, we hear a recurring theme …

“He/she is not comfortable with confronting or dealing with difficult situations……”

Our clients are, in our words, commercially driven business leaders with big hearts –  a combination that can create conflict around addressing undesirable behaviour.

Frankly, if our clients didn’t care quite so much – either about their business or their people, it wouldn’t be an issue.  After all, most of us have experienced managers who either let poor behaviour slide or ‘motivate’ through fear and pain.

Here at Aspirin we work with Motivational Maps and virtually every day we’re helping people understand themselves and others through their motivators.

One of these motivators is Friend.  It’s an intriguing one as people with this motivator at a high level view friendships & relationships as highly important. However, senior roles often rank it as their lowest motivator because they’re uncomfortable getting too close to their teams.  Additionally, they find it easier to make business decisions when less emotionally attached to the people their decisions affect.

However, every now and again, it does emerge as a top motivator and hereby comes the mystery. How do managers who enjoy feeling closely connected to their team deal with undesirable behaviour?

The reality is effective managers learn to do both.  They’re not afraid of demanding high performance, or making tough, unpopular decisions whilst recognising that remaining ‘connected’ to their team is a must. It’s the reality of the oft quoted manager’s phrase “It’s better to be respected than liked”.

Sometimes it requires a ‘bit of a bust up’ to clear the air and agree a way forward.  But, as one client said, ‘being punched in the face doesn’t hurt as much as you’d think’ – i.e. the fear is often greater than the reality.

So here are our 3 top tips for handling confrontations:

  1. Ensure there’s a common understanding of what acceptable job performance looks like. What does ‘acceptable’ mean? You can even ask the individual ‘How will we both know when you’re performing your job well?’  Once defined & communicated, anything that falls below that level must be addressed.

There are two parts to this – competence and behaviour.  Behaviour is the ‘trickiest’ to deal with as it is often inconsistent (with good days and bad days).

However it’s made much easier if there’s a culture charter which clearly states what the desired behaviour looks like.  Even better is a voiced-over Powerpoint describing what this behaviour looks like.  Consistent reinforcement is key here – the charter needs to be discussed during interviews and regularly referred to e.g. when rewarding outstanding examples of it.  As an example, our own ‘charter’ includes

“……open & honest conversations, clear agreed plans, everyone to play their part, pull together and be reliable”

Sound like hard work?  We know leaders who’ve avoided ‘confronting’ a member of staff about inappropriate behaviour for years.  It’s become a bit of a joke but here’s the sting – not addressing it diminishes confidence in the leader. As leaders what we allow, we condone!

Defining acceptable job performance should, then, be easier.  However in reality – how often do our team have key performance indicators or measures that relate fundamentally to the performance required? Do they exist at all? If they do, have they changed in line with current & future business requirements?

Tackling this will involve hard work, consultation and yes – more paperwork – but it makes a real difference. You can start with something very simple, such as a single KPI, if it will help you address the poor performance……

One of our clients is the Maintenance Department of John Lewis.  We helped them improve job performance and ownership by designing a set of business objectives.  For the first time the managers were able to measure non-financial performance across all of the branches.  They could see what was possible, which branches were performing best and identify and share areas of best practice.  And, in terms of this article, this helped them to comfortably address & improve poor performance and to make those difficult decisions quicker and easier when it became clear certain team members would be unable to attain the required standards.

So, a common understanding of what acceptable behaviour looks like means that when the individual sees for themselves that they are not performing, there’s the possibility of reduced resistance to having that difficult conversation.  In fact, they often welcome it – because they’re already uncomfortable.


  1. Create bonds that pull the group together.  Strong bonds require trust.  However, trust is only built through experience of not being let down or undermined! i.e. it’s only under testing conditions that we really know we can trust someone.

As an exercise write down 7 quick examples of when you’ve proven you can be trusted – if you’re struggling with that, go and look for opportunities to prove it!!  E.g. I apologise quickly when I make mistakes.

Successful groups needs a purpose (a reason to be together) and there is a difference between a ‘team’ and a ‘group’ – particularly in whether each individual believes they are part of a team, with everything that means.  As we say at Aspirin Business ‘At the heart of a FASTER team is a common goal that motivates and unites’.

Do you have a common goal like that?  When you do, it often means the team ‘self regulate’ and deal with unacceptable behaviour themselves!


  1. Practice makes perfect. Instead of avoiding those confrontations, nip them in the bud. Having regular team and 1:1 meetings using an agenda depersonalises it & keeps it focused on the business.  For example, our own agenda has four components:
    • 3 achievements
    • Updates on KPIs and/ or key news
    • Top 5 priorities for the week ahead
    • Concerns

Yes – concerns are on our agenda as a standard item.  By expecting everyone to have concerns, people don’t bottle them up.  In fact we often find that our concerns are the same and airing them means we reduce the number of confrontations.

Never be afraid to have that difficult conversation.  If it’s an employment issue then get the facts.  Understand exactly what you should and shouldn’t do – knowing you’re legally right will give you the confidence to follow the process, until you’re comfortable developing your own.

Crucially – it should never be a surprise.  If you’re dealing with an issue, the individual should be aware that it’s a potential problem first.  That way the conversation is, at least, not unexpected.


Worth a conversation?  Here at Aspirin Business we strongly believe a ‘culture charter’ and key performance indicators are critical to business and individual success.  They form part of the glue that align individuals with their team, leaders, organisation and their performance.

Our preferred style is to work with the Senior Team to develop these, engaging further staff members as appropriate.  If this is something you’d like to explore, then get in touch and let’s have a conversation.

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Dorset micro business punches above its weight……

April 12, 2016


Susannah Brade-Waring, MD and Business Growth Coach & Facilitator at Waitrose Head Offices, Bracknell

Susannah Brade-Waring, MD and Business Growth Coach & Facilitator at Waitrose Head Offices, Bracknell

2016 marks the 6th successive year of Dorset based Aspirin Business Solutions working with the John Lewis Partnership on a variety of strategic and team development projects.

Aspirin is leading the way as a micro-business working in partnership with a nationally recognised, respected & successful business. As a shining example of a Dorset business ‘consistently punching above its weight’, Aspirin’s working relationship with the John Lewis Partnership proves that true & successful business partnerships are about what each partner brings to the table regardless of organisational size.

During 2016, Aspirin will continue supporting the Waitrose Maintenance Department as it  operates ‘behind the scenes’ nationwide to ensure all Waitrose branches, distribution units and offices are operational, safe and compliant and create a better everyday experience for the Customers and Partners.

“The Maintenance Department’s unwavering dedication to customer service and safety, whilst creating worthwhile and satisfying employment, provides a challenging context for developing a strategy that’s also cost-effective to deliver. It requires true teamwork and stakeholder engagement, and an unswerving belief that it can all be achieved. It’s been a real joy & privilege to work with this household name and challenge, support, inform AND learn from them over the years” said, Susannah Brade-Waring, MD of Aspirin Business Solutions.

Key areas that Aspirin have worked on with the team have been on strategy, goals & objectives, employee engagement, team development, presentation skills & motivation.

Mick Mcleavey, Manager of Maintenance for Waitrose, said “Our team here at Waitrose really value the external perspective, skill and support that Aspirin Business provide.  Their ability to understand exactly where we are and how we need to develop, both as a team and as individuals, is making a significant contribution to the step changes we’re making as a department in this fast changing retail environment. Our leadership and management teams are stronger and more self-aware as a result of Aspirin Business’ work.  That’s enabling us to be more strategic and agile, whilst ensuring we continue to provide a high level of service to our customers. By providing high quality material that is bespoke to our needs, Aspirin Business really stand out and a pleasure to work with on all professional levels!”


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“I Have A Dream…”

March 8, 2016

Paul Kinvig, Business Growth Coach and Facilitator at Aspirin Business Solutions


In the year of my birth, one of history’s greatest speeches was delivered by Martin Luther King.  Now most of us know the “I Have A Dream” section and the “Free At Last” ending, but the whole thing is simply jaw dropping.  Because, if you read it, you cannot fail to be challenged & inspired but above all else be left in no doubt as to his vision of a different future where, to paraphrase ‘character content is more important than race’, he finishes with the famous declaration “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

As we shared in our last blog, it’s the combination of passion and strategy that creates the foundation for achieving business goals.  However, it’s the creation of a clear & compelling vision that keeps us focused and attracts, retains & inspires our team and customers.  And the vision has to be built around values – the driving forces that are wrapped up in its leaders’ personal & business DNA. When you read ‘I Have A Dream’, Mr King’s values of fairness, justice, peace & hope ring out clearly out in his closing words – and resonate deeply with those with matching values.  It’s the resonance that creates the focus and attraction and reminds us, during even the darkest days, why we’re doing what we do!

So in constructing our vision, we first need to consider the question, ‘What are our values?’  It might seem like a simple one to answer but is it? It goes to the very heart of why we do what we do & what we do it for.   Discovering what truly drives & motivates us gives the foundation for a vision that is authentic and powerful.  It’s when we attempt to follow something that isn’t ‘ours’ or alternatively deny those core values that are ‘ours’ that the power of resonance is diminished.

It could be that what we value is to use our knowledge to make a difference.  It could be that we’re driven to deliver excellence, or to keep people safe or to create something of beauty.  Or perhaps it’s similar to our own – to help people live fully by pulling together to overcome challenges.

So once we’ve truly understood our values, what constitutes a powerful vision?

  • Be Sharp – It’s pretty much accepted that the shorter and punchier the vision, the more likely it will be remembered. There is a story told of Sergey Brin and Larry Page from Google expressing their company’s vision in a single sentence to some potential investors: “Google provides access to the world’s information in one click!”
  • Be Specific – The more specific we can be in our visions then the more we are likely to build belief, commitment and purpose in both our colleagues AND customers! When John F Kennedy, in 1961, said his vision was to put a man on the moon and return him safely by the last day of the 60’s, that vision caught the imagination of the nation….and it happened!
  • Be Consistent – One of the core learning processes of any human being is repetition. The more we see, hear, touch & experience something the more we remember and adopt. Our vision needs to be constantly repeated using ALL the channels at our disposal – interviews, social media, e-mail footers, staff noticeboards & intranet, packaging, marketing materials etc. This is how it keeps us focused and attracts, retains and inspires our team and our customers.
  • Be Emotional – There is a greatly used phrase in the art of successful presenting and it is this – “Persuade with logic, inspire with emotion!” The language of vision is highly important as we need to connect with people emotionally in order to inspire them. One read of Martin Luther Kings’ speech will show you that he knew that his vision needed to inspire people to overcome incredible challenges, undertake personal sacrifice and potentially for them not see the fruit of their commitment realised. However, that vision struck people in such a way as to inspire them to acts of bravery that started a fundamental change.


Here at Aspirin, we often start by helping our clients create their vision.  Their openness and honesty in sharing how they want the business to develop, and what they truly value, builds trust and a strong bond that enables them to quickly agree on how they’ll achieve that vision – and what they will and won’t change.  Worth a conversation?