Stuart’s Five Minute Friday Focus – The King Of Procrastination


This week’s focus: I don’t particularly look forward to writing. This week, for instance, I have yet again put off writing this Friday Focus until 30 minutes before it is due out. Even worse, I am currently writing a new book, which is a little ironically called First and Fast. I have nine months to write the book, but the first five chapters have taken me over six months to write, leaving a little over two months for the final five.

I am not alone. Through my experience of coaching other executives, I am starting to think that procrastination may be one of the biggest management issues. Forget selling skills, innovation, becoming tech savvy or leadership capabilities; if more business leaders could simply get on and do the things they don’t want to do, more organisations would thrive and profits would grow.

The best way I’ve found of dealing with procrastination is to make your accountability and action public, commit the time in your diary, do it, and, importantly, give yourself some sort of reward for getting it done. I’m committing to you that I will complete my new book by 31 May and will update you each week on my progress (I’ll think about my reward!). What are your areas of procrastination and what steps will you take to overcome them?

Off the record: Busy Doing Nothing by Bing Crosby, William Bendix and Cedric Hardwicke (written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke)

We’re busy doing nothing, working the whole day through

Trying to find lots of things not to do

We’re busy going nowhere, isn’t it just a crime?

We’d like to be unhappy, but we never do have the time

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Stuart’s Five Minute Friday Focus – Recipe For Success


This week’s focus: I was talking to the CEO of a highly successful company this week who was lamenting the fact that although the business was growing and profitable, he wasn’t entirely sure why. “What we need,” he told me “is to fully understand our recipe for success.

He’s right to be concerned. If you don’t understand your ‘recipe for success’ you are unlikely to be able to sustain or replicate it. This is particularly true in dynamic, fast-changing markets where constant tweaks and amendments to the recipe will be required.

Take Morrisons, for example. The UK grocer announced major losses this week and saw its share price fall by 10%. The underlying reason for the poor results is clear: management did not understand Morrisons’ ‘recipe for success’ – in particular, the importance of value to its customers – and as discounters have changed shoppers’ perceptions of value, Morrisons failed to make the necessary adjustments to its offer.

What is your company’s ‘recipe for success’ and what are you doing to ensure that you develop and sustain it to drive future growth?

Off the record: What Is Success? by Bonnie Raitt

Now what, what, what is success?

Is it to do your own thing

Or to join the rest?

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Stuart’s Five-Minute Friday Focus – Fearless Experimentation In La Rosiere


This week’s focus: I am spending the week in France, skiing with my family and friends. To be honest, as an intermediate skier, my technical ability has not improved much in years. I stick to the runs I know I can master and, with a vivid understanding of the risks, am loathe to try too many knew things.

My sons have a different approach: they want to do something new and different – all the time! Black runs, off-piste sections, jumps, rails, backward skiing, one-legged skiing, and flat-out races are all on their list. They make many mistakes, but their development is dramatic. Yesterday, even my 8-year old son gave me some tips on how to ski better and faster (my skis were too far apart, apparently).

A survey of successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs concluded that it was their ability and willingness to ‘experiment fearlessly’ that marked them out from their less successful competitors. As with my sons’ approach to skiing, it is they are willing to take on new challenges, acquire new skills and accelerate their organisation’s development and growth.

What kind of organisation are you leading? Are you running a business that takes it carefully on the well-groomed green and blue runs, or are you higher up in the mountains, tackling more demanding runs and off-piste sections and accelerating your growth through fearless experimentation?

Off the record: Dancing In The Trees by Barefoot Truth

So you breathe a sigh of relief

Because now is the time to fly

Will you fix your eyes on that sea of powder?

And you kiss the clouds goodbye

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Stuart’s Five Minute Friday Focus – What You Can Learn From Alex Salmond


This week’s focus: Scottish nationalists may not win the vote on independence, but they are winning the campaign. By painting a vivid picture of a positive and brighter future, Alex Salmond and his team’s approach is in sharp contrast to the “Better Together” campaign, which is focused on the problems of independence rather than a clear and engaging vision of a future United Kingdom.

Despite the long list of critical risks and issues that independence would bring to Scotland the nationalist’s campaign strategy seems to be working. Polls show that while “No” voters remain fixed at 42%, “Yes” voters have grown from 26% to 30% in recent months. The reason for this trend is clear: people are willing to embrace change, but they must first be excited by a clear vision of the future, and that is Mr Salmond’s sole focus.

What future vision are you communicating to your team and organisation, and what steps can you take to make it clearer, brighter, more compelling and easier for your people to turn into reality?

Off the record: Sunshine On Leith by The Proclaimers

While I’m worth my room on this earth

I will be with you while the Chief

Puts sunshine on Leith

I’ll thank Him for His Work

And your birth, and my birth

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Stuart’s Five Minute Friday Focus – 31 January 2014


This week’s focus: I read somewhere that 90% of all the data that has ever been generated was created in the last two years. You now have an almost unlimited supply of data about your customers, both quantitative – purchasing behaviours, researched attitudes and wider spending habits – and qualitative, including social media comments, emails and YouTube videos.

But this “Big Data” is not easily translated into “Big Insight”. On the contrary, many companies seem to drown in this tsunami of information. Inches thick reports and slide decks are created that serve merely to confuse rather than clarify, inhibiting managers’ ability and willingness to use their own judgement. One retail director recently suggested to me that his company should do away with its army of ‘shopper insight’ analysts – and I can’t say I blame him.

Where is excessive data getting in the way of your – and your colleagues’ – ability to see the big picture and inhibiting your ability to use your own common sense judgement? And what steps can you take to prevent this from happening?

Off the record: Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell

I’ve looked at life from both sides now

From up and down, and still somehow

It’s life’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know life

At all

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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7 Ways To Improve Your Company’s Speed

My new article is now available on the Process Excellence Network website – just click here.

(c) 2014. All rights reserved.

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Getting Rid Of The Playbook

This week I’m working in the US, but have also – you’ll be pleased to hear – found time for some rest and relaxation. Last night, for example, I watched one of the NFL play-off games, between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers.

I don’t know that much about American Football, but the basics are that you have four goes (or downs) to move the football 10 yards. If you succeed you then get another 4 downs to move the ball a further 10 yards, and so on until you score a touchdown.

At each ‘down’ the attacking team agrees a specific move, selected from a huge list of possible moves, called the playbook. The ‘plays’ are called by one of the coaching staff and communicated to the team.

Watching the match last night, though, it seemed to me that the some of the most incisive moves came when things went wrong, or when the defending team stymied the proposed play. At that point the attacking team’s Quarter Back had to think on his feet, use his imagination and communicate with his team mates to create a move in the moment. Several of the touchdowns came through these situations.

There is a similarity to strategy and growth. Management teams can become overly focused on their plans and playbooks as they watch play from the sidelines, when they should be trusting their top talent to find innovative new solutions out where the action is really taking place.

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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Stuart’s Five Minute Friday Focus – 3 January 2014


This week’s focus: I have now been running my consulting business for seven years, and one of my biggest lessons has been the massive importance of perseverance to success. New ideas and initiatives rarely work immediately, but  require a strong commitment to succeed, a willingness to learn and improve and the discipline to keep taking action.

Take this newsletter, for example. I’m now in my third year of writing it and am still working on how I can give you something new, different and valuable to think about each week in an entertaining and pithy way (Yes, I know, hopefully I’ll get there this year!).

New Year is the time of resolutions, and resolutions require resolve. The reason that so many resolutions fail is that the resolve element is missing.  Alongside your goal you also need to determine how you will remain accountable for results and how you will stick at it. After all, our biggest victories are generally those that require the biggest effort.

What steps do you need to take to build your perseverance, discipline and resolve to achieve your most important goals in 2014

Off the record: Don’t Give Up by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush

In this proud land we grew up strong

We were wanted all along

I was taught to fight, taught to win

I never thought I could fail

New Testimonial and Case Study: See how we’re helping Masco UK Window Group to grow sales by 50% – click here.

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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New Testimonial: Accelerating Growth At Masco UK Window Group

Client Challenge

  • Masco UK Window Group, a leader in the PVC windows and doors market, was looking to develop a new and refreshed strategy for profitable growth, following a period of incremental improvement
  • Wayne Devine, the Managing Director, also wanted to increase the level of ownership and engagement of his leadership team in the development and delivery of the strategy

Our Role

  • Challenging the leadership team about the level of growth possible for the business and creating dramatic new expectations about its future potential
  • Establishing collective focus on the highest potential opportunities and creating a phased transition to their delivery
  • Rapidly building genuine and lasting ownership of the strategy across the leadership and management teams
  • Providing ongoing challenge and advice to Wayne and his leadership team


  • The creation of a strategy that will add over 50% to revenues, and even greater profit growth, over the next 3-5 years
  • The development of a high-pace implementation agenda with clear executive ownership and specific plans for delivery
  • Sign-off to the strategy by the Masco Corporation leadership team

Client Testimonial

“From the beginning Stuart brought a new perspective to the team, constructively challenging us to look at the business from different angles and helping to raise our collective ambition for growth. As a result, we now have a much clearer view of our priorities, are far more confident about our ability to transform our sales and profit performance, and are committed to a growth goal that will transform our business. What’s more, Stuart’s structured process and his expert facilitation of our key meetings ensured that our leadership and management teams have full ownership of the new strategy. Quite simply, Stuart Cross is the best consultant we have ever worked with!” Wayne Devine, Managing Director

What steps does your business need to take to accelerate growth in 2014?

© Stuart Cross 2014. All rights reserved.

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8 Leadership Lessons From Stuart Lancaster

On Monday I attended the FA Coaches’ Conference at the FA’s headquarters at St. George’s Park. The keynote speaker that day was not a football coach, or even anyone connected with football. It was Stuart Lancaster, the head coach of the England rugby union team. In a very candid session Stuart shared 30 lessons in leadership and developing a winning culture that he’d identified since his appointment in March 2012. I’ve summarized them down to these 8 lessons for you to consider:

  1. Have a goal beyond winning. When England won the rugby world cup in 2003 the whole focus of the coach, Sir Clive Woodward, and the team, led by Martin Johnson, was on winning the trophy. Once that goal had been achieved the momentum of the team rapidly evaporated and subsequent results declined. Stuart has set a goal of becoming the world’s most respected sports team. This goal is very ambitious – perhaps even unachievable – but if England are successful at next year’s World Cup, it will only be a milestone on the journey to a bigger goal, not the end in itself.
  2. Work back from the goal. Invest your time on the right things that will best accelerate and sustain the delivery of the goal. Do not become sidetracked with activities that do not really help you achieve your ambition.
  3. The culture and DNA of the team come before performance. Do you have a clear idea of the culture you want to create? Once you are clear, what are the steps you need to take to implement and sustain it? Critically, if it comes to a trade-off between high performance and the right character within the members of your team, select on character.
  4. Get the right support team in place – and give them responsibility and accountability. Stuart spent a significant amount of time and effort persuading Andy Farrell to become a full time member of the coaching staff, and refused to take no for an answer.
  5. Your credibility is key. Stuart believes that you can measure your credibility on a 100-point scale. He believes his initial credibility with the team was about 20, because, although he had been head coach of junior English teams and was previously Director of Rugby at Leeds Carnegie, Stuart had never played the game at the highest level. Over time, however, you can build your credibility by demonstrating integrity, inspiration, forward thinking, technical excellence and being organized. Conversely, even with a high initial score, your credibility can decline if you fail to demonstrate these attributes.
  6. Help the players to find their voice. Following conversations with Michael Carrick and Gary Neville Stuart was surprised that footballers do not contribute much during team meetings. The culture of rugby, he believes, is different, and players are encouraged to voice their ideas and opinions.
  7. The leader’s job is to shape the environment. You cannot make all the decisions and take all the actions to reach your goal, but you are responsible for building the environment in which your team can make that happen.
  8. Focus on the WHY first. Too many leaders focus on the what and the how of the job in hand, but Stuart’s focus has been to connect his team with WHY it’s so important and such a privilege to be a player of the England rugby team. This means being clear about what the white English shirt, with its red rose badge, stand for, its heritage and its connection with both fans and the wider nation.

Which of these 8 lessons can you apply to your team as you develop your plans and priorities for 2014?

© Stuart Cross 2013. All rights reserved.

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