Why you should invest in Management Development

While attending a recent induction session for the SCCUL Mentors Programme, I became aware of a 2010 report by Forfás on Management Development in Ireland.

The Report quotes findings from a McKinsey review of management practices across 14 countries which found that

  • Management Practice in the high value manufacturing sector is above average .
  • Agreggate management practices across all manufacturing sectors in Ireland lag performances amongst similar firms in the highest performing countries.
  • Mean performance in Ireland is also below global averages for almost all sectors of manufacturing other than the high value manufacturing sector.
  • There is considerable variation in performance by sector and firm size, and firm category. Irish firms employing between 50 and 250 employees are ranked just 12th out of 14 countries.

The Report goes on to highlight that there is a strong relationship between management practice and business performance. McKinsey found that improved management practice is associated with large increases in productivity and in output. The research findings suggest that a single point improvement in a firm’s management practice score is associated with an increase in output equivalent to that produced by a 25 % increase in the work force or a 65 % increase in working capital.

Statistics such as those make a very strong case for firms to invest in management development. Who would not want output increases equivalent to a 25% increase in the workforce? If the research is correct and we are starting from a low base, then it must be quite realistic to achieve single point increases in the management practice score.

A first step for any firm would be to carry out a Now Assessment – where are we now as regards management practice. From there establish where you want to be and then put an action plan in place to close the gap.

A very quick way of doing something like that would be to complete our GPS diagnostic which can be found here –

If you have any questions about this blog post please contact jim(at)accountsplus(dot).ie

Finding time for Strategic Thinking

This blog update comes from Mindshop Colleague, Paul Hopwood. ( Paul is a longtime Mindshop Member and is one of the Support Coaches for Mindshop members.

Very often, the biggest constraint for business owners is their time. Those who make time to think strategically tend to punch above their weight. We know this intuitively, but operational issues can easily get in the way.

“Strategy is the great work of an organisation. In situations of life and death, it is the Tao of survival or extinction. Its study cannot be neglected – Sun Tzu “The Art of War”

“Plans are useless, but the process of planning is indispensible” – Eisenhower

If you are guiding your business or a customer on their strategic agenda, it’s your job to isolate the right quantity and quality of strategic thinking time.

Here are 10 tips for doing so:

1. Split board meetings between strategy and operations. This could potentially be done in separate meetings, possibly with a smaller steering group
2. Schedule the dates for the entire year ahead and never cancel the meetings
3. Use the One Page Plan as a framework. If you are discussing something that isn’t on the plan – either the plan is wrong, or you probably aren’t being strategic
4. Get the administrative protocols right – E.g. agenda in advance, circulate papers a week in advance, start and finish on time, bullet point minutes of actions and follow up action progress between meetings
5. Be aware of where the conversation is leading while keeping a balance between strategic and operational issues
6. If there are some short-term, burning issues, factor them into the One Page Plan, but don’t get bogged down – decide how they should be tackled outside the meeting (e.g. project team) and move on
7. Be conscious that you don’t spend too much time managing exceptions (i.e. actions not completed and excuses). This is a total waste of everyone’s time
8. Ensure someone is responsible for keeping the meeting strategic. Usually this will be the chair or facilitator
9. Make your planning process iterative. Don’t put all your effort into the annual away-day, but evolve the strategy as you go along
10. Define the rules for each meeting – E.g. ego-less, listening, not interrupting, allowing everyone a turn to speak.
Do this well and everyone will get good value from their strategic time and be able to reduce the time they waste fighting fires.”

As always, if you have any questions on this blog post, feel free to contact jim (at) accountsplus (dot) ie.

Unit Price v Total Cost

Today’s blog update comes from Mindshop founder, Chris Mason.

“In today’s ever increasingly competitive global market the question on how to compete on price always comes up.

People believe that the only way to compete is to be the lowest price supplier of their goods or services. Unit price is only one factor in deciding who to deal with. The more compelling factor is what I call the Total Cost.

For example, I want to get my car repaired, do I go to the person with the lowest quotation if they are located in a city four hours away; of course not. Do I go to someone locally just because they have the lowest cost; probably not.

So what is causing my concern? I know from experience that I need to check the total cost, will the unknown supplier use quality parts, will they do it when I want, do they take my preferred credit card, and can I trust them to do the repair well? I cannot always put a financial price on each of these factors but they do impact on my perception of the total price. The bottom line is that not always is the lowest unit price the lowest total cost.

This concept works in any sales situation. A lot of manufactures were tempted to source their components from emerging nations such as China and India, only to find that there was a sting in the tail of the total cost. In this case factors such as communication, quality, on time delivery, minimum order quantities, and freight, added to the unit price. Many have subsequently brought their business back on-shore because of these extra costs.

Think about your own business, what are the unit costs and what extra costs can you manage for your customer.

You should be able to work on making the total cost of buying from you lower than the total cost of buying from your competitor even when your unit cost is higher. If you find you really cannot create a lower total cost perhaps you need to change the way you price and pull waste out of your processes.

The worst case scenario is that you withdraw from that market, but the need to do that is rare. Start with the price that you need to be competitive and work backwards to determine your target material, labour, and overhead costs. When talking to your customers, talk total cost rather than unit price and you are less likely to have to compete poor quality and unreliable competitors.”

As always, if you have any comments or questions on the above blog post, contact jim(at)accountsplus(dot)ie.

Making Time for what’s important

There is a lot of good information available from my colleagues in Mindshop that will be very helpful to readers of this blog. From time to time, I plan on sharing some of the best thinking with you. Today’s blog post was written by David Duffy of PrincipleFocus in Australia ( Here’s David’s article.

“Most of us have felt swamped at one time or another with hectic work schedules, family responsibilities, and social engagements. However, once we learn to manage our time wisely, much of the day-to-day chaos can be reduced or even eliminated.

We all have the same amount of time; it is just how we use it to do what is important. The first step is to decide what it is that we want to achieve – our goals.

The next step is to list and prioritize our activities by identifying critical deadlines, value, routine tasks, fun/relaxation time, etc.

Now we can develop a general work schedule. Many business people do not put it in writing and therefore have problems, no time for themselves or time for planning of their business. Your schedule is where you program in your daily tasks aimed at you reaching your goals.

As part of our coaching of clients to increase their effectiveness, we have developed a list of time management tips. Some of these are:

· Contract out tasks. Contract out tasks you do not have the expertise to complete. Your client will appreciate your honesty and effort to get the best result.
· Start with the most worrisome task. Start the morning, afternoon, or evening with the most worrisome task before you. This will reduce your anxiety level for the next task.
· Complete deadline work early. Not only will this reduce stress and lighten your work schedule, but it will also give you more self-confidence about managing your schedule.
·Know your capacity for stress. When you are hitting overload, take the break you need (even if it is a short one) when you need it.
· Stay organized. Take time at the end of each day to briefly organize your desk and make reminder lists of tasks for the next day or week.
· Take advantage of “down time”. Allow yourself some “down time” between busy periods to review your schedule and re-evaluate your priorities.
· Get physical. Physical exertion helps to discharge stress. Exercise, playing with children, or doing yard work are types of therapeutic breaks you should consider during times of stress.
. Have fun. Be sure to have some fun while working or playing. A good sense of humor can keep most problems in perspective.
· Divide up your time. Decide how much time to spend on business development, personal needs and family. Start by allowing 25 percent of your time for yourself.
· Build flexibility into your schedule. Your availability to family and friends depends on the flexibility you build into your schedule.
· In the bigger picture, consider the relationship between your business life and your personal life. Be realistic, keeping in mind what is most important to you.

Don’t underestimate the toll that emotional stress takes on your physical health and your ability to concentrate on your work or enjoy time with your family. Make sure you have time for the important things.”

Helping individuals achieve balance between business and personal life is a prime objective of AccountsPLUS. Contact Jim on 086 2323525 or email him at jim(at)accountsplus(dot)ie.

Making your accounts work for you.

Are your accounts giving you information that helps you manage your business?

Most accounts don’t.

When I go into a new client, one of the first things I do is to review the existing accounts.

I am looking to see if they could get more information – additional analysis – from their accounts.

The Sales account is the first account I see. Most accounting systems have only one line for Sales. Yet, it is helpful for most businesses to analyse their Sales in more detail.

You can analyse by the type of work, the nature of the assignment, the type of customer, the geographical region or any other way that gives useful information.

For example a business consultant might have once off consultancy assignments, ongoing retainer assignments, training etc. I mentioned this to a client recently who has launched an initiative to win more retainer business. Analysing his sales in this way, will make it much easier to see if the initiative is achieving the results he wants.

An engineering business might work for industry or for building contractors or for farmers. When I worked for an engineering company some years ago, they realised that they were making a lot less profit on their farming customers. The accounts analysis prompted further investigation and they ended up pulling back from that sector with the result that they achieved better profits with lower sales.

A medical practice might have GMS, private patients, occupational health contracts or public body contracts.

Breaking down your sales can help you manage margins. It can help you understand if your marketing is working. It can show you which parts of your business are performing best for you.

Each business is different and each business owner should sit down and ask what information would be useful to him/her. And remember , this analysis can be applied to more than just sales. Any Cost of Sales or Overhead account has the potential to be analysed further. If you find it useful to analyse your sales one way, you will probably find it useful to analyse all of your costs the same way.

Ask yourself if any costs are giving you cause for concern. What additional information would help understand those costs better? Go into your accounts and set up accounts that will help you with this analysis.

Your accounts will still show the same overall result. You will be just making the numbers work for you instead of you working for the numbers.

Some of the biggest improvements I have helped make in businesses have come from using this type of analysis to understand what is happening in the business.

I have been able to show that a business is losing money to one set of customers and subsidising that loss from a different set of customers. The information was there but the system was just not set up to deliver it.

So have another look at your accounts. Is there some other way of analysing the information that would be helpful to you? Go ahead, then, and make the changes.

If you have any questions about this post, feel free to send me an email to

Are you missing out on the benefits of budgeting

It’s the start of a new year and larger companies will have their budgets done, or almost done.

Yet, in most owner managed businesse,s there are no budgets or forecasts. Ask them why and they’ll give you all sorts of reasons. They haven’t got time. The current climate is so uncertain its nearly impossible to get it right. They haven’t got all the information they need yet.

None of these reasons are valid.

If something is important and worthwhile, you make the time for it. If you think you haven’t got the time, that means it’s either unimportant or not worth the effort.

In uncertain times, it even more important to understand your business and to have a reasonable appreciation of how it will perform in good, medium or poor conditions. You should be taking actions that will make your business better able to understand the uncertainty, rather than waiting impotently.

If you haven’t got all the information, then you need to identity the key information and get it. The only way to do that is to starting your budgeting/planning process.

A budget is not about the end document. Yes, thats important. But what’s more important, and more beneficial, is the process you go through to prepare a budget.

You need to understand what the business is selling and what resources are used up making those sales.

You need to know what these resources will cost you in the coming year.

You need to understand what overheads you have and what they are going to cost in the coming year.

You need to be clear on what assumptions you are making and which of those the most critical.

You need to understand your payment terms – both incoming and outgoing – and what effect these have on your cashflows.

Overall, the earlier the warning you have of any problems, the better positioned you are. A good budget or business plan should flag up any issues you need to be paying attention to.

The process of doing your business plan should be looked at as part of your learning process.

You set out your budget or plan that tells you where you expect to be at various points in the year. As you go through the year you check to see where you are and how does that compare to where you thought you’d be.

If the differences are significant, you need to investigate and understand where you got it wrong. Out of this, your understanding of your business will grow and your ability to predict will improve.

Bottom line, budgeting or planning is one of the most important things you can do.

Getting Better information from Computerised Accounts

I attended an Insolvency Update last week and one of my own hobby horses appeared again.

One of the speakers, who regularly works on examinerships, commented on the lack of good accounting information in most of the companies that go into examinership. This really struck a chord with me. In most of the improvement projects I have worked on, the accounting information was either poor or non-existant.

What I find difficult to accept is that, while most companies now use some form of computerised accounting software, very few are getting management accounts. Even where businesses are getting reports from the system, the reports will be either out of date or unreliable.

There’s nothing worse than picking up a report, asking the owner about it and hearing “Ah, sure. That’s not right”. And I’m thinking, “well, if you know something’s wrong, then why haven’t you fixed it?”

But they don’t fix it. They’ve done 70-80% of the work needed to have good accounts but they haven’t finished off the 20-30%. So the information they have is more than likely misleading,

It would only take a few things to make huge improvements in the quality of the information.

  1. Review the setup of the accounts and ask are they designed to give you the manangement information that you need
  2. Check are the opening balances correct. You will probably need help from your accountant here but I think they should be adjusting the opening balances for you anyway.
  3. Sanity check the information that has been input. Prepare bank reconciliations to prove that your bank account is reliable. Review your debtors account and make any corrections necessary for discounts, bad debts etc. Do the same for your creditors – reviewing for discounts and writeoffs etc.
  4. Finally print off a Profit and Loss and Balance. Go through the Balance Sheet first. Is every asset listed correctly? Do the liabilities look correct? If your balance sheet is reliable, then the net profit to date must be reliable. When looking at the Profit and Loss, I like having a drilldown feature. When someone says “whats in telephone or whatever”, you can just drill down on the account to see what transaction make up the figure for telephone.
  5. If you do all of that, you accounts will be reasonably reliable and good enough to work with.

If you have any comments on this article or if there are any areas you would like to address, please do let me know.

Best Wishes