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Singing in Harmony…

It takes more than compatible products or shared interests to create successful business collaboration, says Mr. Loadlink.

Have you seen dating site eHarmony’s advertisement campaign about flaws in competitors’ matchmaking processes? In essence, the message suggests that just because singletons are the same age and like some of the same things it doesn’t mean they’re destined for a lifetime of happiness together. The ads explain how eHarmony’s multiple measures of compatibility make it a more sophisticated dating platform to alternatives.

It’s clever advertising and, moreover, they use great humour to make the point. Take Geoff, for example: he’s not using eHarmony and is seen sitting on his sofa with a camel because both like long walks on the beach. Then there’s Steve who has been partnered with a fellow vegetarian—a tortoise. The measures of compatibility selling point struck a chord with me, given its relevance to partnerships in the business world, where only a complete DNA match leads to fruitful exploration of avenues of mutual opportunity.

Many businesses are slow to grasp the concept of collaboration

Many businesses are slow to grasp the concept of collaboration

As I’ve blogged about before, I’m a big believer in collaboration and the theory of abundance, but that doesn’t mean anyone with a broadly similar product or customer base can snuggle up together. I’d rather work with a camel than some business leaders out there who represent companies that, at first glance, have synergies with my own. I’ll stop short of using the obvious camel-related reference of how they’d make me feel but suffice it to say I’m not enthused by the prospect of all partnerships. And not everyone should want to team up with me.

I’ve read thought leadership pieces that in theory I agree with, about how collaborate comes before compete in the dictionary etc. etc. and how small enterprises especially should embrace a “stronger together” or “rising tide lifts all boats” mentality. However, they generally focus too much on the principle and less on the practice. Two non-competing companies that supply to the same customers could have widely different outlooks on a sales process. One might take a consultative, long-term approach to relationship building while the other is trying to make a quick buck by offering a cheaper alternative to a reputed supplier, for instance.

Trusted global brands

As regular readers of this column and followers of our marketing endeavours will know, Straightpoint (SP) has been collaborating with fellow below-the-hook manufacturer Modulift recently under the “trusted global brands” banner, principally at trade shows and events where we often co-exhibit. We make force measurement equipment and our fellow southern UK-based supplier is a provider of lifting and spreader beams. The partnership has been tremendously successful, as most recently seen at the offshore event, ONS, in Stavanger, Norway last month. But the products and coincidental similarities in branding colouration (we’re both all about yellow and blue) are only the tip of the iceberg, and I’d urge anyone thinking of collaborating to tread carefully before making a big commitment.

Don’t get sidetracked by the natural appeal of sharing exhibition space and therefore cost. Yes, there are inherent savings to be made but consider how cheap it would be to date a tortoise. We don’t look at the partnership as a cost-cutting exercise but readily accept that it helps us budget to attend a greater number of shows throughout the year. Getting into bed with the wrong company just to save some cash could result in much more costly damage to both parties.

This article isn’t about collaborative trade show etiquette but salespeople can’t be elbowing their counterparts out the way to get first dibs at a visitor. There has to be an equal appreciation of both companies’ equipment. What would a rigger do with two load cells and no spreader beam or vice versa?

As well as respecting the importance of each business’s kit, it’s also crucial to understand it. When a representative of one firm is engaged in dialogue with someone who has stopped by the exhibit, someone from the other must be able to at least provide an overview to both products, systems, or technologies. A trade show exhibit can’t function like a doctor’s surgery where patients wait for their name to be called. When a visitor walks onto a stand they should be greeted immediately wherever possible. Avoid scenarios like this:

“Hi, what does this product do? How might it work in this application?”

“I’ve got no idea, I’m with the other company here.”

It makes selecting a stand team very important. At ONS I was joined by SP’s Kizzie Cordwell, inside sales, while John Baker, sales director at Modulift, completed the lineup. When John looked at me on the flight home and said, “That worked,” I knew exactly what he meant.

John, Kizzie, and I at ONS 2018 in Stavanger, Norway

John, Kizzie and I at ONS 2018 in Stavanger, Norway

Quiz question

Consider how the marketplace will respond too. There’s a good chance parties will be quizzed about ownership of the companies. We have no problem responding to questions about being part of the same organisation (we’re not, by the way). Further, it gives us a chance to respond and explain what each product does and why it makes sense to present the solutions alongside each other. Visitors, particularly at end user events, welcome the concept as they can piece together a below-the-hook scenario and envisage it at the coalface (or oil rig) of their industry. Ok, so here’s how we spread the load and that’s how we measure it, one might say.

Trusted global brands, yes, but we can only be as good as a trade show allows and ONS, which takes place every second year, provided a great platform. For background, when oil and gas was discovered in the North Sea, the need for a meeting place for the companies in this new industry emerged. ONS was held for the first time in 1974, and has more than 40 years of proud history.

It is a non-profit foundation, and was established by Stavanger City Council, Statoil, Stavanger Forum, and the Norwegian Petroleum Society.

I’d recommend the 2020 event, whether one is in collaboration or not.

ONS 2018 visitor numbers were up 15% on two years ago, I heard

ONS 2018 visitor numbers were up 15% on two years ago, I heard

 

It was a multifaceted show and one of my favourite features was the festival area, open nightly, featuring a social network arena, after-party, and cultural events. Located in Stavanger’s harbour in the city centre, it provided a great opportunity to unwind after the show, network, and debrief. The importance of such activity is often overlooked. Sometimes John, Kizzie, and I chinked glasses together and toasted another productive day, and on other occasions we were all engaged in our own business and personal conversations with connections old and new. It was all the fun of the fair—and kind of like speed dating.

Of course, any collaboration is on a learning curve and we’re already discussing ways to make the partnership even more fruitful in 2019. We’re looking at how we can consolidate shipments of product, for example, and we’ve agreed that not every show we’ve done has been a great fit for either of us. We’re also striving to make our stand build-up and teardown operations even smoother and more efficient. Naturally, we’ll also learn more and more about each other’s products and we’re excited about each of us unveiling future innovations.

 

In the Summertime

I’m not going to harp on about work-life balance again but the importance of it was demonstrated last week when we held our annual staff trip to Goodwood Racecourse. It was great to see the team out of the office, workshop, and trade show environment, placing some bets (for those who wanted to gamble) and enjoying each other’s company. We rounded off a great day in a local bar dancing away at a 70s disco. I Will Survive had a whole new meaning by the end of the night! I hear Modulift’s summer party was held on the same day, which was somewhat fitting. I hope John and the team there had an equally enjoyable occasion.

Let’s Stay Together

Finally, I want to conclude by offering my congratulations to David Mullard, our business development manager, and his wife, Kat, who were married at the weekend. It was a magical occasion, fitting for a great couple. I wish the new Mr. and Mrs. Mullard a long and happy marriage.

Mr Loadlink

Carl Stahl’s Rune Lid Hillesøy was among visitors to our ONS exhibit.

Carl Stahl’s Rune Lid Hillesøy was among visitors to our ONS exhibit.

Their World at Your Feet…

The recent World Youth Skills Day served as a timely reminder of the plight of the lost generation, says Mr. Loadlink.

Earlier this month (15 July), the United Nations (UN), an intergovernmental organisation that promotes international cooperation and strives to create and maintain order, sponsored World Youth Skills Day.

The facts that supported the marketing campaign made for grim reading. Here’s a sample:

– Young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and continuously exposed to lower quality of jobs.

– They suffer longer and more insecure school-to-work transitions.

– Women are more likely to be underemployed and underpaid.

– At least 475 million new jobs need to be created over the next decade to absorb the 73 million youth currently unemployed and the 40 million new annual entrants to the labour market.

– Rising youth unemployment is one of the most significant problems facing economies and societies in today’s world—for developed and developing countries alike.

Youths make up nearly half of the world’s unemployed.

Youths make up nearly half of the world’s unemployed.

Top of the agenda

The UN has set an ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, calling for an integrated approach, which recognises that eradicating poverty, combating inequality, preserving the planet, creating work for all people, etc., etc., are interdependent. I agree with this holistic approach and feel there should be greater recognition of the impact each shortfall in society has on other frameworks upon which communities are based. Fittingly, education and training are central to the achievement of the initiative.

I want to highlight the last bullet point above and in particular the UN’s damning statement that the problems World Youth Skills Day and the aforementioned action plan set out to tackle are relevant to “developed and developing countries alike”. Isn’t it shameful that despite the resources available to us in the first world, we’re still guilty of neglecting our youth to the extent that a collective campaign across the near 200 UN member states is even relevant?

There’s nothing just or right about most of our children’s full tables versus the starvation endured in much of the third world, but it appears such rich pickings aren’t available, even to the comparatively privileged, in all facets of life.

Rochy road

I was talking to Phil Roch, our marketing executive, about this and he suggested that we mark the occasion and address these problems in a video, which many of you might have seen on LinkedIn and other social media platforms: https://youtu.be/LTOQy88uJJo

The video happens to shine a spotlight on the fledgling career of my son and SP apprentice, Isaac. It wasn’t about giving Mr. Loadlink Jr. a share of the limelight—his story is relevant and interesting in its own right—but because of the family connection I’m well placed to assess how little the education system has done over my lifetime to better engage practically-skilled students with an aptitude for engines, moving parts, and all things engineering. In fact, it’s got worse.

Isaac Ayling contributed to commentary on World Youth Skills Day

Isaac Ayling contributed to commentary on World Youth Skills Day

As regular readers of this column will know, further perspective is gained by the fact that Isaac reports to Marcus MacDonald, our machine shop supervisor, who I originally met on the same apprenticeship course back in 1986. Isaac, who recently turned 18, has finally broken the shackles of the school system and, no academic by his own admission, he is now at last able to get his teeth stuck into a fascinating SP department that houses a computer numerical control (CNC) milling machine, lathes, manual turret mill, band saw, hydraulic press, and other tools that actually give context to some of the science and maths he learnt in the classroom.

Class apart

How can it be that such a seemingly one dimensional education system can exist in a society that is suffering from widespread workplace disengagement in our teenagers and young adults? Surely it’d be better—indeed, a solution—to provide greater variety of choice for the upcoming generation. I rejoiced when I heard the UN talk about inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all. Before you scoff at the notion consider that it only sounds so fanciful because we’re pitifully so far away from achieving it at this stage. It’s not really a utopian vision given the skills, abilities, dreams, drive, determination, spirit, and exuberance that can be found in any classroom up and down the land.

Isaac told our videographer exactly what he’s said to multiple teachers and education leaders over the years. It’s a heart-rending watch in many ways because he speaks for a generation, as the UN’s research proves.

Isaac is relishing the varied, daily challenges in SP’s machine shop.

Isaac is relishing the varied, daily challenges in SP’s machine shop.

According to the International Labour Organisation, globally there are 202 million people who are unemployed and 40% of them are youths. There’s a much more serious point here than it means they don’t have money to buy video games. When young people are disengaged from education and the workplace they become disconnected from society. The knock-on impact is disastrous for individuals, families, and communities.

This isn’t a political column and the interdependence theme is worth keeping in mind, but when some young people are falling by the wayside even in affluent communities, we have to accept some of the responsibility as a society. When a young person is working towards the goals of an apprenticeship they enjoy, or well supported by an employer, they look forward to going to work every morning and are less prone to distractions. The working environment puts young people alongside successful, inspiring adults that many aspire to emulate one day. They start to see what it takes to earn promotions, bring up a family, and contribute to their community. We’ve got to make sure that all young people, regardless of skillset, gets such opportunities.

Lead by example

Employers would do well to consider the bigger picture. I’ve detected too much reluctance from business leaders and company owners over the years—in my sector and others—who are hesitant to introduce widespread apprenticeship schemes or employ those without experience because they fear investment of time and money will be wasted.

“They just want me to pay for their qualifications then they’ll leave,” is the common, cynical approach. “What if we give them all our knowledge and they take it elsewhere,” is another. “Possibly the most infuriating of all is: “What if they let us down or walk away halfway through the course?”

In my experience, working with young people is the most rewarding, uplifting thing a company owner can do. The positive difference that can be made to a young life far outweighs the inevitable patience that sometimes has to be shown and investment required. That’s not to say all our apprentices stay with us for the long-term; Jessie Boskovic and Josh Chipps, for example, both completed courses at SP and decided their future was elsewhere. But I wished them well and am proud to have contributed to their careers. Zoe Silk and Josh Young are still with us—and I hope they stay—but no regret will be attached to any future decisions either makes.

Zoe Silk, inside sales and hire

Zoe Silk, inside sales and hire

Ok, if the day of the photo-shoot with the graduation certificate I received a resignation letter I might be a bit put out but it’s more likely that an employer will get out what they put into an apprentice or young employee. Obviously, if they’re poorly treated or made to feel surplus to requirements they will look for the exit door. Further, if a business owner wears “investment in youth” as a badge of honour and / or expects a gold star for starting an apprenticeship scheme, it could well backfire.

Josh Young, calibration technician

Josh Young, calibration technician

Meeting the objectives of the UN, for example, will only be achieved with a sincere approach and a commitment to making a positive difference.

Have you got capacity to do more for the next generation?

Mr. Loadlink

All businesses have a responsibility to develop the next generation.

All businesses have a responsibility to develop the next generation.