What is the most valuable asset of YOUR company?


Recently I was at a speaking engagement in Austria with The Marketing Academy and, amongst others, there was a really fascinating and profoundly inspirational speaker – John M Neill, Chairman and CEO of Unipart.  I consider that one of the most important things he said out of the whole hour was when he pulled his talk together at the end saying “….. the most valuable asset of your company is the culture and spirit of your company ……”.

To me that is the absolute crux of leadership – what do I need to do to create an environment where people are valued, feel safe, able to think for themselves and listened to when they come up with suggestions for improvement.  They come to work bringing not just their mind and body but their whole heart as well – they care.

I have some clients who know and believe this absolutely passionately – they recognise that if they are to get the strategy through the organisation so that everyone is aligned, the very first thing that has to happen is to create the culture to enable this.  Without this the words are just rhetoric and no one truly believes it.  To work with a CEO who comes into a new company and starts this way and truly gets this shift in culture is a complete joy.  I can remember working with an MD in a division of a very large corporate and he knew the importance of this so this was one of his first things he wished to do after deciding on the strategy.  It was a fairly small division so only about a thousand people and we managed to get about 400 of the top people (starting with him and his team!) through a leadership programme aligned to culture change, in about 4 months.  When the CEO of ‘Best companies to work for’ interviewed people in that corporate he said that he could physically feel the difference when he walked into the building housing that division – it was palpable.  And guess which division came in as the highest performing?

Other companies sometimes struggle to ‘get’ this and when I listen to some of the conversations, even at senior levels, they talk about things that they want or need to do and then say things such as ‘yes, that would be really good but I don’t think the culture will support it’.  This amazes me as it almost seems that they see culture as something that is outside of them!  Ludicrous of course, as it is they that actually are the culture – if they don’t like it, then change it!

So – how can you go about changing culture as I make it sound very easy?  Actually, it is not difficult and it means having the behaviours very well embedded and it really does have to start at the very top.  That is where the culture begins – right from the CEO – and leadership behaviours have to be lived and breathed all the time.  A very simple example where it can so easily go wrong – imagine that someone a coupe of levels below you comes forward with a new and possibly radical idea to get rid of some of the bureaucracy. You listen intently – because you know that is one of the behaviours that you need to be demonstrating – and you then proceed to tell them what to do about it!!  One really good behaviour then invalidated by the follow-up.  Alternatively when they come up with a good idea you could forget to get back to them to tell them what the outcome of their suggestion is, worse yet you could reproduce it without giving credit for where the idea has come from.

There are many things that come together to define the culture of an organisation and time and again I hear people say that changing it – is difficult, takes too much time, can’t be done quickly etc. etc.  All of those statements I fundamentally disagree with and have been able to disprove them time and again.  If you can take a group of ten people from the top of a company and clearly demonstrate to them the impact of three things – how they think, understand responsibility at a far deeper level than they may ever have explored it before plus shown them the consequences of the way they can inadvertently communicate you can get lasting behaviour change.  The results from those behaviour changes can be truly extraordinary and when we first worked with that small division of the large corporate the culture changed totally in a few months and in that year employee engagement went up 16% – it didn’t just ‘feel’ different, the results followed and fast!

Let me quote John one more time – “the most valuable asset of your company is its culture and spirit”.  If you want to get the strategy successfully through your company and people truly living and breathing the values this is the most critical thing to focus on.

If there is anyone reading who wishes to understand how this can happen I am running one programme – and only one – next year.  Please do check my website – www.pennyferguson.com.  I would be more than delighted to see you there.


Management to Leadership – is it really necessary?

I read with interest the article in HR Magazine by John Adair suggesting that organisations need to become more leadership centered and I just could not agree more and, in working with our clients can truly prove the truth of this.  To become more successful I believe it to be critical and leaders need to be developed at every level – not just the top.

Why is that?  Well, let me first suggest a definition between the two that works very well for me.

“Outstanding managers drive people to perform at the highest level they are capable of – and it is very much about control.

Outstanding leaders inspire them to do it for themselves – and it is more about freedom.”










This indicates that there are many extremely successful managers out there who have delivered great results, may have turned a division or a company around and considerably improved bottom line results.  It may be that the company had lost direction and needed someone strong and very capable to come in and do some things that in the short term were painful – restructure, remove some of the costs, which could include people, and drive people to perform differently.  Based on their own experience and track record of success they knew how to do it, what needed to be done to become more successful.  This, based on the definition above, is very much about ‘management’ as it is based on me and my ideas and pushing them through the organisation.  Great for this situation maybe!

However, to take it to the next stage it is almost certainly necessary to be very different as what is now needed is people to think for themselves – at every level.  To come up with ideas that could continue to improve performance.  Now it is leadership that is necessary so that each and every person is passionate about the company and always looking for ways to do even better.  Think of the people serving the customer, be they an engineer, in the call centre or a sales person – you want them to always be thinking ‘how can I go the extra mile?’  If they are used to being told what to do then they have been educated into not thinking for themselves so are likely to wait until someone tells them to do it differently or the processes and systems structure them in how to behave and they dare not step outside them.

So what, in very practical terms, needs to change to make this transition?  Very simply, the majority of the change needs to be in how we communicate.  Most of us want to be helpful and, when someone comes to us for advice about how to do something or what decision they should make we leap into helping by telling them our thoughts and ideas.  The message we have just sent, albeit inadvertently, is ‘you are not up to doing this without me’.  I am quite sure that this is not the message we wanted to send but regretfully that is what we have just done, all by being ‘helpful’.  I absolutely know that I learnt this the hard way because when bringing up my six children I did this all the time and did my very best to unknowingly educate them into not thinking for themselves – I was truly addicted to giving advice, albeit lovingly!  Our communicating style needs to change from ‘this is what I think’, to ‘what do you think?’

I truly believe that leadership is actually quite easy once we ‘get it’ – it is about doing some very simple things consistently.  It is more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’, more about ‘listening’ than ‘telling’, more about ‘giving’ than ‘getting’ and is always about recognising that leadership is about changing me and not about changing others.

My DVD, ‘How to be successful in your new management position’ talks you through some of the main obstacles in between you and success. I talk with new managers about how to cast aside self doubt and blind panic, and gain confidence. In the DVD I also cover how organisations work, what to expect of them, and what they expect of you – as well as talking about your performance and how to achieve your own visions with your team. To find out more, read here: https://pennyferguson.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/how-to-be-successful-in-your-first-management-position-the-dvd/

How to be successful in your first management position – the DVD!

Penny Ferguson on the new Management DVD launch

Penny Ferguson on the new Management DVD launch

Have you ever been expected to become a manager overnight? Or worse – have you ever expected an employee to become a manager overnight? They leave work on Friday being your best sales guy, and you expect them to come back on Monday as your best manager: with some osmosis presumably happening over the weekend. Only sometimes the process just isn’t that easy.


There are a lot of talented go-getters out there, ready and worthy of a promotion. However, just because they are worthy of a management position, does not necessarily mean they can acquire the very specific skillsets overnight. Undoubtedly they have the capability of becoming a great manager with time and training, but how many managers are actually given that training in order to help them, and therefore their team, reach that potential?


My DVD (RRP £24.99) – ‘How to be successful in your new management position’ talks you through some of the main obstacles in between you and success. I talk with new managers about how to cast aside self doubt and blind panic, and gain confidence. In the DVD I also cover how organisations work, what to expect of them, and what they expect of you – as well as talking about your performance and how to achieve your own visions with your team.


The DVD will tell you easily and precisely how to start in your new role as well as putting you on track to building a strong, committed and high performing team. For just £24.99, you will gain confidence in the knowledge that you can become the sort of manager everyone wants to work with. Whether you buy this because it will help you in your new role as manager, for your own personal development or for your staff’s benefit; it will lead you towards success. You can buy it here.

Management help DVD

My DVD is on sale now and highly recommended for your newly appointed managers.

My organisation, The Living Leader has changed the lives of over 35,000 people around the world and has had a significant impact on the business performances of those I’ve worked with including companies like Argos, Metrobank, Sage and more. To see how I can help you, please get in touch.