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Successful careers; to plan or not to plan?

A recent report suggests that CFOs consider that young consulting and finance professionals don’t plan their long-term career properly.

But are careers better for being carefully constructed at the outset or is an element of serendipity important?

Have you noticed that when very successful senior people talk about their career they often say the same things?

1. Someone – usually a parent or close relative – said or acted in a way that spurred them on

• “My father told me that there was nothing a man could do that a woman couldn’t”

• “My mother wasn’t allowed to go to university”

• “I didn’t want to end up like my dad”

2. They remember a teacher or other adult authority figure who inspired them, supported them or simply stopped them from throwing away an opportunity.

3. They recall a particularly demanding manager who frustrated them, and reminds them how not to behave now that they are the boss

4. They believe it is ok to make mistakes; but to learn from them. And ‘fessing up is the only way forward!

4. They acquire and very much value a mentor

5. They admit they didn’t have a plan; it “just happened”.

These comments are crucially important because they evidence the self-awareness and “common touch” that is pivotal to senior level success.

However, the reality is probably somewhere in between; success didn’t really “just happen”. The person worked hard, raised their profile, found themselves “in the right place at the right time” and acted on it by taking up a challenge; be that a move to a role they are not sure they were fully qualified for, a significant relocation or cultural change, or investment in a new qualification or technical specialism.

All successful people mention the how important support, sponsorship and teamwork have been; that they are keen to “give back” by championing others coming up the ranks, and that they have learnt the value of personal reward beyond the financial or hierarchical.

Do you agree? If not, why? What is your experience?

35,000 jobs to be lost in the public sector alone. Redundancy and the psychological impact on the individual.

It’s a plain fact that it’s not viable for a business to employ a constant number of staff. When things are going well, hiring is a key strategy so that a business can keep up with its customers’ demands. But when a business is hit hard – for instance, with increased competition, falling profits, a takeover or an economic downturn – redundancies often need to be made. When talking about redundancy, one’s attention is generally drawn to ‘the state of the economy’ but what about the psychological impact it has on the individual?

Some individuals are able to cope surprisingly well with redundancy; they can rationalise it as a normal part of life and see it as an opening to explore new opportunities and experiences. Others, however, find themselves and their lives around them devastated. Reports show that many individuals manifest behaviour similar to that of bereavement: shock, disbelief, anger, denial, and depression. We spend so much of our time at work that our job becomes part of our identity, so it’s hardly surprising that individuals feel a loss when faced with redundancy. Given that many psychologists claim that we all have autistic tendencies, the change and instability that comes with redundancy is undoubtedly daunting. If put in this situation, the majority of us would worry about how to provide for ourselves and our family. Moreover, how difficult might it be to find a new job? This question is particularly pertinent for older individuals.

And what about ‘the survivors?’ The impact on those who manage to escape redundancy is often overlooked. Remaining employees often feel guilty, unmotivated, at a loss because they’ve lost valued work colleagues, or fearful for their own job. According to a survey carried out by the CIPD, 20% of workers are worried about losing their jobs. Conversely, the survivors sometimes feel envious of their ex-colleagues’ new-found freedom. Making staff redundant is the hardest element of managing staff but it would be a mistake to think that having made the redundancies, the job is done. The key to good management is to deal with the process more holistically, considering not only the victims of redundancy, but those left behind – if these members of staff aren’t well managed, a business may well see detrimental effects on its productivity and find itself in a catch 22 situation.

In my opinion, the psychological impact of redundancy is grossly underestimated. It’s the typical and deep-rooted British attitude of “one mustn’t grumble” that needs to be contended with here. We shouldn’t act like redundancy is easy, sweeping it under the carpet and feeling embarrassed about our emotion towards the situation. Instead, individuals need to be reassured and supported through the change. They need to be reminded that it’s the job that has been made redundant, and not the person. Moreover, they should remember that they’re as good as they were the month before the changes were announced. After all, redundancy is generally a cause of factors beyond an individual’s control. Most importantly, individuals affected by redundancy should focus on turning an apparent setback into a triumph; who knows what heady heights they may be able to reach, once they’ve overcome the hard bit – obtaining a new role…

You’re fired!

Here at BLT, we’re doing the office Apprentice Sweepstake. 15 employees, 15 candidates, £2 per head to play. The 15 of us playing have each picked a candidate out of a hat and whoever’s candidate wins the apprentice, wins the money. Ok, so it’s only £30, but it’s not about the money, it’s about the victory! A bit of friendly competition perks us up mid week and we love a bit of a debate on who’s hot and who’s not…

Who do you think will win? We’re halfway through the series and we’re all still sitting on the fence a little. Would you hire any of them? Again, we’re unsure. My candidate is Tom Pellereau – the quirky inventor. He’s the one that tried to steal a barbeque, the one that has lost the most tasks, the one that puts his hand up in the boardroom when he wants to speak to Lord Sugar… But… could he be the dark horse in the competition? I’m hoping so. He’s certainly come up with some good ideas and has made some very valid points, albeit unheard by the rest of the group. But is he good enough to win? Even if he’s not successful, I’ve enjoyed watching him – he seems like a nice guy; someone that I would enjoy working alongside.

Watch this space – whoever’s candidate wins shall be blogging!

Boosting your Digital Business

As you all know, the team at BLT Towers considers itself relatively savvy when it comes to social media. Whether willingly jumping in head first or through gentle coercion we try and ensure that every consultant engages in the online sphere. According to the Evening Standard, from learning about the death of Osama Bin Laden, to discussing royal bridesmaid Pippa Middleton’s derriere, social media is revolutionising the way we share news, ideas and opinions. At its peak, Twitter was carrying 5,000 tweets a second about Bin Laden and nearly 4,000 a second during the royal wedding. Clearly then, social media has gone mainstream and the question long ago stopped being whether or not to join the conversation, but how to strategically use the content.

Creating a profile on LinkedIn or a community page on Facebook is no longer enough to keep you in the game, nowadays the focus is on driving traffic to your page and ensuring search engine optimisation. It’s often difficult to make sense of the vast mass of opinions out there; however, tracking online conversations and shaping discussions can not only promote your brand but also highlight your positioning within an arena as a key influencer. A survey carried out last October by Corporate Insight showed that several leading firms, including a number of FTSE listed asset managers are now actively engaging in the digital world, using their company Twitter profile to offer customer services and answer questions.

Despite this growing trend to advertise and engage, some are still wary, arguing that for the effort required it produces limited return. Few have developed metrics for measuring the success of tweeting and LinkedIn activity and as such there is a camp that stalwartly refuses to engage. I can proudly admit that although we are by no means experts in the field, the majority of us at BLT are not in this camp and we’re optimistic about the phenomenon and willing to at least experiment with it. As such, here are our top tips to maximise your LinkedIn power and your Twitter potential…

• Tailor your Profile: It’s like an online CV, keep it updated and use key phrases
• Be Proactive: Join groups, make introductions and address potential business associates directly.
• Utilise your Company Profile: Whether on Twitter or LinkedIn post jobs, pose questions and create conversations
• Link to other Media: Blogs and YouTube add another dimension to your online presence
• Be Strict and Selective: Only follow or connect with people you want to work with. Your connections say a lot about you.
• Listen to Feedback: You can receive some of the most useful criticism by searching on
Share: Whether it’s a “RT “or a “Like” it’s online etiquette for showing your support and agreement

Burgeoning economies; BRIC, CIVETS and WOMEN!

Acronyms abound in discussions on emerging economies: Brazil Russia India and China are an instantly recognisable BRIC and to those in the know, CIVETS are Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa.

WOMEN of course is not an acronym, I’m using capital letters to acknowledge an economic power that is both closer to home and more universal in its impact. It’s not new either, but it’s only just being properly recognised and evaluated.

As part of investigations into the wider diversity agenda, several analyses have indicated that ‘womenomics’ is a force to be reckoned with. In her iponymous paper,
Kathy Matsui, managing director of global investment research at Goldman Sachs, suggests that raising women’s employment levels could drive GDP growth by 15% in Japan, and that rising gender equality will also boost many of the BRIC and CIVET economies.

Closer to home Annabel Smith, head of diversity in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Morgan Stanley, says that increasing numbers of women in the client-side commercial arena demands an equivalently diverse response from the services provider side. There’s increasingly acknowledgement that new business can be lost by a team that is appropriately representative. On the domestic front, women as a consumer force is already well understood. In the UK women control spending on 80% of food and 51% of household goods; the retail therapy syndrome is key to the luxury brands market, and women even control 40% of purchases of men’s clothes. Superdry, Burberry and Tesco come to mind as notable beneficiaries of this phenomenon.

At the end of the day, even the most diversity-cautious amongst us must acknowledge that it’s all just about optimising shareholder value, isn’t it?

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