CHRIS' Blog
Confronting Problems Effectively
2020
Delivering bad news is something I’m not great with, and being raw and honest, its probably my biggest weakness. I will always give my best to try to solve a problem, but my biggest weakness is confronting them in the first place. Unfortunately though problems are part of life and everyone will encounter them every now and again. The main thing is to limit them and to learn from them as much as possible. I’m the sort of person who always likes to feel like I’m helping everybody, particularly my customers, and I’m the sort of person who, rightly or wrongly, tends to take it personally.
Through personal experience, I feel it’s important to raise this topic, and that’s how to overcome and handle difficult situations that arise from time to time and overcoming the fear factor involved in having to deliver bad news to valued customers.
It’s inevitable that things occasionally will not go to plan, despite every effort being made to make all the processes go smoothly. For example, in the fresh poultry trade, bringing products into the UK from Poland and other places in Europe is a big task with lots of potential for problems, which are nobody’s fault.
Sometimes trucks are delayed, sometimes there are breakdowns at sites, sometimes bird weights just don’t drop. The list is endless and you are relying on a lot of cogs in the wheel to turn properly. The trade is very fast moving and with fresh product, it is very difficult to put any sort of contingency plan in place at either end if there are problems. Whilst every effort is made for the process to go smoothly, things can go wrong. It then leads to the next step - how do you best manage the problems that could be caused?
I know from first hand experience, that delivering bad news to a customer or a Director is never easy, and can be a very daunting experience despite the amount of career experience I’ve had, It never gets any easier. It can also be a frustrating experience as well, especially when you are one having to pick up the pieces caused by things not going smoothly earlier on in the chain which are outside of your own control.
You have to bear the brunt of the customers frustrations. Having worked as a buying assistant as well earlier in my career, I can understand the frustrations that problems can cause, especially if they are completely depending on that delivery coming in according to plan, with no backup in place if it goes wrong.
Delivering bad news in my opinion is without doubt one of the worst things you can do, Especially when you care about your customers and the level of service you provide so much. I have found and have learned through experience and through working with others, a few points.
1) Be upfront and report any problems as early as possible. If things don’t go to plan, I’ve honestly found it best to bring it to the attention of your customer. Find out all the facts, and explain as early as you can. The earlier the issues are confronted, the more of a chance there is in being able to work together to find a solution.
2) Be sure to offer an alternative. It’s always important to be able to offer an alternative solution, even if it might not be the desired one. You should at the very least be able to offer something to offset the issues that a problem may cause, whether its a price reduction or an alternative product.
3) Learn where things didn’t go to plan and find ways to improve this area.  It’s inevitable that importing fresh poultry, or any product for that matter which is made to order and transported over a long distance, that there is large scope for error and things won't always go smoothly. Anyone who says it always goes correctly are quite frankly not being truthful. If things don’t go to plan, dissect what went wrong, and see if there are any ways at at all that the particular area can be improved. For long distance imports, more often than not it will be something that is just down to being unfortunate, such as a traffic delay, cancellation of ferries, a delay in leaving the production site. There are also legal breaks which drivers have to understandably take.
With anything that goes wrong though, there are always to at least have a look and see if things that can be improved. There is an opportunity to learn from any experience, and this is usually more important than the actual experience itself.
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Being Around Good Influences - Personally & Professionally
Throughout my career up to now, I have been fortunate enough to pick up lots of valuable experience. I use the word fortunate, as I honestly don’t think there are any experiences in life where you can’t learn something, whether it’s good or bad. You can always use any type of experience to take bits from and learn from, and as a result look to grow both personally and professionally and to be the best version of yourself.
You’ll struggle to come across a better teacher in life than experience itself, but with saying that, I’ve found that being around good people, who will help you, support you when needed, and help drive you when things are a struggle - as we will all face struggle at some point - is absolutely key.
There are a few people out there in my professional working life who I have, and continue to really look up to. I find that their ways of doing things really rub off on me in a positive and effective way and help give me that focus and extra drive that is sometimes needed.
The first job in my career, on the poultry side (besides having a paper round when I was 14) was working at Banham Poultry in Attleborough, during weekends on the factory floor, mainly in the packing and dispatch areas. This was a good first job for me as I got to learn lots about the way raw material was handled, the packaging processes, the way the product is handled through from coming out of the chiller to being prepared for delivery to the customers.
My supervisor at weekends at the time was a guy called Paul Sothcott, and he was somebody who was a really good influence on me in my early years. He was well liked by everybody, was always approachable, created a good team atmosphere and above all, the work always got done. The team was great and in that respect it was probably the best time I’ve had working at a company. He was an excellent role model for me when I started out and was somebody who you were excited to work for, and set me on a good path and who you would aspire to be like. He is someone who I owe so much to for giving me, and helping me get the opportunities in the early years - as getting given opportunities I think is one of the hardest things in life, mainly because there are so many people out there who aren’t brave enough to give them.
Of course, at a large company with so many people, its inevitable you will get all sorts of characters within the workplace. Whilst there were staff around in senior positions who were ‘old school’ in their way of leading by imposing themselves on others by asserting fear and intimidation on others, with the hope of driving them and who just had their own career interests at their forefronts.
That style of course doesn’t work with everybody. Paul was somebody who just had the natural ability of a modern day leader and was someone who was also there to support me during some difficult times personally.
Thankfully, the ‘old school’ leadership style is something that seems to be dying out, and I believe it will be gone once the remainder of the previous generation make way or retire. You don’t see many of these unapproachable people around, who don’t want to learn anymore or respect any views from others these days and I honestly think there is a way of working which doesn’t involve having to drive down other people. No matter what stage of your career or life you’re at, there is never a time to stop learning.
Of course, today in 2020, with technology, a lot has changed and has moved on much in the last 20 years, mostly for the better. As well as the Internet, Platforms such as LinkedIn, and other forms of social media can be used to network in such a positive way and provides a great tool to be able to find good influences to help you, both professionally and personally.
I’ve mentioned Stuart Webber, the current Norwich City FC Sporting Director, in some of my previous blog posts. For me, Stuart is another great example to follow for loads of people, and its good to be able to try to learn bits from people like that to implement into your own style of working. I believe a lot in what Stuart often says about creating an identity and a plan, and believing in it. I believe this is the right way to go when you’re in the working world, is to stick to your own style and beliefs, and never stop learning ways to improve the things you’re doing now.
A few others to mention, among others, who I think are brilliant examples, even though I’ve never met two of them personally, are local heroes Loui Blake, Chris Reeve and Ps. Jon Norman.
I follow Loui via social media and I’m a massive fan of his lifestyle and the way he goes about his work and tackles challenges. He sets a great example for anyone to follow. I also love the relentless positivity that Chris brings via his social media posts in what can sometimes be a really tough world.
I have been fortunate enough to meet Ps. Jon a couple of times briefly, and to play a bit of football with him a few years back, but I love how so many look up to him at the way he and his wife Chantel lead Soul Church in Norwich. His services on Sundays bring light and hope to so many, and again are a brilliant source of encouragement. I have been watching his new leadership podcasts which give great advice and guidance - particularly in such a tough period such as the one we are all going through as a world right now. I would urge anyone who is looking for some inspiration and a good example to learn from and follow, to look at these three guys.
Try to keep a good distance from anyone who doesn’t make you feel enriched and encouraged, and those who do nothing but drain your energy and question everything you do and get in the way of you doing the work that suits you best. If you believe in a vision of what you want to achieve life, stick with it, believe in it and be around those who will influence you and encourage you in the right way. I’m only 36 and have lots to learn still, but this is honestly the way I feel is the best forward…
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Supporting Each Other
Working life can be, at times, full and full of knock-backs. In this particular time, when Covid-19 has suddenly affected so many individuals and business in the Fresh food industry, its sometimes hard to know when that next opportunity will come. This of course, is through absolutely nobody’s fault, and if anything it should be praised that almost all of us are putting health before wealth, sticking with government guidance, rather than the other way around. For business though, it is nevertheless, not easy - for any of us.
Through no-ones fault, depending on your specific industry, a lot of leads and possibilities that were on the horizon are now suddenly not there. Business drops off, key colleagues and partners are getting furloughed, correspondence drops off and so on. It’s important to remember as well though that ‘to quote Stuart Webber’ - every problem can be seen as an opportunity.
I think the most important thing to remember though is that we are all in this together, and this pandemic has affected everybody’s business - in several different ways, and the best way forward is to try your best to be available and as supportive to all of clients, as much as you can.
Whilst everybody is understandably always wanting to push and promote their products and services as much as they can, I think that its also just as important during this current pandemic that more thought and consideration than ever is given to your supply partners and clients circumstances needs, other than your own. Understanding needs to be shown now, probably more than ever, and it’s important to remember that we are all in this together.
I know that support from your supply partners and clients during this period, and in fact during any tough time, does not go unvalued or unnoticed, and the main thing is that we all come through the other end of this pandemic together and ready to go again. It would be an absolute shame if any business was to cease operating because of this.
Some of the points I’ve tried to consider and apply during this pandemic are:
1) Make sure your clients and supply partners know you are always there to help, if needed.
2) Try to remember that there is every chance, due to circumstances, that your service won’t be needed currently, but just simply being available and ready to help can go a long way.
3) Show support and understanding to peoples particular circumstances.
Remember that whilst this is a testing period for a lot of us, it also can open up the possibility of new opportunities and ideas and it’s important to remain optimistic. However we are all in this together and we need to work together, and show each other understanding and support. If you go through this period only thinking about yourself, then its unlikely to stand you in good stead when this pandemic is over.
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Having Belief In The Way You Work
Several subjects have been running through my head through the last few days about what subject to write about next. One subject that kept coming up was the importance of having belief and faith in the way you work.
As someone who is still relatively young, with what I like to think are my best years still to come, we live, and work, in a very noisy world. I’m a big fan of Norwich City Football Club, and one of the people who I look up to and aspire to be like the most, is our Sporting Director Stuart Webber. He is the same age as me and has been remarkably successful in his career so far and I believe is a great example to follow, for all generations, but particularly for those of the same generation as me. I watch a lot of Stuart’s interviews and I admire the way he is so down to earth and realistic. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Stuart a couple of times, and one of his mantras is the saying “Ignore The Noise”, which is something that really hit home with me.
As I say, we live and work in a very noisy world, where everybody has an opinion. It’s very easy to get pulled from pillar to post, and to easily doubt yourself when all these opinions and ‘advice’ fly around. It lead me to a few points.
I think it’s important to find role models in work (and life in general) which you can look up to and look at the way they work and try to adopt some of their ways into your own ways of working. I think you can learn both good traits and valuable lessons, from anyone who you cross paths with in life, but It’s also important to be around people who know what they are talking about, who will help you develop in your career and who genuinely care, even if it’s a handful of people, as not everybody will be like that. There are several out there who will have their own agenda and may feel the need to make you feel small and take the value out of your ideas and methods, just to fulfil an ego.
Ignoring the noise means if you have belief in your ideas, methods, mannerisms and the ways which you go about the way you work, and it feels right for you, then have faith in it and stick to it despite all that happens around you. There will be multiple times where others knock it, or situations will make you question it. That is inevitable. But one thing I’ve learned is that the other person isn’t always right, and you should stick to and be bold about your ideas and methods and resist the temptation to change it if you don’t necessarily agree with the alternatives. By all means, listen and make considerations to what you hear, but stick to the ways you believe in. So much nowadays, is based solely on somebody else’s opinion, which it’s important to remember is just as valuable as yours.
This third point is a tough one, but also something I feel thats realistic in 2020, is that it’s important to remember that sometimes your work won’t always get the recognition or approval, because of simply who you are. There has been multiple times in my working career, and during situations in life in general, where either I’ve produced a piece of work, or carried out a task in a certain way, and it is questioned just for the sake of it being questioned because ‘Chris Newby’ did it. You see it happen with others too. Then you see someone else of a ‘higher’ standing, or someone who is maybe more established in their area, do exactly the same thing, or suggest exactly the same idea and its accepted and believed in! I think rather than a frustration, it is a further sign of why it’s important to have the belief and faith in yourself, and whatever the idea is, to stick with it, as when these knock-backs happen, it can have one of two effects. It could start to make you doubt yourself continuously and feel disheartened (like it does me sometimes), or it can drive you on and make you think ‘I’ll prove them wrong’ (which for many, is arguably the harder mentality to adopt, give all of the pressures that life throws at us). Reputations are built on time, but I also do believe that sometimes, despite how hard you work, that you need that little bit of good fortune when it comes to being noticed and getting opportunities to build up a reputation. You can have all the talent in the world, and there are so many people out there, who are amazingly talented at whatever they do but tragically never ever get given that opportunity to show the world.
Remember that everybody is different but it’s also important to remember, no matter how hard it can be in the workplace sometimes, to try to find the best way to work that suits you, and stick to it if you have a deep belief in it, as ultimately in work, and life in general, we can only be the best version of ourselves.
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My Views On Remote Working
This is one of my first ever blog posts – its not something I’ve done before, but thought I would have a go at starting one, particularly if it could possibly help others! All views are solely my own.
Upon the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, remote working was something that was suddenly forced upon so many people who could thankfully continue to operate. I can certainly see how to some, mainly those from a generation where being strictly office based is the norm, can prove to be a major change with little time to adapt. It is suddenly a huge breakaway from the usual routine. You are all of a sudden thrust into something completely new.
Personally though, and again I respect that everybody has their own way of working which suits them, which is fine. There have been so many people who I have worked with over the last 18 years, who thrive in a busy, noisy environment. They enjoy the ‘office banter’ and like having a set routine every single day. That is fine as everybody has their own way of working, which suits them and allows them to produce their best work. It is something that is to be respected, as each and every person is different.
I have found though, that working remotely continuously, for me, has so many more positives rather than negatives, particularly when your focus is on a completely different side of a business compared to the majority of your colleagues.
You can use the time spent on a morning, and late afternoon commute to put towards your work productivity instead. I’ve found it so beneficial having an extra 60-80 minutes in your day, particularly time normally spent on the morning commute to focus on answering urgent emails, getting pressing requests out of the way and being able to clear the path for your day ahead. You also don’t have the potential problem of heavy rush hour traffic and arriving to your place of work stressed out and in a hurry.
With the use of the fantastic technology that is now at our disposal, such as MacBooks, iPads, phones and even Apple Watches, it is so easy to stay constantly connected and engaged to what is going on within your respective companies and industries, wherever you are in the world, at any time. Even before the pandemic, I’m sure like many others, particularly of my generation , the whole 8-5 set working hours only really stood for time you have to be in your set place of work, whereas getting down to business always really begins when you first check your correspondence when waking up, or even getting bits done on your remote devices in the evenings. I honestly thing that the whole ‘8 till 5’ set working hours will over the next 5 years or so, be something that dies out and is fast becoming an outdated practise.
Personally, I’ve found continuous remote / home working beneficial for my confidence, and the quality of my work. We have an office at home, and I find I am much more focused and make far less mistakes in my own environment without the pressures and distractions that a busy, noisy and pressurized office environment can bring. I also find that I am a lot more confident and free flowing whilst on the phone, without loads of others around you, and without that possibility that someone may jump into your call. I find that you feel a lot freer to put your own stamp on things, and your work is a lot more enjoyable without the pressures around you to do your work in a way which may suit somebody else more than it does yourself. As somebody who can easily get distracted at times, I’m someone who feels much more comfortable working this way.
The ability to move around and adjust your working environment accordingly also has its benefits. For example, we have been fortunate enough to have some amazing (and rare) weather in Norfolk over the last few weeks. Sometimes it’s nice just to be able to adjust your surroundings and bring the MacBook or iPad outside in the garden or some outside space and continue working there. Sometimes when you need to focus on a specific task, or you are on an important phone conversation, being in an environment where you can think clearly, can be confident and engaging certainly helps, rather than having to block out continuous distractions and background noise of a busy workplace.
I’ve found that I’m a lot more happier being able to balance life and work a bit more. For example, it’s nice being able to have a quick 10-15 minutes away from your work when you need them to maybe compose your thoughts and views on a specific subject or to clear your head. You can grab something to eat as and when you feel like you need it, and feel free to do the odd job that may need doing, such as calling an energy company, pop into town for something, or sorting out an essential task, that you feel you can only do outside your ‘work hours’.
Although it’s not something that we can do safely at the moment, I also love working remotely whilst travelling to see those who you need to see in your respective industries. It’s nice, and equally important to work closer and to learn from and about those who either purchase or produce your products. It goes without saying that trying your best to look after and support your customers and suppliers is absolutely paramount and getting to travel to see them is such an important part of work nowadays for me. I am more than happy with getting up and hitting the road early, and never mind travelling back late. There are so many places nowadays where you can stop along the way to get some work done, and obviously it’s great to have the Bluetooth technology in your car so you can talk and engage with those you need to safely whilst travelling. One of my favourites is Starbucks – when travelling out of Norfolk towards London via the A14, or up the A47 to head to the North, there are a few on the way which usually aren’t to overly busy, where you can set yourself up, grab a coffee and something to eat, and get some good quality work done whilst heading towards or from your meeting.
Both continuous improvement and learning are a big thing for me and its always something I try and prioritise in everything I do. I always think that no matter what stage we are at, there is always room to continue to learn, develop and improve something. I have found that being able to work remotely in my own environment has allowed me to reflect more on how I’m doing, and to invest more time in myself when necessary, which subsequently has more of a positive effect, not just on my work, but in my life generally. For someone who was diagnosed with depression back in January, I still have a long way to go, but feel that being able to work this way currently has helped bring me a long way personally, in a short space of time.
For many employers out there, remote working is something that is still yet to be embraced, with many still stuck in 1996 where the view can sometimes be taken that if you are not at your desk, you are not working. Many even simply don’t have the belief that productivity will remain or even be increased when staff have the comfortability of working in their own environments, mainly for more established companies.
It’s interesting to see which different ways of working suit others. At the end of the day, we are all different, and what might suit somebody, may not always suit the other person.​​​​​​​