During the introduction to one of my favourite films (About a boy), there is a quote used that “No man is an island”. The main character (Will) played by Hugh Grant thinks that’s rubbish and says he’s not just an island but he’s Ibiza. Without ruining the film, he is able to be a bit of an island because he has inherited money and doesn’t need to work. In fact, he’s designed his life to be an island. It’s a great film if you can find it on Netflix or wherever. Educational and funny at the same time.

Oh, and the book is even better.

Personally, I’ve quite enjoyed my time as an island in the past year. Getting up, doing some work, going for a walk or a run, eating breakfast, then back to the computer, wearing what I like, listening to my favourite radio shows. But still working very long hours in case you’re wondering. I’m pretty sure I’ll miss aspects of the past year when we are finally back to normal in a few months’ time.

Many of you of course ran “Island businesses” before any of this began. You are the “Eltons” and not the “Ronalds” of this business world).

Your “Island business” may well be like a profitable but personal fiefdom built around the needs and wants of your customers and possibly your own. A few people might have been invited onto your island over the years but make no mistake it’s still your island. And your rules.

But if you have reached or are heading towards double figures in your team, your operations become way more complicated than that and your business’s practices and culture are affected by each and every person in it. You may be in danger of losing control of the island. Or worse, it could be drifting towards the mainland!

When someone joins your business on their first day, starts a new week or simply walks in the door for the start of a new day, they bring a set of beliefs, personal qualities, hang ups and other characteristics. A mix of good and bad.

They are who they are and the experiences they have gained. But only up to a point. Because they also have a choice to make about which version of themselves they want to be that day. The toughest businessman can be a big old softie when their 3-year-old grandchild comes round for the afternoon. People choose which version of themselves they want to be on a daily basis.

Back in the mid-noughties we nearly lost our way for a bit. As the numbers grew, one or two bad apples found their way into the barrel. The first time it happened, I became quite despondent until a bit of a turning point on a course I went to in London. The second time it happened I was ready for it.

Our most rotten apple was unfortunately the most miserable, negative person I have ever had to work with. Even more unfortunately he had (how can I put this?), an unspoken view about the minimum level of personal space required by colleagues who were always younger and of the opposite gender, that differed to the opinion of those colleagues and of socially accepted norms.

There you go, that’s about as diplomatic as I can put it.

Tackling him on the subject (after getting confirmation from said colleagues that they were not comfortable with his behaviour) was one of the trickier meetings I have had over the years!

That solved one problem but not the others he caused. His usual modus-operandi was to befriend people by identifying someone else that they could both dislike. It was a quite poisonous form of behaviour that I guess he must have learnt in the school playground. Sadly, it can be quite effective though. After all, Donald Trump became the most powerful man in the world by doing exactly that. But it must be a very sad life.

On his own he was just about manageable but when another bad apple joined that’s when the real problems started. Without going into the ins and outs of the problems that they caused, I learned some important lessons. What had worked before when we were smaller, didn’t work now we were bigger. What got me here, wasn’t going to get me there.

I had to learn new skills. In fact, it would have been handy back then if I’d completed the BackleyBlack Mindsetting programme especially the bit about Emotional IQ. Our professional exams aren’t big on emotional IQ in fact it may even be frowned upon (I’ll check the Institute handbook at some point).

I realised that the culture of the firm cannot be controlled by me. But I could encourage the good stuff, discourage the bad stuff and stamp very quickly and very firmly on the completely unacceptable stuff as soon as I became aware of it. Oh, and I could try to bring people into the firm who had the same moral standards and desire to improve as me. Although I’d thought up to that point that I’d been doing that already until that particular “misery-guts” entered my life.

That’s as much as I could do. And about as much as you can do as your firm grows. Everything else about the culture of A4G and indeed your company is all about the team and what they all make of it.

Anyway, time is getting on and the Friday night takeaway is calling. So back to the film About a boy. Later in the film, in one of the key scenes in a restaurant, Will says:

“Some men are islands, I’m a bloody island, I’m bloody Ibiza”.

Of course, the point of the scene as realised by everyone present is that he’s wrong.

Very few people manage to be islands and when they do, they’re more likely to be the Isle of Sheppey than Ibiza. No offence if you live in Sheppey.

So now we’ve established that you’re not Bloody Ibiza, which version of yourself are you going to be next week?

Have a good weekend.

Contact me today!

Malcolm Palmer


Managing Partner

01474 853856

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