Please forgive me the formality of this mode of communication. But, since I couldn’t give you my half-year report in person as planned, I had to commit words to paper. Well, to screen, if we’re being picky.
And, since I’m addressing this report to you (small companies like FW can do any kind of interim report – or none – of course, so I can write what I like), then I think I should be picky, don’t you? After all, pickiness is one of the things I’ve always valued in your business advice. Doesn’t sound like a compliment, does it? But actually, your skill was in knowing what to be picky about – and what should be left well alone. It’s one of the lessons I learnt from you this half-year, when considering how to get the best out of our virtual team.
You said, “the question to keep in mind is – what will an intervention achieve? If nothing, then not intervening may well be the best course. You must consider doing nothing as one of your options.” As a natural intervenor, doing nothing is a real challenge for me, as you well know! But from now on I will always consider it as one of my potential courses of action. And when I do, I’ll think of you.
So what else did I learn in these six months from managing the Falcon Windsor Corporate Reporting team? You asked me to think about it, and to consider what we’d do the same and differently next year.
The most important thing I’ve learnt – and it won’t surprise you – is that with the right people, you can make anything work, however difficult (or easy, for that matter). But everyone talks about ‘the right people’ – what does it really mean?
I think it means something different for every business. For us, it’s meant, and will continue to mean, two things. First, everyone has to be extremely good at their job – and it’s not a given, actually. People aren’t always as good as they seem (and sadly, sometimes you have to learn the hard way, as you told me earlier this year). But when you find those great people, it’s a blessing.
Second, every single person on a project must be utterly committed to doing the best quality job for the client. That sounds like marketing speak, doesn’t it? Everyone says stuff like that. But only some people truly get it, and, as you advised, they’re worth holding out for.
And what is ‘it’? ‘It’ means feeling, and acting, as if you’re personally responsible for the whole project, the whole end result, not just the bit of it you’re doing. I have to feel like that of course – after all, it’s my job to! – but what’s been so inspiring in the past six months is the realisation that the others feel like that too.
An unexpected lesson has been that a virtual team doesn’t run itself. Somehow, I thought that expanding to eight or ten people would just be more of the same but a bit bigger, but it’s not. You said “estimate how much of your time it’ll take and then triple it”. You were right! There’s a natural glue that comes from sitting in the same room that just doesn’t happen if you don’t consciously replace it. However well you know other people, and however much you respect them; however good the plan is or efficient the project manager: nothing replaces just listening and talking to your colleagues – just as nothing will replace listening and talking to you.
So we’re doing two things – creating time just to chat as part of every project, and (this one’s for you, Neil), arranging a monthly drink for any of the team who’s around and wants to come along. We’ll start it off at our annual team gathering later this month.
Hang on a minute, I hear you say – what about the figures? I was forgetting for a moment that you were an accountant before you ran Interbrand. Well, put it this way, my accountant is delighted. And that’s good enough for me.
It was a great first half – and that’s in no small way thanks to you, for always being on the end of the phone, in the Delaunay for a coffee (tea for me), at the Covent Garden Hotel bar for something stronger. And also, I should say, because the advice you gave me was always spot on.
Interim reports have to look to the second half too though, don’t they? And you really set me a challenge there, Neil!
The day of your funeral, our fellow Dark Angel, Jonathan Holt, wrote to me from North Carolina (he’s living in the middle of a wood there, did you know?). He passed on a message that his father had written to him: “We take for granted tomorrow will come on schedule just as all our yesterdays did. Even though we know down deep that our occupancy of these bodies has an expiration date… We need to love, be loved and make a difference while we can.”
This message has been at the back of my mind these past two months, as the team has pulled together to keep me going and to keep all our projects on track. I’ve realised that, while it’s principally a personal message, it’s highly relevant to Falcon Windsor as a business as well.
I set up Falcon Windsor – and my team members joined – because we all wanted to do our best work with people we respected and liked. Not just each other, but our clients too. And that to me is the work equivalent of ‘love, be loved, and make a difference’.
Looking back at the first half, I’d say we’ve done that. And we aim to continue to do so, for the second half and beyond.
Let it be our tribute to you, who loved, was loved, and made a difference.
In memoriam Neil Duffy – advisor, writer, Dark Angel.
31 March was Falcon Windsor’s half year. On 30 March, Neil took me for a drink to celebrate the corporate reporting team’s excellent first half, and we arranged to meet two weeks later to start looking at the 2018 business plan. On 1 April, Neil had a heart attack and died.