The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Fire Safety and Your Role

By Julie Richards, on behalf of Stanley Security Solutions

Under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, employers of virtually all non-domestic and licensed, multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are responsible for undertaking, or identifying a person / company to undertake, a fire risk assessment of the premises upon which the fire protection measures are based.  

It is very clear that the safety of all the individuals that person is directly or indirectly responsible for, including any members of the general public that may be on the premises, lies here.  The Enforcing Authority - normally the fire brigade, but it may be the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) or the local authority - has the power to ensure that this responsibility is met and, if not, to penalise the offender, either financially or by imprisonment.  This brings into question who is competent to make such a risk assessment as well as focusing on the importance of the quality of fire protection products and services. 

Even though the legislation has officially been in force since October 2006, we are conscious there are still many businesses that are unaware of their responsibilities.  However, ignorance is no defence in a court of law and it is vital that business owners appreciate the importance of their own role in the fire safety equation. 

Stanley Security Solutions are approved by the NSI which enables us to be a third-party, certified supplier.  Our ability to identify, install and maintain the most advanced and reliable fire detection, fixed extinguishing and fire alarm signalling technologies brings our customers peace-of-mind, ensuring that everything possible has been done to protect both life and property.

Executive Briefing the facts you need to know:
  • The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order applies to virtually all non-domestic premises & licensed, multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales
  • Fire Certificates have been abolished - if you have one it no longer has any value 
  • Employers and persons who control buildings are responsible for the safety of employees or staff and are required to undertake fire risk assessments to prevent fire and actions that limit the effects of fire
  • The “responsible person” needs to appoint a competent third-party, certified company to look after life safety systems
  • You must constantly review your fire risk assessment and mitigating measures, updating if required
  • Premises covered under the legislation may be inspected by enforcement officers to ensure compliance with the law

For more information please contact Stanley Security Solutions at 0844 2540032 or via

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Critical Mass

By Chris Fletcher, Policy & Communications Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

Last week I was in the US as part of a UKTI trade mission looking at opportunities for business in New Hampshire and Boston.  It was a genuine full on experience with activity from before dawn and gone dusk, with some fantastic businesses and people met along the way. I will be writing more about this in April’s 53 Degrees as well as getting some of my fellow travellers and hosts to do the same.

What I want to focus on is the second part of the trip when we left our hosts for the first part of the week in Manchester, New Hampshire and crossed over the state line to Massachusetts for a few days in Boston and Cambridge.

We spent the best part of a day in Cambridge just across the River Charles from Boston.  Similar I suppose in a way to Salford and Manchester, except the sheer size of the Charles makes the Irwell look like a stream.

Building all through the week had been an awareness of the levels of innovation, creativity and can-do attitude that the US is known for but in Cambridge things went onto a different level completely.

Within a block or so of crossing the bridge from Boston you are in the heart of the MIT campus and Kendal Square. Microsoft has two research buildings here, Google has a building just down the road and Harvard is a stone's throw away. Scattered in between are all sorts of office block buildings with all manner of scientific sounding names and titles. It really is STEM central.

Incubator units abound, probably one of the most impressive being the Cambridge Innovation Centre, which is in the same building as the British Consulate. Spread over several floors the CIC is unlike anything I've ever seen with a mixture of small units, individual office space and communal rooms with easy in easy out terms. At first glimpse some of this looks like complete anarchy and you do wonder if you haven’t stepped into Animal House. However it was in this building that Google first developed an Operating System called Android, you may have heard of it. The CIC also has venture capital investments of $5bn in it helping generate the businesses and technologies of tomorrow.

The group attended the regular weekly networking session held there called Venture CafĂ© which is based around the “bump” theory ie you never know who you will bump into. I got talking to a number of the people working in the building and time and again they said the same thing it is all about knowing that within a short distance are some of the brightest brains on tap to help solve problems and some young people with an already frightening level of real world experience. One business owner said he frequently “borrowed” MIT students to do bits of work in their spare time in between lectures. So they would basically pop in for a couple of hours do a bit of coding or whatever then nip back across the road.

It would be easy to see this as a form of experiment, but it isn’t, it’s real life and it’s happening.

We do some good things in the UK and in Manchester but this is on a different level. Development on this scale doesn’t happen overnight this has taken a good number of years to take root. Its origins were in the 1960s space programme when the site was being developed as the home of Mission Control for NASA, which eventually went to Houston but left a legacy of technology.

Whilst some funding is needed this really is raw entrepreneurial evolution and power let loose and unfettered. The challenge is working out how we can benefit from this. It has developed a critical mass with no signs of slowing and make no mistake there are opportunities to be had. We may just have to learn the rules for playing in an environment where there doesn’t seem to be any.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Joining the BYOD Party?

By Andrew Roberts, Managing Director, Pennine Telecom.
BYOD is the acronym de jour in the communications world. Both private and public sector organisations are looking at the benefits, or otherwise, of Bring Your Own Device. BYOD does as it says on the tin: staff and visitors bring their own smartphones, laptops or tablets to access the internet or emails using a wi-fi network you provide. It’s something people increasingly expect to be able to do in coffee shops, hotels and, now, workplaces.
For an employer BYOD can certainly bring benefits. Your staff may adopt a flexible work style where work becomes an anywhere, anytime activity and can enhance productivity and increase collaboration with colleagues and clients. Because they’re using their own technology staff will be familiar with the device and therefore more productive with it. It’s also something they’ve invested in and could potentially reduce your own IT spend.
Visitors too may feel warmer towards your organisation if they can check their Twitter or catch up on work emails whilst waiting in reception.
So far, so good. It’s a concept we’re all familiar with from our experiences in coffee shops or meetings in hotel lounges. They can do it, so you can too right?  Well, yes, but, like anything in business, take some time to think it through first. It’s imperative you devise an effective BYOD policy so that in providing these wi-fi freedoms and enjoying the benefits they bring, you simultaneously protect your networks and data.
Things you should consider include:
·         - Creating a separate network to host BYOD – so your corporate network cannot be compromised
·         - Installing a Mobile Device Management or Identity Management platform to automatically  control apps and devices on your corporate network
·        - Ensuring all devices are pre-approved by IT for use on a corporate network
·         - Making it a contractual policy that staff report the loss of any device so that passwords can be changed remotely to protect your corporate network
·         - Making explicit the data and documents which may and may not be held on BYOD device. In determining policy be mindful of both the legal and reputational impact of data loss. If in doubt, don’t let them take it out.
Whilst this may seem an obvious thing for me to say, the best way to ensure the pros outweigh the cons is to seek advice from a communications professional. Then you can be confident of making the right choices whilst enabling your staff, suppliers and customers to be better connected.

Pennine Telecom is a leading data and telecommunications specialist offering design and installation expertise in wired and wireless networking; traditional, internet and mobile telephony and radio systems.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Guest Blog: The Truth About Business Rates

By Chris Stern, MD Christopher Stern Associates Limited

“In May 2012, the Government announced that from April 2013 local government would be able to keep 50 per cent of locally collected business rates. 

"Since 1990 although business rates have been collected by local authorities, all of the money has gone to central government and been redistributed as grants. In Greater Manchester all but two of the authorities will lose out financially and will have to rely on the Revenue Support Grant to cover the deficit.

"If that wasn’t enough to worry about, business ratepayers should be aware that a potentially unwelcome effect of this change will be that local authorities have a renewed incentive to send out inspectors looking for unassessed improvements to properties.  Many properties haven’t been inspected for a very long time and cash strapped authorities have, for the most part, spent as little as they can get away with on a task which had no financial incentive.

"In the near future, at the worst possible time, struggling businesses may have to face unexpected increases in business rate liabilities, some of which could be substantial. Just to make matters even worse, the Government has postponed the next business rate revaluation. This will now come into force in 2017 instead of 2015.  Rateable values are currently based on 2008 rental values, which have been in use since 2010. The North-West has seen massive decreases in rents in the past 5 years, but it will be a further 4 years before the falls are reflected in business rate bills.”

Chris Stern, MD Christopher Stern Associates Limited, is a Chamber Plus approved supplier.

The Chamber Plus team has launched a brand new service: The Business Rates Audit. The audit has been designed to identify and calculate any potential overpayments in business rates, highlighted as one the biggest costs for businesses at present. The Chamber Plus team conducts the audit at the Chamber’s offices to minimise disruption, and provides you with peace of mind that all your bills are correct. If the team finds any errors, they liaise with the authorities on your behalf to recover the sums quickly and effectively. Click here to find out more, or call the team on 0161 237 4147 to discuss further ways in which Chamber Plus could potentially save your business money.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Friday Guest Blog: No Data Backup? – The Seven Deadly Excuses

By Tracy Barlow, Director, 24/7 Uptime Ltd.

According to recent research, only 15% of businesses perform daily data backups.  Yet it can cost hundreds of pounds to recover lost data from one laptop alone, not to mention the impact this can have on sales, productivity and reputation. 

So we’ve decided to share the 7 deadly excuses we regularly hear why companies don’t back up their data effectively:

1. “It’s a new computer so it will be fine.”  Wrong.  New computers can have problems too.  One of our own brand new laptops decided to quit working with us after just 6 months.  Fortunately, we practise what we preach.

2. “I don’t have time so I’ll do it tomorrow”.  As we all know, tomorrow never comes.  Unfortunately a disaster is likely to strike first.  And recovering from that is REALLY time consuming.

3. “It’s never crashed before so it’s a pretty rare problem isn’t it?” You only need it to happen once.  To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, once may be regarded as a misfortune; twice definitely looks like carelessness.  That’s if your business survives the first time round of course.

4. “I’ve heard it’s really expensive.”  It’s more expensive not to protect your data in the first instance.  But don’t just choose the cheapest option – ask questions.  You need to ensure that your data is stored in the UK so it complies with our stringent Data Protection laws and you can easily access it in the case of a disaster; and do check what customer service you will get in the event of a problem - that you have ‘real people’ to deal with, not just an email address or web site login.  Good customer service will be really vital when the chips are down, as well as fast and simple data retrieval.

5. “I back up to an external hard drive/disks/tapes.”  Unfortunately they can fail too.  And you don’t want to wait until you’re trying to restore data to find this out. One contact thought she was backing up to her hard drive every day.  Except she wasn’t.  And only realised this when her laptop was stolen.

6. “I back up to a memory stick … and take it home in my briefcase.” Or “We back up to CDs/tapes; they’re stored on top of the server.”  That’s not really very secure and they are far too easy to steal/lose/damage.  Also, be honest with yourself: do you really take a backup every day as originally intended?

7. “My computer isn’t worth much so it’s not worth backing up.”  It’s not the value or the newness of the pieces of kit that you’re protecting; the value of your backups is in the data.  Just 1Mb of data can be worth tens of thousands of pounds.

Our suggestion is that you take a serious look at the importance of your data and how you currently back up and protect it.  Different data has different values to different people and organisations.  Then try to assess what will happen to your business if the data is lost, corrupt or takes an age to restore.  What impact will it have if you can’t access data for a couple of hours, days, weeks or forever?  What will happen to your sales, cash flow and customer satisfaction levels? 

Data backup should be an important part of your business continuity plans, not a distress purchase.  So make sure you choose the right backup partner and the right backup system for your business.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Mentoring Matters

By Peter Heginbotham OBE

In my own career I never had any formal mentoring except within my own firm (I still visit my two early mentors who are both aged 90 now!) As I went through a transition 20 odd years ago from being a commercial lawyer to running the firm, I learned on the job, always a risk, and also from mixing with all the people I came to know on the Boards of the Chamber of Commerce, Manchester Solutions and various other bodies. I learned a lot from them, whether from big companies or small. I came to realise how lucky I was to get a much broader experience than the daily grind of work could ever give me. The outside perspective made a huge difference to the way I ran the firm, and to my own career; indeed my work in semi-retirement (so-called!) is now a broadly based non-executive role.

A couple of years ago I decided I should put something back by becoming a volunteer mentor. I have worked with three businesses in that time and although all three tasks are formally completed, I am still in regular contact with the MD of one of the businesses whom I’m now helping on a new project. I found it a rewarding experience as all three businesses had very different aims and objectives, strengths and weaknesses. Also, they all came from different sectors; but, of course, many business problems and opportunities are just the same regardless of whether you grind out gadgets or supply services.

It’s important that as a mentor you never, or rarely, advise. The mentee will know his or her sector and employees better than you. The trick is to ask questions. “Why do you do it that way?” or “Have you thought of …?” This makes the mentee step outside him/herself and think again. He or she may still do the same as they first intended, but at least they have thought about it laterally. I equate it to being a football club chairman. The one who tells the manager to play 4-4-2 or to pick someone different at left back is a poor chairman. The one who gently asks: “Why do you play 4-3-3?” or “Have you thought of strengthening the left side?”, but then leaves it to the manager, is much more likely to be effective.

It’s fulfilling work being a mentor and worth the time and effort.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Friday Guest Blog - Is a Manager born or made?

By M Lento, Manager of Management and Leadership Programmes, MOL Training

Time and time again this question pops up in discussions with other managers – “Is a manager born or made?” Although there are several perspectives on this – perhaps mine differs due to transatlantic experience working and training managers globally.

There are many theorists who say that becoming a manager is developmental. You identify a way of working, learn enough supportive knowledge, gain some experience and utilise “best practice” in managing others, resources and finances.

I am convinced it’s innate ability for some. There are managers who are born to manage and lead and there are others who need/have to learn the skills of being a manager.

Over thirty years of management consultancy work and training has revealed a pattern to me regarding those naturally inclined managers. Those with the natural ability to manage and lead have an inbuilt mechanism to do so without any coaching or mentoring; without guidance and without any intrinsic struggle. It seems to be part of their self-realisation process. What they put into practice at a young age appears to carry through into their teenage years and through their adulthood.

This innate ability makes them different – they stand out at a young age. Others may realise their ability – even though academically they may be only average or even below average. However, through personal development, reading, experiential knowledge, they soon catch up and surpass the brightest once they realise they have a talent for “managing.” Sometimes those young leaders later surpass academically their peers – to the chagrin of others. I have also found that those who do not pursue the academic route – are driven on by collecting a series of relationships, mentors and a wide range of experiences – giving them a foot up to their educational driven counterparts.

There are six essential components obvious in the identification of these “natural leaders” which need to be explored more fully to determine whether it may be part of their DNA. The “SEPAN” theory has been based on the accumulation of my observations, interviews, discussions and results. It began over thirty years ago in the USA and is still under scrutiny since I began working at MOL Training in Manchester, training managers in management and leadership. “SEPAN” is:

• Sibling Position

• Experiential Awareness

• Personality and other Determinants

• Assimilation Assessment

• Natural Skills

Sibling Position

Confirmed by child psychologists in the 1960s – the first sibling is usually the most interactive of all children because the “eldest sibling” learns to manage and lead (for better or worse) the rest of his/her siblings at a very young age. They are extroverted and are more amiable to sharing information without hesitation. Unlike their counterpart – the “only child” who is very narcissistic and has little empathy for others or realisation of the impact of decisions – the “eldest child” manager recognises team spirit and instant problem solving focusing on people.

Experiential Awareness

The eldest sibling has the uncanny ability to be very “pragmatic” about their approach in getting things done – especially when there is a tribe of others to manage. As the individual matures – a series of responsibilities and decisions have to be made to protect their “peanut gallery of siblings” – often taking blame for others with a holistic, longer term view. Their sensible role model, because of responsibility, blends into a quick development of self assurance and the ability to plan ahead, especially in relation to the future.


Depending on which neuropsychologists you follow – a manager’s personality can be identified as an individual’s unique set of abilities and personal traits which results in a “consistent pattern of thinking and behaviour” which consistently is applied over time and across many activities.

The mitigating factor is that the personality may be stable but not fixed. Their personal traits may in fact affect their behaviour including their use of “focused communications skills – a vital component in managing situations and problems in the future”. They learn early “You get more by sugar than by salt.” They also get better results by highlighting the positives before the negatives.

One of the most unique determinants is the use of the manager’s learning style, ambidexterity and multi-tasking – all second nature as they reach their early thirties (ten years ahead of their developed not so naturally included counterpart manger). They usually have a balanced 50% oral and 50% visual learning ability and seem to be able to switch their learning style to either when necessary depending on their colleagues or subordinates.

Assimilation Assessment

Another realised ability held by this type of manager lends itself to the ability to naturally plan activities in the long term in a problem solving mode which functions continuously. Experienced with managing others – their foresight has provided the skills of assessing symptoms versus problems. As one young manager said to me “when you have four siblings arguing over who started an argument – you learn to read both the body language and identify the culprit and get to the root of the issue!”

Also identified is the ability of these type of manages to be able to mentally separate out and box people and personality issues from process problems.

Natural Skills

What also intrigues me is that the “eldest child” manager operates by their own strict set of ethics and rules. They identify at an early stage what is right and what is wrong. Their reflective ability and competency to assess impact develops an inward patience – an important competency in order to holistically evaluate situations with that pragmatist approach. With it comes the skill in understanding a sense of urgency and recognising innovation is the key to problem solving.

Most are prolific readers, and utilise professional networking as a second skin of information gathering with the uncanny ability to zero in on other people’s knowledge and experiences – and evaluate, store and use this information for futurist use. When a new challenge is directed to them – they seize it.

Using SEPAN in tracking managers of both sexes and their development has led me to believe over 90% have become respected managers in their own right, rising upwards on the management ladder within companies and organisations compared to their non eldest counterparts.

Only for discussion the question remains – if this is so evident to me through professional discussion, observations, interviews and testimonials why has no one identified the importance of the “the naturally inclined” manager as an asset when looking for new talent? It’s something to think about!

MOL Training works with industry professionals to develop and deliver professional development programmes in Management and Leadership, Facilities Management, HR, Property and Construction Materials