Everyone needs a Shirley

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Edinburgh combining business with pleasure. It is a wonderful city, will one day have one of the most expensive trams in the world and sadly a very large number of beggars.

One of the more pleasurable events was dinner with Richard Lambert and his wife Renee Mackay. It is not often we get together as authors of Enterprise Britain so it was a great opportunity to catch up.

We talked at length about his great book ‘The Devil’s Deal’, murder mystery business novel. I was keen to try to get out of Richard how much was based on real experience and I am happy to report that at least the murder was complete fiction. The rest you will have to figure out for yourself when you read the book.

During the conversation we got onto training, as this is what Richard does in between writing blogs and books. One person in our party had been a manager of a large department in a major organisation, and little or no financial background. However she did have responsibility for a large budget so was ‘invited’ by the Finance Director to a training session on SAP which the organisation uses to manage its finances.

An issue was raised during the training session by the Finance Director and our friend was asked how she would address it. She said “I ask Shirley”. Now Shirley was her contact within the finance department who was worth her weight in gold to our friend in managing the budget.

The answer drew laughter from the trainees, but did not really amuse the Finance Director. He wanted the manager to deal with the system personally. This begs the question why you would even offer support from the finance department and actually detracts from the managers strengths and focusses on their weaknesses. The Finance Director was very short sighted.

As our businesses grow we get more people and we need to rely on people who have strengths we do not possess ourselves. This requires trust, but even more important, it requires that we allow people in our organisations to develop strengths beyond our own. It is easy to see with a trade – never ask me to do any plumbing or carpentry, you would regret it – and often less easy in a business. Many of us think we know about marketing for example, but in nine cases out of ten we are simply projecting our own tastes on the market.

So we all need a Shirley and having good Shirleys will only benefit you, even if Shirley is really called Dimitri.

Thanks for a great dinner Renee and Richard.

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