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    5 things I’d tell my corporate self

    Mark Fells

    19 Feb 2024

    I’ve been lucky enough to have had a fantastic corporate career; I’ve spent over 25 years in commercial roles with some of the biggest and most iconic brands, so it’s no great surprise that I’ve learnt a lot along the way.

    That being said, the biggest learning curves in my career have come with running a consultancy business over the last five years. And it’s taught me some fundamental things I wish I’d known sooner.

    While everyone’s different, there are a few things we can all draw on to improve efficiency – both for ourselves and our organisations. So here are the top 5 things I’d go back and tell my corporate self.

    Speed - always ask how you go faster

    The corporate world has clear timelines; financial years, budget quarters, headcount restrictions etc. Even at a senior level, you still ‘have’ to pay heed to these timelines. So it’s critical to ask how you go faster than those constraints so you can effectively shift gear. This is easier to achieve than you might think. We’ve helped forward-thinking clients streamline their processes and ways of working to break away from these constraints; this generates energy, momentum and drives competitive advantage.

    Experiment - in every way you can

    Experimentation is the accelerator pedal that allows you to go fast – safely. Which is why you need to work out the smallest and quickest way you can test something. Build hypotheses with clear, irrefutable measures, and get tests live. In my corporate life, I saw far too many ‘strategic initiatives’, 5-year plans and big schemes. None of them delivered as fast as incremental testing does.

    Be humble- don't get lost in your job title

    I always prided myself on being pretty down-to-earth as a corporate leader. But big businesses and titles drive core organisational behaviours. Structures often remove you from the coal face. Which is why I wish I’d made much more time to seek out opinions and expertise so I could think about new perspectives. Remember you’re paid to make decisions, not be better than your team at their job.

    Recognise your limitations - be a GP

    There’s a corporate myth that I now recognise many leaders subscribe to; you have a team, you have a budget, so you should be able to do everything.

    I've come to a very different conclusion now. And it’s a bit outside the box, but it works.

    A corporate leader should be more similar to a GP in medicine. They should recognise there’s a problem and understand which area the problem is found in, but they shouldn’t expect to fix it alone. More support is required, and you may need a specialist to find a tailored solution.

    Bring in experts - when you need them

    Once you start thinking like a GP, you recognise that you need experts on board. I wish I’d recognised that more, and realised that this was the fastest way to deliver. Having senior in-house generalists is key, but finding the right experts to support your organisation is essential. Real specialists, used when you really need them, can unearth and fix problems in a very cost-effective way.

    Building momentum for better results

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It’s all too easy to look back at what we could have done better, or things we should have thought about at the time.

    Running a consultancy puts these experiences into perspective. The corporate world has its limitations, but by staying humble and doubling down on speed, experimentation, limitations and expertise, you can create the conditions for success.

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