As self proclaimed Queen of Culture at SK Chase I was feeling rather smug when I arrived for Julie Grieve’s recent talk on How to Avoid Toxic Teams. “It’s not really relevant for us” was my remark to Steph as we made our way to the Morton Fraser Business Women’s Network event. After all our culture is our core asset; we’ve invested our hearts and souls into creating an environment that inspires, supports and promotes personal and professional growth.  I’m fascinated by the psychology of business; the feelings within business and how they contribute to our successes (and failures); and I am in love with creating a space for amazing opportunities enabling people to live their purpose.

So I was surprised when I felt my smugness evaporate only for alertness and discomfort to take its place as I listened to Julie and recognised small but significant signs of toxicity that I had created in recent days.

Under pressure

Our system rebuild project has reached a climax and we are at the critical stage of implementation. As with any big project, it requires all hands on deck and interdependence within the team. We are being tested in many areas of our business; functionality, capability, capacity and of course whether we can truly live our values when the going gets tough.

A few days ago I sent a long (for me) detailed (for me) and angry (for me) email to the project team (made even more frustrating due to typing it with one finger on a smart phone whilst being driven to the airport). The email was thinly veiled as ‘sharing my truth’, though in reality it was a bollocking. So when Julie touched upon how management by email simply doesn’t work, my sideways glance at Steph was met with a knowing smile.

Julie reminded me that one person’s unacknowledged and unfair behaviour gives permission to others to show up the same way. So when I act out of alignment with our core values (which for us are to be true, courageous and fair to all) I’m saying to others that it’s okay. And it’s not.


I’m reminded of Jim Collins observations on Leadership in his fabulous book Great by Choice; he explains (paraphrased) that it’s only possible to tell how great a leader is when the going gets tough. In good times it’s difficult to distinguish an average leader from a great leader, it’s only when the business is faced with big challenges that the true leader prevails.

I believe the same is true of a company’s values – it’s easy being true courageous and fair when everything is flowing along nicely. Can I still consciously choose to be true, courageous and fair when we are in the midst of a pressure point?

I wasn’t being the best version of me when I sent out that email to our team and had I taken a step back and used our values as a context, I would have chosen an alternative route.


I’m at an interesting stage in my career right now as Steph and I have visions for our ‘next phase’ and we’re encouraging our team to step up and run our business.

So Julie’s final point rang so true for me; if your team can’t perform without you, it’s impossible to get promoted. That applies to Steph and me too. Unless our team has the capability and confidence to perform without us, we won’t get to be the fullest expression of ourselves and realise our big vision.

In other words, I have to get out of the way (my own way AND the team’s way!).

We have the most amazing people in our business and when I do remember to sit back and consider what we’ve created together I feel huge pride and immense gratitude towards every single person that has contributed to making SK Chase the great place to work that it is. We have all the right people on the bus – and they’re nearly all sitting in the right seat (that’s another story for another blog post). Thank you, Steph, Kate, Heather, Dani, Jan, Ben, Catharine, Jon and Linda for being who you are and accepting me as I am and being committed to creating the culture we love.

Ben inspired me the other evening when he shared with Steph and me “‘I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and show myself what I’m truly capable of”. Well, Ben, so am I!

It’s time to embrace it all – and live the lives our dreams are made of.



P.S. I admire women (and men) who have the courage to stand up in front of an audience and share their personal experiences in business; thank you, Julie, for taking time out of your diary to prepare and give the talk; it was a great reminder that when I think I know it all, I really don’t!

Julie can be found on Twitter @juliegrieve



News in May


Each function manager is in the process of putting together a new vision for their functions. A vision is a clear picture of the future, which is something that you choose to become real and when painted properly, conjures up positive emotions and feelings. Our visions help us to plan for the year ahead and should be something to strive towards as well as something to be now.

Dani our sales manager has come up with the vision: ‘to be the source of creating a pistachio journey’. Take a read of Dani’s recent blog post to find out more about what a ‘pistachio journey’ means.

Management Accounts

We are already 6 months into our 2012/2013 financial year so finance has been busy putting together the second quarter’s management accounts as well as our net profit forecast review. The second quarter’s management accounts are a great check in to see how we are doing compared to our budget.


We are very proud of Catharine who completed the Rat Race Dirty Weekend in 3 hours 31 minutes and 4 seconds, completing 20 miles and 200 obstacles. She came 56th out of 2902 people!

And watch out for…

Our new look ‘Just three things’ email, which marketing has been working on to improve.

And remember to watch out for our first inforgraphic which will be introduced very soon…

I’m currently attending “B-School” with Marie Forleo which is an online business school for entrepreneurs that want to set up an online business. It was sponsored by SK Chase as part of my personal development! Thank you Kaye & Steph 🙂

In one of the modules, Marie Forleo shares the importance of providing an experience to your customers at every touch point in your business, from Customer Service through to Sales, instead of just providing a service. Marie Forleo does exactly that; the moment you log into B-School there’s a big picture of her smiling at you and welcoming you to the program. There’s personalised e-mails and videos that reflect her personality. The Sales Material before enrolling to B-School is colourful, funky and fun and has pictures of her in there too. Even though Marie Forleo herself wasn’t present apart from a couple of live Question & Answer calls, she was present all the way through B-School via her branded material. WOW! When I think of Marie Forleo, I think of Fun, Hip, Smart and Savvy. I immediately feel like that too when doing B-School without even having met Marie. She definitely provided a cool and hip experience for me!

We recently had a “Setting Free” workshop where we discussed how we want to set ourselves and our customers free in the future, since setting free is our vision, as well as our intent in business. Setting free to us means “Being the source of making things easier, enabling ourselves and others to do what we love.” One of the things we discussed in our workshop was that we don’t just want to provide a ‘vanilla’ service (average service) to our clients we want to be the ‘pistachios’ in our business (excellent & unique in our own way). We identified some of the areas in our business of how we can be more pistachio and less vanilla and over the next few months are working on bringing more of our nutty side, ahem, our pistachio side into the business :-). Watch this space!

So what does it take to be a pistachio and provide a pistachio experience to our customers rather than just providing a vanilla service?

When I think of providing a vanilla service, I think of it as a transaction or an exchange. It’s a bit boring, bland without fun or personality. We’re just doing what it says on the tin. You want something, I’ll give it to you! 🙂 (Sounds a bit like a Neanderthal)!

However providing a pistachio experience means being quirky and fun, it means thinking outside of the box and doing things differently. Providing our customers with more than just what it says on the tin, exceeding expectations and bringing our personality into the business. This is what makes us unique and sets us apart!

It’s a bit like thinking of it in a Disney kind of way and sending our customers on an adventure 🙂 All of the sudden I think of myself more than just being a Sales & Distribution Manager, I think of myself as a “Creator of an Experience” for my customers. How exciting! I think about how I want my customers to feel at every touch point!

DaniSo whilst we are turning ourselves into pistachios over the next months and looking at the different areas of our business on where we can be more of “us”, I want to leave you with a quote from Sally Hogshead from How to Fascinate  “You don’t learn how to be fascinating, you unlearn how to be boring…and I’ve changed that to “you don’t learn to be a pistachio, you unlearn how to be a vanilla 🙂

Pistachio Greetings from SK Chase!

News in April

What a team! 

Check out one of our team shots from last month’s photo shoot by Marc from Klaklak – what a lovely team we make (if we do say so ourselves!).


We’ve been using the individual photos taken for our Linkedin profile pictures and on other relevant places, such as Skype.  As well as updating the photos, the team have been spending some time on Linkedin,  so that we can start sharing our interesting blogs, updates and more.

Check out our sales manager Dani’s Linkedin profile here. And a few other people who you may recognise, our client services manager Jonathan and service delivery manager, Ben.


Kaye, Steph and Linda are attending a Masterclass on ‘Building Sustainable Growth in the Current Climate’ with Darren Shirlaw, founder of Shirlaws on Tuesday 30th April. They are looking forward to the masterclass, as Kaye shared that she always leaves these workshops energised and inspired.


The finance function is having a bit of a revival. Kate has organised a training plan so that the finance team can learn new tasks and leverage their learning’s.


We’ll be introducing a monthly inforgaphic soon. Infographics are really interesting graphic representations of information, data or knowledge. We’ll be sharing the most interesting points we can find on gift vouchers, which we hope will be valuable and useful for you to know.

Watch out for our first one soon…

Fool No More

No-one knows the true origin of April Fool’s Day, but there are many possible stories claiming ownership of it.

One of the most popular is that it originated in France in the 16th century.  Historically, the New Year fell on the 25th March and was celebrated by a week-long party, ending on the 1st April.  In 1534 the French reformed their calendar and New Year was moved to where it clearly always belonged, at the start of January.  Those who failed to keep up with the change and continued celebrating New Year in April were ridiculed as fools, named as ‘Poisson D’Avril’, and were often the victims of pranks.

There are similar stories from elsewhere around Europe, and many share a common theme of fools being those who are unable to adapt to the changes happening around them, or unable to learn from their own experiences and change their behaviour.

Our team often quote Einstein’s definition of madness as ‘doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result,’ and it was the connection between this and the historical fools that helped me recognise some places where foolishness or madness were showing up for me.

Some time ago I was speaking with a friend about a business project which was proving very difficult to complete.  I had discovered that a group in the project team was approaching their role from a completely different perspective to everyone else – one specific example being that they felt their work had to be 100% perfect, regardless of how long that took to achieve.

We raised the question: Could the project ever be finished if ‘perfection’ was the context being held?  There would no doubt always be something that could be done better, so without changing the context, we would continue going round in circles and never actually complete the project.  Nothing to actually show for time and effort that went into it.

One of my friend’s suggestions was simple – rather than having perfection as the immovable, uncompromisable part of the project, why not make the end date the thing set in stone, and everything just has to be as good as it could be by then?

This seemed such a clear way to turn the tide on the progress of the project.  With an immovable deadline, and shared understanding that it meant an end to the work, there could no longer be a focus on perfection, but on reality – forcing a balance between technical excellence, and our business needs.

There were other ideas and changes which came out of that meeting and have also been put into practice, but for some reason this bit kept coming back to me.  It wasn’t until a few days later that I realised a similar pattern has been showing up for me outside of work too.

When I’m recording music, I find it almost impossible to finish anything.  My ambition far exceeds my technical ability, which means I’m never quite able to make the end product sound as good as I can hear it in my head.  At the start of writing and recording a track, I’m always fired up and full of ideas, and make loads of progress really quickly.  However, it’s the fine tuning and bringing all the elements together into a whole that I struggle with.  I can spend hours digging right down into the smallest details of the track, tweaking every little piece to try and get it to sound ‘right,’ but never getting there.

I thought I’d solved this problem a year or so ago.  I had already acknowledged that I wasn’t ever going to be able to make my music sound perfect, and should instead be satisfied with making it as good as I could.    My behaviour did change at the time, and I did finish 2 songs – a feat I’d never achieved before!  I’ve only ever abandoned tracks when I couldn’t be bothered doing anything else with them.  Unfortunately, since that short lived success I’ve fallen back into my old habits – spending hours tweaking the little bits of my songs and never finishing them.

The talk with my friend lead me to realise that acknowledging my limits was only half the answer.  And because I was still doing the same thing over and over, I shouldn’t be surprised that the result was no different.  Despite accepting that I couldn’t make my songs sound perfect, my actions hadn’t changed.  I was no longer aiming for perfection, that was true, but I was still aiming for it to be ‘the best it can be.’   As before, no matter how good I got it, there was always something I could hear that could have been better, so I continued ploughing on, loving working on it, but never making significant steps forward.

What I was missing was an end point.  A chosen date where I down tools and accept whatever I’ve got as being the best I could make it.

Realising this while already working to take back control of the business project and changing the context there, I’ve also applied the same change in my approach to music too.

One of the ways in which we measure how we’re living our values at SK Chase is by each of us choosing to take on a one-off project or personal challenge each year.  At the same time as all the above was going on in my head, I was also puzzling over what challenge I should set myself, as we’re already almost half way through our year and I didn’t want to leave it too late.

So, having learned the lessons above, the answer seemed obvious, while very intimidating!

I have chosen to complete recording the album I always intended making when I started writing these songs.  And it has to be ready by the end of our year on 31st October 2013, and there it is – officially – for the world to see! 🙂

I’ve got a headstart – there are those 2 songs in the bag I mentioned earlier, but I want at least 6 more to fill the album up.  I’ve got 6 months now in which to do it, which means one song every month.  On one hand, I do have the guitar parts of 5 other tracks ready to be recorded and built on, but on the other hand the 2 songs I do have each took about 6 months on their own before I finished/abandoned them.  So is my goal at all achievable?

Well, since all of this was going on at the start of March, and this blog was due to be published on the 1st April, I’ve had a month to test the water before I officially announced my challenge to my colleagues and the readers of this blog.  And if I needed to do one song every month, why not start there and then and do everything I could to get a song completed in time to upload and post as part of this blog?

In actual fact, and I’m not quite sure how this happened – I’ve done two!

Since this blog is already far longer than I originally intended, I shall allow the music to do the rest of the talking for me.  To listen, click onto the links below and then click onto the orange ‘play’ button. They’re both quite different (to my ears at least!) and the second track is a lot heavier than the first, but they should both be played on the best speakers you can manage and turned up loud! 😉

Changing the context, changed my behaviour and changed the outcome.


Stronger Together

The Colossus

Ben Warren

News in March…


The SK Chase team were all smiles yesterday as the marketing function had organised a photoshoot for everyone, so we can use the photos in our material, including our new website. Marc from Klaklak was our photographer. We had an awesome time and got some lovely shots of everyone!


Personal Development

SK Chase believes and invests in personal development and training and gives the team opportunities to be set free. SK Chase encourages employees to attend seminars, workshops and courses appropriate for their role and where their interests lie.

Dani has started a 7 week online business school course called B-School with Marie Forleo to learn how to build an online business. It touches on profit building, website, communication, list building, offerings and marketing and Dani is excited to be able to start applying her knowledge and key learning’s.

On a personal note…juice

Kaye and Steph went on a 4 day detox at The Raw Retreat. They drank juices only for four days and learnt all about the benefits of an alkaline diet which Kaye said was fascinating. Steph shared that it has completely changed her outlook around food, drink and exercise as a result and both of them are making informed, healthier choices because of it.


Congratulations to our office manager Catharine who came third in ‘The Demon Run’ in Glasgow last weekend and received a sparkling trophy! And she is off to try to win ‘The Mighty Deerstalker’ race this weekend – Good luck Catharine!

Linda has decided that she would like to to challenge herself physically and try something new.  So this year, it’s surfing! She’s now booked (with the rest of her family) on a 3 day surfing course at the end of May.

Happy Mums

We hope everyone had a happy Mother’s Day. Were you one of the lucky Mums to receive a lovely gift voucher? We hope you enjoy using it.

At a time where mistrust and dishonesty seem to be at the forefront of our daily news bulletins, with the world divided over the recent Oscar Pistorius murder case and afore that the Lance Armstrong drugs scandal, it seems topical to talk about culture and transparency.

Lance Armstrong denied taking performance enhancing drugs throughout his cycling career. He has finally admitted to the world that in fact he did. Seven consecutive Tour de France wins were the product of a comprehensive drugs program. A drug culture that Armstrong instilled in everyone that surrounded him; the whole team. A culture. Something that was breathed and lived within the organisation; the way each and every team member behaved. A culture of mistrust and cover ups. This thing goes deeper than a few individuals. It spread like a cancer through all those that came into his contact. Lying became the norm. Is Lance now telling the truth? Who knows? All we know is that dishonesty is inherent to all he has achieved thus far.

The trouble with a small lie is that it quickly becomes a bigger lie. The trouble with a big lie is that it quickly becomes a massive lie. Once you start lying it is very hard to break yourself free, as Lance Armstrong found out.

Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day at his home in South Africa. He claims that he believed her to be a burglar and was simply defending himself. In South Africa there is a high crime rate and therefore many citizens possess fire arms. Gun crime is the norm. Would Pistorius have shot at his girlfriend had there not been such a culture of crime in South Africa? Would his story have added up had there not been such a culture of crime in South Africa? Who knows? All we know is that a life has been lost through the action of this man.

By means of these two examples, we can see the strength and depth that culture has in society today, and in these two very sad cases, the adverse effect it may have and damage it may cause. This leads us to question our culture and ensure it is a positive and enlightening, helping us to grow and develop as individuals, always seeking to better ourselves.

A clear lack of transparency is also apparent in the examples used. By not being open, responsible and communicating the truth, we leave ourselves exposed to the spiralling effect of dishonesty.

At SK Chase we hold business culture in the highest regard. We acknowledge its power and encourage each other to work and live by it. We strive for a common goal, whilst remaining true to ourselves and respecting each other.  Most importantly we trust. We are transparent.

At the dawn of his administration, President Obama opined: ‘A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.’

Wise words….