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Interview with Mike Pegg

I'm lucky enough to deal with some really smart people who are at the cutting edge of their chosen professions. On the basis that to hoard knowledge is a crime, I'm running a series of interviews to broadcast some of their ideas.

I've never wanted a job on the Today programme. The questions are designed to allow the interviewees to push out ideas rather than defend positions. Please feel free to comment.

Mike is a professional mentor and author of a number of books, including The Art of Mentoring and The Positive Planet. He has had a varied career, starting off in a factory, then becoming a marriage guidance counsellor before taking up his current calling as a mentor. Mike works with companies such as Microsoft and Sony, plus many pioneering companies in the digital marketing space.

To the interview:

Mike, you are mentoring quite a lot of pacesetters in the world of work. So I wonder if we can explore some of the themes that you meet in your work with leaders and other people in organisations. Bearing this in mind, I would like your thoughts on the following questions.

What do you see as the themes occurring in organisations?

There seem to be three kinds of organisations operating in today’s world.

a) Some organisations are making the new rules.

Some are doing pacesetting work. They are going into new lands, making new rules. People are energetic, self-motivated and working hard towards a specific goal. Their spirit is entrepreneurial. They emanate a sense of purpose – to build a new venture, launch a fresh product or win a pot of gold. Some have a sense of hubris – believe their know it all. Many are hungry to learn from any field, however, in order to gain the slightest advantage. Virtually all are goal-centred. They focus on: a) The purpose; b) The principles; c) The people who will enable them to reach the goal.

b) Some organisations are trying to squeeze what they can from the old rules.

Some are doing everything possible to make the old system work – with varying results. Some are succeeding. They are recording profits but, at the same time, may be upsetting their customers or staff. The spirit is ‘engineering’. They believe in their system and urge their people to make it work better. Many banks, insurance companies, retailers and even some software firms are taking this approach. Some organisations are failing. They are overloading their staff with targets, internally-focused activities and ‘painting by numbers’ procedures. There is little joy in such places. People turn-up for work and go through the motions. There is little vision higher up the chain. Senior managers produce many initiatives, but few communicate a compelling company ‘story’. Such senior managers are in ‘Stalin’s country’ – where occasionally one or two get taken out and shot. They may have failed to deliver; other times it can be because new leaders shoot a few people on ‘whim’.

c) Some organisations are trying to follow both the old and new rules.Some are trying to get the best of both worlds.

Building on the principles that work, they want to maintain their core offering. At the same time, however, they see the world is changing. This poses a fundamental challenge: How to keep the best of the past – yet also shape a successful future? Some organisations are taking the following steps.

• They are maintaining and improving their core business

• They are developing future business by building ‘successful prototypes’

• They are keeping these two activities separate – which allows both types of businesses to practice the principles in their own ways to deliver success.

Looking back, when have we (as an organisation) performed brilliantly? What did we do right then? How can we follow these principles in the future?

This final point is crucial. Good organisations follow their time-honoured principles. But the ways these core principles are practiced must continue to evolve. Customer service in the 21st century, for example, calls for different approaches than in the 1980s. Some organisations fail to understand such implications. So they hire enthusiastic people to build new types of businesses – then ask them to follow ancient internal procedures. Good organisations give people the accountability, autonomy and authority required to deliver successful prototypes. Such new ventures then develop the future income streams. Only a few organisations manage this balancing act. They maintain their core offerings – whilst also developing successful new businesses.

Looking at the three kinds of organisations, it is useful to know which kind you prefer. Each type does, of course, contain both pluses and minuses. Bearing these factors in mind, you can consciously accept the whole package. You can then perform fine work and deliver success.

What do you see as the approaches leaders are taking in successful organisations?

Perhaps I should give some context. During the past 5 years the axis of my work has shifted. Five years ago much of it was with established companies, such as Microsoft and Sony. Nowadays the majority of my work is with companies in new media. These businesses are small and fast moving. They are also stacked with employees who have share options and are heading towards a sale. Many of these employees are from ‘Generation Y’. As we know, such people are interested in the 3 F’s: fun, freedom and fulfilment. They are prepared to put in long hours – but want work to be fun, otherwise they will be off. They want a sense of freedom and the ability to make choices in their work. Finally, they want to get the right balance between personal and professional fulfilment.

“But aren’t such individuals hard to manage?” some people may ask. Certainly they can be challenging, but I found them to be hungry to work long hours towards achieving a meaningful goal. The organisations I work with do three things. First, they communicate a clear purpose. Second, they communicate the key principles to follow to reach the goals. Third, they give people freedom, within parameters, on how they put those principles into practice – providing they deliver the results. Employees seem to respond to this approach.

What do you believe are the key skills that people need to learn to ensure they can shape their careers and build a successful future?

“The world of work keeps changing,” people may say, “so how can we help people to shape their futures? It is hard to know what skills they must learn to be successful.” Perhaps, but as the saying goes: ‘the more things change, the more things stay the same.’ At least, some things stay the same. For example, freelancers have followed certain themes throughout history. They have built on their strengths, found sponsors who paid them and delivered success. People who develop such eternal skills are more likely to shape their futures. Let’s explore these three themes.

a) Build on your strengths.

Michelangelo, Anita Roddick and Steve Jobs had at least one thing in common. They all built on their strengths. They did what they did best and got somebody to pay them for doing it. This has been a key skill throughout history. Some customers will always be interested in buying quality - and the best way of producing quality is to develop your top talents.

b) Find sponsors.

Anybody can do work they love, the art is to get somebody to pay you for doing it. Creative artists have had faced this challenge throughout history. They have asked themselves: “Shall I be true to my art, stay in a garret and wait to be discovered? Shall I publicise my services, sell my soul and do whatever is necessary for money? Shall I be true to myself, find patrons and try to get a ‘win-win’ solution?” People will continue to face this challenge in the future.

So how do you find sponsors who will pay you for doing what you do best? There are several rules. a) To understand the sponsor’s agenda - their picture of success; b) To provide services or products that will help them to achieve success; c) To reach out to these sponsors and show you understand their agenda; d) To make clear working contracts about how you can help them to achieve success.

c) Deliver success.

“My role is to help my sponsor to reach their goals,” said one of my mentees, a freelancer. “I go through several steps when working for a person or organisation. a) To make sure I really want to work for them. b) To make clear contracts about what must be delivered. c) To keep them informed, go the extra mile and provide great service. Going through these steps produces lots of repeat business.”

“Change is the only certainty in the world of work,” we are told. Perhaps, but there is another certainty. People will need to build on their strengths, find sponsors and deliver success. Developing these eternal skills will enable them to shape a positive future.

Anybody who goes to your web site and reads your books will know that you ‘give away’ a lot of tools and knowledge. Why did you do that?

During my life I have been helped by many generous people. They have provided knowledge, models and tools that gave me the chance to do fulfilling work. So it is natural to pass-on these ideas to other people. As ever, it is good for them to ‘take the best and leave the rest’. People can then use the tools to achieve their picture of success.

If you want to know how to build super teams or to clarify your own strengths.

Drop a line to Mike Pegg and he will send you The Super Teams Pack and The Strengths Pack. He can be reached at:

He will also answer any other questions you have about strengths.