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In this episode of The Inner Chief podcast, we speak to Angus McPherson, MD Australia of Diageo, on creating momentum, difficult conversations, and simplifying your message.
Angus took on the role of Diageo Australia Managing Director in April 2020, joining in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and Australia’s widespread lockdowns. He has led them through to the other side, where Diageo currently represents 30% of the spirits market in Australia, producing more than 10 million cases annually.
Prior to this role he spent close to a decade at Treasury Wine Estates holding various Managing Director roles. In his last position, he had accountability for the largest business in North America and led the global sales function.
Angus grew up in the wine industry, with his parents having a wine bottling business. After graduating from Sydney University with a degree in economics, he held several positions with alcohol-related enterprises.
In this episode we talk about:
- Empowering your team to build momentum
- Turning problems into challenges, and then into opportunities and solutions
- Having honest conversations about performance
- Simplifying your message for greater effect
Connecting with Angus McPherson
You can connect with Angus via LinkedIn.
Books and resources
- Legacy – by James Kerr
- Chief Maker Minisode – Why you should run across a desert and love it
- Chief Maker Minisode – The All-in Mindset
“I've got this simple mantra: I refuse to listen to problems or issues, but I'll listen to opportunities and challenges.”
On early lessons
- I went to 6 primary schools – what it means is that I had lots of change, lots of adventure, lots of different opportunities and lots of challenges. As a little kid, I think I embraced all of them and I see it as a positive as that constant change played a big impact on my life and how I see life, but also the role that I have in driving change.
- When I left school, I worked in a bottle shop and that had a big impact on me because I work in retail now. Spending time with consumers and trying to understand retail, which is constantly evolving and changing, was big for me. If you're going to work in FMCG, you’ve got to have some passion for retail to start with.
On COVID and the spirits industry
- What's really fascinating about COVID is the opportunity of people to create their own drinks at home; it's really generated a renewed interest in the spirits industry, both local brands here in Australia and international brands.
- People are enjoying or going back to the art of how they make the most interesting cocktail at home, whether it be for their partner at home or whether they have family and friends over. And that is what's exciting about spirits, because you get these world class products to start with and then you get to tinker with them and create them.
- The other interesting thing is the growth of the local industry here in Australia over the last 10 years. If you go back 10 years, we had less than 40 distilleries in Australia. Today, there's over 300. I think we have more distilleries in Australia than they do in Scotland today!
On positive thinking
- We do such a good job at convincing ourselves of what we can't do and don't spend enough time convincing ourselves of what we can do.
- The only thing that stops you, personally, is somehow you get this little voice in your head convincing yourself of what you can't do, instead of convincing yourself of what you can do.
- I may not be world class at running marathons, but I did learn in that process that I think you can pretty much achieve anything. From my first marathon to my best one, there is over an hour of time improvement. I simply kept resetting my goals and expectations of what could be achievable. And from the very first one that I ran, if you asked me at the first one, could you ever do one as quick as what my fastest one was, the answer would be no way, not possible.
- But, you realise, you’ve just got to switch the mindset and then you reset your goals and you set a bigger goal and more ambitious goal. The greatest danger is that you may not get there, but that's not really that bad of an outcome.
On creating momentum
- It's the same in work – I found at times we're very good at creating presentations of why we can't achieve something and we're not as good at spending the time of why we can. So when you get given really ambitious targets or really ambitious goals of what you're trying to achieve as a business, the first reaction, I think often, is people automatically go to why they can't do it, and spend lots of time with really big presentations of all the reasons why they can't.
- Rather spend all your time and energy on the reasons why it can be done and what are the things that you need to do to achieve that. It's not easy to create that shift, but when you do, you can achieve amazing things.
- It's actually far more energising, far more empowering for the team. It gives you momentum and then when you get momentum, it continues, and it's hard to stop.
On challenges and opportunities
- If you come to me with an opportunity and a challenge, you've got a solution mindset.
- If you come to me with a problem, automatically, you're telling me what you can't do.
- The other beautiful thing about reframing it as an opportunity is that you then bring other people into it, you're sharing it and you're asking other people to be part of the journey on how you potentially solve the challenge. So you get all of this resource, experience and capability behind you, trying to find solutions. I just fundamentally believe that it drives better business performance.
On curiosity internally and externally
- I think to be successful, you need to be curious and when you're being curious, it is being engaged in all aspects of your business; it's understanding what's happening with customers and consumers.
- If you're highly engaged in that customer space then you’re trying to understand what they're trying to solve and what they're trying to achieve. You're not always going to be able to offer customers what they want, but there are always areas for joint opportunity.
- When you move into a new role or a new business and you sometimes accidentally tread on people's toes, you could find that your direct managers are going, “Why aren't you coming and asking me this question? Why are you delving down into the organisation?” And it's not because of lack of trust, but it's trying to be curious with what's going on and really get a better understanding of what's happening day to day from people at all levels and learning their interpretations.
On not having all the answers
- My team is all better than what I am at doing specific roles so it's crazy not to include them in strategic planning. I can actually harness all of their capability and skills in developing the plans on how and when we go to execute our plans.
- My role then is to hold everyone accountable to the agreed plan.
- At the core is that you don't have to have all the answers and if you think you do, you won't actually succeed because you're not harnessing the talent around you.
On difficult conversations
- You need to treat the individual with respect and dignity. It doesn't matter how difficult that conversation is, as long as you treat them the right way, you can have the conversation. Those conversations aren't personal, it's professional. And I think too many people worry about doing that because they think the other person might not like them anymore. However, the reality for a leader is that you can't control what they think of you.
- If you are not having difficult conversations with people that work for you, you are never going to get a performance-led business. No-one ever does anything perfectly all the time. If we pretend we do, we are not learning and we're not growing and we're not getting better at what we do.
- If we ran a promotion and we got a 50% uplift, you can say, “Oh, look, we did really well and we got a 50% uplift.” But if you think you really could have got a 70% uplift, true honesty is saying, “Look, we ran this promotion, we got 50% uplift, it was great. But, I actually think if we did X and Y differently, we could get a 70% uplift.” That's the honest conversation. That's getting the culture within the business even better, where the teams are willing to constantly look at what they could do better, no matter how well it went.
- So you need to have the ability for everyone to be comfortable to have tough conversations with each other.
- I had a mentor who would say to me, “What were the three things you think you did well in that presentation?” But then he would go, “What were the three things you think you could do better?” Going through that process with him just made me better. I constantly improved because I constantly got the feedback on how to do a better job of what I was doing.
- I see it a lot in the workplace, where people ask for feedback and they only ever get the positive feedback and they never ever get enough on the areas they can improve on because people are too scared to have that honest conversation.
On the best learning experience he’s had
- I coached young kids' sport. It taught me to simplify my message, because if you can't simplify the message, you can't get it through to the young kids.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- Don't assume people know what you want to achieve or what your goals and ambitions are in life. If you don't tell people, they will never know. And you need to make sure that the management above you knows your ambitions of what you want to achieve and then amazing things can happen. But if you sit there, assuming they know, they may not. And you may not actually get the opportunities that you hope you can get in the future.
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