Listening to advice and putting it into practice can be crucial for success. The first Leading Edge Member of the Year competition looked for that winning listening quality. Danielle Hart reports Lobbying power wins the day There's never a shortage of advice, but how much do you take notice of and actually implement? This year, the first Leading Edge Member of the Year competition asked the initative's 3,500 members just that. Here you can read the best piece of business advice the winner and the other shortlisted finalists had been given, how they implemented it, and how it has made a difference to them. The judges were Louise Boitoult, business development director, IGD, Mick Whitworth, editor, Inside Food & Drink, sister publication to The Grocer and Stephanie Smith, communications manager of McVitie's. The final decision, however, was made by Louise and Mick ensuring there was no bias from Stephanie! "I would like to say on behalf of the judges," stated Louise, "how pleased we were with the quality of entrants and the wide range of business advice shared. I know that we found it extremely useful and we have even started to implement some of that advice ourselves! The winner was chosen because she showed a really practical piece of advice that we felt was applicable to everybody throughout their career. Bridget gave us some clear examples of real successes and how she had implemented the advice herself." The winner was Bridget Boylan, 33, IT project manager with United Biscuits. Her winning advice was to lobby prior to meetings that require key decisions to be made. This advice had been passed on by her manager Thelma Tonkmor, SAP competence centre manager. "My business style is a counselling style," said Thelma, "and I developed the art of lobbying as one of the techniques within that style. I was delighted when Bridget won this award, recognising both the importance of this technique and her competence in using it." Bridget advises: "It is important that you lobby subtly, but for me, practising lobbying has had many benefits. "Prior to an important meeting, I choose the key decision makers I would like to meet and try and visit them in a set order. "I explain when booking a meeting that it should only take about 10 minutes, and that I just wish to review the presentation slides with them beforehand. I can usually sell the idea to them by explaining that the pre-meeting saves a lot of time from the actual meeting. "Lobbying enables me to find out prior to the main meeting those in favour of the proposal and those against. I am therefore able to better prepare for the arguments against before the actual meeting. "Also, I am often asked the type of questions I will get asked in the meeting, and this allows me to prepare my answers or change my approach. "And it has often acted as an icebreaker if I don't know the manager very well." "But lobbying also provides benefits to the managers I meet too. It gives them the option to check their understanding of IT terms and also the opportunity to change my presentation slides. Some of them are really pleased to have changed a line or two! Many managers also appreciate it that you are taking the time to review it with them prior to the meeting. Through lobbying, managers should not as a whole be surprised by any statements you make in the meeting. They appreciate shorter meetings; and it gives them time to think about the proposal beforehand. "I felt very honoured to win this award as the competition was very high, and also with it being the first time this award has been offered. "However, I did believe I had a good chance as the advice I presented had been well tested and many business benefits have been realised. "For the prize I won £1,000 cash, £1,000 of IGD Training and a year's supply of biscuits of my choice! I chose to donate the biscuits to a local charity, and recently presented them to the Open Door Soup Kitchen in Uxbridge. In January I plan to start the IGD Certificate in Management, and I hope to spend the prize money next year visiting a friend who has recently gone to work in China." And now to the other finalists. Fiona Chalmers, 30, category buying controller, Safeway, said the best piece of advice was given to her four years ago by her then line manager, who said: "While others may guide your career development, there is only one person who can really make it work ­ and that's you." "This advice encouraged me to pursue a unique and unusual opportunity that arose at Safeway. In December 1996 an internal job was advertised ­ the role of executive assistant to the chief executive at Safeway. It was a position which I believed would provide a great insight into the running of a FTSE 100 company. I thoroughly enjoyed my previous position as a fresh food buyer but I believed the vacancy allowed an opportunity to develop my career longer term. It was a hard decision to make ­ to leave the trading environment which I enjoyed immensely, in pursuit of a change in direction of my career that I hoped would reap longer term rewards. "My role as executive assistant provided me with a much wider and more encompassing understanding both of Safeway and how a public company operates. I was in the position during a period of three profit warnings and leaked news of a potential merger with Asda ­ it was a rather busy and unusual year. It has helped to show me how the stock market operates, and therefore, I have a clearer understanding of the hidden factors affecting a public company. "On a personal level, I was very pleased to become the first female in an executive assistant role. Following this secondment, I have now been promoted to category buying controller, and feel I have gained a wider understanding of all the operating divisions. I continue to use this advice, and pass it on to others. "Using the marketing approach on yourself" was suggested by Jon Watkin, 29, trading manager of Bendicks (Mayfair) Ltd. "I view myself as a product which people choose to buy into or not. "Consequently it is important that you have a career plan, just like a brand plan, so that you know where you are in the product lifecycle. "A successful brand requires shaping and investment to satisfy the current and future needs of the consumer. I believe this is exactly the same for my personal development where I am the marketer working on my own brand and selling it to my customers. "It is also important you get to know and understand your customers, your internal and external colleagues, as these are your target audience in your career. But in order to do this, you need to understand yourself and your core brand values. The two most important areas I have worked on in order to get to know my customers have been empathy and honesty. "These enable common ground to be reached quickly and for decisions to be mutually beneficial. It is important to understand and appreciate one another's role within an organisation by taking this further, and through understanding more about people and their particular characteristics, I have been able to build relationships and avoid unnecessary conflict." "Put everything in writing" advises Natalie Tucker, 26, marketing advisor, Lenders Food. "Although this may seem like a simple maxim, sometimes the simplest things are the best. "Generally company information is supplied on a need to know basis. I had adopted this, assuming it was tried and tested. However, when launching a new product, I found this was highly inappropriate. Your main sales contacts are purely the tip of the iceberg ­ so many other people are involved, and need to be contacted. "From experience, I have become aware that relying on one sole contact to pass on information in any situation is risky. Forgetfulness, illness and holidays are merely three factors which can inhibit information flow. "During a product launch with a new customer in May, I passed on relevant written information (for example production, labelling and distribution) to departmental heads and managers, asking them to distribute my memos to their teams. "However, in the run up to the launch, I received lots of queries from individual team members within our company and our customer's organisation for information I had presumed their managers had given them. "I soon realised that if all of these people were asking me to clarify situations, how many had not managed to contact me and were still unclear on certain items? "I decided to redistribute the memos to every team member. The response was overwhelming. "Despite my nerves prior to the launch, in everyone's eyes it became one of the smoothest launches." {{LEADING EDGE }}