Business Performance: Nowadays, many companies are making the smart decision to invest in its people. By doing this, business leaders are taking the first step towards better practices and therefore, better results.

One of the people responsible for instigating this phenomenal change is Ian McClean, Founder of Flow Group. Flow comprises a collection of change consultants, who partner with clients to help them become more productive and achieve ‘flow’.

In this week’s ProfileTree TV interview, our CEO Ciaran Connolly chats with Ian about how he got to where he is now, and how Flow Group helps businesses far and wide improve their practice through their people.

Watch the video below and read on to find out more fascinating insights from Ian.

Where Did It All Begin for Flow Group?

From a young age, Ian has devoted his education and experience to keep up with the ever-adapting subject of human behaviour. His original prospects would have led him down a very different path, as he explains:

Unlocking Better Business Performance with Ian McClean

“I was part of the ‘brain drain’ from Southern Ireland back in the 1980s. Unemployment was 20%, interest rates were 18%.

“I never thought I’d work in Ireland and, lo and behold, that became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I found myself in Southern Germany, unemployed and sleeping on a park bench. I met a Scottish guy who was employed as an agent to sell American cars to American soldiers who were stationed there at the height of the Cold War.

“In a very short period of time the company offered me a position as an agent to do the same as he was doing. I was studying arts in Galway at the time, so I figured there was probably more prospect for what I was doing in Germany than Galway. I accepted it, thinking I would do it for a year.”

Little did Ian know, his long-term interest in psychology would be reignited in his new role.

“I studied psychology and languages at college. I always spent far more time in the psychology section. When I started working for this American company, they invested in a two week foundation programme on the psychology of selling, which I became interested in.”

From studying arts and languages and believing he was destined to be a writer, to discovering an untapped fascination with psychology, this began a life-long journey for Ian.

“I have basically been on a path to deepen my understanding, knowledge and know-how of human behaviour. But that’s where it started.

“Behavioural science, as it is now known, and how it applies to business and economics was of immense fascination for me and I’ve been immersed in it to one degree or another for the last 30 years.”

Flow Group logo
Flow Group apply behavioural science to the everyday running of businesses. Image credit: Flow Group

From a Small Enterprise to Enriching Global Organisations

How did Ian go about starting his now globally known business? Like many aspiring entrepreneurs, his business was born out of an idea he had in his home.

“After travelling, I arrived back in Ireland in the 90s and set up a small enterprise on my own. When I set it up the business it had the imaginative title ‘Ian McClean and Partners’.

“It started off from home, in my own bedroom, and now we have just celebrated our 21st birthday.

“It has evolved and grown organically, internationally and rebranded itself, we now have operations on four continents.”

How Does Flow Group Help?

Ian illustrates that Flow Group’s expertise is in helping businesses to “improve their performance, but through people”.

He continues: “We help the people side of the equation, that makes the mechanics of the machine work better. A lot of the other things that are done in terms of change are very mechanical. They’re essential, crucial and they put order on chaos, but the only thing that drives things forward is people.

“So, everything that has to get done, has got to get done through some form of interaction and some form of communication between humans.

“We help organisations going through change to manage the people side of change.”

What kinds of change does Flow Group help with? These can either be in positive or negative circumstances, or even if a company is simply not seeing any change at all.

“Change can be anything – it can be growth, decline, mergers and acquisitions. So there is this constant sea of change that’s happening upwards, downwards and across. All of it happens through a human factor and has an impact on business performance.

“If you were looking for us to work with you, it would be for downsizing, expanding, merging and to become more aligned, effective and efficient in these. So managing that whole change.”

Flow group also trains for better leadership and teamwork, as well as one-to-one professional and personal development.

The State of Flow

The term ‘flow’ is a pioneering part of Ian’s company. Not only is it defined as the company’s trading name, but ‘flow’ encompasses much more than that.

“The whole idea of the state of flow is really finding its time now. If you are in a state of flow, it is your most productive state. So how do you create a culture that enables flow and allows flow to thrive to create productivity?

“If your skill level and the challenge that you are facing are meeting at the right point – you are in a state of flow. If you are doing something that’s too easy or too hard – you lose interest and drive.

“This summarises what leadership is – ensuring the culture of the conditions around you and your people maintain a state of flow – as this is how you will achieve the maximum amount of engagement, morale, productivity, output and results.

“It sounds easy, but if it was easy to get into – I would be in a different business.”

Flow group team photo
A business is only as good as its individual team members. Image credit: Flow Group

The Flow Group Process

Curious about how the Flow Group provides their service? As Ian tells it, to successfully create a productive working environment, clarity must be at the core. This is one of the first steps that is covered in their sessions – as without being aware of this simple step – businesses can struggle to move forward.

He explains: “We start under the heading of clarity – trying to understand and discover the extent to which people are clear within the business. This can be about what they are doing today, or even the opposite – whether people are clear on what the business is aiming to look like in years to come and where their team fits into the overall direction.

“If a business’s people can answer yes to these and everything in between, then they are in a state of flow. But, life doesn’t always work like that. The key principle is around clarity.

“Where there is ambiguity, people find it very difficult to commit. All we do is we have methodology to help create clarity and unblock the communication’s shortfalls.”

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Measuring Business Performance:

Understanding KPIs:

KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, are quantifiable measurements used to track and assess progress towards specific business goals. They act as crucial data points that provide objective insights into the effectiveness of various strategies and operations. By monitoring these indicators, businesses can identify areas for improvement, make informed decisions, and ultimately achieve their desired outcomes.

Key Types of KPIs:

1. Financial KPIs:

  • Revenue: Total income generated through sales of goods or services.
  • Profit Margin: Percentage of revenue remaining after deducting expenses.
  • Return on Investment (ROI): Ratio of gain or loss obtained for a specific investment.
  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): Average cost of acquiring a new customer.
  • Debt-to-Equity Ratio: Measures financial leverage and risk.
  • Inventory Turnover: Rate at which inventory is sold and replaced.

2. Operational KPIs:

  • Employee Productivity: Output per employee within a given timeframe.
  • Lead Time: Time taken to complete a specific task or process.
  • On-Time Delivery Rate: Percentage of orders delivered within promised timeframe.
  • Defects per Million Opportunities (DPMO): Measure of quality control.
  • Customer Satisfaction Score: Feedback metric reflecting customer experience.
  • Employee Turnover Rate: Frequency of employee departures.

3. Marketing KPIs:

  • Website Traffic: Number of visitors to your website.
  • Conversion Rate: Percentage of visitors taking a desired action (e.g., purchase).
  • Cost per Lead: Average cost to acquire a potential customer’s contact information.
  • Social Media Engagement: Number of likes, shares, and comments on social media posts.
  • Email Open Rate: Percentage of recipients who open email marketing campaigns.
  • Brand Awareness: Level of recognition and understanding of your brand.

4. Custom KPIs:

While the above-mentioned examples provide a starting point, defining KPIs specific to your industry and business goals is crucial. Consider factors like:

  • Unique Value Proposition (UVP): What makes your business stand out? KPIs should reflect this.
  • Target Audience: Who are you trying to reach? Track metrics relevant to their behavior.
  • Stage of Growth: Are you a startup, established company, or undergoing expansion? Tailored KPIs are necessary.

By aligning KPIs with your specific context and objectives, you can ensure they provide meaningful insights and guide effective decision-making.

Strategies for Improving Business Performance:

Building upon the foundation of strong KPIs, let’s explore key strategies for driving your business performance to new heights:

1. Setting SMART Goals:

How a winning digital marketing plan can fuel your business growth
  • Specificity: Clearly define what you want to achieve, avoiding ambiguity. Example: “Increase website traffic by 20% in the next quarter” instead of “improve online presence.”
  • Measurability: Establish quantifiable benchmarks to track progress and understand success. Example: “Reduce production lead time by 5 days” instead of “improve production efficiency.”
  • Achievability: Set realistic and attainable goals, considering resources, capabilities, and market conditions. Unachievable goals can demotivate and hinder progress.
  • Relevance: Ensure goals align with overall business objectives and contribute to the desired growth trajectory. Irrelevant goals waste resources and efforts.
  • Time-bound: Create a clear timeframe for achieving each goal, fostering urgency and action. Deadlines keep teams focused and on track.

2. Data-Driven Decision Making:

  • Embrace data analytics: Leverage data from various sources (sales, marketing, operations, customer feedback) to uncover hidden patterns, identify areas for improvement, and inform strategic decisions.
  • Invest in data tools and expertise: Implement tools and hire professionals skilled in data analysis and interpretation to transform raw data into actionable insights.
  • Focus on data-driven storytelling: Translate data into clear and compelling narratives that resonate with stakeholders and guide decision-making across all levels.

3. Process Optimization:

  • Map and analyze workflows: Identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and duplication of effort within key processes.
  • Streamline workflows: Eliminate unnecessary steps, automate repetitive tasks, and simplify complex procedures.
  • Leverage technology: Implement technology solutions like project management tools, automation software, and communication platforms to streamline processes and improve collaboration.
  • Continuous improvement: Foster a culture of continuous improvement, encouraging employees to identify and suggest process enhancements.

4. Employee Engagement and Training:

  • Invest in employee development: Provide training opportunities, mentorship programs, and career advancement pathways to boost employee engagement, satisfaction, and skills.
  • Empower employees: Delegate tasks, provide autonomy, and encourage decision-making to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility.
  • Recognize and reward achievements: Celebrate successes, acknowledge contributions, and implement incentive programs to motivate employees and drive performance.
  • Promote open communication: Create a culture of open communication where employees feel comfortable sharing ideas, concerns, and feedback.

5. Customer Focus:

  • Implement a CRM system: Utilize a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to manage customer interactions, track preferences, and personalize experiences.
  • Gather and analyze customer feedback: Actively solicit feedback through surveys, reviews, and direct interactions to understand customer needs and satisfaction levels.
  • Deliver exceptional customer service: Train employees to provide prompt, knowledgeable, and personalized service that exceeds customer expectations.
  • Build customer loyalty: Implement loyalty programs, offer exclusive benefits, and nurture relationships to retain customers and increase lifetime value.

Remember, these strategies are not isolated tactics; they work best when combined and adapted to your specific business context and challenges. By setting clear goals, utilizing data insights, optimizing processes, engaging employees, and focusing on customer needs, you can create a powerful foundation for sustainable business performance improvement.

Challenges and Risks in Business Performance Management:

While striving for better performance, it’s crucial to navigate potential roadblocks and mitigate risks. Here’s a closer look at some key challenges:

1. Data Availability and Quality:

  • Incomplete or inaccurate data: Missing or flawed data skews KPIs and leads to misleading conclusions, hindering effective decision-making.
  • Data silos and inconsistency: Data fragmented across departments prevents holistic analysis and creates inconsistencies in measurement and reporting.
  • Timely data access: Delays in accessing current data limit responsiveness to dynamic situations and hinder proactive performance improvement.


  • Implement robust data collection and integration processes.
  • Establish data governance policies to ensure data accuracy and consistency.
  • Invest in data visualization tools for accessible and real-time insights.

2. Alignment with Business Goals:

  • Misaligned KPIs: Measuring irrelevant metrics distracts from achieving actual business objectives.
  • Disconnected strategies: Initiatives focused on improving individual KPIs may not contribute to overall business goals.
  • Lack of understanding: If employees don’t understand how their work contributes to company goals, their efforts might be misdirected.


  • Clearly define and communicate overall business goals.
  • Select KPIs that directly correlate with achieving those goals.
  • Cascade goals and KPIs down to departments and individual employees.

3. Communication and Collaboration:

  • Information silos: Departmental isolation hinders sharing insights and coordinated action for performance improvement.
  • Miscommunication: Conflicting information or unclear expectations lead to confusion and inefficiencies.
  • Lack of collaboration: Fragmented efforts make it harder to achieve cross-functional performance improvements.


  • Foster open communication across departments and teams.
  • Establish collaborative platforms and processes for information sharing.
  • Encourage cross-functional teams to tackle performance challenges.

4. External Factors and Market Trends:

  • Economic fluctuations: Changing economic conditions can impact resource availability and customer behavior, disrupting performance plans.
  • Technological advancements: Emerging technologies may render existing processes obsolete, requiring adaptation and new performance metrics.
  • Competitive landscape: Shifts in competitor strategies or industry regulations can necessitate adjustments to performance goals and improvement initiatives.


  • Continuously monitor external factors and their potential impact.
  • Adapt performance goals and strategies based on market changes.
  • Foster a culture of agility and innovation to respond effectively to external challenges.


These challenges are interconnected, and addressing them requires a holistic approach. By employing strategic planning, data governance, clear communication, and adaptability, businesses can navigate these hurdles and achieve sustainable performance improvement.

Case Studies and Success Stories: Inspiring Performance Improvement

Showcase Examples:

1. Manufacturing Efficiency:

  • Company: Acme Manufacturing
  • Challenge: Slow production lead times and high inventory costs.
  • Strategy: Implemented lean manufacturing principles, including process mapping, waste elimination, and just-in-time inventory management.
  • Result: Reduced lead times by 30% and inventory costs by 25%, leading to increased profitability and customer satisfaction.
  • Key Learnings: Streamlining processes, minimizing waste, and optimizing inventory management can significantly improve efficiency and profitability.

2. Digital Marketing Transformation:

  • Company: Bloom & Blossom, a floral boutique
  • Challenge: Stagnant online sales and limited customer reach.
  • Strategy: Implemented a comprehensive digital marketing strategy, including website optimization, social media marketing, and targeted online advertising.
  • Result: Increased website traffic by 50%, online sales by 40%, and brand awareness significantly.
  • Key Learnings: Embracing digital marketing tools and strategies can dramatically expand reach, drive sales, and build brand awareness.

3. Employee Engagement Boost:

  • Company: Tech Solutions, a software development firm
  • Challenge: High employee turnover and low morale.
  • Strategy: Implemented employee engagement initiatives like training programs, flexible work arrangements, and recognition programs.
  • Result: Reduced employee turnover by 20%, improved employee satisfaction scores, and increased productivity by 15%.
  • Key Learnings: Investing in employee development, fostering a positive work environment, and recognizing achievements can significantly boost engagement and performance.

4. Customer-Centric Approach:

  • Company: Happy Trails, an outdoor adventure company
  • Challenge: Declining customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Strategy: Implemented a customer-centric approach, including personalized communication, feedback analysis, and improved customer service processes.
  • Result: Increased customer satisfaction by 35%, reduced customer churn by 20%, and boosted repeat business by 10%.
  • Key Learnings: Prioritizing customer needs, actively seeking feedback, and delivering exceptional service can significantly improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Business performance FAQ:

1. How can I identify the right KPIs for my business?

Start by defining your specific goals and challenges. Then, choose KPIs that directly measure progress towards those goals and provide insights into areas needing improvement. Consider industry benchmarks and consult with experts for further guidance.

2. What tools and resources can help me improve business performance?

Numerous data analytics tools, project management software, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems can aid in tracking, analyzing, and optimizing performance. Additionally, industry reports, training programs, and consulting services can offer valuable insights and expertise.

3. How can I overcome communication and collaboration challenges in performance management?

Foster open communication by establishing clear channels, encouraging information sharing, and holding regular meetings across departments. Implement collaborative platforms and processes to share data, discuss strategies, and work towards shared goals.

4. How can I stay updated on market trends and adapt my performance management strategies?

Regularly monitor industry publications, competitor activity, and economic news. Conduct scenario planning to anticipate potential challenges and opportunities. Be flexible and willing to adapt your KPIs, strategies, and processes based on market shifts.

5. What are some additional tips for achieving sustainable performance improvement?

Embrace a culture of continuous learning by encouraging employee training and development. Benchmark your performance against industry leaders to identify areas for improvement. Regularly assess and revise your performance management practices to ensure effectiveness.

Business performance Conclusion:

Effective business performance management is a dynamic process requiring continuous effort and adaptation. By setting clear goals, utilizing data insights, optimizing processes, engaging employees, and focusing on customer needs, you can lay a strong foundation for sustainable success.

Remember, learning from successful case studies, addressing potential challenges, and adopting a proactive approach are key to unlocking your business’s full potential. Start your performance improvement journey today and witness the positive impact on your bottom line, employee satisfaction, and customer loyalty.

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