Monday, 31 March 2014

Lost Aircraft, Lost Baggage, Lost Reputation.

Look at the Big Picture.

During our sessions we often discuss the importance of leadership at all levels in an organisation and about being pro-active. The reputation and credibility of your organisation is critical to success. This reputation is fragile, can take years to establish, but only moments to destroy. As leaders we are all aware of our role as standard bearers for our organisation and take pride in the image we present. As such, we should also take responsibility for ensuring others do the same. Recent press coverage of mistakes by British Airways and American Airlines provide ample evidence of this. One would appear to be a mistake at quite a high level in marketing, the other “just” one lowly person in baggage handling. Both examples demonstrate how we need to be constantly vigilant and everyone needs to be on message.

It seems incomprehensible that someone did not realise the potential damage that could be caused by BA’s ill timed advert, even if this had been planned for some time. I would be asking stern questions of the agency involved, too as they could have prevented the embarrassment.

Equally, someone other than the author of the inappropriate note could have recognised the insensitivity and done something about it.

It would be easy to blame others, and take no responsibility, but the real lessons are about awareness, accountability and assertiveness. We need to recognise the potential and do something about it; start by looking in the mirror and asking what we could do to prevent similar mishaps in our own organisation.


See: BA Advert and AA Bagtag.



Saturday, 25 May 2013

Blending Youth and Experience - What's Your Style?

There has been much coverage in the press recently of sporting awards, with rugby and football players being named player and young player of the year. Christian Wade and Gareth Bale took both awards this year in their respective sports, and I would not deny them their accolades as both have been outstanding. I do wonder though, why is there no award for old player of the year? Sometimes the feats of the older players are more impressive. Some have been recognised with James Hook  voted Perpignan's player of the year at 27, Michael Carrick Players' Player of the year at Champions Manchester United and Jonny Wilkinson named European Player of the Year at the ripe old age of 33, ten years since he was the last player to win both rugby awards. However, even Jonny's success is overshadowed by Easton Roy of Stirling County RFC, who has pledged to keep on playing - just days after scoring a try on his ninetieth birthday.
Further afield, I read of 80-year old Japanese mountaineer, Yuichiro Miurahas reaching the summit of Mount Everest, making him the oldest man to scale the world's highest peak. Another Japanese man, Jiroemon Kimura, who holds the distinction of being the world's oldest living person, celebrated his 116th birthday on Friday.
Not to be outdone by the Japanese, British great-great grandmother, Doris Long fearlessly abseiled down a 110ft building to mark her 99th birthday and raise money for The Rowans Hospice. I am still proud of my Mother, who shyly announced on her 80th birthday that she had taken up a new hobby of archery and earlier this year achieved the rare feat, sometimes referred to as a Robin Hood, of splitting one arrow with another, not once, but twice!

Age is seemingly not a barrier to sporting success and even less so to management success. Whatever your allegiance, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the amazing career of Alex Ferguson, retiring from football management at 71. Several CEOs in the U.S.A. are in their 70s, 80s and even one in his 90s. Jack Welch continues to write and consult on all aspects of management at 77 and John Timpson is still chief executive at his family business at 72 and writes regularly on management in the Daily Telegraph.

Of course, it is not only sports people who vie for awards. The National Business Awards are about to be announced and are partnering with Cranfield School of Management this year, who are calling for business leaders, particularly young entrepreneurs to think more strategically. Apparently younger managers are more likely to adopt a style as the Meddler, the Hero, or the Artisan and while all of these have great strengths, they advocate the Strategist style to grow and develop the business.

An understanding of management style is a topic that many of the delegates on our Stepping in to Management courses find helpful as they seek to be more effective and advance their careers. Flexibility of style is a great asset in managing people and strategy is more about the language we use and the way we work with others than it is about gazing into crystal balls. We have been partnering with Nottingham Business School to explore these concepts and are developing a programme to share them with our clients. Contact me for more information. Strong leadership style and coherent strategy are not the preserve of the old, nor even necessarily the product of experience, but both can be learned.

I talk a lot about experience and learning from it - some say "there is no substitute for experience." and while this may be true, I believe it is more important that we learn from that experience. How many of you have felt or been told that you do not have enough experience? Does someone who has been in the same job for 15 years have 15 years experience or one year's experience repeated 15 times - it, of course depends on a number of factors. One of these is attitude - the young players who have won awards and the older players and managers mentioned above all have a positive attitude. Do you always act your age or can you still act your shoe size? While our bodies may tell us we are past it, mind set and self belief can play a big part in how we make the most of our advancing years. Start on that bucket list now!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Real Tweet and More Pythons.

On the day that many of us will go to the polls to elect local leaders, it may be appropriate to remember that politicians are supposed to be the great communicators, although from the press coverage of this election you would not think so, with Ed Miliband saying no to his own question which clearly required a yes answer and Cameron resorting to name calling.
It is not just in politics that communication is poor, with reports from the civil service and the BBC of staff being bullied, threatened and consequently fearful of speaking up or challenging their bosses and thus becoming less productive and more resistant to change – surely not what we need in these difficult times.
Another survey highlights the widespread dislike of jargon with phrases such as “Thinking outside the box” being rated particularly irksome. Some of these phrases are, of course entirely appropriate in the right situation or context and if they are understood by all involved. The real problem is their over-use or when they are used to obfuscate or confuse.
The key to good communication is still simplicity (KISS), but we also need to be more careful and conscious of not only what we say, but how we say it. I still remember texting my teenager daughter on her first mobile, announcing that I was “home now”, admittedly all in capital letters through laziness or incompetence, which she interpreted as me demanding she come home now. (HOME, NOW!) With more ways to communicate in ever quicker ways, the lesson is surely to take more time and more care to be understood. Don’t blame the receiver when it is misinterpreted, ensure you get the right message across.
It is so important to read things more than once, before we send them or react to them – my eye was caught by a job advert recently for Python trainers, not sadly intended for charmers, but for geeks, sorry IT experts. In response to a clever and amusingly intentional twist, I have set my alarm early from next week to catch David Attenborough’s Tweet of the Day – not that the great man has just embraced the latest in social media, but he will be presenting a different bird song each morning for our education and enjoyment. There is a man who can communicate.
For a vivid example of what not to do, look no further than the way Citigroup announced that it was cutting 4% of its workforce in December:

"Citigroup today announced a series of repositioning actions that will further reduce expenses and improve efficiency across the company while maintaining Citi's unique capabilities to serve clients, especially in the emerging markets. These actions will result in increased business efficiency, streamlined operations and an optimized consumer footprint across geographies."
In other words:
"Citigroup today announced [lay offs]. These actions will [save money]."


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Rome wasn’t Built in a Day - Andrew Marr meets Monty Python.
BBC journalist and presenter, Andrew Marr has been reported as blaming an intense workout for his recent stroke. In almost the same breath, he stated that he had been heavily overworking for a year before this workout and the stroke. While the workout may have triggered the attack, I suspect the 12 months overworking was probably more to blame. Too often, it seems to me people want the quick fix and are ready to blame something else when it goes wrong. Gym membership will not make you fitter, unless you make regular, and initially supervised, use of it. In the same way, crash diets rarely work or at least any weight loss is temporary – don’t go on a diet, change your diet.

 Stephen Covey talks at length in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People of the law of the farm. This, simply put says that you will sow what you reap, but have to wait for the harvest – you cannot plant in March and harvest in April – and tend the crop in the meantime. You don’t start training for a marathon the week before the event, there is no such thing as a credible MBA in a week.

Margaret Thatcher once famously said, to massive outrage, that there was no such thing as society. Unfortunately, the message was totally misinterpreted as an attack on society rather than the intended appeal for individuals to recognise that they make up society and need to take personal responsibility.

Or as Monty Python put it in the dead bishop’s sketch:

Man: “All right, it's a fair cop, but society's to blame.
Church Policeman: “Right, we’ll be charging them as well.”

Monty Python's Flying Circus, "Church Police"

Don’t look for someone or something to blame for your problems, look to what you can do about them. Don’t look for the quick fix, find a way that fits with your values and is sustainable. That is the real art of being proactive, effective and successful. Anything worth working for will take time and effort, in life, sport or work.

For details of workshops on personal effectiveness, contact Steve.

The full context of Thatcher's remark was as follows:
I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it: 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society.
There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Do Manners Matter? Class, Brogues and Bad Role Models.

Will putting on airs and graces help you to climb the career ladder, or is that all out of date nonsense and is it more important to speak your mind with confidence. Should women be more like men if they want to get on in business?

There have been a number of articles in the press recently about class and etiquette. If you haven’t yet seen the article about the new British class system, it is well worth a read. You can take a questionnaire to determine where you fit, and with a little tinkering work out what you need to do to move up the scale, or down or across! Many claim not to like stereotyping or being typed, but few can resist trying it out, if only to ridicule the results. It certainly seems to be more representative of our current society than the simple three class system, so delightfully sent up in “The Frost Report

There have also been articles about what is acceptable behaviour when cold calling, how to deal with those who seem to abuse this and tips on how to be a lady in the modern business world, and even why a gentleman’s brogues are so important to his well being and self esteem.

The cold calling dilemma certainly struck a chord with me, finding so many of them to be intrusive and unprofessional, and assuming it is OK to use my first name as though we are well acquainted. I try to fend them off, while remaining firm, but polite, although I suspect I often stray into rude. I have not got the time or patience to “get my own back” as some claim to do by stringing them along, let alone claiming to be a detective at a murder scene and that they are now a viable suspect!

In terms of self improvement and career management, I would agree with all of the more moderate recommendations in these articles – being rude back to someone is rarely going to improve the relationship and you never know when these things will return to haunt you. I am about to interview someone for a coaching position at my rugby club, who was a much vaunted star in his playing days, but rather offhand when I asked him for some help.

To summarise the articles on etiquette, being a lady to is about treating people with respect, having self respect (so not being drunk and disorderly) and having your own personality – but not being abrupt with people (as people so often are today). And all of these traits are to be taken into the workplace, instead of the home – which is where the majority of women spend the bulk of their time.

You may well think, as I do that all of those expectations are just common sense and behaviour that should be expected from both genders? “Manners are all about putting other people at ease and thinking about others,” which is surely the best way to get on and get the best from others.

For the gents, apparently cheap shoes look slobbish and make men shuffle. Quality footwear endows a man with authority, poise and an air of reliability – not to mention desirability! If only I’d known.


Thursday, 14 April 2011

Mind your language!

Does swearing make us more credible? According to some recent research in Holland, this may be true. The researchers asked students to read a fictional account of a statement made by a suspect burglar during a police interview. Students who read the version in which the suspect swore rated his statement as more believable than those who read a version that was identical in every respect but with the swearwords removed.
However, the research seems flawed to me. To remove the swearwords, but otherwise leave it intact would inevitably change the way it is perceived. I wonder whether it might have been a fairer comparison had the swear words been replaced by other adjectives, especially emotive ones.
Surely it depends on the context and your audience. The use of expletives can, of course add to a statement’s impact, but would that make it acceptable or effective in a business presentation. I doubt it.
Swearing certainly has a negative impact on some people, especially when used excessively – I have observed people who missed much of the message because they were so offended by the unnecessary use of profanities. This is partly a cultural phenomenon, with older people more likely to be upset by coarse language. Swearing is more common in younger people, but also may depend on where you are from.
I know in my military career, swearing was quite commonplace, but also selective. It was used extensively when at work, largely irrespective of rank, but significantly reduced when in social situations, especially when women were present. With women more widely integrated in the forces, I wonder how this has changed and fear that they have come to accept and adopt the swearing, as seems to be the case in factory environments.
I once heard a quote that said something like: “Swearing is a means by which the inarticulate gain a feeling of eloquence.” I do swear, but try to limit it, especially in business situations. To me it seems unprofessional and unnecessary. As in my quote, if I want to emphasise something, I should be able to find more appropriate and expressive words, which will not cause offence or detract from the message. Did Martin Luther King, Kennedy, Churchill or any other great orator resort to swearing. Certainly not. We might not expect eloquence and may understand emotional outbursts from sports men and women in the heat of competition, but nor should we have to accept foul language. In business, we may want to encourage and express passion and commitment, but should be able to do so without offending our audience.

Incidentally, personality research suggests that people who swear more, not surprisingly, score higher on traits such as extraversion, dominance, and hostility.

And finally... According to a disturbing news report today, a British tourist on holiday in Dubai was arrested for swearing. He was later ´badly beaten up´ to the point of being unconscious, slammed against a concrete wall, refused food, water, and a lawyer, and then his body was stuffed into a body bag while being removed from the facility.

Monday, 9 August 2010

All Change - From Snowdon to the Amazon

I am again talking about change and how it affects us. I remember being horrified that Jaguar had produced a diesel variant, and then an estate version – that is not a Jaguar, I screamed! This week I read that they have laid a tarmac path to the summit of Mount Snowdon in Wales, to make it more accessible, why, why, why? Then again, there is already a railway up there and you can still do it the hard way if you want to (I know I do!)

Much is written about change and our reactions to it. I have been working recently with Royal Mail, who are undergoing a huge amount of change, some would say not before time. Much of the focus on the workshops was on debating and preparing for how people would react to change with considerable emphasis on those who would resist and even attempt to forestall the new ways of working. Of course not everyone is against change, indeed, many of the managers we were working with were positive and even excited about the opportunities that the changes promise. They also reported that many of their people, including union representatives were supportive of the changes.

This does not, of course mean that these champions and advocates are immune to the emotional upheavals common to resistors. They need at least the same consideration, support and encouragement as they will have doubts, concerns and even reversals. They will feel any setbacks or lack of progress acutely. If not suitably nurtured and recognised they may even defect to the nay-sayers.

My younger daughter has just completed her degree and is somewhat relieved that the academic ordeal is over and looking forward eagerly to starting her career. However, even change coming from success presents some challenges. She is now finding that it is not easy to secure a job, which frustrates her ambition and dampens her enthusiasm. Moving back into the family home means she has had to readjust to different norms and standards than those she has become accustomed to; her close circle of friends is dispersed to the four winds and all but lost, despite or maybe exacerbated by the apparent ease of maintaining contact provided by Facebook and email. So lots of changes all brought about by something she wanted deeply and worked hard to achieve. The euphoria and relief of graduation have been tempered with self-doubt and frustration.

Remember that denial and a range of emotion will precede the rationalisation needed for acceptance and commitment to the change, sometimes captured as the mnemonic DERAC. To help people through these stages we need to show that we understand and are willing to offer the support they need. (I remember these stages by reversing the letters and trying to show I CARED.)

A common piece of advice is to beware of spending too much time with the relatively small number of vocal resistors and instead to work with the undecided waverers, who usually form a quieter majority and if converted can provide the critical mass needed for success. Although this thinking is logical, I sound a note of caution. If your focus is too closely on those people, you may neglect your erstwhile allies and fail to recognise important signals of discontent. If you lose your champions, the struggle will be considerably greater to convert the rest.

Spare a thought for Ed Stafford, the intrepid former soldier who has just completed a marathon 4,000 mile trek to walk the length of the Amazon in 859 days. I am sure he is exultant at his record breaking achievement and relieved to have completed it. However, he will now face huge new challenges in adjusting to “normal” life again and without his goal to focus on.

So it is for my daughter and for those managers in Royal Mail, change is an inevitable part of life and careers, but it does exact a toll. Understanding and support from friends, colleagues and managers will help them all to cope.

A change, though can be as good as a rest. So for something different, have a look at for tips on recycling everything from old wall planners to empty walnut shells!