Good People


I was lucky enough to have lunch with James Caan recently.  Let’s not get carried away here, he was speaking at a lunch I was at and in fact he turned up after we’d had our lunch.  But still the first sentence is so much more compelling isn’t it?

No matter, the thrust of James’s little speech was that we are all too conservative when hiring staff.  James made his fortune from the recruitment business.  He argued that we all tend to hire for particular roles once we have actual vacancies.  James advocates hiring brilliant people then working out what to do with them, or rather what you can do for each other.  Sometimes you have to take a chance on an unknown – assess the risk and take steps to mitigate it.  By hiring only as and when forced, to a tight job specification we find people who are good at the job on offer but maybe have limited potential and conversely great people get turned away as over qualified – the fear being they will not want to get into the nitty gritty, get bored and just move on.  Certainly I have seen too many businesses that do not create a pipeline of future leaders.

At another similar lunch Richard Reed of Innocent argued that ‘A’ grade leaders and managers hire ‘A’ grade staff and B’s hire C’s.  I’ve often thought that real talents look to hire great people to help them perform.  Weaker performers like to keep control and don’t want the risk of hiring ‘threats’.

All very interesting.  Most of us would worry that we’d be increasing costs by hiring talent with no role or overqualified (and so more expensive) staff.  If you think about the actual risks compared to your overall budget and profit it is usually insignificant.  What’s the upside too? If they deliver more, stop you needing to hire a consultancy now and again or turn out to be perfect for that bigger role that just came free their costs can be easily covered.

On the other side of the coin candidates could take a risk too.  Why not offer to take a short term contract on a lower package to prove your worth?  Offer to do a little consultancy so that you get to know the business before you commit?

So next time you are looking to hire or be hired ask yourself if you are acting like an A or a B.

 Where’d all the good people go?

I’ve been changing channels

I don’t see them on the TV shows

Where’d all the good people go?

We got heaps and heaps of what we sow

 Jack Johnson


If I Fail

I am not a natural networker, I’m learning, slowly.

At a recent networking event I joined a new group of strangers who all peered at my name badge.

” Ah, Empowering People.  I’ve not heard of that business.  Tell me more.” said one very helpful delegate.

Feeling very relieved, yet a little humble as all of their name badges were FTSE 250 companies I responded by saying ” Oh it’s just me, I am a coach and business consultant. ”

“Oh.  If you hadn’t said we’d have never known that you weren’t a terribly successful niche business we really must get to know.” came the reply.


A week later at a similar event a similar opportunity presented itself and this time I replied “It’s a Business consultancy.  I work with individuals, teams and businesses to help them reach their full potential.”

“Oh, tell us more – any particular sector?”

“I’ve personally worked in a number of sectors, with different types and size of business and my associates give us an even broader range of experience.”  Feeling confident now, seeing they were all from HR I pressed on “I have a particular interest in HR. ”

“Oh why?  No-one usually cares about HR.”

“Precisely.  No-one cares and no-one invests so HR functions are rarely as good as they could be.  They tend to be passive or reactive at best.  I want to change that.”

“Well we aren’t hopelessly passive!”


Maybe next time I should say “Precisely.  No-one cares and no-one invests so HR functions are rarely as good as they could be.  I want to change that by helping them make the case.”

The point is that there will be a next time and even if it is one sentence at a time I’ll get there – because there is no failure only feedback.  I’m getting plenty of that.

To take this theme further it can be argued that businesses and individuals simply do not take enough risks.   If we stay in our comfort zone and simply do what is in front of us to a reasonable standard then we will fail to create our own pipeline of future success.  By definition if we take risks we have to expect to fail.  We can learn from our failures and it’s often noted how many times highly successful people failed before making it big.

At a personal level the idea that failure takes you closer to your goal is counter intuitive and yet strangely liberating.  If you take action and it fails you have crossed one possible approach off the list which has to be better than doing nothing.  So we should celebrate failure.   Our own negative self talk is often a barrier, failure should not be taken personally or seen as all encompassing and permanent.  The real trick is to try again with a different approach, again and again.  Learn from the failures (they weren’t mistakes) and triangulate on your goal until you have an approach that can be honed into spectacular success.

The challenge from a corporate perspective is keeping discovery and invention alive whilst controlling a complex organisation.  This involves creating a ‘fail safe’ environment where staff can take calculated risks without damaging their careers or the business when it does not work out!  One answer lies in the style of leadership (organisational self talk?).  A directive style will make staff risk averse as it can create a blame culture.  Whereas an inclusive coaching style allows flexibility whilst creating a safety net.  Encourage and celebrate the failures – they are the ones who will create the next big thing.

1363035670_If I Fail



iPhoto Library

On Sunday morning I was quietly drinking coffee and doing those Sunday things, my wife was at the gym and the kids fast asleep (it still being a few minutes before noon).  Suddenly I was shocked when my youngest almost fell down the stairs and wobbled into the kitchen.

She was in great distress, very pale, sobbing, breathing very rapidly and incoherently trying to say something.

“I can’t breathe”  or was it “I can’t see” ?

After doing what all Dad’s would do – wishing Mum was there – I started asking her to calm down, but that had no impact.  So I started breathing very noticeably, a little faster than usual and very calmly asked her to copy me.  As she did I slowed it down gradually until she was more or less in control.

Now she could tell me that she had felt a bit odd on getting up, gone for a shower and then had felt light headed, lost her vision and started to fall over.  At this she had freaked out.  I’m no medic but I figured she’d fainted and just needed to calm down.

I asked her to visualise the outline of a square and put a bright dot in the left hand corner, the dot moved along each side with each in and out breath.  In…along the top, out…down the side, in…along the bottom, and so on.  With her I gradually slowed the dot and with it her breathing until she was very relaxed (in fact she was in a light trance).

Afterwards she said she felt very relaxed, if still a little light headed.

Whilst not exactly rocket science it does demonstrate how powerful our breathing is on our emotions.  By focussing on our breathing and slowing it down we naturally calm down and get more oxygen to help us think.  Worth remembering next time you are feeling a little stressed before that meeting or presentation.

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care
Leave but don’t leave me
Look around and chose your own ground
For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be

Pink Floyd

PS – my wife, a trained first aider, has now told me what I should really do if anyone faints.  The breathing was good but I should have laid her down with legs up a little.

Golden Brown


I was just marvelling at the retina display on my new mac (thank you Santa).  I have the background set to cycle through all the pre-loaded pictures and this close up of a lion’s head came up.

I could see each individual hair and I noticed how varied the colours were.  If asked I would have said that a lion was ‘brown’ (or ‘dun’ if trying to impress).  Yet the hairs ranged from red, through oranges, shades of brown and beige to a near white.  Together they appear brown (or dun).

It struck me that we tend to see the world in these generalised terms.  Lion’s hair is brown, foreign migrants are benefits cheats, politicians are untrustworthy…. and yet all groups of people are made up of many different ‘coloured hairs’.

Likewise we find a handy label and apply it to individuals and assume it is true in all aspects of their life.  ‘Rock star’ conjures up a very different image to ‘father’.  Yet many Rock stars are fathers and good ones too (and most migrants are hard working and the occasional politician isn’t a complete fraud). Individuals are also made of many strands to create the aggregate, but we do tend to project a stereotype around a single facet of their being onto them.  

Worse still it seems that negative stereotypes hold more power.

If someone deceives you they are a cheat and a liar, they almost certainly have many other redeeming features too.  You should not condone the bad behaviour but equally don’t write off the person.

Generalisations help us make sense of a complex world and as such are very handy.  Maybe it’s time to see them for what they are and look beyond the label at the individual strands of colour.