Tumbling Dice

The world is a complex place and most significant decisions aren’t truly either/or, it’s usually a lot more nuanced than that.  However that makes it complex to explain, hard to report on.  The media prefer the simplicity of a straight choice and we tend to get caught up in these arbitrary black or white choices.

We are faced with many choices daily. For many of these there are no facts to determine the best course of action, or they are of little consequence.  For such choices it’s good to simply trust your ‘gut’ instinct.  This is your sub-conscious reaction and may be based on all sorts of reasoning that happens outside of our rational consciousness.

It can be hard to tap into these instincts sometimes.  If we find ourselves stuck my family has created a useful process for tuning into our ‘gut’. We simply flip a coin, roll dice, or draw straws.  It isn’t the result of the coin toss that is interesting but the reaction to it.  If you find yourself asking for the best of three you know what your instinct is saying to you.

The danger comes when you roll the dice and are bound by the result, regardless of your gut feel.  That would indeed be stupid.

Women think I’m tasty, but they’re always tryin’ to waste me
And make me burn the candle right down,
But baby, baby, I don’t need no jewels in my crown.
‘Cause all you women is low down gamblers,
Cheatin’ like I don’t know how,
But baby, baby, there’s fever in the funk house now.
This low down bitchin’ got my poor feet a itchin’,
You know you know the duece is still wild.
Baby, I can’t stay, you got to roll me
And call me the tumblin’ dice.

The Rolling Stones

Born to Run ?

Four months ago the date was set for the UK’s EU referendum on EU membership and today we go to the polls.  It’s been a long campaign.  In many ways it’s been a classic example of a change journey.

Initially the public didn’t really engage with it.  It was very much a political argument that only mattered to the politicians.  Slowly we all became more interested as we realised it would affect us.  Then we wanted the facts.  We wanted to know how it would impact us personally.  Facts were produced and discredited in their droves and battle lines were drawn up.

A number of well informed, respected and impartial bodies came forward with simple and unbiased explanations of the various claims and counter claims.  Armed with this knowledge we started to firm up on our positions.

Now everywhere I go people are openly discussing it, putting forward their views and seemingly listening to the counter arguments.  Yesterday my own team had quite a long discussion while our IT network was down.

We’ve just started using the Predictive Index and one of the many insights it provides is whether an individual will tend to rely on facts or feelings in decision making.  Now I am not claiming that PI can predict your political views but those who had a tendency for decision making based on facts were in the Remain camp and those with a preference for emotions were for Leave.

In my view Remain won all the fact based arguments, they made the logical case to stay.However they comprehensively failed to counter the emotional arguments that Leave put forward.  So at the wire we are faced with a choice between Head and Heart.  And we all know you can’t win an emotional argument with logic or vice versa.  Neither side seem able to switch between and pull together their thinking and feeling modes.

So maybe in this case Bruce was right, some of us were born to run.

Ha
In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway 9
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected and steppin’ out over the line
Oh, baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

Bruce Springsteen

Feel to follow

guiding starA former colleague recently told me that he had spent a little time helping out at Medecin sans Frontiers. He had found it fascinating in terms of the nature of work this incredible organisation does. It put me in mind of another pal who gave up a good (if dull) job as a tax accountant and moved to Uganda to work for a charity. Organisations such as these offer low pay, no benefits and terrible conditions. Yet the level of employee engagement is incredible – it has to be.

Generally people aren’t excited by making money for the businesses owners, so whilst they want their employer to be successful (which gives job security) they ideally want more than that. Giving employees what one of my colleagues calls ‘a guiding star’ is increasingly seen as a vital tool in engaging with staff.

Of course it’s a pretty straightforward task to set out your core purpose in such an environment, there is an obvious ‘greater cause’ that barely needs spelling out. It is this sense of being part of something much bigger and worthwhile that enthuses people. This principle can be applied to any business, although it takes a little more effort.

If we can identify that higher purpose and the good emotions that go with it employees will surely feel to follow.

How was I to ever,
Believe it?
It’s never too late,
Until it’s too late,
And I’ve been stranded,
And I need something.

Now I can see it,
And I can feel it,
I believe it.
Ever since I,
Can remember,
It’s been as nothing.

Until I almost,
Feel to follow.

Feel to Follow – The Maccabees

Thank you (fallettinme be mice elf agin)

view-from-the-terrace-outside-the-edgemoor-innA week or so ago I was fortunate enough to have the time to get out on my bike whilst the UK was bathed in unseasonably warm sunshine (the warmest Halloween on record).  I was conscious that I hadn’t posted a blog for a while and tried to direct my thoughts to create  the structure of a piece.  I did have a couple of great ideas – now I cannot for the life of me remember them, they were great ideas though!

I have just reviewed the ride in my training log as it was a great, flat route.  The headlines as captured for posterity by Strava were 56km in 2:18, averaging 24.4kmh, total elevation gained 220m (it is pretty flat around here), on my 16 year old Scott Vail MTB.  The weather was a sunny 22.2 C and I burned up around 1,900 calories.

If I had been using my heart rate monitor, cadence meter and a power meter I would have captured more data about the ride.

That evening I was finalising a presentation and I came across the old maxim:

what get’s measured get’s managed

That of course leads to various conclusions around “measures that matter”.  Reflecting on the day I wondered what really mattered. The data captured was of use only from a training perspective.  The bare facts don’t come close to describing the experience.  If asked why I run, cycle and swim my Strava account is the wrong place to start looking.

The truly important things about the ride were the things that can’t be directly measured: my emotions and feelings.  I started out in a fairly flat mood, a few opportunities I had been pursuing were looking less likely to come off and those that were promising were not the most exciting.  I finished feeling energised, relaxed and renewed.

We keep a jar in the kitchen into which all of the family put small notes of gratitude on a regular basis (we’ll review them over New Year in a celebration) and I found I had a whole list of notes to write:

Thanks for the time and fitness to be able to get out;

the glorious sunshine;

the privilege to live in the Cotswolds;

the wonderful views;

the Autumn colours…

None of which can easily be measured.  Maybe if what get’s measured does get managed, do we fall into the trap of simply managing what we can measure? I wonder if we should really focus on those things that defy simple measurement?

Dance to the music
All nite long
Everyday people
Sing a simple song
Mama’s so happy
Mama start to cry
Papa still singin’
You can make it if you try

I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
(Different strokes for different folks, yeah)
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

Thank you (fallettinme be mice elf agin) – Sly & The Family Stone

Who’s got a match?

matchIslamic State are sweeping across the Middle East, Ebola rages across parts of Africa, there are signs we are headed for a global economic slowdown, climate change seems unstoppable, UKIP have an elected MP, I think I am getting a bit of a sniffle…I could go on.

Recently I found myself raging at the radio and television as crisis after crisis unfolds and our collective response appears to be inadequate yet again.  I know that anger is a useless emotion and hurling insults at politicians on the television only serves to increase my own stress levels (and make me appear more than slightly unhinged).  I know that simply feeling overcome with sadness for the victims of war, disease and poverty achieves precisely nothing other than upsetting my own emotional well being.

And yet it’s all so complicated and so overwhelming that there is nothing an individual can do, is there?

Thinking about this I was reminded of an old Quaker saying:

“It is better to light one small candle than rage against the darkness”.

Of course, but where is the candle? And who’s got a match?

Again an old favourite came to mind – Stephen Covey, in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People encourages us to only focus on concerns that we have control over. He outlines the “circle of concerns” as all of the things that worry us – and then a smaller “circle of influence” (within the larger “circle of concerns”) that only contains things that we can actually control.
His point is that we should only spend our energy on stuff that we can do something about. Focus only on problems that lie within your “circle of influence.”

By attempting to address every “concern” your energy becomes dissipated and is wasted as you start to obsess over details and situations that are beyond your control. Ultimately, you achieve nothing.

Does this mean that we should do nothing about these complex global issues and ignore them?  I don’t believe so.  My personal view is that we should stop shouting at the television and instead identify some tangible actions, within our control.  Worried about global warming?  Then lobby your MP, drive less, invest in renewable energy.  Taking small actions is likely to expand your circle of influence, so you can take ever bigger steps.

Identifying and taking tangible actions an individual can take to address these huge issues is not always easy, but it beats impotent raging.

Now, who’s got a match?

Who’s got a match I’ve got the petrol to set it to
I know I shouldn’t have trusted you
It’s making me tense when you’re telling me
It’s just the facts that don’t compute the classic way
I guess I’m wrong again anyway

I’m a fire and I’ll burn burn burn tonight
I’m a fire and I’ll burn burn burn tonight…

Biffy Clyro – Who’s got a match?

Summer Holiday

summer_holiday

Richard Branson’s recent announcement that staff at Virgin Airlines can take as much holiday as they like has certainly generated a lot of comment and publicity. It has also divided opinion.

At first glance it seems too good to be true.  Employees have no fixed holiday entitlement.  They have no need to book in advance or seek permission to take time off. Feeling fed up on Friday? Well just take the day off.  Fancy driving an old London bus across France? Take a month off.

Surely there has to be a catch?

The naysayers usually focus on these words in the new policy (the policy that isn’t a policy in the words of Branson) (click for the full article)

It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off, the assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel a hundred per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business – or, for that matter, their careers!

They conclude that no one ever feels 100% up to date, and surely that bit about careers is a veiled threat.  So in fact to prove their value staff will take less holiday than before!

Others argue that it is just a publicity stunt, coinciding as it does with yet another Branson book.  I don’t doubt that the release of this policy is well timed. That, for me, just demonstrates Branson’s entrepreneurial spirit rather than detracting from the policy.

I heard someone vehemently arguing that it would only work if everyone was a shareholder or on a big bonus – otherwise they would just bunk off.

I think this entirely misses the point.  Firstly it has been proved beyond any reasonable doubt that incentives do not incentivise performance once we get beyond basic tasks.  Further any staff shareholding or bonus is likely to be relatively small – the impact of my taking extra time off on profits overall is tiny which translates to a meaningless reduction in my cash bonus or share scheme income compared to the ‘value’ of the extra holiday.

The doubters assume that everyone (presumably except themselves?) turns up to work under duress and only does the bare minimum to get paid and avoid being fired.  This is not my experience and I doubt it is yours.  I have never met anyone who set out to do a bad job although I have met many under skilled, badly lead and poorly motivated employees.

We are social creatures and gaining the acceptance and appreciation of the group is hard wired in us.  Most of us want to do a good job.  It is only when poor systems and leaders push us into tasks for which we are ill suited and crush our spirit that we lose this desire.

Netflix are perhaps the most well known business that has this policy.  Netflix understood that in a world where we all check emails wherever and whenever, no one works 9-5.  We carry our offices with us at all times in the form of a smart phone (most of us sleep within arms reach too).  If we don’t expect workers to log every moment they spend working when not in the office why doesn’t it work the other way around?

The expectation is that staff will discuss vacation plans with co-workers and agree time off rather than going through a formal process with a manager.  This allows creative solutions – I’d like Monday mornings off to go to Yoga classes, if Sally covers my Monday morning meeting and Fred covers for her when she takes that extended Christmas vacation to visit relatives in Australia, I’ll cover for Fred in the spring when he needs to leave early to get some marathon training done.

Simple. Creative. Human.

Yet very threatening to managers who are used to position and process creating order.

Branson’s move is simply a first step in self management.   The concept is simply that if the structure gets out of the way the workers will self organise in a highly effective way.  This has been tried and tested by an increasing number of businesses.  With almost invariably positive results.  At Virgin, as the management structure still exists, one assumes that anyone who fails to maintain the expected performance and fulfil their duties will be subject to some form of action. In fully self managing organisations this is dealt with by the workers themselves  – not via an imposed hierarchy.

The challenge for Virgin is allowing the system to develop, ensuring that managers do not try to impose authority and order in other ways.  I will be watching the results of this keenly as I am increasingly seeing signs that such self management is a growing movement that strikes a deep chord within us.

We’re all going on a summer holiday
No more working for a week or two
Fun and laughter on our summer holiday
No more worries for me or you
For a week or two

Summer Holiday – Cliff Richard & The Shadows

Modern Magic Formula

customerserviceI recently had dinner with a small group of leading figures in the UK retail industry.  The broad topic of discussion was the current state of play with particular reference to shoppers changing habits and the rise of mobile and internet shopping.

The findings will form part of a larger report later in the year, so I won’t steal Kantar’s thunder.  However we did keep coming back to the same point.  Whatever the channel, the only real point of difference any retailer has is the way their people interact with customers.  There is nothing that any of us offer that someone else does not, or could not offer.  And they may well be able to do it cheaper, faster, better etc.

I have had the pleasure of working with Martin Butler in the past.  He puts it far more elegantly than I can and in much more detail – for more on this check out his books here.  Martin argues that ‘People don’t buy what you sell‘ and as a consequence retail is ‘The art of being chosen‘.  For all of our focus on new technologies and channels retail still is about being chosen and for me that increasingly comes down to customer service.

So called ‘showrooming’ (where a shopper visits a store to try a product with the full intention to buy online) is often seen as a threat by many retailers.  I have certainly been into stores to look at an item ‘in the flesh’ then walked out and bought it online using my phone before I hit the street.  And yet it is a great opportunity, here they are presented with a potential customer who is ready and willing to buy.  Great customer service can easily trump price and I have definitely been into a store to try with no intention of buying there and found myself handing over my plastic having felt I had just made a new connection.

Arguably any retailer who sees showrooming as a threat and not an opportunity has big issues.  These may not be easy to fix but I’d argue that they are simple to understand.  It is ultimately all about the people, all about their training, all about their leadership and all about their freedom to act.

This all seems very obvious.  Yet retail is typically very controlled and hierarchical, it’s more about monitoring and checking.  Staff clock in and out, there are strict rules to prevent theft and fraud and processes to ensure everyone keeps working.  In this environment there is little room for trust, procedures and policies rather than common sense cover all aspects of the job.

This frequently translates into a disengaged ‘jobsworth’ attitude.  Staff will not be willing to move away from the laid down policy regardless of the circumstances for fear of their job.  I heard a story of a staff member who left to train as a nurse.  On his last day after his shift a few drinks were had and somehow his shoes ended up in a canal – I think we have all been there.  No worries, he went back to his store that was just closing up to buy a pair of cheap sneakers to walk home in.  As the tills were closed he was refused to be served, he offered to leave the cash.  But no, there was no policy to cover this.  It might get the sales assistant in trouble.  So he walked home barefoot.  I forgot to mention – it was snowing.  Does anyone think this was in any way right?

The solution isn’t easy but it is simple.

Trust.

Trust that you have hired the right people (if you haven’t whose fault is that?), trust that they all want to do a good job (I know no one who sets out to do a bad job), trust that they want to learn and grow (we all do if we allow ourselves to admit it).  Build an atmosphere of trust and trust staff to not only do things right but to do the right things. Human beings not human doings.

The rest follows.

You will feel very exposed and yes sometimes your trust will prove to be misplaced. And weighed against the freedom and benefits of not having to act like a secret policeman, the improvements in customer service with the consequent improvements in results it is a risk that might be worth taking.

Of course this does not just apply to retailers, or even to organisations.  As individuals we are all looking to be chosen and trusting in ourselves is a good step on the route to being chosen. After all if you don’t trust yourself why should others trust you?

All we need is a magic formula
A whole new backbone
Is what we’re looking for
So you wanted to change the world
But I didn’t believe you
That’s why we’ll say goodbye to the good old days son
I’m trying the best I can
But there’s a white flag burning in the middle of my hand
I’m tired of being exposed
And I don’t know how much more of this I can stand

Modern Magic Formula – Biffy Clyro