About Today

imagesI am not great at endings.  I hadn’t really thought much about this until Charlotte Sills at Ashridge raised the topic of managing endings in a coaching or counselling context.

Reflecting on this it would seem that I have some ‘unfinished business’ (see I was paying attention).  It’s no big deal, I have a tendency to avoid  ‘endings’. And, sometimes, thinking about past ‘endings’, I get the feeling that somehow I’ve forgotten something.

I recently finished a spell as an interim HR Director.  Recalling that session at Ashridge I re-read the chapter in Charlotte’s excellent Skills in Gestalt Counselling regarding endings, determined not to repeat past mistakes.

The key is to recognise the ending for what it is.  Sloping off with no marking of the event diminishes it and agreeing that you’ll be back soon (when everyone knows you won’t be) denies it.  Of course it may be appropriate to request or offer ongoing support and leave the door open for future relationships, but often this is simply a form of avoidance.

I decided that I’d make this ending ‘About Today’, not a raking over of the past or crystal ball gazing into the future.  We’d just have a day that was my last and clearly mark it as such.

We had a small team lunch, shared a few stories – nothing too serious.  Then we went back to work and I tidied up a few loose ends before leaving.  Perhaps we’ll keep in touch and maybe I’ll be back.  I’d like that.  But if not we’ll all be fine.

And yes even though it was very low key I’m pretty sure I didn’t forget anything.

Today you were far away
and I didn’t ask you why
What could I say
I was far away
You just walked away
and I just watched you
What could I say

How close am I to losing you

Tonight you just close your eyes
and I just watch you
slip away

About Today – The National

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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

Point of View

Reading-Festival-2I spent the Bank holiday weekend at Reading Festival. Being well past the age when camping in overcrowded conditions with thousands of insomniac teenagers stopped being fun I now temper my festival experience by staying in a local hotel. Being a true Yorkshireman and appreciating the value of money (or being mean if you want to apply that reframe) I stayed in a basic bed and breakfast with my brother in law. He had booked it about 9 months in advance and called them to confirm all was well and there was on site parking. His text to me was typically cryptic.

Hi just checked B&B all booked in, check in from 1400.
No alcohol
No talking
No having fun
No music
😉

But it did set the scene for my first meeting with our hostess.

On the Thursday my daughter was keen to get going to secure a reasonable place to camp and after grinding through the traffic I arrived at the B&B at 13.30. I parked and leaving my bag in the car, in case , went into the B&B to see if I could check in or at least leave my car in the car park while I went for a stroll to the pub.  The Landlady greeted me with a gruff:

it’s 1.30. Another one who can’t tell the time.

I said I knew I was early and if the room was not ready I was happy to come back in an hour or so. The landlady said that the room was ready and I was welcome to come in.

I’ve had them here at 9.30.  It clearly says 2pm.  And checking out, asking if they can check out later.  It says right here on the key fob 10.00.  This weekend of all times.  You get all sorts, especially this weekend

I took it from the tone that ‘all sorts’ was not seen as a desirable state of affairs. But wanting to help her achieve a higher state of being (OK wanting to wind her up a bit) I said “How lovely, it must be great to meet a different type of guest than the usual business travellers”.

Her expression suggested that it wasn’t great at all.  She showed me to the rather tired room.  Never has the word ‘adequate’ been so apt.

It will soon be getting busy.  The great unwashed arriving.

I said that it was already very busy and when I dropped my daughter off the town centre was at a near standstill.

I don’t call that traffic.  Soon it will be nose to tail all along here.  That’s traffic.  Every day it’s terrible it is.

“That does make getting about awkward but it’s great for you having so many people pass by, no need to advertise!  And great for the town too.  If the town is busy it must be good for your business.”

Apparently not.

Looks like another muddy one.  Last year the mud was terrible.  They walked it in everywhere they did.

“Well” I said, looking at the grubby decor “I am surprised as I was at the festival last year and don’t recall any rain. In any case, it doesn’t seem to have done any lasting damage.  I guess a wet festival must be good for business as it makes people more likely to use a B&B ”

Forecast for rain, even snow.  That will be nice for that lot.

“Oh, the forecast I saw is for it to be a bit chilly but mostly dry.  Snow in August.  That would give us all a tale to tell!”

The next morning over breakfast the landlady chatted with various guests about various guests.  Interesting as I wondered what she was saying about me.

I wonder if we’ll see those two girls? I doubt it.  I bet they won’t surface.

“That saves you the trouble of cooking and the cost of the meal.  All extra profit.”

That Indian girl’s dad rang at midnight last night to see if she was in.  He booked her in here and paid for it.

“It’s wonderful to see a father allowing his daughter the freedom and yet keeping a discrete check.”

One guest asked if the doors were locked at any time and was treated to a sarcastic refresh on how one of the keys opened the front  door and the other his room followed by threats of physical harm should anyone lose a key and require letting in late at night, further followed by a critique of the headline acts

Noisy rubbish.  Dreadful thumping all night, no proper tunes.  Hasn’t been an act worth seeing for years.

“The organisers have to move with the times. Most of the people sitting here paid a lot of money to watch these bands, 90,000 people will be watching tonight plus a large TV audience.”

I’d love to report that my repeated reframing changed her in some way.  I doubt it did because she was rarely listening out for anything except a lull in the conversation into which she could inject her opinions.  It wasn’t even annoying her so I gave up.

It did change me though.  I decided not to ask if my daughter could pop in mid morning to use the shower in my room and I decided to hide the fact that I spilled a large glass of red wine all over the bed.  I am sorry – not to the Landlady, the laundry would get it out anyway, but to my daughter who had to go a few days as one of the great unwashed.

At least it didn’t snow.

Two different people, two different places
Through a one way window with two different faces
Agreements are not reached, faces are forgotten
The other person’s shoes, you’ve not got in

Stubborn minded enclosed to your own world
Wake up and see someone else’s morals
What right to you
Might be true

It’s a different point of view to you
You cannot see things that are different to me
And I can’t understand why you cannot see
The things that I cannot see

I see what you don’t see
I see what you don’t see
Turn around and the shadows are all around me

Two different people, two different places
Through a one way window with two different faces
Agreements are not reached, faces are forgotten
The other person’s shoes, you’ve not got in

Point of View – Blink 182