Monthly Archives: March 2011

The one where it’s time to change

When the big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the 3….it’s 3 o’clock, right? Simple stuff and stuff we are taught when we are knee high to a grasshopper. Consider an alternative phrase ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ – who hasn’t said that? What they represent however are two different definitions of time – the first objective – time is a measured definite thing, where there are 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day (despite my consistent lobbying for 30 hour days at the weekend). The second (time flying) is subjective; where time is ‘defined in the mind of the actor’ – it’s not measured it’s defined by the individual who is experiencing it.

The first essay I was asked to write at uni was entitled “Discuss the meaning of time in organizational change” (the question was set, I certainly didn’t choose it!) and as ever with these things I started off thinking what a horrid title it was and ended up being fascinated with the idea of two different definitions of time….

So why write this now?

In the current climate (a phrase that is now highly valued in bullshit bingo) change is truly becoming a constant (you can see why I score so well in BB). A lot of conversation happens both on and offline about how to do it but consider this – if you are an enactor of change time is likely to be defined objectively to you. When enacting change there are structures, milestones and ‘things’ to deliver.

If, however, change is being enacted upon you time is not about compliance with employment legislation or delivery to budget, it is a very personal thing. How many people are having to leave teams or businesses, join new teams or businesses, change huge parts of their lives (where they live, childcare, how they travel etc)? At the moment, lots! Your neatly planned change is changing the reality of their day to day lives.

Personally, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was announce a restructure to a group of highly committed long serving employees. It was the first time I’d ever lead such a thing so was fairly anxious anyway. In the ensuing 1 to 1 meetings the reality of a subjective definition of time was brought home to me with a 54 year man (and he worked in a warehouse he was a blokey bloke) crying, asking the simple question “what am I going to tell my wife?”

There’s a line in the movie “Trains, Planes & Automobiles” where Steve Martin’s character rants to John Candy about his stories and ends along the lines of “they should have a point – it makes it far more interesting for the listener”. So what’s the point?

Next time you are planning a neatly executed change and whether you are using Lewin or Kotter or any other guru’s process just remember that to the person being changed, this is about their life, not about your Gantt chart. Their reality is not about a tick in the box, it’s however THEY define it…




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The one where we’re divided by a common language

In the inaugural post of this endeavour I mentioned that in the open day for Birkbeck the phrase that was oft repeated was “it’s a very academic course”. At the time this didn’t really sink in, of course it’s academic; it’s at a university and its run by academics. Little did I know…

Having done a science undergrad there was of course a mixture of theory and practice (the spark gun in our lab that was ACTUALLY shaped like a gun gave endless amusement) but what I hadn’t realised was that there are courses at university that are ALL about theory and NOTHING about practice…

Attributions differ (Churchill, GBS and Wilde are all in the mix) for “two nations divided by a common language” in reference to the UK and US but when it comes to academics and practitioners it seems the language is just the tip of the iceberg, but the language….seriously….who writes like that? And why? If I have achieved nothing else in the nigh on 2 years I’ve been ‘at this’ it’s to get something of a grip on being able to decipher ‘academeese’ and now feel very comfortable in reading a paper/journal article and enjoy seeing the versions that are written for the practitioner press (spot the academics in People Management and find their original papers – it’s fun, no REALLY, it is!)

So where am I going with this? Well, it seems that academics put a lot of time and effort into research and then drawing conclusions from that research. At the same time practitioners put a lot of effort into, ummm, practitionering… but do the two groups actually talk to each other? It seems not. One of our lecturers, Rob Briner, is on something of a jihad with regard to evidence based management, challenging both parties it seems – the academics to make their work accessible (both intellectually and physically) and the practitioners to actually give a stuff about basing their work on research and not just the latest business fad/fashion/book.

Rick (@FlipchartFT) wrote a great blog post on it (which he directed me to when I had my own Briner moment) and to anyone interested I would highly recommend reading it. The sad thing is aside from Prof Briner and a few brave souls it does seem that most people really don’t give a stuff about what they are basing their work on and if a consultant says/they do…especially if the consultant works for a very large firm of consultants and charges a day rate equivalent to the GDP of a small Polynesian country

I feel a certain sense of frustration at this and prior to this experience of studying I was just like everyone else and still fall into the trap when trying to make things a) palatable and b) defensible (everyone loves a fad, especially if it’s been in the Harvard Business Review) but if I make it through this academic endeavour I, the undersigned, promise to be better Professor Briner, I do!

….and as a final though if anyone ever tells you “it’s very academic” don’t brush it off, stop, thinking about it and treat it like the warning on the front of a packet of cigarettes because whilst journal articles don’t kill, trust me they can maim!

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The one where I share my not last words

Firstly, thank you so much for response to first two posts. Some great leads on finding corporate entrepreneurs for the project (but happy to have more suggestions –I need about 20!). Already some really interesting people who, as an aside, sound like they have awesome jobs!!

Secondly, having been in Tokyo last Friday and now watching the trouble the Japanese are facing in managing the nuclear situation and keeping basic services functional, my thoughts go out to the people all over Japan who are fearful for their immediate safety and security.

Thirdly (and mainly) I would like to take you back to a sunny afternoon in the summer of 2004. I had just finished my CIPD exams and my 5th or 6th pint and declared in a quasi-drunken voice to anyone who would listen “if I ever suggest studying whilst working full time again – please, someone shoot me”. Talk about famous not last words…

I remember standing outside Birkbeck in Bloomsbury now in the late summer of 2009 with those words ringing in my ears and if there was a man stood next to me in a black bowler hat I would have delivered the “this is another fine mess you’ve got us into, Stanley” line but alas I was stood alone (but from memory I did tweet my quote and a picture)

Due to my work schedule I could only consider the distance learning option which I have found particularly hard as I prefer to learn through debate and discussion which unfortunately has been restricted to the 5 weekend workshops we have attended. The workshops will be worthy of a post in themselves I’m sure but I generally work 10 hour days, then get home do normal stuff like catch up with friends, eat, chores etc and then the thought of sitting down with a journal article has been about as attractive as root canal surgery (and that’s pretty bad I assure you).

Learning on our course has been mainly about reviewing a volume (around 5-6 per fortnight) journal articles and then discussing them with other students in a moderated online forum run by the Uni. We are supposed to make a certain number of posts per week and contribute to the discussion. This has been a slog which at times (and on several occasions) I have failed at…

So what’s my point? Well there are two of them:

1. Before taking on a course such as this consider how much you want it and if the mode of learning suits your style and life style

2. If I ever suggest studying whilst working full time again – please, someone shoot me. No, really I mean it!!!!!


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The one where the plot thickens…and I ask for help

You may have got from my first post (it was there in the subtext) that I am experiencing a little anxiety about my research project. The project is a 10,000 word dissertation, fully researched and referenced. I do love that in a piece of work that is supposedly mine, that my opinion has no input whatsoever – unless it’s cited I can’t say a word!!

Also, I must say as an aside I would never make an academic. The reasons for this are numerous, but the primary one it seems my surname is far too prosaic – Jones. The bunch I seem to end up reading have weird and wonderful surnames which makes writing any bibliography a chore. If your name is Smith or Davies – please, get into academia, quickly!

The most difficult hurdle so far has been choosing a topic to research for the aforementioned. You have the WHOLE of occupational psychology and with frustrations about how specific an academic research question has to be aside, that is a whole lot of ‘stuff’ to choose from.

So what have I chosen?

Entrepreneurship. Specifically internal entrepreneurs (aka Intrapreneurs or Corporate Entrepreneurs). If you say entrepreneur to most people they think of Branson, The Dragons or god help us all sur’Alan … but my interest is not in these people. I am interested in those who achieve as entrepreneurs but within a corporate setting. They have launched businesses within businesses or they have launched whole new product or service areas. They have structures, processes, constraints, budgets, teams, governance and most critically for my project – bosses!

Which brings me to the source my of current highest anxiety… where the hell do I find people who are achieving as Corporate Entrepreneurs (you may see where this is going) if only there was a way to speak to people who knew people who knew other people – some form of network… If I could tell them what I was looking for and see if they knew anyone who would be prepared to be interviewed…

So (and this is the call to action folks) can I ask (ever so politely) that you have a think about the people you know and if any of them strike you as meeting these criteria – they have achieved as entrepreneurs, in a corporate environment, ideally working at Senior Management level PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me know… I would only want to interview them and may there even be a beer/glass of wine/mojito (delete as appropriate) for those who help (that’s the incentive bit)

Yours sincerely etc


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So it’s get a Masters or bust…

In September 2009 I started a Masters degree at Birkbeck College, University of London. I am now on the home straight and with several big deadlines looming – especially the handing in of my research project on August 31st 2011.

I’ve seen various people using blogs to talk about things they are dealing with (job hunting, marathon running) and have decided to try and use this to deal with all the nonsense going on in my head with respect to my project. The details of the project will be discussed (try and remain calm) but wanted to start with a little context…

It was during a discussion of Exec Education (I work in L&D for a corporate) that my boss asked me if I had thought of doing any further study (I have a first degree in Life Sciences and did the CIPD diploma) and the idea appealed to me, for several reasons:

1. I was new in a role which was very exposed and I was feeling out of my depth in terms of the content – I felt I lacked subject matter expertise and knowing myself as I do, I know I am at my best operating from a position of confidence

2. Knowing that at some point I would want to climb the slippery ladder, that some academic validation would not go amiss

3. The fact that my boss was open to supporting it felt like a gesture of support and endorsement

4. I hadn’t REALLY thought it through…

Following several conversations with friends and colleagues (especially 1 supplier for whom I have a great deal of respect) I settled on Birkbeck because it was well respected, came well recommended and had a distance learning option (my work commitments make it difficult to do ‘2 nights a week’). On attending on the open day the words which I recall but should have really should have sought to understand more are “it’s a very academic course”. More of that later!

So here I sit 18 odd months later having passed (and only passed, no glory for me it seems) several essays, some exams and having attended 5 weekend workshops (slogs) with 1 essay, 2 exams and THE PROJECT left to finish – so from here until August 31st, it’s Masters or bust….


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