Monthly Archives: September 2011

The one with the world’s favourite airline

I used to live in West London. I lived on the 7th floor of a building and could lie in bed and watch the aircraft on final approach to Heathrow. I reached a point where “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all” but that wasn’t true when (given this was the late 90s) Concorde came into land. It looked amazing; it sounded different and just represented something special in aviation terms.

When I visited New York for the first time I was lucky enough to go on board one of the decommissioned Concorde’s which was at the time on display near USS Intrepid at Pier 86. It was surprisingly small but still looked amazing. The obvious affection the aircraft was held in was reflected by the messages left by crew (air & ground alike) on various parts of the fuselage.

What’s brought this to mind? British Airways have recently launched a new advertising campaign entitled “To Fly. To Serve”. If you haven’t seen the advert I’ve linked it below. It depicts the journey through passenger aviation from Imperial Airways, to BOAC, to a modern 747-400 and of course Concorde. Sadly, I believe all the Concordes had their engines removed after being taken out of service so the shots of the Concorde flying are computer generated. In my opinion it’s a very effective film which deserves a nod to all involved especially BBH whose creative work drove it.

You may be wondering why I am writing about it? There are several reasons:

The first is I am a British Airways customer (clinging on to my frequent flyer card for dear life and trying to get consulting gigs that need flights!!) and have spent many hours on their aircrafts and had some great experiences and some not so great experiences.

The second is I think this campaign reflects the changed times (as do many others) in that it was initially launched (I think) on YouTube and the brand are actively engaging on social media with those commenting about it (I have had 2 different tweets from 2 different BA Twitter accounts). So in addition to the TV and website exposure, the brand are ‘landing’ (pardon the pun) the work and driving the engagement very actively. There are also a number of supporting and complimentary videos around the core video shown above.

The third and to me most significant reason is I think it’s a strong piece of corporate communication. Yes, it’s a strong piece of advertising but advertising to me always implies a sales message and it certainly seems focussed at that but there is more.

To me the core message of “To Fly. To Serve” is an empowering statement to the customers of the airline. I can picture a scene on board an aircraft if someone is not getting what they want they may well invoke this statement in questioning the customer experience. Now I can also picture a scene where it is glibly thrown at some poor cabin crew member but to me the idea of empowering your customers to hold you to the standard you profess is very powerful.

There is also a very clear statement of values to the employees of British Airways. I can imagine there are some who having seen (or been involved in the making of, which was a nice touch) the film have felt a real pride in the organisation they work for and it has empowered or maybe even inspired them to live up to the message. Likewise, I can imagine a few jaded individuals shrugging their shoulders and with eyes raised to heaven, cursing management or marketing and maybe just maybe this will set a bar that proves too high for them.

In a time when the economy is woeful and competition rife it is pleasing to me to see a British brand investing in such an effective piece of multi faceted communication that harks back to the days of “the world’s favourite airline”

Disclaimer:

No BA miles or Tier Points were exchanged for the writing of this blog!!

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The one where he’s a school teacher

Last week I wrote a post which talked about leadership in the context of Daniel Goleman’s work on ‘Emotional Intelligence’. He describes six styles of leadership that can be used to maximise connection and resonance with those being lead – visionary, democratic, coaching, affilliative, pacesetting & commanding. I used Kenneth Brannagh’s depiction of Lt. Col. Tim Collins to illustrate the commanding style and thanks to all of you who read it.

The Tim Collins clip was the first I found that illustrated one of Goleman’s styles and over the past few years I have been on the look out for clips to illustrate the others.

To summarise Goleman’s description of the style he calls ‘Affiliative’ he talks about creating harmony by connecting people with each other. He alludes to this being useful for healing rifts in teams, strengthening connections between individuals and to motivate during stressful times.

The clip I now use to illustrate this is:

Clip courtesy of Dreamworks SKG

For those of you who don’t know the film “Saving Private Ryan” firstly – watch it! Secondly, this part of the film follows the squad’s attack on a gun, losing one of their number to german fire and Tom Hanks playing Captain Miller, allowing the remaining live German solider to go free much to some in the squad’s dismay.

Hanks’ performance is incredible as much for it’s understatement as anything else but if you suspend the fact that it’s a film and think about Captain Miller as a leader he is both very brave in that he lets the tension build before intervening but also connects with those he leads on a very personal and authentic basis. The risk he takes in waiting and also the potential consequences of a wrong intervention make it in, in my opinion, very powerful. To me it is a great example of someone either consciously or subconsciously assessing the situation and choosing how to diffuse and lead the situation within their own values and to move toward the objective. You could argue he only did what was in the script but I did ask you to suspend that fact!

On a personal note, we took my Dad to Normandy for a significant birthday and had the privilege to stand in the American cemetary where Private Ryan opens overlooking Omaha beach. If you ever get the chance, do it. Not only is it an awe-inspiring place but as you stand on the bluff overlooking the beach it only takes moments to realise what kind of courage and fortitude it must have taken to run up that beach.

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The one with the pit stop

When I worked in FMCG someone gave me a book called “The Machine that Changed the World” written by 3 academics at MIT in the US:  Daniel Roos, James Womack and Daniel Jones (no relation!). Based on a 5 year research programme run from MIT it’s the story of the shift from mass production to lean production that was pioneered in the Japanese automobile industry with Toyota very much the leading light.

It’s a very interesting book (especially as it was very relevant to the business I was working in at that time) but given it’s description of processes pioneered in a) Japan and b) the automotive industry there’s a range of words and acronyms that were very new to me. I am fortunate that I have one of those brains that likes new concepts so chewed through it with enthusiasm. However, when it came to communicating these new ideas to colleagues especially those that would potentially have to change the way they worked based on my new found knowledge the Japanese and the acronyms were my undoing…

Let’s take the example of SMED. The ‘single minute exchange of dies’ – the changing of a car production line in single digit minutes (i.e. less than 10 minutes). Production lines are only truly making money (returning capital) when they are producing things so any time spent changing from one product to another is loss making. The idea of the SMED process was to reduce long change overs to under 10 minutes and in the pilot programme Toyota reduced a 3.5 hour to around 9 minutes.

The concept of SMED is relatively simple (with hindsight) – you define both ‘internal’ (things that can only happen when the line is stopped) and ‘external’ (things that can happen before the line is stopped or once it has started again). You then remove anything from ‘internal’ that you can and make sure that any process still included in ‘internal’ is as efficient as possible. OK hands up who got bored during that paragraph?! The operator group who had completed 10 hours of their shift were bored and half asleep….

The pilot programme we ran on the back of those briefs delivered….. ummmmmm……little measurable improvement. Surprise!

We’ll come back to SMED in a moment but I was recently having lunch with a friend and we were discussing how often inspiration and great ideas come at times when doing something very mundane and routine. Mine are often either the shower or whilst driving a route I know very well. She recounted a story when hanging out with friends discussing one friend’s relationship issue. They were all baffled as to a solution when my friend retired to the loo and on return had a great solution which coined the phrase “the wee of wisdom”. I’m not sure it’s one I’d use in a professional situation but it was in mundane circumstances that I had a flash of wisdom with regard to communicating SMED…

They can only work on the car whilst it’s stopped. They need to minimise the time it is stopped. They need focus on task, clarity of roles, efficiency of operation and only one person looks at the overall performance, everyone else focuses on role. The results following this example were much better!

My big learnings from this were that not everyone likes to play with new concepts as much as I do, the reaffirmation about how scary change is but mostly that if you want to communicate a new idea relate it to something already known that gives people a bridge to the new concept.

I could go on but thank your lucky stars that I am sparing you the 5S methodology and the analogy of my Mum’s kitchen….

 

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The one with the question on vision

So last week I was on the train into London and given the train ran from Tring to London (where I was headed) and I was feeling rather weary I rested my eyes for a few moments….to be woken about 20 minutes later by someone saying “I’ve literally caught you sleeping!”. Thankfully it was someone I know and it was good to catch up. During the course of the conversation the person in question, who runs a small but growing business, asked if I had any structures or exercises for developing company vision statements.

I have played with a few things but nothing that’s ever got my intellectual tuning fork ringing so when I got home some hours later I tweeted a question along the lines of “What’s the difference between mission & vision?”. After managing the responses who thought there was a punchline coming and that I was actually being serious, I got the following responses…..

Consultant @dougshaw1 posted this:

What’s the difference between mission statement and vision? the former is longer, and both are full of bullshit bingo?

Head of Comms @melbuck32 posted this:

Best answer I’ve found: Vision is what it’ll look like in the future. Mission is why it exists & how it achieves the vision

L&D Manager @floramarriot posted this:

am not a fan, but I think V is the big dream, what’s possible. M is what u do to make the dream happen

Engagement Specialist @thinkingfox posted this:

V is what the boss sees, M is what happens when marketing and HR are allowed to sanitise it

@theintrapreneur, Richard Baker posted this:

not much difference. a mission is wordy and should last. Vision is punchier ideally and fit within broader purpose/mission

Change Consultant @changeconinuum posted this:

The consultant’s fee

And followed it up with this:

what the future looks like (vision) versus what you are about (mission)

PR professional @LaraLakin posted this:

Mission is a company’s reason for being. Vision is the potential, given the status quo, that it could achieve

 

Wikipedia defines them as this:

A Mission statement tells you the fundamental purpose of the organization. It defines the customer and the critical processes. It informs you of the desired level of performance.

A Vision statement outlines what the organization wants to be, or how it wants the world in which it operates to be. It concentrates on the future. It is a source of inspiration. It provides clear decision-making criteria.

Having reviewed the responses and the wiki definition there seems to be some consensus that mission is about purpose and vision is about future but I’m still not sure if it’s really a McKinsey exercise that we’re all paying lip service to?

The original purpose of this blog was the share the answers but also try and further develop my understand, so if there’s anything anyone wants to add – feel free!

Meanwhile back to the plot, I shared some thoughts with the person I met on the train but also went sculling about to look at some vision statement from well known organisations, so Ladies & Gentlemen, line up as we play guess the vision:

  • Our Vision is to put joy in kids’ hearts and a smile on parents’ faces.
  • To enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.
  • “#######’s mission is to help people save money so they can live bet
  • To make people happy.
  • “#######‘s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

(The only hint is they are all American!)

 

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The one where our business is now is north

I am an easy mark for good oratory I really am. I think what some people can do with the composition and delivery of words is incredible. I think, with a few exceptions, the art of oratory has been replaced by the art of spin and sound biting. As Rob Lowe (as Sam Seaborn) in ‘The West Wing’ says “Oratory should raise your heart rate. Oratory should blow the doors off the place.” Rare indeed!

If you have read any of Daniel Goleman’s work on “Emotional Intelligence” (he literally wrote the book on it) he describes six styles of leadership that leaders can apply to build resonance. My intention here is not to get into a debate about emotional intelligence or application thereof…  The six styles he describes are visionary, democratic, coaching, affilliative, pacesetting & commanding, and the inference is that we each have a default style that comes most naturally but by being more conscious and aware of what is going on around us we can focus our behaviour and communication to make what we do more effective.

I have used this on several programmes to try and help those in leadership roles understand their impact on people and why they sometimes don’t get the results they were intending. What makes it difficult to illustrate is getting examples of leader behaviour that are familiar to a cross functional group is really tricky, so I resort to using video clips either from films or of oratory (or both) that go some way to give an example for discussion.

The style that often gets misapplied (especially, in my experience by people who are insecure or feel their control is limited) is the commanding style. According to Goleman is builds resonance by soothing fears and giving clear direction in a difficult situation but is often used in inappropriate circumstances thus having a negative effect.

It was actually a consultant I worked with who suggested a piece of oratory that really fit the bill to illustrate this style and to give you a little background…

Lt Col Tim Collins was the Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment. On the eve of the invasion in Iraq in 2003, he gave a speech to his men which was recorded in shorthand and published by a journalist (you can see her in the clip). In 2008, the BBC made a series of short films called ’10 days to War’ and one of the shorts was entitled “Our business now is North” where Kenneth Brannagh played Lt. Col. Collins to great effect.

What fascinates me about what he says is the way he is able to calm and motivate whilst at no point making a request or making what they have to do seem any less intimidating or perilous. Having watched it numerous times it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end.

Afterword:

I must add an aside that made me laugh – lots. The first time I ever played this as part of a workshop was with a number of senior people in the business I worked for. I overheard someone say “doesn’t Brannagh do an amazing Northern Irish accent” to which her colleague responded “he should do, he was born in bloody Belfast”.

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The one with 3 years salary

I don’t sleep very well. Actually, that’s not true – once I get to sleep I am world class at it, but I don’t find it easy getting to sleep. I think (and there’s your first problem) that there are numerous reasons for this the primary amongst them is I don’t switch off easily…

Sometime in the late 90s before broadband and Twitter and numerous other distractions I used to watch TV to pass the time. Late night TV then (as now) was not of the highest quality but before Sky + and a gazillion channels, I watched what was on – which was often ‘Late Night Poker’.

I had never seen “No Limits Hold ‘Em” before and had only played more traditional forms of Poker. I was fascinated with this new variant and being able to see what the players had in their hands, the shared river cards and the game strategy and betting behaviour this drove. If you have no idea what I am talking about watch “Casino Royale” that’s Texas Hold ‘Em.

The thing that amazed me was this notion of going “all in”. The idea that you could bet everything on a single hand and that the show of strength was either an indicator you had an amazing hand or the biggest bluff on the planet but it often worked – either way. Watching the players who were ‘short stacked’ (low on chips) who had limited opportunity for tactical betting but had to wait for a half way decent hand and then bet it all.

I read a blog this afternoon by Kate Griffiths-Lambeth who talked about the state of the global economy (borked) and the behaviour that it drove in business. She made some excellent points and discussed the difference between being risk astute and risk averse. The latter generating behaviour of arse covering, constantly shifting sands and a form of organisational inertia as everyone waits for the next u-turn.

It took me back to a conversation I had recently with 2 senior people (one a colleague of mine, the other a contact of his) regarding the safe playing that is happening in organisations and what it would take to move that on. Given this conversation happened later in the evening and a we had already sailed past the 5 beer mark the conversation was more ummmm wide ranging than may normally have happened but out of it came a random idea…

What if you took the leadership team of a business – say the top 30 people in the organisation and said to them that they had 3 years salary in escrow. The organisation didn’t own the money anymore but they didn’t have it yet either. Whatever happened they would either be fired at some point in the future or make it to the 3 year mark but what proportion of the money remained on the day they were dismissed it was theirs to keep (I told you it was random).

  • What behaviour would that generate in the leadership of the business?

I could speculate (but not go all in!!) but I don’t want to. I just want to let that thought sit there for a moment. I know it would generate some good behaviours and some bad and that would need managing but how different would the leadership be? Would they go “all in” or keep tactical betting and arse covering?

I’m going to leave it there but before I do I just want to ask a concluding question…

  • How could a business create that behaviour in its leadership without putting several million pounds in escrow?

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The where its personal not business

So it’s fairly late on Thursday night and following some great conversations this week I have decided to write a post that will probably feel very different to most that precede it.

Tomorrow I am speaking at a conference. It’s the Marcus Evans Strategic Learning & Development conference and I my presentation is entitled “The Paradox of Global Leadership Development” if you are reading this in response to seeing me present I hope you enjoyed it. If you are reading this and not attending the conference I will mostly be telling the grumpy guy with iPad story which you can find here….

I have spoken at a few conferences over the past few years and always feel sick for the first few slides, then the nausea passes and by the time its ending I start to enjoy myself and don’t want to sit down. The significant thing about tomorrow is my billing is “Former Head of Learning & Development”. I am no longer in my role, having handed over to one of my former team who I am sure will take the function on to fabulous things and I am genuinely delighted for her.

My exit was voluntary following a nerve wracking but awesome conversation with my boss some months ago about my ongoing development and challenge for me in my role. We mutually decided that to get the challenge that would develop me moving out of the business was the best move and I have to say it’s all gone swimmingly with one exception…

The term to describe my current state if I were an actor would be resting, on sabbatical if I was an academic and unemployed to most everyone else. My awesome plan was to go leave current role, swan off somewhere warm with ‘herself’ (Barbados was top of the list) return for a few weeks mooching and then get stuck into a new gig – physically and mentally refreshed.

The difficulty I have is threefold. Firstly, whilst I want the challenge of a new role it has to give me more than my previous role and those jobs don’t grow on trees. Secondly, I am not good at not doing anything so want to keep busy and not resort to watching back to back films. The final difficulty is probably the biggest one – the challenge to my identity.

This may sound very odd to some people but my job is a huge part of what drives me generally. One of my tutors at college likened work for adults to play for children in that it gives us intellectual nourishment, structure, purpose and the adult bit – a means to pay the mortgage. For me not having a business card in my wallet is a very strange phenomenon but like most things in life – I’ll cope.

So why write this post?

  1. Because this blog has always been about getting the stuff that’s bouncing around my head into coherent form and this is definitely bouncing around my head.
  2. More and more people know that I am “resting” (why not be an actor, at least for 1 blog post)
  3. Being open about this will help with the ‘no business card in wallet’ thing
  4. Someone I respect told me I was not doing enough to promote the fact that I am on the market
  5. “If you know anyone who’s looking for someone…”

To that 5th point, I am working with some great recruiters and talking to lots of people in my network but a little PR never hurts so should you hear of anyone looking for someone to fill a chunky role in Talent, Learning & Development or Leadership development please point them my way….but maybe point them at my Linkedin rather than my twitter feed 😉

Thank you very much and goodnight

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