Monthly Archives: December 2011

The one with the crystal ball

So as the New Year comes ever closer, the reviews of the year are in full force and the predictions for 2012 have begun in earnest.

Whilst having a rather relaxed start to the day I was reading my Twitter stream and saw a tweet from @leighanne_m bemoaning everyone looking back at 2011 rather than forward to 2012. At that point with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek I tweeted that in 2012 the days would end in Y.

A few people played along (thank you Michael and Kate!) and so in the same spirit here are my 10 predictions for 2012 (infographic to follow):

1. Facebook will change privacy settings

It’s a sure thing that of course Facebook will change its privacy settings. Outrage will follow. From lots of people who don’t close their Facebook accounts. Not much will actually change although a few people may actually realise it’s REALLY open and expecting privacy is something they should have given up in 2009

2. Daily Mail to publish headline “London Transport chaos”

So after years of build up the Olympics will finally arrive in London in 2012. Despite huge investment the challenge of running a global sporting event in a living breathing city will mean some things go wrong. The world will continue to turn but a few people will get a lot of flack.

3. People will expect more

That’s pretty much human nature isn’t it? People will always want more. The difference this year may be the “we need to tighten our belts” rhetoric may have expired and giving people more when budgets can’t stretch further may see some businesses wake up to the whole leadership/engagement thing!

4. Demand will continue to outstrip supply

Full employment is a myth that is spoken of with wry smiles but with unemployment approaching 1980s levels this one is a dead cert. That said organisations will continue to hire good people who can add value to them. The other good news is there will be innumerable infographics and top 10 lists of things you should do to get a better job

5. Politicians will handbag each other in favour of governing

With the world in unprecedented economic circumstances what we really need is a load of pointless point scoring at the expense of real solutions and decisive action. Our politicians will oblige.

6. The American General Election will consume a LOT of money and not elect a magician

The 2008 US General Election cost around $5.3billion elected the first black President and created the character Joe the Plumber. Whoever ends up winning they will continue to face the economic challenge and it certainly is a poisoned chalice. If I were Mr O I would be thinking about the lecture circuit, another book and the fact that Mr. President is a title for life regardless of remaining in office!

7. Lifeboats will continue to be useful in case of the ship sinking

Irrespective of circumstances it will be those that don’t require a trip to the umbrella shop on the rainy day that will come out best. Regardless of protestations of safety and security, anyone who hasn’t thought about the rainy day may find 2012 a grim year.

8. Twitter will continue its role in the 3rd person

With even the laggards making it to Twitter it will continue its role as commentator and disseminator. Stephen Fry will amass more followers and Twitter’s journey towards being the social networking equivalent to the Borg will continue (Please don’t RT that!)

9. Black will be the new black

Some things will become less useful; others will be the next big thing but throughout all of this most of things that make life plod along will continue to be the things that make life plod along

10. The world will not end

This is where I could be very wrong but the joy is that if I am, who will hold me to account? I think it’s going to a very tough but very interesting year where we may finally adjust to the new norm that will be austerity. Irrespective of austerity the people who make life worth the daily grind will still be there and should be appreciated to the fullest. As I said on Twitter a few hours ago, days will end in Y and as Sean Connery says in ‘The Untouchables’, “make sure when your shift is over you go home alive. Here endeth the lesson.”

Whatever your plans in the coming days, Happy New Year and here’s to 2012!

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The one with another acronym

If you’ve spent any time in and around corporations you will be no stranger to the TLA (three-letter acronym) and the jargon that develops within and around businesses. It reached a point that both of the last companies I worked for included internal jargon dictionaries as part of the induction pack.

Last week I was invited to attend a ‘Christmas Lecture’ hosted by the HR Consulting business Korn Ferry Whitehead Mann. The lecture was entitled ‘Executive to Leader’: Critical Issues in the Evolution of Senior Leaders and was given by Kevin Cashman who heads KFWM’s CEO Development practice.

Now as much as I love a good model I have a general aversion to TLAs (or in this case FLAs) and must admit my pre-hackles went up when Mr Cashman introduced me to yet another: VUCA. VUCA stands for Volatility, Unpredictability, Complexity & Ambiguity and came out of the US Army War College. It has since become more widely applied in leadership as a means of describing what leaders need to be able to deal with in order to successful lead people and organisations.

I must admit at this point my hackles went back down as I started to consider the 4 words used and actually how resonant they were for me, actually how they summed up the frustration I was feeling when I wrote about inertia at large and how pertinent it was in describing the current environment and what could make the difference between inertia and purpose.

In describing those that successful ‘harness’ the VUCA, Mr Chapman then went on to talk about the VUCA flip (he is American, it’s OK) and the aspiration that Volatility becomes Vision, Unpredictability becomes Understanding (of self, team, market), Complexity becomes Clarity and Ambiguity becomes Agility. How one goes to do that is the subject of Mr Cashman’s book “Leadership from the Inside Out” which I confess I haven’t yet started but will report back once I’ve had a go at it.

As an aside, it was the first event I’ve been to in a while with no hashtag so very little sharing of people’s reactions and thoughts aside from those over drinks after the lecture which to be honest were more focussed on the VUCA than the lecture!

As for my own personal VUCA it’s all sorted – all the presents are wrapped, there’s fuel in the car and the nurofen are in stock… 48 hours to go!

P.S. Thanks to Anna Penfold at KFWM for the invite and some marvellous post lecture snacks!

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The one with a little bit of festive cheer

For the more observant amongst you, you may have noticed in the blog roll on the front page of this site a blog called “My Hell is Other People”. It was written by a character (in both senses of the word) known simply as TheHRD and he fell on his blogging sword in March of this year. If you work in and around people (which will be most of you) I recommend a read through as there’s some great/entertaining/bilious stuff there. It was the first blog I ever read regularly.

On December 15th of last year TheHRD wrote a post called “Christmas isn’t Christmas” in which he shared a Christmas tradition from his family and invited readers of the blog to do the same. There are some fabulous contributions and I can recall even now being sat at my desk in work genuinely moved by some of the comments.

My comment involved some of the rituals that form my Christmas one of which includes the drive from Tring (my home) to Swansea (my parent’s home and my proper home) usually on December 23rd or 24th, usually with a hangover and always looking forward to Christmas with my family (by the 27th I am usually more than looking forward to the journey back as, let’s face it, are my family). As I receive my toll change after the Severn Bridge a playlist gets started in the car which given it’s 64 miles from the bridge to home, lasts almost exactly the length of the remainder of the journey.

It’s a mixture of Christmas tunes from the sublime to the ridiculous and I happened to look at it the other night which brings us to this post and my homage to TheHRD, Christmas and Christmas music.

My favourite track on the whole list is a version of “Oh Holy Night” featured in the short-lived TV show “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”. Given it was written by now Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin and was the next thing he wrote following the West Wing there was huge expectation which the show didn’t live up to but the Christmas episode is something special. Through the plot it becomes clear a group of musicians from New Orleans are in LA trying to find work given the Katrina devastation still effecting the city and the producers of the show decide to give them work by making them a significant feature of the show.

During the performance (with a backdrop of photos of New Orleans and snow made from coconut!) there is a moment where one of the producers declares his feelings for the Network President (she is very cute!) and I confess here and now that the whole thing got to me in the nicest way.It shows people more as I wish they would be supportive, emotional, brave, bold and going all out to get the person they want. Out of context it may not mean much but hell it’s my blog and I liked it 😉

So linked below is the music only version (the version in context of the show is on YouTube if you are inclined to look for it) and if anyone feels like it please feel free to share any favourite Christmas tunes and any stories that go with them…

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The one with some perspectives

So yet more twists and turns on the global stage and still no real traction!

I saw a tweet today from @neilmorrison which linked to a video (below) produced by Dorling Kindersley which really got me thinking about the mindset we are in at the moment….

I have now watched it several times and apart from being a fabulous piece of copywriting it has provoked me to think. It also brought to mind this advert produced some years ago for the Guardian Newspaper…

There are always different ways of framing any given situation. I remember sitting in a meeting with a colleague from the manufacturing team and I will confess we weren’t paying 100% attention to the presentation but he initiated a tongue in cheek conversation which went something like this:

Him: “Your problem is you think that glass of water is half full”

Me: “Yes and your problem is you think that glass is half empty”

Him: “You really haven’t been paying attention have you! I work in manufacturing…. I don’t know how much water is in there because Technical haven’t calibrated it, Marketing didn’t tell us how they want the water, Sales have sold it to 3 different customers, HR tell us we need to fill it with 20% less people and we probably haven’t got the right type of water because Supply Chain have messed us around”

Me: “Oh good grief”

At which point we smiled at each other and returned to a fascinating presentation on the current capex commitments and plan.

My brother introduced me to the work of Benjamin Zander, who in addition to being the Musical Director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra is an accomplished public speaker. Linked below is a talk he gave at TED entitled “Classical Music with Shining Eyes” in which he makes some excellent observations and it’s a very engaging session but even if you are currently time starved, watch the first few minutes until the adage of the shoe salesmen going to Africa

There must be a different way to frame this….but don’t worry it’s Christmas soon (and on this blog it starts tomorrow!)

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The one with the cool kids

So no one likes Coldplay, right? Well if you believed everything you read on Twitter it would seem no one does but I was fortunate enough to be 1 of 20,000 people who on Friday very much liked Coldplay when they performed live at the O2 in London.

Having experienced a gig of that standard there are several posts I could write, amongst them:

  • Operational excellence with regard to the production
  • The passion and commitment of those performing
  • Tribes and how/why they follow people
  • Creating complete brand experience for consumers
  • Adequacy of resource, clarity of role and task (both for production and performers)

and probably a few more but it was in reflecting on the drive home that I decided to write this post…

In the pre-gig hanging around I did a little light tweeting and in killing time clicked the hashtag #coldplay and was shocked at some of the vitriol that was being expressed – not criticism of anything specific just “I hate Coldplay” and similar. As I stood there I felt this nagging feeling that I regularly used to experience as a kid, that of having put my opinion out there (I like Coldplay) and waiting for someone to disagree or rubbish my opinion. As a kid I was very reluctant to commit to liking/enjoying music, films, books etc for fear of being judged by those I perceived as cool.

I will admit at times dodging this nagging feeling resulted in me subjugating my opinions and preferences to those of others and on a few occasions making poor decisions and acting against my own better judgement not to stand out or be excluded from the cool kids.

As my career began to develop I found the nagging feeling returning, not with respect to music or entertainment but actually with regard to colleagues. Working in Human Resources colleagues would regularly express opinions (both positive and negative) about other colleagues and there I times I can clearly recall I didn’t speak up for what I thought or believed but went with the flow either to not be the odd one out or to avoid confrontation. The cool kids had now been replaced by the powerful kids…

As managers and leaders within organisation I believe it’s incumbent on us to be thorough and objective with respect to the judgements we make. As human resource professionals (as some of you reading may be) I think it’s incumbent not only to be thorough and objective in forming our own judgements but also to actively challenge those around us and those in the business we provide service to not just go with the flow or take the easy route.

I am not for a moment saying that everyone should be given a free pass to do what they want… I suppose what I’m saying is there are very clear structures for forming judgements around both conduct and capability but actually taste and personal preference should have very little to do with this. I still at times struggle to remove my personal opinion of an individual from the process of forming a judgement but I believe I am far better at doing it than I used to be and hopefully ever-increasing awareness and empowering those around me to challenge me on objectivity will see further improvement.

As for Coldplay, both their conduct and capability was impressive and if their music or them as individuals aren’t to your taste then that’s fine and dandy but I will say here that it wasn’t an argument I felt inclined to initiate with anyone on Twitter!

In the spirit of fighting my inclination not to express my tastes I would say doing a radio show that anyone on the internet can listen to is a great leveller but to complete my exorcism here are 5 confessional nuggets that show how ummmm ‘diverse’ my taste can be:

1. The first live gig I ever went to was Gloria Estefan & the Miami Sound Machine

2. I know all the words to “I’ve got a golden ticket” from the film ‘Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory’

3. I own the Greatest Hits CDs of both Barry Manilow and Bananarama

4. The 3rd most listened to track on my iPod is “Shine” by Take That

5. My favourite music to listen to when feeling fragile through hangover is ‘Adiemus’ by Karl Jenkins

Anyone else got anything they would like to confess?

 

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The one with a loss of appetite

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – cut the training budget, you won’t see a return on your investment for some time and its money better spent elsewhere….unless you would like to improve your business past next month and retain your people in which case you may want to think differently!

If you believe some people, the world is going to hell in a handcart. The decisions of Standard & Poors seem to have a bigger impact than those of our elected leaders and we seem to be lurching from one sub-crisis to another. The behaviour this seems to be driving is interesting, in that it seems to be bringing out the worst kind of short-term, micro managing, short-sighted demons and what impact that is having on employees everywhere can’t be measured but I would imagine insecurity is rife.

There was a tweet floating around some months ago (and don’t ask me where it started) but it went something like:

FD: What if we invest in our people and then they leave

CEO: But what if we don’t and they stay

As much as I’m sure it got a few chuckles at the time it does seem the business case against developing people (at least at an organisational level) is getting easier and easier to make with each passing day and whilst organisational appetite may have waned does that mean individual appetite has? [Rhetorical question!!]

With the amount of insecurity in the economy and with that in companies at the moment you could say the smart move was to protect an investment in development (and I am largely biased in this but bear with me….) because given the climate surely this is the time when organisations need the most commitment/loyalty/tenacity etc etc from their employees and given the financial constraints on ‘buying’ that surely this comes down to leadership?

Earlier this year I was talking to a friend who works in a large US owned business and she had just merged two teams. When I asked what activity had taken place to support the merging of the teams she looked uncomfortable and shared the fact that aside from electronic and 1 to 1 communication and two 1 hour meetings she had been unable to get further support and had been told “we don’t have time or money for team building at the moment”. That response (and hers is not the only business I’ve heard it from) leaves me asking these rhetorical questions:

  • Do you teams function better in a climate of insecurity?
  • Does lack of available investment mean your team automatically commit to each other and the organisation?
  • Do ways of working develop within a team by osmosis because they can’t spare half a day away from their desks?
  • Do the individuals within the team now magically understand their role in delivering the mission/vision/strategy?

Now as a person who works in HR it could be argued that I am blogging in praise of a gravy train. If that is what you think that is your opinion and you’re entitled to it but the next time you get the opportunity reflect on this thought: would a small amount of time/energy/money invested in your team or organisation make them more effective at weathering the storm we are all experiencing?

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The one with influencing chess

There is a lot of talk both on and offline about influencing CEOs with regard to the talent agenda. Whether that be the (so called) War for Talent, the need to invest and retain, developing better leaders etc, etc

What’s interesting to me (at least) is the focus is always influencing the CEO and I must confess that given the number of things the average CEO has to think about the idea that the focus is influencing them and not about even getting a meeting with them….

Earlier in my career, my influencing style was described (in a performance review) as that of a petulant 5 year old cheating at draughts. It’s quite a ballsy comment but I had a good relationship with my boss which allowed conversations of this direct nature but good relationships aside even I coloured a little at this comparison.

If you think of the rules of draughts, every piece carries equal value, has a limited ability to move and until a king is formed can only move forwards.

What she went on to describe was my influencing style as go into a conversation/meeting present at a given (or taken) opportunity my idea/solution and wait for everyone else to agree with me. When they didn’t I would metaphorically (or in one case literally) pout, take my toys and retreat to my private sand pit to sulk and think of mean names to call those involved.

Returning to drafts she likened it to the 5 year picking up one piece, moving it straight down the middle of the board and shouting “King me!” When a King was refused, moving the piece back and refusing to play anymore.

What she described to me was that building influence within an organisation was more akin to playing chess. You needed to build your position through thoughtful positioning with people in different parts of the organisation who could influence those at the top of the business who ultimately made decisions.

If you think of the rules of chess, it is by nature far more strategic, different pieces have different abilities and perceived value are more or less useful in building to an eventual checkmate.

She then coached me through a process in attempting to land a major change we were both working on. Both of us knew we would have little support from the certain teams (who were effected most by the change, let’s call them operations), finance would be behind us as it saved money, but the commercial and marketing leads could go either way.

Working up to a crunch meeting I worked with a senior member of the finance team to ensure the case was attractive and airtight. I worked with senior players in both commercial and marketing to build cases for its attractiveness to our customers and was even given the opportunity to speak to a couple of them. I worked with senior members of the (mythical of course) Operations team who, as it turned out, were grudgingly supportive of the outcome if not the process but I better understood their objections and could craft rebuttals and work arounds for most of them.

4 weeks later the crunch meeting came, I delivered the slide deck (including all my supporting evidence), took the questions, offered the rebuttals and sat waiting for the jury to deliver its verdict. 5 minutes of chatter, beard stroking, calculator pounding and conjecture followed but without input from the CEO who had sat watchful at the other end of the table. I must confess I feared the worst until in minute 6 the CEO uttered a phrase that made my day, week, month and bonus “Well….we’re going to do it, right?”

I was a converted Chess player from then on and although it has taken me some time (and on occasion I still fail) to control the rush of blood to the head when the objections fly, I think that conversation in that performance review probably had more of an impact on my career than most others.

So to bring this back to where it started, maybe people need to stop asking how to influence the CEO but rather ask how to influence the people who influence the CEO and how to influence those the CEO turns to when they want to validate something.

In the meantime, bishop to queen’s rook 7

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