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The one in defence of appraisal

Over the past few weeks I’ve read a few things (and sorry I can’t find all the links) slating the idea of performance review or appraisal – whatever you want to call it. I do remember a piece from the Harvard Business Review blogs where the Chief Human Resources Officer of Lear (you know, them what make the posh planes) rails against linking performance review to pay.  There’s a few things in there I really take issue with…

Performance reviews that are tied to compensation create a blame-oriented culture – not my experience and I think he’s missing the word ‘can’ but he goes on to say…

It’s well known that they reinforce hierarchy, undermine collegiality, work against cooperative problem solving, discourage straight talk, and too easily become politicized. They’re self-defeating and demoralizing for all concerned  – my favourite expression ‘it is well known’ up there with ‘they told me’. I think by collegiality he means teamwork (but I had to Google it) and by cooperative problem solving again I think he means teamwork or maybe collaboration. Again not my experience but if the goals they are incentivising don’t promote teamwork then of course the incentive will fail but I digress…

Even high performers suffer, because when their pay bumps up against the top of the salary range, their supervisors have to stop giving them raises, regardless of achievement. Which to me appears to be a problem cocktail of comp & ben, career paths, succession and development

Anyway to summarise it seems in his view (a caveat he seems unable to use) they are bad bad bad and beastly.

My experience of performance review and it’s link to pay is quite different from Mr. DiDonto as some of the biggest turning points of my career have come from performance review both in the positive and negative but by linking performance to pay an organisation puts something into performance management that is otherwise absent: oversight. It’s very difficult to tell someone how great they are and give them a poor performance pay review – they may notice and more than likely they’ll mention it to someone else.

I must admit having read and reread the original blog post it seems to me not to point towards decoupling pay and performance but rather two rather significant issues.

The first issue is cultural – if you have a culture that supports politics, poor feedback, silo working and hierarchical behaviour then I would suggest it’s not the performance review that needs work – it’s the culture.

The second issue is one of my current favourites – that managers are implementing processes correctly and/or aren’t having good performance discussions. The idea that managers need (not just want but need) development is not a new one but it seems to be increasingly overlooked. If you promote someone to a supervisory or management role and just let them loose it’s likely or just possible they will emulate the behaviour of those they’ve seen around them.

If your managers aren’t having challenging performance conversations or at least regular performance conversations it’s probably because that’s the way they’ve been managed. Rather than throwing out the baby, the bathwater and the bath TRAIN people in how to have effective performance conversations and support them to have them regularly and effectively – they’ll see the benefit for themselves.

The idea of a formalised performance review isn’t cool, sexy, fun or anything Zappos would do (who have just removed their managers to form communities) but if you train and support managers to realise that having regular decent performance conversations that ACTUALLY help their team members know how they are getting on then the idea of summarising it once or twice a year will be no big deal. Reframe performance management away from something that you do because HR tell you or because it’s the way to get a pay rise and you may be surprised at the results.

Anyway to summarise – if the process ain’t working look behind what’s causing it not to work don’t assume it’s the process that’s wrong (oh and train your managers – please!)


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The one with the peer’s pressure

It’s very easy (in my opinion) to admire Baroness Martha Lane-Fox. She created a successful business (, she’s given her time and energy to public service (as UK Digital Champion), she put money into the pleasure of bad singing (Lucky Voice), she’s overcome adversity (a significant car accident) and most importantly she replies to my tweets! The only thing I struggle with is she’s only a year older than me which has me thinking what I’ve been wasting my time doing!!


In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the World Wide Web she lead a debate in the House of Lords yesterday and having seen her tweets and a piece on the BBC News I ended up reading the full text of her speech that you can find here. As a brief aside another Peer Lord Jim Knight crowd sourced his speech from social media and whilst I am still recovering from the blow of my input not being included it does make me marvel at how the world has changed.

Whilst there is lots of interest in the speech the line that got me thinking was this one:

“only 4 ftse 100 businesses have a cto or digital executive on their plc boards and yet all of these businesses are facing potential upheaval.”

You don’t have to look hard to find a blog in support or challenge of the so-called Social HR movement and how we are apparently embracing social technologies to improve the way we deliver our roles. You would be hard pressed to avoid a blog citing yammer, jive or some other community and the impact it’s having on collaboration or community within organisations. The reason Baroness L-Fs quote got me thinking was that there isn’t much discussion about digital and/or social capability in senior managers, leaders or board directors.

Sure there’s stats about CEOs that tweet etc but they are usually in pursuit of brand, customer or staff and increasing the transparency or accessibility of the leader. But what about those CEOs who really understand the impact that the pace of technological evolution is and will continue to have on their organisations? How many CTOs are lying awake at night obsessing about the disruptive impact of technology rather than the go-live of the new data warehouse or the cost of SAP support?

Yesterday morning, by chance, I had breakfast with my first proper boss (from waaaaay back when) who ran a publishing company. I found myself saying how hindsight was a wonderful thing and referencing a conversation I’d had with him and my then manager about our under investment in the web and the impact I thought it was having on the business. It was a salutary tale about the dangers of trying to influence people with a beer in your hand but it remains true the only 20/20 business vision is hindsight!

If HR are truly the custodians or challengers of talent in the organisation is it not incumbent on us to not just play with the latest shiny and count our retweets but to actually challenge the leaders of our organisations to ensure that they are equipped to lead in a world where the rules of the game are being reinvented monthly rather than once a decade?

If you could picture having breakfast with one of your team in 15 years time what would be your hindsight observation about what you would have done differently to ensure the business was fit for the technology challenge? It certainly wouldn’t be how many twitter followers you had although it may include the fact that Baroness Lane-Fox replied to your tweets!!


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The one with the cracked crystal ball

With many people, including the Queen, advocating looking back at 2013, I am yet again jumping on the bandwagon of looking forward and having a tongue in cheek crack at a few predictions for 2014. Caveat emptor!

1. Confidence will continue to increase

In 2013 the 5 or so years of austerity and the watering of green shoots finally seemed to start to have some impact and the data finally started to swing in the favour of growth (and George Osbourne). Whatever the reality of the situation, confidence in the economy will continue to grow and people will start to feel better about it. The banks will ignore this and continue to charge exorbitant lending rates for mortgages relative to the base rate.

2. The Chinese will be to blame

With George and the bankers seemingly being let off for the last 5 years we will of course need someone new to blame for the things that aren’t working. Increasingly this will become the Chinese. The blame will take many forms – the impending spectre of their economic supremacy (latest predictions are 2028), their over-investment overseas (China apparently now owns most of Africa), their interpretation of international trade and copyright law or maybe just their overuse of MSG.

3. We will be told our lot is better

With a general election due at the latest in the UK in 2015 and a certain Mr Obama becoming a term limited lame duck President with only 2 years on the clock electioneering will begin in earnest in 2014 (does it ever end?) In service of this we will be told what we have is better and who is responsible for that (they won’t be) and what we don’t like is the other guys fault. Very little will actually change but the manifesto promises will be corkers.

4. Vince Cable will further distance himself

With said election looming Mr Cable will bid to further distance himself from Mr Cameron (and Mr Clegg) anticipating an Ides of March moment and the inevitable “Et tu, Dave?”. This will take the form of lobbing, smearing and general malcontentedness. Mr Clegg will wake up to the fact he’s got a marginal constituency and that a TV debate ain’t gonna help

5. The job market will flip

With confidence increasing companies will become marginally less risk adverse and start hiring more people. More importantly confidence will mean more people are comfortable to change job. The job market will flip from being driven by companies and vacancies to being driven by candidates. McKinsey will dub this with some title. Recruiters will use this to try and negotiate better rates. Very little will actually change and companies will still want the best people to hire.

6. We will continue to worship false idols

Whether Beliebers will still be Beliebers at end of 2014 remains to be seen but whether it’s Justin, the CEO of Snapchat or someone else enjoying their 15 minutes we will continue to be overly impressed with those who enjoy short term large scale success and have lots of Twitter followers.

7. Big sporting events will compare unfavourably with London 2012

2014 will bring the Winter Olympics, the Football World Cup and the Commonwealth games. Coke will spend a fortune, McDonalds will have specially printed cups, some people will win, others will lose. Whatever happens nothing will be as good as the Olympics in London and no cauldrons will feature in opening ceremonies. Danny Boyle will make a new film

8. The next big thing will arrive

Facebook will continue to flog it’s dying horse, Google will continue to innovate more broadly (personally I like driving my own car), people will continue to post too many selfies (shame on you Barack) and I’m sure there’s a start up somewhere for an app that will only post pictures for 6 seconds. Whatever the next big thing is, it will arrive in 2014 (or has already arrived and will now come to the fore). Whether it has any impact is quite another thing…

9. Social will continue to be over hyped

Since Cain defriended Abel and man came out of his cave and ask his friend Terry if he had a light, people have been social. Recent technology has of course evolved how people have socialised but didn’t introduce the concept. Social will continue to be bandied around as if it is was something invented in Silicon Valley or a in brainstorm at PWC. People will continue to go to pubs.

10. I will conclude the most complex recruitment assignment of them all

The assignment began in the late 1980s and I confess the spec has evolved and been revised a great deal in the ensuing time. There have been some promising candidates along the way – some didn’t apply for the role and others were rejected during the interview phase. I can’t discuss the assessment centre but in Spring of this year I will finally appoint Mrs. Jones. Herself will be issued with a permanent contract and I think I will be told where to stick my ideas for personal development planning.

Whatever 2014 holds for you and yours, I trust it will be everything you wish for and more.

Happy New Year!

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The one with the golden skirts

One of my early posts on this blog was about women and it was reflecting on how through the courses of researching an essay I was writing had found some information that influenced my thinking on the gender debate. I said at the time I worked in an organisation that was 80% women which is now untrue (infrastructure and engineering are still largely male dominated) but also said I knew some fabulous women who had been very successful in breaking the glass ceiling. That is still very true and in fact this post follows conversations with two of them who I am fortunate enough to work with on an almost daily basis.

The organisation I work in is what’s known as a meta-organisation in that it’s an organisation made up of several different partner organisations. One of those partners is currently striving to formulate new strategy on how they will approach improving their diversity and inclusivity. In the course of formulating they have taken some meetings with various management consultants who have shared research and statistics on the current state of play and efforts that other organisations are making to address the same challenge. It’s not new news but lets term it current affairs – the stats were up to date.

The comment that one of my colleagues made which has been bouncing around my head ever since made a very interesting observation. The point she made was (and I’m paraphrasing) that the organisations that have naturally arrived at having a gender balanced board don’t perform better because of the women on the board but because they have cultures that are open and inclusive so the best people are appointed to the board irrespective of gender. They are successful not because of a difference of thinking around the board table (or at least not JUST because of that) but because their cultures are open and meritocratic.

Fast forward 24 hours and I am discussing this comment with my boss and talking about its impact on my thinking with relation to what could be termed the positive discriminatory efforts of some (most notably the Norwegians) and she introduced me to the phrase ‘golden skirts’. Women who are imported into senior roles to ensure a particular business are ‘meeting their quota’ and are seen to have gender balanced boards. Does their presence make a difference to the organisation? Who knows? But in re-reading my earlier post I can’t say my reluctance to jump into positive discrimination will truly solve the problem or truly empower women to take a more leading roles in some of our largest corporations.

I was fortunate enough to attend the recent CIPD Annual Conference and the opening keynote was delivered by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones (they of “Why should anyone by lead by you?” fame) and their topic was ‘Creating the best workplace on Earth’ and referred to an article they had published recently in the Harvard Business Review. Reactions to the session were mixed (someone described it as a marmite session) but it landed well for me with one point they made creating the most resonance – a point of difference you may call it!!

They had created an acronym for their best workplace DREAMS (you can read more about it in the article) and a little shoehorning aside it worked. The D in their case stood for Difference and in their best workplace check list they offered these statements:

  • I’m the same person at home as I am at work.
  • I feel comfortable being myself.
  • We’re all encouraged to express our differences.
  • People who think differently from most do well here.
  • Passion is encouraged, even when it leads to conflict.
  • More than one type of person fits in here.

I can’t help but think that Diversity has become something of a 4 letter word consigned to ‘also ran’ status on the HR agenda and does seem, at times, to focus on one element of diversity over another (and in doing so self-defeating its desire to be inclusive). It does seem that a discussion about difference would be far more empowering for organisations – let me be me and rather than alienating those who don’t fit into one of the boxes; it could create an opportunity for everyone to feel included in a discussion that could build a better culture and workplace (and of deliver better results). It would challenge the way we (the HR profession) work as it would challenge some of the norms of recruitment and development to name two.

Rather than writing policies that create opportunity for resentment or make people afraid to act  it seems to me the best opportunity organisations have is to examine their cultures for what excludes and turn that into a force for inclusion not for creating labels or clubs. Let’s celebrate difference and let positively intended people explore it – they may make mistakes but in a great culture they’ll learn, not be punished.


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The one with the quality job

I’m not sure who first said “better, faster, cheaper – pick any two” but it does seem to be enduringly true.

I was recently invited to be part of a judging panel on the “In-House Recruitment Awards” (thanks Mark & Simon) and was assigned a few categories to do the initial judging prior to a bun fight round table with my fellow judges. There was a great deal of enthusiasm evident in most of the submissions but I must confess having read through the 9 or so entries I was disappointed at what seemed to be the focus for those entering as the best…

I first worked in recruitment as a consultant and then in the 2000s moved in-house at a time when recruitment was a burgeoning speciality and the role was still mostly completed by generalists. At the time, from my perspective the focus seemed to be on process (HR professionals to focus on process?! NO!) and not enough on either of the key stakeholders in the relationship – the hiring manager and the candidate.

I was encouraged as my career developed in recruitment to see some of the great facets of agency recruiters – proactivity, service focus, relationship management, were becoming evident in those who were taking in-house roles but for the fight was always about getting the right person in the right role at the right cost/time (in that order). The budget was something to be managed not something that managed me and line manager expectations were to be soothed as me/my team beavered away to try to find the right person.

What made me slightly nervous in reading the award entries that success (and the subsequent definition of best) was largely driven by time and cost – faster and cheaper with little or no attention paid to the quality of the candidate. There didn’t seem to be any mention of any post induction measurement, performance, retention or in its broadest sense talent.

If you ask the board of an organisation what they need from their recruitment function I imagine (and I have asked) their focus will be about increasing the capability of the organisation, about hiring people with potential and about the future prospects of the business. Whilst compliance with budget and efficiency of hire are of course important (especially to the line manager and the finance director) they do not in the true sense add value to the organisation past the day the new employee starts.

I think the recruitment profession as it now seems to want to distinguish itself from the remainder of the HR, needs to take a step back and think about what represents true value to the business, what it really wants to be known for and if in the list of better, faster, cheaper it may be about choosing the first and one other…

Just as a small post script I received an in-mail on Linkedin this afternoon from a recruiter working for one organisation but on site and in the name of another. The ‘host’ organisation is one that likely has a tough retention challenge and who’s wider brand has taken a hammering in the last few years. This was her missive:

Dear Rob,

Hope you are well.

I am currently recruiting for a Senior OE Specialist. I came across your cv. Pleae could you let me know your current situation? Are you available. Alternatively please pass my contact details to anyone you know that may be interested in this role.

Better? Faster? Cheaper?


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The one without the battenberg tattoo

When you read about change it mostly seems to be at either the organisational level (steering the tanker etc) or a group level (we need to get “them” to change) but let’s face it change fails because of people and people are individuals. All of them…even when there’s lots of them. There’s a great quote from ‘The West Wing’ which goes something like “a person is smart, people are stupid” and maybe when it comes to change we need to start thinking about a person and stop thinking about people.

Which brings me on to the Battenberg tattoo…last weekend I watched stand up delivered by the ever compelling (and mostly angry) Rhod Gilbert. The show is entitled “The Man with the Battenberg Tattoo” and tells the story of the end of a relationship, his experiences with anger management and the title relates to his constant pettiness and a tattoo that would demonstrate how pointless tattoos are.

In the course of telling a 2 hour story he, with some passion, rails against a gift he was given by his then girlfriend – an electric toothbrush. Like Mr Gilbert I have never really seen the point of an electric toothbrush – like cars, I am happy with manual. These days with the marketeers let loose on features and (supposed) benefits it’s getting out of control. I’ll let him explain…

My sad confession is that I as sat there laughing away at the comedy the dark side of my brain was thinking about how what seems the obvious and amazing to one person can seem completely pointless and a waste of time to others. So whilst a person may believe that a toothbrush with a timer or a detector that beeps if you are brushing too hard may appear worth an investment to others they may think this is innovation for innovation sake. Am I stretching the analogy too far? Probably.

That said sometimes giving people what they don’t know they yet need (think Henry Ford quote about faster horses) is worth the time, effort, disruption, risk  and leadership required to steer the tanker and maybe just maybe the resistance is nothing to do with the expected outcome and more about the fear of change that a person inevitably feels.

Does your organisation need an electric toothbrush? Thankfully for all of us – that’s your call!

I am speaking at the CIPD conference later today and fortunately for those attending I am only the warm up for our CEO who is there to talk about leading an organisation through change. Relax – there is no talk of Battenberg or tattoos but an interesting perspective from someone with the significant change to manage but I will leave you with one image which also doesn’t appear in the slide deck but one I think embodies the risk of allowing people to talk you out of change – it may not be broken but surely this isn’t fit for purpose?

Horse in Car
Photo credit: Nigel Clarke @learnedlion who actually took the picture in Hungary last year.

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The one with the code red

If you look at some of the best film monologues for all time there are many, but those that stick in my mind mostly feature Al Pacino…with two notable exceptions: Robert Shaw’s USS Indianapolis speech from “Jaws” and Jack Nicholson’s courtroom rant in “A Few Good Men”. Apart from the fact the writing is very good (future Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin) Nicholson’s performance as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup is compelling.

The final crescendo of his rebuttal to Cruise’s courtroom attempts to get an admission of ordering a disciplinary process known as a code red is this:

“I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said “thank you”, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!”

The last line always made me think, the challenging comparison of standards and his dissmissal of the lawyers sense of entitlement. It strikes me even now as a bold admission of what really matters and although Cruise et al. eventually win out the whole exchange often leaves me think that Jessup/Nicholson’s line “All you did was weaken a country today” is maybe far closer to the reality of leadership.

I recently spent a week in Kenya doing work with an organisation I am involved with outside of my day job. With recent events at the Westgate centre it was an interesting time to visit the country for the first time and as part of my trip I got to visit a flower farm and see real people doing real work. The day spent on the farm, seeing people working to fill our (the UK’s) supply chain and to strive for our standards really made me think about a number of things but the thought that has stayed with me is we have NO idea how good we’ve got it. We really don’t.

As HR professionals we spend hours, meetings, days and in some cases whole careers obsessing over both people’s entitlements (both actual and percieved), seconding guessing expectations and striving for that elusive goal of best practice. I can’t help thinking that sometimes ‘we’ both the we in HR and the we in the UK  need to get a sense of perspective on entitlements and expectations.

Let’s be clear at work you are entitled to respect and dignity, you are entitled to work, you are entitled to a duty of care from your employer, you are entitled to the protection of your employment contract, you are entitled to protection under the law (and that’s a lot in the UK), you are entitled to the reasonable protection under the policies of your organisation and you are entitled to be paid for that work as negotiated with your employer. Whilst this list is not exhaustive it is meant to be representative of the range of things you are ENTITLED to.

You *may* expect: better conditions, more interesting work, better tools to do your job, investment in reasonable resources,  career development, performance management, performance feedback, information on company performance, understanding (both of your work and your broader life), whizz bang inductions, town hall meetings, leadership visibility, bonuses, company cars etc, etc. This list also not exhaustive but hopefully illustrative.

Can we (both we in HR and we in the UK) please please please stop treating things that exceed expectations as though they were entitlements and to paraphrase Colonel Jessup, when someone or something exceeds your expectations, ‘just say thank you and go on your way’ because although I do give a damn what you are entitled to sometimes a little thank you wouldn’t hurt.


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The one with the lift and shift

I remember some years ago (it was the past, its distant, so dim I can’t see it) attending a workshop on strategy and how an individual can go about solving business challenges by applying strategic tools. It was like a mini MBA style thing but about £48K cheaper. At the end of the workshop the facilitator presented us with a list of things to try if ever blocked i.e. no solution was presenting itself. One of the things on the list was to imagine you are an alien arriving on Earth what would you think about what you saw (I always worry this has a profound effect on the behaviour of management consultants but that’s another post altogether).

Fast forward a few years and I was in Hong Kong for the first time and in getting in the lift to go up to our office (we were on the 39th floor) I was confounded to find no buttons in the lift. Instead you had to push the floor you wanted on a panel outside and the system then directed you to the appropriate lift car. I thought this was ridiculous until I stopped for a moment and thought about it and realised it was completely amazing.

The alien arriving on Earth would have no clue why there were people in every car going to the same floor but being split across multiple lifts all being stopped and started randomly dependant only on who had decided to use them. I remember thinking at the time it was a brave engineer or designer who pitched that idea at the meeting and thank god someone backed them.

Now we reach a few weeks ago and I am attending a conference (I was doing a turn) and met someone who work for a major airline. I won’t name them but they are British, formerly favourite now more flying and serving. They had run a form of internal skunk works to try to address the challenges of working with teams and individuals in remote locations and constantly shifting teams.

Of the two teams attempting to address the challenge the first team returned with what in 2013 is surely the teacher’s pet answer. It involved internal social networks, communities, blogs, video uploads – you know, all that good stuff we all think is the silver bullet to everything. My understanding is they got a pat on the back and a job well done. The second team however thought very differently.

The solution they came back with may even count as a *whispers* paradigm shift in the thinking. Rather than a new strategy and boat loads of tactical goodness they came back with a simple but systemic change. Stop thinking of head office as the team and everyone else as remote but rather realise that head office is the remote one and everyone else works together.

Having had the pain joy of spending some time with flight crew down route they are not sitting around worrying about the company strategy. They are usually spending high quality time exploring the locale, eating, drinking and generally being a very well bonded group.

Whether this shift in thinking actually leads to an improve in the operation of the airline is yet to be seen but whether it be the lift or the remote workers you’ve gotta love it when someone just flips the reality 180 degrees and looks at it completely differently. Haven’t you???

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The one with the second bite

So there’s an old expression ‘once bitten, twice shy’ which aside from a select group of enthusiasts and vampires I always believed to mean if you tried something once and it didn’t work then you’d pretty much leave it alone.

Which brings us to Mr. Timothy Cook, CEO of Apple and his hiring of FTSE CEOs to run his retail business.

It was only February 2012 when it was announced he had hired then Dixons CEO, John Browett, to run the retail side of Apple and it was only 6 months after he joined…that he left. It appeared his page from the ‘UK retail play book’ didn’t go down well with his fruity colleagues (he tried to lock it down and grind it out) and he escaped the infinity loop and headed into the Monsoon. I remember thinking at the time that this was a) a dopey move with the Apple retail brand and b) a brave decision by Mr. Cook in oiking Mr Browett out of the door albeit with a very very very soft landing.

I hold a lurking suspicion that whenever a CEO heads for the hills it’s usually because all known goodness has been wrung out and whoever follows is going to have to take a patient from life support to the high dependency unit where they will solider on for some time. I’ve referred to it in the past as the CEO hospital pass. That said, Seb James who took over at Dixons retail seems to have made a good fist of it – at least so far.

So if you’ve been anywhere near the press in the past 24 hours you will have noticed that Mr. Cook has exposed himself for yet another bite by hiring Burberry CEO, Angela Ahrendts to head his retail empire. Let’s put aside the fact that this leaves only 2 female CEOs in the FTSE100, a can of worms I am keen to leave closed and the fact that Ms Ahrendts is American. Is this going to lead to another large pay out or is it the smartest move Mr. Cook has yet to make?

You’d have to put money on the latter. Whilst Mr. Browett was a through and through retailer (most of his formative experience being gained at Tesco), Ms. Ahrendts has lead more brand driven outfits e.g. Liz Claibourne, Donna Karan Intl and of course Burberry. Despite numerous challenges to the Burberry brand (e.g. Chavs!) Ahrendts has driven the brand in two directions – up and out. Partnering with Creative Chief Jonny Ives Christopher Bailey she has strived to maintain Burberry as a luxury premium brand that happens to have stores. She has also driven expansion in international markets and taken the brand into new countries. This sounds far more Apple-esque to me…

I suppose if I’m honest the main reason I want this to work (and I do) is that I REALLY want one of these CEOs to actually leave on a high (Burberry have just posted very positive first half results) and that was seems like ordered succession (Bailey is taking over as CEO) to ACTUALLY work out. Not just to prove that the best laid plans of mice and men don’t always go pear-shaped or to restore my waning faith but just to prove it can work!

Oh and please please please tell me someone has bought Tim Cook one of these…

burberry iphone

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The one where I can’t sleep

I may have mentioned before but when it comes to sleep I have issues. One is a specific medical issue which I discovered I had aged 23 and if you ever want to feel exceptionally ridiculous tell people you are going for hospital tests that entail sleeping for 8 hours! The rests of them are far more non-specific but the biggest impact of them is I am shocking at getting to sleep but when it comes to actually sleeping I am world class – alarm clocks have given up and retired in the face of the challenge.

For those of you of a certain age (at least everyone older than me) you may remember this:

It’s the BBC test card and it’s what was broadcast when the channel was off-air. Yes – off air. Not broadcasting any content. You had a very nice man with a soothing voice thank you for watching, they played ‘God Save the Queen’ and that was it. If you think I’m joking – google it!

The problem I face now is there is just too many opportunities to not go to bed (and I should confess that I am writing this at 1.25am). If you think of the range of stimuli that are available to us 24/7 365 then it shouldn’t be a shocker that some people really struggle to sleep. A counsellor once told me that you should avoid screens (computer, TV etc) for at least 30 minutes before trying to get to sleep as they stimulate your brain in a certain way which isn’t conducive to nutrious sleep (you REM, dreaming and all that stuff). I forgot to ask about smart phones…

The other part of the problem is what a news journalist would refer to as the ‘B-roll’ the stuff they were recording whilst waiting around or setting up the story. You finally exert the discipline to get into bed, lie there in the dark with your eyes closed (counting sheep is a risk for me – I’m Welsh) and all of a sudden it’s like some pressing play. All of the stuff that has been pushed down for the previous hours/days comes leaping front of mind and I have yet to find a pause button, let alone a stop button.

I remember watching a TED talk a few years ago delivered by Arianna Huffington about Sleep and her assertion was that men have attached bragging rights to getting less and less sleep – I think it’s definitely another thing we can blame Margaret Thatcher for (she famously only needed a few hours sleep per night). I know for sure that I am more scratchy and irritable on days when I’ve had less sleep, more inclined to make quick decisions, more inclined to avoid things I have committed to (like the gym!) and often compound the problem by falling asleep on the sofa the following evening thus perpetuating the challenge of getting to sleep.

So I’m curious…how many people out there find themselves in the same situation?And more importantly – are there any tricks I am missing? Should I be drinking 3 glasses of water 1 hour before trying to sleep? Is there some magic formula that has so far eluded me?

Aside from being clearer about going to bed, switching off all the technology, making sure you try and make a note of all those things you have to do that will crop up when you are lying in bed, having a note book to write down the ‘b-roll’ stuff – what have you got for me?

Why write this now? Well it’s now 1.31am and I don’t want to have think about this stuff when I go to bed (I will go in a few minutes – I promise) but basically…I can’t sleep!


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