Tag Archives: risk aversion

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 fixed term contract

It’s all over, an estimated $2billion spent, no resident of Ohio gone without a handshake and the American public (well those of them in swing states really) have chosen to re-elect President Obama. From an election that was touted as too close to call his victory would seem emphatic (at final count I think it was 332 to 206 in the electoral college) but by Friday the news cycle had moved on to the budget crisis looming and his need to make deals with Congress.

At some point on Thursday I had a thought (which I shared via Twitter) which went something along the lines of ‘Obama has just won the last job he’ll ever do and there’s nothing else to run for. Let’s hope he goes for it now’. And I meant it, he has probably the most high profile fixed term contract on earth and come 2016 he’s a lame duck (probably a year before that but you know what I mean).

I don’t know what drives a man like Barack Obama but some of his fears since the heady days of ‘Yes we can’ must have been about re-election, the idea he would be a one term President. But that fear has gone now. He’s got the 2nd term.

I have at times in my career observed leaders in various organisations acting like 1st term Presidents spending far too much time focused on winning the 2nd term rather than leading the organisation – what do I mean? Their drive for self-preservation means they play it safe, they don’t challenge the things that need challenging and in doing so create a cycle of behaviour that actually precipitates the very outcome they are so focused on preventing – they get ousted.

With the joy of human behaviour being so varied and diverse there is of course no single driver for how we behave but my belief is that fear is one hell of a great motivator and I believe organisations that can build structures and cultures that support courage, that invite challenge and have the difficult conversation and vanquish elephants on tables and everywhere else will be more successful.

How do you go about doing that? Now that’s the $64,000 question and I think it comes down to the specifics of the organisation and the context in which they operate. I have had some random (bar located) conversations regarding what it may take but for my money it comes down to (drum roll please) leadership and realising that as a leader you are there to engender vision, support decision making and be ultimately accountable but you don’t have all the answers and it’s only in asking the right questions and allowing people to answer them honestly that your team/division/directorate/organisation will improve and succeed.

Anyway, well done Mr Obama and to Mr Romney – well played. I had the pleasure of an amusing conversation with Laurie Ruettimann on Thursday night and I think we’ve already agreed that it’ll be Hillary Clinton vs. Jeb Bush (because it seems only Republicans called Bush win general elections) in 2016 so you can save all the money, adverts, rallies etc. and just crack on!!

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