Tag Archives: value

The one where four is quite enough

So I attended a conference about learning…yes, the one I wrote about yesterday. The company hosting the event develops simulations for learning (they’re called Ososim) and their Technical Wizard in Chief (this may not be his actual job title) stood up in the afternoon to talk about complexity with specific reference to software development.

I don’t mind admitting that when I heard what was coming I started to tune out and thought this may be an excellent opportunity to catch up with my work e-mail…until I started to actually pay attention.

He opened with an anecdote about aeroplanes which went something along the lines of, in the case of emergency what was the thing a Captain would want to hear from his 1st Officer – “Captain, we have a problem with engine 43”. The notion being that in an aircraft with 44 engines, a problem with one of them would be so insignificant as to not challenge the safety of the aircraft.

He then went on to debunk his own anecdote as he pointed out that in terms of risk and complexity an aircraft engine is pretty much as high as it gets and that going from the 2 or 4 that are standard to 44 would be adding exponential risk to the aircraft and the passengers thus defeating the point.

Can you guess on a scale of 1-10 how interested I am in the complexity of software development? The answer is an integer below 0. But…it did start the grey matter whirring about the notion that in protecting ourselves from risk often we add complexity that in fact increases the risk.

Stop for a moment and think about the last time you had any form of significant crisis involving HR in your organisation… What was the response?

I’ll bet you a pound that it involved a new process, a new policy, something that needed signing, a briefing, some form of sheep dip training… Am I close?

So you’ve introduced another control mechanism and responded to problem by reducing the empowerment your employees feel another notch and also created something that you can miss out on in the future thus creating more work (which may or may not  add value) for HR to obsess over.

I suppose my point here is if control is anything more than an illusion are we really trying to maintain it by introducing more complexity and more process which actually serve to hinder the organisation and it’s employees? Go into your organisation today (or tomorrow) and look at the policies and procedures you have and to each one ask, “is this the 43rd engine?” – you may find yourself building a different type of aircraft.


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The one with the divine discontent

So we’ve almost made it through January and the first (and maybe only) #snowgate2013 has been and thawed. Reading Twitter, talking to friends and colleagues and observing the marketing drives of brands various makes it insanely obvious that the new year brings a rash of resolutions, goals and aspirations for the new calender year.

Whilst catching up with my timeline yesterday morning and reveling in the milder temperatures,  I read a tweet from the Exec Editor at Retail Week, George MacDonald, who reminded me of some lovely prose courtesy of Kenneth Grahame from his “Wind in the Willows”. Mole has been hard at it with some spring cleaning and Grahame observes,

“Spring was in the air… Penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing”

I think it’s easy to long for better weather and longer days in doing so sometimes I realise I am wishing my life away but the words that made me stop and re-read them were ‘divine discontent’. It’s a phrase I first heard from a previous boss and it’s one I often think of in realising that actually I never quite reach the point of being delighted with what I/We deliver and always wanting to take it ‘out of the window’ and tinker with it a bit more before the business gets to play with it. Whether I do or not is usually influenced by pragmatism, availability of time and a decision on the value of a 1 or 2% improvement in something.

Like a lot of businesses we are reaching the end of our business planning cycle for 2013/14 and that usually surfaces a lot of ‘divine discontent’ thinking as you sit down and ascribe £s to particular pieces of work and question the value to the organisation and what impact a given effort is ACTUALLY having.

With the challenges, often rightly made, to the value of the human resources function and the continual drive to any business to do everything better and cheaper in the future than it has in the past I have often realised how well I’ve been served (without realising it) by the observation Moley makes in his lowly home because even if it isn’t broken maybe an improvement now will stop it every reaching broken. Improve before there’s a requirement to fix maybe?


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The one with a little love in the room

So it’s that day again…the day where the supply and demand curve makes dinner for 2 and a dozen roses double in price, every TV show run idiotic features and every person who’s single feel either smug or like reaching for a bottle of wine. It’s Valentine’s Day.

Now whether St. Valentine was the patron saint of lovers or actually it was just dreamt up by Geoffrey Chaucer I don’t really mind. The reality is the modern Valentine’s Day is a commercially impactful expectation fest which has very little to do with love and lots to do with supply chains!

I was involved in an organised chat on Twitter recently which asked a question along the lines of “which is better for networking, online or face to face?” and my answer went something like “One enhances the other. Maintain & grow through online. Enrich and in-depth in real life. Also hard to get drunk online ;)” and I stick by that. I have a number of friends and a relatively small family but thanks for the wonders of Facebook and Twitter I pretty much know that they are all OK and getting on with their lives. Likewise for business contacts Twitter and Linkedin provide a similar source of information.

It does sometimes feel in this time of the rise of social media that it’s only those I’m connected to online that I stay truly up to date with and at times I find myself wondering about those not connected and should I be doing more (or shouldn’t they just get over it and get in the game). It was interesting catching up with a friend i’ve not seen for 4 months last week and in the course of the conversation she confessed she both lurks on twitter and reads most of my tweets – the catch up was much easier I can tell you!!

An organisation I worked in for some time had painted on one of the walls of it’s staircases this:

“The unit of value is the customer relationship”

Having walked passed it thousands of times I got to a point of immunity to it but in reflecting on the nonsense that Valentine’s Day has become I think that whilst the word customer was appropriate in that context should I take a moment and think about the value in my relationships.

So there it is, my thought for the day – think about the people that matter to you, both business and personal and maybe take some extra time today in understanding and appreciating them and the value they bring to you and if you do have a significant other make sure they get a big snog too!


Having discussed this post with one of my closest friends last night he made the comment ‘bosses never send you a valentines card do they?’ so maybe that’s another thought…not sure how anonymity will work there though 😉

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The one with Billy Connolly and Recruitment

Billy Connolly observes in one of his older stand up shows the amazing effect that the British Parliament (and it’s probably true of parliaments everywhere) has on political rhetoric. If memory serves it’s to do with the then headline grabbing issue of pit bull terriers. He describes the passage from the public question of whether we should shot them or castrate them and how this becomes, following a trip through the machinations of Westminster, that people have to register them at the post office…

All the power, energy and possibly value of the original intention is completely lost and what remains is a tiny shadow of its former self.

Now imagine being an applicant for a role in a large business…

Should they hire you to be the architect of their next success, the person to run all of their operations or just make it easy and appoint you as their next CEO?

Well, it seems, following a trip through the machinations of some of the corporate beasts your barnstorming application will be a shadow of its former self. By the time it ducks, weaves and turns through system to the person who is actually hiring, your energy, enthusiasm and passion are likely diminished and maybe, just maybe you’ve got another job.


I am NOT, I repeat NOT, having a pop at internal recruitment teams. I repeat NOT!

So why have I just written that?

Firstly, I have sat in an internal recruitment team and seen first hands the juggling act of managing multiple vacancies, across multiple line managers who all have conflicting priorities.

Secondly, I have been a recruitment consultant (shhhh don’t tell anyone) and tried to represent (yes I use that word) great people into great employers

Thirdly, because I see people time and time again go from the height of enthusiasm to the depths of apathy about a role due to falling victim to the shock absorber.

Finally, and most importantly, businesses need great people. The better the people, the better the business (or I best give up now and go and work behind a bar in the Caribbean)

It strikes me that recruitment in all its guises has become far too much about cost and far less about value. After all that’s easy to measure and you know the old adage ‘if you can measure it, you can improve it’ but what about quality?

The guy I used to work for in recruitment had an aspiration of presenting one CV, to get one interview, to get one hire – it wasn’t a numbers game, it was a carefully considered process to ensure the best person was presented with the least camouflage to distract the person hiring. Let’s face it “the hiring manager” doesn’t give a stuff how cool your ATS is, how many people ‘like’ your Facebook group or how efficiently the tiers on your PSL works – they just want the right person at the right time. Imagine going into an Aston Martin dealership and them telling you how great the truck that delivered the car was – you wouldn’t care (if you were me, you’d be too busy trying to wrestle the keys out of their hands)


If you work in recruitment either internally or externally, I honestly wasn’t having a pop at you, but would ask that you take a moment and reflect on quality and if you have great quality measures then share with your peers – tout suite!

If you are a manager elsewhere in a business, for the sake of the customer (yes the customer) who is the author of that CV you have in front of you, whatever you do, do it quickly

If you are in a more senior position within an organisation, think about the balance of all the effort you put into brand or business marketing, the quality measures in your product or service and the costs of training and development in your business  and then think about how ruthlessly efficient your recruitment service is….is it too ruthless?

A little credit where it’s due:

This post started as an idea after reading a post by @mervyndinnen

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The one where it’s about value

‘We’ seemed to be obsessed by value…

  •  “Can you give me an example of time a time when you added significant value to the organisation?”
  • “This product is really value added”
  • “Re-engineering this process will reduce lost value to the business”

Those 3 examples I have heard, live, out of the mouths of actual people in the last few weeks, and in addition to my significant score in lingo bingo it always makes me want to ask the individual espousing how they would define value.

In a previous role I was fortunate enough to lead a project that had the broad objective “to find £2million of additional value in the business”, nothing was off the table and the CEO was our sponsor. In preparing for this we got some external support and it was during that process the following equation was introduced (and unfortunately I don’t have a citation for it):

Value= Function/Cost

The first thing that struck me at the time and in subsequent reflection is that in this instance value is subjective, for example, which of the following is of greater value?

Now the answer to the question which is of higher financial value is of course the Aston Martin. But the answer to the value question is far more subjective. If you are a spy evading capture on the lanes of Monte Negro of course the Aston is far more valuable, but for carrying a pallet of products then the Merc is head and shoulders above…

The second thing that struck me and seems stunningly simple (else how could I have worked it out?) is that to increase value there are 3 options:

(a)    Reduce cost

(b)   Increase function

Or secret answer (c) marginally increase cost to significantly increase function

Given the current state of the economy and the impact that is having on both public and private sectors there seems (at least in the rhetoric) to be an overwhelming focus on answer (a) ‘let’s get the red pen out’, a begrugding commitment to answer (b) ‘we’ll sweat the asset harder but very little discussion on answer (c) ‘let’s make some marginal investment to make this signficiantly better.

In thinking this over that the biggest determinant in these proportions is risk. Cutting cost is (at least in the short term) very low risk:

Person A: “Your need to increase your profitability by 10%”

Person B: “I have reduced my payroll by X and I am 10% more profitable”

Person A: *pats person A on head and throws them a rice krispie treat

But what were all those people doing that is now not being done? What is the impact of this reduction on your customer? What is the long term impact on the true performance of your business?

Sweating the asset harder involves some form of management or dare I say it leadership? That is where you either become the slave driver or even extract discretionary effort from people through increasing their motivation and commitment. Now that’s a huge risk…

My belief on the fear of option (c) is that not only does it involve making the kind of quantum unheard of leaps involved in option (b) but it also means asking for money FIRST, it involves actually making a case to do something better but needing some money to achieve it which involves commitment to a long term output but also means forgoing the pat on the head and the rice krispie treat.

What is written here is a exceptionally simplified take on what are often very complex situations (apart from the fact that Aston Martins are cool – that’s simple) so what did I write it? In the vain hope that if it makes 1 person somewhere stop and take a moment the next time they have the choice between options a, b & c and maybe just maybe they would take the risk, think about the long term and not be driven purely by a pat on the head…..and a rice krispie treat


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The one where it’s on the books

Last month HMV sold Waterstones for £53m to a fund controlled by a Russian Billionaire (they are tiring of football clubs it seems) and this is either the best money ever spent or history may show the purchase of a sinking ship. Waterstones is profitable at present and people will not stop buying books but the world is changing….fast.

That evening I tweeted something along the lines of “Amazon is where I buy the books I need, Waterstones is where I find the books I want” and in the responses a few people made the comment that they find the books at Waterstones and then go home and buy them cheaper at Amazon. This lead to a healthy debate, which in summary went something like:

Side 1: Your model (of browsing but shopping cheaper) will become extinct

Side 2: They don’t offer me any greater service so why should I buy it?

Side 1: You are consuming their ‘service’ by going into their shop and availing yourself of their stock

Side 2: But the staff doesn’t help me or offer me anything more than I can get online

Side 1: Do you ask?

Side 2: I shouldn’t have to

Side 1: Do you go into a bar, wait in the middle and complain about not getting served?

Side 1: The margin erosion means there are less staff to serve you and they are just focussing on operating the shop

Side 2: But that’s not my problem

Side 1: What you are doing is the equivalent of walking into loads of bars tasting loads of drinks and not buying anything

…and so it went on (it was Friday evening so at times it was a little spirited and if the person involved is reading this apologies for an editorial licence I may have taken to make the point)

It ended amicably with the other person (Side 2) admitting it had provoked thought and me (Side 1) realising that the other side wasn’t to blame that actually it’s Waterstones (and other businesses in the same situation) who to use a line from ‘The Untouchables’ are taking a “knife to a gun fight”.

The internet has changed the world, no more so than for retailers who are competing with businesses that have very different (leaner) cost structures and can operate their “stores” without the joys of rent, rates, shop fit, staff, localised stock etc etc and it strikes me (and I am by no means (x1000) the first person to say this) competing on price with someone who has a dramatically lower cost base than you is setting course for extinction. The pureplay internet retailers (i.e. those with no stores) have become very smart at providing some of the value of an in-person shopping experience with user reviews being the clearest example of them really understanding their customer.

Consumers are price sensitive, there is no disputing that but I recently asked a room full of people what their favourite retail experience was and not one person’s answer involved price. 95% of the answers involved the people they were served by. To me Waterstones need to stop selling books and start creating a book buying experience – that walking into a Waterstones would be like going to your book club where people have opinions and are able to tell you what they think. Whilst no one is price insensitive it is not the only factor…

When the video revolution first took hold (I am showing my age) a video shop opened locally to my parents home which was independently run and staffed by people who had a vested interest in the shop and liked films. Going there was great because firstly they had “The Cheers Factor” (everyone knew my name) but secondly they shared their opinions when asked, “if you like X I imagine you will like this” or “It’s like X but faster paced”. That shop (for the moment) is a Blockbuster and the biggest focus is selling package deals of coke/sweets/popcorn…

I may be shockingly naive in the way I see this and Waterstones may already be trying to do this but unless they dramatically and consistently change the way their staff engage with customers they are allowing the consumer to make a decision that is purely based on cost and not helping others (like Side 2 on Twitter) see the value in shopping with other criteria in mind or more importantly see the value that a specialist book shop adds over the online alternative.


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