Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An art masterpiece

I made my first appearance on this planet 57 years ago today.

I received this great birthday picture sent electronically through Facebook by my daughter Nadine that was drawn by my 4 year old Grandson Sebastian.
This is Sebastian’s drawing of Grandad Gay taking our two dogs Rusty and Bertie for a walk.

Kids are so kind and thoughtful aren’t they? - Sebastian kindly remembered to make sure he showed traces of hair on both sides of my head.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The wonder of simplicity

Not sure whether its urban myth or not but I loved this story and I'm indebted to Bob Walker for sharing it on Tom Peters Blog today. I have heard this before but had completely forgotten about it.

Thanks a lot Bob - Simplicity truly has elegance!

"During the Space Race, NASA decided they needed a ball point pen to write in the zero gravity confines of its space capsules. After considerable research and development, a pen was successfully developed and even enjoyed some modest success as a novelty item back on Earth. It allegedly cost US$241 million. Faced with the same problem, Russian astronauts used a pencil." - Bob Walker

Friday, June 26, 2009

Have we used the technology well?

If ever we needed evidence of the new world of instant communication then the tragic death of Michael Jackson yesterday is a perfect example of the use of the new technology to meet our demand, our unquenchable thirst for instant news.

Last night I was watching Sky News on TV at around 8.45 pm when it was announced Michael Jackson had been taken to hospital with a suspected cardiac arrest.

Within two hours Sky reported the very sad news that Michael had died.

I understand both Facebook and Twitter became overloaded; texts by the million were sent back and forth around the world; and there has been wall to wall TV coverage since.

I got to thinking about my 80 year old Mum who was a teenager during World War Two (1939-45). Mum had very little information (make that zero information) in ‘real time’ or ‘live’ about one of the most important periods in the history of the world and in particular Britain and Europe.

Now just 65 short years later (a blink of the eye in historical terms) we have all the information we need (and more) at our fingertips; on demand; and in front of our eyes.

A genuine question …

Have we really made the most effective use of the technology we have seen developed since my Mum was a teenager to build a better, more peaceful and less unequal planet ….or have we used it primarily for news and entertainment value?

Friday, June 19, 2009

The basics are the new cutting edge

Throughout my 40 year involvement in healthcare I’ve spent much of my time with front line employees. Recently I’ve spent more time than usual with receptionists when running training workshops on various topics.
Spending time with them is a great reminder to me just how important these people are in the patient experience.

It also reminds me how important the tasks we might call ‘trivial’ are in the grand scheme of things in any walk of life.

Basic tasks are not trivial at all - they are fundamental to an overall purpose.

Any house built on weak foundations is not a safe house. This ‘trivial’ work has to be done and it is often not glamorous. It nevertheless makes the final product what it is.

When I work with a group of receptionists I always say to them:

“Promise me one thing. If you take NOTHING else from this training session please tell me you will never say ‘I’m JUST a receptionist.’ You are a customer service professional. That is the reality.”

In every aspect of my life I see these basic but crucial building blocks in just the same way. We rightly celebrate watching something that gives us a real buzz, due to its sheer beauty; or because it touches some emotional buttons within us. But I believe the final ‘product’ or ‘performance’ we witness is usually the accumulation of lots of little pieces that seen in isolation are minor. This usually requires the input of many people quietly doing effective if unglamorous work.

Interestingly, the best leaders I’ve known; worked for; or interviewed have a humility you can ‘feel’ in their presence. They all say they truly value people at the front line doing the less glamorous stuff and they mean it. The least effective leaders prefer to talk about themselves first.

So it’s another opportunity for me to say thank you and to congratulate all those millions of people who do daily, that work which may be considered by some to be ‘menial.’ I say with the utmost confidence the world is a richer place thanks to the millions of foot-soldiers doing basic work quietly and seeking no spotlight.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Excellence is ... The Eagles

We all have our own definition of excellence.

Three weeks today Annie and I will be going to see The Eagles in concert at the National indoor Arena, Birmingham. This is the UK leg of The Eagles ‘Long Road out of Eden' world tour.

To me The Eagles are an example of excellence by any measure – popularity, album sales, commercial success, live performances, vocally, musically, song writing, longevity; you name it – they score high on all aspects.

As a measure of their popularity on this side of the pond an extra performance has been added to their concert tour of the UK due to overwhelming ticket demand.

Glen Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy Schmit have been together for the greater part of the 35 plus years since The Eagles band was formed. Others have come and gone in that time namely Don Felder, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon

Frey and Henley are founder members with Frey generally regarded as the leader.

Apart from their phenomenal success The Eagles have been famous for a healthy (?) tension between band members throughout their existence. Whatever their differences the excellence is still there vocally and musically after all these years.

Some say the tension that exists is ironically what keeps them together and keeps them going.

Certainly the 14 year break up from 1980 to 1994 was a long time apart. When they reformed in 1994 Glen Frey famously opened their first reunion concert with these great words;

‘We never broke up; we just had a 14 year vacation”

We Eagles fans of course must grab every chance we can to see the band – because we keep on saying ‘this tour to the UK could be the last one.’ Frey is 60 while Henley, Walsh and Schmidt are all 61 years young so in reality there may not be many more UK tours I guess.

For excellence it doesn’t get much better than the utube video above of Glen Frey singing ‘Lyin Eyes’ live in the Farewell 1 Tour a couple of years ago. An Eagles classic – please enjoy.

Forgive the self indulgence but I certainly will enjoy it!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What is your legacy as a leader?

Having been inspired by Alan Webbers book I am going to ask you a question from Rule 41.

The rule chapter title is;


The chapter includes a section about what legacy a leader leaves behind. This fascinates me.

Alan features Michael Abrashoff, the charismatic captain of the USS Benfold who apparently has a simple question he asks business leaders based on his own experience as leader in the US Navy.

Mr Abrashoff’s question: "When you leave your job – how do you want your troops to remember you?"

So its over to Simplicity readers – You are all leaders. I’d love to hear your answers - how do you want your 'troops' to remember you?

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Rules of Thumb" - A must read

I’ve just finished reading the Alan Webber book “Rules of Thumb” (52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self)

The book is written as 52 short and readable chapters giving Alan’s thoughts and opinions after 30 years of rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest business leaders. He is also co-founder of Fast Company Magazine.

I have underlined or highlighted so many sections in the book that I can open the book at any page and find real wisdom. I just love the way Alan writes – I guess that comes from his journalistic background.

I would say that anyone interested in knowing what makes the great leaders tick and what makes the best entrepreneurs successful will enjoy this book. It is crammed with practical advice and the most impressive feature to me is the simplicity of Alan’s advice.

According to Alan it turns out leadership is about role model behaviour, integrity, simplicity and common sense. It's not about having a massive ego, pretentiousness and making lots of money.

I am so pleased that someone with the credibility and experience of Alan Webber confirms the things I've always believed in.

Thank you Alan for a brilliant book – I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I recommend it without hesitation to anyone who wants to learn how to become a better leader, manager or entrepreneur.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


I am proud of the level of conversation on my Simplicity Blog. It is always a high standard. Most of all I am pleased it is always civil, well mannered and respectful to other commenters.

So ....
as I approach my 1000th (now up to 971) posting in the 4 years since I started the Blog a big "thanks" from me to everyone for setting and maintaining such high standards.

The regular commenters here and of course any new visitors - who are always welcome - are among my greatest teachers as well as friends.

Just wanted to let you know!

Four random Simplicity thoughts

1. The 'manager' is dead - long live the coach

I’ve always believed managers are coaches. ‘Manage things - lead people’ is how my good friend and leadership expert Brian Ward of Affinity Consulting, Edmonton, Canada describes it. In the next few years I believe we will see far less directing and ‘managing’ of people as they become more and more empowered due to the ease of access to information. Nowadays the subordinate person who was previously ‘managed’ by their boss is in possession of as much information as the boss - thanks to the internet. The implications for managers are simple and obvious. If the manager is to retain that ‘higher place’ in the pecking order he/she will need to illustrate what is the added value he/she brings. And ‘many years in the job’ is not the right answer.

I advocate embracing the new challenge and see your role as a coach of talent. The manager with experience and qualifications should be in a position to impart that knowledge and encourage the people in the team. I see less hierarchy and more teamwork where the coach has the job of keeping all the team members happy, fulfilled, motivated, stretched and enthusiastic. This will require development of new and existing skills. The alternative is to watch frontline employees take your space in the organisational chart. The manager is dead – long live the coach.

2. Trust the frontline workers to manage themselves

I’ve always believed frontline employees have much more to offer than their job descriptions, and sadly, their managers allow. Peter Drucker said “90% of what we call ‘management’ consists of making it difficult for people to get things done.” In the new world of management I see frontline employees being in control of their own workload and calling upon the coach for advice when they need it. Customer expectations are increasing because the customer is more informed. Frontline workers must be at least one step ahead of the customer in order to meet that expectation. The customer of the future will be more demanding. To be left waiting for an answer while the frontliner goes through various layers of management to solve simple problems will not be acceptable.

We have to find ways of ‘letting go’ of the perceived power managers currently have. The best way to gain power is to let go of power. Frontline employees are more than capable of creating their own working practices and project teams with the ‘support’ of the coach rather than the ‘direction’ of a manager. The battle to obtain the legal right for people with a learning disability to vote in the United States was captured in a report called ‘Make us Citizens and Watch us Grow’. That title could be applied to most frontline workers. Trust the frontline workers – they know the answers.

3. Working in your pyjamas at home is OK!

As managers and frontline workers become freed up to decide on their own priorities there are enormous implications for the workplace and the hours of work. Working from home was controversial when it was first introduced in my workplace 20 years ago. Many of my peers believed it was a ‘brave step to trust people to work from home'. I predict even less traditional office-based working in the future – apart, that is, from those workers who have face-to-face customer contact. I also see far less control by managers of the hours worked by employees. We have to find better ways of measuring outcomes.

Relaxation of dress code is another spin-off. If people are working from home and there is no customer-facing role it matters not whether the person is working in their pyjamas all day. It doesn’t matter either if the person hasn’t shaved for a week. Outcomes matter - appearance does not. This stuff is not 'risky'. If we start from a position of trust in our employees we will be repaid with loyalty way above and beyond the repayment we get when we start from an implicit mistrust. I don’t even begin to understand why anyone might question the fact we all like to be trusted. A professional working in their pyjamas is ok!

4. Working in a global village

In the last five years I have made more new friends that I may never meet, than friends I have met. Email, blogging and electronic communication create a host of new communication methods. We no longer have to restrict our thinking to communicating with people in our office, our team, our organisation, our town, our country or our continent. The world has become a village. Everyone who wants to be is accessible. As with all villages, there are people we do not need or wish to communicate with.

So we just need to be discerning in our use of modern information technology and as always we need to choose our friends carefully. The onus is on current managers to seek new alliances, new ‘friends’ and new colleagues from any part of the globe and more importantly to keep an open mind about how and what we may learn and from whom. The new communication methods offer us open access to great minds and amazing learning. We need to grab the opportunity. We do not need to be restricted to traditional methods of communication and learning; your ‘next door neighbour’ may be thousands of miles away in a different time zone.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

D Day Memorial - 65 years on and counting.

Today I watched live on TV the D-Day memorial ceremony in France.

It was wonderful to see Prince Charles and the political leaders of Britain, US, Canada and France come together with the military folk who are still around from 1944.

They all showed great dignity and respect, coming together to remember those heroes who died on D Day 65 years ago today. I tell my children, and will tell my new grandchildren when they are old enough, to remember these famous words spoken on every Remembrance Day service in November:

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.”

It is times like this that being British makes me feel blessed and proud remembering the sacrifices of so many millions of my Grandfather’s generation who died to keep me free.

The video above is President Obama's 15 minutes address at the ceremony which is extremely moving - it made me cry anyway. I hope you have time to watch it in full.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Steve Yastrow - Customer Relations Guru

If you want to read some interesting stuff on customer relationships you would be well advised to visit the Blog of US based Steve Yastrow

Steve is a friend I’ve corresponded with a few times in the last year or two. He regularly writes on Tom Peters Blog and wrote a great book called “We: The Ideal Customer Relationship.”

Steve has a common sense view of customer relationships. I find his words simple yet inspiring.

Steve’s Blog can be found at http://yastrow.com/

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Take it on the chin and learn

Giving constructive criticism is a great skill and done well by a few people. I suggest accepting criticism and seeing it as a positive learning experience is even harder.

I recently had some negative feedback in one of my workshops and the first reaction was of feeling upset, disheartened and actually, pretty miserable. Throughout my life my initial reaction to criticism has often been to ‘catastrophise.’ That word was given to me many years ago by a good friend and professional colleague who is a highly regarded counsellor in mental health services.

So .... having received some negative feedback this meant (in my head) I was less than perfect which is of course unacceptable to me. Trevor has to be perfect all the time – anything less is not good enough. This unrealistic state of mind lasted for a day or two until I spoke to someone about the actual points of criticism. I was able to
look rationally at the points raised. Despite the fact my heart was wishing to reject the criticism, my head told me there was in fact some validity in the comments.

I was able to give my responses in a calm, measured well thought through way and this was accepted. After the discussion I felt better and my ego was less bruised. I had learned some stuff for future workshops that will help me.

Learning had taken place!

My main point is that actually, we are not perfect, at least I am not. You may be.

It is really important that we take criticism very seriously – but not too seriously so that we beat ourselves up. We also need to find ways to learn from criticism and perhaps most important; we should never rubbish the data.

In that particular workshop I looked carefully at all the evaluation feedback forms from 12 people. Only one had poor scores or comments. The other 11 evaluation forms were very high scores with favourable comments – some extremely favourable.

One key message from me is to dig deep into your evaluation. Don’t simply believe the headlines. Learn from the 'outlier' comments and scores.

Be happy and content with the great comments. Give serious consideration to the ones that are critical before you dismiss the writer as a bad person who doesn’t know what they are talking about.

I hope this makes sense – criticism is never well received but we can turn it around.

I’d love to hear your experiences and stories on this.