Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Exceptional Customer Service - Alive and Well

Just before Christmas Annie and I decided we would buy a second treadmill as part of our training for the London Marathon in April.

I ordered the treadmill online from a company called FitHire Ltd based in Hampshire. I had a phone call from Mark at FitHire within minutes to confirm that my order had been received and processed and the treadmill would be delivered within two days.

Less than 24 hours later the treadmill was delivered – outstanding service.

After a couple of days the treadmill developed a problem. On the advice of Mark at Fit Hire I rang the manufacturer, a company called Beny Sports based in Yorkshire to report the problem.

of Beny Sports told me to try a coupe of adjustments to see if the problem could be cured. I tried and it did not improve. Sophie told me they would replace the treadmill within two days.

Less than 24 hours later the replacement treadmill was delivered – and it was an upgraded model – outstanding service again.

Please take a bow Fit Hire and Beny Sports

Please take a bow Mark and Sophie.

As someone who is often critical of poor customer service it is fantastic to know Exceptional Customer Service is alive and well – and as always it’s all about people.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Christmas to all Simplicity readers

Thanks for all your brilliant support in the last
year and please do enjoy a peaceful Christmas

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Manchester United on top of the world!

Its official - Manchester United are the best football team in the world!

Liga de Quito 0 - Man United 1

To me of course United have been the best team in the world since I was 11 years old but this finally makes it real!

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Work the System"

I was pleasantly surprised when Sam Carpenter’s publicist wrote from Oregon and asked me to review Sam’s book “Work the System”. She sent me a free copy and I have now read it.

Sam tells the story of how he turned his business around when he reached the edge of disaster in both a business and personal sense. He was working 100 hours a week and even sleeping in his office. He was worried about how he was going to pay the next employees salaries due. He had run his business for 15 years at this point.

He describes how this crisis made him take what he calls an "outside and slightly elevated" view of how things really were in his company.

He recognised from this vantage point that he needed to pay serious attention to all the systems in his company that relied too much on him personally. He explains how he took apart all the systems and put them back together again providing documented evidence of all systems.

He writes about the underpinning role played in this Work the System process by three key elements of documentation; the one page Strategic Objective, A collection of written General Operating Principles and the Working Procedures.

From "whacking the moles" and "fire fighting" Sam was able to see his business become, over time, a smooth operation not needing as much of his personal input - other than as leader.

Eight years after his "outside and slightly elevated" epiphany he now works 2 hours per week as his business continues to make significant bottom line profit. There is high employee retention and high levels of employee involvement and job satisfaction.

I love the honesty and personal confessions as Sam writes about his own mistakes and how he went about putting them right.

Sam says that the reader will ‘get it’ as you make progress through the book. Fairly early on I recognised what Sam was saying and by the end of the book I had put into practice his “outside and slightly elevated” concept to a life long problem I’ve had – that is how to make sure I finish books that I start to read!

I think Sam's wisdom and personal experience is well worth reading about if you own a business, if you are, like me, self employed or if you work for someone else.

What Sam tells me in this book is to be obsessional about your systems – dismantle them; rebuild them; and tweak them and change them involving all the employees in that process. You must also reward people well for being signed up to the systems thinking.

I thoroughly recommend this book. I’ve never really considered myself a ‘systems type’ of manager but while reading Sam’s book I now believe I am one!

Thank you Sam and good luck with your book – it is full of references to the need to keep things simple and that’s another major reason I will be regularly dipping into “Work the System” which now stands boldly among my favourite books in my office.
You can see more about Sam’s book and his other work by clicking here

Sir Alex - a man not to be riled!

The ongoing saga of whether Cristiano Ronaldo stays at Manchester United or is sold to Real Madrid is becoming a bit tiresome.

As a Man United fan - man and boy - I desperately hope that our brilliant winger stays at United. Yesterday one of the top people at Real Madrid suggested that a deal has been struck taking Cristiano to the Spanish giants at the end of the current season.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary United manager, and one of my all-time heroes pulled no punches when asked by the media for his views.
You can hear the 64 second interview with the great man by clicking here.

The line I like best is:
"Do you think I would go into a contract with that mob. Absolutely no chance. I wouldn't sell them a virus"

Priceless - thank you Sir Alex.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

‘Make it up as you go along’ works

“Life is what happens while we are busy making other plans” – John Lennon

6.30 pm, January 10th 1977 and the wind was gale force. The rain was torrential. I was the manager 'on-call' for my local hospital – a 140 bed unit mainly for older people and some younger people recovering from surgery.

I had just sat down for my evening meal at home when the phone rang. It was Ken - one of the porters at the hospital just ringing me to tell me, for information, there was a problem with the drains in the car park. It seems the manhole covers were lifting through water pressure and Ken understood the tidal river that ran through the town had flooded as the high winds coincided with unusually high spring tides. I asked if there was anything I could do but Ken told me things were ok and all seemed calm despite rumours of chaos in the town.

No sooner had I put the phone down when a neighbour came round in a panic to tell me the river had indeed flooded and the town was under water in places. Emergency vehicle sirens could soon be heard all over the town and I felt it may be a good idea for me to go in and check things were in fact ok at the hospital. I was concerned because the hospital was only about 200 yards ‘as the crow flies’ from the river so if there was a problem it is likely that the hospital may be affected.

As I reached the hospital car park in my car I was amazed at the sight that met me. The entire car park and the drive leading to the hospital was flooded to a depth of at least two feet and I had to leave my car and try to walk to the main entrance to establish quite what was going on. Why hadn’t I had a follow up call from Ken?

The scene was total chaos and I decided to walk to the main entrance in the clothes I was wearing. As I passed one of the new buildings in the grounds on my way to the main entrance I was by now up to my waist in freezing water and couldn’t help noticing the new furniture floating in our pride and joy building – the new Day Hospital that had been opened just a month or so previously.

When I finally got into the hospital Ken greeted me with the news that all power had been lost including telephones and as this was of course before the days of mobile phones the hospital was completely isolated and yet in the middle of the town!

So there I was at age 24 – still ‘green around the ears,’ still learning my trade and suddenly faced with a major incident.

It was now 9 pm and the only people at work on the premises were the night nursing staff the porter and me. This was a total of about 10 people. There were well over 100 patients whose welfare was of course our greatest concern.

I wandered around the hospital to speak to the people on the six wards to make sure things were ok. Obviously the one ward on the ground floor was our biggest concern and that ward had about six inches of dirty water covering the floor.

We decided to use one office as our base and those who could be spared came to the office for a quick meeting to plan what we could do for the rest of the night.

The truth is we were making this up as we went along. Yes there were polices and procedures that had been written in

the warmth of a comfortable office, probably in the middle of summer. Here we were in the middle of winter in a violent storm with no power and over 100 vulnerable patients. And we could not communicate with the outside world.

We developed some plans on the hoof and gradually three or four more people battled their way to the hospital main entrance as the depth of the water in the drive continued to rise. Eventually we managed to set up a primitive form of communication. The local Sea Scouts organisers came up to the hospital entrance in a boat! They delivered a loud haler which meant we could communicate with people wanting to offer help as word got around the town that the hospital was in effect cut off. We were overwhelmed with offers of help and we had to make priorities about what we needed.

After a few hours the telephones were re-connected but we had no power until the following day. The ten of us kept in touch by constant walking round the hospital bringing folks up to date with any news we could find out.

As daylight broke the water finally began to subside and at last the hospital became reachable. In the meantime we had moved the most vulnerable and ill patients from the ground floor to higher levels to escape possible infection from the dirty water. All the patients were given extra blankets – remember we had no heating!

During the following day we evacuated 120 or so patients to various hospitals all over the region and it was just incredible to find myself at my tender years to be in charge- by default - of such a major incident. Amazing learning.

The miracle is that no patients lost their lives overnight although sadly a couple of patients died a day or two later in the hospital we managed to evacuate them to. It was felt by the nurses that the trauma of the event itself contributed to the patients’ demise.

I have many vivid memories of that night. The overwhelming learning is about how, at times of great adversity, ‘unconnected’ people can work together as a wonderful team and ‘deliver’ effectively even though there is no precedent, no plan and no experience of dealing with such a major incident. A wonderful experience and I was so proud to be a member of that team.

Leadership Lesson

‘Make it up as you go along’ works as a strategy sometimes. Policies help and act as a guide but sometimes you just have to get on and ‘do it.’

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tom's Nine for 2009!

My good friend Tom Asacker – realist and visionary - has published his 9 predictions for 2009 – it’s brilliant – you can read the full article by clicking here

My favourite two:

No 2 Many things will change, but many people will not

No 6 The passionate will not only survive, they will thrive

Thanks Tom for your continued inspiration.

Friday, December 12, 2008

iLearning Global

When it comes to leadership and management in business I have to admit to being a bit of a learning 'junkie.'

I crave information about these subjects; I love to read (even though I never do enough reading); whenever I get the chance I love to see top business speakers; and occasionally I attend training workshops that spark my interest.

Given my thirst for knowledge I was excited to come across iLearning Global – a whole new concept in learning in the new virtual world.

iLearning Global
is an online facility that transmits through your own PC some of the worlds top management experts and leading authors 24/7. The content is updated almost daily. iLearning Global uses high definition video streaming that only 6 other companies in the world have available including Disney so the picture quality is second to none.

This development shows the way in top quality, leading edge training taking advantage of the opportunities presented by our new virtual world.

I’ve already signed up to iLearning Global and I would love to hear what you think about the concept. I’m happy to exchange thoughts by e mail with anyone interested -

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Socially Responsible Capitalism

Trying to reconcile two seemingly polarised views is the essence of politics for me nowadays

Since I was a kid I have had an emotional connection to the British Labour Party. I’ve always described my politics as socialism and I’ve recently got engaged in some fascinating discussion on Tom Peters Blog about capitalism versus socialism.

My earliest recollections of politics entering my thinking was in my early teens and my late beloved Dad coming home from his work after his shift on the front line in the massive Perkins Diesel engine factory in Peterborough (in those days it employed in excess of 10,000 people). He would complain about how management were not interested in the front line workers. Dad was a staunch Union man and fought hard for the workers he supervised as a fairly senior engine inspector. He had many battles with what he called ‘out of touch management stuck in their offices.’

It was these formative years that I suppose led me to believe the Labour Party was the one for me. As a result I've always voted for either a Labour Candidate (or a Liberal Democrat as a tactical vote just so that a Conservative is not elected)

I will not change my basic allegiance to socialism but I have discovered Socially Responsible Capitalism as a concept for the first time and I am going to do some more reading on this concept.

The thing that aways worries me about a purely capitalist dogma is this rose tinted illusion we are supposed to believe that business will allow 'trickle down' of wealth taking some of the profits ‘down’ to those who are at the bottom of the pile. O yeah, who are you trying to kid is my response.

I just cannot see this as ‘real world thinking’ without some form of government regulation which is alien to capitalists.

As a consequence I've never voted for a Conservative because that party is passionately capitalist.

Mark JF one of our regular commenters posted this comment a few weeks ago:

"A young man who isn't a socialist hasn't got a heart; an old man who is a socialist hasn't got a head." David Lloyd George.

In spite of Lloyd George’s assertion that I ‘don’t have a head’ I remain socially minded and nothing will change my view about that – but at the same time I want to see the spread of genuine socially responsible capitalism.

Maybe what I am saying for the first time in my voting life is that I will look at which candidate in my constituency stands for socially responsible capitalism and he/she will get my vote. The test for me will come if that person in a Conservative I guess.