Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lets learn lessons ... PLEASE!!

It seems we hear every day of hundreds and sometimes thousands of employees being booted out.

I’m getting more concerned about how deep the wounds of this recession are going to be. The human cost of all this is devastating. I suspect the emotional cost of the recession is far greater than the measurable financial cost.

Work is important to us. Not just for the earnings but for self esteem; the need to feel wanted; to be useful; and to feel we are contributing in some way. I have never been of the opinion that people go to work simply for the money – it’s much deeper than that.

Most people I speak to and most of the experts I read agree that greed is at the root of our current problems. We simply wanted too much and we didn’t have the money to pay for it. We got into debt and the debt has to be called in. This applies to individuals as well as big business.

I regard myself as an eternal optimist and so I have been thinking about what good can come out of all this for business. I hope one of the up sides of the recession is that lessons will be learned. As far as the world of business is concerned I hope we see leadership behaviour like the following as we (hopefully) climb out of this mess.

• Managers really getting to know what make their employees tick and to work as partners of those employees to better understand their needs.

• More emphasis on creating ethical frameworks within which managers work that emphasise respect for employees.

• Much greater openness and sharing of information so that everyone on the payroll is aware of where the company is heading - rather than a few people at the top having that information.

• A language in all companies where the word ‘Us’ is used more than the word ‘Me’

What behaviours do you hope to see in the business world post-recession?

Friday, January 23, 2009


Came across these beautiful, profound words through our local Minister yesterday - just wanted to share them:

You asked for my hands that you might use them for your purpose,
I gave them for a moment but then withdrew them for the work was hard.

You asked for my mouth to speak out against injustice,
I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.

You asked for my eyes to see the pain of others,
I closed them for I did not want to see.

You asked for my life that you might work through me,
I gave you only a small part that I might not get too involved

You asked me to go the extra mile,
To give the extra pound,
To offer the other cheek,
I took short cuts,
I gave only loose change,
I thought only of myself.

Lord forgive my calculated efforts to serve you only when it is convenient for me to do so, only at those times when I want to do so, only in those places where it is safe to do so, and only with those who make it easy to do so

Send me out as your servant,
Unselfish, self giving, sacrificial
By your Holy Spirit,
Transform my words into actions of love. Amen

Joe Seremane, South Africa

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Whatever happened to basic consideration for employees?

Something that gets me really angry is the scandalous and amateurish way that some managers ‘dispose of’ employees from the payroll as if they are just disposable 'products' without feelings.

Management integrity must go all the way down the line – particularly when people have to leave the payroll not from their own choice - it’s a no brainer as my friends in the US would say.

Offloading people (what a terrible expression that is) should be done with dignity and respect for the person. The recession is hitting lots of people all over the world. A friend of mine recently experienced ‘the boot’ and these are his own words to me yesterday:

“Had a 10 minute phone call week before Christmas saying ‘thanks and bye.’ Still in fact not had anything in writing/P45 etc so I am not sure what is happening – other than looking for a job.”

That’s over a month with no word from the company!

I have said in various places in the last week or two that all managers should work within an ethical framework. This is yet another example of why I call for that.

To my mind there is just no excuse for such downright appalling bad manners and dreadful management practices. Whatever the circumstances are, no employee should be treated this way.

I started out this post with the word ‘scandalous’ but on reflection that is far too kind a word for such ignorant behaviour.

The NHS may have its problems but this sort of thing would never happen in the NHS. Professionalism in management does not end when a decision is made to ‘offload’ a person – it becomes even more important than ever before!

Why the hell do managers allow themselves to be tarnished
with such bad practice?(because make no mistake you are tarnished by association)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dropping Almonds - please read this book!

I’ve just read "Dropping Almonds" by Bach Anon, a fabulous short book. It is only 106 pages and I read it in a long afternoon.

It is described on the website as "not your traditional business book" and I agree with that. I very much welcome its style.

Anyone wanting to see more ethical behaviour from managers and leaders in business will love it.

The book is a damning personal statement about poor leadership and management in the US business world. It catalogues the lack of honesty and integrity of top management, particularly in times of change, and how leadership and management are completely disconnected with people doing the work.

The author, who has been at the top of organisations and so speaks from an authoritative position, explains very powerfully what it feels like to be caught up in this type of situation where people at the front line are being told one thing whilst senior management are going in a completely opposite direction.

It is not however a depressing book – far from it – it is written from the heart and packed with emotion. It illustrates the importance of integrity and having some sort of ethical framework for managers to work within.

Is there any wonder front line employees are cynical and disbelieving of management when this sort of practice goes on?

Although the book is about a company in the US I see many parallels in my career back home here in the UK.

Management that does not work in an ethical framework might as well pack up and go home now as far as I am concerned.
Anyone working for management like that described in Dropping Almonds is best advised to just leave and find someone to work for where honesty and integrity mean more than words on a glossy mission statement. I know that is easy for me to say when bills have to be paid. And of course we don't always know what sort of dishonesty and lack of integrity exists at the top end of companies.

I love Tom Peters expression "Life is too short to work with jerks."

If you know the top management and leadership in the company lacks honesty and integrity I would say you are damaging yourself and you are in the wrong place in your career. It could even be argued that, by staying in such a scenario, you are actually complicit in the lack of integrity.

To see more details of the book and how to order click here

Monday, January 12, 2009

More Branson wisdom

Can't say I've EVER come across wiser words in business than these from Sir Richard Branson:

“I’m not good at theory. Almost everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned by doing. However, Muhammad’s opinions excite me. They confirm a lot of the gut feelings I’ve developed about business over the years. And topping my list of gut feelings is this: business has to give people enriching, rewarding lives, or it’s simply not worth doing.”

The last 14 words say it so much better than my 20,000 word dissertation!

Thank you Sir Richard and Amen

Friday, January 09, 2009

Practical Simplicity

I am often asked to give practical tips that managers can follow to implement Simplicity. It's a brilliant question that challenges me because I guess anyone can say ‘lets simplify things’ but busy managers are looking for practical tips about what they can do personally to simplify the workplace.

Based on my own management experience there are numerous things managers can do and here are 9 for starters.

1 When you have written your next report ask two people who are paid significantly less than you to tell you if they understood it

2 Make time in your diary every week to ask a customer to tell you in their own words about their recent experience with your company

3 At your team meeting every week or every month depending on the frequency of meetings, ask someone to do a five minute presentation called “My big simplicity idea for our team is …..” (PowerPoint not allowed)

4 Invite a customer to read three e-mails or letters you have sent in the previous week and ask them to give you feedback about the language you used

5 Invite two 16 year old students to attend your team meeting and ask them to give the team members honest feedback at the end of the meeting about the language used

6 Find a report about absolutely anything of two sides of A4 length. Send the report to a colleague and ask him/her to return it to you reduced to one side of A4. Judge for yourself whether one side is adequate to get the message over

7 Ask one of your team members to write a story on one side of A4 about a complicated problem in your department/team. The language must be aimed at an audience of secondary school students (11-16 year olds). Send the story to a local school teacher and ask for feedback from the students at his/her school

8 In your next written report of more than 200 words do not use any acronyms

9 Send a report you have written to 2 cleaners and 2 junior Clerical staff. Ask the four of them to rate your report on a scale of 0 to 10.

0 I didn't understand it at all
10 I understood it completely

Think about how you can improve your score in your next report.

By the way, if you score 40 points congratulations you are a Simplicity guru.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pay up

I return today to one of the most frustrating things about being self employed.

To me - and the millions of other sole traders in the UK - cash flow is crucial.

We do not have massive backroom teams to deal with stuff - We ARE the backroom.

We do not have various ‘departments’ to do their thing before anything happens - We ARE those departments.

When I get an invoice I always pay it promptly.

Time and again in the 4 plus years I have been self-employed I invariably have to ‘chase’ payments of my outstanding invoices.

I am usually told things like – “it is in the system” or “it has been passed for payment.”

Many times I’ve had to chase payments 2 or 3 times. I often feel embarrassed about asking. And yet it is my money!

The longest I've had to wait for payment is just over 9 weeks from the date of my invoice.

I used to work as a manager in the National Health Service (NHS) and so I realise big organisations ‘pass’ an invoice from ‘desk to desk’ and ‘manager to manager’ for approval before it eventually reaches the person in the finance team who finally sends the money to the supplier.

As a manager in the NHS I often commissioned suppliers who were sole traders or small businesses. I appreciated how important it was for them to receive their money for work done. I therefore took personal responsibility as a manager to ensure their invoices went through the system as quickly as possible. I've always contended this is possible but relies totally on the individual manager taking a personal interest and showing loyalty to the person he/she commissioned in the first place to perform the work!

I was not a perfect manager in the NHS but, come on, this is not rocket science.

Smaller organisations I work for are always the quickest payers. Maybe that is because there is empathy about the importance of cash flow.

Four years have passed since I started charging for my services and as far as I can see things are not getting better but I live in hope.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Leadership Lessons

‘None are more unjust in their judgments of others than those who have a high opinion of themselves’- C.H. Spurgeon, 1834 – 1892

One evening many years ago I was manager on call for my hospital and at around 7 pm the phone rang. It was the switchboard to tell me the fire alarm was going off. I drove to the hospital thinking that as usual this would be another false alarm.

I arrived and was met by a less common situation in that there was a genuine problem. One of the evening cleaners had unfortunately forgotten she had left a pot of water boiling on a hot plate and the water had boiled dry causing the pan to become extremely hot and eventually smoke had begun to emerge thus activating the smoke detectors and setting off the fire alarm. The local fire brigade complete with two engines blue lights flashing and sirens screaming had arrived on the scene to quickly confirm there was no serious damage and all was returning to calm. The poor cleaner was very upset that her oversight had caused such a commotion and I could not help feeling sorry for her. As calm was restored the catering manager who had been called out from home too arrived on the scene. She was a stern woman who, upon surveying the scene and hearing what had happened, proceeded to launch into what I can only describe as a tirade of abuse aimed at the cleaner. The manager accused her of gross inefficiency and stupidity for allowing this incident to happen. Let’s be honest this was not what the cleaner wanted to hear. She was already clearly upset and feeling guilty and then to have this telling off sent her over the edge and she burst into tears. Now we had a situation that was distressing for the few people gathered in the immediate area and caused much embarrassment.

The memory of that incident is still vivid in my head and it taught me many things about managing people.
When people have made a mistake the last thing they need to be reminded of in an aggressive way is that they have made that mistake and thereby made to feel like some immature cretin with no intelligence.

Of course there is clearly a time and a place for a ticking off when merited. As adults, and particularly as managers, with responsibility for managing people, we should surely understand and indeed have empathy with people who make genuine mistakes that do not amount to gross negligence.

I believe that when people have made a mistake they will invariably ‘punish’ themselves enough without the need for some arrogant and uncaring manager to rub salt in the wounds by balling them out in public.

Leadership Lesson - You don’t need to shout – people know when they have made a mistake.