Category Archives: The Next Level

Good Morning Friendliness Index

I developed this set of indicators as a way of testing how willing people were to engage with others around their workplace.  It all started when I was asked how a group of enthused customer friendly people might get their colleagues to engage more.  They grumbled that most of the people in their large open plan office came to work, sat at their desk, switched on their computer and rarely looked up for the rest of the day.  I suggested they set about a campaign to infect their colleagues with a dose of bon homie.  They each agreed to acknowledge their reticent colleagues with a cheery ‘Good Morning’ every time they passed by their workstations.  Six weeks later the results were in.  At first they were regarded as an unorthodox oddity but, after persisting for several weeks others started to join their ‘Good Morning’ group until eventually the whole office was transformed.
We tried this out in a very large foundation Hospital Trust where we were delivering a patient experience programme.  When we first arrived no-one ever gave eye contact or acknowledged us as we went around the hospital!  At the end of the project about 50% of staff would engage with us, with their colleagues and with patients as they passed.
I like to go out running when I stay over in a new town or city and I have devised my ‘Good Morning’ Friendliness Index (GMFI) to compare the friendliness of each place.  I assume I will pass a random selection of people so it is possible to make a fair comparison. Every time I meet someone I greet them.  Each person who responds, in any way positively, scores one friendliness point; if they ignore me I award an unfriendly point.  At the end of the run I’m able to work out the friendliness index.

My first attempt around Hyde Park in London had 25 people ignoring me with only one, a Japanese tourist, saying hello.  My latest attempt along the Thames footpath this weekend received 11 acknowledgements and 5 non responses.  So it looks like things are getting better in London.  Compare this with my home in the Yorkshire Pennines where it is rare for people not to say hello.  This in itself has caused problems.  It means the GMFI is not rigorous enough for Yorkshire so I have had to move on to the second level; UGMFI, this is the Unsolicited Good Morning Friendliness Index.  Here I am not allowed to initiate the contact.  Locally, I normally score about 30%.
There are, however, two even higher levels to aspire to.  The CFI is the Chat Friendliness Index, which obviously can’t be done whilst running,  (although I did engage with a famous fashion designer on a bike ride once). This test involves making an attempt to engage total strangers in conversation, say in a queue or on a tube.  Camp sites and scenic railway stations always score highly, whereas the London Underground rarely scores positively.  Top of the tree is the UCFI, or Unsolicited Chat Friendliness Index which only usually happens if you have a small child, animal or broken bike with you.
The rewards for participating in these tests are enormous.  I’ve been rejected by thousands of people but I’ve also stopped to chat with some incredible strangers like the man flying his Harris Hawk from his wrist as he took his morning constitutional. 

If London is to make a brilliant impression during the Olympics a few more people need to adopt the Yorkshire habit of politely acknowledging passers bye, after all deep down, given a little encouragement, we are still a really friendly nation.

Microeconomic view of moving to the next level

When we consider an issue from a different perspective it can sometimes enable new insights.  This blog site is about uncovering opportunities to create a better outcome; to breakthrough to the next level.
Microeconomics is a strand of economics which examines the decision making of individuals and firms as small units and what determines their purchasing decisions and their willingness to supply goods and services.
Let’s focus on the willingness and ability of a firm to supply their goods or services.  They will organise resources of people, expertise, equipment and the like to produce a level of output.  Generally the more resources they devote to the task give a greater output.

Given X clinicians the medical unit is able to provide Y treatments. How common is it to hear the argument that more can be done if we are given more resources?  What is often ignored is the codicil; ‘provided the way we are organised stays the same’. 
But what if things challenge the way we are organised?  What can we do with the resources if we find new ways to organise them?  What if we were to ask “what more can we do”?
Perhaps we can organise ourselves in a different way which would enable us to deliver better levels of care and treatment using the same total amount of resources.  To which the response is often heard, ‘So you want us to do more?’  This is not about individuals working harder but the organisation changing current practices (changing the rules) and current mindsets in order to deliver more.  It is about an organisation being willing (motivated) and able (capacity) to deliver a greater levels of service.

It may not be an increase in productivity that you are seeking but whatever it may be the same principles apply.  Simply change the lower axis from output to whatever you want to achieve be it better customer experience, better reputation, greater customer wellbeing or greater workforce wellbeing for example. What are the things you need to challenge to shift to the next level?
Change the rules:
  • More effective use of resources
  • Different use of resources
  • Use different resources
  • Use technology
  • Change working patterns
  • Change processes
  • Stop doing the unproductive stuff

Change Mindsets:
  • Develop a growth / innovation mindset
  • Consult your workforce
  • Encourage personal responsibility
  • Encourage personal accountability
  • Measure effectiveness as a means of evaluating improvement
  • Improve motivation
  • Improve wellbeing
  • Improve emotional engagement across the workforce
  • Improve leadership

A shift to the next level could come from a change in delivery patterns. The shift might be from an inflexible unit towards a flexible unit.  Few organisations have a steady level of production throughout the year schools, hotels, mental health units, accident and emergency, undertakers, accountants, armed services are often inflexible units and could be more responsive to the demand for their services.

Our inflexible unit might produce only marginal improvements in delivery if we put more resources into it whereas our flexible unit is able to respond with greater than normal levels of delivery given the same level of resource change. In economics parlance this is known as elasticity.
It looks great that our flexible unit is able to give such large changes in output if we increase resources but, if resources are cut, there seems to be a corresponding decline in service provision.  Ideally we would want large improvements in output if we increase resources and small declines if the reverse happens.
Most organisations can change shift patterns in order to change their flexibility but ‘what more could there be?’  Are there other ways of organising production? Does this require a change in the rules or a change in the mindset? Or a change in both?

A good read

A colleague hard at work on a proposal turned to me for assistance.  ‘What does the H stand for in H2O?’  The look in their eye suggested this was a serious question.  It turned out they had a really good degree, plenty of high grade A levels and 10 GCSEs including a B in Chemistry.  When I asked how it was possible to be so educated and not know the chemical symbol for Hydrogen they revealed that they learned the information to pass an exam and then cast it from their mind – especially as it was a subject they had no real interest in.
On the other side of the equation many University lecturers I have worked with complain that all their students want them to do is to train them to pass the exam. They don’t have a real interest in what they are learning their interest is in the qualification at the end. 
How many managers read about their subject, not for the purpose of passing an exam or getting a qualification but because they want to bring out their potential?  Maybe I’m naive but being a manager or supervisor or leader requires a special set of skills.  There are a huge number of books on leadership and management ready and waiting to assist.  Some are complex academic tomes, other short, simple, entertaining ‘how to’ guides. There is something for everyone.
When does the need to learn change to a personal desire to learn? When do we develop an interest in the learning and start looking for ideas that will help us develop in our roles?
Perhaps this comes when there are no more exams to pass; a time when we don’t need any more qualifications; when we are driven by interest, curiosity and a desire to succeed.  Then a visit to WH Smiths means half an hour in the business section scanning through the latest management thinking or an hour lost to Amazon seeking the best selling pearls of wisdom.  It is when getting to the next level becomes a passion. 
Or maybe it is at the point where you read your son’s GCSE Chemistry text book out of interest and you realise despite two years studying it you have forgotten it all – except, luckily, the H2O bit.

The Power of Food

If we want to transform our organisation and perform at the next level we need to examine all avenues.  The power of food is worthy of investigation.  As we move towards more austere times any action needs to be justified.  It might be a nice idea to have free fruit or an assortment of tea and coffee available for your valued employees but does the investment result in greater output or just heavier personnel?
Some years ago we did some research.  We had a contract to deliver 25 events across Yorkshire and the Humber in the UK.  Each was to an audience of about 50 business people to encourage them to give long term unemployed people a period of work trial.  The events were to include our presentation followed by lunch.  The objective was to encourage the employers to request a follow up meeting with our client’s advisers.  At the end of each day we would check to find how successful the event had been, asking how many people had expressed interest in a follow up meeting.  We also began to rate the buffet as we were visiting so many different venues.  It quickly became apparent that our buffet scores were highest where there was a dessert offered (particularly if it involved chocolate).  We then noticed a direct correlation between dessert and the employer visits requested.
  1. Buffet rating categories:
  2. Poor buffet, no dessert
  3. Poor buffet with dessert
  4. Poor buffet with chocolate dessert
  5. Good buffet, no dessert
  6. Good buffet with dessert
  7. Good buffet with chocolate dessert

After 2,500 participants had experienced the event we found that chocolate dessert doubled the take up rate.  Ever since, I have taken an interest in the link between hospitality and event outcomes.  Even at a recent conference we organised for Health workers with the theme of improving health in the population, where a range of fruit was available all day, it was the lack of biscuits which spoilt the experience for some participants.
Even though food is more readily available these days and our colleagues are more likely to over consume than be starving, it is still an important motivator. So, should we have a great canteen, free fruit, biscuits at meetings and the like? 
To arrive at the answer you need to know whether this will help achieve your objectives.  At its crudest, does £5 spent on bourbons give more than £5 return in improved productivity?  If you have a pampered workforce then it probably doesn’t, the law of diminishing returns sets in and custard crèmes at every turn will have little effect.
What you are looking for is something that makes people feel special, valued, a reward, a sign of your appreciation. So long as it is also chocolaty you can’t go wrong!

The Power of DIY

We come across so many leadership teams that want their people to take more responsibility for their actions.  In order to achieve more as an organisation, to get to the next level, they have realised that everyone needs to be engaged, involved and taking a personal responsibility.  Sound familiar?
When we break this down it raises some interesting points.
  1. There is a recognition that leaders can’t transform an organisation by themselves
  2. They need to engage their workforce
  3. This means giving responsibility to the people that do the job
  4. Which means that there is a change in the way people are led and managed.  (The fulcrum around which this transformation revolves)
  5. People have to want to take responsibility
  6. Engagement is it is about people declaring their own outcomes, (linked to how they will support the outcomes of the business)not about giving them targets
  7. With everyone feeling they have control over what they do and are accountable for achieving their outcomes.

This process requires a subtle yet fundamental shift in control from telling people what to do – to people feeling accountable for their outputs; which is usually the stumbling block.  We hear lots of leadership and management rhetoric about empowerment and continue to witness management target-setting.  Managers want to tell people what to do because that’s what managers do.  Only when this switches to managers wanting to lead and relinquish command and control do people take responsibility. 
This doesn’t mean letting go and allowing people to do whatever they want – which would be a disaster.  If you want your people to take responsibility then you have to give them responsibility.  People feeling that they are accountable is the key. 
It’s like doing DIY.  The moment you decide to put up some shelves is when you take responsibility for your desired outcome.  At this point you take control and organise everything to do a great job.  At the end of half an hour of labour you are able to stand back and admire your priceless heirloom displayed on the shelf you put up. 
This is the feeling we are aiming at giving all our people. To do so requires a different way of thinking and managing.  It is a subtle change which will transform an organisation.

5 ways to upset your customer

I’m not suggesting you create a charter which expects employees to deliberately upset customers.  I’ve come across many people who are masters at this without any encouragement or intervention.  There are even some restaurants that have made rude uncaring waiters their unique selling point which attracts diners eager for the ultimately bad experience. This is simply a technique which helps organisations find ways of getting to the next level.
Let’s take a building business as an example.  What can my builders do to upset me, their customer?
  1. Suck air sharply through their teeth whenever I enquire what this extra piece of work might cost.
  2. Cheerfully tell me some ‘cock-and-bull’ story of trouble and woe when they phone to let me down.  How many times can a van break down?
  3. Give the keys to a mini digger to my teenage son with the instruction ‘here’s the keys just in case your dad would like to play with it this weekend’
  4. Involve my wife in decision making.  She has yet to develop the counter-technique to point 1 in this list; sharp intake of breath through teeth followed by ‘I’m really not sure’.  This gets a cheaper price. Whereas when he comes to me with ‘Your wife would like …’ I ask how much?  He does no.1; quoting an extortionate price and pointing out how much she really wants it!  This is why my builder always talks to Mrs B first!
  5. Expose my neighbours to the builder’s crack.  This is not to be confused with the ‘craic’ or banter, which they like.

These might not be important to your customers but your team will know what is. Or better still, ask your customers what you do that they don’t like.   This gives you areas for improvement that will quickly make a difference. Oh, if my builder is reading this … it’s feedback.

Next Level: The past informs the future

In 1916, Henry Ford in an interview with the Chicago Tribune said that ‘History is more or less bunk.  It’s tradition.  We don’t want tradition.  We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we made today.’
Students of history learn about cause and effect.  Although Ford had the belief that he was the creator of a new world, he was in denial about the causes of his break with tradition and the ground-breaking step change this brought.  The industrial revolution took manufacturing production from small workshops to automated processes almost 100 years before.  Adam Smith wrote in ‘The Wealth of Nations’ 1776 about the division of Labour  in the making of pins:
‘the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some factories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them.’
Achieving further levels of excellence is always built upon the achievements of the past. The ideas don’t just spring out of thin air and will never be truly unique even if our egos would like to believe this. 
This doesn’t mean that innovation has to be evolutionary.  Ford saw tradition as a major inhibition that would prevent progress.  So where does innovation come from?  Who knows?  It’s there if you look hard enough for it.  We really have to create the conditions such that innovation can thrive. Even then, we have to be open enough so that we recognise a good idea when we see it.  How often do you hear people say, ‘I thought of that.’  The difference between successful innovators and the rest is that not only did they recognise what might take their organisation forward but like Henry Ford, they did something about it.

The Communication Spectrum

How do you want to be communicated with?  What is your preference?  What about your colleagues?  Have you ever asked them what they prefer?  Or your customers?  The point is that we are all different, and communication is very important to us.  In fact it is rare to go into any organisation and ask people what really needs to be improved, for them not to say ‘communication’. 

What people really mean is that they want to be communicated with in the way they prefer, so that they feel someone is making an effort to connect with them.  I had a marketing manager once who had been helping people with a project for about six weeks.  Suddenly he involves me in an earnest conversation about the project and how he didn’t know anything about it.  What he was really saying was that I had not communicated with him, I had not connected with him, he didn’t feel he had been communicated with. 
Valuable Lesson number 1: never assume your communication has been received.

Have you ever been to a conference where important people have used many PowerPoint slides containing complex diagrams, charts and bullet points?  I once had an MD complaining that he had told everyone a really important point at their leadership conference and yet no one had acted on it.  I nodded sagely and sat through (rather, snoozed through) his presentation and I too had completely missed it.  
Valuable Lesson number 2:  if the point is important, make it important.

Nearly everyone I ask prefers to be communicated with face to face.  This is not surprising since this is what we’ve done for millennia.  However with modern technology we have developed different methods.  Consider also that some people have a visual preference, some auditory and others kinaesthetic.  Face to face covers all these bases whereas others may not suit some people.  Throw our range of physical abilities into the mix and someone who is long sighted, with a kinaesthetic communication preference, like myself, is never going to be too attached to texting.  
Valuable Lesson number 3:  learn to ‘text’ because there are people who prefer this method of communication, even if I don’t!

So what is the communication spectrum?
Face to face
Conference call
Video conference
2nd Life
E mail
With advances in technology, I’m looking forward to the day when I can meet with my colleagues for an enjoyable dialogue with a virtual cup of coffee at Cafe Florien in St. Mark’s Square, Venice.  What could be better?  Actually, being there would be better.  
Valuable Lesson number 4:  Find work in Venice!

The power of a different perspective

When people tell you they want to take their organisation to ‘the next level’ I can’t help but admire them, especially when you hear all the issues that need to be overcome in order to even start to get there.  Then again, it’s easy for me, I’m not involved with the day to day hurly burly of their organisational life.  I can take a different perspective; see beyond this and start to look for possibilities.  The hard bit is when I ask others to see what I see, when I ask them to share a look from a different perspective.

‘I didn’t like the play, but then I saw it under adverse conditions – the curtain was up.’  Groucho Marx.  

The insights you get are very powerful.  I once asked a Managing Director to stand with me in their car park.  He reluctantly chunterred his way down five floors and we stood awhile at the far end of the car park looking at up his building.  ‘I’ve seen this a thousand times, Dave’,  was his initial comment.  ‘But have you seen it from the perspective of anyone other than yourself.  Let’s imagine you’ve come here for the very first time.  ‘You’ve a million pound contract in your pocket what do you see?’ I asked.

We saw the named parking spaces by the front door.  The litter, the peeling paint, and the chipped plaster as we went up the stairs.  At key points I asked him to stop and tell me what he saw.  A plain, magnolia wall, the ‘do not’ notices in the washrooms, staff notice boards and kitchen, and his employees making furtive calls on their mobiles in the stairwells.  Even the dead or dying plants.

‘I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make the exception.’ Groucho Marx

We finished the tour.  At which point the MD commented that any guest would come to reception and be guided up to the Board room they would have a well manicured journey to the dotted line.  Yes, there were things that could be done but …’

‘Don’t look now, but there’s one too many in this room and I think it’s you.’  Groucho Marx

Then he got it.  What if you looked at your business from the perspective of a new employee, a supplier, your community, an inspector or your cleaner.  How would that help you take your organisation to the next level.

‘Now there’s a man with an open mind-you can feel the breeze from here.’ Groucho Marx

Humour comes from seeing everyday events from a different perspective.  

By the way… my favourite Groucho Marx gag:  ‘Those are my principles.  If you don’t like them, I have others.’  

The power from getting started

How often do we want to achieve more but as soon as we realise this is what we want we become stuck in inertia.  Getting started is the hardest thing to overcome. To get to the next level of attainment we need to harness the power from getting started.

For some reason on a visit to Canada I found myself mounted on a huge horse.  Both the horse and I were fixated upon the stable wall in front of us.  It’s not that this particular stable wall was very interesting or that it was any different from any other stable wall anywhere in the world.  It’s just that I had never been on a horse before and had no idea how to get it to move and the horse was quite happy where it was.  A state of inertia.

At this point my motivation to move off towards the remarkable views of the Rocky Mountains was very high.  My family hurled abuse at my riding skills as they ambled off into the distance. I tried the ‘clicking’ noise and a ‘giddy up’, both of which were obviously lost in translation because the horse continued to stare at the stable wall.  I thought about taking a gung ho, razzmatazz, big launch approach, with the full slapping of the reigns, heels spurring the animal on, as seen in cowboy films.  This, however, presented too much of a risk; what if it got up too much momentum and I couldn’t control it?  So we continued to look at the wall, which was beginning to look the best option, after all it was hot outside and I didn’t really want to go horse trekking. I started to make up the excuses for not doing anything.

Big deep breath.  No one looking.  Grasping the reins, I kicked the beast hard in the ribs, hurled abuse at it and off we went, down the trail in a cloud of dust.  I believe that technically we were doing a ‘rising trot’. Not that it had much to do with me.  The horse seemed to go up as I was coming down causing spinal impaction and a need for dental work, but, we were moving and rapidly catching everyone else.   I think I was even generally steering our direction of travel.

Getting started gives you the power to move forward.  Sometimes it takes courage to overcome inertia, it may take time for others to want to join you on your journey and when they do it may be a bumpy ride.  If you take the risk then new possibilities will always open up. 

You may be asking ‘was the horse riding worth the effort and the risk?’; most certainly it was.  I saw the Rockies from a different perspective; we had a great day out.  I even learned new communication skills, most notably, how to swear in horse!