Monthly Archives: May 2010

Magna Carta

There are specific times in History that cause a paradigm shift, where the established rules are changed and the way we live is substantially improved.  June 1215 was one such time.  The Magna Carta was an agreement between the Barons of Medieval England and King John.  It was signed at Runnymede near Windsor Castle.  In it were a number of promises between the king and his subjects which established how England would be governed.
A fundamental change came as a result of the king raising taxation without consulting the people who bore the brunt of the payment.  Matters came to a head and King John was forced to compromise his position as absolute ruler. 
One of the lasting ‘promises’ that were laid down is that:
‘No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, nor will we proceed with force against him, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, deny or delay right or justice.’
A statement that is echoed in the American Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This is a great example of a Paradigmeering historical event, where consensus, a need to be pragmatic for the greater good led to a sharing of power and a new way of government.  Sounds familiar doesn’t it, as British politics takes a new turn after the 2010 General Election?  Will this time also result in a paradigm shift and a new set of political rules? Only time will tell…

The ‘hard of hearing’ leader

I don’t want to make excuses but when you lead an organisation it is so hard to ‘hear’ the important information that gets sent your way.  Some people get hundreds of e mails, with everyone in the organisation adding you to a ‘cc’ list often to cover their backs rather than taking responsibility for their own actions.  Then there’s the endless stream of meetings and the casual conversations in corridors adding to the noise.
On the other side there are co-workers with great ideas and boundless enthusiasm who are frustrated because no one seems to be listening to them.  Depending on their mindset we hear the following: (1 is a sign of engagement – 4 show they are completely disengaged)
  1. ‘We pass on our ideas’
  2.  ‘We told them this would happen’
  3. ‘They don’t listen to us’
  4.  ‘If they bothered to ask us we could have prevented this’

Unfortunately, we sometimes come across ‘the high and mighty’ leader.  This type can reside anywhere in an organisation, not necessarily at the top.  They somehow obtain a title to go on their name badge, this gives them status.  At this point, their hearing becomes affected by the extra weight imbued by their seniority.  I’m always wary around people who have a name badge extension to accommodate the extra lettering needed to proclaim their rank.  Perhaps we need to do some research to prove the negative coloration between job title length and the ability to hear what colleagues are saying. I believe this starts to happen at about four words.

This is nicely illustrated by an untrue but widely repeated story from an ‘alleged’ transcript of an actual radio conversation between a US naval ship and Canadian maritime contact off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1995.  
Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees North to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees South to avoid collision.
Americans: This is the captain of a US navy ship; I say again divert your course.
Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.
Canadians: We are a lighthouse; your call.
Are you an aircraft carrier or a lighthouse?

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!

How far would your customers go for you?

Let’s take Saturday as an example.  It was a routine Saturday and like many others I was destined to go shopping.  A visit to the supermarket was crowded as usual but most of the items on my list were where I expected to find them.  I bought fuel for my car at my local filling station and headed home.  As I’m unpacking my shopping I reflect on the complete ordinariness of the past few hours.  I had the attention of a number of highly successful customer focused organisations.  More than a dozen people from those companies had personal contact with me. Yet I could not recall a single one of them.  I had given these companies my time and they had done little to ensure I would choose their store over anyone else.

That afternoon I cycled 15 miles to a little butcher’s shop high in the Pennine hills to buy some sausages!  I made a real effort to get there (it’s mainly uphill) and the value of my purchase was small.  Why would I make such a strenuous journey to buy sausages?  Quite simply, the butchers, Brindon Addy at Hade Edge is extraordinary; the staff really make an effort to engage with you and make you feel valued.  Saturday afternoon was brilliant.
I believe any of us can be extraordinary, any team can be extraordinary and any organisation can be extraordinary.  So why do we experience so much mediocrity? 
I’m sure people don’t go to work to do a bad job.  Managers will rarely be heard telling their teams not to engage with their customers. Yet it seems that millions of people are working hard to waste their day away, where their work is a chore, something to be suffered between the other courses we call life. 
Just reflect for a minute about your last 24 hours.  Setting aside the bit where you were asleep and the parts where you were routinely preparing for the day.  Focus on those times when you were out and about travelling, going into shops, interacting with people at work and the like.  How many of those dozens of meetings with people spring into your mind?  May be one or two?  Often I ask people to do this and they can’t remember a single incident.  They have gone through a whole day and nothing has engaged them.
If we flip this and then ask you to reflect on these interactions again and now identify those where other people would say that you have made them feel special, how many would there be?  Of course we will say there are plenty, but are there?  Do we make a conscious effort to really engage with people such that they would ride 15 miles on their bike to see us?


This is one of my favourite coaching techniques.  When someone is stuck in their mindset and feels unable to find a way forward; they cannot see alternatives or can’t ever see themselves achieving what they want, this question often unlocks their door.  Simply ask: If you could, what would you have to do?’
You say you want to run a marathon in under three hours, if you could, what training would you be doing?  OK, there has to be some sense of reality but it is amazing what can be achieved. 
I was working with a dysfunctional management team in a large manufacturing plant and continually heard the excuse for poor performance as being ‘the other shift’. Since all the shifts blamed ‘the other shift’ each one taking no responsibility, I rapidly reached the conclusion that there was a team of mischievous elves who changed all the settings on the machines when the rest were off work.  I hadn’t seen any evidence of pointy eared operatives in my shop-floor visits, although, now I think of it, there was one chap that always wore a hat pulled well down!  When all the team leaders were together I asked them to consider what they would be doing if this line was running at full potential.  After the usual ‘well that can’t happen because …’ I reiterated: ‘If it could, what would you be doing differently as team leaders?’  Suddenly, a moment of breakthrough.  A dozen or so improvements were quickly put on the table.  The only elves now around the plant were in ‘elf and safety’.
I’ve now ostracised myself from the whole blogging community for that poor joke.
This team demonstrated many of the characteristics of inertia:
·         They thought they were doing a good job
·         They blamed any lack of progress on others
·         They couldn’t do more because they were ‘up to capacity’
·         They believed there was no reason for them to change
·         They couldn’t see how things could be different
·         Even if they could be there was no way it could be achieved
How often do we see this in organisations, politicians, civil servants, colleagues, managers and even ourselves if we are honest? 
Even worse is when other people tell you something can’t be done.  ‘You can’t do that.’ Often not as definitive as this, it usually comes in the form of a fob off like; ‘this probably isn’t the right time, I’m not sure we will be able to find the resources’ or the classic excuse, ‘the MD wouldn’t like it’.  How many innovations get squashed in this manner?  How many managers have pointy ears?  But if we could … what would I have to do?
What if we could … a great technique for ‘elf-preservation’.

Mohands Karamchand Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

The scale of Mahatma (great soul) Gandhi’s influence needs to be viewed from the perspective of the time.  India was ruled by the British and included what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh.  There were deep spiritual divisions especially between the Hindus and Muslim populations and the caste (class system) was inextricably set, dividing the rich from the poor.  From this, Gandhi rose to be the leader of the Indian Nationalist movement against British rule. 
His doctrine was to achieve this without the use of violence.
He challenged all the rules in a massive way which is symbolised in the Dandi March starting from the Sabarmati Ashram on March 12th, 1939, and culminating at Dandhi, a coastal village in Gujarat, on April 6, 1930.  This was a protest against a salt tax and Gandhi chose to make this a defining moment in the struggle against injustice but also as a medium of dialogue and communication with people along the route. 
As part of this dialogue with the Indian people he claimed to be a revolutionary, he said: ‘I have become a revolutionary, when politeness and persuasion proved infructious (not fruitful).  I find peace in describing myself as a revolutionary and I practice my dharma (faith) to some extent.  In a revolution which is calm, peaceful and truthful, you should get yourself enrolled regardless of the religion to which you belong. ‘
For those of you who aspire to achieve improvement, we all experience times when politeness and persuasion seem to be yielding no results – this is the time when there can be more.
You must be the change you want to see in the world.’  Mahatma Gandhi (Paradigmeer)

The Art of Appreciation

Welcome to another eclectic Friday blog where I can write about more unusual ideas.
Whilst I am interested, like many people, in a good cup of tea, this is actually about the appreciation of art.  One aspect of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, as developed and refined over the centuries, was the selection of pieces of art presented by tea-masters to their disciples for their appreciation.
One master, Kobori Enshui was complemented on his admirable taste as he displayed objects from his collection:  ‘Each piece is such that no one could help admiring.  It shows that you had better taste than Rikiu, for his collection can only be appreciated by one beholder in a thousand’.  Enshui sorrowfully replied, ‘This only proves how commonplace I am.  The great Rikiu dared to love only those objects which personally appealed to him, whereas I unconsciously cater to the taste of the majority’.
This story is so poignant on many levels:
  1. Excellence is not commonplace but can you recognise excellence in order that you might learn from it? 
  2. To achieve the next level requires others to understand what might be possible, which they might not have the skill to do.
  3. Most importantly this is not about the appreciation of art but about the art of appreciation.
In these days of focus groups, customer satisfaction surveys and feedback, people hone their ability to give criticism.  It is easy to criticise, you ask for someone’s opinion on a meal they have just eaten, or what they thought of the film, or how was the conference and you will often be greeted with an ‘It was alright’.  If you are lucky they might leave their position of safely sitting on the fence and venture that it was good or not.  Have we lost the ability to appreciate or to show our appreciation?
What does appreciation look like?
  • Awareness:  Here is something of note that can be appreciated.  Spot it.  Take the effort to recognise it.
  • Connection:  Make the effort to offer your comments.
  • Be specific:  What is it you like or dislike?  What criteria are you using?  How does this compare with other examples you have seen?
  • How does it make you feel?  Emotional response is, for me, the key factor in my appreciation of art, theatre, film, food or an event.
  • Dialogue:  Appreciation is not a one way street, it is an opportunity to explore with others the reasons for the feelings it evokes.

How was this blog?  Alright?

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.’  

A close shave?

I’m continually amazed by the number of people I meet who are oblivious to their experiences as a customer. In training sessions I often ask people to recall situations when they have had a great customer experience and the number who can’t think of one is incredible. Is it that they have never had a great experience or maybe they are just not tuned into what is good, bad, or indifferent?
Over the years I have become more sensitised to my experiences in shops, restaurants in health care and the like, mainly so I can tell the stories. One of my favourites was at John Lewis (a major department store) at Christmas. After weeks of my haranguing my family for ideas of what they might want as a Christmas gift I finally had a list. Ideally I would have liked this before the end of November, not because I’m super organised, but I like to be able to point to the pile of wrapped presents and gloat to anyone who may care to listen. This particularly annoys my wife, children, mother, work colleagues, friends, neighbours and the postman who all seem to love the pressure of last minute festive shopping. Armed with the list I set off to execute this important aspect of Christmas preparation in one day.
First was an electric razor, no description, make, model or clues, it just said ‘electric razor’. When one is doing Christmas in a day you can’t hang around, so I tried to do it all in John Lewis’. I raced into the electrical department and went to pick up a razor. Disaster! There were about 40 different models! Purchasing is easy, choosing is not; I collect, I don’t do shopping. At this point in blind panic I start reading the labels, wet, dry, beard trimmer, with or without vibration, swivel heads, floating heads and all this before you tackle the colour! Within seconds my saviour arrived. ‘Would you like some help sir?’ Brilliant. A short time later I had made my selection only to find that the one I set my heart on was out of stock. I was by now however emotionally attached to this particular model of electric razor. The vision of it being unwrapped on Christmas Day and the joy it would bring was now implanted. What was I to do?
My experience then got even better. Although it was out of stock in this store they had one in another store hundreds of miles away. Since I would be unable to come back to collect it they would deliver it free of postal charge to my home. Two days later it was wrapped and tucked away for Christmas Day.
Why was this a brilliant experience? I got the help I needed, when I needed it, with the assistant reading my every need. When they were unable to deliver, there was a solution. My experience was at the forefront of their minds throughout the transaction. If only the rest of the day had been so great!

What are the rules?

Rules are principles or conditions that customarily govern behaviour.   By definition they are constraining, allowing only a limited range of activity.  This means that even through innovation and creativity there is only a certain amount of improvement that is possible? 
For example: F1.  The motor racing rules are deliberately designed to keep improvement within limits to make the racing safe and fair.  If these limits were removed cars would be faster, accelerate better and have more responsive handling.
If we consider the types of rules that govern our lives then we see that there is a spectrum of rigidity.  Some are immutable, set down in law and we can be punished for not obeying them.  In some societies they are rigid and everyone feels obliged to conform.  Anyone who has visited Switzerland will notice that every citizen also feels obliged to police these laws which mean a high degree of compliance.  Whereas in many countries people flout the laws especially if they disagree with them or they are unlikely to be caught when they transgress. 
A great example of this was given to me by a Swedish friend who told me of a nationwide amnesty on distilling alcohol at home.  People were given the opportunity to hand their illegal still to the authorities.  In the whole country only one still was handed in.  The government concluded that because so few stills had been decommissioned it only went to prove that home distillation of alcohol was not a problem!
How many people in the UK break the 70mph speed limit when they drive on motorways?
A spectrum of rules from ‘rigid’ to ‘guidance’
Social Legislation:  Laws set by the governors of society
Scientific: Defined by hypothesis, research and proof (until someone proves these wrong)
Procedural:  A set of rules which govern processes
Experiential:  Expert defined rules derived from experience
Social norm:  Informal widely accepted rules, concepts or truth, definition or qualification
Moral:  A moral code or values for guiding choice or behaviour
Principle:  A generalisation that is accepted
Philosophical:  A reason to act, feel or believe
Personal:  Self defined rules
When you appreciate the constraining factors of this plethora of rules it is easy to understand why we believe that organisations should have a hard look at which are really necessary and determine those which they can do without. 
One example stands out.  On 20th July 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of Apollo 11 onto the surface of the Moon.  This was the result of President Kennedy’s determination that nothing should stand in the way of American’s being the first to land on the Moon.  When we take away the rules what can be achieved is literally out of this world.