Monthly Archives: June 2010

Don’t look at the tree!

A very wise paragliding instructor once gave me some very sound advice.  He quite simply said ‘Don’t look at the tree’.  The tree in question is on the edge of the landing field right in the centre of Interlaken, Switzerland.  As tourists sit in the surrounding cafes and bars sipping tea or having a beer, soaking in the spectacular surrounding and views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, paraglider pilots are trying to land in the field in front of them.  Nothing could be more embarrassing or dangerous than to crash into this tree, which is why you tend to look at it. 
Experience has now taught me that when you look at something as you are about to land, ‘it’ develops some sort of magnetic attraction which causes you to end up in it, on it, or through it.  This is not good if the ‘it’ in question is a bog, pond, hedge, field of wheat or a cow!  These are awkward but not usually life threatening. So don’t look at the tree makes a lot of sense.
When organisations set about their flight to improvement everyone has an overwhelming and natural tendency to start to compile a list of all those things that might go wrong.  The starting point is often to highlight all those ‘trees’ that you might crash into.  Trouble with ‘the board’, ‘the unions’, ‘planning’.  Where is the money coming from?  We won’t have enough time.  Then there is the biggest tree of all, a mighty oak with branches covering your landing zone … ‘they won’t like it’.  ‘They’ are anyone and everyone.
My paragliding instructor didn’t leave me with paranoia of hitting the tree, he is a brilliant instructor and gave an even better piece of advice which was ‘keep your eye on your virtual landing spot at all times’.  There isn’t a big red spot in the middle of the field to aim at so you have to choose a spot on the grass ‘your virtual landing spot’ and aim at that. 
When we start an improvement programme we need to keep our eye on what we want to achieve.  Always have the end goal in sight.  If you do that then there is every chance you will achieve what you want.  If you get distracted and start to look in the direction of your ‘tree’ then that is where your focus is and that’s where you’ll land.
Just to set the record straight I’ve never hit the tree in Interlaken and luckily the cow moved at the last minute but that was close!

Further qualities of the Paradigmeer

Our Paradigmeers have shown they are people who think differently about how to bring fundamental change to people’s lives.  They have considered how the prevailing rules have stopped people making further steps toward improvement.  In many cases they conceived of the inconceivable. 
We can all dream.  How many of us are great inventors, designers, and coaches with a ground breaking idea?  How many of us have the mindset which will make our vision become reality?  If we are Paradigmeers then we believe we can ‘make it so’!  If not it is yet another unrealised pipe dream.
The Paradigmeers we have so far added to our Hall of Fame have all had these qualities.  Let’s add a couple of other factors to the discussion:
  1. They have created opportunity
  2. They have captured the spirit of their time

Without opportunity nothing can happen, but like a sparrow on your window sill, it may be there every day – did you notice it?  Paradigmeers create opportunities.  They become aware of a need to make something happen.  Maybe they don’t set out to find an opportunity to improve their world but something in them triggers the recognition that things could be much better.  Would Napoleon have risen to be Emperor of France if he hadn’t aged 24, seized the opportunity to shine as an artillery officer at the siege of Toulon in 1793?  If there had been no war at the time he is unlikely to have had the chance to show his talents and his name would have been consigned to obscurity.
Even with opportunity many Paradigmeers will have fallen by the wayside because they couldn’t gain support.  Clive Sinclair’s C5 is a great example.  His previous products like the ZX Spectrum computer struck the right chord and were a massive popular success.  Whereas, the world wasn’t ready for the C5 personal transport.  If Ghandi had been a fire-brand revolutionary would he have been as successful in bringing independence and democracy to India?  Violence was simmering with ethnic tension throughout the country yet by and large his influence brought about a peaceful transition or certainly a more peaceful change.
This raises the question; can we create the conditions for opportunities to arise?  If we can then Paradigmeers can thrive.  If you are to make your dreams become reality and bring about fundamental improvements, how can you capture the spirit of the day to gain support?  Or what qualities are needed to overcome adversity so that others too can realise what might be achieved and become followers.

The Undermining Game

The Complete Golf Gamesmanship by Stephen Potter
Some frivolous Friday observations.
At the age of 12 I read a book which has influenced my life ever since.  ‘The Complete Book of Golf Gamesmanship’ by Stephen Potter.  How to win without actually cheating.
I don’t play golf.  I never have played golf.  No one in my family has ever wielded a golf stick in anger, ever.  So why as an impressionable youth I should read this title is beyond me.  But thank heaven I did. 
From an early age I’ve taken an interest in those little things people do to get the upper hand or to undermine their colleagues.
Here are a few that I’ve used or seen.  I encourage you to add to this list.  I’ve taken the liberty of including some good counter measures just in case.
  1. ‘You are looking a bit peaky today.’  This usually makes your colleague start to think they are ill. Using ‘blotchy’ as a descriptor is even better but can appear cruel if others overhear.
  2. ‘You are a lot thinner in the face these days, you’re either getting fit or it’s the stress of the job.’  Not to be used on someone who is getting fit.
  3. ‘I was talking to (first name of the MD) …’ gives you instant authority as the confidant of the boss.  A very useful addition is a vague time like ‘the other day’, even though you haven’t seen them for three months.
  4. Give yourself the air of a strategic thinker by rocking back in your chair in a meeting whilst sucking the end of a pencil and staring intently at the ceiling before making your point.  This can backfire if you lose your balance.  Your status goes instantly from guru to village idiot.  Practice at home before you try this one.
  5. Use a foreign language.  Latin is good.  Welsh is better. (Not to be used in the presence of Welsh speakers because they will know what you’ve said and you will undoubtedly have pronounced it wrong).  Dutch is best.
  6. Old hat techniques which should not be used involve the mobile phone.  The important text, sudden interruption by a vibrating phone or a comment like ‘I’ve got to leave my phone on because I’m expecting an important call.’  All, no, no, no.  Important people aren’t troubled by these things.  People who think they are important are.
  7. Arriving with a motor cycle crash helmet and wearing leathers is a killer move. You look particularly ‘interesting’.  Tip: Make sure you park your car where people won’t notice you getting into the biking gear.  A particularly effective counter measure if this is used against you is to jokingly comment across the room ‘Blimey a few cows lost their lives to make those’. You appear to be witty and they appear to be having a mid life crisis.

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.

Customer Experience Hero: London Underground

It’s not often you see those words put in the same sentence.  Today I would like to recount an apocryphal tale which I have told all around the world.  Maybe one day the actual hero of the story will recognise himself and quite rightly – take a bow.
A few years ago, as Kings Cross/St Pancras station in London was being renovated a temporary ticket office had been assembled outside.  To get a ticket, passengers like myself had to join a queue.  As the robotic voice announced the vacated ticket booth we all shuffled one step nearer our purchase. ‘Cashier number three please’, Shuffle.  ‘Cashier number two please.’  Shuffle.
I don’t live in London.  Even though I travel there regularly for meetings and the like I am still a tourist.  I get excited by red buses, black cabs, historical sites, the museums, famous street names, even the cheery southern accents.  I leap from my train, skip down the platform breathing in great lung full’s of London air.  What a thrill?  So when I join the ticketing queue, naturally I’m buzzing.  I even have a few words with other travellers (my son now lives in London and apparently this isn’t the done thing).
‘Cashier number four please’. Shuffle.
After five minutes of shuffling all that excitement has evaporated.  I now have the air of a cow lining up to be slaughtered.  My will is broken.  I’ve become … a commuter!
‘Cashier number 5 please’. Shuffle.
By the time I’m at the head of the queue there is not an ounce of humanity left in my soul.  I am a number.  That number is … ‘Cashier number two please’.
I stand before a metal grill behind which is the London Underground ticket clerk.  He’s been on shift for three hours; several hundred sub-humans have made their requests of him, I was to be no exception.
‘Zone 1 return please.’
As I hand over my credit card I ask ‘Can I have a receipt with that?’
From the depths of the booth he replies ‘No’.
Suddenly I’m awakened from my trance.  ‘What?’
‘Ah, just kiddin’ of course you can have a receipt with that’.
Here you go.  You have a good day and thanks very much.’
I walked away with a smile on my face.  My London Underground hero had transformed me from the gulag chain gang back to an overexcited tourist again.  It cost him nothing to make my day and given the mind numbing job he did and the miniscule amount of time he had to interact with me, he was absolutely brilliant!
I went away thinking what nice people they employ on London Underground.  

Recruiting followers: a lesson from the class room

Any change programme needs followers, those people that will get behind what is happening and give it critical mass.  What makes followers follow?  Do we nurture them or just expect people to leap on our passing band wagon?
Many years ago as a fledgling teacher I was taken under the wing of a very wise experienced colleague, John,  who gave me a few tips on how to win round the toughest Year 10 group that the school had put together.  Some crazy management idea that if you put all the worst behaved kids in one class it would put all the disruptive influence in one place which would help all the other students achieve their potential.  Pity the poor teacher, (me), that had to find ways to enable these young people to find their way to success. 
John’s observation was that in general 20% of the class wanted me to succeed and given slight encouragement would be supportive. 60% would sit on the fence and go with whichever side was in the ascendancy.  Of this group some were more supportive than others and would leave their lofty perch sooner rather than later.  This left what John eloquently described as ‘the greatly troubled’ whose sole objective was the status they achieved through their notoriety.   Let’s face it, these children had very little going on in their lives that could offer them hope of achievement in any other form.
John suggested I start by winning over ‘the supporters’.  Rather than focusing attention on problem students make sure the ones that wanted me to succeed felt valued such that they understood I wanted them to be winners.  Within two lessons this had been achieved and some of the ‘fence sitters’ also decided to join this group.  Bringing the 60% over to my side meant working on them a few at a time.  Plenty of praise to reward good behaviours and giving them opportunity to be successful paid off.  Eventually after a few weeks things had vastly improved, I had a critical mass of followers.  80% were now working well and on my side.  John’s advice was now to divide and rule, pick off ‘the greatly troubled’ one at a time.  It started by paying each special attention, arranging for comments by their head of year about their good behaviour at school assembly. Being praised for doing good in front of 200 of your peers makes it difficult to maintain a ‘hard man’ image. Gradually each was won over until there was one left.  Only Wayne remained resolute in his defiance.
Unfortunately for Wayne I noticed him sitting at the front of one of his classes studiously grappling with some geographical activity.  I immediately sought advice from Mrs Jones the geography teacher, as to what magic she had used to achieve such a remarkable turnaround.  Wayne had apparently had a lapse of concentration in one lesson and forgot to be disruptive, he did just enough work to justify praising his progress.  Wayne never got praise usually, he liked it and next lesson evicted the swats from the front of the class so he could become Mrs Jones’ star pupil.
Not one to deprive Wayne of further success I commented to him that I’d heard how well he was doing in geography, how Mrs Jones had told me about his hard work and indeed ability.  He seemed genuinely flattered.  Before too long he was sitting at the front of my class, my new star pupil.
In all organisations we find supporters, fence sitters and the greatly troubled.  We need them all to become followers.  As John sagely said: ‘where there’s a Wayne, there’s a way’.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821)

To be considered as a Paradigmeer, it is necessary to show that a person has truly influenced a transformation.  Most historical leaders do not feature; they are merely creatures of their time, bent on maintaining their position.  Napoleon Bonaparte took the opportunity offered by the French Revolution to transform the whole of Europe.  His legacy still prevails today.
Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769 in Corsica.  Through his military exploits and his ruthless efficiency he rose from obscurity to become Emperor of France. 
“I closed the gulf of anarchy and brought order out of chaos. I rewarded merit regardless of birth or wealth, wherever I found it. I abolished feudalism and restored equality to all regardless of religion and before the law. I fought the decrepit monarchies of the Old Regime because the alternative was the destruction of all this. I purified the Revolution.”
Set in the context of his time when states were ruled by monarchs many of whom believed they were descended from God and held the position by right.  Your position in society was determined by your birth with no possibility of improvement, regardless of education, enterprise or hard work.  Religious tolerance was at the whim of the ruler and the Pope.  The revolution had swept this aside in France, the rules had been changed.  In the rest of Europe Rulers stood ready to forcefully suppress any such challenge in their countries.  While Napoleon didn’t initiate the revolution he was very much a son of it. 
He will be remembered as a military commander, he was brilliant, and acknowledged as such by his peers, including Wellington.  Even so, his ambition led to his demise as the French army was driven from Russia with terrible losses. 
‘Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.’ 
‘One must change one’s tactics every ten years if one wishes to maintain one’s superiority.’ 
Perhaps his greatest legacy is the foundation of civil administration he laid across Europe.  His intention was to build a federation of free peoples in a Europe united under a liberal government.  In the states he created, Napoleon granted constitutions, codes of law, abolished feudalism, created efficient government and fostered education, science, literature and the arts.  Under his rule he granted freedoms including religious tolerance and the abolition of serfdom.  
In a time when news travelled as fast as a man on a horse, his ability to administer and motivate a large proportion of Europe while others were engaged in war against France and it’s empire, was quite remarkable.  The following quotes from Napoleon give an insight into his mindset and his approach:
‘Let the path be open to talent.’  
‘Ability is nothing without opportunity.’ 
‘Imagination rules the world’
‘Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.
There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: time. ‘
‘Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.’
Perhaps these denote some of the characteristics of a Paradigmeer?


Just a Friday thought… Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
The day I tapped a partition wall with a hammer to find out if the plaster was sound.  It wasn’t.  One minute, beautiful bedroom, next two tons of dust.
Pouring petrol on a smouldering bonfire – the result, a small explosion and no eyebrows.
Nudging a small, immaculately dressed son as he stood by the garden pond two minutes before we were due to go out to a smart family occasion.  Need I say more?
Lost in a Swedish forest and asking the blind man I met for directions.
Believing a CRM system might work first time.
The list goes on.  Those sages quick to point out how they could see what was going to happen and, as the Harry Enfield character so eloquently stated; ‘You didn’t want to do it like that’ have all missed the point. Things happen, it’s all part of life’s rich experience.  Most importantly, we learn. To get to the next level you have to learn from those things that didn’t go entirely according to plan.
Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing because it creates opportunity for improvement.  Even now my son will not stand between me and open water. He’s learnt. Have I?

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!

Praise the good stuff (Part 1)

‘You need to challenge poor behaviour, don’t let it go, don’t ignore it, if you let it pass then you are in effect condoning it.’

I’ve heard trainers use this statement so often, and while I agree with the sentiment, I believe there is a better way. 
I’ve yet to meet anyone who likes being told off, however justified. It’s like being bitten by a dog, ‘once bitten, twice shy’.  Fear of failure (and teeth) stifles initiative.  What would have to happen  for you to confidently approach a dog again?
People don’t usually go to work to give their customers a bad experience and nearly everyone when asked will tell me that they always give their best.  This means that something is missing; otherwise we would all have great experiences, all the time. From my observations this is definitely not the case. 
Perhaps people don’t know what sort of experience they need to give me. Maybe I have a part to play to thank someone when I feel my customer experience has been good.  How often do we as customers play our part and praise the good stuff?  Often I’m too preoccupied being a customer to give feedback so it can’t just be left to us.
Research shows that the most influential person to give this feedback is the line manager.
As a line manager you don’t want to waste time, energy and resources policing the behaviours of your team.  You don’t want to be continually worrying about what they do when you’re not looking?  You want to be confident that there is no need for this because It is intuitive, the way we do things ‘round here.  It becomes self policing with good habits being passed on to newbies.   But unless you have praised the good stuff, how do people know when they have given great customer experience?
Here is my new campaign:  Praise not police
Praise the good stuff rather than police the bad things.  Let’s motivate people to give a great customer experience.
It’s easy to criticise but this tells people what you don’t want, rather than taking responsibility to give their customer want they want
It’s hard to spot the good stuff, not because it isn’t happening but because you aren’t around to see it happening.  This means line managers have to be more aware of opportunities to praise great behaviours.
People have to believe you mean it.  Simply saying ‘you did a good job today’ is not praising the specific behaviour which constituted a good job.  You might as well say ‘thanks for turning up today’
It’s a mindset change you want to achieve. In line managers as well as their team.  The leader/manager has to adopt a developmental mindset as opposed to a managerial mindset
Come on.  Join my campaign.  Praise the good stuff.  Give people confidence to ‘pat that dog’.
NB:  If you don’t mind I’m a bit frightened of dogs so that it a metaphorical request, not a literal one.  There is no way I’m going anywhere near the teeth end of a dog.