I started blogging for 2 reasons. Firstly, it would act as an aide memoir – helping to capture the learning from a diverse range of experiences. Secondly, it would be a form of marketing – directly answering the question: “Is that bloke still alive?” To get people to read the blogs, my sense was that they needed to be (a) short (b) simple (c) memorable (sometimes people remember the jokes more than the content). So, why stop now? When this process kicked off in 2010, my dysfunctional teenage kids provided endless fodder for reflection! They’ve now steadied up (a bit) so that particular source of entertainment has dried up. More importantly, in 300+ individual blogs I’ve said just about everything I have to say about public, private and not-for-profit organisations. So, while I’m continuing to consult, I’m hanging up the biro on this particular adventure. It might be a terrible marketing decisions – but who knows until we try it!
Final Countdown: For this final blog I’ve taken the liberty to select two topics (a) Improving your personal performance (b) developing a highly productive organisation. Here goes….
Lesson #1: Improving Personal Performance: It was a perfect day for golf. 28 degrees, with a slight breeze coming in off the Rio Formosa. Sean O’Connell and Donal Horgan were also ‘on a course’ that day and good company as always. What more could you want?
Eureka: Every Golfers dream is to hit a hole in one. Stand on the tee. Line up the shot. Pull the trigger and bang! Straight into the hole. It happened on July 2018, on the 14thhole in San Lorenzo. A 155-yard shot. Big deal you might say! But, here’s the thing. I’d never had a hole-in-one before. Not in 25 years playing golf. That’s about 2000+ rounds. With 4 opportunities for a hole in one during each round, that’s 8,000+ attempts. The Professional Golf Association (PGA) estimate the odds of a professional golfer scoring an Ace as 1-in-2500. For amateur players, the odds are estimated at 10,000-to-1. Some amateurs, even really good players, never experience the magic (and, it was magic). So, what was already a great day out morphed into a never-to-be-forgotten moment.
Built Over Time: Many years earlier I’d asked Kevin Murphy (then head of Irish Life Investment) a simple question: “How do you get rich?” At the time, I was obsessed with financial success i.e. having enough money to be independent on any individual or institution. His reply was “Slowly.” Kevin’s view was that, in most cases, people get rich slowly. Turns out that improving your personal performance happens in exactly the same way. Slowly. You get exposure to increasingly complex roles. You benchmark best practices, stealing ideas shamelessly from clients and competitors. Where appropriate, you go back to college to deepen your expertise. And, you take feedback on board (the most powerful change tool, assuming your receiver is on). Underpinning all this activity is a single, solitary glorious idea. You are obsessed with becoming the best possible version of yourself. You work towards that goal in a relentless cycle of self-improvement. Over time (like those 8,000 golf attempts) you notch up your game. While there are few moments in managing that are as dramatic as scoring a hole-in-one, you improve your ‘managerial handicap’ over time. Unless, of course, you are a born genius, someone naturally gifted with foresight/hindsight/insight. Those Gobshites don’t need to keep getting better because, in their own mind, they are already brilliant. For mere mortals (i.e. the rest of us), improving personal performance is a lifelong task. The managerial mountain is seldom climbed in a straight line. It’s upwards and across, sometimes even looping backwards. And, here’s the rub. Your ability will be more (or less) than other people’s ability. Your only concern = wringing 120% performance from yourself. Drive yourself to deliver high performance and give yourself the moral authority to push others hard. Perspiration (not inspiration) is the growth hormone. While there may be magic moments along the way, it’s usually a slow/steady climb. Learning to manage is like eating bran for breakfast. A bit boring. But, it works!
Lesson #2: Improving Organisation Productivity: Managing people and organisations is a science. It’s not something you ‘pick up’ because you’re smart at finance, engineering or chemistry. You need to build an equally strong management muscle, becoming a student of great organisation practices. Organisations can be places of enormous opportunity and growth. Or they can be virtual prisons populated with anguished, unhappy people. So, what factors make the difference between a utopian Perfect Plc versus the living hell of being an employee of a dysfunctional organisation? In my experience it’s never about sectors or product type. It’s generally not about Public or Private ownership. Hey, it’s seldom even about money, health benefits or work: life balance. After 35 years consulting I’ve come to the conclusion that the central ‘success factor’ (the central catalyst for building a high-performance and happy organisation), is the quality of the leadership. Can the senior team convince staff that the organisation is chasing a noble goal i.e. they are collectively working on something worthwhile? Do they create the conditions for personal growth, with real efforts made to develop staff? Can they make people feel that the remuneration system is fair? Do they have the guts to tackle underperformance in all of its many guises? And, do they hold themselves to high standards of performance and continual learning? I was going to add that they also need a sense of fun/good humour – but that’s probably a bonus rather than a fundamental requirement.
Short-Term: For sure, in the short-term you can bully people into high performance. You can create a culture of cutthroat competition where only the fittest thrive. There are organisations where, to make yourself seem clever, you have to make others look stupid. But the very best organisations get extra-ordinary performance from ordinary people. How? They are competently led by a quality leadership team and this casts a positive shadow across the organisation. It’s hardly a new idea. In an earlier era, Peter Drucker said: “Managers are the engine of a business.” Bottom Line: Hire the best leaders you can afford. And nurture that talent like a Ferrari engine – to release maximum horsepower. Then sit back and watch the organisation purr.
Thanks for staying with the various rants over the years. I wish you continued personal and career success. Until we meet in person…
PPS Lighter Note:
From my daughter Amie in Australia: “I broke one of my fingers at work today. On the other hand, everything if fine.”
A man tells a Rabbi: “I have a strong desire to live forever. What am I supposed to do?”
“Get Married” replies the Rabbi.
“It’s that simple? That would allow me to live forever?”
“No, but the desire will disappear.”
Went to a Sushi restaurant for lunch today. Got a raw deal!
For Sale: Dead Budgie. Not going Cheep.
A conspiracy theorist dies and goes to heaven…
Jesus: “You lived your life as a good man. You may ask me any question and I will give you an honest answer.
Conspiracy Theorist: “Who killed President Kennedy?”
Jesus: “Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone. He used his own Carcano M91 rifle.”
Conspiracy Theorist: “This goes higher than I thought.”
Last Ever Joke (for people of a certain vintage…)
Paddy goes to the bank for a loan. The Teller says:
“Without the spur of a crisis or a period of great stress, most organisations — like most people — are incapable of changing” John F. McDonnell
In a recent project, we worked with an executive team to develop a range of ‘future options’ for their manufacturing business. There were a number of constraints…
Simple Roadmap: The project had both organisation and HR elements, including strategy creation, revising the structure, recruitment impacts and so on. The roadmap chosen to explain the change process had to be comprehensive yet simple to understand. Overly complex approaches risk organ rejection – a bit like people voting ‘no’ when they don’t really understand the question e.g. Brexit. This high-performance organisational also needed to be able to ‘flex’ to meet future demands. We needed to keep the focus on high impact (Shark) projects for the organisation. There’s an upper limit to what can be done and we had to be confident enough to ‘take things off the list’, focusing on big bets that would make a difference. A change strategy implies choice. You can’t fight a battle on 57 fronts simultaneously. Finally, because a number of initiatives (e.g. self-directed teams) were already in place, there was a risk in boring staff with ‘more of the same.’ The average age of people in the company was 29, so developing an inspiring idea of what we were trying to do would appeal to that particular demographic. To avoid the yawn factor, we needed to communicate this in an imaginative way that grabbed attention and made people want to be part of this.
The Approach: We presented 6 possible ‘change options’. Would any of these help your organization to perform at a higher level?
Option 1: Perfect Plc: The core idea here is to develop a ‘Perfect’ Organisation. The aspirational title helps people think beyond ‘today’. Perfect Foresight (what the future will look like). Perfect Place to Work (for staff). Perfect Partner (for customers/suppliers). Perfect Place to Invest (for Parent company/shareholders)
Positive Future: Building a ‘better tomorrow’ is a central idea within all successful change programmes. Under this heading you co-develop the future strategy with the leadership team and staff – developing something that’s emotionally appealing. It’s not just about clarity. You need to ask: How inspiring or exciting is this? The ‘key questions’ for organizations under this heading include:
What’s the mission/central promise made to customers and staff? How clear is this (both to them and to us)? How well are we performing against this mission? What objective criteria do we have to measure our current performance? What are our key strengths as an organization? What unique capabilities do we have? Why do customers like us? Where are we feeling the most pain and why? What are the big issues that emerge/keep the senior team awake at night? Which areas represent the biggest opportunity to improve performance? Where is the market headed? Are there emerging trends (threats or opportunities) that we need to be mindful of? What’s the level of competition against ‘sister’ plants within the network? Do we ‘anticipate’ any attacks from sister sites? If we were successful in tackling the issues identified, would this improve competitiveness i.e. focused on strategically important (Shark) issues? Is there any dynamic in our management team, which stops us pursuing this agenda – even if this is awkward to discuss?
Prize: In relation to creating a future scenario, it’s often useful to have a positive prize for staff to aim towards e.g. show how some of the savings made might be reinvested in the business or the people.
Option 2: The BIG 6: All organizations have a range of presenting issues. But only a minority of these are ‘BIG issues’ which will really improve performance. The BIG 6 approach presupposes that you can identity and resolve a small number of key challenges facing the business.
Insurance Company Example: ‘How can we ensure that the brokers are really happy with our service?’ An internal team were tasked with building a ‘broker engagement strategy’ including checking existing assumptions: How does the existing relationship with brokers work? Are all brokers similar or are some more loyal than others? In a future scenario, how strongly will brokers feature? Is the market moving to a low-cost model, where people have less loyalty to the brand and are influenced by price only? Should we think about a differentiated segmentation strategy whereby business customers continue to work through brokers and personal customers work directly with us? Should we move away from brokers altogether and set up a direct insurance ‘white-collar factory’ model for both business and personal customers?
Positive Statements: This approach needs careful thought before you develop initiative. Once the key challenges are selected, it’s often helpful to ‘frame’ these as a set of positive statements e.g.
How do we deliver superb customer service to differentiate our offering in the marketplace? How do we re-energize/re-engage the employee teams? How do we ensure that the senior team anticipates the future/inspires confidence? How do we exploit existing/emerging technology to make us ‘easier to do business with’? How could we reduce labour turnover to < 2% in the next 12 months?
Option 3: Process Reengineering:Q: To what extent do you need to ‘smarten’ internal processes? While there is some genius in the detail around how this is done, the basic idea is simple. Key processes are mapped (historically on ‘brown paper’ – now using specialized software). A review of these maps indicates the most likely areas of cost savings (process redesign, simplification or both). There are two upsides of this approach. Firstly, the gains made are completely measureable/quantifiable. It’s easy to capture a ‘before’ and ‘after’ shot of what’s happened. Secondly, the process is quick. Re-engineering gains can normally be achieved over a 12-week period.
Workout Programme: Process re-engineering lends itself to involving people at lower levels in the organization. Probably the best-known example is the ‘Workout’ model used extensively in General Electric. Initially launched as a war against non-value-added activity, GE trained all staff in the removal of non-productive processes and the overall programme was labelled Workout. The idea is built on a number of underlying principles…
*Empowerment starts with trust. Performance data is shared with the workforce. *Treat staff as the experts they are; no one knows more about a process than the people working on it everyday. *Use process tools/discipline: This work requires a full re-skilling of the workforce – giving them access to engineering skills and process disciplines more typically associated with ‘graduate level’ positions. *A high % of recommendations don’t cost much to deliver. *While not every employee-led suggestion leads to breakthrough performance, small steps add up to large gains.
Evolutionary Change: Some of the other approaches to change are ‘revolutionary’ i.e. BIG BANG changes, radical overhauls of existing systems, the organisational equivalent of the TV programme ‘Extreme Makeover’ where a house gets knocked down and completely rebuilt. In contrast, a Process Re-engineering or Workout initiative is often a series of small evolutionary steps – a renovation strategy rather than a complete new build.
Option 4: Cultural Change: The shorthand definition of culture is “the way things are done around here.” How does this work in practice?
#1: Culture Mapping: The concept of organization culture comes from anthropology. A consultant attempting to understand the culture in Google is on a similar mission to an anthropologist looking at the Fulani tribe in Nigeria. Step 1 = establish the key beliefs in the existing culture (usually less than 6). This can also be ‘proved’ in the negative i.e. what’s not important in the culture? Key Questions:
*What are 3-5 ‘key beliefs’ which people in this organization share? What words or phrases best describe these? *How were you made aware of these (written format, stories, part of a formal induction, celebrations, creation of heroes etc)? *How do these underlying values/beliefs shape the way that employees behave on a day-to-day basis? *What ‘evidence’ do you have for the above? (stories you’ve heard; examples which you experienced or witnessed) *What ‘works well’ in the existing culture? For example, how much has the culture valued customers? *How much has the culture valued employees? Describe this? *Has the culture valued stockholders/financial performance? *Has the culture changed over the past 5 years and why? Have some long-standing traditions been abandoned? *Do you think that the existing culture has helped or hurt economic performance over the past number of years? *What negative elements in the culture would you change?
#2: Future Proofing: Sometimes organizations are clear on what they want to ‘change’ but less certain about what they want to ‘become’. What will a better tomorrow look like? It’s not possible to change the entire culture; that doesn’t make sense. Culture is built over time. It’s normally either the shadow of a strong leader (Hewlett Packard & Ryanair are good examples) or the result of the organization learning to survive in a particular environment over time. These issues are deeply embedded into the DNA of the organization and can’t simply be thrown overboard. In reality changing an organization culture is really an effort to modify some elements while keeping others (the ‘trick’ is to know what to focus on).
#3: Behaviour Modification: The final stage is to change people’s behaviour. While ‘Behaviour Modification’ may sound like a social science experiment – that’s exactly what all leaders are engaged in. Assuming you have solid ideas about the ‘new culture’, several levers are available to push people towards this (Performance Management; Engagement; Rewards; Rituals; Storytelling – are the most potent).
Option 5: Cause Marketing: Some companies ‘choose’ an external marketing or Corporate Social Responsibility agenda in order to ensure that the company stands for something positive. This can be a simple sponsorship arrangement like RSA Insurance & the Irish Cricket Team or Guinness sponsoring Hurling within the GAA.
Product Links: In more recent times, the issue of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR) is often linked to the core product e.g. the Dove campaign for Real Beauty is a way for women everywhere to identify with the company’s products. Closer to home, AIB sponsored the ‘Better Ireland’ awards – which gave them a presence in local communities (a good fit with a business that’s located in most local communities). Some of the German discount supermarkets are now travelling this route.
Cause Célèbre: Is there any community/external cause, which would provide a solid affinity with your brand? Normally, this idea is not ‘comprehensive enough’ to build an entire change plan around it – but it can be part of a wider programme. One of the upsides of CSR is that it allows employees to feel that the company stands for something important/noble – rather than just profitability.
Active Involvement: Some companies allow the staff to ‘choose’ a cause – often related to something internal e.g. someone may have a child or a family member with a particular medical condition.
Option 6: Revitalised Values: Some companies use their stated Values as a way to bring about internal changes. For example, one financial services company published the following set of values (it’s almost a war-cry’ for change)…
a. Action Bias: Speed pace/urgency/do-it-now: we need to compete on ‘time’ driven through smart processes (e.g. pre-approved credit decisions). Develop a ‘bureaucracy busting mentality’ and make the ‘compliance agenda’ more manageable. Build quality into our processes — not policing at end of the line.
b. Customer Value: Customer intimacy = a historical strength. Need to maintain integrity and empathy. Future focus to move to ‘total solutions’ plus service (including both cost and transparency). Our people are the Brand; ‘Real differentiation’ is how our people engage with customers and how we enable this.
c. High Performance Teams: Our model of high performance teams needs to be centrally driven through all businesses with supporting rituals. Execution excellence = new core competence. We each need to deliver i.e. no tolerance for spectators on the pitch. Leveraging synergy within and between businesses (maximum separation + optimum co-operation). Disallow game playing. Unmatched talent spotting and grooming system for ‘tomorrows leaders’.
d. Innovation: Encourage creativity at all organisational levels, supported by technology (organisational knowledge, database/learning), training in innovation and rewards. Need to develop a number of innovation rituals to support this e.g. ‘shake the tree’ events.
e. Growth: Size matters! No business ‘shrinks to greatness’. Yesterday + 10% is not enough. Move from ‘beat budget’ to ‘beat competitors.’ Stretch goals for each area of the business. Turn historical pride in working for the company into an energised search for growth.
Practices Interrogation: An organisation uses these stated values to ‘interrogate’ and amend the existing working methods within the company.
Before you launch an organisation change initiative – put some thought into the exact method you are going to choose. Why? Because, launching a change initiative that subsequently fails is a costly and frustrating exercise. I should know – having been involved in many organisation change initiatives that didn’t produce any (sustainable) organisation change. Like a good carpenter – you ‘measure twice and cut once’. Don’t jump into the cutting phase before you understand exactly what you are trying to do.
PS Lighter Notes: Important New Words for 2019
*TESTICULATING: Waving your arms around and talking bollocks.
*BLAMESTORMING: Sitting round in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed and who was responsible.
*SALMON DAY: The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die.
*CUBE FARM: An office filled with cubicles.
*PRAIRIE DOGGING: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm and people’s heads pop up over the walls to see what’s going on.
*PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE: The art of whacking the crap out of an electronic device to get it to work again.
*OH-NO SECOND: Minuscule fraction of time during which you realize that you’ve just made a BIG mistake e.g. hit ‘reply all’ button with your comments about the boss.
*MONKEY BATH: A bath so hot, that when lowering yourself in, you go: ‘Oo! Oo! Oo! Aa! Aa! Aa!’.
*MYSTERY BUS: The bus that arrives at the pub on Friday night while you’re in the toilet after your 10th pint and whisks away all the unattractive people so the pub is suddenly packed with stunners.
Couple of one-liners to kick start your week…
There’s a fine line between hyphenated words
There’s a gang going through our town, systematically shoplifting clothes in size order. The Gardai believe they are still at Large.
At what age is it appropriate to tell my dogs they are adopted?
Chances are that the topic of ‘discovering your passion in life’ is not new to you. It’s a common phrase that people toss about. The connotation is that this will be unveiled to us in some way. Like that apple which hit Isaac Newton just before he articulated the laws of gravity, our passion will ‘hit us on the head’ sometime when we least expect it. I’m not convinced.
Not Passive: Dave Isay, founder of a company called StoryCorps, also takes issue with the idea that ‘finding your calling’ is passive: “When people have found their calling, they’ve made tough decisions and sacrifices in order to do the work they were meant to do.” You don’t ‘find’ your calling — you have to fight for it. And it’s worth it. “People who’ve found their calling have a fire about them,”says Isay, the winner of the 2015 TED Prize. “They’re the people who are dying to get up in the morning and go do their work.”
Common Pattern: After a decade of listening to personal interviews, Isay noticed similarities in how people discovered their calling. He’s collected dozens of these stories and detailed these in his book: Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work. Here’s a summary of the insights…
Venn Diagram: Your calling lies at the intersection of a Venn diagram (3 overlapping circles): doing something you’re good at; feeling appreciated; believing your work is making people’s lives better. “When those three things line up, it’s like lightning,” Isay says. A central point is that you don’t have to be a surgeon to feel that you have a calling; think of the barman who talks to customers and makes them feel important. How do you find this overlap? “You … shut out all the chatter of what your friends are telling you to do, what your parents are telling you to do, what society is telling you to do … and just go to that quiet place inside you that knows the truth.” (or find a good career coach to help you navigate this).
Difficult Experiences: Your calling sometimes emerges from difficult experiences. What lurks in that quiet place will be a defining experience — sometimes a painful one. Isay points to an interview with a 24-year-old teacher Ayodeji Ogunniyi. “He was studying to be a doctor when his father was murdered. He realized that what he was really meant to do was be a teacher,” says Isay. “… every time he walks into a classroom, his father is walking in with him.” The theme of people turning their toughest experiences into a new path runs throughout the book. Having an experience that reminds you of your mortality can certainly be a clarifying event in people’s lives.
Ruffle Feathers: Big changes often take courage. Another story featured is about Wendell Scott, who became the first African-American NASCAR driver in 1952, and kept on driving despite threats against his life. A new beginning sometimes starts with taking a stand against a status quo that simply isn’t acceptable, and dedicating your life to changing it. There are a number of not-for-profit organizations in Ireland that ‘fit’ with this idea of people challenging conventional wisdom (To Russia with Love and Suicide Awareness are two organizations that spring to mind).
External Nudge: Sometimes, other people nudge you toward your calling. Sharon Long had worked odd jobs most of her life. As Isay tells it: Her daughter was going to college. As the bursar was helping them with financial aid forms, she said quietly: “I wish I could’ve gone to college.” The bursar responded, “It’s not too late”and she enrolled in forensic anthropology. The advisor had suggested because he thought it was the easiest science course, “The minute she sat in that class, it was boom — this is what she was meant to do.” I remember a very similar experience myself – the first time I’d ever heard the phrase – Motivation Theory and knew immediately that I wanted to really learn about what makes people tick.
Hard Slog: The ‘finding your calling’ phrase makes it sound like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow; you find it, then the story’s over. But, it’s what happens after identifying your calling that really matters. “Understanding what your calling is — that’s very different than the blood, sweat and tears of actually doing it,” he says. It may require going back to school, apprenticing or starting a brand new organization. Unless your calling can be labelled ‘Winning the Lotto’ – it normally requires hard work.
Old Dogs: An interesting and somewhat counter-intuitive finding was that age is irrelevant. Isay found his calling when he was 21 and interviewed a man who’d been part of the Stonewall riots. “The minute I hit record, I knew that being a journalist and interviewing people was what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” he says. But collecting stories for the book reminded him that a calling can be discovered at any age. The book includes an interview with someone who knew they wanted to be an NBA referee at age 15, and another who worked as an accountant for 30 years before discovering his passion for food. “Doing the work you’re meant to do is one of the most satisfying, remarkable experiences that a person can have,” says Isay. The Message: never give up.
Smaller Paycheck: Work that you are passionate about doesn’t always come with a big paycheck. Some of the stories are about people who left high-paying jobs for roles that pay less but are more satisfying. Stories about making as much money as you can sit alongside others where people pursued a dream of working very hard to live with integrity.
Finding your passion is certainly a big life question. Are you there yet?
PS Lighter Notes
Q: Love music? What’s the difference between a Musician and a Pizza?
A: A Pizza can feed a family of 4!
A husband and wife drove for miles in silence after a terrible argument in which neither would budge. The husband pointed to a mule in a pasture. “Relative of yours?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “By marriage.”
A doctor and his wife were having a huge argument at breakfast. “You aren’t so good in bed either!” he shouted and stormed off to work. By midmorning, he decided he’d better make amends and phoned home. After many rings, his wife picked up the phone.
About a Zillion years ago, there was an old radio programme called ‘What’s My Line?’ Participants would introduce themselves and the panel would have to guess their job. It was good fun. People with unusual jobs would be invited onto the programme. The trick was for the listeners to guess the person’s job before the panel did.
New Game: A reverse version of this game is now played out in almost all senior level appointments. In the current mode, people who are applying for jobs have to guess exactly what the job is about and convince a panel of interviewers they are on the money. In most cases, successful interviewing is not about telling your history– it’s about predicting your future (sometimes, in an industry or an organization which you have zero experience of).
How does it Work? Picture the scene. You’ve applied for a senior level role in an external company. You’ve got through the screening interview with the headhunters and overcame the psychometric tests. Phew! Then you get a letter informing you that you have to do a 10-minute presentation about ‘what you’d do in the first 100 days in the new role.’ After briefly considering abandoning the entire process, you settle down and start to think about your pitch.
Playing Safe: One possibility is to play safe. There are tons of books about how to manage the first 100 days – and they mostly offer the following formula. 1stmonth = get to know the business e.g. spend time in the field. 2nd month = consolidate your thinking; sort Shark from Minnow issues into some logical hierarchy. 3rd month = build a change plan, socialize this internally and get people on board. So far, so boring. Selling that process at an interview is about as riveting as talking about the decline of mass attendance with your local Parish Priest. The conversation needs more bite.
What’s my Role? On face value the question about your future role looks deceptively simply. It’s anything but. Understanding your new role presupposes that you have invested enough time in researching the organization to identify the BIG issues. Then you need to ‘take a punt’ about what you will bring to the party. Can you answer (succinctly) exactly what you want to achieve in the role? Will it be a strong focus on customer service? Will you tackle employee engagement? Do you intend to lower costs, eradicating every single piece of fat in the organizations’ processes? Or perhaps you’ll major on business growth? And please don’t say = “I intend to do all of the above” because that’s bullshit.
Personal Branding: A couple of year’s back I was contacted by a politician to help with a re-election campaign in Dublin. Intrigued by the contact (I’ve never been directly involved in politics) I went along to the initial meeting. Having explained my lack of knowledge, the person reassured me that I’d been contacted to help ‘craft a compelling message.’ The candidate understood politics; my job was communications. So, I asked the person to tell me what they stood for – the issues they were passionate about. The reply: “The issues are driven by constituents. What I want isn’t important. My job is to reflect the issues in the area that I represent.”
On face value that sounds quite democratic. But, as I know the geographical area quite well, I wondered how he intended to bridge very diverse local issues (this suburb of Dublin is mixed – with a swathe of Local Government housing sitting almost ‘next door’ to some of the most expensive real estate in Ireland). So, I tried again to push for the BIG issues that he felt passionate about e.g. taxation, crime, homelessness and so on. It’s fair to say that the conversation took a difficult turn at this point as I was ‘reminded’ that the job was to reflect the issues local people wanted to ‘fix’. About 20 minutes into the conversation I announced: “I think I have a really good slogan for your campaign.”
I could see that my new political friend was impressed with my speed of thinking – so I just laid it out straight:“Vote for me. I’ll improve everything.” My new BFF didn’t think that was funny. Neither did I. We agreed to disagree and parted company. It was probably the shortest political career in history. I didn’t want to work with someone who had no idea what they stood for (that’s a political, not a moral judgement).
Back to Real Life:
Q: So, how do you make a successful pitch at an interview – when you are not fully sure of the facts?
A: You have to demonstrate enough knowledge about the industry/organization to convince the interviews that you are a serious candidate and you didn’t just ‘rock up’ for the coffee and free scones.
How? There’s 2 approaches and (depending on what exactly you have been asked to do) you can use both. The first is to ‘codify’ exactly what you’ve done in the past.
Example A: I recently worked with a senior HR Director applying for a new role. It was a big job and the candidate had an excellent track record. But, by his own admission, he was poor at telling his story. So, we crafted an A2 page – with 10 headings (Organization Development, Culture, Performance Management, Talent Acquisition and so on). Under each heading we codified his expertise. When the final output was desktop published – he began to look like the world-class candidate that he is. You need to tell your story – just tell it brilliantly well.
Example B: An internal candidate was making a ‘pitch’ for the CEO role. So we tackled 4 key questions: (a) the organization context – what other companies are in a similar space– highlighting some mission overlap/confusion (b) what are the key internal challenges – staff turnover, underfunding and so on (c) what are the key ‘resolution’ projects that need to be undertaken (d) the skills (and development needs) that specific candidate brought to the table (suggest: Skip your ‘Superman’ complex). We ‘packaged’ all of the above into a very neat ‘booklet’ which he gave to the interviewers.
Low Arrogance: I’m continually amazed at the arrogance of some executives. They show up for interview knowing very little about the organization. They expect the interviewers to have done all the legwork (“Did you look up my LinkedIn profile?”), hoping that their greatness will be uncovered. They need to learn a lesson about marketing from the great Lord Leverhume (founder of Lever Brothers). More than 100 years old, this poem is still potent:
“He who whispers down a well
About the goods he has to sell
Will never make as many dollars
As he who climbs a tree and hollers.”
Want a BIG job? Get cracking on the homework and packaging! Because you will need both.
PS For a couple of reasons I’ve made a New Year’s Resolution to stop writing blogs. You are not ‘off the hook’ just yet. I’ve a couple of ideas to work on over the next month or so and then we will say goodbye to this particular Chapter. Will explain the rationale in more detail – just wanted to give you a heads up. Thanks for keeping up – it was a great buzz seeing so many people reading this stuff. I will shortly be publishing 2 books of the ‘best blogs’ – will provide the details shortly.
PPS Lighter Notes: Some interview-related Tweets:
‘I murder drifters and use their hair to make little dolls. Oh, you meant at work! Sorry about that. My biggest weakness is probably that I’m a perfectionist.’
‘I hate when the other guy goes for a handshake and I go for an open-mouth kiss and oh great now I probably didn’t get this job.’
Interviewer: So tell me why you want this job.
Me: I have no money and I prefer when I have money.
HR: What’s your best asset?
Me: I have an excellent memory.
HR: Give me an example.
Me: Of what?
Interviewer: ‘So where do you see yourself in 5 years time?’
Me: ‘My biggest weakness? Probably not listening properly.’
DOG: I think that job interview went really well! Then looks in mirror and sees ear was inside-out the whole time. “Son of a bitch!”
For our USA Audience…
Mama bear and Papa bear are getting a divorce. The judge asks baby bear, “Who do you want to live with?”
Baby bear says, “ I don’t want to live with mama bear. She beats me”
Judge says, “Okay, so you want to live with papa bear?”
Baby bear says, “No, he beats me too!”
Judge (frustrated at this point), “Well then, who do you want to live with?”
Baby bear: “I want to live with the Chicago Bears! They never beat anybody”
Should you use your holidays for a well-earned break or use the opportunity for continuous improvement? For me the question poses a false dichotomy as the two ideas combine perfectly.
Getting Bored: I don’t know about you, but I can only take so much downtime. Pinot Grigot coupled with grilled sardines is a solid lunchtime combination – up to a point. But, alongside this, I normally feel the need to keep sharpening the saw. In the words of one client: “I like to earn my lazy.”
New Ideas? Last year, I packed 3 ‘heavier’ books, alongside the usual mix of sex and violence literature and lugged it all through the airport. Must be some sort of a Catholic guilt thing. What did I learn? The heavier reading material was OK only; old wine in new bottles, nothing too insightful. Missing the inspiration from the Gurus, I decided to try some reflection time. Long solitary walks and structured thinking about what’s working well and what’s not, both in business and in life generally. But I don’t do reflection particularly well. I’m more of s figure-it-out-as-I-do it type. It’s often said that extroverts have to ‘talk it’ to think it (introverts do all this ‘heavy lifting’ inside their heads). Then I came across a quote from Thomas Szasz, which struck a chord. “People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds; it is something one creates.” In other words, looking for yourself actually requires active experimentation. For some people this comes from ‘reflection’ while others (like myself) learn-by-doing.
Staying Focused: On most holidays, I get up early and write for at least an hour. Linda and the kids are generally asleep, so I’m not disturbing anyone. That early productivity then gives me a clear shot at the day and a crystal clear conscience to do absolutely nothing and horse into those sardines mentioned earlier. Or watch the British Open Golf Tournament for hours on end – lying on the sofa, snuggled up tightly beside my best friend (the remote control). Writing has a twofold benefit (a)it sorts out the confusion in my mind about particular topics and (b) It helps with differentiation. Forget the line about rats in cities; no matter where you go, you are never more than 10 feet from a management consultant! So, writing is a marketingstrategy, an attempt to stand out from the crowd.
Self-Esteem: But, plugging away on books and blogs has another, hidden benefit. For most of us, the well of self-esteem needs to be continually topped up. Like physical fitness, confidence needs to be maintained. In my case writing ‘new stuff’ helps me to feel good about myself. It’s not just an antidote to the boredom of 24 hours with absolutely nothing to do. Creating something new helps me to feel that I’m continually learning and haven’t (yet) given up on exploring how organizations work and how best to survive them.
So there you have it, my recipe for a perfect holiday. All you have to do now is to figure out what works for you.
Central Point: Don’t assume that this automatically means doing nothing.
PS Lighter Note: Island Holiday
Guy goes into a travel agent and says: “I want to book a holiday.”
Travel Agent:“And, where would you like to go Sir?”
Customer replies: “I want to go to Majorca” (pronounced Ma-Jork-Ah)
The travel agent smiles and says: “That’s actually Majorca” (May-Ork-Ah). “In Spanish, you don’t pronounce the ‘J’. Anyway, when would you like to go?”
He replies: “Une or Uly.”
One Liners for your next meeting…
I thought I’d forgotten how to play Tetris, but once I started all the pieces seemed to fall into place.
My wife said she’s leaving me because I’m obsessed with Batman. What a Joker.
My wife told me I was immature and needed to grow up…guess who’s not allowed in my tree house?
Only read on if you are intellectually inclined (courtesy of Craig Varden in the US)….
ANNUAL NEOLOGISM CONTEST: The Washington Post published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words. The winners:
Coffee (N.), the person upon whom one coughs.
Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
Abdicate (V.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
Willy-nilly (Adj.), impotent.
Gargoyle (N.), olive-flavored mouthwash.
Flatulence (N.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
Balderdash (N.), a rapidly receding hairline.
Rectitude (N.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
Pokemon (N), a Rastafarian proctologist.
Frisbeetarianism (N.), (back by popular demand): The belief that,when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
Circumvent (N.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
The Washington Post also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. This year’s winners:
Bozone (N.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
Foreploy (V): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
Cashtration (N.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
Giraffiti (N): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
Sarchasm (N): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
Inoculatte (V): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
Hipatitis (N): Terminal coolness.
Glibido (V): All talk and no action.
Ignoranus (N): A person who’s both stupid and an asshole
It will happen. Figure out your ‘stance’ on this in advance
You may already know this, but there are approximately 2.3 million cattle in the Irish beef herd and about 1.7 million dairy cows. So, if you live in Ireland, there’s a really good chance that you will (at some point in your life) have seen a cow. No big deal. Based on my experience – I would argue that there’s an even better chance that you will have experienced a workplace romance. And, this is a big deal.
Not New: When Ruth Meehan completed a Masters in DCU, she choose an interesting topic – workplace romances. This issue has been perplexing organizations, participants and co-workers for millennia. Parking morality, legalissues (e.g. sexual harassment claims), organizational justice(equality, colleagues perceptions of fairness, favoritism) and productivity (distraction from responsibilities) all come into play. Yet, despite the dilemmas posed, workplace romances seem to be on the increase. One comprehensive U.S. Survey found that approximately 40% of people had engaged in a workplace romance, while U.K. research highlighted that more than 70% of survey participants had a similar experience (to the best of my knowledge, no similar survey data exists in Ireland; we can only guess the numbers). One things for sure – the phenomenon of workplace romance is not going away anytime soon.
Influencing Forces: A number of social, economic and cultural factors influence this. The increased number of women in the workforce; blurring of male/female stereotyped roles; longer working hours; changing societal norms whereby sexual activity/behaviour is more widely accepted outside of the traditional partnership/marriage model. But, what ‘triggers’ this? Why do people look over that office divider and mentally say maybe? It turns out that there are a number of potential motives for getting involved with someone at work:
Love: Sincere/true love, companionship, seeking a spouse/long-term partner. With more people spending more time at work, it’s not that surprising that people use the office or the factory as their primary ‘hunting ground.’
Ego: Seeking excitement, adventure, sexual experience and ego satisfaction. Life can be a bit boring. Unless, of course, you are in the middle of an office romance! Turns out that finding a good place to hide a 2nd mobile phone isn’t boring at all!
Job: Seeking advancement/progression, job security, increased influence, financial rewards, easier work. Sometimes referred to as ‘Sleeping to Success.’
Staying Stum: Understandably, most participants try to keep workplace romances private, but many fail. One researcher (Mainiero), supporting the premise that participants are reluctant to make their relationship public, argues that the decision to maintain secrecy may not be discretionary. A violation of workplace norms regarding appropriate distance or intimacy often provides indications to co-workers of a deviance (Robinson & Bennett, 1995) from the ‘normal’ professional relationship. Co-workers are often highly sensitive to even the slightest change in behaviour. When I worked for General Electric, one senior Executive from the USA had an affair with a secretary in Dublin. He was married. She was single. He was mid 40’s. She was in her early 20’s (while I normally do some research for this Blog, in this specific case I didn’t actually check their Birth Certificates). How did we know they were having an affair? In the canteen, the manager used to take off his shoes and rub his stockinged feet up along her leg under the table. Given that the canteen was packed with people during the break times, we didn’t need a Doctorate in Psychology to figure that one out. Another couple (they were both married to other people) arrived into work each day in the same car. Horray for car pooling? Well, perhaps, if they lived in the same area. One of them commuted from North County Dublin and the other one lived in Blackrock (South Dublin). Like all managerial behaviour, the standard caveat applies. Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t like to see reported on the front page of the Irish Times. It’s a tough hurdle to meet at all time.
Relationship Fallout: There have been a number of ‘high profile’ cases in Ireland around workplace romances. It’s important here to distinguish between workplace romances and sexual harassment – albeit there might be a thin line between both – depending on the respective positions held by both parties. In one well publicized case, the CEO of a major utility was fired for sexual harassment of a subordinate. Because of his role, his ‘employability’ in Ireland was compromised and he was advised to seek work overseas (which he did). Most affairs are easy to start but more difficult to end – so there’s a lot of caution needed at the Christmas Party (and every other time of the year too). While being attracted to someone is fundamentally human, it can carry a high price tag.
Organization Tolerance: Some organizations are more tolerant of this than others. For example, some years ago I visited 2 Jesuit Universities in the US to meet their senior teams during a project I was working on at that time. On the flight home, trying to make sense of a million pages of notes, one theme stood out above everything else; ‘moral turpitude’. Having an affair with a junior member of staff or any contact with students was an instantly dismissible offence in both organizations. Contrast that stance with a closer to home example. I met a HR Director who worked with a large multinational. It was well known internally that the Managing Director was having an affair with his PA and with the Marketing Manager (at the same time). He’d also had a fling with a Polish office cleaner (note to self: ‘buy more Red Bull’). The HR Manager whom I was coaching was concerned that during the ‘rollout’ of a Corporate Values Programme, this behaviour would tarnish the company reputation and asked me: “What should I do?” After batting the issue back and forth a number of times, we came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was to confront the MD with the contradictions between the ‘espoused values’ of the organization (dignity/respect for people and so on) and his personal behaviour. I didn’t attend the meeting but was reliably told that his response to the HR Manager was as follows: “You should try to get out and about a bit more yourself.” He did – visiting headhunters to look for a new job.
Counterproductive Workplace Behaviours: Spector and Fox (2002) list a range of potentially destructive and detrimental acts that hurt colleagues and organizations. Aggression, hostility, theft, sabotage and so on seem to push ‘having a fling’ well down the totem pole of offences. But it depends on the organization context. Without being moralistic, some good advice is as follows. If you are of a mind to have an office romance, make sure it’s with someone from another office. There’s too much riding on this!
PS Lighter Notes: Let’s stay with the theme…
Golf Balls: A woman was tidying her husband’s dresser when she found 3 golf balls and a box with $2000 in it. She waited for him to come home from the golf course to ask him why these things were hidden in his drawer.
The husband said: “I’m sorry I hid this from you but the truth is every time I cheated on you over the last 30 years I put a golf ball in the drawer.”
The wife was very upset at first but after thinking about it said: “I suppose 3 times in 30 years is really not that bad! Oh by the way what’s the $2000 for?”
The husband replied: “Every time I got a dozen balls I sold them.”
Pearly Gates: It got crowded in heaven. So, for one day only it was decided to accept people who had had a really bad day on the day they died. St. Peter was standing at the gates and said to the first man: “Tell me about the day you died.”
The man said, “Oh, it was awful. I was sure my wife was having an affair, so I came home early to catch her. I searched all over the apartment but couldn’t find him anywhere. So I went out onto the balcony, we live on the 25th floor, and found this man hanging over the edge by his fingertips. I went inside, got a hammer, and started hitting his hands. He fell, but landed in some bushes. So, I got the refrigerator and pushed it over the balcony and it crushed him. The strain of the act gave me a heart attack, and I died.”
St. Peter couldn’t deny that this was a pretty bad day. Since it was a crime of passion, he let the man in. He then asked the next man in line about the day he died.
“Well, Sir, it was awful,” said the second man. “I was doing aerobics on the balcony of my 26th floor apartment when I twisted my ankle and slipped over the edge. I managed to grab the balcony of the apartment below, but some maniac came out and started pounding on my fingers with a hammer. Luckily I landed in some bushes. But, then the guy dropped a refrigerator on me!”
St. Peter chuckled, let him into heaven and decided he was really starting to enjoy this interviewing job.
“Tell me about the day you died?” he said to the third man in line.
“OK, picture this. You are naked and hiding inside a refrigerator…”
“Last night a Hypnotist convinced me that I was a soft, malleable metal with an Atomic number of eight-two. I’m easily lead”
Doctor: “Mrs A, let’s have a look at your results!”
Patient: “Excuse Me! My name isn’t Mrs A”
Doctor: “OK, I have some bad news then. You have MRSA”
Each time you hire a new employee you potentially spend several million Euro. For example, a candidate currently earning €100,000 per year will cost your company about 6 million Euro over a 30 year working career when fully loaded employment costs and inflation are rolled up. In constructing a Capital Acquisitions Request for a piece of equipment that cost say €50,000, you’d spend a considerable amount of time completing a cost: benefit analysis. Yet when it comes to candidate selection, many managers are ill prepared to make a decision which impacts an organization to a much greater extent. Is there some ‘magic formula’ that can help reduce the inherent risk in hiring a plonker? Well… here’s a couple of ideas that have stood the test of time.
Big Idea #1: Targeted Selection: Selection interviewing is a notoriously subjective process. A substantial body of research has indicated the reliability rate (the likelihood that two skilled interviewers will judge a candidate’s ability in the same manner) to be less than 50%. That statistic is made worse by the fact that almost everyone thinks they are a wonderful ‘judge of character’, God’s gift to psychology.
Overcoming the ‘Halo’: Candidates with highly developed interpersonal skills are particularly difficult to assess. A well-dressed candidate, who offers a warm handshake, speaks eloquently and maintains good eye contact makes a positive initial impression. Unfortunately, these traits may have nothing whatsoever to do with the skillset required for superior on-the-job- performance (albeit they are excellent traits for confidence tricksters and sociopaths – in terms of ‘gaining entry’). What’s needed is a systematic way to overcome that ‘halo effect.’
Targeted Selection: Targeting selection derives its name from the fact that interviewers ‘target’ specific competencies and focus on these. It’s based on a fairly simple premise. The best indicator of what someone will do in the future is what they’ve done in the past. The process is designed to reduce subjectivity by focusing on actual (rather than potential) performance. How does it work? Having identified the key competencies required for successful performance, the interviewer tests the candidates’ experience in those areas. The focus is on demonstrated performance. While people can spoof about theoretical possibilities – they usually find it much harder to lie about what they’ve actually done in the past.
Achievements Focus: Targeted selection drills into what a candidate has actually achieved in the past not on what they say they will do in the future. If a candidate has consistently performed well in a particular area and can demonstrate this, that’s the best indicator of future performance. If the candidate has consistently underperformed in a particular area, that’s also hugely valuable information.
Big Idea #2: Competencies Tool: This isn’t really a ‘separate idea’ – more of a build on Targeted Selection. Case Example: One of our pharmaceutical clients decided to develop a systematic way to assess internal and external candidates for the role of Site Leader. We were tasked with developing a systematic method (that they could continually reuse) to select high-end talent.
The Approach: A competency can be defined as a distinct skill or ability to complete a task successfully. Goal: Identify the ‘Core Competencies’ associated with success in the position of Site Leader. In addition to defining the core skills, we needed a simple way to measure these – with existing staff and for people interviewing from outside the company.
Competency Tool: The Competency Tool idea is based on a simple premise. Managerial jobs can be subdivided into 3 key areas:
(1) Thinking Skills: The knowledge requirements for the position and the intellectual ability to make decisions/solve problems that typically arise e.g. chemical engineering.
(2) Doing Skills: The functional skills needed to fully satisfy the position requirements e.g. public speaking.
(3) Relationship Skills: The ability to successfully interact with people to the extent required by the particular position e.g. employee engagement.
A Competency Tool allows key decisions on selection and promotion to be based on objective criteria. Looking at the most successful people in Site Leader roles across that client company – we identified the ‘success requirements’ in this job. Of course, there’s still an element of individual personality to be taken into account. While no system is 100% objective – having this ‘guideline’ considerably reduces the subjectivity of decision-making in the selection process.
External Hiring: Most organisations understand that it’s critically important to attract and retain the best available talent. Stated another way, every open position offers an opportunity to put a world-class candidate in place. So far, so boring! But, here’s the kicker. Having a Competencies Tool maximises your chance of actually doing this. While the approach isn’t foolproof (there’s no guarantee that you will source Wonder Woman) it’s better than relying on your ‘marvellous gut instinct.’ Much better.
Taking a Punt: But, what if a candidate has never been exposed to a particular area deemed critical for the post on offer? How do you make a judgment on future potential if there’s no evidence to go on? Can I suggest a broad ‘rule of ‘thumb’ as follows: If the candidate has demonstrated excellent previous skills in at least 75% of the essential job requirements they are worth a hiring risk. If they can demonstrate less than 75% of essential job requirements, the ‘risk’ element becomes unacceptably high. Taking this approach you will, at times, ‘throw out the baby with the bath water’ and miss potentially excellent candidates. But it will ensure that entry barriers are kept high and you will spend less time in Lawyers offices working out the best way to get rid of them.
Big Idea #3: Assessing Candidate Motivation: Under this heading the key question is: “Why does the candidate wish to apply for this position?” One way to ‘test’ this is to ask the candidate four direct questions.
Why have you applied for this particular role?
Why do you wish to leave your current position/company?
Does this job (geographical location, travelling requirement etc.) fit with the non-work aspect of your life i.e. family circumstances, relationships, hobbies and so on?
How does this position align with your longer-term career goals?
Big Idea #4: Make the Interview Work: Most candidates are nervous. The best way to overcome this is to start interviews on a warm note and to get the candidate talking as soon as possible. The candidate usually has his/her ‘story’ prepared and wants to tell it. Long introductions about your organisation’s history/values/direction usually serve to make a candidate even more nervous and should be held until the end of the interview. It’s a mistake to give too much detail at the front end of an interview. Astute candidates will look for ‘signals’ and tailor their answers to what they think you require.
Process Control: An interview isn’t an informal meeting; it’s a directed discussion. Your job is to keep the process on track. Focus on the ‘key competencies’ and don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by the fact that someone has run 5 Iron-Man races or bungee jumped all over South East Asia (even if you secretly wish you could have done all of that).
Hiring the best available talent is a key skill. Elbert Hubbard suggests: “There is something rare, something finer, something much more scarce than ability. It’s the ability to recognize ability.” Don’t short-change the process just because you believe that you have some sort of ‘6th sense’ about people. Just remember the often-quoted response when someone’s neighbour or work colleague turns out to be a serial killer i.e. “He seemed so normal.” Now, on that thought, have a good week.
PS Story of the Week: Played golf with Fintan from Belgrove Motors and he related the following true tale. His daughter is a Primary School Teacher in Ballymun, Dublin. When the kids were asked to tell their ‘weekly news’, one of them mentioned that her pet Hamster had escaped from its cage and was missing for 3 days.
The family heard some scratching beneath the fridge. Following a Herculean effort, the Dad managed to extract the Hamster from under a giant American Fridge and put it back into the cage. But the Hamster seemed very nervous. It was cowering against one side of the cage, shivering, and couldn’t be enticed to move or even to eat when presented with morsels of its favourite food. So, they took him to the vet. Turns out that the Hamster had swallowed a Fridge Magnet and was literally ‘stuck’ to the side of the cage. Apparently, he’s doing well again now and is fully recovered.
Pet Jokes & One-Liners…. (stocking fillers for the T-Break)
Q: Did you hear about the law firm with the most intimidating lawyers?
A: It’s filled with liti-gators.
Q: What do you call a hamster with 3 legs?
Q: What do alligators call human children?
“My husband is a self-harmer. He eats his own cooking.”
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.” W. C. Fields
The flight to Faro was particularly bumpy. High above the Bay of Biscay we were bouncing around like a table tennis ball in a Jacuzzi. At one point I was tempted to email the Bacardi factory in Cuba and ask them to put on a 3rdshift. By the time this plane landed, the worldwide stock of rum would be well down!
Flash Cards: To take my mind off dying, I was busily reading flash cards – trying to master Portuguese phrases beyond ‘Bom Dia’ (Good Day). It had been a long and brutal slog. Night classes in Marino and Clontarf for 3 years. Practice lunches with other learners, wrestling with masculine and feminine nouns over skinny lattes. Twisting your tongue around the Russian-sounding pronunciations.
Keep Going: I definitely wasn’t enjoying it but was determined not to quit. Something about giving up communicates ‘loser’ and I’m programmed to follow through. Incorrectly programmed in this case. So, what were the ‘facts’? I definitely wasn’t enjoying learning this language. I never use it. Where we go in Portugal (the Algarve) almost everyone speaks English. So, other than reading some road signs and being polite/respectful about the local culture – this had no practical usefulness. But, I started and was determined to finish, on some pre-recorded mission to succeed. For what? To impress who? Because, when I really thought about it, that was the psychological payoff. Impress the hell out of someone because I could read the menu in Portuguese. Converse with a local waitress around the fact that the weather was exceptionally hot or say ‘good afternoon’ at the correct time of the day. Oh, take a bow!
Throw it Out: In thinking about some of this old ‘programmed stuff’ about being successful, I realized that it was written for me in childhood. Most of it had served me well. But it was now time to grow up. To decide what I wanted to do. To disallow my life being steered by ‘train tracks’ about stickability that were laid when I was a teenager.
Take Control: It’s the same for all of us. We are in charge now and can do what we want. If that’s learning something new – great. Like that Bon Jovi song that I’ve wanted to sing for ages but can’t seem to find the time to learn properly. Now you’re talking. Move over Portuguese. From now on, I’m doing stuff I want to do.
PS Lighter Notes…
Resignation Letter:“I’m quitting to pursue my dream of not working here”
Q:What’s the difference between the 1960’s and the 2000’s?
A: In the 2000’s, a guy goes into a chemist shop and shouts, “Give me a box of condoms!” … and whispers to the shop assistant: “Oh, and slip in a packet of cigarettes, too.”
Q: Why did the can crusher quit his job?
A: Because it was soda pressing.
I should have known I’d never last as a deep-sea diving instructor. I’m no good under pressure.
OCD Sufferers. Their days are numbered.
Past, Present and Future walked into a bar. It was tense!
Back in my GE days, the Finance Director was skeptical about the merits of the HR function which he labeled the‘Health and Happiness Department.’ He honestly didn’t believe that HR added any value. It was part of his worldview that social science was basically bullshit, totally un-provable. It was a great put down. Despite his misapprehensions about the function, I liked the guy and subsequently came to be more confident about HR’s role in building High-Performance Organizations.
Phone Call: We were recently involved in an interesting project in Galway which reminded me of that GE story. The project started when I phoned a senior HR Director, congratulating him for winning a high-profile award at the end of the previous year. He was (naturally enough) in good form. The business was making money, the HR team had ‘clicked’ into place and the relationship with the Chief Executive and broader executive team was upbeat. “That’s the problem” he said. “Everything is going so well, I don’t know what are we going to do next.”
Our Encore: This issue (it might be labeled: ‘what will we do for an encore?’) is a dilemma for all successful HR Departments. When there are big ‘presenting issues’ in an organization it’s relatively easy to ride in on a white horse, complete your diagnosis and ‘fix’ the place. Visible problem solving is an obvious way to prove your worth to the business. But what do you do when there are no obvious problems to be sorted?
Winning the Peace: Paul Vickery of I.B.M. fame, had earlier described this syndrome as follows: “A lot of HR people are good during the war but not as able in peacetime.” Schooled on a diet of constant firefighting, some HR Managers become ‘fix-it’ junkies and don’t have a good understanding of their role when the presenting issues are not jutting above the waterline. “Hey, I’ve just thought of a great idea”, my contact continued during our phone conversation. “Why don’t you take some time to figure it out and come back to me with a list of possible ways forward.”
What ‘To Do’ when things aren’t broken
So, what do you do when there’s nothing obvious to be done? How do you add additional value in an organization that’s performing extremely well? The challengein this case was to take an award-winning HR function and improve their impact on organisational performance.There are several broad approaches – and in a short blog post it’s only possible to provide a ‘flavour’ of these. A summary of respective approaches is detailed in the following table.
Strategic HR Plan
Develop a robust HR Plan — superior to anything done historically — that addresses real business issues. There are a number of sub-possibilities here (e.g. focus on increasing customer service, cost reduction, speed, etc.)
Take HR specialists off-site for 1-2 days, work them through a defined agenda to tackle these issues before going ‘public’ with the outcome internally
Ask the customer
Devise a semi-structured interview format and ask the customers what they want from you. Discover the critical needs of the top team and ‘fix’ these
It’s normally some combination of remedial (tactical) fixes and longer-term development options
Decide which key areas you are particularly interested in
Spend time (phone/net/in person) benchmarking the best in class sites in Ireland and internationally
Take the top team through a robust strategy/personal planning session. There are several possibilities e.g. (a) ‘hard’ agenda that focuses on core business issues versus (b) a ‘soft’ agenda that focuses on the interpersonal issues among the senior team
Engage the Troops
Review a range of mechanisms that drive up participation/employee voice levels
Ask: how well are we currently tapping into this key resource?
Goal: Best management team in the industry & within the company worldwide
Put together a world-class programme of offerings and development processes: underlying goal = develop ‘self sufficiency’ in this group
Play with rewards
Build a system that drives performance upwards (reward systems are often under-used in driving performance).
Introduce new/fun/novel reward mechanisms to drive specific outcomes/changes
Conduct a robust organisation audit (not limited to HR function) & confront the organisation with this
Present data to management team in a ‘health-check’ meeting
The Genius is in the details. Making the options work in practice
Making a significant performance contribution to an organization requires a detailed understanding of the specific operating environment. You need to assess what will work (and what won’t) in the real world. But the central point remains. Even when you are doing a fantastic job there’s always room for improvement. Apply the Nike slogan ‘There is no finish line’to the HR function.
In this we can usefully take a lesson from the sports professionals. After the tournaments are over, when the cameras have been switched off for the night and the crowds have ‘hit the bar’, the golf professionals go to the driving range or to the practice bunkers – trying to perfect aspects of their game. The ‘top players’ constantly notch up their game to keep themselves sharp. As HR professionals, should we do any less?
A HR manager was knocked down (tragically) by a bus and was killed. Her soul arrived at the Pearly Gates, where St. Peter welcomed her. “Before you get settled in”he said, “…we have a little problem. We’ve never had a HR manager make it this far before and we’re not really sure what to do with you.
“Oh, I see,”said the woman, “Can’t you just let me in?”
“I’d like to,” said St. Peter, “But I have higher orders. We’re instructed to let you have a day in hell and a day in heaven, and then you can choose where you’d like to go for all eternity.”
“I think I’d prefer heaven”, said the woman.
“Sorry, but we have rules…” at which point St. Peter put the HR Manager into the downward bound elevator.
As the doors opened in Hell she stepped out onto a beautiful golf course. Around her were many friends, past fellow executives, all smartly dressed, happy, and cheering for her. They ran up and kissed her on both cheeks, and talked about old times. They played a perfect round of golf and afterwards went to the country club where she enjoyed a superb steak and lobster dinner. She met the Devil (who was actually rather nice) and she had a wonderful night telling jokes and dancing.
Before she knew it, it was time to leave. Everyone shook her hand and waved goodbye as she stepped into the elevator. The elevator went back up to heaven where St. Peter was waiting for her.
“Now it’s time to spend a day in heaven,”he said. So she spent the next 24 hours lounging around on clouds, playing the harp and singing; enjoyable but a bit boring. At the day’s end St. Peter returned.
“So,”he said, “You’ve spent a day in hell and you’ve spent a day in heaven. You must choose between the two.”
The woman thought for a second and replied: “Well, heaven is certainly lovely, but I actually had a better time in hell. I choose Hell.”
St. Peter took her to the elevator again and she went back down. When the doors of the elevator opened she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends dressed in rags, picking up rubbish and putting it into old sacks. The Devil approached and put his arm around her.
“I don’t understand,”stuttered the HR manager, “The other day I was here, and there was a golf course and a country club. We ate lobster, and we danced and had a wonderful time.”
The Devil looked at her and smiled:
“Yesterday we were recruiting. Today you’re staff.”
“You can’t fix crazy. All you can do is document it.”
“I need to make a Pencil drawing of Shakespeare for my art exam. 2B or not 2B?
“I’ve been trying to teach my dog to dance but he’s useless. He’s got 2 left feet”
“I was doing some decorating, so I took out my step-ladder. I don’t get on well with my real ladder.”
Way back in ancient history (1980’s) I was a student in Trinity College. At the time the ‘hot topic’ in Human Resources was negotiations and I wanted to understand that area. Under the tutalage of Dr. Charles McCarthy – who has since passed away – the advice given was that I should ignore negotiations and concentrate on the development of the Non-Union sector in Ireland that was emerging in Ireland. Five years later that advice (along with huge support from Dr Ferdinand Von Prondzynski) morphed into a doctorate and a controversial book called Union-Free.
Complex Topic: While the overall topic about how to maintain a non-union status is complex, one question that continually surfaces from client companies is “how do you communicate this stance internally?” Here’s a couple of ideas…
Executive Team: Key Working Arrangements
People management practices in place are the most important determinant of your success in maintaining a direct relationship with employees. The best defenseis to demonstrate the right managerial behaviors. Nothing promotes cynicism quicker than an espoused set of values, which doesn’t apply in practise. Actions SHOUT; words disappear into the ether.
Your approach must ensure that employees believe that a union cannot provide anything that the company doesn’t already provide or is planning to provide in the future.
The internal environment shouldn’t allow any ambiguity on the topic of unions. Employees must understand that the company philosophy is to maintain a direct relationship along with the core rationale for this. All managers need to understand that they have a central role in promoting positive employee relations. For example, team leaders and line managers must be skilled in communicating the ‘union free’ message and the company need to invest sufficient time and resources in skilling-up this group to deliver this.
It’s vitally important that you have the right measures in place to counteract any external approaches i.e. a proactive ‘early warning system’ is in place.
The local management team needs to be seen as decision-makers i.e. not a satellitewith key decisions made elsewhere.A subtle but important point in the Irish cultural environment is that the relationship with corporate staff needs to be seen as equal status. Corporate visitors need to carry the same ‘messages’ as those espoused locally. For example, the Norwegian notion of a trade union as a ‘club’ or a ‘partnership’ with management could conflict with the Irish experience where relationships tend to be more adversarial.
If a central tenet of the operating philosophy is ‘we are all on the same team’, it’s critically important that your top team role model this behaviour. The Executive team needs to be cohesive on the question of remaining union-free.
Explaining A Non-Union stance to Employees
While each company will express this differently, the following ideas are normally helpful well….
(a) The rights of each individual employee are respected. We don’t need a third party to help us to maintain a positive relationship.
(b) Our people provide the company with competitive advantage. Viewed in this light, it makes perfect sense to continually invest in the development and growth of our people.
(c)Every effort is made to build a successful and healthy business and to communicate how each of us benefits from this. We continually communicate the state of the business and source ideas for future improvements from our people.
(d) Terms and conditions of employment are set at competitive levels vis a vis comparable employments. In many areas, pay and benefits are superior to comparable employments.
(e) Within all organisations problems occur. In the event of a problem arising, we act speedily to overcome this. We take a long-term view of the employment relationship – placing fairness is at the heart of this.
(f) We believe that work can be fun — enjoyed rather than endured — and seek through positive work design to put this philosophy into practise.
Explaining the Non-Union Philosophy to Managers: A Q&A format is often helpful, anticipating questions that people want answers to but are afraid to ask…
Q: Will The Company allow staff to join a Union?
A.We acknowledge the right of any individual to join any association, including a Trade Union. However, there is no obligation in Ireland for any company to recognise a Trade Union in the running of their business. Since the formation of this company we have operated a model that emphasises a direct relationship with staff and has not involved any external third party. To date we’ve been very successful with that model. It has helped us through both good and tough times and there is no intention of changing this way or working. It’s no accident that this is also the model for many of the most successful companies in our industry.
Q: Could a Trade Union improve pay and conditions of employment?
A.The Company has a culture that promotes fairness. A key ingredient in this revolves around the way we handle pay. Pay and conditions are competitive versus other companies. We are fortunate in being involved in a modern, clean working environment, which is very safe. Specifically in relation to pay and conditions, we conduct an annual salary and benefits survey. This is completed in (date) of each year. We also subscribe to 2 additional surveys which are conducted by outside consultants (name these). These mechanisms ensure that we maintain our pay position relative to competitor companies. Issues like vacation time, flextime, the cafeteria, health screening, internal promotions, continuous learning and stock purchases all underpin a central point. To deliver world-class customer service, we have to hire and retain world-class people.
Q: In the event of a significant union recruitment campaign, the Company would have to recognise a Trade Union as it wouldn’t pull out of Ireland with all the € invested?
A.We see Ireland as an extremely attractive location and have invested heavily here. We are now one of the largest operations within our division — larger than X or Y. However, none of us can be complacent that this, on its own, assures a long-term future. If Ireland was to become either too costly, or if employees wanted to change the direct model for successfully doing business, this would have negative consequences on both current and future investments.The need for a Union has not existed historically anywhere in the company. We would be really disappointed if staff felt the need to seek help from an outside third party. If an individual employee or a group of employees feels the need to address any issue, let’s use the open door policy to work together to resolve this.
Q: Would The Company hold it against any person who seeks to have a Union recognised?
If an employee perceived the need for a Union, our first concern would be to understand why he/she felt the need to be represented by a Union.Any employee who has a grievance or complaint (and let’s face it, with over X people on site there will be issues) should use the established channels e.g. problem solving procedure, open door policy etc.We are fully committed to working with individuals to help them resolve issues that arise.
Q: The Company don’t have a problem with unionised suppliers & contractors on the site e.g. security, cleaning, cafeteria?
A. Contract staff are not our employees. We are not in a position to dictate to external companies how they should run their business. Other companies, for historical and other reasons, choose to involve a Union in the running of their business and that’s their prerogative. Typically, we evaluate suppliers/contractors against a number of criteria (competitive pricing; quality of service; reliability). Once they meet these criteria we are happy to do business with them.
Q: Communications can be one way and staff are not always involved or consulted. That might not be the case if we had a Union?
A.We are trying to build an environment where we work together to ensure the continued success of the business. Over the past X years we have grown from A+ to B+ in terms of staff numbers and it’s a challenge to keep everyone in the loop. While there are areas that we can improve, there are a number of mechanisms to keep people in touch with the business; employee lunches; 1:1’s, staff meetings, business update meetings and the open door allows anyone to involve any level of management in problem resolution.
Q: If the market downturns, we could be vulnerable. Would a Union help to secure jobs?
A. Firstly, let’s remember that we all share the same interests – i.e. to make this a successful company, providing job security and good pay and conditions. In reality unions don’t protect jobs. If you look at the history of ‘redundancies’ in Ireland, most of them occur in the unionised sector. Excellent customer service protects jobs. Our current model of working is the best guarantee for employment security because it provides a customer-focused, responsive organisation. It’s not just ‘talk’. We have an X year history, which proves this case. Since we commenced operations in (date) we have never experienced redundancies or any form of layoffs or short-time working. While there have been some peaks and valleys in demand for our products, every effort has been made to minimise the impact of this. While, in reality, no company can absolutely guarantee job security (market forces are not totally within our control), this is a pivotal part of our philosophy. In the event of a severe business downturn, headcount reductions would be a last rather than a first option for us and we will do everything within our power to avoid this. If headcount reductions did occur, we would endeavour to help staff find suitable alternative employment.
Q: Are ‘junior’ staff working here vulnerable?
A. Informality is stressed in the business in a number of ways. Everyone eats in the same cafeteria, uses the same toilets and car park, participates equally in sports and social activities. Everyone is on first name terms and an open and supportive environment is encouraged including a casual dress code. Rules that apply to one person apply across the board. Our philosophy is one of internal equity. No one who works here, provided that they are making an honest effort to complete their job, is ‘vulnerable’. It might be naieve, but we’d like to believe that the word ‘junior’ simply doesn’t exist in the management vocabulary.
Q:If everything is working well,why would Our Company be a target for a Trade Union?
A.Trade Union membership is in decline throughout Ireland. It’s highest in the Public Sector. The vast majority of multi-nationals establish a direct relationship with employees. Given the fall off in union numbers, the trade union movement is keen to sell its services. In our particular case, the X site would be a bridgehead for the unions (e.g. as most of our neighbouring companies are non-union).
Q: What, in the Company’s View, is the downside of establishing a link with a Trade Union?
A. A key success factor for our site is an ability to move with pace to meet changing customer requirements. Speed is part of our DNA. The best way to maintain this is to have a direct, robust relationship with our own staff in an internal partnership. It’s a formula that’s worked really well to date.
Obviously, you would craft your own messages. But, this stuff might give you a ‘head start’ in putting a positive communication in place and help you avoid the tyranny of the blank page.
PS Lighter Note: (Warning: not for the faint-of heart). Probably a tad Un-PC, but still funny.
A dedicated Teamsters Union worker was attending a convention in Las Vegas and decided to check out the local brothels. When he got to the first one, he asked the Madam, “Is this a union house?”
“No,”she replied, “I’m sorry, it isn’t.”
“Well, if I pay you $100.00, what cut do the girls get?”
“The house gets $80.00 and the girls get $20.00.”
Mightily offended at such an unfair ratio, the man stomped off down the street in search of a more equitable, hopefully unionized shop. His search continueuntil finally he reached a brothel where the Madam responded, “Why, yes, sir, this IS a Union House.”
The man asked, “So, if I pay you $100.00, what cut do the girls get?”
“The girls get $80.00 and the house gets $20.00.”
“That’s more like it!!!”the Teamster said. He handed the Madam $100.00, looked around the room and pointed to a stunningly attractiveblonde. “I’d like to select that lady at table number 5.”
“I’m sure you would, sir,”said the Madam, then pointing to an 85 year-old woman in the corner, “but Ethel has seniority.”
The Cure: Two guys and a union worker were fishing on a lake one day, when Jesus walked across the water and joined them in the boat. When the three astonished men settled down enough to speak, the first guy asked humbly, “Jesus, I’ve suffered from back pain ever since I took shrapnel in Desert Storm …could you help me?”
“Of course, my son”, Jesus said, and when he touched the man’s back, he felt relief for the first time in years.
The second man, who wore very thick glasses and had a hard time reading and driving, asked if Jesus could do anything about his eyesight.
Jesus smiled, removed the man’s glasses and tossed them in the lake. When they hit the water, the man’s eyes cleared and he could see everything distinctly.
When Jesus turned to heal the union worker, the guy put his hands up and cried defensively: “Don’t even touch me! I’m on long term disability.”