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Sunday, 25 September 2016

E+R=O? It’s a Simple Life-Changing Equation!

During the recent Tour de France cycle race, the eventual winner, Chris Froome, hit the back of a motorcycle and his bike frame was broken.  He started to run up the hill until his support car arrived and he was given anew bike.  He finished the stage safely.

Afterwards people marvelled at his composure in the evening and his team leader, Dave Brailsford said:

“He took Dr Steve Peters’ advice to employ rational thinking rather than emotional thinking.”

This came to mid recently when I recalled that some time ago I wrote a blog post lauding a simple equation that I had heard from Vistage speaker Nigel Risner and it turned out to be a life-changer for me.  It seemed to me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to repeat it for those who didn’t see it the first time.

It is:

             E + R = O

that can be translated as:

    Event plus response equals outcome.”

It can be used in two ways.  The more obvious is that there is an event and we experience an outcome that can be either positive or negative.  Crucially it is our response to the event that triggers the outcome.  If the response is emotional the outcome is frequently negative.

On the other hand it can be used in a positive sense.  Try this for size.   Again there is an event and we want a specific outcome.  We can then adjust our response to obtain that outcome.  That was thinking rationally. Easy, yes? 

No it isn’t easy. Very often our response is immediate and unconsidered. Dr Steve Peters would say that it is our chimp talking and that is something over which we have little or no control and which can and often does exacerbate the situation.

What is needed in such a situation is a moment or two of mature rational thought, not much more, because in that short time we can hold back from that immediate emotional response that can cause havoc.  Better to give a considered response that can help, mollify, smooth, and generally be considerate and positive.

It does take a modicum of self-control not to react to something that really does irritate or annoy but consider this.  Do you always get a further response to an outburst of irritation or anger that is positive?  Highly unlikely.

It usually results in another outburst followed by another and then we wonder why we are feeling so negative and why the other party doesn’t seem to understand the obvious.

What is obvious is that an event is an event and once it has happened it can’t be changed.  What can be changed is our response to it and E+R=O demonstrates just how simple it can be to engineer a positive result.

It is in our own hands to ensure that we react to an event in a responsible and mature way without resorting to throwing things in exasperation.  If we want a positive outcome to any event then it is up to us personally to provide it.

I have recently had a delivery of some wristbands from the USA on which the equation is emblazoned together with a follow-up saying “I own my response!” and that says it all.

If you would like one of these wristbands the first five requests will be sent one.  Just email me with your name and address and I will post one on to you with pleasure.

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Sunday, 18 September 2016

Want Your People to Work Harder? Smarter is Better!

There is a well-known maxim that says that we shouldn’t work harder, we should work smarter.  Ignoring the grammar this is a very good approach to work in general and one that is missed so often.

The advent of the “science” of work-study in the 20s and 30s was based on the premise that people can be compared to machines in order for them to be measured in the same way.

Charlie Chaplin in his 1936 film “Modern Times” depicts the little tramp working on an assembly line where his task is to tighten two bolts with a spanner in each hand.  So repetitive is the task that he can’t stop the movement even after he has left the job in the evening and that causes some mayhem.

There has always been a tendency to look favourably on those who work hard (hard work never hurt anybody), put in the effort, keep their nose to the grindstone, put in the hours in and other platitudes.  It is called the work ethic.

Admirable it may be but the whole idea of work is to produce a product or service at the best possible quality and in the shortest possible time, not necessarily demonstrating that by showing how hard we are working.

When I was an engineering apprentice many years ago the wise hands on the shop floor would tell us that if we wanted to bunk off for a while to go and see a friend in another department we should always carry a blueprint under the arm so that we would appear to be going for a work reason.

Working smarter means that we define the desired outcome, assess the best way to undertake any task with the minimum effort and in the shortest possible time and then go ahead.  As long as the demands of top quality and service are observed then the amount of work is irrelevant.

Of course we are talking about productivity and from recent reports it seems that the United Kingdom comes pretty low on the list of productive countries measured apparently by GDP divided by the number of hours worked, in other wards average output per hour.

There has been much heart searching lately about the number of migrants undertaking work that the natives don’t want or won’t take on simply because they don’t find it worthwhile.

Removing the social and political aspects from the argument the whole thing revolves round how to produce goods and services in the most effective and occasionally the most efficient way.

The history of engineering for example is littered with examples of changes in production methods that increase productivity and reduce the need for people.  The birth of mass production leading to component interchangeability right up to the present day with the development of robots show what can be achieved.

Agriculture has in the same way shown how by the use of highly sophisticated and advanced machines production can be revolutionised.  This has in some cases required the employment of more people and this has been easily counterbalanced by the increase in production.

The question to ask then is, if this can be achieved in an engineering or agricultural environment, how can we translate the theory into practice in our own businesses?

80% of United Kingdom GDP results from the service sector with only 20% coming from manufacturing and the like.  Doesn’t it seem obvious that it is the service sector that needs to look forensically at how it produces these services?  Indeed how can they be produced more effectively with the same workforce and even an enhanced workforce?

Perhaps we should take some time to assess precisely how we run our business, where we can help our people to improve their productivity, whether we can mechanise or digitise the methods we use and how would those changes be accepted by the people we lead?

The best people to ask about productivity are the people who are doing the job.  They know how it can be improved so have a brainstorming session and discuss it with them.  Trust then and they will come up with the answer.

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Sunday, 11 September 2016

Sorting Out Your Relationships? Consider This 2,000-Year-Old Wisdom!

A special friend of mine, Harold Woodward, recently sent me a little maxim for life knowing that I tend to collect them:

        “Be yourself; everybody else is take

I really like that and I find that it has resonance with a famous verse to be found in the Ethics of the Fathers (Heb: Pirkei Avot 1:14)

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am only for myself, what am I?  And if not now, when?”

Hillel the Elder said this in the 1st Century CE so perhaps we should ask ourselves why do we still need to look at how we relate to others and what action are we taking?

This ancient lesson deals with the tensions between the self and non-self.  In other words everyone struggles on a daily basis between what one does for oneself and what one expects from others.

Hillel is saying that the bottom line is that one’s life is in one’s own hands – don’t expect anyone to manage your life for you because they can’t and more often than not, they won’t.  You will only ever live the life that you create for yourself.

On the other hand if one’s focus is only on oneself to the exclusion of others then what values does this person have?  To be completely selfish is to lose touch with the rest of the world, to lose touch with life itself.

The point it seems to me is that, as usual, we have to find some sort of balance in our lives, to adjust our expectations of what others can or will do for us and to understand that we cannot take responsibility for other people’s problems.

We live in a society where the state takes responsibility for endeavouring to ensure that no one is left destitute or needing help.  It doesn’t always work that way of course but the main thrust of welfare for those that need it is manifest.

Sadly this has also resulted in the “I’m entitled” syndrome and that is corrosive.

I recall the story told to me by a past member of my Vistage CEO Peer Group who was appointed to the board of an NHS Trust.  At his first meeting during a break he was chatting to a senior executive about holidays and she said that she was going to South Africa for six weeks.

A little surprised he asked how this could be possible or even justified and was told that she had four weeks statutory holidays and as she also had two weeks “sick leave allowance” without having to send in medical evidence, then she was taking that as well.

The fact is that there can be a “something for nothing” attitude with some people and that means that if we are not careful in business, we can assume everyone is tarred with the same brush when this is manifestly not the case.

So many business leaders these days take a far more realistic and understanding view of the way that their people are treated.  In the main gone are the days of the brutal mill-owner who considered that the people were only extensions of the machinery and could be treated as such.

There is no question that any leader who treats his/her people properly and with respect, will find that there is a resultant payback; treat people properly and they will respond positively.

One of my members was so pleased with some work that a member of staff had done, staying very late to ensure that the task was completed and making sure that the customer was satisfied, that he sent to he home a card of thanks and some flowers.

Six months later according to a friend the card was still on show on the mantelpiece.

Treat people properly and responsibly with respect, understand their issues and problems without taking responsibility for solving them and that will create a society and relationships that are sustainable.

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Sunday, 4 September 2016

Good People And Good Communications Needed? Add To Those Great Attitude!

One of the members of my Vistage CEO Peer Group says that leadership is all about two factors: people and communications, and I agree with him.  There are one or two other factors that come into play but those two are paramount.

There is so much that can be read into a simple mantra.  Just to say “people” and leave it at that is simplistic in the extreme because if we employ people then we employ very differing attitudes, behaviours and commitments.

It takes time to get to know and understand what makes an individual tick and there is always a danger that we can come to a conclusion about them too quickly.

It is said that we assess a person within seven seconds of meeting them and I can well understand that.  For example Vistage speaker John Cremer uses a remarkable centuries old technique to read someone even before we shake hands.

That initial reading can and often does colour our assessment of that individual’s performance and it takes time and effort to make sure that our initial reading of them remains valid.

It has also been wisely said that as leaders we should always appoint the best possible people into important roles and then get out of their way and let them get on with it.

Very true and easier said than done.  Until we can assess someone over a reasonable period we don’t really know what they will achieve.  We have our expectations of course and those can be exceeded or not as the case may be.

The important thing is to have expectations that are realistic at least for the initial learning period and then increase them as the individual settles down into the role.

That takes of patience on the part of the leader and the question arises: how much time?  Just as much, I would suggest, that allows a genuine assessment of the person’s abilities and qualities.

What we always need is the right attitude first foremost and last with skills and experience coming second.  I recall an instance when one of my CEO members employed a management accountant who, he said, had great technical skills.

He lasted six weeks because one of his primary skills, that of doing the job, seemed to be low on his priority list.  He was very adept at the interview stage but certainly not at the reason for employing him.

Interviewing for attitude not skills is still a rare event.  Just take a look at job advertisements for senior people and see what they are asking of candidates.  Age, academic qualifications, length of service, experience in the same industry, experience at the same level of seniority and so on seem to be paramount.

All of those attributes are of value but the primary and essential need is for an attitude that will fit into the ethos of the business and with the people in the business.

That then is the primary aim of the leader; to have people around that will take on responsibility, act autonomously as necessary, make decisions, take action and accept that they are accountable for their actions, not in a disciplinary sense but certainly in learning mode.

The next question then arises, how best to communicate with these high-flying people?  

I am a great believer in the value of one-to-one meetings between the leader and the team members.  Over a period of time the relationships change and develop building mutual trust and understanding.

These one-to-ones have to be regular, on the diary and sacrosanct with the agenda always the responsibility of the team member.

What is also vital is clarity.   To often I hear issues ventilated that disappear in a fog of extraneous “evidence” that just gets in the way of the real point at issue.

Learning clarity, the ability to see through all the “stuff” that fogs discussion, cutting short (kindly) a lengthy explanation, and generally getting to the point, is an art that every leader needs to cultivate.

Leaders need to appoint great people and then communicate with clarity.  It’s as simple as that!

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