Monday, December 06, 2010

Trophy vs Tournament

So we didn’t get the World Cup and, instead of the England bid, which FIFA admitted was technically, financially and security-wise the best, the 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia, where it is difficult to grow grass and where corruption is rife!

But this is not sour grapes; I simply wanted to point out that there is always a problem when one culture meets another.  It reminded me of many years ago when a large IT company was selling computers to slightly dodgy countries.  At one point, so it was rumoured, it accepted payment for a mainframe computer with a container ship loaded with grain.  Eventually it stopped selling to those countries as the things it needed to do to secure the business did not sit well with its “whiter than white” corporate image.  So the result was that other companies sold to those countries instead.  But at least the company could hold its head high – or at least it could until it got done for passing bribes to US officials!

The reality is that corruption exists everywhere.  In our own country we have just had the MPs expenses scandal and before that the cash for honours debacle.  We may have a “free press” but that does not prevent it from being biased, opinionated and harmful in other ways.

So instead of moaning about how unfair and corrupt it all is, let’s get over the fact that we haven’t won the tournament and instead concentrate on winning the trophy.

Check Your Filters

Ever struggled to get the results you want?   Isn’t it frustrating?  I have been thinking recently that it must be a common complaint for members of the UK’s coalition government.

Good leadership of people requires an acceptance that they will respond to how they perceive your behaviours and not necessarily to your original intention. This is particularly true with communication. If the perceived message does not match the intended outgoing message then the point gets lost or is misinterpreted.

We all carry in our head pre-suppositions about how things should be, what certain behaviours mean, how people should behave and what's the right way to do things.

These pre-suppositions are like filters - and everyone’s filters are different. Being able to consciously recognise your own and others’ for what they are is a pre-requisite to good communication.  It helps to stop you assuming too quickly that you understand someone else’s intention – or they yours!

Accepting that different people carry different filters allows you to appreciate that if you want to “treat someone well” then your actions must be consistent with their filters about what “being treated well” looks like. For example, assume you want to thank and acknowledge someone for making a special effort. Your own preference might be to get a public thank you in front of an audience. But another person’s might be a private thank you and a small personal token, like a meal out with their partner. To make the right connection you need to understand others’ filters and preferences.

When I meet effective leaders I am often struck by their ability to read other people and then adjust their own behaviour to get the results they want. In doing this, they all display two vital ingredients: a desire to connect and curiosity.

Connecting people make the effort to determine the other person's perspective and respond to it. They think through the other person’s likely issues, concerns and hot buttons. They ask questions, listen carefully and probe for insights. This makes for increased understanding, better communications and better outcomes. 

Coalition politics are often fraught with problems because one person sees and hears things through a different filter to the person who originates an action.  Layer on top of that different objectives to start with and it just gets harder and harder!

Reading and responding to people more effectively is one way to get better results. I have seen many successful leaders reap the rewards of investing time in doing this better.

How well do you check your filters and seek fresh perspectives?

The Ghost of Work-Life Balance

I’ve always loved “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. It’s a salutary tale with a timeless relevance.

The Victorians never had the term work-life balance of course, but it’s clear from the story that Ebenezer Scrooge didn’t have much of a life – so consumed had he become by his business and the hoarding of wealth, that he had little time or inclination for anything else.

You may not consider yourself to be a “scrooge”, but in a prevalent culture of overwork, overstress and over-demand, it’s all too easy to be so consumed by what you have to do, that other importances, including family, relationships and community can unwittingly take second place.  Excess pressure and demand, can often have the effect of rendering important things unimportant, and unimportant things important. People virtually always say that family and relationships are more important than work, but in terms of where people devote their best energy and time, the reverse is often the case. 

Ebenezer was fortunate to be visited by the ghost of his former business partner, and by the three Christmas ghosts.  The Ghost of Christmas past reminded him of the vitality, innocence and goodwill of his youth. The Ghost of Christmas present prised his focus away from his self-obsessed concerns to the wider needs of the community. The piece de resistance was the Ghost of Christmas yet to come, where he was forced to confront the consequences of what he had become.  It was enough to cause an instant transformation and he went on to become the embodiment of generosity, compassion and kindness.

None of us will likely have the benefit or uncomfortability of such ghostly visitations, but it well worth taking the time to reflect.  Scrooge never set out in life to be a miser, it was circumstance that led him there.  We are all shaped by what we do, and the question is - are there unintended consequences?  Does the pressure of work cause you neglect things that are more important? Has the cut and thrust of how you have to be in business, affected your humanity and human values?  

Monday, November 01, 2010


Are you half empty or half full? This metaphor of a glass half way filled is often used to describe a person’s mindset and their attitude towards life. A person can look upon their life’s events as being “half done” as half the drink has gone, or as space to pour in half more – as there is room for more drink! In other words, people tend to adopt a pessimistic or optimistic outlook on life.

I am, like my father, the eternal optimist. To such an extent that my friends call me Polly Anna, always looking for goodness, seeing a different picture on sometimes dire circumstances and generally waving the flag of positive thinking. We are beautifully balanced by other family members who, living more in the half empty world, bring us back down to earth with a bump!

Of course there are benefits of allowing yourself to be pessimistic. My sister describes it as living her life in more of a realistic way, not allowing herself to be disappointed when things go wrong. And us optimists of course can learn from a healthy dose of realism. My friends do tell me that I drive them round the bend always looking for the positive, particularly in people.

But I do wonder if optimists have a better life, by constantly showering ourselves in positive thoughts? In thinking about this, here are some things that optimists, most likely subconsciously, do:
  • They reframe – this process is often used by coaches to help clients develop a new perspective around their issues. The thinking is that optimists live events as if they were enclosed and played out in a picture frame. Optimists are more able to expand the borders of the frame and change the content to play a different movie and outcome.
  • They are open to new landscapes – optimists often generate new possibilities and don’t limit themselves to the familiar. They are more prepared to sneak a peek at something new.
  • They learn – when, inevitably, things don’t go the way they want, they generally view the experience as something to put as a credit in their learning bank and approach differently next time.
  • They find another way to tell themselves they are lucky – even in the most difficult circumstances, optimists give themselves positive affirmations. Following bereavement for instance, as well as the obvious loss, there is a feeling of luck to have had that person in their life.
  • They visualise – optimists find a language or a way to look at a future full of possibilities. They are able to create a picture something to aim for that is different to now.
As with everything, there is a downside to each of the above. More pessimistic people would describe that better than me and of course people who describe themselves as more pessimistic also do the above. But I believe that optimists do them more naturally and automatically. And while I can learn from, be balanced by and injected with realism by my less optimistic friends, I am still happy where I am. After all, in the famous song from the famous Monty Python movie, even Brian was able to “Always look on the bright side of life”!

I would be very interested in your views via the blog.

Executive Stretch

Many executives and senior managers find themselves overstretched, often working excessively long hours with a consequence to their work-life balance. It’s a situation exacerbated by the recession, where the solution to economic difficulty is regularly touted as “achieving more with less”.

The concept is meant to translate into finding more efficient and effective ways of working, but all too often it results in doing the same things, the same way, but with less people and therefore simply an increase in everyone’s workload.

Yet for an executive, it’s not simply the volume of work that’s an issue, but the type of activities they spend their time in.

There’s a simple model that can help in understanding this. Consider that there are three levels of work.
•    Level 1: Future – strategy, direction, business development, change
•    Level 2: Overall management of current business operations
•    Level 3: Involvement in specific operational tasks, issues, problems, crisis

In a recent course, I asked a group of senior managers to consider how their time, by percentage, is typically split between these three levels. The results were interesting. Those that, by their own definition, were overstretched, were spreading their time between all three levels, often with level 1 activities suffering as a consequence of  their situation forcing them to spend more than 50% of their time in level 3 activities. In other words they were getting lost in the detail.

The model suggests that to be effective, executive time should be split between the top two levels, with most time being spent in level 1 – and only a small percentage of time, less than 10%, in level 3 activities.  Those that considered that they worked hard, but were not overstretched, had more of a tendency to this balance.

So it’s not the amount that people do, but the stretch between too many competing challenges at different levels that seems to cause a problem. The urgent things, as is so often the case, were taking precedence over the important things, and the short-term taking precedence over the long-term.

To address this the cycle has to be broken. This means making the time for activities that will lead to long-term results in readdressing the balance.  For example, taking the time to coach others in how to do things.  In the short-term this takes more time than simply doing whatever it is yourself, but in the long-term, it will enable you to delegate more.

Ultimately it’s a simple message. To become less over-stretched, to achieve better results for the business and to improve your work-life balance the most important question is not “how do I squeeze more into a day?” – but “what should I be doing, and what should I not be doing?”

Monday, October 04, 2010

Using pressure the right way

People achieve their best when under a certain degree of pressure; but too much pressure or the wrong kind of pressure can result in stress and a reduction in a person’s effectiveness.  For example, the nerves most people experience before giving a presentation can help you stay sharp – too few nerves and you might come across as being too relaxed or even blazĂ©; while too many nerves can be so debilitating that you fail to perform. 

Wise leaders know that it is good to give people roles, responsibilities and tasks that are just beyond their current capability. This stretches people and helps them develop.  Achieving stretch goals can also help build a person’s confidence, making them capable and willing to stretch themselves a little further next time.  But give people a task that is too far beyond what they can already do and it has the opposite effect – leading to a lack of confidence, anxiety and stress.

The key to understanding where the tipping point is between too little pressure and too much pressure is confidence. 

In training, athletes will frequently set themselves new targets, continuously pushing themselves to achieve higher and higher standards. But why don’t they simply set a winning target and work towards it?  The reason is that as human beings we perform best when our confidence is continually boosted by a succession of achievements; and with each success comes the impetus, momentum and confidence to aim for something even higher.

The secret to using pressure effectively is therefore to set lots of little targets that are stretching but achievable; and to then congratulate yourself and celebrate your success with each and every achievement.

But what I meant was ……

Mis-communication, mis-understanding and confusion can happen to all of us. Despite our best intentions, other people can pick up entirely the wrong message. Sometimes it’s merely annoying or even funny. Other times it can lead to disastrous consequences. It is interesting to speculate just how many good intentions but poor communications have led to the problems surrounding the Commonwealth Games and its late delivery.

It pays to step back and remember that the communication process is not simply one person saying/doing something and one person receiving and understanding. Instead we have a double filter system operating.

I start with an intention to communicate A to you. Using my filters, I decide to do behaviour B to express my intention. Unfortunately, through your filters, my behaviour means something quite different to my original intention. So you respond to what you think is my clear, but unfortunately completely erroneous, message. I see your behaviours and translate them back and so on.

For better communication and relationships, we need to keep remembering that everyone’s filters are different. They reflect our preferences, our experiences to date, cultural norms and assumptions. Some we may be aware of, others are deeply ingrained but opaque.

When mis-understanding happens it is worth examining:
(a)    did my behaviours competently indicate my intention in the first place?
(b)    what are the possible filters the recipient might have?
(c)    did I check understanding at the intention level or simply check “receipt”?

It is also worth remembering that being human is an imperfect activity!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Virtual Team Building

Social interaction is a fundamental human need. Human relationships and teams bring warmth, humour, energy, a sense of belonging, morale and motivation to the workplace, and it is well understood that team spirit increases productivity. It is no co-incidence that the name given to an incorporated business is a 'company'- and have you ever noticed how often people say when asked what’s great about their company that “it’s the people”?

In the pre-technological age teams were generally co-located. People worked together on tasks or in the same space as others performing similar tasks. The basic ingredient for tem building was present – people were actually together in one place.

In today’s world it’s a different picture. The last 10 years has seen an unprecedented rise in the existence of 'virtual' and 'remote' teams. People can spend the day working at home communicating through technology, or indeed – they can visit an office, occupy a hot desk, spend the day communicating with people in other locations while barely exchanging a word with the people sitting next to them.

The side effect can be an increase in social isolation. There may still be communication in a virtual team – but most of it is structured and work-related. As a consequence, relationship building, a necessary part of team building and team spirit, suffers.

Personal relationships and real teams benefit from unplanned communications – a conversation at the coffee machine, being able to let off steam with colleagues, spontaneous humour and ideas, sharing successes, personal stories and concerns.  Yet unplanned communication or communication ‘without agenda’ is often missing completely from modern technology-enabled teams.

If you lead a remote or virtual team you need to think about how to compensate for the lack of natural human interaction and how to provide new opportunities. Here are some ideas to get you going:
  • The obvious one. Arrange regular formal and informal meetings - there is simply no substitute.
  • Invite  virtual team members exchange photographs and biographies of themselves with each other.
  • Speak with and meet individual team members regularly – especially those who work at home.
  • Set up mentoring and coaching relationships within the team to encourage more one-to-one relationship building.
  • Agree shared tasks and actions – particular in relation to generating new ideas and proposals for the team and the business.
  • Invite team members who don’t know each other well to make a joint presentation for the next conference call.
  • Develop ways of bringing social exchange into the beginning of conference calls.  Swapping stories of weekends or holidays, talking about films, sport or news. Remember that this is important and if you’re the leader you’ll need to take the lead on this.
  • Ask the team to come up with ideas for enhancing team communications.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Inspired Words

I have just been bullied into joining the modern world by my kids and opening up a facebook account. My reluctance didn’t stem from my perpetual technophobia, but rather a suspicion (now confirmed) that I would find this social media utterly addictive. Being an innately curious person, I find it fascinating to delve into what makes people tick and I am particularly interested in the different quotes that people cite as being inspiring. I have dug into all my new found friends’ profiles to find a completely different range of quotes; from Chekhov’s “Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out”, to Einstein’s “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions” to “Life’s an ocean, sail it” (anon).

Any search engine will come up with a multitude of sites for inspirational quotes some of which are subscription based, so it appears that there is certainly a market for keeping us human beings inspired with words. But what is it about language that we find inspiring?

The poet is perhaps the master of inspiring language and as many poets will tell us, language is the ultimate power, influencing our perceptions and amending opinions, which is something politicians and the media also understand very well! Language for them is a palette, a keyboard, a block of marble, a medium from which they can create. Words are not therefore neutral, but have intentions, associations, connections. Rhythm, meter, use of metaphor etc are a powerful means to expression and to creating meaning for the reader. Our ordinary day to day language could be viewed as a stunted, stripped down and abbreviated shadow of what poetry could achieve. So when we read short quotes using extra-ordinary language, it is the difference to our everyday speech that is compelling and engaging for us and the association in our memories which makes it meaningful.

And because we all have different histories and memories we will find different quotes thought provoking, motivational and personal to us – for all sorts of different reasons. I do however struggle with some of the “inspirational” quotes my facebook friends had selected as their favourites such as Homer Simpson’s “You tried, you failed, so the lesson is, stop trying”. But I did particularly like another take on failure from the basketball player Michael Jordan “I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed”.

What's your favorite quote?

Monday, July 05, 2010

A Call to Action – For Men and Women

Is now the time when women will take a much greater leadership role? This was a core question being asked at the Deutsche Bank Women in European Business Conference last week. The answer was a resounding “yes” from speakers such as Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20-first and business commentator RenĂ© Carayol. “It should be” was more the tone of the speakers leading major industries such as Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone Group and Colin Grassie, CEO of Deutsche Bank UK.

The business case for becoming “gender bi-lingual” is very strong for many businesses. Firstly, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox states, the biggest single, growing, poorly-tapped market for many large companies is not China, India or Brazil – it’s women in their existing home markets. Her message is that companies are still working to gender assumptions that men wield the economic power. Their products and their communications are designed to “speak” to men. Those companies that become gender bi-lingual create real competitive advantage.

Secondly, in our inter-connected business world, the skills of collaborative working, networking, and understanding people are more and more vital. Women have been shown time and again to be stronger at these skills.

So what’s at the heart of gender bi-lingual communication? For Heidi Mottram, newly appointed CEO of Northumbrian Water, it is about creating values based organisations – values that transcend male/female stereo-types. But if the top team of the company is all male, and the layer below is all, or nearly all, male, how do you create a real understanding of what those values should be - and how they should be expressed?

As someone who has listened to this debate for decades now, the answers from the conference made sense to me:
•    get more women into leadership roles
•    stop “fixing” the women and start fixing the culture!
•    trust those women to succeed by thinking and acting as women leaders, with different skills, rather than behaving like a man

If those are the answers for you too - what’s your role in making it happen?

More balances to consider

Balancing your time between work and life is an important consideration in managing stress.  But leading a fulfilled, enjoyable, purposeful life, involves the consideration of many balances. Here are a range of other balances important to life, where the question for anyone is “have I got the balance right”.  There isn’t a magic formula, but there is a balance that’s right for you

1.    Being at pressure vs. simply relaxing
2.    Being planned with a schedule vs. being unplanned and spontaneous
3.    Projecting into the future vs. living in the moment
4.    Doing what you need to do vs. what you want to do
5.    Satisfaction with what you have in your life now vs. striving to achieve more
6.    Managing and directing others vs. coaching and empowering others
7.    Taking risks vs. avoiding risks
8.    Responding to your own needs vs. addressing the needs of others
9.    Reaching for new ideas vs. fulfilling current plans.
10.  Seriousness vs. humour
11.  Rational thought vs. creativity
12.  Asserting your own interests vs. listening to others
13.  Doing what you always do vs. trying something different
14.  Saying yes to others vs. saying no

Summer holidays are a great time to reassess the balances in your life and recharge the batteries ready for the rest of the year.  More importantly, the better the job you do of maintaining your balances, the less you’ll need a holiday and the more you’ll be able to enjoy it.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Happy Mondays

I met a lady the other day at a networking event, whose title was CEO – not the usual interpretation, but Chief Euphoria Officer! Her job was all about ensuring their work environment was a happy one – as well of course as a successful one. That got me thinking – what can we do for ourselves to ensure we have that spring in our step on a Monday morning as we head into another working week?

Clearly the more we enjoy what we do at work, the more likely we are to look forward to it and thrive when doing it. Research into employee engagement (Gallup) talks about when people focus strengths they are six times more likely to be engaged at work and more than three times as likely to report an excellent quality of life in general. But how many of us really know what our strengths are?

Think over your working life so far, including your years of study, and recall those times when you were really in your flow, where work came easily to you even when you were tired, where you felt challenged yet motivated, fulfilled and satisfied. Then think of the opposite scenario – when you felt bogged down in the day to day churn of doing something, where the mere thought of that something made you feel lethargic and miserable. Chances are that you will be using more of your natural style in the former situation. Even if your job isn’t a complete match, find ways in your day to use your natural style – if you like working with numbers, find a way to work on the analysis for your department; if you particularly like people interaction, make sure you plan conversations into the day.

Here are some other tips and hints to help make sure you have great days at work:
         Don’t say yes to everything
         Take time to mix with other people
         Watch your posture and breathe
         Get some fresh air
         Arrange your workspace your way
         Have great evenings and weekends!

    The reality is that we don’t need a Chief Euphoria Officer to feel happy at work, we just need to keep conscious of playing to our strengths and focusing on the things we enjoy. As with everything, life is a choice, and if your Mondays aren’t happy, it may be time to move on.

    Living With Uncertainty

    My travel plans have been disrupted twice recently by volcanic ash, and it served as a potent reminder that no matter how much we try,  we simply cannot be in control of all circumstances that may impact our lives and schedules.

    Whilst a decade ago advice about time management and work life balance focused on taking control, the times we are in now call for a different approach.  We live in increasingly uncertain and unpredictable times, and all the trends suggest we’d better get used to it. 

    We may have survived the first wave of the recent recession and bank crisis, but now we have sovereign debt crisis,  deep spending cuts,  uncertainty about inflation and deflation and for many  a continuing period of job insecurity to deal with.  All this is to say nothing of the impact of climate change and its as yet unknown impact on the economy, food, water the lives and livelihood of many in the world.  It’s not so hard to reach the conclusion that the future is going to be different – it’s certainly not going to be “business as usual”.

    So if the watchwords used to be “take control”, what are they now? Certainly accepting uncertainty is one key.  I was very frustrated when the ash cloud first disrupted my work schedule, but the second time it happened I’d already become more philosophical about it. 

    A second key is agility and adaptability – being prepared to adapt ones plans, strategies and goals according to changing circumstances.  Even being prepared to adapt one’s lifestyle is going to be important. I know several people whose career consists of a series of international assignments. Every few years they up sticks and move with their families to a new country and a new culture. They’ve trained themselves to be able to adapt quickly to new circumstances that impact all aspects of their lives. 

    Adaptability goes hand in hand with flexibility, which has an apt dictionary definition – “the ability to bend without breaking”!  In practical terms this means being able to adjust our time usage, work, schedules and priorities as they arise – and just doing it rather than getting stressed about it.

    A third key is “readiness” and by this I mean being ready for anything, rather than just specifically prepared for certain situations. One international trouble-shooter I know keeps a bag permanently packed so he’s ready to travel at a moment’s notice.

    But more than this readiness is an attitude. It’s to do with expecting the future to be different, anticipating and preparing where you can, and being ready to change, adapt and respond to the opportunity rather than the difficulties that the future will bring.

    Wednesday, June 02, 2010

    They Called Their Website WHAT?!

    In a new book entitled "Slurls: They Called Their Website WHAT?!" the author Anndy Geldman lists 150 domain names that pay homage to the wonderful mistakes people can make when converting the name of their company or product into a single word domain name.  

    Examples include a site listing MP3 music hits entitled or the site belonging to the American broadcaster, author and columnist Benjamin Dover - yes, you guessed it  If only he'd been as sensible as Michael Hunt and Richard Head who were savvy enough to use their full names.

    Please add your own example of marketing or naming faux pas as comments below.

    Friday, May 07, 2010

    Can managers be both agreeable and successful?

    In a recent article, Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University College London, argued that the most successful business managers are disagreeable people. In his words: "Agreeable people are certainly more popular than disagreeable people. But agreeableness is not an asset in the boardroom, the courtroom or on the battlefield. Being competitive, critical and sceptical of others’ behaviour and motives works well for people in business. You have to be vigilant for the tricks of your competitors. Business is about survival of the fittest: it is not a gentleman’s game."

    However, in my opinion, this is complete rubbish!  From a personal perspective, I remain close friends with several of the bosses I have worked extremely hard for in the past and I am still friends with many of the people who have worked for me.

    If you are a good manager, friendship, kindness and appreciation are not traits that need to be confused with performance, efficiency and effectiveness.  But what are your views – do you think people work best for a bully or for someone they like?

    Click here to read the full article on the Extensor website, or here to read the article by Professor Furnham.

    Brilliant Bank Holidays!

    Have you ever noticed how Bank Holidays are some of the best days off work you ever have?  They are not like holidays, not like work days and not like the weekend – they are unique!

    The reason that they are unlike holidays is because holidays bring with them their own stresses – making sure you get to where you are going, that you have all your luggage, that you remembered the passports and, worst of all, that you don’t waste a single moment of that precious time off!

    The reason they are not like weekends is because by the time the Bank Holiday arrives, you have already had the weekend.

    Bank Holidays are the best days off because they are a bonus – completely free time.  Not so much that you can plan a holiday and no so little that you can’t achieve anything – just a random day off.  And that is why they are so relaxing!

    In fact, the only bad thing about Bank Holidays is that you can’t choose when to have them.  Just think how brilliant it would be if you were told you could chose when to take your Bank Holidays, but why can’t you?

    Next time you are planning how you are going to use your annual holiday days, why not plan in one or two “Bank Holidays” of your own?  Schedule in an odd day off, all by itself, with nothing planned for it other than to be lazy and do nothing in particular.

    If people say that Bank Holidays are the best days off they ever have, why not have more of them?

    Looking After Your Pearls

    Recently I got an email entitled “How to Look After Your Pearls”. Being in the personal performance business I opened it expecting some wisdom on life. I was somewhat amused and a little disappointed that it was actually about caring for pearl jewellery. But it got me thinking about what it might have said…..

    What are the “pearls” in your life? You might think about pearls of wisdom which have helped you with difficult choices or situations. They might be principles which guide you, enlighten you or simply clarify things for you.

    For many of us, the relationships in our lives are like a string of pearls: sometimes prominent around us and sometimes overlooked. Relationships bring some of the most precious experiences in our lives: love, fun, friendship, support, respect, encouragement and validation. They play a pivotal role in our working lives bringing access to monetary reward, intellectual stimulation, information, knowledge and opportunity. How those relationships are working makes the major difference between a good day and a bad day or even a good job versus a bad job.

    Like pearls, relationships need some care and attention to be their best. They need regular contact to keep their lustre.

    Pearls are susceptible to contaminants like water and perfume. What contaminants creep into relationships? Poor communication? Perceived lack of respect?  Loss of openness and honesty? Forgetfulness? Contaminants are best acknowledged and dealt with quickly and appropriately.

    Damaged pearls need attention and replacement or they affect the look and value of the whole. Relationships change over time. We have to face the need to polish them up again or let them go and replace them with more fitting ones.

    New pearls – well they may well be valuable assets too. In business, taking the opportunity to make that network call or ring that sales prospect might well lead to new and rewarding things you can’t yet see. A lot of people shy away from networking for all sorts of reasons. But an effective network, well maintained, quickly brings you knowledge, insights, opportunities, connections to others and recommendations. So the investment can pay back many times – you just may not know when.

    The email may not have been on the subject I was expecting, but looking after your pearls is definitely good advice.

    Hung Parliament

    Despite the dire warnings, we have ended up with a "hung parliament". But is this really so bad? After all, many other countries have coped with this situation for years, for example, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Canada, to name but a few.

    And is it really so bad for business? When Italy found itself withy a hung parliament the then US President Ronald egan asked the US Ambassador to Italy, Joseph LaPalombara, whether the markets would react badly? “No, Mr President,” answered LaPalombara. “Quite the contrary. Without a single party having a majority, no populist political action will be taken. It will be business as usual. The markets quite like it.

    A diametrically opposite view was once put by Lord Reith, who said that the best form of government was a dictatorship tempered by the threat of assassination.

    What is your view? Do you think a hung parliament will be good, bad or indifferent for your organisation?

    Monday, April 12, 2010

    Spring forward

    At the end of March, every year the clocks change and I always have to think hard if I am going to lose or gain an hour of sleep. The mantra “spring forward, fall back” helps with my thinking; however it also holds a message about the mood of the upcoming seasons. Spring is about longer days, lighter nights, growth, sunshine, potential and happiness – and maybe “fall” is about nurturing, warmth, reflection, hibernation!

    Let’s stick with the spring message. Spring heralds colour, blooming plants, daffodils in the local parks – and our psychology can mirror all that growth and possibility. But sometimes we want to languish in the winter days, spending a little longer under the duvet than we should, wrapping ourselves up and making excuses.

    Get a spring in your step, throw off the duvet and abandon the winter – here are some ideas:

    1. Write a list of all the easy, simple things that you have done or would like to do that would make you smile or laugh or simply brighten your day – and then do one or two of them, or more! This will get you in the mood to reenergise. My list contained the following: Playing noughts and crosses with the kids, pillow fights, eating a ‘99’ ice cream, listening to Take That, watching a Billy Connelly DVD, having a hazelnut coffee at Starbucks, telling jokes with my mates.

    2. Get excited about your goals – talk to others about them, build anticipation about how you will get there, get inspiration from your past successes and from other people. It is important to feel excited so you move towards your goals as excitement is a real magnet.

    3. Socialise, don’t be isolated. Spend time with your support network and talk to them, keep it simple, have a coffee, go for a meal, to the cinema, bowling – whatever, but talking and sharing has a hugely positive effect on your energy and motivation.

    4. Get outdoors – many GPs state that the most sustainable treatment for depression is exercise – not anti-depressants – and outdoors is the best. Bill Oddie, the BBC presenter of Springwatch, has no doubt that contact with nature has helped his depression. Our caveman friends saw lots of daylight; getting up at sunrise and going to sleep at sunset. Exposure to sunlight for 30 minutes a day helps keep your internal clock set. This circadian rhythm helps to regulate our sleep/wake cycle and insures a good night’s sleep which in turn, helps our physical and mental health.

    So, when you read this, it may well be raining, but trust me, spring is here, the daffodils prove it, so pull yourself up and get a spring in your step!

    I hope you enjoy the ‘99’ ice cream as much as I did!

    Author: Gill McKay

    Coping with emergencies

    No matter how good you are at maintaining a good work-life balance, unforeseen emergencies will occur and throw your best laid plans out of the window.

    How well you cope in a crisis and how quickly your recover from it are both aspects of resilience.  So what are the key approaches that can improve your personal resilience?

    First there’s the state you are in when the emergency occurs. The more energy you have in reserve the better able you are to handle a crisis. If there’s already excessive stress in your life, you will have less to draw on to handle the unexpected.  That’s a good enough reason to have a sound work-life balance in the first place! If you already have too much to cope with, what’s going to happen when a crisis hits?

    Second, how well prepared you are?  It is amazing how many crises could have been avoided with a bit of additional knowledge or planning.  For example, most people would struggle if they lost all the contact details of people stored in their mobile phone or if they had their laptop stolen, but relatively few people take the trouble to learn how to back-up their important data and to then do so on a regular basis.  Sometimes you can get the impression that people’s approach to the thought of crisis is to convince themselves that it will never happen!

    Thirdly there the question of how well you react in a crisis.  Broadly speaking people’s reactions tend to fall into one of three categories; those who freeze with fear, those who panic, and those who act sensibly according to what the situation calls for.  Unfortunately, unless you have ever experienced a real crisis it is impossible to tell how you will react but you can be prepared.  Experts in the field always tell people to slow down, to take deep breaths and not to allow yourself to be rushed into making bad decisions.

    Lastly there is the question of how quickly you will recover following a crisis.  There are no quick answers or simple techniques here, but all the experts point to the importance that friends, family and, in extreme cases, professional counsellors can play.

    As a final thought, don’t be superstitious! Preparing yourself to better handle emergencies doesn’t make them happen!

    Author: Nick Woodeson

    Planning for Success

    Society is gradually becoming more and more risk-averse – children are being stopped from playing conkers or climbing trees for fear that they might hurt themselves, the annual cheese-rolling competition in Gloucestershire has been cancelled on health and safety grounds, and in the latest act of madness, Northamptonshire Police Force have delayed the introduction of bicycles for its officers until they have each received 10 hours of training.  

    The same is true in business where managers are increasingly being encouraged to plan for the worst:  What if we fail?  How much contingency is there in the plan?  Have you completed a risk assessment?

    Against this background it is not surprising that very little effort is dedicated to the risk of success.  But just as an unanticipated risk can cause more damage than an anticipated one, so an unanticipated opportunity can result in reduced profitability over one that was anticipated.

    Indeed, since profit is, by definition, the reward for risk, it may even be that viewed in a different way, even the risks themselves may present new opportunities.

    In the same way as large companies will have contingency plans for the outbreak of Swine Flu, for terrorist attacks or for what would happen if their head office burned down, should they not also dedicate a similar amount of effort to ensure that they are just as prepared if a major competitor went out of business or if demand increased significantly?

    Click here to read the main article on the Extensor web site.

    Thursday, April 01, 2010

    Two Cow Capitalism (A Simple Lesson in Economics)

    Whoever wrote this should be congratulated on simplifying and explaining an otherwise complex subject.

    You have two cows.
    You sell one and buy a bull.
    Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.
    You sell them and retire on the income.

    You have 2 cows.
    You give one to your neighbour.

    You have 2 cows.
    The State takes both and gives you some milk.

    You have 2 cows.
    The State takes both and sells you some milk.

    You have 2 cows.
    The EU takes one because otherwise you would be ‘over-quota’ in milk production, milks it, stores the milk in the form of milk powder in warehouses all over Europe so an not to perversely depress the global price of milk, taxes you to the hilt via your national Government and then gives the money to people who don’t produce milk in exchange for their commitment to continue not producing milk.

    You have two cows.
    You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt-for-equity swap with an associated public offering so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
    The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
    The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.
    You sell one cow to pay yourself a massive bonus, leaving you with nine cows.
    When you file for bankruptcy the Government bails you out as what you have done is so complicated that no one knows what the consequences would be if they let you go bankrupt.
    The Government then takes the credit for saving the economy while the public is forced to buy your bull.

    You have two giraffes.
    The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

    You have two cows.
    You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
    Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has dropped dead.

    You have two cows.
    You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you wish you had more.

    You have two cows.
    You bred cows at a rate faster than anyone would have believed and sold them all over the world.
    Now you have to recall hundreds of thousands of cows due to a milking problem and explain yourself before a Senate committee in the US. However, there is a possibility of you getting off by blaming the udder guy.

    You have two cows.
    You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month and milk themselves.

    You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are.
    You decide to have lunch.

    You have two cows.
    You count them and learn you have five cows.
    You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn you have 2 cows.
    You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.

    You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you.
    You charge the owners for storing them.

    You have two cows.
    You have 300 people milking them.
    You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
    You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

    You have two cows.
    You worship them.

    Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
    You tell them that you have none.
    No-one believes you, so they invade your country.
    You still have no cows, but at least you are now a Democracy.

    You have two cows.
    Business seems pretty good.
    You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

    You don’t have any money but you would like some cows.
    You borrow massive amounts of money from a bank securitised against the value of the cows you then buy.
    You pay the cows vast sums of money to play football only to find they are not really very good at it.
    When the money runs out you go bankrupt, but it doesn't really matter as you paid yourself fabulously and can now afford to retire.