Thursday, 29 December 2011

A More Challenging End Of The Year Quiz

A few people have commented that the first End of the Year Quiz was too easy to answer, so here, by request, is a slightly more taxing version.  The same rules apply as before, i.e. there are twelve questions, one for each month of the year.  The questions are about events and news that occurred in 2011.  If you take the first letter of each answer (in chronological order) they will spell out my hopes for you for 2012.  I hope you enjoy the challenge and that it reminds you of some of the many things that have happened.

  1. Japan’s biggest medical dispute was settled on 23rd January with 430,000 people receiving payments.  What was the infection that they claimed that they had been exposed to due to the re-use of needles?
  2. After singing at the Brit Awards in February, this singer shot to number one in the UK singles chart, while her album was already the top seller.  She became the first artist, since The Beatles, to achieve a double top five hit, one in each of the singles and albums charts.  The song sung at The Brits Awards was a number one hit around the world and her album topped album charts in 18 countries, including the USA.
  3. In what country, in March, did 29 year old Eman al-Obeidi burst into the Rixos Hotel and tell stunned foreign journalists that she had been detained, beaten and gang-raped by 15 members of the governing militia, thereby fuelling global support for a regime change?
  4. Which country recorded its first trade deficit in six years on 19th April, blaming the rise in commodity prices for the adverse figures?
  5. What is the full name of the Prime Minister of Pakistan who, in May, publicly denied that his country was or had been collaborating with al-Qaeda and warned the US that it will defend its air space from incursions, following the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad?
  6. Can you name the Kurdish artist who hung 208 guitars from 16 lime tress to welcome guests to the German town of Dusseldorf at the time of its hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in June?  The art installation was to represent Peace.  At the end of the project the instruments were sold off with the proceeds going to the city’s kindergartens.
  7. What is the full name of the winner of the Men’s Final at Wimbledon (he beat his rival 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3)?  He is the only player to have beaten his opponent in two consecutive Grand Slam finals.
  8. In which London suburb were police cars set on fire on the main thoroughfare, the High Road, in response to the Metropolitan Police shooting of 29 year old, father-of-four Mark Duggan two days previously, which is claimed to have ignited the August riots in England?  You might be interested to know that the High Road traces the route of the former Roman Road, Ermine Street and has been the site of trouble at frequent intervals over the centuries. 
  9. Which UK commission, chaired by John Vickers, recommended on September 12th that British banks should separate their retail banking divisions from their investment banking arms to safeguard against riskier banking activities?
  10. Which organization completed its acquisition of Skype for US$ 8.5 billion on 14th October?
  11. On 13th November, what guise did undercover British police officer Mark Kennedy admit to assuming, when he was used by the police forces of 22 countries, was responsible for the closing down of the Youth House community centre in Copenhagen and committed two crimes (one of which was arson) on behalf of the German police between 2004 and 2009?
  12. What is the English version of the name of the female panda welcomed to Edinburgh Zoo in December, along with her fellow giant panda Sunshine (Yang Guang)?


As before, the questions are chosen for the month in which they occur and to provide an appropriate letter, rather than for their level of importance and impact.  Please contact me if you want the answers.

Enjoy the last few days of 2011.  It has been a pleasure sharing the year with you.

Monday, 26 December 2011

End of the Year Quiz

As the year draws to a close, here is your chance to test how well you have been following world events throughout 2011.  There is one question for each month of the year (although they are not posed in chronological order).  The first letter of each answer, according to the numerical responses, will spell out my 2012 greeting to you.

  1. What is the forename of the Egyptian President, Mubarak, who resigned on February 11th, following widespread protests calling for his departure, thereby leaving Egypt under control of the military (until a general election can be held), as part of the so-called “Arab Spring”?
  2. What was the name of NASA’s last Space Shuttle, which returned to Earth on 21st July 2011 after its final journey into Space, ending the USA’s 30 year Space Shuttle programme?
  3. In which country was Osama Bin Laden, when he was found and killed by a United States’ Special Forces military unit on May 2nd?
  4. Which country was admitted as a member of UNESCO on 31st October, following a vote in which 107 member states supported and 14 opposed?
  5. On 16th November it was announced that this had broken through the 1 million mark to a record high in the UK, i.e. one in five 16-24 year olds are impacted.
  6. In which city did circa 100 people die following a petrol pipeline explosion on September 12th
  7. What happened prior to the Tsunami that hit Japan on 11th March, resulting in significant devastation, loss of life and damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant?
  8. Where were Prince William and Kate Middleton married on 29th April?
  9. President Ali Abdullah, who felt compelled to travel to Saudi Arabia on June 5th to receive treatment of an injury sustained during an attack on his palace as part of the Arab Spring uprisings, presides over which country?
  10. Which country joined the European Union and adopted the Euro as its currency on January 1st?  I bet this was not the economic environment it wished to join!
  11. Which President’s government is confident that the Arab League observers, due to arrive in Damascus on Monday, will confirm that the 23 deaths that occurred in Homs today (26th December) are the result of “armed gangs” - as supposedly are the other 5,000 deaths (according to UN calculations) that have taken place in this country during 2011?
  12. What happened in England between the 6th and 10th August, resulting in the death of 5 individuals, an estimated £200 million worth of property damage and the arrest of 3,100 people?


I would like to stress that I have not chosen what I see as the only important news items and events.  I limited myself to twelve occurrences, one for each month of the year.  Let me know if you need the answers…

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The 12 Days of HR to enable Business Success

On the first day of Christmas, HR sent a decree:
Please use the K.P.I.s from L&D

On the second day of Christmas, HR sent a decree:
ER has soft gloves;
And we’ll use the K.P.I.s from L&D

On the third day of Christmas, HR sent a decree:
True succession plans;
ER has soft gloves;
And we’ll use the K.P.I.s from L&D

On the fourth day of Christmas, HR sent a decree:
Resourcing certs.;
True succession plans;
ER has soft gloves;
And we’ll use the K.P.I.s from L&D

On the fifth day of Christmas, HR sent a decree:
Engagement sings;
Resourcing certs.;
True succession plans;
ER has soft gloves;
And we’ll use the K.P.I.s from L&D

On the sixth day of Christmas, HR sent a decree:
Benefits are paying;
Engagement sings;
Resourcing certs.;
True succession plans;
ER has soft gloves;
And we’ll use the K.P.I.s from L&D

On the seventh day of Christmas, HR sent a decree:
Good ideas are brimming;
Benefits are paying;
Engagement sings;
Resourcing certs.;
True succession plans;
ER has soft gloves;
And we’ll use the K.P.I.s from L&D

On the eighth day of Christmas, HR sent a decree:
Great minds are a-thinking;
Good ideas are brimming;
Benefits are paying;
Engagement sings;
Resourcing certs;.
True succession plans;
ER has soft gloves;
And we’ll use the K.P.I.s from L&D

On the ninth day of Christmas, HR sent a decree:
Training is advancing;
Great minds are a-thinking;
Good ideas are brimming;
Benefits are paying;
Engagement sings;
Resourcing certs.;
True succession plans;
ER has soft gloves;
And we’ll use the K.P.I.s from L&D

On the tenth day of Christmas, HR sent a decree:
We won’t be a-sleeping;
Training is advancing;
Great minds are a-thinking;
Good ideas are brimming;
Benefits are paying;
Engagement sings;
Resourcing certs.;
True succession plans;
ER has soft gloves;
And we’ll use the K.P.I.s from L&D

On the eleventh day of Christmas, HR sent a decree:
No grievances or griping;
We won’t be a-sleeping;
Training is advancing;
Great minds are a-thinking;
Good ideas are brimming;
Benefits are paying;
Engagement sings;
Resourcing certs.;
True succession plans;
ER has soft gloves;
And we’ll use the K.P.I.s from L&D

On the twelfth day of Christmas, HR sent a decree:
We’ll get this business humming;
No grievances or griping;
We won’t be a-sleeping;
Training is advancing;
Great minds are a-thinking;
Good ideas are brimming;
Benefits are paying;
Engagement sings;
Resourcing certs.;
True succession plans;
ER has soft gloves;
And we’ll use the K.P.I.s from L&D

Sunday, 11 December 2011

My Gem of a Week

I am a week into my new role and I still feel as though I have stepped into a different world – each organization has its own lingo, customs, history and, as a traveller in a new land, I need to learn the ropes as fast as I can.  The best way I know to acclimatise and gain my bearings is to talk to people and, as a result, I have taken part in an intensive session of back-to-back meetings in various countries and cities over the past five days.  Like many Groups we have large operational centres of excellence and smaller offices that provide specialist skills. The more I see, the more I am amazed at the breadth and depth of experience we have within the business – it has exceeded my expectations. Mind you the combined calibre and complexity will keep me on my toes.


I am writing this on the plane, flying back from visiting some of my new colleagues who are based in Switzerland.  Needless to say, now that Advent is in full swing, the Swiss towns and villages are festooned with decorations.  Glittering Christmas trees sparkle in town squares, cascades of twinkling lights drip from bare branches in the avenues and festive stalls, like fancy-dressed Wendy Houses, sell Gl├╝wein, fresh roasted chestnut, cheese and chocolates to the passing public.


I love Christmas – the sparkle, the smiles and generosity.  To an extent my new job is proving to be a bit like Christmas – people are friendly and supportive (the smiles), they have been very generous with their time – especially as we are currently determining next year’s budgets, finalising annual appraisals and agreeing objectives for 2012 and beyond.  The world is a challenging place for all and I know that I am expected to provide “the sparkles” going forward:–

  • ·       helping further polish some excellent leaders;
  • ·       anticipating the direction and needs of the business and, with that knowledge, devising appropriate approaches to ensure that our gem-like employees can achieve their true potential; and
  • ·       providing an environment and setting in which diverse people can shine helping our customers.


Some of the best things that sparkle are hard, for example diamonds.  For centuries diamonds have been seen, in almost every culture, as a symbol of clarity, stability, ascension and wisdom.  It was Daniel Defoe who likened a man’s spirit to a diamond – although initially appearing dull, with polish and effort the inner lustre can be encouraged to shine.  Traditionally diamonds were only worn by men – and were frequently embedded into breastplates and helmets to act as supernatural charms, as well as providing physical protection.  It is not surprising that the word diamond comes from the ancient Greek “Adamas” meaning the unconquerable.  Diamonds have often been the subject of disputes and/or used to finance wars (Queen Elizabeth I pawned the famous Sancy Diamond, which can now be viewed in The Louvre, to finance a Dutch war against Spain and, despite his belief in its protective powers, this same diamond failed to save Charles I when he carried it as his talisman during the English Civil War).  


Most objects of any value tend to cause trouble (look at the recent debates in Europe over the Eurozone resulting in David Cameron’s decision to use the UK’s veto as a means of protecting The City and country’s financial institutions); wars occur over land, oil, water or whatever we value at a given time.  People fight over possessions, money and material goods - divorce illustrates this and the divorce rate in the UK is rising, it is currently at a 4.9% increase since 2009.  This increase is being credited in part to the economic impact of the recession, which is putting financial pressure on couples. We live in difficult times and need to find ways to refocus ourselves.  Sonja Henie once said that “Jewellery takes people’s minds off your wrinkles”, I actually think that wrinkles and hence experience are to be valued and that gems are there to enhance rather than divert.


Robert Ludlum once said:

 “The most precious jewels are not made of stone, but of flesh”

and, as the Chinese say, 


             “a gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials”.  


They are right.  It is crucial in these demanding times that organisations and individuals make the required effort to improve. 


Change is often uncomfortable; frequently the transition from the past to the future does not prove easy, as people struggle with devising and learning to do things in a different way.  



  • The irony is not lost on me that, as profits shrink and organisations look for ways to reduce costs, the Training budget is frequently one of the first things to be cut.  How can people learn to do something in a new and better way, thereby enhancing their employer’s performance, without an investment (in money, time and managerial support) to enable effective change?  
  • Since 2008 there are few businesses that have not been forced to make people redundant.  It concerns me that, despite legislation and employment law regulating the manner in which redundancies have to be handled, it is frequently the individuals who are prepared to stand out and propose improvements in approaches and methodology who are the ones who are selected to go, because they “don’t fit” and are “disruptive”.  We need disruptive people to improve on the ways we have done things in the past and to ensure our futures. 
  • Humans usually learn new ways of doing things and improve their performance through trial and error (think of a baby learning to walk – there are frequent tumbles and bumps until the required technique is perfected).  Despite this, when the business environment is tough, many organisations become increasingly intolerant of error.  To foster business improvement we need to shift our attitudes so that a degree of error is tolerated.  Provided that people learn from their mistakes and apply their learnings, errors need to be accepted, so that change can occur.  The number and degree of errors and potential losses can be controlled by good management and effective training.


One of my objectives for next year is to enable enhanced performance across the Group.  To do so we will be bolstering our training and L&D functions.  Benjamin Franklin once said that “there are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond and to know one’s self”.  I need to help people understand their strengths and weaknesses; to build on what they are good at and the things they enjoy doing that add value.  I am considering using a new tool: htt://www.viewsonyou.com/ that enables people to better understand how others see them and to compare these views to their own self-perceptions.  Your comments on the site and ways in which it can be improved would be much appreciated.  I think it can be utilised in a variety of ways to improve individual, team and business performance.


Returning to my theme of jewels, in numerous cultures around the world diamonds were believed to be fragments of the stars.  I would like to leave you with the thought that it is in dark times that the stars shine best. 




 I’m pleased to say that, given the gems that surround me, I am optimistic for the future.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Winning Ways

Sorry for my radio silence over the past ten days.  As some of you know, I’m not always very good at keeping stum; my enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of me.   Indeed there have been times when I wish I’d listened and paid closer attention, rather than leaping in with both size fives.  It is important to be aware of how an individual will respond to you, as well as the message you wish to get across.  The following humourous film clip works because the makers knew that people are not good at focusing on more than one thing at a time, especially when asked to concentrate on something specific.  Mind you, even I would probably be more alert than some of the people in this video:


I demonstrated my eagerness getting the better of me last week, when I was taking part in an excellent team development day run by Rob Jones (former Global Head of L&D at Mothercare).  Rob is one of the leading lights at Trainer’s Kitbag (http://trainerskitbag.com/) and he and some other global experts in Learning and Development have devised, amongst other things, a great outdoor version of Monopoly which takes people away from the conventional, indoor training environment and hence encourages more natural responses and behaviours.  I am ambitious and, in my haste to score a much needed point, I was nearly the downfall of my team.  I did not pay close enough attention to the phrasing of a task and hence almost rushed us off on a wild goose chase.  It was a good thing that there were others there to challenge me.  Short term gains, at the expense of longer term, sustainable results and true value creation, are topical themes at the moment.  If only more people had been brave enough to speak up and challenge others when they spotted potential risks to the business and customers, then perhaps we would not be in quite such an economic mess globally.

I don’t want to say too much about my day playing Monopoly, as to do so could damage the experience and learnings for you.  Despite the simplicity of the concept, it had been very cleverly thought through ,to ensure maximum returns.  The game can be used in a variety of ways, such as to:

·         encourage self-awareness;

·         demonstrate team dynamics;

·         develop bonds and collaboration amongst strangers who need to work together;

·         ascertain individual and team reactions to setbacks and to build resilience;

·         provide a window for leaders and managers to understand their teams;

·         enable people to try out new leadership styles in a “safe environment”; and to

·         foster certain desirable behaviours and highlight less effective approaches.


If you want to know more (and see some photos from our session) click on this link:


By way of an explanation for my silence, I have been very busy tying up loose ends and preparing myself for a fantastic new role.  I have just joined Stonehage, an amazing Group founded in 1976, whose business model is entirely dependent on trust and understanding.  What a gift for an HR professional – an environment where we have to ensure that the internal culture matches the approach and service provided to clients.  That’s not to say it will be easy – to be exemplary I and my team need to demonstrate amongst other things:

·         True understanding and empathy;

·         Commercial perception;

·         An attention to detail;

·         Being professional at all times;

·         Sensitivity as required;

·         A willingness to challenge, so as to enable improved outcomes;

·         In-depth expertise and the knowledge of how to apply it effectively;

·         Strong communication skills; and

·         A readiness to go the extra mile (with a smile).

All of these traits were required on the Monopoly Day – not only was it great preparation for me (getting my head into the right space and reminding myself of things I need to watch out for in my new role) but also it makes me wonder if it could be the way for me to kick off my working relationship with my new team and colleagues.  Perhaps the best thing I could do would be to let them become silver Boots and Cars for a day…

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Sweet Taste of Success

I had the pleasure of attending the Redbrook Dining Club’s latest event at the weekend.  It was an excellent evening that, as the guest speaker, Baroness Pitkeathley, commented, in many ways illustrated the best of what a community can achieve and exemplifies David Cameron’s aspirations for the Big Society (her comments, not mine, and she is a Labour peer).  The mixed backgrounds and interests of the attendees (ranging from a contemplative, prize-chrysanthemum-winning shepherd to an eloquent former Attorney General), were almost as diverse as the ingredients for the excellent meal.  The innovative chef at the pub had pulled out all the stops and created a banquet inspired by popular dishes from the 17th Century.  She had sourced local ingredients and provided a descriptive menu explaining the origins and inspiration behind the meal.  She utilised the best that was available and exceeded her diners’ expectations.  In both the meal and the company, there was a harmony in the mix and variety.

Redbrook is a small village on the banks of the Wye.  It once had a thriving world class industry, a tin plate works, and a railway station to its name – both are gone, but much of the village spirit and pride remains.  In the old days Redbrook station was renowned for its decorative flowers (especially its roses) and often won awards (if horticultural skills are hereditary, that might partially explain the shepherd’s wonderful chrysanthemums).  Redbrook is still winning awards – the village has just won a prize for the best children’s play ground and much of the night’s conversation centred round the most apt way to reinvest the prize money, so that a wide range of people within the community could benefit.  Given that Baroness Pitkeathley was once a social worker, before founding the Carers National Association (now renamed Carers UK), it was hardly surprising that she had some interesting thoughts on how to involve all members of the village from the very young to the old.  She is right.  Society is fragmented and we are not good at mixing across boundaries – be that of age, culture or creed.  We need to make efforts to do so.

Enabling diversity is one of a leader’s and HR’s biggest challenges.  As we struggle to cope with the demands of the current economic and environmental situation, it is important for us not to simply repeat and perpetuate the practices of the past.  It is clear that some of the approaches encouraged over the past decades have resulted in the issues that we now confront today, for example:–

·         our dependence on carbon-based fuel without planning for the future or combating pollution;
·         the creation of complex financial derivatives that are only understood by a few (combined with automated trading) that can result in the lurches we have seen in the financial markets;
·         the current failure to provide a good education for all, regardless of background or location, so that our best can lead the world in the future;
·         irresponsible approaches towards debt (both at an individual and national level);
·         a lack of respect and disjointed relationships with other members of society, other nations and authority - resulting in civil unrest. 

We live in a complex world at every level.  To make it even more complicated, demographics are changing globally and organisations need to predict and ensure that they are able to provide the services that their future customers want and need.  To do so, increasingly we must be able to interpret data, predict and plan for the future.

The squirrels are driving me mad in the garden – they are digging up the grass and depositing walnuts wherever they can.  I appreciate that they are laying down stores in case we have a harsh winter, but they are ruining my lawn!  We need to be brighter than the squirrels and, when we plan and prepare for the future; we must anticipate the impact we will have on others, as well as the potential benefits to ourselves.  It has been so warm (until the past couple of days) that my bees have been as active as the squirrels. They are flying to and from the hives, panniers of pale ivy pollen on their thighs, and they are working hard to increase the amount of stores being laid down to enable them to thrive.  Unlike the squirrels, the bees work together for the best outcome for their community, even when occasionally that may be to the detriment of a few individual bees.  They don’t deliberately discriminate against specific members of their society; they are driven to behave in a manner that will ensure the on-going survival of the hive.  By way of an illustration, now that there is no requirement for a new queen to be fertilised until the Spring, the male drones have been kicked out of the hive (as they are currently unnecessary mouths to feed).  To humans this can seem brutal but it is a pragmatic approach to ensure their continued existence.

We too need to be pragmatic.  We are rational (compared to squirrels and bees) and we have great opportunities to achieve outcomes together - both at work and in our wider communities.  We have to be savvy, think about the bigger picture and how what we do impacts upon it.  We must learn to collaborate, for the best outcomes for the majority, and ensure that we adopt sustainable approaches that take into account anticipated change.  Redbrook is a great microcosm of what could and should be achieved at larger levels.  Despite significant differences, the village community are aware and supportive of each other and they work to attain long-lasting outcomes, improving the lives of numerous people who live in the area.  It is possible to adopt the same constructive approach at a corporate, national and international level.  Like the bees, we each need to accept our responsibilities, as part of a larger community, and work together to ensure that we can enjoy the ongoing sweet taste of success.  

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Roots and Wings

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.  This is to have succeeded.”  - Ralph Waldo Emerson (American Poet, Lecturer and Essayist 1803-1882)

The above is one of my favourite quotes and it also summarises some of the wonderful experiences I was given when I spoke to pupils aged 11 and 12 at a school in West Sussex, England.

When everyone seems to be complaining about their lot, or expressing apprehension about the future, it was a delight and a privilege to spend a couple of hours with a group of optimistic and inquisitive school children.  I was invited to speak to them as part of a triumvirate of orators (namely a bishop representing Spiritual Leadership, an army colonel on behalf of Military Leadership and myself as the voice of Business).  I am fortunate to be invited to speak at a number of conferences and events during each year, but I must confess that few have had me so nervous beforehand – I knew that this was the first experience that most of these children would have of a person explaining aspects of business (a topic most of them anticipated to be boring) and that I was an ambassador for the adult world.  Unlike regular conference attendees, these pupils were not jaded, they had not heard what I had to say before, and I wanted to leave them with a lasting impression of the power of good leadership and its value within a commercial environment.  I also knew that, if I got my message wrong, I could potentially put them off business for life.

My eldest son was down from university for Reading Week (not something I had in my day) and he agreed to escort me.  He found hitherto undiscovered skills with a flip chart and was great at bridging the age gap and putting the children at their ease.  After a lifetime of challenging me, he was good at encouraging others to speak out and argue against me.  We kicked off with a group warm-up exercise that enhanced individual awareness and also made everyone think about the traits required to lead.  I then asked the children to call out words that they thought described a leader – as I expected, they came up with a list of attributes (as opposed to skills or knowledge).  With the exception of “cunning”, most words were descriptive of a person who is open, honest and inspirational. I believe that Leadership is rooted in personal attitudes and approaches and that these need to be based on values.  For these to work within a business context, an individual leader’s values need to resonate with those of his/her employer.  Without any guidance from me, it was clear that the pupils instinctively felt the same way.  There followed a debate over whether leaders are born or can be made, with passionate arguments voiced from the floor.  The children were happy for me to test their thinking and we had a great discussion.  I was concerned that they thought that “diligent study and following the prescribed route to the top” was the only route, so I then held a short quiz.  See if you can guess the identity of each of these embryonic but now well known leaders (DM me on Twitter (@kategl), message me on LinkedIn or Facebook or simply drop me an email and I will give you the answers): 

1.   Born to mixed nationality parents, she moved around the UK as a child, while her father relocated to various areas in the South West to secure work.  Her mother died when this person was in her mid twenties.  She was devastated and fled England.  She found a job in Portugal, where she met a man, married and had a daughter within eighteen months of arrival.  The marriage lasted barely a year.  She returned to the UK, without her former husband, but, being jobless with a small child and unable to secure work, she relied on state welfare support.  Her situation caused her to sink into depression and she become suicidal.

2.   Born in the East End of London, he was the youngest of four children – his childhood nickname was “Mopsy” due to his thick, unruly hair.  His father was a tailor, his mother didn’t work and money was tight for the family.  He made some extra cash by boiling and selling beetroot on a stall in a market.  He left school at sixteen.  Worked briefly in the Civil Service before leaving to “do his own thing” selling car aerials and other goods from a van (that he bought with his £100 life savings).

3.   Of mixed race parentage (his parents married when his mother was already pregnant with him), his parents divorced when he was three.  His mother remarried an Indonesian student and the family relocated to Indonesia when he was six.  He lived in Indonesia until he was eleven, when he returned to his birthplace to live with and be raised by his grandparents.  As a way of escaping who he was, when a teenager he started drinking alcohol and using marijuana and cocaine – not something he does anymore.

4.   Born to an unwed student, he was put up for adoption and, much to his biological mother’s concern, was taken in by a modest couple who had started work straight after school rather than studying for degrees. Initially he did badly at school until inspired by an exceptional teacher who bribed him into learning with sweets and money.  As a child he loved making self-assembly kits.  His first business was illegal – a device to defraud phone companies, which he and a friend sold to students.  After school he went to college but dropped out after a couple of months.  He became interested in eastern mysticism and fasting (a habit he continued as he grew older) and occasionally used drugs such as LSD.  Broke, he got work with a video games company.  According to his supervisor, he was often rude and un-washed, so he was transferred onto the night shift.  He started a company with his best friend.  It was successful for a while within a niche market.  After initial growth the business began to lose direction and, after losing a power struggle with the directors of the business, he had to leave.

5.   Born to wealthy parents (his father was a successful barrister and his mother a former airline hostess), he is dyslexic and was beaten at prep school for not being able to read.  He was sent to boarding school aged thirteen.  After a couple of years he was expelled for going out of school at night with the headmaster’s daughter, but eventually he was allowed to return.  He was not an accomplished student (although a good sportsman), but he was popular and had ideas on how he could make money (his parents refused to fund these “hare-brained schemes”, but he got some of their friends, including my father, to give him money to get his initial ideas off the ground).  After the first two ventures his headmaster commented “Congratulations! I predict you will either go to prison or become a millionaire”.   He was quite wild (taking drugs and partying heavily) and thought you should do what you could to succeed.  As a result he was imprisoned for a short period of time for tax evasion.

To stop my audience from thinking that a troubled start is required for success, we moved on to consider the Leadership Pipeline, as defined by Ram Charan and Stephen Trotter – looking at the personal skills required to progress from managing yourself to running an enterprise.  The suggestions and enthusiasm from my audience was infectious and the talk flowed.  We all enjoyed the discussion and there was a natural progression of the conversation into looking at modern working practices (moving “from hierarchies to wire-archies”) and the differences between management and leadership.  At the end there was a torrent of questions and eventually I had to call time. 

I have never spoken at a conference or event before where I have subsequently received a letter from each attendee saying what they liked and learned from my presentation – the questions have continued by post and I am in the process of responding.  I was and am inspired by the children’s enthusiasm and the genuine interest they showed in what I had to say.  They reminded me that it is good to have your thinking challenged and that it can lead to better understanding; they also reminded me that life can and should be enjoyable.  We all had a great time and I probably learned more from them and their attitudes than perhaps they gained from me.  I have tried to furnish them with an understanding of the drivers behind successful businesses, what is needed to be a good leader and to inspire them for potential roles in business in the future.  I hope some of what we talked about sticks.  As the American journalist, Hodding Carter once wrote

“There are two lasting bequests that we can give our children; one is roots and the other is wings”.

Judging from what they have said and written to me, I am sure that they all have wonderful futures ahead of them.  

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Bangs and Whimpers

My father disapproves of today’s celebrations in the UK.  He went to school at St Peter’s in York, as, many years ago, did another young man called Guy Fawkes.  In my father’s opinion, it is pretty poor show to burn an old boy (even if it is only an effigy of him on top of a bonfire) and hence he does not encourage the blazing fire and fireworks which are traditional for so many in the UK on 5th November.  Given the unpopularity of so many politicians and leaders at the moment and the ongoing struggles and fight for democracy in countries across the globe, there is something quite ironic about the bonfires and fireworks that will be lit across the UK, in memory of the Gunpowder Plot and the failure to blow up parliament and King James 1 at the State Opening of England’s Parliament ceremony in 1605.  This is the time of year when it almost seems alright to celebrate terrorism.  Over the centuries we have frequently demonstrated a delight in the salacious details and gory destruction of others. I found the front-page pictures and mobile phone footage of the death of Muammar Gaddafi disgusting – even contemptible criminals and dictators deserve a degree of dignity in death.  The photos and video that were shown shamed the people who had stood and filmed, whilst others clearly committed vile acts, and the press who felt they were fit for public viewing.

I did state that, after my somewhat down-beat post earlier this month, I would try to write something more cheerful.  Given that many of my readers are from the HR community, here is a topical (and HR related) joke to bring a slight smile and to return to the topic of today’s celebrations:
I met a chap in the pub last night and he told me that up until yesterday he was working as a member of a firework display team.  Unfortunately he set some off in the wrong sequence and his boss sacked him on the spot.  He told me he thought it was bang out of order!
There are always two sides to every argument.

As a result, I feel a degree of sympathy for the Greek Prime Minister – although  it is more than foolish to make a proposal that could destroy the hard work, support and efforts of others and have a severe knock-on effect on your neighbours (holding a referendum to determine the Greek people’s attitude towards the EU and the required austerity measures would take too long for the proposed assistance offered to be able to take effect within the required timescales) - I do think that George Papandreo had good intentions when he proposed the referendum.  Enabling public consideration and support for major actions that will impact on people's quality of life has to be the right approach (and he was upholding Greece's place as the Father of Democracy).  He just hadn't thought it through and he would have benefited from consulting with others.  His inclusive approach may yet prove his downfall, as he only secured his tiny majority in the vote of no confidence in him by promising to commence talks with the opposition to establish a power-sharing government to implement the Euro-zone bail-out.  Greece may as yet have to pull out of the Euro (as my son says “Trust the Greeks to make a Drachma out of a crisis”).

There are so many damp squibs and potentially explosive situations across the globe at present; we hardly need to celebrate Bonfire Night.  But I love the glitter and excitement of fireworks and, despite my father’s potential disapproval, I will be standing in a friend’s garden at dusk, eating a sausage with my eyes raised to the sky.  As the great Oscar Wilde once said:

“We are all the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

PS  I would like to make a brief plea to those of you who live outside London and will be celebrating Bonfire Night tonight, please check your bonfire before lighting it – piles of leaves and sticks are a preferred location for hedgehogs and, although I am told that they are delicious roasted, their numbers are in such dreadful decline that we need to do all we can to aid their conservation.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Through The Eyes Of Children

Research out this week states that almost half of Britons think young people are angry, violent and abusive, with one in four thinking troubled children are beyond help by the age of 10. Anne Marie Carrie, the Chief Executive of children's charity Branardo's, who commissioned the study, said it was "depressing that so many people were ready to give up on children" and that "it is a sad truth that those children who come across as angry and abusive have sadly often been scarred by their upbringing".   

Working with people as I do, I’ve come across a number of adults who are angry, at the very least verbally aggressive and often abusive at work.  They are usually the ones who are exceptional in certain spheres (this is a main theme of films such as “The Devil Wears Prada”, ”Swimming with Sharks”, “Wall Street” and “Working Girl”) and senior leaders and shareholders often turn a blind eye to the antisocial behavior whilst the business is able to benefit from the strengths and/or income generation.  On getting to know these “difficult” individuals, I have usually discovered that issues in their past have impacted on their behavior and interactions with others today.

  •  A boss picking on his/her secretary may be off-loading his or her own stress in the same manner that he/she has seen their parents do to each other when they were a child.
  •  A very bright individual may, on finding colleagues slow to comprehend a proposal, replicate the frustration they felt at school when other pupils were slow to grasp concepts and hence held the class back, by becoming sarcastic or verbally venting their annoyance.
  •  Increasing pressure to produce results in a worsening economic environment can make managers resort to bullying tactics to force results out of their teams, because they fear for their own job security if targets are not met and they remember their father or mother losing their job in the 1970’s or 1980’s.


Frequently there are specific scenarios that trigger antisocial responses.  Almost without exception, these people are intelligent individuals who would condemn the behavior if described to them or demonstrated by others.  Our own self-awareness often overlooks our short-comings when under pressure.  However, I have found that, provided that the person is made aware of the need for change and wants to interact better with others, it is possible for them to learn what ignites their less-than-desirable responses and to amend their approach and manner. Careful and sensitive coaching can often resolve matters to the benefit of all.  In these times of leaner teams and having to do more with less, it is important to ensure that employees are engaged – shouting at them seldom achieves this.  After the frequent rounds of redundancies that many organizations have been through, it is usually valuable employees who have been retained.  There are still great opportunities for talented individuals so they can leave – don’t forget that research shows that most people choose to leave their jobs because of their manager or the behavior of other individuals, not because of their role. A Chartered Management Institute report found that 47% of respondents left their job because they felt that they were badly managed and 49% of employees claimed that they would be prepared to have their pay cut if it meant working with a better manager.

Pay is a contentious issue at the moment.  The Income Data Services (IDS) claim, that pay packages for the top executives of FTSE 100 companies have risen 49% in the last year, has made a lot of heads shake in disbelief.  People are camping outside St Paul’s in the City of London to protest, amongst other things, at the inequality of remuneration and particularly against the excess that is perceived to exist within the Square Mile.  However, it is worth getting the situation in perspective, I have worked in Financial Services – the majority of employees, even in the big investment banks, are not on astronomical, multi-million salaries and, judging by business performance to date, only a few people will be given bonuses this year.  The media fans the flames of discontent and people often get the wrong end of the stick.  I know of retail bank clerks and cashiers who have been jeered at by members of the public because of their assumed salaries and bonuses – many of these people earn circa £1,000 per month before tax.  With rising inflation they are finding life as tough as the rest of us.  In my opinion, it is good that increasingly pay is being linked to performance (be that individual or for senior leaders based on overall business performance) – we need successful companies to resolve some of the current economic problems and recognizing and rewarding performance is the right thing to do (although, as mentioned above, it is often personal recognition and acknowledgement by a manager that means more to an employee than a small sum of money).  Performance related pay, that encourages appropriate behavior and business growth, should be a key to enabling economic recovery and I for one support it.  Times are tough, in response to the IDS report, the Institute of Directors has pointed out that the majority of “business decision making individuals in the UK have not experienced major salary inflation” (the average increase is 2%).  We have to be responsible and lead by example.

Another worrying report that came out today, produced by the Work Foundation for the Private Equity Foundation, echoes the Barnardo’s findings.  Neil Lee, the author, states that there are shockingly high numbers of young people across the UK (in some areas almost 25%) who are not in education, employment or training (they are known as known as Neets).  In Grimsby, Doncaster, Warrington and Wigan, nearly a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds are Neet.  In a further nine cities in England and Wales, drop-out rates for youngsters are about one in five (this is true for parts of London).  I believe that high Neet levels are one of the UK's most serious social problems.  The children and young people of today are the foundation for the future.
"For a young person, being out of education, employment or training can have major ramifications, including long-term reductions in wages and increased chances of unemployment later in life, as well as social or psychological problems arising as a result of sustained unemployment."

I had the privilege of speaking to pupils in a school on Tuesday about Leadership in Business.  Clearly the 11 and 12 year olds I was with are not Neets, but what they had to say was interesting (I will produce another blog on the contrasts and similarities between Business, Spiritual and Military leadership). At the start of the session I asked the pupils to think of someone they know who is successful in business (many of them proposed Alan Sugar, Richard Branson or Steve Jobs) and then to suggest a word that describes what enables that person to be successful.  It was noticeable that all the words proposed were attitudinal characteristics, not skills, knowledge or experience.  In their opinion leaders need to be inspirational, passionate and proactive.  However, the second word to be shouted out was “cunning” – I was surprised, as to me the word has slightly anti-social connotations full of artful subtlety and deceptive behaviour, and hence I encouraged a discussion of the various attributes.  From their own observations (primarily seen through the media’s lens) the children had determined that many leaders were dependant on their ability to outwit and trick others in order to succeed.  If we teach our children that deception and trickery are the roads to success, and that that is how they will achieve rewards and recognition as an adult, I fear for the future.  

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Succouring Serendipity

Don’t you love it when life seems to smile upon you and unexpected events and outcomes provide pleasant opportunities and experiences?  As is often said “Serendipity is a wonderful thing”, but we have strayed slightly from the word’s original meaning.  The first noted use of “Serendipity” in the English language was by Horace Walpole in a letter to the American educational reformer, Horace Mann, in which he states that he formed the word from the Persian fairy tale “The Three Princes of Serendip” whose heroes

“were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”.

The name stems from Serendip, an old name for Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) and literally translates as “Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island”.  According to Walpole’s definition, Serendipity is not pure fortuitous chance – it also requires a person to spot an opportunity and, through their wisdom as well as happenstance, to enable success or a pleasant outcome.

In January 2007, after gale force winds and severe waves damaged her hull, flooding the engine room, the MSC Napoli was deliberately grounded in Lyme Bay off the south coast of Britain; the weather conditions and list of the ship being too extreme to tow her to a suitable port.  Her twenty six man crew was rescued and the Napoli was left to the mercy of the elements.  The storms continued and the ship began to break up, relinquishing her cargo into the waves.  Some of the Napoli’s load was washed ashore at Branscombe. Local people rushed to the beach to scavenge the flotsam.  The cargo consisted of goods bound for Africa, including Allier oak barrels on their way to South Africa for aging some of the finest wines.  These barrels were packed with a consignment of Zulu bibles into containers and hence were protected from the sea water and floated to the beach undamaged and untainted.  Julian Temperley, the founder of the Somerset Cider Brandy Company, saw the barrels drifting shore-wards in television news pictures and, spotting a possible opportunity, travelled to the beach.  With permission from the Receiver of Wrecks the shipwrecked barrels were salvaged and now have been used to mature a Single Cask Ten Year Old Cider Brandy, named “Shipwreck”. 

I had the pleasure of celebrating Apple Day last Saturday at Burrow Hill, the home of Somerset Cider Brandy.  I sipped Shipwreck under the apple trees and pondered how fortuitous it was that Julian had spotted the opportunity.  Shipwreck is fantastic, with the potent apple spirit smoothed by the oak of the barrels into a subtle and evocative drink.  Apple Day, contrary to its sound, is not a memorial to Steve Jobs and his products, although he was mentioned on Saturday, but a glorious celebration of the variety and richness around us, initiated by the conservation group Common Ground.  A primary driver behind Apple Day is the opportunity to enjoy local seasonal produce and to celebrate some of the unique foodstuffs available in certain areas.  In linking particular apples with their place of origin, Common Ground hoped that orchards they came from would be recognised and conserved for their contribution to local distinctiveness, including the rich diversity of wildlife they support.  Common Ground used the symbol of the apple to indicate the physical, cultural and genetic diversity that we should not allow to be lost in our age of standardization and mass production. 

I believe that we should apply a similar approach to our commercial concerns.  We all have access to the same IT systems, data and infrastructure.  It is what we, the people in a business, do with the information available to us and how we behave (both individually and as teams) that makes the difference.  In these challenging economic times, it is those of us who can operate more efficiently, collaboratively or in a manner that makes us stand out from the crowd that will be ensure success.  Organisations need to ensure customer loyalty and satisfaction by offering unique, outstanding and valued skills or products. Don’t succumb to the temptation simply to follow the heard – although you might blend into the surroundings, you won’t be exceptional and bland mediocrity, perpetuating the mistakes of the past is unlikely to result in long-term, sustainable success.  Organisations and the individuals in them need the drive to succeed and the vision, skills, resilience and tenacity to thrive and adapt as circumstances require.
 
Returning to where I started, with Serendipity in the land of lions, I would like to close with some thoughts on Dr. David Livingstone, the legendary nineteenth century explorer.  Many people know that he had a famous encounter with a lion during his early days as a medical missionary in Kolobeng in South Africa.  It crunched his left arm (indeed it was the mangled and misshapen mend of this fracture that enabled identification of his body, when it was brought back to the UK).  What is not so generally known is that his life was saved following the attack, partially by Mebalwe, a local African whom Livingstone himself had prepared and trained to be able to cope in such a situation, and partially as a result of necessary medication, specifically paid for by a Scottish benefactress. It could be claimed that she, by preserving Livingstone’s life and making it possible for him to remain in Africa for a further thirty years, should be credited with enabling the celebrated Victorian medical missionary and anti-slavery champion to achieve all he did.  However, it is easier to argue that Livingstone, once recovered, made his own good fortune in Africa.  It is noteworthy that Livingstone did not conduct himself in a manner similar to most other explorers and missionaries of the time – he travelled light, without soldiers and support, and hence was not viewed as a threat by the chiefs in the areas through which he travelled.  It was only when funded to oversee significant manned-expeditions, and hence expected by his sponsors to be accompanied by swathes of retinue, that some of his explorations foundered.  Dr. Livingstone was most successful relying on his own skills, approach and abilities.  He was self-aware and appreciated the attributes required to be exceptional in his field.  His is an amazing rags-to-riches story of dedication and perseverance.  His famous words “I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward” should be an inspiration to us all.