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…