When Projects don’t happen, or Stakeholder Analysis meets the Pareto Principle

First appeared in ‘CEO Refresher’ (U.S.A.)

So, you’ve spent six months on a project. You’ve developed it perfectly. It’s neat, clearly labelled, signed off. It looks great on paper. So why isn’t anything happening?

Get together half a dozen or so colleagues and run this simple exercise.

Look at your key stakeholders. In terms of this project who are they? Write the name of each one on a post-it. They could be the press, your senior management team, the staff, whoever. Jot all the groups or individuals who have a stake in your project on a separate postit note. There may well be differences of opinion in your team as to who the key stakeholders are. If that’s the case my guess is that everyone’s right and include all of them.

Draw the following grid on a flipchart.



| (Section A) (Section B)




| (Section C) (Section D)



LOW ———- commitment ————–> HIGH

Look at each postit in turn. How would you assess that stakeholder’s influence and commitment? For instance if the HR Department has a high influence in the success of the project, but a low commitment to the project they would be placed in Section A.

Plot these stakeholders – discuss – disagree – why do you see it differently from others? There will be some valuable lessons here for you. Take some notes.

Finally you’ll have some agreement. No doubt you’ll have stakeholders scattered throughout the grid. Now comes the fun part.

Look at the stakeholders in Sections C and D. Take each postit off the chart, crumple it into a ball and throw it away. Unless you have unlimited resources – chuck these postits away – really. And forget about them until the next time you run this exercise. Really! You have not the time or energy to deal with these groups. So remove them from your mind.

Next, look at Section B – high in influence and high in commitment – leave them alone. Keep them sweet yes – but again, you can’t afford to expend your energy on these people. They are basically OK. They’re on your side. Don’t upset them!

You’ve Section A left. These are your targets. Go for them in a big way. Develop strategies to move them into Section B. Look after them. Talk to them – ask them what their concerns are. Address these problems. This is where 80% of your effort must come.


Painless Strategic Management for Busy Managers

First appeared in ‘Better Business (U.K.)

I am making an assumption based on some experience and a good deal of hearsay about busy managers. My assumption is that a large proportion of you think strategic management is something that happens in books or with IBM or some other large Organisation.

“Not for me, thank you very much.”

Now, don’t worry I’m not going to bore you senseless with a long article on cost benefit analysis, TQM or force field analysis. I want to try to give you some practical (fun, even) ideas to help you have more control of the business and move your business forward.

Firstly a question; “What business are you in?”
Sounds a fairly innocuous question doesn’t it? But maybe it’s not so simple.

Look at the example of Parker pens. Parker pens have had a great name and reputation since their beginning in 1888. Yet somehow by the mid 1980s they were in crisis. Over the past nine decades Parker pens had survived wars, cheap imports, ballpoint pens, roller ball pens, etc. .
Now, in a period of relative calm they were in disarray. They were losing money despite a large range of initiatives. The approach that had evolved was one of competing in foreign markets and neglecting their traditional markets. So, a strategic meeting was arranged and there was one item on the agenda; “What market are we in?”. Answering this question transformed their business.

Someone asked the question; “When did you last receive a Parker pen?”. Ask yourself that question. I guess, like most of us you’ll have a similar response to the people at the meeting; birthday present, Christmas present, presentation – a reward of some sort. Parker Pens finally worked out that they were in the gift business. They were not in the market of competing with cheap pens, etc. This insight transformed their business. Instead of continually cutting cost and quality they spent more on quality and marketing. They redesigned and repackaged their products. They increased their advertising budget by 60%. They raised their prices and began to target the “style-conscious and affluent sector.” Despite a world recession Parker pens increased its turnover by almost 50% in the last half of the decade.

So now – which business are you in? The gift business? The everyday business?
What are your markets? The luxury end of the business? The exclusive market?

If you really think you know who your customers are and what they want that’s really good. This next part of the exercise is the fun part. You’re allowed to day-dream, be a little creative, let your imagination run away with you. This works really well if there are a couple of you to bounce ideas off each other. Now think about who your customers could be? Who are your potential customers? List as many ‘types’ of people you can think of that are interested in your products. Don’t worry that they haven’t any money, or live in Australiaor anything. Just list your potential customers.

This list could include individuals – Mr Jones, groups – students, farmers, “businessmen with no time”, or even Organisations – “Marks and Spencer”, “Harrods”, The Clergy..

You should have quite a nice list. Now write alongside each entry why they don’t buy from you at present – “no money” perhaps, “no time to talk to them “, “never heard of me”

Now have a look at those reasons and for each reason see if there’s something you can control or influence that would make them customers. Influence could mean anything you could possibly do to influence them – from sending them an email to arranging a thirty minute selling meeting with them. If there is (and remember we’re still in non-practical thinking mode here) then just put a tick alongside the customer.

Now look at the list. One of the reasons for doing this is to show how much control you actually do have when trying to win more customers. This shows that you have some control or influence over many, many aspects of your business.

Now it’s finally time to get real and practical. Look at the list and identify one or two potential customers or groups of potential customers who would have a significant impact on your business if they became customers. Highlight those. Think carefully about what you can do to win those people over. Don’t worry too much about the timescale. You’ve already identified that you can have some influence – just flesh
that out. If possible talk to people about ideas. Identify something you can do that will kick start the process. Trust me even if nothing happens you’ll feel better about it.

Go back to the list and identify some very simple, easy (hopefully cheap, or even free) things you can do that will give you a ‘quick win’. Something you can do tomorrow that will have an effect. It may be that you just change your pricing strategy. Whatever you decide to do, do it immediately. This action will give you more energy to move onto the next target customers. Once you get some impetus it’s hard to stop – just like a snowball.

A quick word on pricing. Sellers are often ‘afraid’ of price. They’re afraid that if something’s too expensive no-one will buy. Well that may be true but there’s a similar problem if the price is too low. There is a great story about a business woman who was selling jewellery and it wasn’t going to well. The story goes that she was with her bank manager and realised she’d have to do something so she phones her assistant to reduce the prices. The following day she goes to the shop
and sees her assistant beaming.
“Great strategy we’ve sold lots more jewellery”
“Yes but what’s it cost us?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I told you to half the amount”
“I thought you said “Add a nought. “so I did and we’ve sold lots more.”

It’s probably an apocryphal tale, but it does make a point. People don’t always want the cheapest they can get. If something is well made, unique, people want to pay for it. I’ve worked with people who have said “Oh I couldn’t ask that for it – I know how much it cost to make.”I would doubt if anyone really does – once you’ve taken in the cost of everything, your time, the articles that don’t sell, the hours of
paperwork it’s impossible to know the price. One tip someone told me was to look at the finished article and ask yourself how much you’d pay for it if you knew little about the cost of producing it. That’s would be a good starting point for your pricing.

So you’ve done a stakeholder analysis and looking at pricing strategy -maybe this strategy business isn’t as frightening as it sounds.

Unshouldering the Burden

First appeared in ‘CIO’ (U.K.)

“The trouble with companies is, the more staff there

are the less personal responsibility there is.”


The CEO of an organisation asks all the department heads to send any spare resources back to the centre to fund one particular vital project. Two weeks later the CIO has a meeting with a divisional director in an operations team.

“That looks like a sensible project. Maybe we can do something with it next quarter,” says the CIO.

“Why not now?” enquires the divisional director.

“All the spare resource has gone back to the centre. I won’t have any money until the next quarter.”

“Don’t worry about the money,” says the director conspiratorially. “I’ve some tucked away.”

Now I’m sure this would not happen in your organisation. Well, I’m fairly sure unless you work in an organisation of more than 150 people. This is a sort of magic number for companies. It seems that communication problems and hidden agendas emerge far more obviously when there are over 150 employees – give or take a few.

Once that organisation grows and splits into various silos the problems multiply dramatically. A tension develops for managers between the aims of the organisation as a whole and running their own part of the business.

Busy Doing Nothing

I worked in a large public company where one business area recruited 100 staff for a particular project that ended up being postponed for six months. These extra staff were contracted for a year and were just sitting around doing next to nothing. The head of the department announced to the rest of the organisation: “Sorry I screwed up. I’ve 100 staff spare who would like them?”

“How much would these staff cost me?” asked one of the managers.

“Nothing. We’ve arranged to pay them from my budget so they wouldn’t cost you a penny.”

“Where will they sit?”

“I’m sure we can work that out.”

“Who will they report to?”

“Er… I’m not sure yet”

“Forget it. Seems more trouble than it’s worth.”

This silo mentality is a huge blockage in organisations. There is a real problem breaking the walls down. The more established the company the tougher the walls. It gets to the stage where each silo is almost a self-contained unit. While there are benefits here (operating as a small business, good communications within the area, sense of pride in the team), there are huge disadvantages as well. The problems of communication across areas and sharing resources that people have heavily outweigh the advantages. It becomes rare to loan people out or move people. Budgets are guarded. The ‘centre’ becomes the enemy.

“As more people join the group the less effort people put in”

For instance, toward the end of the financial year, large organisations tend to look at budgets for specific areas. I’ve worked in departments that would have a spending frenzy in March.

When asked why they were going crazy buying far more paper clips and pens than they could ever use it was explained that if they didn’t spend their allocated budget then it would be cut next year. When asked why they didn’t explain this to the finance section I was given the ‘you don’t know how it works around here’ look.

Diffusion of responsibility

It seems that the values at the centre don’t apply to the departments. There is the ‘they’re not our values’ mentality. This isn’t necessarily just about a silo mentality. There is a problem with values. They sound good. No one would argue with them but how far would people actually go to uphold them.

In recent years there has been a spate of organisations where the values seem to have been ignored by everyone. Enron, Parmalat, Shell and I guess, for some, this is to do with a ‘silo mentality’. But for me there’s another factor here. It’s been identified as ‘social loafing’.

Try this experiment when there are a dozen or so people in a room. Get one person to clap as loud as they can. Then get two people to repeat this. Then four, then eight. What you should see if you produced a graph of people versus noise is a straight line. In fact what you see is a gentle curve. As more people join the group the less effort people put in.

The values in organisations are susceptible to social loafing I would guess. ‘I thought someone else would do it’ is a common response to missed targets and values. Add this to a silo mentality and there are real problems.

The Dangers of Large Organisations

First appeared in ‘CIO’ (U.K).

The CEO of an Organisation asks all Department Heads to send any spare money, resource back to the centre to fund one particular vital project.

Two weeks later the Head of IM has a meeting with a Divisional Director in an Operations team;

“That looks like a really sensible project. Maybe we can do something with it next quarter. “

“Why not now?” enquires the Divisional Director

“Well you heard all the spare resource has gone back to the centre. I won’t have any money until the next quarter.”

“Don’t worry about the money. I’ve some tucked away.”

Now I’m sure something similar wouldn’t happen to you. Well, I’m fairly sure if you work in an Organisation of less than 150 people. It seems that this is a magic number for Organisations. Based on research by sociologist Professor Dunbar this is known as Dunbar’s number. As an Organisation grows it seems that communication problems and hidden agendas emerge far more obviously when there are 150 employees (give or take 10).

It seems that once an Organisation grows and splits into various silos the problems multiply dramatically. A real tension develops for managers between the aims of the Organisation as a whole and running their own part of the business.

I worked in a large public company where one business area recruited 100 staff for a particular project that for a variety of reasons was postponed for 6 months. These extra staff was contracted for a year and were just sitting around doing next to nothing.

The Head of the area announced to the rest of the Organisation;

“Sorry – screwed up. I’ve 100 staff spare who would like them?”

The conversations with various managers when something like this;

“How much would these staff cost me?”

“Nothing. We’ve arranged to pay them from my budget so they wouldn’t cost you a penny”

“Who will write their Performance Agreements?”

“I’m sure we can work that out hen the time comes.”

“Where will they sit?”


“Who will they report to?”


“Forget it. Seems more trouble than it’s worth.”

This silo mentality is a huge blockage in Organisations. There seems to be a real problem breaking the walls down. The more established the Organisation it seems the tougher the walls. It gets to the stage where each silo is almost a self contained unit. Whilst there are real benefits here (operating as small business, good communications within the area, sense of pride in the silo ‘team’,) there are huge disadvantages as highlighted. The problems of communication across areas and sharing resources, people seem to outweigh the advantages. It becomes rare to loan people out, or move people. Budgets are guarded. The ‘centre’ becomes the enemy. For instance toward the end of the financial year large Organisations tend to look at budgets for specific areas. I’ve worked with Departments that would have a spending frenzy in March. When asked why they were going crazy buying far more pencils, paper clips, pens than they could ever use it was explained that if they didn’t spend their allocated budget then it would be cut next year.

When asked why they didn’t explain this to the finance section I was given the ‘you don’t know how it works around here’ look.

It seems that the values at the centre don’t apply to the Departments. There’s the ‘they’re not our values’ mentality. This isn’t necessarily just about a silo mentality. There is a problem with values. They sound good. No-one would argue with them but how far would people actually go to uphold them. In recent years there have been a spate of Organisations where the values seem to have been ignored by everyone – Enron, Parmalat, Shell for instance and I guess some of this is to do with a ‘silo mentality’. But for me there’s another factor here. It’s been identified as ‘social loafing’.

Try this experiment when there are a dozen or so of you in a room;

Get one person to clap as loud as they can.

Then get 2 people to repeat this. Then 4, then 8.

What you should see if you produced a graph of people v noise is a straight line. In fact what you see is a gentle curve. As more people join the group the less effort people put in.

In a more dramatic form there was the Kitty Genovese case. This was a case of a brutal murder on March 14th 1964 in New York.

For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in KewGardens. Twice their chatter and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out, and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.

The values in organisation are susceptible to social loafing I would guess. ‘I thought someone else would do it’ seems a common response to missed targets, values. Add this to a silo mentality and there are real problems……

Meetings – 6 Factors to Consider Before You Call One

First appeared in ‘Advant Edge’ (U.S.A.)

Meetings are usually awful. They are possibly the most disliked part of modern business. It has been estimated that there are anything between 11 and 25 million meetings held per day in America alone. It’s far too many. If you feel you need to call a meeting. Stop. Take a deep breath and work through the following factors.

Factor 1: Purpose and Intended Result

Is there a definite, tangible purpose for the meeting and a clear intended result? If you can’t explain to yourself what you want from the meeting don’t hold it and carry out one of the following activities;

a) If it’s an information sharing meeting send a report, a video of a presentation, a link?

b) If it’s a decision making meeting – just make the decision and let people know later.

If you have a Purpose and Intended Result work through the remaining factors;

Factor 2: People

Who should attend? Don’t invite people to a meeting because they always come to these meetings. If you know people are only attending because of their position in the Organisation investigate it. The number of managers who rush to a junior member of staff before a meeting to be briefed then have to brief them after the meeting must be phenomenal.

Get the right person to attend – irrespective of their position. Also people frequently don’t need to attend all the meeting. Prepare a list of who should stay / go for each item on the agenda. There is nothing worse than sitting through a three hour meeting waiting for your ten minute slot at the end that will inevitably be postponed until the next time because you’ve run out of time.

Factor 3: Timings

Be ruthless. Schedule an item and schedule a time. If an item’s scheduled for 20 minutes and time’s up and you’re nowhere near a conclusion stop it – reschedule it and move on to the next item. This will be incredibly hard to begin with but people will soon learn to get to the point quicker.

Always start on time. If people are late they get to miss it this time. It will encourage people to get used to your way of doing things.

Factor 4: Content

What type of meeting is it? Separate information sharing meetings and decision making meetings. Inevitably the person who has presented the information will have a bias towards getting it accepted even if there are stronger arguments. Separate these meetings – ideally over a day or so to allow people to assimilate all the information, or at least take a break between the presentations and the voting.

Factor 5: Be Creative.

There are some different ways of holding meetings and different approaches that may not be popular with a few people early on but they will get used to it;

Stand up meetings. No chairs, no coffee – a quick Monday morning progress meeting would be a good candidate. People are surprising eloquent and to the point once they’ve been standing for 10 minutes or so.

You can have creative meetings – really. They can be fun and extremely useful. If you have a problem, or a proposal to look at try something a little different. One technique is to use the principles outlined in Edward de Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’; the chair will have the blue hat which manages the process. Other attendees are given a particular colour hat and must act out the process for that particular colour;

black hat is for negativity and why something won’t work,

white hat is concerned with information – facts and figures,

red hat deals with feelings and intuition,

yellow hat symbolises optimism and positive thinking

green hat focuses on creativity.

So, once these roles are assigned the topic is discussed. The black hat thinkers will look for reason this won’t work. The white hat thinkers will argue on the basis of facts and figures, and so on. The discussions are usually lively and productive. People don’t get trapped into defending positions but can explore ideas in a creative way.

Factor 6: Any Other Business

Never, ever have Any Other Business – ever. If people can’t inform you before the meeting – it can’t be that important, or they are doing it for tactical reasons.

There may be the odd occasion where you have to ignore these considerations but generally it is vital to work through a checklist. Meetings do develop a life of their own once they occur regularly and start taking over peoples’ lives.

Presentation Skills or ‘How to Fake It ‘til You Make It’

First appeared in ‘Management First’ (U.K.)

“Fake it ’till you make it.”

Blank looks.

“Pretend you can do something, keep doing it until you wake up one morning and find you really can.” I continue “Pretend you’re really confident about presenting. Visualise someone who does it well. Copy them. Really. Trust me – try it – it works.”

They trust me – they try it – it works – for some of them.

Presentations are the most feared part of most managers’ lives. I’ve read that most managers’ would prefer the stress caused by moving house than give a ten-minute presentation. To some extent I get it. It can be intimidating to stand up in front of a roomful of people and talk. In another way I definitely don’t. A lot of the blame must go to ‘presentation skills courses’. Yes, it’s nice to be able to project your voice to the back of the room. It’s great to have exciting slides. It’s superb if you can manage the correct eye contact with your audience. Unfortunately (fortunately) within a few minutes of the start of the presentation most of the audience has taken this for granted – however effectively you can carry this out. The message is far more important. Get that right – in your own head – and you’re winning.

“What’s the worse that can happen?” I ask.

The replies tend to fall into two categories; physical and mental. On the physical side there’s; projector failing, nothing to write on, nothing to write with, no chairs, too many chairs, room too hot, room too cold, no one turning up, too many turning up, finishing too early, finishing too late, audience being bored. Go through these one by one and ask yourself “So what?” Think of everything that can go wrong and plan an alternative. Great. Something you hadn’t even thought of will still undo you. Something will not go exactly to plan. You know that. How many things in any other part of your life have gone perfectly? Exactly.

The good thing is that people don’t judge us on the mistakes we make but on the speed of recovery from those mistakes. Think of the best customer care you’ve received? Nine out of ten occasions people recall a situation that went wrong. It went wrong but the service they received to put it right led them to remember it and recommend the company to their friends years later. Speed of recovery.

OK now that you know there will be mistakes and you’ve accepted it, truly accepted it life gets easier. You can arrive early, do all your last minute panicking in peace, relax and wait. People will forgive you if you’ve prepared as thoroughly as possible. You can’t help it if it’s the day of a tube strike, the room gets flooded or police have cordoned off the area looking for armed terrorists. It happens.

The second category of things that can go wrong is the mental side – your mental side. You do need to get this right. Preparation is the key. I know it’s a cliché but it’s also true. This preparation starts right from the moment it’s decided you’re the one for the presentation. Firstly, do you agree? If not get out now. It doesn’t get easier the longer you ignore it. It’s like that sink full of washing up you leave in the kitchen for a few hours, a day, a few days. It never gets easier – just a bit worse, a bit harder to face each day.

Once you’ve decided it is definitely going to be you – accept it and go for it properly. Do you really want them to know and understand something they didn’t know before or do you just want to tell them something and get off? If it’s the latter and you just want to impart knowledge, send them an email and save yourself and your audience some grief. If it’s the former then you need to prepare thoroughly. This means that on the day you can throw away your notes, talk and listen. And to listen effectively you’ve got to involve the audience.

It is so much better for everyone if you interact from the start. Find out what the audience knows and doesn’t know. Find out why they’re there. Find out their particular interests. Get them involved – they’ll enjoy it more and so will you. It may well be more nerve racking than hiding behind a script, but it is so much more rewarding. But this can only happen if you’ve got your head straight first. To do this you need to ask questions and get them to ask you questions.

How presenters deal with questions by the audience is a tremendous indication of where they are in terms of confidence. If the first line in a presentation is “I’ll take questions at the end” then the odds are that;

a) they are petrified,

b) they have no idea what they are talking about, or

c) they have hours worth of material and they’ll never reach the end.

You need to take a deep breath, throw away your neat, colour-coded notes and go for it. The audience will certainly enjoy it more and guess what? So will you. I promise.


First appeared in ‘A.I.V.C.I.’ (Australia)

What are the values in your Organisation? What are the values for your part of the Organisation? Where did they come from? Are they written down? What happens when they don’t match the behaviour?

Lots of questions – lots to think about. So let’s start at the beginning. No doubt you have a set of values. Surely you’ve something in the bottom of your desk drawer on a card or a sheet of A4 with a combination of the following words; “respect”, “professional”, “honesty”, “value”, “excellence”, “customer”. Yes? So where did this come from? I’ll give you a few options;

1. It was in your induction pack when you joined and no one’s really sure how it got there.

2. The Board had an away day at a large hotel out near Swindon, returned with this and sent out copies to all.

3. You took your team away to a large hotel near Swindon, returned with this and haven’t looked at it since.

4. None of the above.

Unless the answer is ‘4’ I’m guessing this piece of card doesn’t mean a great deal to you. Which is not to say that there’s no merit in having a set of values. I think it’s vital to all Organisations to know what they’re about and what’s acceptable and not acceptable in their teams.

The problem with assigning a set of values to people is the same problem as trying to force them to accept anything – It’s called psychological reactance. Jack Brehm has carried out a lot of research on this from the mid sixties. Reactance occurs when an individual feels that his or her freedom is being restricted. Some examples will help explain it; a group of people were studied that expressed no preference as to which of two brands of cigarettes they would choose from a vending machine. In the machine there was only one brand of cigarette available – the other brand had been removed. Suddenly the majority of people wanted the other, removed brand and were willing to walk quite a way to get the other brand.

I’m sure Kinsey used the same technique in relation to some sex therapy technique – If you expressly forbid people to do something – they’ll want to do it all the more. Those of you with children know this to be a universal truth. One final example, a friend with an 18 year old son asked him where he was going as he was getting ready to go out. After the usual surly response my friend said to his son as he was going out the door “Oh well – have a good time.” To which the reply was “Don’t tell me what to do”. Slam.

So imposing doesn’t work. Imposing your values definitely doesn’t work. So what do you do? You let people decide their own set of values. This works so much easier with a new team. There is less history (obviously) and less baggage. New teams tend to be more committed, motivated and open. Perhaps the best example of this in action is the 1997 British Lions tour of South Africa where they devised a set of values for the tour before boarding the plane. These values centred on being focused, committed and involved total support and team work. They were carried everywhere and invoked whenever there was a breach of these values. It certainly worked. I know it’s different for you without a common enemy, common strategy and group of disparate individuals to mould into a winning team. Well, maybe not that different.

Trying to get your team to achieve an agreed, worthwhile set of values is not easy. There is a history within teams. There is a history about values, mission statements, etc… It’s almost become a reactant in itself in some companies where they’ve had mission statements, visioning and values rammed down their throats and seen no change at all. So you’ll need to be pretty thick skinned and determined to get it to work. You’ll also need some powerful examples and commitment.

A great example comes from BMW “Excellence through quality and innovation”; BMW employ more than 100 staff in their acoustics and vibration technology departments. They ensure that everything from the sound of the windscreen wipers to the sound of the doors closing is acoustically perfect. This seems to work for BMW.

Another from 3M; “The key: linking growth in individuals to those things that unlock energy and activities that our customers value.” The Organisation allows scientists to spend 15 percent of their time working on whatever interests them and requires divisions to generate 30 percent of their revenues from new products introduced in the past four years, amongst a range of other initiatives demonstrating innovation and trust in their employees.

You’ll also need a sound process to turn this into something tangible. Ask people to come out with their lists of values. No doubt you’ll get “good teamworking”, “professional” and “an honest approach to customers”. Don’t deride these. These are important and need to be kept. However, you need to dig hard to find out what is special about your team. What would your team members say set them apart from others? Or, what would they like to set them apart from others – is it technical excellence, willingness to take risks, total support all the way up the line, attention to detail? If you can identify one key value then it will make all the others real.

Then the hard task is to describe them in a way that doesn’t kill them. If a key value is “Don’t take crap from suppliers” please don’t change it to “Have care and respect for all stakeholders” – keep it.

The next part will be to have them listed in whatever format works. I’ve seen an old, fading flipchart sheet with a scribble of values given pride of place in an office 18 months after its design. I’ve seen screensavers, playing cards, nothing at all. Whatever works. Don’t tell people how they keep it though. I remember a chat with a professor at a leading business school pulling a list of key values from his wallet.

“I need a piece of paper telling me to be nice to people now do I? ” he ranted. “I wonder if I lost this would it be OK for me to go on a killing spree?” he half joked. – reactance kicking in again.

The only way to keep the values real after this day is to live them. You can’t have a value espousing the virtues of risk taking then sacking someone who’s idea failed. It’s about honouring those values of risk-taking. When General Electric spent $50 million on an expensive, environmentally friendly light bulb that no one wanted they, in the words of Jack Welch, “..celebrated their great try. We handed out cash management awards..”

So, there are only 2 things to remember; encourage your team to create their values and support them. Sounds straightforward enough?

“The Okavanga-Kalahari Syndrome”

First appeared in ‘Lifelong Learning’ (U.S.A.)

“There’s a new change management program starting next week,” said the worried voice on the phone, “What can I do?”

“Keep your head down” was my sage advice.

“But this one’s serious.”

“They all are.”

“No; really. This time the H.R. Department is determined to make it happen. I don’t want to change. What can I do?”

“Stay out of the way. It’s the Okavanga-Kalahari syndrome.”


“There’s a river in Africa that starts in a range of mountains in Namibia known as the Okavanga-KalahariRiver. Everyone knows where it starts — it’s a huge river. It flows into the Kalahari Desert but no one really knows where it finishes. It just sort of fades away.”


The vast majority of culture change programs go like this. Big start with trumpets, fanfares, senior managers wheeled out… the first events are hugely popular and over-subscribed. Go back in six months time and ask about it. It just sort of disappeared — no-one knew when, or whose decision it was. It just faded into the desert. The Okavanga-Kalahari syndrome.

It’s not always so. There are a number of factors that will help in the success of any culture program:

Number one: do the math. How much will it cost? How much extra will you get out of it? If you can’t get a tangible benefit then forget it. Your employees certainly won’t be bothered unless there’s something in it for them, as individuals. You certainly shouldn’t be bothered unless there’s something in it for you as an organisation. This benefit should be financial. OK it’s difficult to measure. Does that mean you don’t even try?

“It will make people more motivated and corporate” is a reason I’ve frequently heard for running a program.

“Show me the money.” I reply.

“But we can’t express it in financial terms.”


If you can’t get a benefit don’t bother. There must be a benefit in terms of more work produced, more targets met, less sick leave taken. Try to calculate all the “soft” measures. If you can motivate staff to take a real pride in their work, produce quality materials, chase every customer — how much is that worth to you?

Second, attendance on the program cannot be voluntary. You’ve done the sums now make people attend. Make it interesting, that’ll help. Make it rewarding. Take people away from the workplace, spend some money on them, treat them decently. They work for you, treat them as you’d like to be treated. Let them travel first class, stay in a nice hotel, feed them good meals with wine. Build this into the maths. Don’t be tempted to do it on the cheap.

Next, do the politics. And there will be politics. People tend to not like change so if you’re not getting any resistance — it’s because they’ve heard of the Okavanga-Kalahari syndrome and are just keeping their heads down waiting for it to go away. You need to encourage resistance — get it out in the open. At least here you’ll have a chance to address it. If it’s hidden in the shadows you have no chance.

Deal directly with people. Peter Senge describes the levels of alignment staff may have with the vision of the organisation; committed, enrolled, compliant, grudgingly compliant, apathetic or saboteurs. You need to address these saboteurs especially, early on or they will destroy your program with their cynicism. By the way I heard a great definition of a cynic the other day — someone who’s given up but not shut up. There are a number of ways of turning ‘saboteurs’ into stars. One extremely successful method is to get them actively involved in the design of the program. The most successful “Customer care for computer staff” program I’ve seen was designed by the three most vociferous opponents of the program. They were identified very early on and asked to attend the pilot course. They were then invited to rewrite the program in the light of their knowledge and experiences.

In one respect staff can be thought of as sheep. Have you noticed how a flock of sheep move? There are usually a few leaders at the start, a few stragglers at the end and 80% of the flock in the middle. If you can get the first few sheep moving in the right direction along with one or two of the laggards then the flock will head in the right direction. That is as long as you keep them moving. If you stop, there is a tendency for the flock to stop, so build in mini targets, incentives, milestones. Keep the momentum going all the way. Aim for some quick wins to start the sheep moving. These should be tangible, identifiable, public outcomes directly attributable to the program. E.g., “As a result of the Culture Change Program there will be a: simplification of the appraisal system; gym membership subsidy introduced; better meals in the staff canteen; restructuring of the senior management team….”

A lot of the political difficulties will be caused by the silent majority. Address these. Look at the shadow-side of your organisation. Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. There are many examples of this shadow-side at work in organisations:

I’ve been invited to pre-meeting meetings, pre pre-meeting meetings and even once a pre pre pre-meeting meeting to make sure our tactics were correct before the pre pre-meeting meeting. These activities take time and energy away from the goals of the organisation.

If you ever have to work in a school, on the first day you meet the headmaster, of course, and then you talk to the people with the real power — the caretakers, deputy headmistresses and their like. In many organisations Personal Assistants and secretaries tend to have far more actual power than their position in the hierarchy would suggest. Be nice to them. They will get you that five-minute meeting with the Head of Department if they like you. Don’t pretend these things don’t go on.

Once I worked in an organisation where an administrator who had worked in the office for 35 years had a great deal of influence. If she didn’t like something, things tended to move a lot slower, if at all. Find out who the key players are, cultivate them. Take up smoking if you need to. The smoking room tends to be a great area for finding things out first. People who go there tend to be relaxed, tend to be from a wide range of work areas and seem to have time to think and make connections. Facts like – a computer is being moved and there’s been a recent promotion board – can yield intriguing information — often days before an announcement becomes official.

You must instigate any culture program from the very top and work down. Managers at all levels must buy into the program and sell it down the line. This is frequently a very difficult trick to pull off. Somewhere in the chain there will invariably be managers that “don’t do” training. Talk to them, encourage them, threaten them — whatever works, but you can’t ignore them. Staff see managers not attending, or attending and not changing their behaviour, and the program suddenly loses credibility. “Why should I bother?” You’ll start seeing lots of non-attendees with “too busy to attend” notes from their managers. Leading by example has to start from the top, with top managers rewarded or disciplined immediately. If the credibility of the program goes, you’d just as well forget it straight away and save yourself some money.

There’s a syndrome creeping into modern business now of change overload. Every week there seems to be a new initiative, a new program, a new mission statement. People are getting drained. Any new program needs to be real, well thought out, have tangible benefits and be fully supported by senior management and all departments. There should be people begging to go on it. One interesting approach, based on some psychological studies to do with reactants, involved telling people they couldn’t attend the program. They began clamouring to get on it. They were phoning, emailing, “Why can’t I do it? Put me on the reserve list?” I wouldn’t recommend this manipulative use of psychology but there could be some elements of it you could use; invite people to apply, ask them why they should be included, make attendance a reward rather than a punishment. This will work.

Oh, the reference in the title is from an excellent program concerning change by Scott Simmerman. Two caterpillars are talking (as they do) and they spot a butterfly. They both look up and one caterpillar says to the other “You’ll never get me up in one of those.”

What You Need To Know on Your First Day as a Manager

First appeared in ‘Training and Development’ (Australia)

It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s scary. You’ve got your first managerial job. You’ve also got your first set of real-life problems (or people as they’re also called). You’ve got staff. They’re older than you. They’re wiser than you. They know far more about the Organisation than you. They may even be resentful that someone as young as you have landed the job they wanted. But you want to do a good job, so you’ll learn, Need some help?

Tip 1: When in doubt – tell the truth. – One of your staff asks you on your first day how you feel. Tell the truth; “It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s scary. You’re older than me, wiser than me. You know far more about the Organisation than me but I want to do a good job so I’ll learn.”

Tip 2: Do your homework — Before you start find out as much as you can about the business you’re joining. Find out as much as you can about the culture, the customers, the employees. Find out about your team – personalities, problems, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses. Ask fellow managers. I know the information will be second hand. Treat it as that. You’ll have your own opinions in a few weeks anyway. Use it for what it is – other peoples’ perceptions.

Tip 3: Know yourself. – Spend some time thinking about you. What do you want from this experience? What’s your vision for the next six months, two years, ten years. Get it clear in your own mind. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests that the clearer it is to you the more likely it is to happen. If you don’t know where you’re going how on earth do you expect your team to know?

Tip 4: Be yourself. – You’ve been given this opportunity because of the qualities you have – use them. Don’t change all that now trying to become someone you think you ought to be. If you’re a patient, softly-spoken liberal type, don’t turn into Gordon Ramsey as soon as there’s a problem. You may have heard that macho management is the way to command respect. If it’s not your way of doing it – it won’t. Your staff will know it as well. Use your own strengths.

Tip 5: Lead by example. – People will be looking to you to set the standard. If you spend three hours in work a day surfing the ‘net you’ll have serious credibility issues reprimanding someone for doing the same. In your first few months in the post you’ve got to display zero-tolerance. If someone breaks the rules you need to address it. You cannot let things go. Your staff will test you, and look to see how far they can push you. Not in any malicious way (hopefully) but because they’re human and so are you and they need to learn about you – your style, your values.

Tip 6: Get the balance right. – So many new managers turn up with the “Hey I’m cool. You get on with your job and I’ll do mine. I see ourselves more as partners” attitude. It doesn’t work like that. However painful it may be you, you are the boss. You make that final decision. Conversely there are managers that won’t socialise at all with their staff. They won’t go out in the evenings with them, they won’t eat lunch in the canteen with them. If you ask them why they’ll say something like, “I don’t want to get close in case I have to discipline them”. I sometimes wonder if these people make their children eat in a separate room at home for the same reason. Get the balance right.

Tip 7: It’s all about relationships. -The quality of the work the team produces is directly related to the quality of the relationships within that team. As the leader you are responsible for this happening. How? By doing everything you need to. People are different – get to know what makes them tick. You do this by talking and listening – a lot of listening. Talk to your people everyday. Every morning talk to a good number, if not all of them. Listen when they tell you about their kids, their cats, their football team. If you’re uncomfortable doing this, well that’s unlucky. This is as much a part of your job as managing the finances.

Tip 8: Tackle the real problems as soon as possible. – Problems are like those dirty dishes you’ve left in the kitchen.. The longer you leave them the harder they get to sort out. No magic fairy comes along to help. It just gets a bit grungier, a bit messier and a bit more unpleasant to deal with each passing day. Get to the root of the problem. Do this by listening. Listen, listen, listen. Listen to what’s said. Listen to what’s not said. Listen to the body language. Listen to your own little voice telling you what to do. If something doesn’t feel right. It won’t be. Trust yourself.

So, when in doubt…. tell the truth… and when not in doubt? Tell the truth.

So They Think It’s All Overtime..?

First appeared in ‘Public Servant’ (U.K.)

Working smarter to eliminate a long-hours culture is an essential in the modern workplace. Some managers have yet to gasp that a work-life balance policy means little without practice

Senior managers encourage colleagues and staff to work more effectively (work smarter, not harder) and spend more time at home with their family, pets or hobbies. Yet their actions scream out just the opposite.

People are looked upon favourably at work for being available 80 hours a week. Managers are promoted for showing such dedication and dropping family plans to meet work commitments. Of course, it only seems right that these people are rewarded.

It follows that the others – the nine to fivers – who come in, do a good job and go home, will not get the same rewards. It is only when you stop and think about this that you realise what an unusual situation this is, and what messages are being sent.

People have a contract and are paid to do a job, for a set period. However they are frequently at a disadvantage if they do only that. They are expected to do more. This is not written anywhere – it is just assumed. It is part of the business culture. Imagine if this happened in sport.

In the World Cup, at the end of a 90-minute football match you would see one member of the team still out there playing – and expecting to be paid more. In the same way that 1,500-metres runners could not sustain the pace for an extra lap when they had trained for four laps of the track, people who are geared to working eight hours and then put in an extra two cannot sustain the quality of output.

Occasionally people can produce extra. Some who work long hours do so day after day. They do however become tired and prone to making mistakes. The workplace becomes the only place they know and they can lose perspective. They often come under pressure from home demands and become stressed.

This is well-documented but ignored. There is a short-term mindset that needs such dedicated staff to tackle the latest crisis. Managers believe they will address the problems eventually, but not just yet.

The key to breaking out of this cycle is the behaviour of senior managers. They must set the example. It is not enough to sign an email produced by the HR department urging staff to look at work-life balance, when you are still working 100 hours yourself.

But why are leaders so driven to work ridiculous hours? If you ask them what they want out of life they invariably admit they would like more time with family or for other interests. Somehow they feel they cannot. It is to do with trust and control. There is also a feeling of being indispensable and exceptional. I suggest there is also a macho element to coping with pressure.

This behaviour reinforces the work-life messages to staff. People respond to actions rather than words. Those actions are usually set out in some form of performance management system. In most systems outputs or goals are measured as well as a range of competencies.

The outputs are fairly standard and well defined and will have been set for someone working a standard day and to a particular level of quantity and quality. If you cannot produce in the agreed time to the agreed quality you would fail to meet your objective.

The behaviour required, however, tends to highlight the differences in what is written and what is expected. Most sensible behaviour measures look at how effective people are at producing the outputs. Do they work as part of a team? Or do they steal all the nice work? Other measures have scope for reporting on the way people work – their level of commitment, their willingness to go above and beyond.

Frequently this is seen through the person’s willingness to work outside office hours. Sometimes this can be directly opposed to policy.

It is a nightmare trying to reconcile this and invariably policy is ignored as staff who work late are rewarded. What of the staff who cannot do this, because they have children to collect, parents to care for? Part-time staff tend to suffer a similar fate. They may be disadvantaged, not from any lack of commitment on their part, but from a lack of opportunity.

If people want to work longer hours – so be it. They need not necessarily be rewarded financially. If they enjoy putting in the long hours then work itself may be their reward. If managers want to encourage part-time staff, the first step is to ask what they need. They will have far more practical and creative ideas on how they can demonstrate their effectiveness.

Senior managers need to be role models and to mark out commitment by rewarding staff who do an excellent job in the time available.