2 short articles on interviewing

of course I love you

1. Interviewing – First Love

“Not surprisingly, interview specialists have found it extraordinarily difficult to persuade most employers to adopt the structured interview. It just doesn’t feel right. For most of us, hiring someone is essentially a romantic process, in which the job interview functions as a desexualized version of a date. We are looking for someone with whom we have certain chemistry, even if the coupling that results ends in tears and the pursuer and the pursued turn out to have nothing in common. We want the unlimited promise of a love affair. The structured interview, by contrast, seems to offer only the dry logic and practicality of an arranged marriage. “ – Malcolm Gladwell (‘The New-Boy Network’)

*****

2. Interviewing – First Contact

Log on to the internet and google “interview” and “first impressions” and you will come up with over a million matches. The vast, vast, vast majority of the results are practically identical. To save time I’ll précis this information for you;

“Turn up at the right address, on time. Wear clothes. Don’t be late. Bring a firm handshake. Don’t kill any of the interviewers and smile.”

Paradoxically when interviewers are being trained there is almost as much advice telling them to ignore first impressions. It goes by a range of names; self-fulfilling prophecy, stereotyping, horns and halo effect (of which more later), interview-enhancing behaviour, etc. yet they all amount to more or less the same thing. This is the basic advice that has been handed down by interviewer trainer to interview consultant to interviewing facilitator from generation to generation and pretty much consists of the following;

Research indicates that interviewers decide which interviewee will get the job within the first X minutes and then spend the rest of the interview confirming their initial analysis; i.e. if they like the candidate they ask easy questions and treat the responses more favourably. Or, if they take a dislike to the candidate they will ask difficult questions and look less favourably on their answers. As interviewers you must fight against this, and remain totally objective.

(The value of X is any possible single integer – depending on age, laziness, of trainer.)

 

Executive Stress

First appeared in ‘Financial World’ (UK)
From the late 1920s stress has been defined as a “fight or flight” reaction to a threat, or a perceived threat. This definition by Walter Cannon now appears to be incomplete and research also suggests that the order is wrong.

Jeffrey Gray, amongst others ethologists, redefines the onset of stress as having three distinct stages – freeze, flight and only then fight.

The initial stage, “the freeze response”, is described as a state of hyper-vigilance (being on guard, watchful, or hyper-alert). This “stop, look, and listen” stage is associated with fear. Ethological research has demonstrated that prey that remain “frozen” during a threat are more likely to avoid detection.

Following this initial freeze response, the next response in the sequence is an attempt to get away from the danger. Once that option has been exhausted, there is an attempt to fight. These reactions always occur in this order.

These observations within the animal world are still thought to apply to humans as a hangover from primitive times. When we get into stressful situations the body automatically carries out a number of functions:

  • Firstly it discharges large amounts of adrenalin into the blood stream.
  • It shuts down the digestive system to allow an increased blood flow to the muscles.
  • It thickens the blood so that if the organism is cut, the blood will clot quickly.
  • These chemicals stay in the body and cause the symptoms we associate with stress these days – upset stomach, palpitations, heart disease, depression, etc.

Today a modern financial executive is more likely to encounter stress with a last minute presentation to the board, rather than being attacked by a wild animal. Yet the same stages are involved. We’ve all experienced the freeze response – or denial response, as some psychologists interpret the threat. It takes the form of: “Why me?” This is followed by the flight option. This can be quite tempting at the time, and occasionally the stress is so bad that flight – physically or emotionally – is the only way out.

However, more often than not the final option kicks in. This inevitably manifests itself as the “challenge”. The CFO has to respond as rationally and calmly as possible whilst the adrenaline builds up. Once or twice this is good. However, over a number of months, or years, it can eventually cause headaches, ulcers, etc as well as potential psychological and behavioural problems – depression, sleeplessness, etc.

The timing of stress is different from executive to executive. Graham Beasant, director of Finance and Corporate Resources at theUK’s Central Office of Information (COI), feels stress for him has an almost seasonal element: “I feel more pressure from April to June due to the end of the financial year and the preparation of COI’s annual report. During this time there are deadlines placed on COI by Parliament, the public and auditors.”

Maurice Phillips, finance director, Southdown Housing Association identified different aspects of the job as having more stress: “If you have a chance to work in finance then you will realise that most finance jobs are very busy in any organisation and stress comes with the nature of the work. The higher you go the more demanding and stressful the job becomes.”

Stress isn’t all bad though – we need some stress in our lives in order to perform – those last minute energy rushes to meet a deadline, the adrenaline that gives you the ability to see sharper, hear more and react quicker when placed in uncomfortable situations. We need stress – without it life would be incredibly boring. On the positive side stress is a source of motivation and a necessary component to survival. But it’s this excessive or prolonged stress that inevitably takes a toll on health.

A recent development in the study of stress links to control – the less control people have over their lives the more stress they tend to have. In terms of management within organisations, occupational psychologist Cary Cooper says: “Senior managers have ‘a sense of control’ … they feel they’re involved in decision-making. Research over the last couple of decades has shown that people who feel they have no control, no autonomy over the job they do in the workplace are likely to get a stress-related illness.”

How much control, as employers and managers do we have over these factors? Quite a bit, it would seem. Many of these factors relate to job design and communicating expectations – these are probably within the control of managers. Some organisations seem to take these factors very seriously indeed and many have introduced schemes for managing stress amongst their workforce.

Executive Stress

First appeared in ‘Financial World’ (UK)

From the late 1920s stress has been defined as a “fight or flight” reaction to a threat, or a perceived threat.

This definition by Walter Cannon now appears to be incomplete and research also suggests that the order is wrong.

Jeffrey Gray, amongst others ethologists, redefines the onset of stress as having three distinct stages – freeze, flight and only then fight.

The initial stage, “the freeze response”, is described as a state of hyper-vigilance (being on guard, watchful, or hyper-alert). This “stop, look, and listen” stage is associated with fear. Ethological research has demonstrated that prey that remain “frozen” during a threat are more likely to avoid detection.

Following this initial freeze response, the next response in the sequence is an attempt to get away from the danger. Once that option has been exhausted, there is an attempt to fight. These reactions always occur in this order.

These observations within the animal world are still thought to apply to humans as a hangover from primitive times. When we get into stressful situations the body automatically carries out a number of functions:

Firstly it discharges large amounts of adrenalin into the blood stream.

It shuts down the digestive system to allow an increased blood flow to the muscles.

It thickens the blood so that if the organism is cut, the blood will clot quickly.

These chemicals stay in the body and cause the symptoms we associate with stress these days – upset stomach, palpitations, heart disease, depression, etc.

Today a modern financial executive is more likely to encounter stress with a last minute presentation to the board, rather than being attacked by a wild animal. Yet the same stages are involved. We’ve all experienced the freeze response – or denial response, as some psychologists interpret the threat. It takes the form of: “Why me?” This is followed by the flight option. This can be quite tempting at the time, and occasionally the stress is so bad that flight – physically or emotionally – is the only way out.

However, more often than not the final option kicks in. This inevitably manifests itself as the “challenge”. The CFO has to respond as rationally and calmly as possible whilst the adrenaline builds up. Once or twice this is good. However, over a number of months, or years, it can eventually cause headaches, ulcers, etc as well as potential psychological and behavioural problems – depression, sleeplessness, etc.

The timing of stress is different from executive to executive. Graham Beasant, director of Finance and Corporate Resources at theUK’s Central Office of Information (COI), feels stress for him has an almost seasonal element: “I feel more pressure from April to June due to the end of the financial year and the preparation of COI’s annual report. During this time there are deadlines placed on COI by Parliament, the public and auditors.”

Maurice Phillips, finance director, Southdown Housing Association identified different aspects of the job as having more stress: “If you have a chance to work in finance then you will realise that most finance jobs are very busy in any organisation and stress comes with the nature of the work. The higher you go the more demanding and stressful the job becomes.”

Stress isn’t all bad though – we need some stress in our lives in order to perform – those last minute energy rushes to meet a deadline, the adrenaline that gives you the ability to see sharper, hear more and react quicker when placed in uncomfortable situations. We need stress – without it life would be incredibly boring. On the positive side stress is a source of motivation and a necessary component to survival. But it’s this excessive or prolonged stress that inevitably takes a toll on health.

A recent development in the study of stress links to control – the less control people have over their lives the more stress they tend to have. In terms of management within organisations, occupational psychologist Cary Cooper says: “Senior managers have ‘a sense of control’ … they feel they’re involved in decision-making. Research over the last couple of decades has shown that people who feel they have no control, no autonomy over the job they do in the workplace are likely to get a stress-related illness.”

How much control, as employers and managers do we have over these factors? Quite a bit, it would seem. Many of these factors relate to job design and communicating expectations – these are probably within the control of managers. Some organisations seem to take these factors very seriously indeed and many have introduced schemes for managing stress amongst their workforce.

 

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.

HIGH

^

| (Section A) (Section B)

|

Influence
|

|

| (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.

Truth, Power and Equality of Opportunities

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

‘When in doubt, tell the truth. When not in doubt, tell the truth.’

A simple phrase I picked up on a training course a few years ago has helped me to solve so many problems. You don’t believe me? Try it.

Simple. Easy. Brilliant. Use it as the staple answer for many managerial problems and concerns.

One definition of a manager is that you have staff to manage. If you have staff, you have problems. It goes with the territory. Don’t be surprised. It’s like doctors complaining that they only get to meet sick people – it’s going to happen. Your staff will have problems and they will want you to help. Those 13 short words can really help – ‘When in doubt, tell the truth. When not in doubt, tell the truth’.

How often have you been in a situation, perhaps a meeting, where, for some reason or another, you aren’t sure what’s really going on? Can you recall how frustrating that is for you sitting there trying to look as if you know what’s happening? Try this approach. Tell the truth.

The first time I run this experiment was at a very senior manager’s meeting. The very senior manager was talking about our bid for Investors in People. I had no idea where she was going with the discussion.

I took a deep breath. Then another.

“Irena. Excuse me for interrupting but I have no idea where you are going with this.”

The whole room took a sharp intake of breath.

“Neither have I come to think of it”.

The room laughed, slightly too loudly.

This works incredibly well with all sorts of problems especially personal problems, especially managerial problems. There’s the standard problem that gets asked, in one shape or form, at many interviews; “What would you do if a member of your staff has B.O.?” This type of problem arises all too frequently in life. Someone has a problem, perhaps their work is slipping, they need to change jobs, any number of situations. Try this approach. Ask yourself how you feel about the situation. More often than not I guess you feel uncomfortable, nervous. Address the problem;

“Ken, can I have a word? I feel really uncomfortable doing this but I feel I’ve got to let you know – You obviously haven’t recognised it yourself but I think you’ve got B.O.”. Then wait, listen and keep explaining until they understand. You may not be loved, initially, but I bet you’ll be respected far more than if you’d ignored it and they’d found out another way.

Tell the truth – as it honestly appears to you. There are many types of truth and you can only tell the truth as you see it. Let my explain. If your watch stops and someone asks you the time and you get it wrong – you’re not lying are you? You’re telling the truth as you see it.

This concept of truth is linked to power. There’s a certain power that comes from telling the truth.

A typical training course:

“What do I do if my boss keeps interrupting me and I can’t get my work done.”

“Tell her, “You keep interrupting me and I can’t get my work done.””

“But I feel really awkward about telling her – she’s my boss.”

“Tell her, “I feel really awkward about this as you’re my boss but you keep interrupting me and I can’t get my work done.”

“But…..”

“What do you think will happen?”

“Probably nothing.”

It’s that simple.

There are a number of success stories. Often it’s the smallest things that make a difference. I was training a group of Personal Assistants and one of them was very worried about telling her boss that she wanted to change the layout of the office. It was becoming really stressful for her. She spent a great deal of time complaining to other Personal Assistants, anyone that would listen in fact. She felt her boss would hate it and get furious. We discussed it, acted it out and eventually she decided she’d deal with him. Two days later I got a call – the office had already been changed – it worked out that he hated it as well and didn’t say anything as he felt she would resist. The amount of time and effort that was saved just by this was incredible.

It’s an excellent tool. Use it wisely. Use it honestly. It could help cut through the corporate code that all large organisations use. And there is a lot of corporate code. Having been on the interviewing end of many promotion boards I’ve seen so many reports about saints. Virtually every candidate has never done a bad thing in their life, according to their managers. They’ve never done a bad deed. Never had an evil thought. Then they walk into the room. Please…

After a while you spend all your time looking through the reports looking for secret code words. One secret word is ‘usually’. Alan is usually calm and even -tempered. This translates to Alan has psychopathic tendencies. Rebecca usually responds well to customers, particularly on the telephone. This means Rebecca can lose it on the phone now and again.

Angela is sociable would be code for Angela can be loud and a party animal and may have the odd Monday morning off work with a hangover.

It would be so refreshing to read “Fred is an ace worker in all aspects apart from figure work. He’s useless. He couldn’t add up 2 numbers to save his life.

I’d promote him and keep him well away from the Accounts Department.

On a recent equal opportunities seminar the question came up about managers feeling unable to help. After some discussion the problems were really in the managers’ heads. They were afraid of getting it wrong, afraid of upsetting someone. Having run a number of events with disabled staff and having worked through similar concerns with people with disabilities this approach works extremely well. My advice is – tell the truth. People tend to treat people with respect. They trust peoples’ intentions. If someone makes a mistake but their intention is to be helpful most people will forgive them. If you are unfortunate enough to ask a partially sighted person why they can’t read the signs (as I have) you’re far more likely to get a huge laugh rather than an embarrassed silence.

The question arose: “If you see someone in a wheelchair struggling to open a heavy door, what do you say?”

“Say, excuse me I can see that you’re in a wheelchair struggling to open that heavy door, do you need some help?””

It’s so simple. So easy. So do it.

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……

Managing Disability – Some tips

First appeared in ‘M.I.S.’ (U.K.)

There’s a fair amount of anxiety amongst managers when dealing with disabled people. There’s the whole language issue for a start. Is it disability, people with disabilities, handicapped, the disabled, the ably-challenged? What the hell’s the correct term to use today?

For me it’s about awareness and breaking old patterns of behaving and ways of thinking. You need to give it some thought. However remember that you may well get it wrong at times. Usually it doesn’t matter what you say as long as your intention is to be helpful. People will forgive you making mistakes as long as your intention isn’t to be malicious or hurtful. So far I’ve never come across a case where people have taken offence when people have tried to be helpful. I’ve asked blind people to ‘look at the board’, people with speech impediments to ‘speak up’ and of course I’ve felt like an absolute idiot. Yet I’ve never been made to feel bad. Any embarrassment has been generated internally.

It’s more than being p.c. It’s common courtesy and being sensible. If a friend gets married and changes their name you’ll call them their new name. If you forget and refer to their old name it may be embarrassing but that doesn’t make you a bad person.

Looking more closely at some of the implications behind common phrases may help. The term handicapped for instance was fairly recently widely used. However this term has associations with going ‘cap in hand’ and begging and it’s recommended that people use the term ‘disabled’ instead. I have heard the argument about ‘political correctness gone mad’ and ‘you can’t say anything these days’ but I would just go with the common sense, pragmatic approach; If I wanted you to call me ‘Barney’ because I thought ‘Byron’ was offensive why wouldn’t you? Would you try to argue with me that I was wrong? I hope not.

Other terms that can give the wrong impression are suffering from, victims of … or when a disabled person is talked about as being brave or courageous. I’ve been assured that this isn’t always the case. People with disabilities often aren’t any braver, more courageous or more suffering than anyone else.

It’s become a cliché I know but often it’s about seeing the person rather than the disability. So, labelling people with their disabilities; paraplegics, schizophrenics, the physically disabled is lazy and easy. It doesn’t help in developing a relationship with the person. It’s as bad, but less offensive, to label people as Welsh, or a management consultant. It puts people into a box and attributes them with all the prejudices you have about that particular stereotype.

It seems straightforward enough when you think about it. The real lesson for me is what to do when you’re not sure. If you’re not sure what word to use or not use then ask someone and tell them how you feel. Say “Look I don’t want to cause any offence so what word should I use here.” It’s not difficult, but it does take some thought.

Although managing people with disabilities may seem daunting, managing anybody should seem daunting. People with disabilities want to be managed the same way as anyone else. This doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. People aren’t the same. The most basic example would be building a ramp for wheelchair access alongside a set of steep steps. This is a good thing I hope you’ll agree. Yet if you were to treat everyone the same you wouldn’t build the ramp. It’s a spurious argument I’ve frequently heard with managers – “But I treat everyone the same”. Whilst their staff are all saying, “But we’re not.”

Everyone is different. People have different talents and it’s for managers to bring those talents out. The difference for me is illustrated in an example from football mangers. A decade or so ago when Jack Charlton managed the Ireland team he had a great defender Paul McGrath who had a severe drink problem. He managed this quietly and effectively. At the same time Paul Gascoigne’s similar problem was front page news everywhere and dealt with a good deal less effectively by a number of managers.

In the work situation this doesn’t mean you have to ignore someone’s disability – deal with it. The easiest way of doing this is by talking about it. This raises another problem in managers’ minds. How do you get the balance right between being intrusive and appearing uncaring?

My advice would be to trust your feelings. If you feel there is a problem you should address it. There will be no need to pry or ask personal questions. Have an adult conversation about your concerns and listen to the reply. Don’t ignore the problem and hope it will go away. You know that never happens.

If possible attend a training programme. Hopefully this should achieve a few things for you. Firstly it should help reinforce all the things you are already doing well, and secondly it should help raise your awareness of issues. It will also send out a message that you’re taking the situation seriously.

Some of the lessons I learnt from a course I attended ten years ago have stuck with me. One exercise was particularly traumatic for a number of us on the course. The instructors asked us to choose our disability. This was extremely hard. People were getting very upset imagining this. Eventually we’d all chosen – some were blind, deaf, etc… Then they introduced the second part of the exercise.

“Now, what can’t you do?” we were asked.

Initially there was a great deal of debate about all the things we couldn’t do if we were in a wheelchair, visually impaired, etc., but after a while we started to realise that there weren’t a great many barriers for us. Or at least if there were barriers there were ways around them. Most of these obstacles existed in our heads. OK, so being blind I was unlikely to win the hundred metres Olympic title. But as the trainer, very accurately, pointed out, pushing forty and being not particularly fit would tend to suggest that anyway.

The facilitator gave us an eye-opening example of the stereotyping wheelchair users come across. One day he was sitting in his wheelchair outside Marks and Spencer waiting for his wife and drinking a can of coke. A middle aged woman walked past, looked at him, opened her purse, took out a pound coin and dropped it in his can. “There” she smiled and walked off.

The tip is to address the issue and talk about it. If your member of staff is in a wheelchair and has problems opening a heavy door say, “Excuse me I can see that you’re in a wheelchair struggling to open that heavy door, do you need some help?”

It’s not difficult – is it?

Real Time Management or how would you like to be remembered

First appeared in ‘Business Plus’ (Ireland)

Time management training is awful. Time logging, hints for dealing with telephone calls, email tips – nothing seems to work. You can’t even begin to look at taking anything away from a time management course until you’ve considered your own mortality.

Try this exercise. It’s ten years in the future. You find yourself in a church at your own funeral. One by one people you know get up and talk about you and your contribution to the world. What are they going to say? What will your partner, your kids, your colleagues say? I can bet all the money in my pocket they won’t be wishing you’d spent just a few more hours in work at your desk.

So, having come to terms with your mortality what next? Next you look at the scenario slightly differently. How would you like to be remembered? What would you like those who care about you, and you care about, to say? That’ll be your starter. Once you’ve really got this big picture sorted you can move on.

The next exercise comes from Stephen Covey. It’s linked to the previous exercise and known as ‘Stephen Covey’s Big Rocks’. Imagine a bucket. Put three or four big rocks in. “Is the bucket full?” “No” you reply. “Of course not” I say and put some smaller rocks in it to fill in the gaps. “Full now? “, “No”. I put in some sand, then some water. It’s full.

So, what’s the learning here? It’s to do with the order. What would happen if you’d reversed the order? Put the water in first, then the sand, the small rocks. There would be no room for the big rocks. These big rocks are the important things in your life. You need to schedule them first, not try to squeeze them in after arranging the water (writing pointless reports), sand (unnecessary travel) or small rocks (staff meetings where no-one listens and everyone looks at the clock). What are the big rocks in your life? For many it’s things like family, time to watch the children grow up, time to write that novel, time for themselves, time to back a difference. You decide. You identify 3 or 4 things you believe are important. The 3 or 4 things that will make a difference at your funeral. When you’ve decided what they are then schedule them. Schedule time for yourself, time to take that French class, time to spend a week with the children at half term. Once these times are scheduled fit the rest of your work around them. Try it – it works.

It’s not big and it’s not clever to work more than forty hours a week. I repeat, it’s not big and it’s not clever. So stop it. Stop that ‘poor me, look how many hours I work’ nonsense. Work as little as you can. Do as much as you can in the time agreed, but once you’ve done – run away – go home. The surprise will be how little people miss you. It may be hard at first to realise the world of work can carry on without you but give it time. This feeling will be replaced by one of immense joy. “I’m dispensable!” This will give you enormous freedom.

There are ways of accelerating this process; get a team of happy people to work for you. Build a group of people who appreciate and trust you. One of the great ways of building up this trust and appreciation turns old time management theory on its head. When you arrive at work don’t get straight to your desk and start wading through emails. When you arrive at work talk to each member of your team, properly. Ask about their family, their son’s football match, the health of their car, their cat or whatever is important to them. Invest the time in people – it really pays dividends in the long run.

Once you’ve got all this sorted time management is a doddle. There are useful little tips about only opening emails twice a day that you can totally ignore. Why? Because you’re a human being and incredibly curious. Tips you can use in many ways – the Pareto principle. This states that 20% of effort gives you 80% of the result. This is excellent. Unless there is a dire need to complete everything (carrying out a heart transplant would fit into this category), ask yourself if you could live with getting 80%. If you can – perfect. You can then do something else and get the 80% of that from 20% of the effort.

There are lots of hints and tips about time logs, to do lists, telephones, meetings, emails, mails, procrastination, “time stealers” (a philosophically difficult concept for me to get my head around), paperwork and working from home. Have a look at each one. Then discount 80% of them. If you’ve heard of them but still not doing them my guess is you never will. If they are new and sound interesting – try them.

But never forget the big picture. Why save 10 minutes in handling paperwork if you’re only going to spend it trawling through useless emails. Remember you can’t save time – you’ve only got so much. You know that. So now, what do you want to be remembered for?