Archive for the ‘Topic – Current Affairs’ Category

Conflict Resolution

Sunday, November 4th, 2018

As some of you know, I record nearly all my vlogs in the US.

For my last trip, I decided to record one on Responses to Dominance, Power v Negotiation and the CUDSA Conflict Management model. Where to do it? The US / Mexico border seemed perfect … so after flying to Dallas, taking an 11-hour overnight Greyhound coach to El Paso and then driving 7 hours to a small border crossing in the Big Bend National Park, here it is!

When we face conflict it can often generate emotions – which can make the situation difficult to manage.  This may lead us to address the issue from a position of power rather than negotiation – which is unlikely to bring lasting change.  The CUDSA model of conflict management gives us a five step process that will help us approach the situation from a positive and cognitive position.  It works – try it!


Thinking I was about to die …

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

It was around 8.10 am, on Saturday 13th January 2018. Peta and I were sitting having breakfast with seven Americans and two Canadians in Wailuku, central Maui – one of the Hawaiian islands. We were in particular conversation with a Hawaiian. She was a criminal prosecutor on the Islands. She had explained that her 12 year old daughter was a talented tennis player, and that she was competing at a competition nearby, escorted by her dad. The mum explained that she used to go to her daughter’s matches, but she found it a little stressful and was concerned that she transferred this stress to her daughter.  All the other people, including us, were on holiday from further afield.

Part way through the conversation, her mobile phone buzzed. As she was picking it up, two other mobile phones in the room also buzzed. The mother’s face suddenly took on a look of complete horror, “Oh my god, oh my god” she said, and started fumbling with the key pad. “What should I do, when’s it going to happen?” “Let’s stay calm”, said an elderly gentleman from Texas who was also perusing his phone. The tennis mum stood up, and then sat down again, “What should I do?” she asked, looking at Peta and I – but Peta and I were completely in the dark …

“What’s the matter?”, I asked, keen to understand what had brought on this sudden panic. “There’s a bomb on the way to hit us” she said, and handed us her phone. There was a message across the screen which read, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL”. The same message had appeared on other people’s phones. The owner of the hotel turned on the TV and that same message was on the TV screen.  I now understood the panic.

My first thoughts were, “Well, if it us who get hit, how long have we got left?” A perfectly sensible thought for someone who likes detail and facts – but I had no way of answering the question.

My next thoughts turned to our children. Should I contact them? If I had a few minutes or hours to live, did I want to say a few words to them online whilst I still had the chance? Or if I thought that it probably wasn’t going to happen, did I want to leave it so that I didn’t unduly concern them?  This was a more helpful thought process as it made me consider whether I thought the threat was real or not.

Was it real? Could North Korea really have set this ballistic ball rolling? Surely not? But the messages on phones and TVs seemed real and pretty convincing …

I decided not to contact the kids – 60/40 or perhaps 70/30 on the balance of probabilities (based on little or no evidence – so it was more likely a gut feeling) I didn’t believe this missile attack would occur, or if it did, we wouldn’t be ‘hit’. Therefore, to attempt to contact them would only raise their concerns.

Then I noticed the gardener – what about him? As we sat around anxiously and strangely surreally discussing how many minutes or hours we had left to live, he was oblivious. I watched him waving his trimmer from side to side like a scythe, headphones on, in a state of contentment with no idea at all as to what was going on. He was in his own world. I started considering whether his world was a better place to be. I asked the hotel proprietor, “What about your gardener?” Was it best to leave him there, oblivious to our unsettling reality, or should we let him know what was going on? Did we have a right to not tell him? Would it be kinder to leave someone so they didn’t know? It was weird. He was physically so close yet emotionally so far away. But ultimately I left it to the proprietor – I had other priorities.

So where would I find further evidence as to whether this ballistic weapon was on its way? I needed to access the internet to see if I could find anything to support or negate my view. Before that though, I wanted a coffee.

I went to pour myself one – but this took me too close to the windows for the proprietor’s liking. “I need to ask you to move away from the window, in case there is an explosion”, she requested quietly and calmly. “I’m not sure the proximity of a window will have too much of a consequence if we take a hit from this missile”, I responded with a slightly nervous laugh, “but I will move away once I have a coffee”.

We had already established that the hotel did not have a shelter, nor was there one nearby – so we couldn’t action the one piece of advice in the text. We all congregated in a corridor as close to the centre of the property as possible, away from any windows – apart from the Canadians, who had disappeared to I know not where.

I looked up how to contact Sky News and sent them a brief email as to what was happening as there was nothing on Sky News. If I really was going to get blown up, then why not be blown up live on Sky, I thought – I’ve discovered I can get a bit blasé when I think I’ve only got minutes left to live. They didn’t respond (and still haven’t responded, so I’ll not be contacting them again next time this happens to me … I’ll try the BBC next time).

I had been searching the internet for about a minute when, about 10 minutes after the initial alarm, the elderly Texan who had suggested staying calm said, “It’s a false alarm – I have found it on the internet”. He then read out further details. I guess my only emotion should have been huge relief at this point, but it wasn’t – there was some relief, but I was also mildly cross that he had found it before I did.  The emerging story was that apparently someone had ‘pressed the wrong button’.

Photo courtesy of

There were deep breaths and visible relief, and then it all became mildly funny. Slowly we returned to the breakfast table. Eventually the Canadians returned (although they didn’t seem to find anything about it the slightest bit funny).

Around 8.50, the phones were set off again (which made one of the Canadians swear) – this time with a message to say that the first message had been a false alarm. I wondered how or why it had taken them 38 minutes to find the right button to press to say it was a mistake. But perhaps they had to make that button – as I guess they never intended to press the first button in error, so why would they create the second button to say they shouldn’t have pressed the first one? Anyway, that’s their problem …

What did I reflect on?

  • Even without the false alarm, Hawaiians are concerned about being targeted by North Korea – but this made them share their concern. And I guess it’s the same the world over with people hiding their own personal alarm and concerns well – until something happens to trigger them, or, more importantly and helpfully, until someone asks the right questions and listens to them. We can all do that.
  • I should have spent more time with Peta during the period of uncertainty. She didn’t have the same confidence that it was a false alarm, and would have preferred me not to have spent time looking for evidence on the internet. I get that, and it also illustrates how different people and personalities function.
  • How the Texan ‘beat me’, but that’s just my competitiveness!
  • Technology is wonderful, and it can be very, very useful – but people using in this type of situation must be competent
  • I wouldn’t have told the gardener – and if it happens to me again I hope I am somewhere with my headphones on, in blissful ignorance …

But what would you do in that situation if you thought you might only have 10 minutes left to live?

I know, it’s a very unfair question. Impossible to put yourself in that position? Probably. It’s a bit like footballers practicing penalties for play-off games and cup competitions – you can’t create the required circumstances, so they don’t really know how it will go on the day.

Four days later we were on a plane leaving Maui, and one guy on the plane had a shirt with the words, “I survived the Hawaiian ballistic missile attack”. Peta pointed to it; I laughed out loud. “Yes, we’re still here” she said.


Contractual Outcomes

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

I travelled down to London from Yorkshire by train last Sunday as I often do. It’s usually an uneventful trip, however, it was different this time. Overhead power cables at Retford weren’t working so Virgin East Coast Trains had to take a detour generally used by freight traffic which wasn’t an ‘electrified’ route. This meant they had to borrow non-electric trains from other rail companies. So I boarded my East Midlands train an hour late and ended up in London about two and a half hours late – and after the tube trains and other lines had closed for the night.

In fairness to Virgin Trains, they handled the situation as efficiently as possible and sorted out taxis for everyone for their onward journeys.

Their staff were also keen to make sure travellers knew about their Delay Repay scheme, which, as the name suggests, means that travellers get a percentage of their fare returned where they have arrived at their destination over half an hour late. This is a good scheme, and I’m sure it acts as a financial motivator to train companies – having been stopped in a field in North Dakota, USA on an Amtrak train for 9 hours recently, such a scheme would possibly change Amtrak’s mindset, or put them out of business within 3 months.

Earlier this month the UK Government announced that it would be reducing this half hour to fifteen minutes – so any delays over a quarter of an hour will mean the train companies having to compensate passengers.

Which? Magazine has been campaigning heavily on another aspect of this too – their view is that as only an estimated 20% of people claim their Delay Repay compensation, the train companies need to raise awareness of its existence and make it easier for people to claim.  That may be the case, and it is great that the time at which compensation kicks in is being reduced, but I think this issue needs to be approached from a different angle.

The contract with the traveller needs to be fairer.

What happens if I get stuck in traffic and cannot make the specific train I am booked on to due to arriving at the station 10 minutes late? I have to buy a completely new full-fare ticket – as you can only amend tickets for specific trains prior to the departure time.

What Which? should be pushing for, and the Government should be introducing, is a scheme whereby if such a situation arises, I don’t have to buy a whole new ticket, but have to pay an administrative fee or additional percentage due to being late – which could be linked to how late I was getting to the station. A scheme that echoes Delay Repay, for when the customer is later rather than the train. This could have been complicated a few years ago, but a software solution to calculate such penalties would now be straight forward to create.

And this isn’t just the case for trains – it happens in other situations.

If I return a hire car more than an hour late, I have to pay a fee. If it breaks down for part of my hire period I get no compensation.

The unfairness of contracts isn’t the only issue though – and in the situations already described we, the consumers, have to accept the offer that the Goliath has put on the table.  We have more influence in smaller scale situations. How do we create more meaningful contracts in the first place? How do we contract for business focused outcomes rather than simplistic outputs?

If I want to employ someone to cut my lawn, he or she may offer to cut it once a fortnight, however, I might want the contract to be that they cut it every time it gets above a certain height – the latter being a more effective approach for me but a potentially more difficult contract to manage for the provider.

It has been interesting reading the debates about contracts to run private sector prisons. The move towards payments for how a company reduces repeat offending as opposed to just running a prison are very positive. The Government is encouraging this more widely through Social Impact Bonds. Again, more difficult contractually, but focused on the required outcome rather than a more simplistic output or activity.

Which brings me to my primary line of work – training. I struggle to understand why companies almost all the time contract for courses to be delivered. If a provider is offering training, it should be to up-skill people, improve performance, change behaviours, etc. So why don’t organisations push for the contracts to be about up-skilling people, improving performance or changing behaviours – and pay providers for that, as opposed to just delivering training.  Focus on the required outcomes, not the simplistic outputs.

Harder to contract for, but ultimately more business focused – and it drives up performance within the training sector, and the really poor performers (of which there are too many) either improve or are consigned to history.

Contractually, industry shouldn’t give training providers such an easy ride, in the same way that the Government shouldn’t be giving rail companies such an easy ride.


Re-United – the 1992 Committee

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Music bands reform on a reasonably regular basis – usually with the aim of making as much money over as short a period of time as possible. As I write this, Fleetwood Mac are soon to tour with Christine McVie back in the line-up, re-creating the band as it was for the Rumours album, and there is talk that Oasis are about to reform after five years apart. Similarly, Monty Python are taking the same approach in July this year – quite openly with the exactly same financial objective – with their “One down, five to go” shows.

And in the same way that Monty Python are down to 5 out of its 6 members, through the sad death of Graham Chapman, Manchester United’s  Class of ‘92 are too, but in a different way. Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt have bought Salford City FC, keen to offer support to a local football venture, whilst David Beckham is creating a different vision in Miami.

More immediate than that, however, is their re-united presence at Old Trafford. The short reign of David Moyes is over and Ryan Giggs is in charge. Phil Neville – one of Moyes’ assistants – has been retained; he’s not to blame apparently, he can’t be – he’s a part of the Class of ’92 – what is now being referred to as the 1992 Committee. Paul Scholes has returned this week, too, and Nicky Butt is more involved. That only leaves Gary Neville, but he may well be there commentating for Sky whilst also being part way through his football coaching badges.

The scene is set – for a thunderous atmosphere at the game against Norwich later today. But the logic and theory for such an atmosphere doesn’t add up – it is completely irrational. Giggs has far less experience as a manager than Moyes, and is apparently not being considered for the permanent role. His lieutenants do not have much more experience. So what do they have? They have three things.

Being the 1992 Committee. They are that home grown crop of players who were central to United’s successes between roughly 1995 and 2010. They are the history that the supporters yearn for – they played completely differently to how Moyes’ teams played. They are seen as the saviours – both potentially on the pitch and because the rumours are that they are leading a bid to buy Manchester United back from the Glazers. In the week we have celebrated St George’s Day, they are returning to slay some dragons.

Symbolism. Giggs moved his pre-match press conference back to the time and place that Sir Alex held them. The news channels were running a picture of the four of them together – Giggs, Scholes, Phil Neville and Butt – there could have been more as there are more coaches (for example, the goalkeeping coach who has been retained as he has helped De Gea considerably). But just the four in the photograph.

Use of Emotional intelligence. When exploring EI in speeches, I often use Henry V’s St Crispin’s Day monologue, or some of Barak Obama’s, but what about Ryan Giggs’ press conference?

“I am proud, I am happy and a little nervous” (Self-awareness).

“My mind-set is on Norwich first and then the remaining three games”, and “It’s been a frustrating season and I want to end it on a high” (Self-management).

“I can’t wait for Saturday – I know the place will be rocking and know the fans will be behind us” and “My philosophy is the Manchester United philosophy,” (Social awareness).

“I’d like to thank David [Moyes] for giving me my first chance in coaching” and “I trust the players, I know what they are capable of and I want them to go out and show it against Norwich” (Relationship Management).

He was clear and passionate about what he wants to achieve: “I want players to play with passion, speed, tempo and be brave, with imagination, all the things that are expected of a Manchester United player. I want to see goals, tackles, players taking players on and getting the crowd up. I want the passion that should come with being a Manchester United player”.

Whatever happens during the game, the atmosphere and build up will be electric. Not for any rational reasons – purely for emotional ones. It will demonstrate the power of emotion attachments and symbols. Who knows what the result will be – I don’t (and I have published this before the game) – but it has huge potential based on emotional motivation.

Will it be another example of how dreams, potential and belief can be brought to fruition in completely irrational ways?

My son was in a class of 18 two weekends ago at St George’s, the FA HQ. He was on a coaching course. When the un-named guest speaker arrived, it was Ryan Giggs – to be assessed for his UEFA ‘A’ Coaching qualifications. (As an aside, I wonder whether he will have been more nervous for that or his first game in charge?).

I asked Alex whether he said anything to Giggs at the end of the session; “I just shook his hand and said that I hoped he got his goal for the season … (Giggs is the only person to have scored in every season since the Premier League was introduced in 1991) … and he said that it would be good but he was running out of games”.

Perhaps, just perhaps …


Metro and Mail

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

In the early 1970’s at the age of 13, I went on my first international holiday. It was a school trip to Paris. I still remember aspects of it with great fondness – I say ‘aspects of it’ because I have forgotten a lot of what we did. The most memorable part, without a doubt, was going off and playing on the Metro one afternoon. We had been due to go to some pre-arranged activity, but a friend and I didn’t want to go – we wanted to see how many Metro stations we could visit in one afternoon (although I think our story was that we wanted to go to Pere Lachaise Cemetery as my Grandma had asked me to get some post cards of it).

Looking back on it now, I am a little surprised that the teachers allowed us to disappear off around Paris for half a day, not knowing where we were going (and obviously pre-mobile phones!) – but we were young, excited and gave no thought to whatever dangers a 1970s Paris may hold for two 13 year old lads …

Anyway, we had a great time – but we were doing it on a budget. A budget that required us to buy as few Metro tickets as possible.  We soon discovered that it was possible to insert the same small yellow Metro ticket into the entry machines more than once and still gain access. The machine punched a small round hole in the ticket to show that it had been used, but it was apparent that the machine was unable to detect whether or not a ticket already had a hole in it.

We got to the point where we were playing with the machines to see how many holes we could get in a ticket before it rejected the ticket. I recall that I got to 26 holes … I still have the ticket somewhere, but not sure exactly where.

I have been back to Paris since then and, as you may be aware, the ticket machines are far more sophisticated now. Whilst there may well be some very elaborate frauds available to those keen enough to spend a lot of time on such matters, a couple of 13 year old boys are unlikely to be able to use a ticket more than once.

It is understandable why they sorted it out – in terms of funding operations, tube fares really are the Metro’s lifeline. Whilst the Metro will have other revenue streams such as refreshment kiosks and advertising, their primary funding stream is the passenger. All fairly straight forward?

I would say so, but it appears not to be for the UK’s Post Office and Royal Mail.

The Post Office’s ‘raison d’etre’ is to deliver letters. Selling cards, holiday insurance and travel money must surely be ‘add-ons’ – particularly when there are apparently around 60 million letters posted each day (based on a six day week).

So if this is the main funding stream, it needs to be managed effectively – but it is not. I never cease to be amazed at the number of letters that I receive where the stamps have not been franked (i.e. had an ink date stamped across the stamps). The picture at the top of the page are ones I have received in the past month where the stamps are as fresh and clean as they day they were bought. The total value of those stamps is £5.98.

At the risk of appearing very sad, for the past three year I have monitored this issue around Christmas time and have found that around 15% of letters I receive with stamps on are not franked. What does this add up to in financial terms?

Let’s say the average cost to send a letter is 65 pence. If half of these use stamps (as opposed to other forms of paying postage) this equates to 180 million being sent a week at a cost of £117m per week (180m letters x 65p).

Over the year, this equates to £6.1b. A significant sum. 15% of this figure is £912m – that’s the value of stamps that are not being marked as ‘used’. If customers were to re-use 50% of those stamps (which I am not advocating) it equates to an annual loss of around £456m. A significant loss.

How can a company afford to lose that amount of money on something which is their core business? Machines that frank letters effectively can’t be too difficult to create, can they?  And even if they are, a quick memo along the following lines from employer to employee could start to eradicate the problem:

Dear postal worker, when delivering letters where the stamps have not been franked, please put a pen stroke across the stamps. Thank you.

Potential saving – almost £0.5b.

If the Post Office is so inefficient, no wonder it is being sold off. Did it lose its focus? Did it take its eye off the ball.

Whatever the size of your business or operation, it is always worth taking some time out every now and then to check you have your priorities right. As Richard Branson said, “To me, business isn’t about wearing suits or pleasing stockholders. It’s about being true to yourself and focusing on the essentials”.


Take Part, Win or Win at all Costs?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

I have loved watching the London Olympics – both at the Olympic Stadium itself and in front of my TV. There have been numerous remarkable human achievements which will inspire and motivate others both in sport and other endeavours. I have found the joy of watching people achieve lifelong ambitions very emotional, as have been the reactions of some of those who have not achieved what they wanted to.

There is a lot of pressure to win – the amount of time the athletes have invested in preparation, justification for the funding received and to be seen as ‘the best’ being just three. But how far should an athlete go to win?

Picture a continuum – a straight line with ‘fair play’ at one end and ‘unfair play’ at the opposite end.

At one end of the continuum, we have Timo Boll the German table tennis player who was awarded a point because his opponent’s return supposedly missed the table – but Timo saw that it had shaved the side. He calmly explained this to the umpire and asked for the point to be awarded to his opponent. Apparently, he received the loudest applause of the day for this gesture – but he lost the match and his Olympics were over.

At the other end of the spectrum we have people taking performance enhancing drugs which are outlawed, which is clearly wrong.

Moving along my continuum and slightly further towards the middle we have the badminton pairs who were playing each other and both teams attempted to lose the match – and this happened in two matches.   They were disqualified by their Federation for “not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.” And so their Olympics were over.  Not as clear cut as drugs cheats, perhaps, but clearly against the rules within their sport.

But now to the grey area – and let’s look at ‘Team GB’. I was watching the rowing final for the Lightweight Double Skulls when one of the rower’s seats broke soon after the start. He waved the seat in the air to alert the umpire because there is a rule which states that if there is a breakage within the first 100 metres, the race can be restarted with the breakage having been rectified.  The rule is a bit of an anachronism as it was apparently introduced to deal with wooden rows that sometimes broke early in the race due to the force of the early strokes – they don’t use wooden rows any longer, but the rule is still in place.

Sir Steve Redgrave was commentating and as soon as it happened, he said that the rower needed to show the broken seat to the Umpire and, “… if it wasn’t broken then make sure it is broken …” by the time the Umpire got to their boat.  John Inverdale, the co-commentator, tried to retrieve the situation by subtly suggesting to him that he might have been trying to say something slightly different, but Sir Steve’s statement had been very clear. The pair went on to claim the Silver Medal.

Moving to the Velodrome, the British team got themselves in a bit of hot water – or lukewarm water at the very least – with one of their tactics.  In the a Men’s Team Sprint heat Philip Hindes wobbled as he set off against France, so didn’t get a very good start. His response was to deliberately crash his bike to get a restart.

Hindes told reporters that team tactic was, “… if we have a bad start we need to crash to get a restart.” He added, “I just crashed, I did it on purpose to get a restart, just to have the fastest ride. I did it. So it was all planned, really,” By the time of the Press Conference, the official line was that he had lost control of his bike.  The team won the restarted heat and went on to win the Gold Medal.

The points made by the individuals in both cases are interesting as they were said in the ‘heat of the moment’ – at points when both were emotionally involved in what was happening, and so likely to be less guarded, but perhaps giving a more honest insight into how these teams operate.

The ethos in these examples appears to be to use the rules, but not in ways in which they were intended. Where does this sit on the Continuum of Fair Play?

Cycling and Rowing were our most successful sports in terms of medal returns. Is it partly because these participants and coaches adopt this ‘aggressive’ use of the rules? And if they are awarded additional funding because of these successes, is it ‘right’, and will it encourage other athletes and sportspersons to adopt a similar approach? Is this an example of winning at all costs – apart from doping – and in doing so creating a less than level playing field?

As the Olympics came to a conclusion, Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England talked about what the banking sector could learn from Team GB.  During his lesson on morality, he said, “As recent scandals have shown, banks could learn a thing or two about fair play from the Olympic movement. Again the financial sector has done us all a disservice in promoting the belief that massive financial compensation is necessary to motivate individuals.” Perhaps he’s right. But, on our continuum, how far are the previously mentioned examples of the uses of the rules in the rowing and cycling events from how some of our bankers have interpreted rules?

Or is all this inherent in any system where reward – financial, medals or otherwise – is present? And should it be accepted as night follows day?  Is there an opportunity for learning and development providers to offer an event on Profitable Rule Interpretation?

Perhaps we like to think of society as being made up of lots of Timo’s, but in reality the ethos is more about being less open and more manipulative than we want to admit to being?  Or perhaps the manipulative ones become winners, and that shapes society?

Or it could be that the comments I have quoted were, in fact, meant in a different way and have been misinterpreted.

In short, do we ‘play fair’ as much as we like to think and make out we do?

I’m reasonably clear on where I stand, but I would be interested in your views. I may change my mind having heard from others.


Perez Needed Positive Messages

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

I have huge respect for racing drivers. They demonstrate a level of focus that can be found in few other sports people. A Formula 1 driver drives each corner almost inch perfect, time after time, and their speed has to be absolutely on the button. One mistake and they are finished for that race. This is so different from almost every other sport – in team sports, there is time to rectify errors – the game doesn’t end as the first point is scored or goal is registered.  In individual sports, the tennis player can serve again or play another point, and the golfer has 18 holes (sometimes 72) if they mess one up.

And so I was watching the Malaysian Grand Prix last weekend – which was made more eventful by rain. As it drew to its conclusion, the Mexican Sergio “Checo” Perez driving for Sauber – usually one of the less competitive teams – was in second position, and appeared to have the chance to win the race. He gradually reduced the distance between himself and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari. Finally, he was within a second of it with half a dozen laps to go. The chance was there.

Then he received a message over his radio from his pit crew. “Checo be careful, we need this position, be careful”. They needed the position because points bring in cash in Formula 1, and perhaps because this was the nearest that Peter Sauber, the team principal, had been to victory in almost 20 years of Formula 1. But ‘be careful’? And twice in the same sentence?  Checo had contended with torrential rain whilst driving at 150mph and with visibility down to a few yards for the first part of the race. Now with a relatively clear track and dry conditions he is told to “be careful”!

Almost as soon as he had received the message, he ran wide off the track, lost several seconds and that was the end of his challenge for first place. He did manage to regain control, and so finished in second place, but what could have been?

And more importantly, was the loss of control the result of being told to “be careful”?

This focussing of people’s minds on the potential pitfalls rather than on their achievements is something I come across on an almost daily basis in workplaces. I saw a sign recently on some stairs which read, “Do not spill your drink – this causes a slip hazard”. I wondered which members of staff in particular attempted or wanted to spill their drinks on the stairs. And when a drink is spilt, it appears that you don’t need to clean it up! Perhaps a better sign could have been “If you spill liquids, clean up to avoid slips – thanks” – same amount of words, but perhaps a different focus for the message – and a different message?

I also hear it a lot where children are involved – and this is the most concerning issue for me. “Don’t spill your drink”, “Be careful with your plate”, “Don’t fall over”, “Make sure you don’t fall off the climbing frame”, and so they go on. The vast majority of children have no intention of doing any of these things – they are probably already concentrating on achieving (or perhaps not failing) before hearing these ‘words of wisdom’, so what help are they? Or what hindrance are they?

“Well done for carrying that full cup”, “You carried that plate beautifully”, and “You’ve done really well getting to the top of that climbing frame” could be so much more effective. The child will grow up looking at the world in a more positive way, and they will have more self-belief.

And as they move into the work environment, perhaps we would then see fewer notices like the one above – and Checo and Peter Sauber may have won their first Grand Prix.


The responsibility of power, and the power of responsibility

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Last week here in the UK, a couple of our Members of Parliament (MPs) made comments they regretted – or perhaps they regretted? Whether they did or they didn’t regret them, it has been claimed in some quarters that they said ‘sorry’ for their interventions, but I’m not sure that they did.

Labour front bencher Diane Abbott was the first. She Tweeted a fairly sweeping generalisation about what “white people” allegedy sometimes do, and in doing so raised a few eyebrows. She eventually sought to minimise any damage caused – after either a period of reflection or having been ordered to – and issued a statement. Within it she said, “I understand people have interpreted my comments as making generalisations about white people. I do not believe in doing that. I apologise for any offence caused.”

The second example, which occurred around the same time as the first, was by a member of the Conservative Party – fortuitously, as it hopefully protects me from accusations of political affiliations! Our Prime Minister had made unfavourable comments about Ed Balls’ body language at Prime Minister’s Questions. He also felt the need to apologise. “I was speaking off the cuff, and if I offended anyone of course I am very sorry about that,” David Cameron said to Andrew Marr on the latter’s BBC1 Show. “That was not my intention at all.”, he added.

But these aren’t apologies. They are excuses for apologies.

Let’s say you go into a shop to complain about how you have been treated by a member of staff, because their actions and behaviour made you angry. You explain all this to the manager. The manager then apologises to you for your anger. How is that likely to impact on you? Has that really helped? And, perhaps most importantly, how seriously is the matter being taken.

Both Abbott and Cameron have only apologised to people experiencing negative feelings – and only for the feelings, not for their own actions. If you didn’t experience any feelings, they are not talking to you. They haven’t taken responsibility for their behaviour.

This theme of responsibility raised its ugly head again yesterday when I was watching a football match on the Television. A player was waiting for the ball to be returned to him so that he could take a throw in, and from the brief close up it was obvious that the player was receiving a considerable amount of abuse from that section of the crowd.  The commentator felt a need to comment. Perhaps because of the colour of the players skin, perhaps because the player had recently been involved in a high profile confrontation with an allegedly racist foundation, perhaps for some other reason. Commenting about the abuse of footballers, he said, “It is habitual …. It goes on, blue, red, black, white, it’s the nature of the beast”.

Sadly, I accept such abuse happens – I go to football matches. But it’s not habitual and if I am part of that collective ‘beast’, it’s certainly not in my nature.  I would have preferred it if the commentator had been a little less resigned and a shown a little more responsibility. Rather than accepting it as the norm and labelling everyone, would it not have been more helpful for him to point out the unacceptability of what was happening, and that it doesn’t have to be like that, to the millions who were viewing?

Having staff take responsibility for their actions is a key role of management. Where a manager genuinely apologises for the inappropriate or unhelpful actions of one of their staff, as opposed to the feelings of the customer, he or she is more likely to deal with the matter robustly. And where the manager ensures that the employee takes responsibility for their actions, the approach is more mature and more beneficial for organisational development – which can only contribute positively to the organisation’s successes.

I am currently working with one organisation where such an approach has had a powerful result. In past times, when one of their drivers had a collision, they gave them additional training. For the past few years the first thing they do – where the driver is at fault – is to require them to take responsibility for their actions that led to the collision. This discussion leads to a greater insight into what the person has done and their specific development needs. This approach has contributed to a more than 25% reduction in collisions for this organisation.

Perhaps if this approach led to a 25% swing in voters, MPs would be more adept at taking responsibility for their actions – genuinely or otherwise!


Being Santa

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

This blog post carries a warning. Its content is unsuitable for anyone under the age of about 10.

My first ever paid employment was in Santa’s grotto. I was an elf. It was at the now defunct Co-op on George Hudson Street, York. Whilst I am proud that we were voted the third best grotto in the north of England that year, I can’t claim too much responsibility – as an elf, I had to be neither seen nor heard.  My role was to listen to the conversations that Santa was having with each child and then decide what gift to send down the chute to Janet aged 6, Stephen aged 4, etc. When faced with problems such as Sam or Jo(e) aged 2, a peek at the colour of clothing was also required – and then I hoped for shades of blue or pink as opposed to yellow …

The job lasted about 2 months. In the last week of December, visitor numbers plummeted. Santa was old news – for the moment – and we elves had to move on.

But having caught the bug, it stayed with me. About 15 years later, I saw a solitary Santa outfit in a Homebase January sale – for £2.50. Seeing it took me back to my time in the grotto. I briefly reminisced about the fun that was had, I smiled to myself, and quickly decided that I was ready to move up from elf to Santa, and so rescued the lonely and forlorn outfit. There was also no doubt in my mind that the amount of fun I could have with it would be an ample return on investment for me. And I was so right!

That was many years ago. I now have additional accessories – such as a bag for presents – and a back-up outfit in case I get any problems with the No 1 suit.

I have been Santa for individuals, and I have been Santa for groups of over a hundred. I never cease to be amazed by the reactions that I (or, probably more accurately, Santa) generates. It works on all ages, with the best reactions generally being from the relatively young and the relatively old – most people aged between about 13 and 33 seem to go through a ‘serious phase’ that precludes them from having any Santa related fun.

It’s not all fun though – Santa has to have his wits about him. Last year an eight year old girl asked Santa if he had to speak lots of different languages. Santa replied that of course he did. “Speak to me in Latin, Santa”, she retorted. Santa explained that he didn’t need to speak that language as nobody else did now, and quickly moved on to other less challenging customers.

And once Santa has visited, the magic can continue. A few years ago, Santa was asked to give an unexpected surprise to Lou. Whilst the encounter took place on a pavement next to a busy road in north west England, Lou loved it. What made this encounter different was that about a year later Lou came on one of my courses – and up to that point she only knew me as Santa!

Lou is now my Chief Elf, undertaking what she believes are genuine Elf qualifications (if she reads this, perhaps the magic will not continue much longer!), and during each December we have a number of Elf / Santa related email exchanges.

Santa’s most recent gig was with some forty-something and fifty-something year old training consultant colleagues. As expected, they were quickly exercising their child ego-states and had regressed to single digit ages – particularly when they received selection boxes from Santa.  I sadly missed the visit of Santa – I had to make a 15 minute phone call – but they told me all about it when I returned.

As the conversation returned to more mature exchanges, we reflected on how Santa can change people’s moods so quickly. We talked about the old Venetian Masquerade Balls where one of the primary reasons for the masks was so that everyone felt they could relax and say what they wanted to say. As we are all into training and improving performance, we then started discussing the benefits of being able to achieve such anonymity and freedom of expression in a classroom environment. We also discussed how Santa was (and is) able to bring about such a ‘state change’ in people and that this would also be a powerful tool in many situations if it was possible to replicate it. Is it possible?

It certainly highlights the benefits of using innovative methodologies and using the affective domain in learning situations.  As the saying goes, “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

And that is as true at Christmas as it is in the classroom environment all year around.

A very Happy Christmas Lou, Peter, Judith, Adrian, Susan – even the 8 year old girl – and everyone else who reads Paul’s blog! Must dash – I’ve got a busy day ahead. Ho, ho, ho! …


‘Tragedy’ into triumph

Monday, October 24th, 2011

In the late 1990’s when our children were still at primary school, we went to see a few live bands – perhaps ‘groups’ would be more accurate than ‘bands’ – that I wouldn’t have otherwise gone to see. There was a huge difference in quality. B*Witched were so poor it made me angry at the time having spent so much money on the tickets, and 911 were not much better. But there were also some very good gigs, too. Both Spice Girls and Steps put on excellent shows which we all enjoyed – in fact I enjoyed far more than I ever thought I would.

Consequently, when I recently saw a short series advertised on Sky TV about Steps potentially reforming, I was sufficiently interested to watch it.

Having watched the first of the four episodes, I understood more about why and how they had broken up as a group – and it was abundantly clear that it had not been a happy event.

The more I saw of the programme, the more apparent it was that it was a great advert for mediations, the reasons they happen and what they can achieve. For this reason, it made it captivating viewing.

For anyone unfamiliar with mediation, it is a process to help resolve (generally) interpersonal disputes within the workplace. It usually involves a third party – the mediator – bringing the two or more sides together with the aim of achieving a mutual agreement.

Mediation can be most effective when used at the start of any disagreement, before the conflict escalates in the workplace. An early intervention can prevent the sides from becoming entrenched, and stop the situation engulfing other people or members of the team.  If there is no early intervention, there is the potential for the dispute to become more serious – and possibly for it to become so serious, the relationships involved cannot be reconciled.

Conflict between individuals that is not managed effectively is also potentially expensive for organisations – lost productivity, related sickness and legal advice are all serious costs. And if the situation is not resolved, they can lead to tribunals. According to the conciliation service ACAS, in 2007-8, the number of individual employment tribunals rose to over 90,000.

Having said all that, I am not saying that mediation is a panacea, and there are some cases of conflict where it will not be suitable.

But it could have worked for Steps. In fact, the programme demonstrated an extended version of a mediation – and was an excellent example of how beneficial it can be.

During the latter end of their 5 years together, factions formed within Steps (they were definitely out of step – sorry, couldn’t resist it!). They started to talk about each other rather than to each other. They made assumptions about what was going on rather than find out what was actually happening. They didn’t value other members and so made no attempt to listen to them. And they viewed their world judgementally in terms of adjectives rather than fact.

Things got so bad that two of the group resigned an hour before the final show of a tour – leaving the other three to go on stage trying to take in the enormity of the end of their band.

Ten years on they had agreed to meet up. It was visibly apparent from the start how much anger and frustration some members had been carrying during the intervening years. It was very uncomfortable for others. But they had started talking. And they started to listen. They were asking inquisitive questions, talking in terms of their feelings, and explaining why they had one things.

But several months of not talking and then 10 years of anger and other negative emotions are not properly dealt with in one meeting.

Several meeting took place – some as a whole group and some within smaller groups where there were still tensions. They now had time – something they had little of when recording and touring. It showed how investing time in a team makes it stronger and more productive.

Eventually everything had been said. It didn’t make the wrongs right, but it enabled each of them to move on. The feelings had been explored and put to bed – they were ‘left luggage’ rather than ‘baggage’.

At the end of the programme it was apparent that it had been helpful for all of them. There had been learning – about themselves and each other.  They were more comfortable with each other, and in some cases the relationships were stronger than they ever had been.

Okay, it was TV and was to promote a reunion and a new tour – we only saw what we were supposed to see. But the emotions weren’t put on – and whatever might have been left out of the programme, it was an excellent example of how mediation can work. But if you find yourself in such a situation, or are managing something similar, don’t leave it 10 years!

As for the new tour, I’ll give this one a miss – but if the concerts are as good as last time, they will be well worth a visit!