Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Learning About Student Culture

I've been spending time lecturing second year degree students recently - and it's become something I really look forward to.

Teaching has always been something I've wanted to try, regular readers will note that I have a great respect for the profession and the challenges it faces (mostly from bureaucracy and meddling), so when I was offered the chance I jumped at it.

(Read my blog on 'Disempowerment Culture' to learn more about my views on the teaching profession) 

I've done plenty of adult coaching, auditorium presenting, and of course 'dad teaching' at home - but this has been my first experience of teaching in a formal environment, and I've learned a lot.

I've learned that I need help in lesson planning. Three hour lectures don't work in 'death by presentation' format (actually, half hour sessions don't either) - and there are exams and assessments to teach. Thankfully a fellow lecturer, and the head of the department have been great mentors for me despite my lack of experience.

And then there are the students.

Now let me be clear (and I know some of them will read this), they are a great group of young men and women, and I enjoy teaching them. For the most part they are enthusiastic about what we're doing, ask questions (never enough!) and keep me challenged to find interesting ways to present things.

But, and there is a very big BUT here - the education system is letting them down.

While I've had a learning curve to contend with, my students have it much worse. 

When I was studying at University a lecturer showed up, spoke for a few hours and took questions. Generally they used acetate sheets, projectors and chalk boards (yes I am that old), and when the lecture was over we were expected to go the library and find books to study further.

Assignments were given, but with very little guidance, and the examinations were fierce because you never new the nature of the fiendish questions the professors were going to come up with to challenge your learning. But at the end of the process, if you worked hard enough you left with a degree.

And this was fine, because the school system had prepared me for it. By the time I finished my A' levels I was used to this method of learning. There was a little more structure, but we were not taught everything you needed to know to pass the exam - it was expected that you self taught and broadened your learning in order to get higher grades.

Not so any more. The advent of league tables and inspections, competition for funding and oversight has given way to a learning culture that requires a spoon fed approach. Teachers are teaching to curriculum, and more crucially to get results for league tables.

It is now in the best interests of the school to teach precisely what is expected on the exam paper.  No more, no less. Repeating over and over again the things that teachers know will get more passes. An increase in coursework has further narrowed the 'self study and learning' experience - and no amount of 'learning to learn' lessons will help (yes, children really do that at school).

Now when students arrive at University they have never been asked to struggle with concepts, to learn, to hear - "go and find out for yourself and we'll talk next week" from their lecturers. When things go wrong, answers are expected, not learning.

Add to that the additional complication of the 'funding' system, whereby students have to pay £9000 per year to be taught. (A total betrayal of every value our country has ever had by the way - tax me more and reduce the number of places, but education should ALWAYS be free).

A lecturer friend in London had spoken to me about this before, but in a nutshell it means that there is an underlying feeling amongst students that they are buying their degree. In some sense it's a good thing - there are higher standards demanded from lecturers  but there are major downsides - click here to read my blog on valuing others.

Here's an illustration. The most common question during my first two lectures was a variation on "will this be on the exam", and "will this be part of the coursework". Of course the answer is "It might be", but the fact that it's being asked at all is troubling.

Early on I was asked to post my slides to the University portal ahead of the lectures. This I've learned comes from a strange modern practice called 'reverse learning' where students supposedly go through the presentation and then come prepared with questions.

This won't work with me because firstly I can make six slides last for three hours (we talk, use the whiteboard and paper, and do practical exercises), and secondly because I have a strong feeling that students wouldn't show up if they new exactly what was going to be taught (but maybe that's more about my attitude than theirs).

One thing is certain - if this doesn't change soon, I would question the value of institutional on site learning. University is meant to provide a collegiate learning environment where students learn from their professors (and each other) in many ways - through text, practical experience, conversation, lectures and shared experiences. But the modern education system is not preparing them for that jump.

If we want 'battery farm' learning, then all we need to do is keep doing as we are - but if the UK wants to create future global leaders then we need a rethink.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Tech Free Sunday

We've been experimenting at home with the idea of taking a day off from technology for one day a week - how hard can it be?

Very hard.

Some context - I have four children aged fifteen, twelve, ten & four (boy, boy, girl, boy). My eldest and I take it in turns to be 'most addicted to technology' - but recently he started to edge past me on the league table.

So we decided six weeks ago that Sundays were to be internet, computer, tablet, phone and game console free. We still have the radio, and we still have TV - but that's as far as it goes.

Week 1 - definite withdrawal symptoms, increased levels of grumpiness, especially from my eldest and youngest son (and myself to be honest) for at least two hours - which then resulted in them all pitching a tent in the garden and then sleeping in it for most of the following week. iPhone withdrawal hardest for me.

Week 2 - arguments the night before about whether to try it again ended with my Wife and I pointing out that the reason we were banning technology was precisely because of this level of addiction. On the day - much excitement at having a Nerf war which lasted three hours in a nearby park. Still missing my iPhone.

Week 3 - slight improvement, although new tactic from two children insisting that computers were needed for homework. Internet opened up with a warning that next week they better get their work done on Saturday. 

Week 4 - Acceptance that the rules were not about to change - homework done ahead of time. Much walking with dog, and then National Trust visiting for early evening picnic. Well picnic is too grand a word - more like loads of scones with jam and cream :-)

Week 5 - Day spent cycling. All day. With breaks for the pub.

Week 6 - Yesterday spent predominantly with Frisbee and radio, before settling down for the world cup final, and yes, we let the eldest three stay up and watch it because we're bad parents. Expecting lots of yawning at school today.

So we're carrying on with it. We have a better day for the break, together as a family for the most part. Everyone is less selfish about what they do - rather than retreating into their own world, we all find things to do together - and the world does not stop turning because we cannot use email, or look at the BBC news site, or send texts, or play Minecraft......

The corporate part of this blog, the part that ties this to engagement and culture? We keep doing new things. If you take some time away from the tech and let your brain work properly, you may find some more innovation creeping into your workplace. Live in the moment, connect, look up.......

But why not give it a go at home too? It's not easy, but for us it was certainly worth the initial pain.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

HR vs IT - The Battle Of The Sexes?

I've noticed that HR and IT teams don't get along too well (to say the least), which is odd, because experience shows me that they have a lot more in common than most seem to recognise. For example:
  • They are both overheads to the company
  • They are both blamed for nearly every bad thing that happens
  • They are both held responsible for decisions which were made by other parts of the business
  • Everyone else in the company thinks they can do their job better
  • They both have wildly unbalanced gender distribution in their teams

    I spent the first fifteen years of my career in IT, before switching (sort of) to the HR space - and I'm still confused about this. I only have to mention IT to a HR group and they roll their eyes and growl - the same is true within IT.

    At the start of every project, I explain to the program team that HR are the custodians of the most powerful culture and engagement data in the company - I'm usually greeted by confused looks, but if you stop and think about this, it makes perfect sense.

    I'm not going to get too geeky with this, but everyone needs a base line of engagement to work with, and either you pay an external agency to do a survey, or you try and manage it yourself - but if you're really smart you tap into the data you already have before making those decisions.

    Here's one example of how you do that. Let's say I want to know who the most engaged managers are in the company, HR can look at the moment during the performance management window they completed their staff assessments, and how much work they put into them. 

    The data is already there. 

    Here's a clue - if the process was completed on the last day of the window, and very little text is present in the summary or development plan, that manager is not too engaged in the process, the company, or the staff they manage. 

    A simple report from the IT folks will let you crunch those numbers quickly and easily.

    Typically you can find a dozen or so 'markers' in company data that build into an employee engagement profile - from time spent learning on the intranet to employee recognition and wellbeing program data. This gives you a 'real' level of active engagement, rather than a 'passive' level of requested opinion (both are valid if used correctly).

    The fly in that particular ointment is the friction that exists between HR and IT. There's no common language, so typically the IT 'guy' sees a "I want ALL this stuff" request from the HR 'girl' - and so begins a negotiation in awkwardness that chews up months of time and effort.

    Rarely do I see an IT team brought into the wider conversation or requirements, or the HR team attempting to understand the complexities.

    It's easier for me - I speak both dialects quite well, so I can ask for report from the performance management system with a few columns - <manager name>, <employee name>, <date manager started>, <date manager finished>, <date employee started>, <date employee finished>,<date employee signed off>, <length of text in summary>, <length of text in development plan> - and I know that the IT folks can grab this kind of thing quickly and easily (OK, I apologise, that was a bit of a geeky paragraph).

    DO not ask the IT guy to do the analysis - this is something that you can (and should) do yourself, Excel is really good at this kind of stuff - and someone, somewhere in the HR team should be able to help.

    If you're really lucky you have an HR Operations team that is more than just 'the people that are better with Excel than the rest of us' and they'll already be doing this for you.

    If not, start building bridges with the IT team - you're going to need to add salary and promotion data at some point, mixed up with some gender and racial diversity statistics and blended in with the sales and profitability data. Culture and engagement (as I say so often) is about building better business results, not fluffy bunnies - and only HR has access to ALL of the information needed.

    Do I think that gender has any bearing on this? No. Although I personally know more geeky men than women and humanistic women than men, I suspect it's more to do with the difference in the two disciplines than any underlying sexism.

    What I know for sure is that effort needs to be made on both sides to bridge the communications gap, preconceptions need to be put to one side, and by working more closely together, everyone will benefit.

    Thursday, 19 June 2014

    Sugar, Screw-Ups and Accountability

    I am fed up with rules, nannying and pointless evasion of responsibility in the UK. It's starting to remind me of some of the more dysfunctional companies I work with.

    Recent news stories have drawn attention to plans for removing sweet treats from check out areas and considerations of a 'sugar tax' by the government. This is aimed at reducing the number of obese (fat) people in the UK - especially children, and as this recent article in the Guardian points out, there are more problems (fat people) in the UK than anywhere else in Western Europe.

    You can spend as much time as you wish researching this, but there are two facts you rarely see pointed out.

    Eating more than you burn off during the day will add to your weight. 
    People do not HAVE to consume sugary food and drink.

    Typically the press take aim at Coke, Starbucks and McDonalds - but I recently grabbed a can of San Pellegrino Limonata which also has over 30 grams of sugar within - about a third of my daily allowance. It was lovely - but I don't feel the urge to consume six every day. 

    Nor to I typically go on to grab a Coke, followed by a Frapuccino and a Big Mac.

    Likewise, if I want to grab a chocolate bar at the checkout, I will. Another 30% of my sugar intake for the day - but I'm not of a mind to eat one every time I go out. If one of my children ask me for sweets at the checkout, I can say 'no'. I do not need supermarkets to rearrange because I have no self control or parenting skill.

    Kat Cole, the President of Cinnabon has exactly the right attitude to this, Cinnabon sell wonderful indulgences ranging all the way from 90 - 880 calories (and we desperately need more of their stores here in the UK). Here's a perfect common sense quote from her:

    "We're not a health food, clearly we're a treat and if you believe people want to treat themselves, and I do, and if you believe they're going to want to do that with sweet treats, and I do, then there's a place in the world for indulgent companies"

    Bravo. All companies now have the calorie count of their products on the menu. Don't complain when you find your iced coffee has 600 calories - it's YOUR fault for not reading the menu and taking note, not theirs for selling it.  

    It's a responsibility issue. If I choose to get fat by consuming too much sugar it's MY fault. Not that of the government or the company that sells it. I am choosing to become unhealthy, choosing to put a burden on my joints and organs. No one is to blame but me.

    Too many companies I work with have little concept of accountability. Email is used as a cover your a** mechanism and 'group' decisions are the norm so if something goes wrong nobody is to blame.

    It is OK to blame people for screw ups. It is OK to accept blame. It is right and proper to learn from mistakes and move on. Screw ups are an intense form of critical feedback which should be used for personal and professional development.

    If screw ups cost the company money, then you just invested that amount of money in a learning experience. 

    If you take the opposite view and decide to punish all screw ups then the behaviour of those in the company will change to 'share' responsibility, avoid risk and ultimately cripple you with indecision.

    If you are fat or thin, fit or unfit, then decisions YOU made got you there.

    If you are an executive in a company that does not hold your managers and staff accountable for their decisions, then YOU are responsible for their behaviour, and the failure that will eventually follow.

    Thursday, 29 May 2014

    It's Not Sexism - It's Good Manners

    I spend more time in London than any other city, with friends, clients or fellow Engage For Success team members, which for me involves a train journey, usually followed by a hop through the tube system. 

    Often there are not enough seats to go round - so I spend some of my journey standing up, which is absolutely fine by me.

    There are always others in greater need of seating - the elderly, those with injury or disability, families trying to sit together.......but most of the time I give up my seat for a lady. 

    Not because I'm sexist or believe women to be the weaker sex, but because I think it's a nice, polite thing to do.

    If I was travelling with my Wife, I would not sit down and let her stand - so I find it weird that some men will sit down and watch women standing when they wouldn't dream of letting their girlfriends, wives or mothers do the same.

    This is not a generational thing - yesterday I saw an elderly gentleman give up his seat for lady on the tube, a teenage girl did the same on the mainline train. In both cases, many more women were left standing by seemingly fit, able bodied men.

    I realise that women have to bear some of the blame here - for decades fear has been instilled into men that by offering kindness to women they may be instantly labelled sexist and publicly humiliated - but I'm pretty resilient to that kind of nonsense so here are my top tips if you feel like developing some manners today. 

    If you cannot make eye contact first (while standing and gesturing at the now empty seat),  then stand up, walk over the person you want to give you seat to, smile and say "There's a seat there if you'd like it".

    Almost always, they will say "Thank you" and take it. 

    If not, the two most common objections are "No thank you, It's OK" or "I'll be getting off at the next stop"

    Here are some things you can say in that situation......

    On mainline trains this usually means you'll be spending the rest of the journey at the end of the carriage, with a bunch of other people who cannot work on their laptops or spend all their time buried in their smartphone.

    An unexpected bonus of this behaviour is that you may find you've started a conversation in the near silence of the modern morgue/library environment of the public transport system - and the journey will pass much more quickly.

    Tuesday, 13 May 2014

    Look Up - Smart Phones, Dumb People

    Like 35 million other people, the YouTube video "Look Up" struck a chord with me last week (you can find the video at the bottom of this blog).

    Having also watched the BCC documentary "Blurred Lines" investigate whether women are being subjected to more sexism in our culture, and having a number of tweets from Everyday Sexism....we decided to increase the 'draconian' measures in our houshould.

    We've had a 7pm curfew on technology for quite some time (although homework for  the children has been known to extend that) - but for the last few weeks we've been dropping out of the (dis)connected world for Sundays too.

    We still have the TV, and the radio - but the phones, tablets, web browsers, and even Minecraft are not not allowed. It's just for one day - how hard can it be?

    This is not without it's problems, my eldest is nearly fifteen, and we have three others at twelve, ten and four. Removing their technical umbilical chord causes some 'discussion' - but so far we've stuck with it.

    Last Sunday, they raided cupboards in the house, found Nerf guns and all four set off to the local park to play some variant of 'Cowboys, Indians and Aliens' which one later referred to as a "first person shooter, but real".........tragic.

    But they spent time creatively, thinking up new things to do and generally having a heck of a lot more fun than when glued to a screen. Although they did get a wet, dirty and bruised. Shame.


    'Look up' has equal weight in corporate life too. 

    Ignoring generational generalisms - most of the people I work with have a smart device glued to their hands (myself included), and although they can be used for work purposes, they also provide an innovational and emotional straightjacket if never put down.

    Sitting in meetings, at conferences, even at your desk while looking down all the day will constrain your ability to think, socialise and make new connections - and it's bad for your health.

    I'm not advocating removing the gadgets from our professional lives, just taking a break every now and again. Go and make eye contact with real people, walk, discuss, debate. Don't reach for the gadget to find the answer - ask those around you for their opinions.

    We are losing the ability to build real relationships with real people, and this is starting to impact on the ability to collaborate and socialise within the workplace too.

    Try this experiment. When you get home tonight, park all the gadgets. See if you can spend  the evening without them. See what happens. 

    10 Great Culture Quotes - Superhero Edition

    My family all love the super hero movies, and together we picked out ten quotes that everyone can use at work to improve their culture.........

    Working together is critical, no matter how small or large the team is. If everyone in the company is not pulling in the same direction, then it's going to be hard to get things done. Do not pursue your own agenda, or tolerate if from those around you.

    If you're not learning, then you're not growing, and soon your skills will be obsolete. Continuous learning is a life skill you need to have - or one day you may lose your hammer.

    Assume positive intent from those around you - only super villains come to work to screw up your day. It is unlikely that this applies to your colleagues.

    It's hard to remove the brilliant jerks because of the results they deliver. Do not tolerate it - get rid of them before people get angry and real damage is done.

    You can make a difference. No matter how hard the challenge or how impossible it seems, change always starts with you. 

    Innovation usually needs a kick start. Analysis paralysis and too much planning can lead to the world changing before anything get's done. It's not arrogant, it's smart.

    Lot's of people talk a good game, but ultimately your reputation is defined by your actions. Trust starts here. 

    Your career will not follow a straight path to the top, and most companies go through pain during their financial year. Maintaining a positive attitude will help those around you deal with the tough times - no matter how weird the people you work with are.

    Don't be afraid to make the tough decisions, companies get screwed up when they forget this. It's typically much easier to apologise than get permission - and you know you're doing the right thing, because you are right there in the thick of it.

    You need to use your gifts to help others - if you're skills are not being used, then you are unlikely to be happy.

    Thursday, 8 May 2014

    Nanny State Culture and Halal Meat

    Culture is my thing, I love working with people on their engagement strategies, I love making companies better places to be. I try and avoid strong opinion and controversy, but embrace crucial conversations - which is why I'm a little worried about publishing this blog.

    Last week I was talking with David D'Souza about his blog "The Sexy Women of HR" and some of the trouble it caused. I enjoyed it, it made me laugh - and I didn't take it too seriously - ultimately it started a great debate which is always healthy.

    But I wouldn't be brave enough to have written it.

    However, two things just pushed me over the edge. Firstly, I was astonished to hear the leader of our political opposition talking about banning the displays of sweets at supermarket checkouts, and making that a major policy should they reach government after the next election.

    Really? Is there nothing better the government of the sixth largest economy of the world could be doing?

    He claims it's to help obesity rates decline, especially with regards to children. But I have an alternative policy - trust people to say 'no' to their children and make up their own minds.

    I have a fundamental belief that it's my choice to resist (or give into) temptation, and it's certainly not the place of the government to dictate the positioning of goods in a supermarket. Weird I know, freedom of choice......it will never catch on.

    If the opposition wants a controversial policy about obesity, how about giving the UK population five years to change before introducing a 'no free healthcare' policy for the clinically obese. 

    That should make people a lot healthier, reduce food consumption and reduce health expenditure - and it's easy to measure (may improve our chances in the Olympics too). That beats moving the chocolate a few feet away from the checkout.....

    Then today I find that much of the supermarket meat sold in the UK is Halal, and the companies involved haven't thought to mention it. Stunning.

    Cards on the table here - as a family we buy most of our meat from the butcher, we keep chickens that I kill and eat on occasion, and I'm a very imperfect Christian (aren't we all).

    But this Halal debate makes me angry. 

    Do I object to an Islamic blessing being said over an animal as it dies ("In the name of Allah, who is the greatest")? A little bit, but maybe I should take more offence -  there are plenty of scripture interpretations out on the web that say I should.

    But personally I take this verse from the Bible as the final word... 

    "It's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth...........Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart - that's what defiles you" Matthew 15:10 & 15:17

    Do I object to an animal having it's throat cut after being stunned unconscious? No - but that cannot happen with cattle, electro-stunning won't work and I do certainly object to a live, conscious animal having it's throat cut and dying slowly.

    But what really makes me upset is that this activity has been kept from the consumer. You would imagine after the horse meat scandal last year, somebody might have thought honesty would be a good option.

    Because it IS dishonest - everyone working in the food industry (at least those with any common sense) know that labelling meat Halal will affect sales - so it was deliberately left off the packaging. That's lying by omission, even if many don't care (or prefer not to know) about how their meat gets to the table.

    It must increase the cost of our meat, it's certainly not the most efficient or fastest way to kill on the scale needed for modern appetites, and that means everyone is bearing a shared extra cost for the activity.

    4.8% of the UK population is Muslim - and regardless of the 'secular' make up of our society, it  is wrong to make universal decisions based on a small minority. If 5% of your company wanted to start and finish work an hour early, I don't think that would change corporate policy.

    But most of all I object to seeing any objection or debate about this practice being labelled as racist. Grammatically it is incorrect - Islam is a religion not a race, and ethically it is wrong.

    Objecting to the way animals are slaughtered is not racist, or even Islamophobic - it's a matter of personal opinion.  

    And the executives of the supermarket chains should hang their heads in shame for intentionally supporting the practice of concealment.  

    So I leave you with this thought - what kind of culture are you condoning within your own organisation?

    Tuesday, 22 April 2014

    Employee Engagement and Innovation

    Here in the UK, the government is pushing hard to spend vast amounts of money on a new high speed rail link (known as HS2) to reduce the time in which people can travel from London to Birmingham, and then eventually to Leeds and Manchester.

    Successive obstacles are learning to increased costs and more delays, not least of which are public concerns about the plans.

    I also have a problem with HS2. 

    Not with building more infrastructure for transport, but simply because it's depressing to read about the boring train types that are being planned, and envision the outcome.

    I grew up with a 1354mph aircraft that flew nearly 800mph faster than the latest Boeing Dreamliner, and a space ship that could fly into space with seven people, do cool stuff and then fly back home to do it all over again. 

    (Try explaining to kids that humans used to be able to fly twice as fast as a bullet in large groups, but not any more).

    200 years ago we started the rail network with steam, 100 years ago there was electric, and then diesel. 50 years ago In Japan the 200mph Shinkansen started to run followed by the TGV in France. 30 years ago Magnetic Levitation trains emerged, carrying passengers at over 270mph by monorail in Germany and more conventionally in Shanghai.

    Current fastest? In China there's a train that travels at 302mph, which is pretty cool.

    In Britain? We're going to reach.....wait for it......225mph - but only in certain small sections. Which is just great - it's really nice to be copying what other countries have - and it's safe to be behind the curve.

    That's the secret of success isn't it? Incremental upgrades. Playing safe. Avoiding risk. Please everyone all the time.


    Any business that desires success needs to shatter expectations with something amazing. Something new and incredible that captures the imagination. Too many companies complain about a lack of innovation without encouraging it, daring to take risks or listening to 'left field' ideas of their employees.

    When was the last time your company captured YOUR imagination? What was the last thing you did to build passion in your teams?

    How can you expect engaged employees if you don't fire imagination with what you do? 

    So what should HS2 be like? 

    How about a nuclear powered zero emission magnetic monorail with passenger pods travelling at 760mph? I want to get from London to Birmingham in 8 minutes, not 40. I want the UK to have some ambition!

    Invent that. Make something that changes the world, create a technology that can be exported to every part of the planet. The population will rally behind that.

    Or how about building on the Victorian idea of a pneumatic dispatch tube like +Elon Musk with the Hyperloop concept? 

    Please. Anything but the same old boring stuff.

    We put a man on the moon in 8 years. But it's taken five years of 'debate' on HS2 and nothing has yet been done. Tragic.

    Don't settle for 'dull' at work. Inspire engagement in your workforce by aiming high, leveraging passion, capturing expertise, and doing something amazing.

    Focus on plans that speak to the heart and the head. Use your imagination and those of everyone around you to do things that wow.

    Nobody woke up this morning and said, "I know, let's do something mediocre today".

    Tuesday, 25 March 2014

    Seven Ways To Improve Minion Engagement

    One great thing about having lots of children is the guilt free pleasure of watching all the kids movies - which are usually much better than 'grown up' films.

    As stated in several previous articles, it's hard for me to watch a movie without analysing management style - which in the case of the lead character in Despicable Me is just exemplary.......

    In case you missed this excellent movie, Gru is an evil super villian with a horde of minions set on committing (and sometimes solving) various criminal acts.

    In order to achieve success, he has hundreds of marginally uncontrollable minions who don't necessarily do the right things (sound familiar?)

    Nonetheless they always work hard, innovate, complete seemingly impossible tasks, and enjoy themselves in the process. 

    Without them Gru would never succeed in achieving his goals.

    I would argue this is due to the high level of employee engagement demonstrated in the organisation, and would offer the following seven examples as proof:

    1. Set Clear Direction And Explain Your Goals

    There's never any doubt about the focus of the team. The goals are set clearly, and although the deadlines are tight there is absolute transparency with regards to the end goal - even if that end goal is stealing the moon by first stealing a shrink ray.

    2. Celebrate Success Together & Give Credit

    The word 'we' is used often - never 'me'. We stole the Times Square Jumbotron. We have had a great year. We will have a party. Great success calls for celebration, goals and rewards are shared at all levels.

    3. Never Stop Employees Having Fun

    The minions cannot help but enjoy their work - naturally mischievous, they find things to enjoy even during the most mundane of tasks. Simple pleasures cause laughter and everyones day passes faster because of it. The goals are achieved, but their enjoyment of life is not seen as an inhibitor to success - but rather a sign of a highly integrated, functional team.

    4. Be Appreciative Of Failed Innovation

    It is unlikely that one of your staff is going to present you with a fart gun today, but if they did would you be impressed with their innovation, or furious at them for not focusing on the task at hand? 

    In the movie, a simple misunderstanding about a dart gun requirement produces an unexpected result  - but lessons are learned, and it eventually becomes useful. 

    Most importantly, failure is appreciated as a learning experience.

    5. Ensure Adequate Staffing

    There are no shortage of hands to help complete the work. In fact having a few extra bodies helps a great deal when things start to go wrong - and that excess of resource allows for new creations. 

    Extra resource ensures a high quality of work and confidence that the job can get done. When too many minions go missing in the second movie, all kinds of disasters occur and everything starts to go wrong.

    6. Really Delegate Responsibility

    Gru cannot do it all. He is clearly the leader, but together with a highly skilled middle manager (Dr. Nefario) - he hands out clear tasks and steps back. 

    He is never guilty of micro-managing and only comes to help when it becomes apparent that he can provide resource, advice or clarification to ensure success. His door is always open, and if no-one comes to visit, he takes the time to go and see what's happening.

    7. Listen To Concerns And Take Action

    When minions notice things going wrong - the departure of a respected manager, a reduction in staff, missing children and so on - Gru takes notice. He doesn't spend time questioning motive or accusing them of wasting his time. 

    As a consequence, lines of communication remain open and problems are not hidden from senior management.

    If you follow these steps, not only will your own employees become more engaged, they will be more productive, your business will be more profitable, and everyone will be happy....

    (now turn up your speakers and play this clip)

    Tuesday, 18 March 2014

    Do We Really Value Others?

    A week after the CIPD Question Time event on the future of work, one of the things discussed is still playing on my mind.

    There was complete agreement from the panel that the focus on University education was screwing up the country, and that past and present decisions by various governments had brought about some unintended consequences (more on that later).

    In particular the perceived value of trades has been greatly diminished - as Lembit Opik remarked "We need to rehabilitate the idea of trades as valid professions". 

    An almost maniacal focus on increasing the percentage of teenagers that go to university has left little focus for manual skills in other areas. 

    Almost 50% of school leavers are presently attempting to gain degree level education, despite the fact that (according to this mornings quarterly labour force survey) the UK has 424,000 graduates under the age of 25 in non-graduate work.

    The original target was a nice, clear goal for government to set - but now plumbing, carpentry, building, mechanical and other trade skills are seen as somehow 'lesser' options in the UK - and then we complain about economic migrants 'stealing our jobs' in these areas.


    This morning the government announced a £2000 tax break if both partners are in employment. 

    Those that choose to give up work to look after their children have been overlooked by successive governments, and this announcement reinforces it - otherwise their tax free allowance would move to their partner. 

    This is the latest in a long line of policies designed to reduce 'unemployment' by increasing the number of mums returning to full  time work.

    The most undervalued part of British society right now are the stay at home mums. Which leads to the general perception that those that stay at home to raise children are less valuable to society. 

    My Wife gave up a senior management role at a London graphic design agency fifteen years ago to look after our four children and support me at work. I can categorically say she works harder than me, for longer hours, for less thanks and provides a heck of a lot more value. 

    But that's increasingly seen as a 'lifestyle' choice that's no longer as appreciated as it once was - and 'Mum' is no longer seen as valid role.


    Now - those unintended consequences .....

    After the event (held at Kings University College) I was talking to one of the lecturers present - and expressed my view that University places should be free for all. I would not have driven myself into debt to go when I was 18 - and believe that money should never be a barrier to education. 

    (I'm also happy to be taxed more to provide better education for those who will be part of my welfare in old age)

    The lecturer agreed, but for different reasons. She sees an 'entitlement' culture emerging from students - who now feel that they are paying for their degree and deserve it, no matter how little effort they put in, or what their level of aptitude and intellect. 

    Coupled with increasingly measured and socially open methods of lecturer 'judgement' where students evaluate staff internally and post external online reviews of their abilities - the educational system is in danger of suffering irreparable damage.

    Simply put, students are increasingly empowered to bully their way to a degree, given that they believe that have bought it already.

    Sadly though, the idea of 'degrees for all' has meant that the old system was financially unsupportable and funding was needed - the only way of fixing the problem would be to reduce the number of places at University to the point where the taxpayer could fund all. 

    Which would promote competition for those places left and let only the brightest, most apt and hardest working gain success at Univeristy (just like the workplace).


    Society doesn't function if all parts are not valued. Neither do companies. It's important to remember that we all have our role to play, and appreciate efforts of everyone around us.