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 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?