business

Set Free by the Truth!

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I learnt a looooong time ago that success comes from effort you put in + talent + luck.  What I didn’t learn until a couple of years ago is that whilst I thought I was putting in the max, actually I wasn’t.  This is a truth that applies to most all of us, we spend sometimes hours just doing meaningless and pointless tasks.

I admit facing the reality was a difficulty, after all I’m perfect aint I? Well, NO actually.

The possibility that I could make better and quicker decisions just hadn’t occurred to me and when it did it was like being hit by a juggernaut. The reality just hit me right between the eyes, suddenly it was obvious what I had to do, I had to measure my activity and the waste would become self evident. I adopted a method I have to use every couple of years and I kept a diary for a couple of weeks. When I was a child I was in hospital for a very long time and at the time had pioneering surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Anyway since turning 40 years of age (and that seems like a life-time ago now) I go for a check every couple of years to make sure I still have a functioning heart and nobody’s replaced it with a lump of rock.  Before the appointment where I’m prodded, pressed, listened to and covered in wires I have to keep a diary of diet and activity.  Thankfully over the last 8 years I’ve actually improved my health! Yes, I’m fitter now than I was 10 years ago!

Anyhow, the lesson is there. Measure stuff and stuff gets done. So I applied the logic to activity, especially activity that brought me closer to my dreams. And you’ll never guess what? I found I waste time.

I waste time day-dreaming (not necessarily a total waste of time but too much dreaming and not enough doing, well need I say more?).

I waste time flicking though pages of magazines looking at cars and phones and computers that I will never consider buying.

I sleep more than I thought I did.

I watch a lot more TV than I thought I did.

I spend hours, yes honestly hours on-line looking at and not buying cycling gear (yes its a fantasy, I am a MAMIL; a middle aged man in lycra)

The truth is that I measured what I did and hey presto I became more productive. Its no miracle just facing up to the truth and then doing something about what I didn’t like about my life.

McDonald’s Promise Sustainable Beef

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McDonald’s, the biggest purchaser of beef in the US has promised that it will begin buying beef from a verified and sustainable source by 2016.

There is a but… They don’t know what verified sustainable beef actually is!

There is no definition of beef, for anybody that is, so this claim by McDonald’s is ambitious in more ways than one I guess. On the plus side McDonald’s are working with suppliers such as Wal-Mart to come with a definition they can work within, but this sounds a bit like asking a fox to guard the chickens. It’ll be a definition that suits McDonald’s but which may not actually resemble anything you or I might understand as beef. So on the negative side the players are setting the rules!

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When I go to my local butcher and ask for a cut of beef I fairly well know what I’m looking at is beef. This might not be so clear with a McDonald’s definition I venture. Beef could end-up being something that’s mechanically reclaimed beef which is roughly equivalent in terms of protein content.

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Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president has explained that they are not ready to give a figure for how much beef will be from a verifiable sustainable source in 2016, its an “aspirational goal” he says, you better believe it if they don’t actually know what beef is I reckon. But it has been speculated that the process to get from zero to 100% beef from verifiable sustainable sources could take 10-years.

But think about this for a moment; the route the beef takes – cattle farm – suppliers – slaughter houses – patty makers… burger on a bun.  All parts of the supply chain act independently with each taking a profit and still we have the £1.99 Happy Meal!

How do they do it for the money?

Nonetheless verifiable sustainable beef or not a McDonald’s burger will still be 550 calories, and half the recommended level of fat for a day.

Power Games

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Enron logo, designed by Paul Rand
Enron logo, designed by Paul Rand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In business you will come across and probably be the victim of those who are ruthlessly power hungry, I know I have and it ain’t pleasant I can assure you. To be honest the pursuit of power and only power in business (or more generally life as well) is not a an assured route to success; but those who practice the corporate power politics don’t know that and they will be relentless in their pursuit I promise you.

But you know the problem, you’ve got part way up the corporate greased pole only to find the further up you go the more power hungry your colleagues are. The conundrum of course is do you consolidate what you have achieved so far or do you carry on with the ever increasing risk being that you lose the lot. What ever you choose you will nonetheless have to deal with these power obsessed co-workers, so how to deal with them?

Do you ignore them, hope that they go away, that they will eventually recognize your contribution and and they’ll leave you alone? No, not a chance of that. Never be so naive as to think this will ever be the case. But should you instead go on the counter offensive? Do you turn brutal in your pursuit? Also No, you’ll need friends or at least allies along the way for the continuing journey. Instead you must remain calm under pressure, self assured of your abilities; after-all you haven’t been promoted to your position by being stupid have you? But you will have to be and remain at your best, there’s no time for an off-day believe me. And remember those who take aim at you, those who seek your power will eventually make a mistake, they will overreach themselves and you want to be prepared for the moment.

Nevertheless you may (will) be drawn into conflict at some point and I recommend:

  1. Competence in role is your defense: those most vulnerable when under attack are those who are either complacent or who don’t deliver top notch results. Say what you are going to do, do it in the time-frame agreed and in budget. Sounds simple but it isn’t.
  2. Confidence: only those who are confident in their own abilities to deliver can truly exercise power. That’s not to say that everyone who does deliver results will exercise power, just that you have got to deliver and be confident that you will before you can take power.
  3. No short-cuts (ever): Lance Armstrong, great athlete absolutely no doubt but the cheated, he took the drugs short-cut to win and then lost. He lost not a small bit though, he lost BIG on the world stage. In these cases its not the wins no matter how many that will be remembered, it’ll be the betrayal of trust. In business think of Jeff Skilling in charge of ENRON – an example of cheating on a monumental scale.
  4. The war zone becomes too dangerous: if your company has become a hunting ground for the power hungry, a power-at-any-cost environment then perhaps you should consider a new venue for your talents. When companies deteriorate to this level its often a sign that either the company is in crisis or about to fall into one!
  5. Could you be the next entrepreneur?: you’re talented, you know you are. So why continue with the red dot of a power obsessed co-worker permanently fixed on your back? You’d be making a mistake if you thought the power struggle will go away by being a start-up but you will have the rewards, all (or at least most) of them. Leaving the organisational power struggles behind might just turn out to be a better use of your time and energy.

Power, personal power, power in the work-place; this is complicated for sure. You’ll never achieve with out it but it can equally be your ruin if not used with finesse. So if you find yourself in a place that encourages the ruthless to show disrespect, the insecure to take credit, or the savagely ambitious to take the joy and meaning out of work, seize the only power that really matters: control over your attitudes, your values and the quality of the work that you do.

How should a person be judged?

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English: receiving from Judge his certificate ...
English: receiving from Judge his certificate of American citizenship. Deutsch: erhält von Richter Phillip Forman seine Bescheinigung über die amerikanische Staatsbürgerschaft. Português: recebendo do juiz seu certificado de cidadão americano. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How should a person be judged? By what s/he is or what s/he could be?

If the person is you; you are judging yourself then it is the person you are that is the measure to use. If you wake one morning, look in the mirror and decide that actually you have been lazy, you could have done better, that you have in some way messed-up some lately but you know deep down that you could have done better then judge what you have done, what you are and not what you could have been, could have done. By this point your potential is wasted and you know its wasted.

By asking yourself what you have become, what you have done you will eventually look at your talents and the resources you have to hand and you should know if in some way you’ve fallen short that you have wasted the talents and resources granted to you. By wasting them like a muscle that’s not exercised they will wither and rot over time so that your potential will diminish.

If on the other hand the person is not you that you judge then in this case you must judge on the basis of their potential, what they could be, what they could achieve. You have no way of knowing, no certainty, no way of understanding the things and circumstances that prevent them from reaching their potential. So when you meet someone who is a real mess, don’t look upon them with scorn initially, you should see the person they could be and judge on that basis.

All you have to remember is that the greater the persons potential the further they have to fall. People may be tempted by things that will addict them and these addictions may be greater than anything we could possibly know ourselves or be able to resist but you do not know the extent of the persons will, the extent to which they can exercise control over their lives and you cannot possibly be in a position to judge this. The lesson is that we all have demons; our own we know, for others we can only guess.

The products and deeds we make and do are of our own and not others. Judge yourself on this basis. The products and deeds of others alert us to their achievements so far but we know there is more, much more is possible, its just not known or certain.

Transparency in Business

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Green tinged avatars appeared on Twitter, Face...
Green tinged avatars appeared on Twitter, Facebook and FriendFeed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing up was a shocking experience on the whole when compared to the modern era; over-cooked veg, no 24-hour TV and the curtains remained shut to keep the prying eyes of the neighbors out! As my mother would say “you only need to open the curtains of the room you’re happy letting the neighbors see in”. The rest of the house as it happens was a mess she wasn’t prepared to let anybody see.

So when you (or much more likely that new-hire who remains glued to their computer screen bemoaning the internet connection and that they cant access their Facebook account) decide that you want some business transparency as a policy you better watch out. Once you let it out of the bag that actually your business isn’t that squeaky clean on the corporate responsibility front or that you have a supply-chain that your customer could save a packet by going direct, well then you have a problem as well!

The thing is that most businesses should have stapled to the inside of the eye-lids of any would-be transparency champion a note that says “some (a lot) of what we do is commercially sensitive”. Once the cats out you can tick the transparency box and then go directly to a PR company so that you can heal the damage done. The basic commercial functions of your business are just that and not really the stuff of public knowledge because when they are you no longer have a business.

What you really have to remember is just how your company actually makes money. It charges people more than it cost you to either make the thing or provide the service. Profit is a dirty word often confused with Rip-Off in a lot of peoples minds.

Social Media, is not the preserve of the young, tho it may seem so sometimes. Its just that the speed of post often is soooooo much quicker than the speed of the brain thinking through the practical effects of the post made. When you see the very excited face of the (young) person you’ve told to go ahead and implement your new transparency policy through the use of social media you should at that point be warned!

The very first point of call for the would-be transparency champion will be Twitter. Now this might be my age (although I do have a Twitter account that I do use daily) but to be honest it really doesn’t do it for me. Its a way of sending our a message that I’ve posted a new blog post, just like this one. The main reason for Twitter so far as I can see is telling anybody remotely interested about celebrity naughtiness and getting a bunch of Arabs into the local town square. Never mind that its a completely free way of telling the world just what you’re up to, a way of broadcasting to the world in that spirit of transparency that which you don’t actually want the public to know. And its fast, very fast!

Reducing what you have to say to no more than 140 characters would just about give you enough words to explain that you suck the blood of your customers to make money! You could follow a couple of feeds first to see how its done perhaps, but the question you’ll have to ask yourself is “if the feed you’re reading is that good does the company responsible really have that much integrity?”

My advice then is keep a very close eye on what gets posted about your business on social media, its important to be current but not foolish, being foolish is never going to be a trend worth following I think. Keep your corporate responsibility in-line with your business activities and then stamp with ‘Do Not Disturb’ allowing no further access to those interested in transparency.

Transparency therefore is okay when you’re happy with whats on show, the rest however really should stay behind closed curtains.

Trust Yourself

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moo.com business cards
moo.com business cards (Photo credit: bargainmoose)

There are many times in life when it is very tempting not to trust yourself but to go with the crowd, go with the flow. That way when mistakes are made and you come to regret your actions you can rely on the thought that everybody else said or did the same. There are many instances in history which are of note where this has happened and has led to catastrophic events unfolding.

I’m sure that some some who were involved in the slaughter in the Balkans, in Rwanda and in the Holocaust have lived to deeply regret their actions (even if they would have paid a very heavy price for refusal to cooperate). I’m equally sure that there are some who didn’t and some who don’t care either way.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been involved in a business reorganization. As part of any reorganization of a business there had to be some job losses. People with long service histories were made redundant. In some cases people with almost double the amount of service I have (18 years so far).

Naturally the process was mentally and emotionally painful, perhaps more for those who lost their jobs than me, but nonetheless there was pain. Of course what I was doing was right, I absolutely believe my actions to be correct. I had the long-term health of the business at the forefront of my mind when taking those far-reaching and life changing decisions. But do I regret my actions? No, not at all. Less than a week after some of those with long-term service have left and there are already employees trying to make an impression, trying to improve how things are done.

I suppose to some extent this is just showing-off, trying to impress in the hope that they aren’t next. But in so many other ways it frees people to shine, to do what they do as well as they can. A breath of fresh air!

Traditionally when we have made groups of people redundant we have picked out those employees with least service and lowest pay in order to minimize the up-front cost. This has never really made a real and deep and lasting difference to the business. We see cost reductions and then over a period of time the cost creeps back into the business and after 9 or 12 months we then find ourselves back in the same position. Almost like a crash diet and then when the diet is over eat as normal.

What we had to do was find a way of attacking the under-lying reasons for why things just don’t seem to change. Well, I remember on one those tedious management courses I’ve done somebody once saying that its sergeants that run the army, and this gave me a clue as to where to look when making changes. That’s right, I had a good hard look at the middle ranks and this was where the problem lay. They just didn’t want to embrace change, either self generated or enforced. So they had to go.

Its cost a lot up-front I have to admit but its worth it.

Those who had to leave were the ones who blocked progress, who were in the way of change, in the way of improvement. By removing them they way has opened-up for new talent to shine, new ideas to come into the open and new ways of doing things.

We have quite a number of employees from many countries (UK, within the EU and outside the EU) each with a breadth of experience but little in the way of educational achievement or family stability. And 1-week after the clear-out and they are beginning to shine. All those experiences, all those personal struggles they have had have made them a resilient bunch, they have made them into a group of people who can find ingenious ways of solving problems.

To struggle is good, it teaches us how to be resilient, creative in solving problems and to see opportunity when it comes.

So I have to live with my decisions, what I did and why I did it. I find it easy to live with my decisions of the last few weeks, they were the right ones for all concerned.

System, System, System, Soft Systems Methodology

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We all use the word system a lot when talking about a whole range of things… computer system, information system, ‘the system’ meaning a way of doing things normally with some sort of negative or sinister overtone but not always. Basically so far as I can see there are 3 distinct uses of the word:

  1. A way of doing things, of organizing things, resources and procedures
  2. A fixed or hard system; a computer system for example
  3. A specialized system, a conceptualized way of organizing resources and procedures according to a systems theory

Another governing principle is that of emergence; simply expressed as the sum is greater than the whole. So for example a factory operates with direct labour (those doing hands-on work) and indirect labour (those who do administrative work, management work, delivery drivers, maintenance staff, warehouse staff…) to make the factory work.

Systems thinking has come to be known as either hard or soft systems thinking. Hard systems are those where behavior can be reasonably predicted, normally where mechanical components interact in an organised, predictable way. Soft systems by contrast are where human activity is concerned and are a lot less predictable by nature. Organisational problems are a lot less clear-cut, and are a lot more complex in nature.

My thinking tends towards seeing systems problems through the lens of complexity, a system is an intellectual construct designed to make sense of a given situation or event, they help us deal with the enormous complexity of the (real) world.

By making a conceptual model of the world and comparing this to the real world its surprising how quickly difficulties and problems in the actual real world organisational system can be uncovered. Multifaceted problems become more apparent and quantifiable and the possible solutions are more easily teased out of the problem situation. Conceptual models are not representations of the real world, but are a conceptualization of potential real world systems. Soft Systems Methodology therefore is not about real world systems but about applying systems methodologies (systems thinking) to things that happen in the real world. It is best carried out with the full co-operation of those involved in the real world organisation with a facilitator to help and guide.

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Each conceptual system has at its heart a transformation process; input into and output. A very powerful concept accompanying the transformation process is that of weltanschauung (world view) – what makes the transformation worth doing! So the components are:

Customers – the victims or beneficiaries of the transformation process

Actors – those who do the transformation process

Transformation – input to output

Weltanschauung – the world view that makes the transformation meaningful

Owners – those who have the power to stop the transformation

Environmental Constraints – elements outside the process that can influence the process

Monitoring and Control Measures

E1 – Efficacy; does the system work? has the transformation taken place?

E2 – Efficiency; what are the resources needed to achieve the output? Is the system worthwhile?

E3 – Effectiveness; can the system achieve its longer term goals?

As a part of the Soft Systems Methodology intervention it is central and important that the 3 E’s are understood, measurable and agreed by all involved as appropriate measures of the intervention success.