I heard a little lad say to his Dad the other day, "when will it get warm again Dad" - we've had a few days of cold-ish weather and the poor little fella has already had enough. You can't blame him, he's not been around that long and has eternal summer on his mind. It reminded me of a conversation I had with some really bright business people at the Yorkshire Board Dinner at Rudding Park (it's how I roll) a a while ago. Their general view was that economic activity wont get back to pre-recession levels until 2018 (check out my countdown clock here). So, that's five years, on top of the two or three years we've already served then...... Happy days people, happy days. For what its worth I agree, its going to take a fair while to 'grind' through the Euro-zone crisis, not to mention our own joyful relationship with British based banks as Joe Public is the proud owner of a number of blue chip banks or the American economy (aaaargh!). When you add in domestic consumer debt then you have a winning hand in the game of 'slow down the economy' whilst we 'pay off our bar bill'. Depressing isnt it? Well no, not really its just the reality we all have to deal with (check out 'we are where we are'). We can't wish it away, so we have to deal with it. I get around talking to all sorts of people - some money types, some on the ground types and I'm always impressed with our general ability to adapt....... Humans are quite cool gadgets really and they can handle an amazing amount of pressure and change whilst still coming up smiling. The public sector strikes wont help, even if gold plated pensions are under threat - we'd be better focussing on doing our jobs, getting our heads down - pulling together (yes, I said pulling together, how about that for a concept) and grinding our way through this. Come on Yorkshire, lets lead the way!
So you might have heard that Apple got into a spot of bother recently because they 'forgot' to tell iPhone owners that their 'Mobi' was constantly logging their location and saving it to a mysterious file in their phone, on their computer and at Apple HQ on that deserted island in the middle of the tropical sea, the one that the top of the mountain comes off (actually that's not true, I was just winding you up, I believe the data was only recorded on your phone and PC). Here's the Guardians coverage in case you don’t know what I’m on about. Now this may worry a lot of people, you know those types that are 'getting up to no good' (the miscreants) and those that just don’t like firms like Apple doing their big brother act on them (the liberty warriors). Personally I wasn't that fussed because I don't spend every minute of the day looking over my shoulder and so ferreted out a nifty bit of software that maps the results from that 'secret' file and I have to say it was quite cool. If you are interested, here's a link to my UK map (it covers the world - but who wants to know where I’ve been on holiday and which European cities I’ve been to?) click here for the map. The thing that struck me, and it’s obvious when you think about it, is how much of our fair land we (well I) don't actually 'use' - ever. My map shows me spending time in a sort of big 'T' from Liverpool to Hull and down to London. No surprises there, its where most of the big cities are and I spend a lot of my time working with businesses that are based in the main populations. The thing that spiked my interest was seeing the actual data on a map. Looking at the image, I reckon I only actually use about 10% of the UK. So, any ideas what to do with the other 90%?
So, over thirty years ago, on 10th October 1980, Lady Thatcher, as she's now known uttered those immortal words; "to those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase the U-turn, I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to. The Lady's not for turning". She was referring to some discontent in the ranks about inflation policy, during some very tough times. That one statement seems to have galvanised generations of politicians and leaders to 'stick to their guns' regardless of the pressure they get from the opposition. Great! I say, because one of the things I really like is clear, strong leadership. I said in my blog on 17th July last year "John Major, the grey man – couldn’t do anything and didn’t – what’s the point of a do nothing Government?". But ......... is a U turn all bad? I listened with interest as politicians recently took a battering from all comers for creating a 'pause for reflection' on NHS reforms and in the last few days a change of position on the defence budget. The pundits and politicians have been chewing David Cameron's legs over these and other issues and, yes it can be seen as indecision, but it can also be seen as a more inclusive way of governing. Why is it immediately seen a weakness when extra consultation is added in, as a consequence of significant new information or a wave of 'feedback'? Amongst other things I currently chair a board of senior level and quite diverse directors and I'm sure if you were to ask them, they would tell you that I get very annoyed if there is an attempt to pick over the bones of a recent decision reached by the board after due consideration etc. However, we live in a dynamic world and if things have really changed or we have learned something new, whether that's from Colleague feedback or whatever, I am always happy to encourage a review of that decision with a view to doing a spot of 'continuous improvement'. If that's OK for business, why isn't it OK for politics? I don't think that everybody doing U-turns all the time, everywhere, is at all healthy (no one would have a clue what they, or anyone else was doing for a start!) but I am a bit more sympathetic to U-turns these days, it's kind of ......... adult.
“The space/time continuum means nothing to me”; I once said this to a Colleague whilst I held elastic bands across my fingers springing them in opposition planes. He looked at me and said, "Wow, really?” No he actually said, "Well that’s a load of b******s". He knew I was just having a laugh but since then I’ve often reflected on how time is relative …… is that ‘deep’ or what? How often do you stress yourself out worrying about a deadline or having too many things to do and not enough time? Loads I reckon. But how often do you look back and think to yourself, well I got it all done and there's no dead bodies lying in a wake behind me so that’s good? …. most of the time? So there must be a lesson in there somewhere about remembering the big picture and not letting today's deadline worries blow you off course, away from your big picture priorities. When something goes wrong you'll hear people say "in a couple of years you will look back on this and laugh", by which they mean things often look less horrible with some perspective. So I guess, we need to try and use that perspective in our every day stuff so that we use time on the right things, after all time and tide wait for no man.............
Well, it’s a couple of months old now. This odd Coalition of the hard edged Tory's and the middle way Liberal Democrats. It will never happen, I thought, whilst the election aftermath was rolling on and the ‘will they wont they’ 24-hour rolling media commentary spewed out. It will never last, I thought as it was set up with a fanfare and rose tinted camera lenses. But is has. It looks pretty good actually. Of course there will be horrible cracks appear at some point and inevitably all good things come to an end as this Coalition surely will, but for now, to my absolute surprise its working quite well. My friends have often heard me quote WC Fields “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the Government always gets in”, a cynical but lets be honest – accurate view. Lets look at what we’ve had. John Major, the grey man – couldn’t do anything and didn’t – what’s the point of a do nothing Government? Tony Blair, started out well – fresh, clear minded and ready to make changes but soon went off the rails with Iraq and internecine fighting with Uncle Gordon. And then came Uncle Gordon himself, well he made it – got the job and lets be honest …….. messed up big time. So what’s the difference with David (Dave) and Nick (Nick)? Long term, probably not a lot because all Governments are on a conveyor belt with a long drop at the end – some long belts, some shorter. The short-term difference for the Coalition Government is that all the money has gone on bailing out the banks and propping up the economy, which means that Government can’t do nothing and so any administration has to grasp the nettle. I admire David Cameron and Nick Clegg for setting up the Coalition so well. They seem to have taken the view; ‘well we have to get married so we might as well have a go at making it work’. Nice one guys, good skills. One point, which to me looks like a really big issue, no an absolutely massive issue is that they have got going on the cuts earlier and deeper than anyone thought they would. If they keep that up the UK public sector will be changed beyond recognition. For ever.
You’ve heard of the domino effect right? You know, when one thing leads to another. So, there was a thumping great drop on the economy, caused by the credit crunch, which then became the global recession, which then triggered cut backs on a large scale with many organisations making thousands of people redundant, closing loss making divisions etc. Anyway, one of the things I expected to see was a 'call to action' from the CEO's office, for the buyers to get busy and contribute their bit. I’m sure this has happened in many organisations but I’m not sure it has happened on the scale that it could and maybe should have done. Last year was maybe the year when all the major cost cuts were made, the people, the marketing, the overheads - now maybe it’s the turn of the buyer to do their bit. So to all you buyers out there; get knocking on the CEO's door to let them know you are ready to do your bit - before the domino drops............. on you.
Recently I’ve been thinking about how people and organisations take decisions (I have my reasons……. oh yes indeedy). As I ‘row my little boat around the big pond of business’, trying to keep it afloat whilst battling to get to the other shore (I know, I know – metaphor fatigue alert) these things called decisions ‘come up’ and I find it really interesting to see how people handle them. Howard Raiffa’s views (he’s a Harvard dude) on this are summarised, quite neatly by Sean Silverthorne in his Blog post ‘Avoid Four Deadly Traps in Decision Making’. Howard talks about ‘Anchoring’ (relying on your first thoughts), ‘Status-Quo’ (carry on carrying on), ‘Confirming Evidence’ (see what you want to see) and ‘Framing’ (coming at it from the wrong angle – either by accident, which is dumb, or by design which is plain old manipulative). I see these approaches in use quite often; you know who you are, put that business case down! Also, somebody once told me that humans are ‘hard wired’ to use the ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ decision making process. People are actually pretty clever machines building up a knowledge bank of experiences, insights, ideas and beliefs as they grow up and when it is called on to make a decision the human mind is very quick at matching that situation with its data bank of other stuff. This is because people were originally ‘hunter-gatherers’ and occasionally became the hunted giving us that useful ‘fight or flight’ thing and so when something stressful happens our reactions are often automatic. That way, you can save yourself from being eaten up by a nasty old sabre toothed tiger, but the trouble is, there aren’t that many sabre-toothed tigers around the typical office (there are a fair few sharks, some ostriches and even a few kangaroos though); so people are making decisions about hiring, firing, wiring and aspiring (see what I did there?) before they have got all the facts, you see? – ‘Ready, Fire, aim’, get it?
Go to: 'Avoid Four Deadly Traps in Decision Making'
Just been reading about Keith Jubah the senior procurement executive in Liberia who was shot dead outside his house a week or two back. I saw this story again whilst I was abusing the Supply Management Blog for giving airtime to the Daily Mail’s criticism of MOD Buyers. You see, buyers worry about how they are perceived by other colleagues – rightly so, because mostly they are a bit rubbish. For the last ten years I’ve spent a lot of time going around meeting lots of organisations and meeting up with tons of buyers. Its often not a particularly fulfilling experience because they are mostly negative, out of the loop and have no real idea on how to contribute to their organisations. When there’s a recession – its usually a time for buyers to come into their own and really contribute and only some actually rise to the challenge. I call the others ‘Jurassic Buyers’ and there are plenty of them around. It hacks me off to see more discussion on why buyers should be seen as more important – i.e. not ‘Paper Clip Monitors’ because, at the extreme Keith lost his life – no one knows why, but he must have done enough to get somebody upset enough to take the ultimate action against him. So, buyers need to get a grip and focus on improving what they do as well as working on building their internal reputations and not whinging on about the fact that people sometimes look down on them – for good reason in my experience. So now it’s the wet flannel and the darkened room again for me.
The last couple of weeks have been, yes you’ve guessed it - very busy. What with Union negotiations, more business planning workshops, supplier visits, board presentations, key customer visits, legal negotiations, exec meetings, coffee with the Chairman and programme kick off meetings - I don’t know what to do with my 'spare time', you’ve got to agree though; I live a Rock and Roll lifestyle. On the subject of time, it’s an interesting time for industrial strife. The postie’s are doing their bit with our mail; in Leeds the bin men haven’t lifted a lid for a good while and who knows who will be next. It stands to reason that an economy that’s grown year in year out for a decade is going to build up some inefficiency and weak management has a tendency to let that happen when the good times are rolling. Consequently, when the economy drops as it did violently in 2008, things have to be readjusted. So, those readjustments are going to be fought all the way by the Unions and so, here we go. Another Winter Of Discontent? – Lets hope not. Happy days.
So last week started with a meeting to agree some training for people who will be doing some high level recruitment and ended with loads of briefing sessions, with some business plan reviews, a conference and a mini workshop in between. Where's that eight-day week when you need it? Wednesday night found me in a hotel near Heathrow unable to get much sleep due to an over enthusiastic couple in the next room; perfect preparation for my meeting the next day - lots of coffee with a sugary sticky bun did the trick, in the end. I listened to a talk given by a (successful and rich) software entrepreneur who said that the two most important things in business were were cash and people. I reckon that ideas and energy need to be on that list because you have to generate money, to have cash and to pay people, so that's ideas, energy, cash and people - easy don't you think?