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February 2008

What is so special about footballers?

Like many people I often ponder the lives of footballers who earn as much or more in a week than I earn in a year, and wonder why Nature did not see fit to bless me with such talent? Of course it is easy to single out footballers, but the fact is the same holds true for any sportsperson. There is no doubt that special talent brings rich rewards – and not just in sport but in all walks of life.

Nowadays, however, it seems that it is even possible to “earn” (and I use the phrase very euphemistically) such rich rewards without talent but simply through association, which can be even more galling! However, while it could be quite easy to wallow in a sense of injustice and a “why-not-me?” attitude, it would be totally pointless. And it is far too late in life for me to become a HAB (Husband and Boyfriend) or even a WAG (Wife and Girlfriend) if I was that way inclined. So I have little option but to accept the cards I have been dealt.

And yet…. it still all seems so unfair, particularly when one has been taught that we all have different talents. Now of course, there is no manual that says life has to be fair, but thinking along these lines, I began to ask questions, such as:
• How many people are there out there who are potentially better than Beckham, or Federer, or Schumacher, or Madonna or Kylie, who could have done just as well with the same opportunity?
• How many people go through their lives and never discover or develop their talents?
• How many people recognise their talent, but squander it for one reason or another?
• How much latent talent and human potential is wasted in the workplace?

As I pondered that last one and thought about the variety of talents that people do have, I begin to challenge, not so much the rewards that the Beckhams of this world receive, but the different way they are treated. Why are film stars, musicians and sports stars valued as assets in their companies’ books, but not the “little people” – the ones who actually are integral to the organisation and its day-to-day operations, and without whom the wheels wouldn’t run as smoothly? Is it really possible to have a good CEO without a good secretary? And who does more to put off a prospective customer than the receptionist or the switchboard operator?

It was thinking along these lines that led me to think that everyone should be valued, and to develop the concept of “Human Assets.” An organisation is made up of all the people who work for it, and while not all may be able to “Bend it like Beckham,” all should be able to “Benefit like Beckham.” Of course the scale won’t be the same, but the principle is. After all, a desk is just as much an asset as the machine that makes the widgets!

Why should people be treated differently, just because their talents are different?  


Judge not!

It is stating the obvious to say we are all different and hence we all do things differently. Yet this is probably THE single biggest complication in human existence because it makes every human interaction and every relationship different – something which has profound consequences, not least in the world of business. 

It could be argued that the biggest challenge leaders and business people alike have faced throughout history has been to control and standardise behaviour. Indeed at its most basic that is what defines leadership. Henry Ford’s assembly line, which introduced the age of uniformity and mass production, was, in essence, nothing but a brilliant means to create a more homogenous product that simultaneously  reshaped behaviour and created the need for groups of homogenous people to follow a predetermined routine.

But, it is precisely because people are not homogenous that management theory and practice is so focused on “leadership”, “control” and ways to “shape behaviour.” Yet the very fact that people are individual, with innate resistance to being made to conform, makes such efforts ultimately counter-productive. Enlightened leaders recognise this and move away from Canute-like efforts to impose their will.

One of the first steps is to recognise that people are individuals whose efforts, because they think and act differently, will always end in different results. Thus no-one will do something exactly as you would. You might not even do it the same way twice yourself. I know that, when I have thought I have done a good job, and then looked at it some time afterwards, I can always think of ways it could have been better! Yet despite this moving target we still expect others to do exactly as we would. Wouldn’t it be better to simply agree the requirements and the standard – and measures – of quality and leave people to get on with the job?

One example of this is the way my daughter ties her shoe-laces. She is right-handed, but was taught by her older brother who is left-handed. Thus watching her doing it is a spectacle of confusion. Yet the result is not only equivalent, but her success rate – measured by the frequency of the need to retie – is phenomenal: unlike the rest of us she seldom if ever has her laces come undone. 

How much more effective the work environment would be if this attitude was more universally adopted. For instance the impact on performance appraisals would be significant. A recent blog “Performance Reviews: A Big Fat Waste of Time” really encapsulates some of the shortcomings of these. Now, with a focus solely on outcomes, both parties will already know from the delivery cycle, what the standard of performance has been. Issues will be addressed immediately and there will be no need to agonise over performance. So rather than an annual review, there would be an “Annual Personal Plan” agreeing desired outcomes with their performance standards. This would integrate macro- and micro-level planning and enable constructive dialogue to identify obstacles and how to overcome them. It would be when manager and individual agree how best to enhance the individual’s human asset value (a concept outlined in my website) and would be a far more collaborative exercise, focusing on mutually beneficial objectives, and the interdependencies to ensure they are achieved.

Such outcome focus removes any element of judgement, along with the potential for conflict, enabling the delivery cycle – with its embedded performance measurement – to engender continuous improvement and remove the need for annual appraisals. Annual personal plans will instead provide the capability to align personal and organisational objectives, fostering greater collaboration and teamwork.

The Scriptures certainly are practical!

Just who is running the business?

We all have stories of struggles with bureaucracy gone crazy; where common sense appears to have flown totally out of the window and we have been left feeling completely powerless and with a sense of burning indignation and even injustice. 

The popular expression, “You can’t fight City Hall” epitomises the resignation such situations cause. But they do not occur only in the public sector: they can be a hazard for any organisation. I encountered a classic this last week that truly had me wondering who is really responsible for such events?

Our local school suddenly found itself without any phone service at two of its campuses. While following up, the school received a call from the service provider at their primary campus (which had a different supplier), telling them phone service had been cut off “for non-payment of the account.” Inevitably this caused consternation and a flurry of activity which showed that the account had indeed been paid – on time and in the usual manner – and the mistake was on the supplier’s side. This was happily pointed out to the supplier, who was further embarrassed to inform the school that it would take 3 days before service could be restored!   

This was a real lose-lose situation, for not only was the school deprived of an essential service, but the phone company actually lost revenue for the entire time the service was disconnected! So clearly there is no commercial justification for such decisions. However, the situation is even worse than that, for, apart from the negative customer experience – which completely undermines the entire customer service effort – it is also unlikely there was any risk evaluation behind the decision.

After all, a school is a public service with a duty of care and it is therefore vital that lines are open for emergencies. Imagine the consequences for the phone company if any serious emergency had arisen that could have been mitigated by immediate telephone access. The financial compensation could have been significant, not to mention the damage to its reputation. 

These are serious issues that supersede the more obvious procedural ones such as:
1.    Why was the payment not accounted for?
2.    Was the school’s payment history considered prior to the decision?
3.    Why did the school not receive any prior warning before the service was cut?
4.    How can a service be cut instantly but take three days to be restored?
5.    Were there any precautionary steps in the process before the decision was made?
6.    Who made the ultimate decision and was there any escalation process for this?

This example illustrates just how vulnerable businesses are to the actions of low-level employees and how out-of touch managers really are with the day-to-day operations and the decisions made on a daily basis – decisions that could be fatal for the business. It thus demonstrates how important it is to move away from historic processes and attitudes, and have people who are:
•    Imbued in the organisational values.
•    Committed to those values.
•    Able to act in accord with them.
•    Capable of independent thought and intelligent action, rather than following rules blindly.

This is clear proof of the need to recognise people as assets and change the way we manage and measure them, to ensure that they are happy, committed teamworkers with a vested interest in the organisation and the way it operates.

People Effectiveness: The El Dorado

There can be little doubt that the winds of change are sweeping through the field of people management. While traditional HR is increasingly being outsourced, there is a simultaneous drive for ‘Strategic HR’ that is a clear indication of the recognition that people are truly the most important asset, and the need to make better use of them. After all, tougher competition calls for continuous improvement, which in turn requires change and change cannot be delivered without people.

Clearly then the demand is for greater people effectiveness. That is why I am so excited about what I am offering, because I truly believe it offers the solution to greater effectiveness, at the personal level and hence – as an inevitable consequence – at the organisational level. If you really want to understand what I am talking about please just click here to download my paper, "Lighting the Fuse."

To get the best of people it is essential to provide an environment in which they are allowed to give their best; one in which they can begin to fulfil their own potential and in which they feel happy, not least because they know they are contributing.

“Lighting the Fuse” illustrates how you can begin to do achieve this. It shows:

  • The extent to which human ability is wasted in most organisations.
  • How some organisations – and not necessarily commercial ones – have far outperformed others in their field.
  • How the principles used by such organisations can be translated into a practical means to eliminate such waste and to make people – and their workplaces – more effective.

In doing so it offers a framework for the new tools required for the management toolbox. Historic HR/People Management tools have proved largely incapable of driving sustained personal effectiveness. There may be many reasons for this, but I would argue that perhaps the most fundamental one is that they all fail to recognise that personal motivation comes from within, and thus, with the best will in the world, cannot be compelled – least of all in a world where personal rights have become sacrosanct.

Despite this, few new tools have been added to the management toolbox and companies persist in using dubious old ones; partly because they see no alternative and, even more regrettably, partly because “if XYZ uses it, it must be good.” Here, at last, is a new approach that is entirely logical and that offers a basis for removing the uncertainty from people management and making it a practical and valuable contributor to organisational performance.

Your Take

Obviously you don’t have to take my word for it! But please read “Lighting the Fuse” and then let me know what you think. Just as there is no such thing as bad publicity, there is no such thing as negative feedback and I look forward to your comments. Hopefully you will agree it is the El Dorado of organisational effectiveness!