Lighting the Fuse

A Powerful New Message

"Stick to the knitting!" Tom Peters.   

If memory serves me correctly, this was one of the key messages of "In Search of Excellence." Anyway, whatever the source, it certainly has some relevance for me, for I have learned over the past few years that it is not easy for someone with a financial background like me to become an expert marketer.

Despite my absolute conviction that I have the solution to one of the major business issues of the age, I have not had much success getting people to beat a path to my door. Needless to say I recognised that this was because my marketing and communication was not all it should be, but my efforts to rectify this made little or no difference. I realised, however, just how bad things were when someone I have networked with for a number of years admitted recently, "I am still not clear what you do!"

Those words were a real jolt and prompted me to immediate action. As a result I have:
1. Rewritten my website.
2. Clarified my product/service offering.
3. Rewritten the free download available from my website so that it is more customer focused and less academic. 

Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but I invite all my readers to revisit my website and - even if you have already downloaded it - to download a fresh copy of my starter guide. I am sure you will see that the message is much more powerful and hopefully it clearly shows what you have to gain by implementing my ideas. After all, it's not every day you hear a claim that you can improve bottom line results by at least 20% - a big claim, but one I am confident I can help you meet.

So, please checkout the offering and let me have your feedback. While it is still not my knitting, I would like confirmation I am getting better.

Even better, if you are looking for bottom line improvement on that scale, or if you know anyone else who is, please contact me to explore further how I can help. That would be even more convincing, and assure me that, in this instance, Peters was wrong!

It starts with belief!

Belief makes the impossible possible. And belief is an incredibly human quality, which is another reason why organisations looking to transform business results or survive economic downturns need to pay greater attention to their people.

I don't think it will surprise anyone that I am passionate in my belief that business is about people, and I don't mind repeating ad nauseam that, even with the best plant and equipment, the latest technology and the best systems, a business cannot survive without people. People are the essential ingredient for success. That is why I gave my primary platform the title "Lighting the Fuse", based on the Mac Anderson quotation, "People are like dynamite; the power is on the inside and nothing happens until you light the fuse." That simple sentence gives a more informed insight into what is necessary to implement change, than whole business school libraries of management books. 

For most people the fuse is either belief or appreciation, or possibly a combination of the two. Henry Ford recognised the power of belief when he said, "Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right." It is, however, only with belief that you can even try.

This certainly seems to be something President Obama understands very well. I was amazed to read his statement yesterday that, "today I'm pledging to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office.  This will not be easy.  It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we've long neglected.  But I refuse to leave our children with a debt that they cannot repay -- and that means taking responsibility right now, in this administration, for getting our spending under control." At a time when the US has a record debt and is undertaking trillions more, when 10% of federal revenues is already going towards interest payments, this is an incredible statement, right up there with Kennedy's planning to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Yet there are two significant things to note about it:
1. It is a pledge.
2. He expects a second term in office!
Based on his remarkable track record who would bet against either?

This is really 'lighting the fuse' but what stands out most, is the stark contrast between this approach and that of business leaders who, while talking glibly about the end of the recession, continue to perpetuate it with their employee reduction programmes. Obama clearly understands something business leaders do not; that, as Bob Nelson put it, "You get the best efforts from others not by lighting a fire under them, but by lighting a fire in them."

Maslow, Happiness, Employee Engagement & Value

“We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it’s all about.” Joseph Campbell 

Whatever philosophical debates that statement might open up, it certainly could be argued that in a modern work context people have lost any sense of the “rapture associated with being alive.” At a time when working conditions are arguably better than at any time in recorded history, employee disengagement is an increasing problem. 

This may be partly because this is likely the first time that employee engagement has ever been deemed important enough to even warrant measuring. Yet disengagement is said to cost billions. Even then, however, it is the trend that is the major concern. It is clearly a problem we need to solve. So how do we begin?

Let us for a moment forget the questions that have plagued philosophers and thinkers for centuries, and the complexity of human nature, and just accept Maslow’s theory that the higher up the hierarchy of needs one moves the greater the chance for happiness at work and the  “rapture” that may be equated with it.  

If that is true, then logic dictates the inverse must also be true: the more one moves down the hierarchy of needs the less propensity there is for happiness. So the same logic would suggest it makes more sense for employers to look to meet the higher needs of their people, rather than their more basic needs. Ergo!

Maslow Engagement & Effectiveness

Any organisation looking to engage its people should prioritise its response in the reverse order to Maslow’s hierarchy. This is why the concept of valuing people is so important: it creates the mindset to do just that, in a way that nothing else does!

To find out more about why please download the FREE executive summary of my white paper, "Lighting the Fuse" from my website.


The Meaning of Work

“Implementation is straightforward if you understand the fundamentals, but only if you can engage so that modern workers are able to answer the question. ‘What’s in it for me?’” Mark Wilcox (with Jonas Ridderstrale: People Management: 6 March 2008)   

The rider that followed shortly after, however, was what really caught my attention: “Enticing people with money is going about it the wrong way.”  Not because of the words, but the relief that such ideas are being expressed more.

Jonas Ridderstrale reinforces this by adding, “Most traditional management presumes you can move from envisioning straight to execution, forgetting engagement. It equates great leaders with those who have Eureka moments. But to deliver real change you have to be able to tap into people’s emotional capital too.”  Traditional management could only make that presumption because it was rooted in the conviction that you had simply to tell subordinates what to do.

It would thus seem that ‘emotional capital’ and ‘what’s in it for me’ are synonymous and cannot be met by either command or enticement. The challenge then is to find a new operating model. Ridderstrale believes highly successful corporations have this and that “It’s a change from having a relationship with employees that’s purely transactional to having one that’s at least partially emotional.” This, these gurus claim, “starts with using positive deviance, rather than trying to exterminate the negative.”

Oh boy! Apart from the mind-numbing generality of this, it also sounds pretty much like the Dr. Spock school of discipline and the sort of thinking that led to the meltdown in the financial markets: a sense somewhat reinforced by the next question, which asks about their suggestion that companies follow the model of religion or the American dream in reinventing themselves.

Hardly propitious analogies right now, they begin to make sense when one understands the key issue here is that “both talent and consumers will search for organisations that can provide them with meaning.” Companies (Virgin and Nike are cited as examples) able to offer this will stand a greater chance of success. Unfortunately the only practical insight to achieving this is that “organisations need to rely on a number of shared principles that keep people together.”     

Of course this is precisely where the Zealise solution starts. Rooted in Kahlil Gibran’s statement, “Work is love made visible”, it has the philosophical basis with the practical interpretation to deliver the remedy being discussed; engaged employees who have both the emotional capital and the social capital to be happy in their work. If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to download “Lighting the Fuse” to learn how to really engage your employees. 

Shaping Behaviour

“Watch your thoughts
                                       They become your words
Watch your words
                                       They become your actions
Watch your actions
                                       They become your habits
Watch your habits
                                       They become your character
Watch your character
                                       It becomes your life
Watch too, the tone of your words
                                      They are a two-way mirror
Allowing people to see into your motives
                                      And reflecting the results back into your life.”


A beautiful and rather profound way of saying that one’s thinking governs one’s experience. Something that, if it is true for life in general, must also be true in business and at work.

So then, how much of our experience at work is determined by our attitudes? This is perhaps a question that has even more relevance for managers and executives, suggesting as it does that business performance is determined by their thinking.  

These might not actually be questions you have ever asked yourself, but this truism is the very essence of what Zealise is about. For the whole Zealise service offering is premised on the fact that employees are regarded as an expense. As a Price Waterhouse report quoted in this week’s Top Consultant Newsletter says, “Employment costs can account for up to two thirds of business costs and, in times of market uncertainty, it is unsurprising that CEOs put pressure on their HR and finance functions to manage these costs closely.”

This thinking underpins the often knee-jerk reaction to make people redundant during bad economic times and is why one of the major concerns about whether we are or aren’t going into a recession is the impact on employment. For investors looking to maintain their earnings, and managers charged with ensuring they do, the bottom-line is key, and understandably, reducing people costs is a fundamental, if expedient, way of doing so. 

What is this, if not a behaviour determined by thinking? Consequently, the only way to change behaviour is to change thinking. This is precisely what our method of treating people as assets will do.

Investors and managers already say they regard people as assets, but it is a case where their words don’t actually follow their thinking, because of the ingrained, constantly reinforced, attitude of thinking of employees as costs. By inducing investors and managers to value people as assets as they already claim they do, Zealise will shape changes in behaviour that will make the mirror a far more pleasant experience for them all.

For a clearer understanding of our service offering please have a closer look at our newly revamped website and/or download our white-paper, “Lighting the Fuse.”

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!