Friday, 10 August 2012

Lighting the flame!

Danny Boyles programme notes for the opening ceremony of the Olympics have been circulating on the internet.... The last paragraph reads:

“But we hope, too, that through all the noise and excitement you’ll glimpse a single golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring notion that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. A belief that we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.”

The amazing view from Karl Brocker's seat!
As talk begins to turn to the closing ceremony, as I continue to enjoy the London Olympics 2012, and as I anticipate the events of the Paralympics – my memories remain of a few Fridays gone as I watched the opening ceremony. Whilst some have debated the political element of the ceremony, I have chosen to reflect on what we can learn from it. Whatever your view about all, parts of, or who did what at the ceremony I think it should be recognised that this was a huge task, well done; and if you’ve ever organised so much as a kids party or a work Christmas lunch you’ll appreciate that you can’t please everybody so you just have to be true to your convictions and go for it!

Here are some of my reflections:
  • The first lesson is that of a clear vision, but not just one about the end result – for me the above excerpt evidences a clarity and a passion for the journey.
  • I think it is also fantastic that from the outset, this vision was inclusive.
  • From this vision (of little value if not achievable) to the ceremony itself, it is clear that this vision was translated into a clear plan and that hours of preparation went into the final show.
  • The choice of ‘players’ in the performance was also important. The use of volunteers including children and members of the health service through to high profile cast members such as Kenneth Branagh, JK Rowling and Rowan Atkinson was in keeping with the UK having a range of diverse talent, but with no one professional dominating the show over the non-professionals (which included HM The Queen)!
  • And then there is Danny Boyle himself who demonstrated great leadership skills (along with others) – it was his vision, he clearly got a great team around him, and most impressively he shared of the glory, and recognised the role of the volunteers in his post event speech.

Personally, I think it was a great show – it was very British (authentic), gave a nod to history without staying there, celebrated talent and achievement, and was creative and forward thinking but not so much so that we abandoned fireworks!

And when comes time for the closing and Paralympic ceremonies, I hope the handing over of the baton is as innovative, smart and smooth as the approach to lighting the flame...which, to me, was genius.

All lit up... Another Karl Brocker view - Thanks for sharing!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Lessons from Lizzie!

Well done to Lizzie Armistead who yesterday won Team GB's first Olympic 2012 medal, earning silver in the women's road race. 
Elizabeth Armitstead
We often learn through things that don't go well, but we should also learn from, as well as celebrate, sporting success. Here's what I'll take from Lizzie - (aside from the obvious being good and working hard!):

  • Scenario: Lizzie (and the women's team in general) were not the headliners - the men's team were.
  • Lesson: Success does not always come where you expect it, so look at talent all around and don't be too concerned with being the 'favourite'

  • Scenario: We were meant to get gold for the men's road race. This sadly didn't happen due, apparently, to the tactics of others and a lack of plan B.
  • Lesson: Learn from what happens to others, and have a plan B 

  • Scenario: Lizzie took the initiative to break away from the team
  • Lesson: Timing is critical. Trust your instints

  • Scenario: Lizzie was originally a track star, but chose to concentrate on the road rather than the track for this Olympics
  • Lesson: Don't limit your options too much, too soon; but know when to streamline and focus

  • Scenario: When the eventual winner, Marianne Vos, went for it... so did Lizzie
  • Lesson: Stick to your own game, but don't let the competition out of your sight!

  • Scenario: Lizzie played a key role in helping Nicole Cooke win gold at the 2008 Road World Championships as part of the team
  • Lesson: Be a good team player, and your time to shine will come

  • Scenario: Lizzie apparently took up cycling relatively late, only taking up the sport 8 years ago.
  • Lesson: It's not when you start, it's where you finish!

Here's what business should take in addition to the above:

  • Scenario: Lizzie was spotted through a talent identification scheme
  • Lesson: Introduce one of these, spot and support talent, reap the rewards (obviously)!

Lizzie Armitstead riding behind Marianne Vos

Monday, 9 July 2012

Child's Play!

It is said (and sad) that we hit an age where we have to be all grown up and even the Bible says that there is a time when we should 'put away childish things'. But I've recently found myself at odds with this idea and verse as I have found myself getting childish things out, to turn them into a lesson for grown up's! 

I was asked to come up with a brief in-room activity to take a 'comfortable' team up a gear - with limited time, space and resources (well, it was a charity!). So I set about deciding on a couple of activities to be sandwiched in between presenting some theory and generated discussions. 

In a nutshell I had the team complete a jigsaw puzzle, designed for toddlers, somewhat limited by the blindfolds and rules representing real life challenges.  The aim was to encourage some self awareness and extract some key team lessons... And then I finished by telling the story of 'The three little pigs' (also useful for project management!) to illustrate a few more points.

And the use of kids stuff wasn't where the 'childishness' ended, as I have to confess I did giggle a little watching the team undertake the challenge (which they had been warned might occur*)!
*More real life representation.

The resultThe team learnt a lot and laughed a little; I learnt a little and laughed a lot. I got great feedback, and they got a simple activity they can work with again to continue improving as a team. 

To try this in your workplace you will need:
  • A willing team, with a sense of humour and adventure!
  • A child's jigsaw puzzle
  • Some blindfolds
  • A stop watch
  • Me! (so you know all the rules and get all the learning!) 

To find out more about using kids stuff to get adults learning - or about my more sensible approaches to training - 
Call me on 07887 643807.

Monday, 18 June 2012

A part-time problem?

The subject of part-time work is currently in-vogue with a recent blog suggesting that 'part-time' has become a dirty word, and another report speaking of the needs/desires of fathers to work more flexibly. But here's another angle... the availability (or should I say 'lack of') part-time and flexible work, in some sectors at least.

In the current economic climate you would think that there would be lots of part-time roles as employers look to save money, but put ‘part-time’ into a search engine and watch the number of available vacancies plummet. It’s not that there are no part time vacancies, but if you want a part-time job your chances are pretty slim especially for those who are better qualified/ very experienced - One leading site had 437 HR jobs in London but put part-time HR jobs, London into the same search engine and you get.... Seven. (Some example we're setting as a sector!)

With the number of people unemployed, but looking for part-time work (eg parents and carers) to suit their circumstances - it's incredibly competitive, especially if your skills lie outside of retail or administration.

I appreciate that if the hours needed are full-time, then so be it, but I suspect that often an employer will simply not have considered that a role could be done part-time. And of the full time roles available, rarely (if ever) are they offered as a job-share option which I assume is because employers consider this a challenge to manage.

Those employed within an organisation applying for flexible working and part-time internally have to have their requests seriously considered. The fact that there are an increasing number of people in part time roles within the UK highlights that there is a ‘market’ for part-timers and there is evidence to suggest that there are significant benefits of employing people flexibly. However, there is no real requirement for employers to think about this when a vacancy arises. 

In my experience a number of people looking for genuine flexibility would be so grateful for it, that they are willing to undertake roles below their previous ‘grade’ at a lower salary, bringing all their skills and experience; and surely that represents great value for money. Yet despite this, it would seem that recruiters are missing a trick. And there is also the wider impact – a wasting of skills, families with less money to spend and therefore an impact on the economy.

I don’t know if there is a solution, but I do believe this is a problem.

What do you think? - Answers on a postcard please! 

Monday, 28 May 2012

A lesson in laughing and learning...

...based on Hens, a bar, and bottles!

I was tasked with arranging my best friend’s hen party and saw an opportunity do something interesting and a little different. Based on my passion for being a bit creative, making things happen and the knowledge of my best friends – I ignored the hen’s suggestion that we should just go out for a meal! 

I had to harness existing, and refresh old, skills (such as communication, negotiation, planning and organisation) first working out what to do, and then to get a local restaurant/bar to host a cocktail making class for us once we’d decided. For me, after some reflection on the day, a blog was born and here it is... 

By the time we arrived at the venue the hen had already experienced a few surprises in the form of a pre-party lunch and an unexpected guest, she relaxed for the first time as we approached the venue thinking that she was getting exactly what she had asked for. However, once inside she soon found herself behind the bar (not what she asked for/expected!), along with the rest of us. Despite her initial wish to just eat, she exclaimed that she had always wanted to work in a bar but had never gotten around to it. For me there was point number one: What are we waiting for when it comes to learning something new/doing something we've always wanted to do?

Our cocktail coach was fantastic – she identified what we already knew, talked us through different types of alcohol and equipment and demonstrated a range of techniques, all the while reinforcing that we would be able to put into practice what we were learning. 

At first our task was simple – make (and drink!) an easy all-in, mix it up kind of cocktail... No problem!  But then she took us through a range of more interesting sessions – flair and creation. Despite knowing we’d have to do this, the more complex the sessions became the more hesitant we were to get back behind the bar. And yet it was also when the laughing and learning really started. We ended up having a great laugh as we spun cups and threw bottles, or should I say dropped them!

Having fun really made the sessions memorable - The hen was really happy and everyone who came has some new skills... Job done!

My Lessons:
  1. Don't wait if there is something new you want to do/learn.
  2. You learn loads when you laugh lots... at yourself and with others (and I'm sure there is scientific proof!)
  3. When doing something new, draw on existing skills ( we all knew how to drink cocktails at least!)
  4. Learning happens when we stretch ourselves and keep on going (even when we drop the bottle!)
  5. We learn more doing than we can from observing, but understanding and observing first helps (so get behind the bar!)
  6. You have to limit/eliminate the fear of failure (drink can help *wink*)

So, When was the last time you laughed and learnt?

Thursday, 17 May 2012

They think it's all over... It is now!

What can we LEARN from this year’s Premier League table?

In the third and final instalment of my blogs looking at the 2011/2012 season, I'm finishing with a group that in business/HR terms is often the most overlooked - those in mid-table. Whilst they are neither the stars (who often get either left to get on with it or developed up) nor the poor performers (who take up most of managements time day-to-day), this group can have a massive impact on what happens either side of them. In football they can cost a team the League, and at work they can either be developed up, slip down or do a great job where they are and influence/support others around them.

So, this season what have we learnt from them? 

My three mid-table team lessons:

  • 7th: Everton - They never let you down when it comes to showing integrity and fight. In a defining match (against Manchester United) they kept playing when they had little to play for, and possess a manager who just gets on with it. They usually finish mid table but always strive to improve year-on-year. In fact, this season they finished above their biggest rivals. Whilst they don't have headline grabbing stars they work like a tight unit, are consistent and dependable. Just like a team should be.

  • 11th: Swansea – Swansea were great to watch and did not compromise their style which to me is how we should be about our values. A bit like Wolves once relegated (see part two) they performed with a degree of freedom because results were not critical - no one expected them to stay up anyway, so they played without fear. As such they finished above teams who were expected to do much better and were the highest placed Premiership newcomers. I'm informed by Ken Brown (a lifelong Swansea fan) that the club have strong principles about how they operate and about retaining talent. And in their young manager is the proof that it can work if youth (in years or experience) has good support and structures behind, above and around them. 

  • 15th: Wigan – From Wigan we learn never listen to the doubters and don’t be afraid to be David to the Goliaths. Wigan beat a number of top teams to beat the drop, and they went about their business quietly confident. Their manager remained calm and optimistic; and when there seemed to be trouble his boss dealt with it respectfully and behind the scenes, maintaining faith and support.

  • Best Mid-table Manager(s)

Picking a boss from mid table – despite the number of them – was easy for me but only because I'm going for two! - Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez, both ones to watch for the future, especially as both are in the frame to replace Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool.

Question: Who is your business one to watch, and what are you doing to make sure they stay with you and rise to the top in good time?

And that’s it.
Roll on the Champions League (which may result in another footballing blog if Chelsea win!) and the European championship. And then, the Olympics before we kick off for more fun next season.

In terms of the Premiership 2011/2012 - They think it’s all over, It is now!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

They think it's all over! Part two.

What can we LEARN from this year’s Premier League table?

I began this series of blogs by saying how often the ‘negative’ issues in football were often the focus when learning lessons . One of the points I raised was that of conduct issues being ‘ignored’ etc because of capability.

And yesterday it was highlighted again as Manchester City’s parade was marred by one of their talented players wilfully, publically and inappropriately (to say the least) doing something bad and stupid. Furthermore - how did he get on the bus without his boss or colleagues being aware of what he had/was going to do? – Does this highlight my point about ‘team members’ helping manage each other because surely, if they had known (even if the manager didn’t) they would have stopped him?

To add to this another player, who we understand will be heavily disciplined for his actions, said that all that mattered was that his team was not relegated. What a fabulous example for a captain to set, but hey – results are what matters eh?!

In both instances the managers have already let go of prior misdemeanours, so what does that say to their credibility, and how do they now handle these players?

Anyhow, moving on... We’ve looked at the top three in the table, but (as should be the case) here’s a look at what we can LEARN from those who don’t do so well. In business we should be try to find what our ‘poor performers’ bring (they got in somehow) and analyse why things are as they are.

  • Relegated in last place - Wolves:

Interestingly there was something that applied to both the top and bottom teams - it certainly applied to Wolves that, once the pressure was off they started to enjoy some better performances and results – a lesson in motivation perhaps.

We also a lesson in terms of ‘sackings’ and recruitment: Were the club too quick to sack their former manager? Did they not think through available successors? Was there another way?

In terms of the manager there seems little doubt that Terry Connor is a nice, dignified person with  the support of his team, but that didn’t matter because whichever division you’re in one thing remains – in a results business, what matters are results.

On the plus side - Perhaps, Wolves can go on to be a big fish in a little pond (a lesson in positioning) having gained experience playing in the premiership. 

  • Second from bottom – Blackburn:

A lesson in recruitment and laying the groundwork for a new appointment! Blackburn really struggled because the manager at the helm had no support from his ‘customers’ – he was doomed, in part, because the fans had big issues with the club (leaders) in general. Recent research by the CIPD has shown that staff issues increasingly relate to ‘leadership’ not ‘management’.

The positive - during the season, the manager handled himself with dignity and got himself a mentor/supporter who is himself an experienced boss.

The negative - It has to be added that, just yesterday, a damaging video surfaced of the manager which will now call into question his judgement and integrity. How long will he keep this job, and how long before he gets another one? Judgement and integrity are critical attributes.

  • Just in the relegation zone – Bolton: 

Bolton had the toughest season without doubt and were relegated on the last day by late results. But bigger than that was the near tragic situation they had to manage concerning Fabrice Muamba.

I have nothing but praise for the way they handled the situation – leadership, management and the team were together; the clubs communications were excellent, they showed compassion and support for each other, kept going and were a shining example for us all.

  • Worst Manager:

Sorry, to end on a negative note (until the next instalment anyway), but I'd be cheating to do a Best Manager and then not do a worst. Below is just my opinion:

Despite recognising the Villa manager has gone already, and the plight of Terry Connor and his side (who I have some sympathy with as their manager who was put into a role he wasn’t fully prepared for, under the spotlight, and in a side with some existing challenges), they were not the worst managers. 

In my opinion because (in my best mothers voice ‘he should have known better'), my nomination for ‘worst’ manager of the season goes to the Liverpool Manager. Granted, Kenny Dalglish was loyal (a positive trait) but when certain matters got out of hand, he let loyalty cloud his judgement/handling of the Suarez situation and needed the club owners to step in and make some amends. Unfortunately for him, the club’s results (other than the Carling Cup) did not mask his management failings. 

That's part two done! Next: Let's not forget the middle ground.

Monday, 14 May 2012

They think it's all over!

What can we LEARN from this year’s Premier League table?

I’m a big football fan and during each season I find myself making comparisons between what’s going in the League, and employment situations in the real world! 

As if often the case, much of what took up my interest were the employee relations type issues - from race allegations, interpersonal relationships to unauthorised absences.  This year there were also discussions around religion (eg Match winners champagne), handling serious employee illness (Darren Fletcher) and keeping a team motivated through it (Bolton and the Fabrice Muamba situation). And that's on top of the lessons about motivation, management styles, getting results and teamwork.

The press, of course, focus on all the drama but when it’s all over what can we actually learn (good and bad) from the top, middle and bottom of the League this season. 

In part one, let’s start by focussing on the top of the table, especially as in the real world many managers (and parents for that matter!) find themselves focussing their time and energy on the ‘poor performers’.

Winners: Lessons from Manchester City
  1. If you want to succeed, you have to invest.
  2. However, you can have talented individuals but they have to work together. Team players can even in help in 'managing' challenging individuals (in City's case that meant calming down a sometimes volatile Mario Balotelli on the pitch where the club manager couldn't be!)
  3. If the results are all important and your values can stand it - you may have to choose to put talent, winning and performance above conduct and attendance!*
* Note - this one doesn't sit comfortably with me, but they did win the League so it had to be said :(

Runners Up: Lessons from Manchester United
  1. History is just that... you cannot become complacent or switch off – ever!
  2. Earn respect and have a good relationship your team, past and present... you need them – Paul Scholes came out of retirement and nearly helped United to a 20th title.
  3. Keep going – At one point, it looked as if Manchester United had already lost the league and suffered an unexpected and embarrassing defeat to their nearest rivals. Despite this, unsettled team members, and lots of illnesses they just kept going. Already, the club (well the manager, at least) having grudgingly congratulated the opposition are already licking their wounds and planning for next season.
“Failing is not in the falling down, it's in the not getting back up” - Chinese proverb.

Final guaranteed Champions League spot: Lessons from Arsenal
  1. A slow start, big losses and intense criticism can be overcome. 
  2. One star can carry a team - it shouldn't be that way, but sometimes it just is, but... 
  3. Be careful not to overburden your star, or you might not keep them. The question is: how do you keep your star performer happy when it is so often said that if you want something done, give it to the busy person?
 Top Manager: Lessons from Alan Pardew 

Well done to Newcastle’s  Alan Pardew who was voted Premier League Manager of the Year, and deservedly so. Some of the reasons I agree with the choice include:
  • He quietly went about his business getting in quality players who he was prepared to develop and let shine.
  • He didn’t moan about his challenges (eg moving up North where he wasn’t wanted)
  • He showed bags of passion and wasn’t afraid to apologise/take responsibility when things got heated or went against the gameplan.
  • He motivated his team by making them believe they could win a big prize, and still celebrated them even though they didn't
  • In terms of results, he improved his team’s overall position.

It might be 'just a game' but we can LEARN so much from it.
Enjoyed part one? Next: What we can learn from the bottom teams.