Aziz Ansari

Some gentle jolts around diversity, stereotypes, celebrity, Kanye West and social marketing/Web 2.0.

And a lot of laughs!

Another video – and you will need sound for this one.

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Are you Getting the Gifts?

Initiative, creativity and passion are gifts.

They are benefactions that employees choose, day by day and moment by moment, to give or withhold.

They cannot be commanded.

Gary Hamel – The Future of Management

Nor can they be bought.

You can’t get these gifts from employees by challenging them to work harder.

Nor by exhorting them to ‘beat the competition’ or ‘care for the customers’.

You will only get these gifts from employees when you give them a purpose that merits their best.

Goals, Priorities and Resources; where does it all go wrong?

Spending time developing and clarifying goals is rarely time wasted. Although some of us spend time clarifying our work goals few of us spend time developing goals for other important aspects of our lives – family, community and self. This is one of the reasons why we find work-life balance so hard to achieve. Goals that have been set in our professional lives are not balanced by goals in other areas. The goals that we have set start to demand creativity and resources and before we know it…

Sometimes we set goals that do not provide clear priorities. Or they provide us with so many priorities that we may as well have no priorities at all. Priorities are immediate next steps that will move us closer to our goals. Good priorities are ones that we cannot fail to address. They are so simple and appealing that they cry out for us to get on with them.

But often we forget to allocate time and other resources to our priorities. Without resources to go with them our priorities are worthless. Without doubt time is the most precious resource that we can commit to a priority. I often find myself working with senior managers to clarify goals and priorities (no more than three or four at a time) and then schedule time in busy diaries to spend on them.

By scheduling two 90 minute blocks of time every week to work on priorities many managers ‘magically’ start to make tangible progress towards goals that had previously frustrated them.

Connecting with a Vision

This post first appeared on my other blog ‘Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in the Community‘ but I have reproduced it here because it contains some insights on working with ‘Vision’ that are relevant to the progressive manager.  Apologies to those of you who have got it for the second time!

Our Vision for Leeds is an internationally competitive European city at the heart of a prosperous region where everyone can enjoy a high quality of life.

Leeds Initiative Vision for Leeds – 2004 2020

That must seem like a pretty distant vision for many Leeds residents.  For the tens of thousands that are living on incapacity benefits.  For those who have no job.  For those who work in the third sector and are more interested in social justice than international competitiveness.  For parents who are struggling to raise and educate their children.  For pensioners. For migrants and refugees.

But the problem is not with the vision per se.  The problem lies with the capacity available to help a very wide range of people and communities to connect with it.  To understand why it is relevant to them and how it can help them to make progress on their agenda.  How it can help them find a sense of belonging in a Leeds community that is striving to make ‘progress’.

For a vision to be effective a wide range of stakeholders have to be able to connect with it and make sense of it in their own context, and then to use it to leverage action – to make things happen.  Otherwise it is just words.  I suspect it is no accident that this ‘Vision for Leeds’ appeals so directly to the white collar community, to the developers and the investors.  To those that have power shall be given more.

Visions can help to pull us towards a more attractive future, but only if they are relevant to us and are dripping with possibilities for action.

In the world of organisational and business development the ‘Vision backlash’ has started.  Instead of dreaming of distant possibilities those leading the backlash ask:

  • ‘What is it that we are on the verge of becoming?’,
  • ‘How, at this time, is it possible that we could change?’

This ‘emergence’ based on a process of ‘presencing’ (understanding the ‘here and now’ and then acting to tip the balance in favour of progress) honours the past as much as the future. It ensures that the future is rooted in the strengths and cultures of the past.  It encourages placemaking based on history as much as on the future.  And this matters because it is the history that has shaped us all.  Our cultures, our psyches our potentials and our preferences.  Development that honours who we are, what we have become and what we believe it is possible for us to be.

Perhaps we should compliment the Vision with a real understanding of what we have the potential to become – not by 2020 – but right now.

More Returns on Investment from 121s

Tom Peters encourages managers to obsess on R.O.I.R – the Return on Investment in Relationships.

ROIR through 121s comes in many forms:

  1. increased staff retention
  2. improved productivity
  3. recognition and acknowledgement of progress
  4. appreciation of those who are performing well
  5. identification of under performance and early resolution
  6. promotion of behaviours that reinforce strategic goals and values
  7. increased tempo of coaching to develop potential and performance
  8. deeper professional relationships
  9. increased trust
  10. increased influence
  11. increased responsiveness
  12. better support of team members in their work
  13. conduit for ideas from the front line to be heard and acted upon
  14. management support for every member of the team – every week
  15. improved communication and focus on what matters
  16. progress made and recognised on a weekly basis
  17. increased sense of urgency in the team
  18. encourage individuals to think through their contribution to team or organisational objectives
  19. increased initiative and enterprise
  20. planning remains flexible and dynamic
  21. documentation makes performance reviews simpler and less contentious
  22. barriers to high performance are removed
  23. factors contributing to poor performance are identified and resolved
  24. formal opportunities for delegation
  25. feedback – both given and received
  26. increased employee engagement
  27. improved knowledge management and knowledge sharing
  28. better talent management and development
  29. increased creativity
  30. more responsibility taken voluntarily by more people
  31. reduced absenteeism
  32. more diversity as 121s recognise that ‘one size fits one’

Thinking strategically; flies, bees, pike and shoulder blades

Most strategy training talks about the importance of developing a strategic plan and then aligning employees with the strategy.   This is an outmoded view of strategy.  I prefer to see strategy as a thinking and doing process – with the focus on achieving success tomorrow – rather than today.  Many managers struggle to find the time to do this strategic thinking and find it even harder to act strategically.

Learning from Mr Pike

The pike is one of the most efficient, lean predating machines in freshwater.  If you put a small pike in an aquarium with a bunch of minnows it will demonstrate its predatory skills with frightening efficiency.  If you separate the pike from the minnows using a sheet of perspex the pike will continue to launch its attacks for a little while.  And then it will just give up.  You can then remove the sheet of perspex and the pike will still believe that it can no longer catch its prey – and will simply starve to death.

Flies and Bees

Imagine putting half a dozen house flies and half a dozen bumble bees in  glass bottle.  The bottle is placed with its base towards a window and the open end towards the middle of the room.  The bees are strategically aligned to fly towards the sunlight.  The presence of the glass is a mystery to them.  They buzz and buzz away at the bottom of the glass driving towards the sunshine – until they too die.  The flies on the other hand are much less ‘strategically aligned’.  They fly in far more random patterns and within a few minutes most of them will have found their way to freedom.

Native Americans and Cracked Shoulder Blades

Some native American tribes used to use shoulder blades to help them plan their hunt.  The night before the hunt would leave they would throw a shoulder blade from a buffalo or deer on the camp fire.  In the morning the bone would have a pattern of cracks caused by the heat of the fire.  The pattern of these cracks – which was essentially random would be used to indicate to the hunting party in which direction they should seek their quarry.  So why would they rely on such a random way of choosing their hunting grounds?  Because without using a randomiser like this they would tend to over work the most productive hunting grounds and threaten the sustainability of the tribe and its environment.

These three stories illustrate something about the nature of strategy and strategic thinking – the perils of over specialisation, the risks of alignment, the problems of holding on to outdated learning and the importance of diversity and randomisation.  I am sure that analysis and planning have their place – but it is thinking and acting strategically that creates real value.

The Limits of Lean?


Earlier this week I went to ‘An Evening with Simon Hill’. Drawing on his experience of manufacturing industry and Yorkshire Forward, Simon Hill, Executive Director of Business at Yorkshire Forward talked about strategic business improvement using ‘Lean Principles’. Simon chose not to offer a quick reminder of what these Lean Principles are – leaving a proportion of the audience in the dark. As a reminder they are:

  1. Specify what creates value from the customers’ perspective
  2. Identify all the steps along the process chain
  3. Make those processes flow
  4. Make only what is pulled by the customer
  5. Strive for perfection by continually removing waste

With its origins in the world of total quality management Lean Principles provide a wonderful way to ensure efficient product or service delivery by allowing the whole business process to be analysed and made efficient. It emphasises systems, compliance, analysis and objectivity in pursuit of the perfect process. It really is scientific management for the late 20th Century. It is one of several business improvement tools that can help an organisation with one of its purposes – that of the efficient delivery of a product or service.

However increasingly efficiency is not the only game in town. Indeed it is not even the main game for most organisations. Renewal, re-invention and transformation are increasingly the key drivers of sustainable value creation in modern knowledge based economies. If I heard Simen rightly then after a considerable investment of money and time in implementing Lean his business had just about managed to stand still. Now this is an great achievement for a manufacturer of automotive components in South Yorkshire – but I doubt if it carries the seeds for a major economic re-birth.

My concern is the ‘story’ that Lean tells about the nature of business and enterprise. That it is about analysis, rationality, incremental improvement and mediocrity – giving the customer just what they ask for – when they ask for it. It is that the expectations of the customer should drive the production of the organisation. And Lean is not just a set of tools – it is a management philosophy – a culture. It becomes the way we think and act.

Andrew Mawson – one of the UKs most outstanding social entrepreneurs tells of the first time he asked some members of his community what they would really like to do. It turned out that they aspired to go on a day trip to the coast. Fair enough thought Andrew and worked with them to make it happen. After the trip had been undertaken he asked them what they would like to do next? And the reply came – ‘Let’s go on another trip to the (same) coast’! Let’s do it again! Andrew recognised that the aspirations of his customers were narrow. That he could provide experiences far more powerful and effective in driving community development. He understood that they had no real idea of what was possible. So he proposed that their next project was to be a journey across the Sinai desert. As their supplier he transformed their ideas of what could be achieved based on his on his knowledge, experience and expertise. This would never had happened had been trained in Lean principles.

And now Lean Simon tells us Lean consultants are being engaged by Yorkshire Forward to increase organisational efficiency. No doubt pieces of paper will soon be travelling less far on their journey through the offices, being touched by fewer people and processes generally more efficiently. And many of the employees perceptions will be reinforced that their role is not to facilitate the entrepreneurial re-birth of the region – but to design and administer effective bureaucratic processes.

For me business is about emotion, aspiration, imagination, passion, energy and risk. I am not making an argument for waste (although I do often find myself encouraging clients to ‘create slack’) but I am arguing for cultures that favour action and re-invention over perfection. If the price of Lean is a culture that favours analysis and incrementalism over imagination, re-invention and risk taking then I for one find it a price I am not prepared to pay.

At the end of the presentation I asked Simon whether he really felt that Lean held the answers to sustainable competitiveness in knowledge based business – whether it could drive the creativity and innovation necessary to compete in the future. And he answered ‘ No!’.

Are You Managing the Whole Team?

In my experience most managers spend much of their management discretionary time working with their stars: those employees who are really up for the job and always willing to take on new assignments as they look to develop their careers. The rewards of working with this group are seductive – but not without risk.

Firstly they are not representative of the majority of your employees. It is easy to believe (or hope) that they are, and that what works with them can be extrapolated successfully to the wider team. For example, crafting an internal communication about the latest management initiative with this group can often result in sending out a message that others find naive.

Secondly this group are unlikely to REALLY challenge you or give you the unvarnished truth. This group are ambitious and want to do well. They will see you as a gatekeeper to career development and are unlikely to risk rocking the boat.

I see managers spending some time managing under performers but usually only when things have become really critical and the issue can no longer be ducked. Instead of actively managing the very first signs of under-performance and getting things back on track quickly, most managers wait until the problem is almost irreparable. When they do act it is usually pretty drastic. Managing under-performance is, in my experience, one of the most poorly executed management tasks and one of the most immediately damaging to both morale and performance.

This leaves a band of employees that get relatively little management attention.

These are the loyal employees, perhaps in their 40s or older who have decided that they don’t want to get to the top. But they do want to do a good job that they feel proud of. They want to work with good people and they want to learn how to do their current job better. Much better in most cases. Yet they often get very little management time.

In part this is because they no longer choose to get involved with every new project that comes along (they are not interested in being ‘seen’ by top management as a promotion candidate). And in part is because they will continue to work well with a minimum of maintenance – for a while. It seems that we can afford to neglect them and no harm is done.

Unfortunately this is not the case. Over time this group can become cynical and jaded as their contribution is rarely recognised or rewarded. They can easily become technically skilled but disengaged – doing just what they need to get by. This is one reason why this group should always get their fair share of management time. But they are also a tremendous resource in at least two areas. Firstly they have experience and technical skills. They are usually pretty good at what they do. This means that they could do a good job working with some of the less experienced team members and passing on what they know. Secondly, if you build the right relationships, and ask them the right questions they are far more likely to tell you the unvarnished truth.

  • How much of your time is spent working with your stars?
  • How much of your time is spent managing under performers? Do you do this effectively? Really?
  • What about with that middle band of loyal employees that can so easily be allowed to retire on the job?

A well established programme of 121s, supported by effective team meetings and good performance management processes including feedback, coaching and delegation can go a very long way to helping you become an effective manager for the whole team.

Congratulations to the Stop Hate UK Team


I am currently training as a volunteer for STOP HATE UK who had their official launch in Leeds this afternoon. STOP HATE UK raises awareness and understanding of discrimination and hate crime, encourages its reporting, and supports the individuals and communities it affects.

It was really inspiring to listen to victims of hate crime talk about their experiences and describe the importance of the support that STOP HATE UK has been able to offer. I can’t wait to complete the training and start to get more involved.

But why do people hate in the first place? How could we engage with those who might become perpetrators of hate crime and prevent them from offending?

I am re-reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed which I first read when I did teacher training over 20 years ago. It reminds us that the oppressed, in turn, tend to become oppressors. My admittedly limited experience of hate crimes fits this pattern. The perpetrators are themselves victims of oppression both economically and socially. In order to find some power, status and esteem for themselves, they in turn oppress.

I believe that the same effect can play out in the workplace.  Old school managers strive to keep employees effective within roles that are tightly defined by job descriptions, targets, objectives and quality standards. The potential and aspiration of the individual comes a very distant second to their pre-ordained utility in the business.  Over time this distorts and inhibits their development as a human.  Essentially this style of management de-humanises and hatred, frustration, alienation and anger grow.  At best, people retire on the job.  At worst they express their alienation more powerfully through harassment, bullying and deception.

Progressive Managers on the other hand focus on the development of human potential.   Their role is to help people to exploit the opportunities that the organisation provides to further their own development as a person.  They build remarkable teams driven by the realisation of human potential – rather than the efficient but de-humanising fulfilment of a job description.


Who is the Entrepreneur?

Rob Greenland has just had a harrowing experience. A couple of on-line tests designed to find out whether or not he has what it takes to be an entrepreneur have come back in the negative. Apparently he ‘may benefit from the security of a permanent job’.  Welcome to the human race Rob!

Most questionnaires designed to elicit whether or not you are an entrepreneur are based on the notion that entrepreneurs conform to a personality type.

  • They do not.

They also assume that all entrepreneurs are interested primarily in financial wealth creation.

  • They are not.

They also assume that entrepreneurs work in isolation.

  • They do not.

The best entrepreneurs work as part of team that they have recruited with care and humility. They concentrate on doing beautifully what they love to do – and surround themselves by people who love to do what they hate. Successful entrepreneurs recognise their own strengths and weaknesses and are able to recruit people to work with them.

It is the skills and passion of the ‘entrepreneurial team’ that are the key determinant in the success of the enterprise.

Not the personal characteristics of the entrepreneur.

If we could just get people to understand the importance of ‘enterprising teams’ rather than the lone heroic entrepreneur then I think we could make a big step forward in the quality of enterprise in the UK.

The death of the entrepreneur – and the enterprise – is solitude.