Monthly Archives: October 2009


“I just can’t take it anymore!!!”

There’s a time in all our lives when we will scream this out at the top of our voices, or at least desperately want to.  Anyone that has witnessed break point will tell you what a dark and thoroughly unpleasant place it is.  But what if you are confronted by it face to face and not by a distressed employee or boss but a supplier?

This week my PA’s company car was in for its annual service. The car took longer to repair than expected as the garage needed some extra parts that were not in stock.  However, the garage asked her twice to return her replacement car so it could be switched for another (each time she had to re-fuel the car and make a 35km round trip).  On collecting her car she calmly pointed out to the receptionist that she had found this very inconvenient. 

You can imagine her surprise when the owner of the garage appeared from behind a screen and proceeded to shout and scream at her (in front of a waiting room full of people) at the top of his voice accusing her of being a trickster and how she had personally robbed his company of 130,000EUR last year on lost replacement car costs alone?!  The verbal attack was so intense and unexpected even his reception staff disappeared leaving my PA to face the enraged manager alone.  When the coast was clear she made a rapid exit, jumped in her car and drove off in a great deal of distress.

We all know how bad the recession is effecting the motor industry and most likely my PA’s innocent comment was the last straw for the stressed out garage owner?  But what should we do if we notice a colleague or even find ourselves nearing break point? 

One thing I know is that it is vital to find a way to keep a sense of balance and proportion.  To try and see things for what they are.  But this is much easier said than done and can only happen when our adrenaline level falls back to as near as normal as possible and when our emmotional state becomes calm.

If you are confronted by someone in such a state as the garage owner, check to see if there is any immediate physical danger either to yourself or anyone else.  If you feel it is safe to do so, try and calm the person down.  Be firm and say ‘I am not going to listen to anything more from you until you calm down, stop shouting and communicate in a normal voice’ (they will probably not notice that they are shouting).  Suggest that the person leave the room and come back in again when they feel ready to communicate normally, with some dignity towards both themselves and others.  If they ignore your instructions, leave the room (closing the door quietly behind you) keep calm and contact a colleague to decide what to do next. Think about safety first.  Usually 15 minutes is long enough for someone to regain a more composed stature and begin to become calm again.

Here are my tips for those who might find themselves at break point

1.  Try and take a step back to measure how stressed (close to the edge) you might be

a) Notice if the people (employees, colleagues, bosses, friends & family) around you are acting differently towards you in any way?

b) Ask those that you can confide in, if they think that you are acting differently from usual?

If so:

2.  Seek professional help:

a) A life coach or mentor

b) A psychiatrist

c) Doctor

3.  Admit to yourself and to others that you are not your usual self and ask for their patience during your difficult time.

4.  Take some time out, even half a day to begin with

a) Delegate as many tasks as possible

b) Keep responsibility until it is clear that you are unable to maintain it

5.  Remember the graveyard is full of irreplaceable people, don’t become one of them

Have a good week,



Brain dead? Food for thought leaders

We all, every once in a while, encounter short term memory loss.  Trying to recall a name or situation can be annoying but not half as bad as trying to find the words for an important e-mail or a simple solution to an issue when ones creativity level has sunk to an all time low?

This week I could not find inspiration for my blog, I thought it would be the first time ever that I simply drew a blank.  I had some ideas in a ‘suggestions for blogs’ folder but none of them spoke to me as being any good.  In short I was burned out of inspiration.  It was then that I remembered that I had to give a lecture in Munich next week on Innovation and creativity, I am expected to show a group of managers how they can ensure that their workplaces stimulate creativity!  So I ran through my lecture notes to see if I could apply any of them for myself, in short, here are my findings:

When creativity is lacking:

Firstly: Take a short break. Walk away, do not think or focus on the issue at hand.  Even a few minutes of peace and quiet can make a big difference.  Eyes closed, slow deep breaths (a kind of brain ‘reset’)

Secondly: Engage in thought provoking activity such as:

· Study a painting in detail (can be the one in your office or in a hallway that you never  take the time to notice)

· Listen to a short story or play (BBC radio 4 via the internet)

· Listen to a piece of music that you have not heard for a while (preferably quite long 20-30 minutes)

· Read a paragraph of a stimulating book, short stories are very good for this

· Take a walk outside of 15 minutes or more

· Sleep (30 minutes in the day can work wonders) especially if you have young children keeping you awake at night

Thirdly: Come back to the problem and try again, apply more discipline, possibly involve others to help you get started.

Self discipline is very important because it forces us to focus our minds. Some of the greatest pieces of music ever written followed strict rules and patterns and were often written to very demanding timelines. 

The next time you are struck short of inspiration try one (or some) of the steps above and you will find it always works.  If your company loses one hour of your working day, only to have you back in a more creative mood, finding solutions to the issues in front of you, it will be a very fair exchange.

We are not machines.  As thought leaders and managers our brains need stimulating in order to awaken our creative nature and stay productive.

Have a good week


Too much talking going on

Some companies spend a great deal of time and money recruiting the best thinkers and then dump them in an office environment more suitable for assembly line staff, where talking is probably the only thing that keeps them from going insane.

I am someone that likes complete silence when I work; I admit I have been spoilt in as much that I have always had my office for the last twenty years or more, except for one assignment when working for a mobile phone operating company. The first day working there I thought I would go completely insane before the week was out, how can anyone work like this, I thought? But funnily enough I did kind of get used to it. My trick was that I found a quiet place where I could go for a few hours a day, and when I was not there, I was often in meetings.

Having started my first business at the age of 21, I quickly learnt the importance of making the most of every working hour. Every minute wasted was a minute impossible to regain. Later on, when I took on my first employees I was always conscious of their cost per hour too. (And that’s never gone away).

As an independent contractor, if I choose to have a social chat with someone in my client’s office for even five minutes, I am consciously aware that I must work at least five minutes more to make up for it at the end of the day. Anything else would be theft because nowhere in my contract does it say that I am entitled to invoice for social conversation.

I find that there are two kinds of talking in the work place. The first; which is 100% related to productive working, and the second; talking purely for the fun of being in the company of others. I know it is normal to have social communication between two consenting adults but there does become a problem when there are non consenters in the vicinity.

I think the open office rule should be this. If there are more than two people in any one office, talking should always be restricted to business except for the first sixty seconds of the day when a colleague enters the room and possibly again in the evening when they leave. Apart from that all social conversation should be restricted to a designated coffee area.

However, I realize that my rule is rather simplistic and is probably not always ideal or enforceable, especially in larger offices.

Fay, one of my PMI Master Class students, told me about noise cancelling headphones, apparently they work really well. I just wonder how they work socially? I mean if someone is driving you nuts in the office by talking all the time, do you simply say “yes very interesting” and then put your headphones on? I mean how does it work in practice? I also wonder if they could ever have some kind of long term negative effect on one’s health? I was thinking about repetitive white noise syndrome, for example? I haven’t ordered a pair yet but they could become useful if I get fed up with the sound of my own voice telling me to stay focused and concentrate more!

Have a good week,

PS here’s my conclusion on last week’s blog: Company Politics

Perhaps it will not rain, and even if it does rain, perhaps the Englishman’s boss and colleague will look at his umbrella and decide that it is not going to be that effective and run for cover instead!

The moral of the story is: There is no point in planning everything to the nth. degree, especially if you only look at it from your own view point. Risk planning is about judging when you need it and then when you decide you do, to always get a 360 degree view of the situation, which more often than not involves bringing in other objective view points.

It is highly unlikely that anyone will fight over an umbrella because getting wet is not such a big deal and the tool on offer to prevent was not the right one anyway! A pragmatic approach to both politics and risk management is always best.

As one of my commenter’s suggested, just raising the topic may have cleared the problem, but then again perhaps half an hour would have been wasted discussing over the likelihood of rain and its eventual consequences, rather than solving an important and engrossing business problem!


Company politics, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid?

 A Belgian, an Englishman and an American were walking through a park one day.  The Englishman thought that it might rain so had brought an umbrella with him to be on the safe side but his companions had not.  As the sky turned darker it occurred to him that he was facing a potential dilemma: what if it rains? 

 The Belgian was his boss and the American a colleague.  His umbrella was a small collapsible model, barely adequate for one person, let alone for two or three. The Englishman considered his options:

 If it rains it would be diplomatic to offer the umbrella to his boss.  On the other hand because his colleague was a woman, he thought it would be polite to offer her the umbrella but then he considered the fact that she is a very independent and ambitious career woman and might be offended by being singled out as 'the woman' among men? The last thing the Englishman wanted was to offend anyone.

  "Perhaps I should keep it?"  the Englishman thought to himself, "after all it was my forward planning..?"  He considered some more scenarios:

 Scenario 1. No one gets it:  a). He throws it away and gets rid of the problem, b). all three fight for it and probably end up breaking it in the process, c). someone else comes along and steals it out of his hand.

 Scenario 2 His Boss might suggest that he give it to the American, if she is upset by his suggestion then it will be directed to his boss and not with him! The Englishman could not come to a conclusion and so he said and did nothing.

 What conclusion should the Englishman have come to?  How should he have dealt with the situation?  What is the moral of the story?

 My conclusion next week! 

 Have a good week,



Don’t look at me, it’s not my fault!

On the weekend I gave a master class in project management to a group of highly experienced PMI certified project managers.  Everything went according to plan until the end of the lecture when someone said “sorry Mr. Lovegrove but I don’t agree”.  I couldn’t for the life of me work out what my student could not agree with.

My premise was that it is a sad fact of life that many projects simply do not deliver much benefit to the customer in the long run because most of the time they only try and tackle the symptoms of a problem and not its root causes. 

“It is not the job of the project manager to challenge the project charter by asking ‘why are we doing this project, what problem are we solving and how will we know when it is solved?  As a project manager (usually working for a subcontractor) I just have to deliver what I am given and not to cause problems” said my student.

He was not a beginner, and my point had been clear, when you look at the PMI methodology it is brilliant on how to run a project but the real problem ‘why’?  is not really covered sufficiently.   If it is not the project manager’s job to challenge the objective of the project charter, then who’s is it?

Even if the project sponsor is a gifted communicator it does not mean that they have necessarily fully considered the serious question of what is the root problem or problems that the project needs to solve?  And even if they have, it might not be so clear.  Perhaps the goals in the charter are not all measurable, perhaps they do not measure if the underlying problem will be solved at all?

So when our PMI project manager delivers his project, on time, on budget and to scope but then a year later his client has to accept that the problem still remains but maybe in another form, then the PM will simply say “Don’t look at me it’s not my fault, I am just the project delivery manager!”

For example:  Your car not starting in the morning maybe down to the fact that the battery is flat.  But just replacing the battery, nine times out of ten, only solves the problem for a short while.  I believe that it is the role of the mechanic to look deeper, to ask the questions “why is it flat? Why is it not charging properly?  What could be the root causes (fan belt, fault in electrical system, engine not tuned, driving style (only driving at night with all the equipment on) or a combination of all of these things?  The problem of the battery could be simply down to age, but more often than not a number of other factors cause a flat car battery and if you ignore them, then you do not solve the root problem and all your efforts  will be a waste of time.

For me there is no doubt.  The moment that a project manager takes the charter and sets out to deliver it, then he or she is responsible for ensuring the project delivers what it set out to do in the first place, and if they are not sure what that is, then they shouldn’t begin to waste their client’s time and money until they do. 

If the structure within which my student works does not allow for this, then perhaps he is not entirely to blame but something is seriously wrong and needs fixing.

Have a good week,