Monthly Archives: March 2012

//March

Doing like George, something to be proud of

Back in the late 1970’s, I was working in London as a junior marketing assistant for a very self important marketing manager. He had an arch enemy George Gardner, the sales director. Neither of them had much respect for each other but looking back I can now see things in another light.

George Gardner was funny, inspirational, charming, sensitive, hard working, caring and results driven. The marketing manager wasn’t. He spent most of his time trying to hang on to his position, regardless of the ridicule he received from almost everyone around him. To be honest he deserved more but that’s sometimes how it is when you have the wrong person in the right seat at the wrong time.

Back to George, he had the ability to identify underperforming individuals and offered them the chance to re-invent themselves. He did this on several occasions and when he died the church was full to over flowing with mourners paying their respects to a really remarkable man. I swore to myself there and then that I would try and do like George.

Now everyone has their own path and everyone has their own way of doing things but the achievements that I am most proud of in my career to date are not the successful construction of a sustainable company, or the books that I have had published or indeed the fees I have earned. It’s none of these things. It’s seeing people that I had once written off but given a second chance, develop, mature and achieve great things.

I have often thought, who would want to be a teacher, to stand in front of a classroom full of pubescent teenagers?  But then I think of the unique opportunity they have to make an impact on a young person’s life and how sometimes with just a few simple words, followed up with support and care, they can truly make a difference to a person’s entire life.  When you reflect on it, can there ever be anything more useful and satisfying?

I think, doing like George, is the best gift one can leave behind. I have never seen it written down in a Change Manager’s job description or assignment briefing, but it should be:

‘Identify underperforming employees and offer them a second chance. Give them a vision of another way and encourage them to follow it’.

Have a good week,

Harley

PS: If you are interested, you can read more about doing like George in my book ‘Making a Difference’

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Bad behavior pays!

Once upon a time there was a poorly run IT department that always screwed up everything. The team was constantly under pressure and regularly had to work many hours of overtime. No matter what they did, even the basic things had a habit of going wrong. Now you might think that this was an unhappy and de-motivated department but you would be wrong.

Sure there were some people who were frequently frustrated by the lack of processes and discipline but by and large most people left for home feeling that their presence was appreciated and that without them things would have been so much worse.

Meanwhile on the other side of town there was a well run IT department that used to have similar problems, so they introduced a project and change management methodology to improve things.  They structured their projects in such a way that even the toughest challenges were met with a calm sense of confidence and reliability.  Day to day operations were conducted so smoothly you would hardly know they were there. In fact their excellent performance became so normal that the executive management of the company very quickly saw it as normal.  After all, the entire IT department was simply doing its job to the standards expected. So consequently they no longer received thanks and praise and overtime bonuses.  There were no late night pizzas, no special “thank you for saving our asses again” parties and no extra end of year bonuses for ‘effort beyond the normal call of duty’.

Now tell me honestly, for which of the two IT departments would you prefer to work?

Have a good week,

Harley

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Broken taps and broken motivation

Once upon a time, high up on the 12th floor of a busy hospital, there was a small, very well equipped ward. From the outside everything looked just fine, however, just under the surface things were not quite how they should have been. 

Ever since it had been converted from an old store room the hot taps had never delivered a drop of hot water. Many an expert had come and many an expert had failed to fix the problem. Eventually a very experienced workman from another department was brought in to see if there was anything he could do. 

What he saw shocked him: nursing staff were filling mugs with hot water from the nearby coffee machine and were pouring it into the designer sinks so that they could give the patients a simple hand wash with a little dignity. When he saw what the nurses had to do to get their job done he became fully motivated to try and solve the problem. Sure enough after investigating all the possible root causes, he designed a solution and two long days later the job was finished.

Tired after his labors, he showed the head nurse the results of his effort only to receive an ungrateful question in return:  “why has it taken nearly two years to fix it?” Understandably, the plumber had at least hoped for a few words of appreciation and possibly an offer of a cup of coffee and a biscuit or two, so you can imagine what effect her thoughtless question had upon him?

I was told this story by my brother in law and he was still reeling from the upset the nurse had caused. However, after reflecting upon it I came to the conclusion that in fact the nurse had asked exactly the right question but had directed it towards completely the wrong person at the wrong time! By letting her frustration out on the very person that had fixed the problem she effectively closed off any possibility of receiving any help from him again.

There is an expression in Flemish: ‘stank voor dank krijgen’ which means literally means ‘receiving a bad smell for thanks!’ 

Have a good week,

Harley

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This couldn’t happen in our organization?

Just a short drive from Brussels is one of the world’s oldest universities, it may not have the marketing power of Stanford but the quality of its research is consistently impressive, especially in the sciences faculty, so you can imagine that I was rather upset to hear the following story.

It seems that a group of high profile Chemistry PhD students have been prevented from continuing their ground breaking research due to a serious safety hazard.  (Now I am never one to question safety because usually it boils down to the most important and basic human element – respect.  However, in this case I think that they deserve much better).

Apparently, after a leak of gas into the hallway from the laboratory an investigation team specified that an important process had been overlooked.  This has now been covered and the people involved re-trained accordingly. However one item remains open.

The door to the laboratory should have had a pane of glass in it so that visual checks can be maintained from outside.  A work order was made to the universities’ maintenance department to upgrade the wooden door.  This was several months ago and since that time no practical research has been carried out at all.  What should have taken a matter of hours has now dragged on for months!

I was told that the Maintenance & Technology services unit state that this kind of work does not come under their budget and that additional funds need to come from the faculty itself.  The faculty, in turn, are not happy with this but have agreed to pay.  However, the maintenance department say that they cannot do unplanned work and that it needs to be added to their annual budget and planned in at the beginning of the year, along with all the other assignments they have.

Apparently there is no shortage of people to do the work but that it is purely a question of following the right protocol!  In the meantime some of country’s best scientists sit around helpless while their professors and administrators continue their excruciatingly slow rounds of discussions, that up until now, have lead absolutely nowhere!

I would have volunteered to go over myself with my Bosch keyhole saw and some battens of wood, a piece of safety glass, some screws and a tube of mastic but apparently this is not ‘advised’.

I just wonder if on the other side of the world the same criminal madness can be found?  I use the word ‘criminal’ because valuable time is being wasted that can never be re-gained.  Opportunities are being stolen from a group of well-meaning young professionals.  What motivational lessons does this give the next generation and what hope have they got of seriously competing in the real world with a support organization and leadership team such as theirs?

Have a good week,

Harley

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