Monthly Archives: November 2013

//November

Heading home

It’s the time of year again when I book my car in for its winter tires and my American friends head home for Thanksgiving. It’s that strange lull between being surprised, yet again, at how fast the year’s gone and the next holiday break when it really is finally all over.  So it was kind of fitting that I should spend a bitterly cold and damp Sunday afternoon driving across Belgium on my motorbike to visit a 1000 year old oak tree.

I guess many of you will be wondering where this is leading, and to be honest, I am too, but visiting the tree was a strange experience that touched a part of me for which I was not prepared. I have visited hundreds of old buildings and castles over the years. And for each and every one of them I have reflected on how they were built and why. But this tree was just a tree, it produces leaves every spring and they fall off again every autumn.  And that was its magic, the fact that it is alive and yet it had witnessed so much over so many centuries.

I use the symbol of an Oak tree in my Change Management lectures. I remind my students that many change initiatives go wrong because we tend to forget that, like an oak tree that grows from only a tiny acorn, every bit of a business comes from the place where it is planted.  What I mean is that a great idea can inspire change but the change itself can only come from the people within the business; the employees, the suppliers, the customers, the investors. A business is like a living organism that either thrives from its resources or suffers from it. It is rooted in one place, regardless of how many offices it might have around the world.  

And so it is, when we return home, we return to a safe place where time changes but stand still, at least for a little while.  I think that visiting the 1000 year old oak tree is much the same experience, except on a grander scale, it doesn’t make us feel big, it makes us feel small and yet in a strange way safe.

Today the tree is looking in bad shape, some youngsters lit a fire in it a few years ago, which I guess didn’t help much. But it is still here producing leaves after a thousand years and that can’t be bad, can it!

Have a good week,

Harley

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Can you believe this?

My regular readers will know that I am a great believer in giving people chances by encouraging those under my influence to dare to take on assignments that are a stretch for them. My theory is that, assuming they have the right personal skills and sufficient intellect for the task then their desire and enthusiasm (with the right supportive coaching, should be enough to deliver success). However, this can be taken too far and, if I can believe what I heard on the news yesterday, then I have to ask myself what is happening here?

The bottom line of my argument is that you must never let anyone fail. Setting people up for failure can never be an acceptable tactic and in this case I am not so sure that we can rule this out.

In the UK there is a bank called the CO-operative bank whose roots were born out of the cooperative movement that was founded in the mid 19th. century. After goodness knows how many years of trading the bank decided to acquire another banking organization, several times its size and when this got into trouble the board of trustees decided to bring in a new Chairman to sort it out. The trouble is that the person they brought in had never run a bank before, although he had worked in a bank for a few years, forty years earlier! His more recent background being that of a local political councilor and minister of a Methodist church.

Not surprisingly, things went from bad to worse with him having to make a hasty exit as he attempted to buy some branches of another troubled bank. And so it was that in June he resigned allegedly leaving the bank with an additional 700 million British pounds of debt and a financial hole of allegedly 1.5billion.

Not surprisingly, people wanted to know how all this happened, so he was brought before the Treasury select committee for an interview, during which he was asked what the assets of the Bank were on its balance sheet, he answered 3 Billion, when in fact the real answer was 47 billion. Now we can all make mistakes but something here is very wrong.

My message this week is ‘a stretch in one’s career’ is not the same as a suicidal leap. Surely it must be the responsibility of a company’s management team to make sure that it has sufficient mechanisms in place to ensure that no-one can seriously jeopardize the future of their institution by placing a wholly unqualified person to chair their business?

I am sure there will be an enquiry, especially as last night a film was shown on the TV news of the same ex Chairman trying to buy class ‘A’ drugs from his car. But what will we learn from the enquiry and how can we be sure that this kind of craziness is only a one off?

What a world we live in!

Have a good week,

Harley

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Family Culture

How would you describe your family’s culture? I mean if you only had two words to sum it up, what would they be? If it helps, I would describe my mother’s family as ‘pragmatic organizers’. This can be witnessed by the fact that they just love to take control and get things done! Many of the women have chosen for professional catering positions, running kitchens or restaurants, or leading posts in education, while the men have a tendency for running their own small independent businesses, often focused around coaching, project management and consulting type vocations. My Father’s family, on the other hand seemed to be much quieter, thinkers, writers etc.

I know I am generalizing but you see it everywhere. My wife’s family has a very strong work ethic. Be it in attaining degrees and diplomas or, working hard in the field. And so it is that I wonder what labels we could put on our companies and departments? “In our company we pride ourselves as being XXX and YYY.”

Luckily, apart from family businesses, there are not normally too many companies that have a high percentage of employees with the same family gene pool but there are, in my opinion, far too many that have too many similar types of employees.  I put this down to the fact that somewhere, perhaps long ago, the HR department decided what kind of profile best fitted their business and spent a great deal of time and effort selecting the ‘perfect’ profiles.

If you could choose, what kind of work environment would you like to work in, I mean what two words would you most like to have to describe your department or company?

Last night I saw a TV program where a young man had to form a choir from the employees of Birmingham City Council. From the way the TV film was edited, I could only describe them as ‘supportive and caring’. They looked to be an outstanding group of very different people, sharing the same ethic but blending together and supporting one another through very difficult times and circumstances. They were a real credit to their city.

But for now, I am off to think of the two words to apply to my consulting business! Until next week…

Have a good week,

Harley

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Avoiding Burn Out

There are times, I am sure, when we all become under so much stress that the fear of having a burn out would only add to it.  The subject of ‘burn out’ is a serious one and a Belgian Minister this week has announced a campaign for employers to identify the symptoms among their employees.  So the question for me is what is the difference between the daily symptoms of stress and a burn out?

How do we know, if we are just tired, stressed, or really on the point of burning out?  According to Dr Archibald Hart, who has conducted many studies on the subject, the differences can be described principally as follows:

For me, I feel the most important thing any of us can do is not only to look after ourselves by ensuring that we have plenty of variety in our lives; with space for relaxation, fun and plenty of fresh-air and physical exercise, but that we need to look out for one another. We need to recognize the burdens and stress on those around us and to try and help relieve them of stuff that we, or someone else, can handle on their behalf.  But perhaps, most of all, it is important to ensure that those in need can be heard, that their voice is taken seriously.

There were times when I thought I was so strong that a burn out could never happen to me – but recently, I have looked around and noticed people that you would never, in your life, imagine could have a burn out, only to detect that they did and it was not at all something you would want for yourself.

So this week, in advance of the advice that is likely to come from the Belgian minister for education, I have decided to take it seriously because right now, I might not be showing  any of the signs of a burn-out but I do recognize some of the stress symptoms!

Have a good week,

Harley

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