Moving On!

After nearly 12 years I am making a big move, almost it seems against the tide!

After some great years and a couple of years where, if I’m honest, I was a little lost at sea I am embarking on a new and exciting journey.

I have accepted an in house role looking after Management Development at The Orders of St John Care Trust. It ticks a lot of boxes for me.

Its more local and will enable my wife and I to juggle better the demands of two teenage boys, my wife’s blossoming post children career, and most of all it will get me back into an organisation and influence it from the inside rather than the way I have been trying to do over the past 12 years.

It will also play to my strengths with a large emphasis on coaching and will mean I’m part of a team again.Something that I realise now just how much I miss and will gladly forgo the benefits of working independently. Maybe I’m just a corporate boy at heart!

I’m really, really excited about this new role. I believe I have a reasonably blank canvas, and I’ll guess I will found out how much next week when I start my six week induction programme of meeting a wide variety of people across the organisation.

So looking back, I would not have changed the last 12 years. I have built some great relationships, done some great work, and learnt some stuff off many people, which I thank you for.

I still plan to be active on twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram and as I settle in I will find out where we stand but here’s a flavour of where I am going on this YouTube clip.

See you in another guise next week.



Startups and the productivity puzzle

Flip Chart Fairy Tales

The productivity puzzle continues to puzzle. It seems to be too puzzling for our politicians to talk about but lots of other people are on the case. Duncan Weldon wrote a piece earlier this week looking at both the economic and social factors.

This comment set me thinking:

It could be that the nature of Britain’s recovery explains the low productivity growth. Rather than lower productivity leading to lower real wages (as companies cannot afford to increase pay), it may be that lower real wages have encouraged firms to hire workers rather than investing in new equipment. This could have lowered productivity.

Where are Britain’s startups in all this? Entrepreneurs are supposed to come into the market and disrupt it, investing, innovating and bringing in new ideas which eventually improve productivity. At least, that’s the theory.

But there is little evidence that new firms are doing much to improve productivity. If anything…

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Tea bags, productivity and talent management

As I spent much of my career in manufacturing, making locks and safes, tablets, sweets, jelly babies, aircraft landing gear, polymer seals and fasteners I am pleased to see the rise in confidence in the manufacturing sector. Not just among the large companies like Jaguar Land Rover who clearly have great products and exporting them around the world, but also growing confidence in the SME sector which is and has to be a huge asset to our economy.

My manufacturing heritage and my lapsed Chartered Production Engineering status has framed my simple premise to make work better, and I have a real obsession about eliminating work that is not value adding. Manufacturing is easy as it can be measured to death, and for a long time with the wrong measures, but strip it back to does this work add value to the customer or the business then there’s something simple to focus on.

This was brought into sharp focus this morning. A day working from home so my first job of the day to unload and load the dishwasher. So Tom my eldest son, sorts his breakfast and makes his cup of tea, takes his tea bag out and places it on a plate. Now firstly this is an improvement, as I had to moan about the fact that he was dropping them in the Belfast sink and the resulting staining had to be cleaned, but it was still not addressing the simple fact that someone else, that someone else being me, had to pick up that tea bag and move it to the compost bin. As well as being annoying to me, it was an example of non-adding activities. Hence he got a lecture in lean thinking this morning.

So back to manufacturing and the optimism in the sector, and tweets that came from a conference yesterday by the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF). One of the slides tweeted from the day is that we would have in the future an economy where manufacturing accounts for a larger share. I’m up for that, both in terms of reducing our reliance on services, but also I believe that manufacturing might just be the powerhouse to provide exciting and purposeful jobs for our children. Interestingly, it seems the day talked about the need for innovation in processes, resultant investment, and a key focus on collaboration and networking. All good stuff!

However what really concerns me is how we deal with tea bags!

Productivity in the UK is shocking. In terms of GDP per hour worked

• We are more productive than Japan by 11%
• We are less productive than Canada and Italy by 5 and 11% respectively
• We are less productive than the remaining G7 countries by over 30%

(Source Office for National Statistics – Comparison of Productivity 20th February 2014)

So clearly, whatever sector we are working in we are not dealing with our tea bags effectively.

In simple terms and thinking about “lean” principles:

1. What activities at work do we do that are unnecessary because someone else does not know what to do, not skilled to, or cant be bothered to do?
2. How long do people have to wait for decisions to be made?
3. Do those decisions warrant being made by someone else, or can we delegate authority?
4. Does the customer really value that activity?
5. Is that activity critical to the business that its completed? (e.g. required for safety or legislation?)

What do we need to make this happen? Then I am squaring the circle back to management and leadership.
Apparently we are facing a talent crisis again. We face challenges around attracting people to our businesses, and keeping them there, but we also face challenges about how people work, how they collaborate and work together to innovate. I recognise that some sectors are doing that better than others, but we clearly need to be better.
It’s the practice of management and leadership that removes the barriers to peoples work. Lets strip away the tasks and activities that add no value.

We have a productivity crisis. Notice how you are dealing with the tea bags.
There might be some answers in the tea leaves!!

Lets stop this “soft skills nonsense”

I was pleased to see an article in HR Magazine today that outlined the case for developing soft skills, the contribution they make and the impact if we decide not to take their development seriously.

The article talks about soft skills, and the CBI talks about attitudes and attributes, and I often hear it as a label for all the other stuff that does not fit into the job specific or regulatory skills that we may require to do our jobs.

As often I draw inspiration from my environment and once more I find myself watching my youngest son swimming, and if he was to become a swimmer, it wouldn’t be critical that he developed his interpersonal or soft skills. Maybe his personal resilience and other areas that might help him to perform, but its largely an individual discipline. But in business, how many individual disciplines do we have that can rely on the individual not having to participate in group problem solving, influencing and persuading others, giving opinions, and taking on board the ideas of others?

In business, once we move from the initial engagement, most likely as an individual contributor we move through a series of transitions to being a team member, a leader of a team, leader of teams, leader of a business unit etc etc. The more we interact, the more those softer skills come into play and start to differentiate performance.

So we do need those soft skills, but they are not soft, they are hard skills which is opposite to the catch all label I hear. They are “essential” or “even “fundamental”. We all know people we have worked with, top of their game in terms of their technical skills, but who rub us up the wrong way, volatile with their moods and emotions, and for whom we make excuses or excuse them because they are good at their job! Well are they good at their job, they might leave a trail of devastation behind them, they create extra work to work around them, or stifle the initiative of others, they can just be tiring!

So I think its time we stopped this “soft skills” nonsense and started to have a different conversation. They need to be hardwired in, not just seen as something we address when we are not getting the performance we desire.

Lets hope this consultation talked about in the article really does bring some change in thinking. I fear not, but lets hope!

Stuff in my head!


There is a lot of stuff in my head right now!

I wrote a blog yesterday about questioning my reliance on 4 box models and dichotomies, and I’m questioning that because I am really starting to explore my practice and what I work with. As an Engineer, turned internal consultant I sort of fell into this world which is why I hesitate to call myself a Learning and Development practitioner. I have learnt a lot in my 12 years in this world, and possibly much more than many who have been in it longer.

So I have another 15-20 years in this space that I work and I want to work differently. Achieve the same outcomes, better individual and team effectiveness but maybe work in a different way so that I help build better, more robust and sustainable outcomes.

What do I find myself curious about?

I am finding myself really interested in dialogue and leadership conversations, and I’m coming round to the thought that in simple terms its about advocacy, inquiry and exploring possibilities. I see a huge potential for both individuals and teams to explore and develop these behaviours, competencies, skills alongside personality and emotions.

My work over the past few months in the area of Wellbeing and resilience has led me down a path to explore more brain coherence, how we manage our energy, and positive psychology.

I have been on and off for years around mindfulness. First introduced to it in the early 90’s whilst working for Glaxo, its coming back very much into my current thinking as well as finding a space for my own thoughts in a busy time in the Perry family.

All of these thoughts are merging and colliding with one another right now, and Amazon seem to be doing rather well out of me at the moment, and my Evernote reading is getting larger by the day.

All good. Oh look puppies…..

Seriously, a lot of exciting things to mull over and I am working to bring some “product” to market in these areas. So watch this space. (This is a public commitment to drive me to do it by the way!!!)

I would welcome any thoughts, suggestions or you are just curious. It all helps me, and I hope in an indirect sort of way you too!

My name’s Ian and I’m a 4 box addict!

Excuse the analogy but I admit to the fact that I have had an over reliance on 4 box models and dichotomies.

Its something I have been noticing for some time, and also noticing that I’ve started to become more comfortable not having to use them to explain my work and interventions as a coach, facilitator and leadership development practitioner.

I recognise that I used models, modified them, overlaid them and experimented with a wide range of models and psychometric dichotomies in my work, and I have been left wondering who is that for. Them or me?

Its probably been me if i’m honest. Wanting to look credible, to be seen as an expert, or just helping them to overcome my insecurities when I might be working with a difficult group.

But we know the world is not about 4 boxes, nor do we want to constrain people to one of 4 boxes to explain their style or approach to conflict. We know we live in a world that is more complex and unpredictable, in fact its constantly emerging.

I also recognise that I am working with Leaders to get them to challenge their need to be in control, to know the answer or to be seen as the expert. I am colluding with them by role modelling the behaviours I am getting them to challenge.

So over the coming months I’m going to work to a different drummer, and look to get back to working in a  different language.

What do you think?