Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Away with Long Hours

At Happy, if we find somebody working long hours, we try to work with them to reduce them. It may be the result of a heavy workload but it is as likely to be the result of working less effectively than they could. For myself, if I know I'm going to be at work until 8pm I work with a lot less urgency than if I know I have to leave by 5pm.

Salina Gani, Learning & Development Manager at Paul (the bakery chain), backed up this view when I met her last week. "The most productive time of my life has been the time I've worked less hours", she explained. I used to feel guilty if I left at 6.30, and that was my official leave time. I worked long hours and it made me ill."

"What changed? A new manager who didn't expect those hours. My job is to identify my workload and get it done. I manage my own time. I'm happier, I'm less stressed and I just get more done. My manager says I do the equivalent of several times what she's seen others do at other firms."

The same is true of me. Before we had children my wife was completing an MBA and I worked long hours - and was in the office most Sundays. When our first baby was born, I cut back my working time by around 2 hours a day - and cut the Sundays, to be at home with the baby. But the remarkable thing was, I didn't seem to get any less done. I was simply more focused and effective, knowing that I couldn't just catch up that evening.

Do you, or your colleagues, work longer hours than you would like? is it because you really need to, because its expected at work, or simply because you've got into the habit of it? What would happen if you cut back and did something that you enjoyed and revitalised you?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

One law for the banks

This morning the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) withdrew from its battle against the banks exhorbitant penalty charges, following the court case ruling against them last month.

I have to declare a personal interest in this. I was one of the original group of 5 who set up a Bank Charges Action Group in 2004, following an article by barrister Richard Colbey in the Guardian money section. Here's details of one of the first cases with Stephen Hone, one of the original group members. Though it was, of course, the likes of Martin Lewis at Money Expert who turned it into a compaign involving millions.

There has been much press debate about whether the charges are fair, with some arguing that it is quite right that those who go overdrawn should subsidise the more well behaved account holders. But the argument ahs never been about fairness but about the law. What Colbey pointed out was that, under well establihsed UK law, it was illegal to levy penalty charges that were greater than the cost incurred.

In the early days the banks argued that the charges did reflect their costs. I was one of the first to go to court, in 2005, and NatWest won that one because their barrister persuaded the magistrate that the £35 charge per bounced cheque reflected their actual costs.

In fact it later emerged, from internal bank leaks, that the true cost was closer to £2. A penalty charge so out of proportion to the cost was clearly illegal and so the banks changed their argument, claiming that it wasn't a penalty but a charge for a service provided.

In reality we all know they are penalty charges, and they used to be referred to as such. And we all know, as Peter McNamara - ex Head of Personal Banking at Lloyds - acknowledged on the Today programme this morning, they are used to cross subsidise other personal accounts - an act that would be illegal if they were recognised as penalties.

It is sad that the OFT has chosen to withdraw from the battle to get the banks to obey the law of the land, which could have benefitted millions. So the banks will be able to continue, as John Humphreys put it this morning, to "rip us off".

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Believe the Best ... and Get Paid

A key part of the Happy philosophy is "Believe the Best". The idea is that, however somebody asks, to assume always the best intentions. To assume that, given their experience and the information they have, that they are doing the best they can.

My colleague Diye Wareibi, whose Digibridge company provides our technical support, gave a great example of how this worked for him with a debtor. In fact he changed his debt collecting strategy after borrowing a copy of "How to win friends and influence people" from our bookshelf.

This classic book, written by Dale Carnegie in the 1930s, encourages you to understand the people you work with and to 'walk in their shoes'."I had been chasing this debt for weeks", explains Diye "and it was getting increasingly antagonistic. I had threatened court action and he had responded with 'see you in court'.

"After reading the book I took a different approach. I knew he had been having a difficult time and there had been health problems in his family. So I emailed him and then we talked on the phone. I expressed my concern and my understanding that he had been having a difficult time and to ask if there was any way I could help.

"We had a really good talk and I think that meant something to him because I know others have been giving him a really hard time. I didn't mention the debt at all. But, you know what - within a few days I got a cheque for £1,000 in the post. And, just today, I got a second one paying the debt off in full. Treating him as a friend and trying to understand where he was coming from resulted in my bill getting paid. And hopefully we will continue to do business together for many years."

Friday, 13 November 2009

Seeking Enterprising Participation

"There is no contest between the company that buys the grudging compliance of its workforce and the company that enjoys the enterprising participation of its employees", Ricardo Semler

With thanks to John Noble who chose that quote from my business hero and put it on the back of my badge at this year's excellant Servant Leadership conference.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Why Good Managers are Like Sheepdogs

I'm returning from Bucharest, after speaking at the Thinkers50 conference - where they announced the 2009 list of the leading management gurus in the world. No, I'm not on the list. But I was included in their "Guru Radar", the list of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business.

Top of the gurus was CK Prahalad, whose "Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid" is credited with focusing a huge range of business on serving the needs of the poorest.

Check out the list at

"Great ideas change the world", explains Stuart Crainer who compiles the list with Des Dearlove. "And these gurus represent the most influential management thinking of our time."

A great conference with a range of great ideas from some of the gurus:

CK Prahalad (No. 1 in list) : "A good manager is like a sheepdog. A sheepdog has 3 rules to obey. First, bark but don't bite. Second, lead from behind. Third, know where you are going and don't lose a sheep." "I want leaders who can listen, so they can understand the future. If all you do is tell, you can only talk about the past."

Gary Hamel (No. 10): "Surveys show that in no country is more than 20% of workforce actively engaged at any one time." His key point: Think of the potential for increased productivity for companies who can raise that figure.

Lynda Gratton (No. 18): How to create an innovation Hot Spot: 1) Co-operation rather than competition. 2) Cross boundary co-operation, between different departments and different companies 3) Be ignited by a purpose, or a question. eg, Lord Browne's question to BP: "How do we become a force for good?"

Marshall Goldsmith (No. 14): An executive coach who focuses on civility. Just getting managers to say please and thank you can apparently make a big difference. And his offer is, if manager's behavious doesn't change - don't pay me.

Jonas Ridderstrale (No. 23) had flown in from Stockholm to speak at the conference: "Management: throughout the 20th century management was the art and science of stamping out deviance. How? By rules and conformity." He showed a great slide of a typical group of 50s white male managers in their identical suits and suggested the focus on uniformity was efficient.

"But of the Forbes 100 in 1917, how many beat the market between then and 1987. Just two, GE and Eastman Kodak. The others fell back not because they were inefficient but because they were irrelevant." Their lack of diversity, in their people and their approach, made them unable to respond to change.

Thinkers 50 has videos of many of these figures and more at which is a fantastic resource. Check it out now before they start charging! I'm told the one for Howard Gardner (No. 16) is especially good.

And a huge thanks to Bogdan Ungureanu and all the folks at Publica for great organising and being wonderful hosts. I'm hoping to see my book Relax published in Romanian!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Engaging staff: Lessons from Asda

When I talk about Happy and how we've tried to create a great workplace, there are two very common questions: "Would what you've done work in a much larger organisation" & "Could you create that environment with staff you inherit, and are disengaged?"

I strongly believe the answer to both questions is Yes and I heard a great example of it from David Smith, the inspirational ex-Head of People at Asda. Speaking at the MLab conference on Employee Engagement, at London Business School, he explained that Asda had been 10 days from bankruptcy back in 1990.

By focusing on their people, they turned it around and grew to the company they are today: £18 billion in sales, 170,000 employees and rated the Best Place to Work in the UK in 2008. David set out 7 key points:

1) Hire for Attitude
"We realised we wanted gregarious, outgoing, chatty people - who will make it a pleasant experience to shop at Asda. We invest in recruitment, even the most lowly paid staff go through half a day at an assessment centre as part of th recruitment process.."

2) Overdose on Communication
"Talk in human language to reach people. At every staff change-over, every day, we had a 5 minute briefing to inform people."

3) Listen
"All my best ideas came from shop floor people"

4) Change Management Style
"Retail is a military operation. But we needed to move managers away from the old management style. One third of managers were enthusiastic, one third followed us and one third were resistant. "

5) Remove Under-performers
"Be ruthless with this, and most of the third of managers who were resistant are no longer with us"

6) "Money is a De-Motivator"
"Focus on financial rewards is not the way to motivate. We focused on recognition, even having an oscar ceremony for great service"

7) "Work made fun gets done"
"bring yourself to work". Bring all of your character, and be part of the community.

The turnaround has been based on a focus on engaging the front-line staff. Their measure of engagement has risen from 55% in 1990 to 91% today and Asda was rated the best company to work for in the UK in the Sunday Times survey in 2007.

"We have 360 separate P & Ls and I have done the calculations", explains David. "There is an absolute positive correlation between staff engagement and profitability. If a branch can achieve an engagement level of 94% I guarantee the profits will grow exponentially."

Watch out for David's forthcoming book "Asda Magic", out in 2010.

Monday, 5 October 2009

What Do Employees Want From Managers?

"Just about the only management book written from the perspective of the employee is Dilbert" commented Julian Birkinshaw, head of MLab at the London Business School, at their excellent event on Employee Engagement last Friday.

Its a good point and poses the obvious question: What would an organisation be like to work for if management was based on what front-line staff wanted, to enable them to do a great job. Here's some thoughts:
  • A manager who is more of a coach than somebody who tells you what to do
  • Managers role seen as focusing on making people feel valued and motivated, happy and satisfied with their work
  • Believe the best: the first assumption - whatever difficulties arise - that people are trying to do their best, given their circumstances
  • Managers chosen for their people skills - because they are good at supporting and challenging - not for technical skills
  • Able to change manager if its not working out and you'd like a different one
  • No blame culture, where mistakes are celebrated
  • Open and transparent - all information is shared so there are no secrets
  • Flexible hours - that suit the way you want to work
  • Clear guidelines on what is needed, but then freedom to achieve the results your way, and trusted to do so
  • Involved and informed about the things which affect you.
  • Fairly paid, and know what need to do to get a rise
  • Clear feedback, in a positive way, about how you are doing

I admit this is rather similar to the Happy management philosophy but I have always called it "management as if people mattered". Do let me know what you think? What other elements would you add?

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Coal Mining or Indian Food?

At an LBS MLab conference on Friday, I found this statement from business author Stuart Crainer staggering: "More people in the UK now work in the Indian food business than in coalmining, shipbuilding and steel-making combined".

One hundred years ago, when my grandfather was leaving school, almost 10% of employment was in the coal industry alone. And probably nobody in the UK worked in the Indian food industry. Even 30 years ago, when Mrs Thatcher came to power, there were probably half a million people working in those 3 industries. (The membership of the NUM, for instance, was then around 200,000.)

Is this a statement of tragic decline or a testament to the economy's ability to change. It makes you wonder which industries, that may hardly exist today, will be the big employers in 30 years or 100 years time?

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Remove the Rules: Learn from Netflix

When Happy was voted the best company for customer service in the UK, I asked the judges why we won it. David Jackson, chair of the judges, replied that we clearly knew exactly what our customers wanted. "But", he continued "that is not unusual. Most companies understand what their customers want. But most companies then put in place rules and procedures which prevent their staff from delivering what the customers want. You don't."

Learn from Netflix
I was reminded of this when I was sent this great slide show from Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix. (Netflix is the leading US DVD rental service, the equivalent of Lovefilm in the UK - and a company that has won awards for some of the best customer service in the USA.). There are a lot of slides (123) but they are packed with interesting ideas:

Many companies assume you need more rule as you grow. Reed rejects this idea, saying that since Netflix went public in 2002 and continued to grow, they have substantially increased employee freedom.

Netflix Expenses Policy: 5 Words
For instance Netflix has no vacation policy, instead judging people on the work they do rather than the time they are in the office. Their policy on expenses, entertainment, gifts and travel is just 5 words long: "Act in Netflix's Best Interests". This is backed by guidance such as "Travel as you would if it were your own money". Instead of lots of rules they trust their people and rely on their common sense. As one Netflix employee puts it:

"There is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one has come to work naked lately" Patty McCord, 2004

What happens when trust doesn't work and your people do something dumb? Reed suggests you don't blame them but ask what part of the context you failed to set for them.

"Flexibility is more important than efficiency in the long-term."
That is an interesting view from Reed. It reminds me of my current dealings with my bank, NatWest. I would forgive their inefficiency (making 5 penalty charges for a payment I never made) but not their refusal to fix it, despite me being a telephone banking customer, unless I write a letter explaining my case.

For Reed the approach is based on ensuring you have only the most talented people and paying the top market rate. "One outstanding employee gets more done and costs less than two adequate employees." Look at the rules in your company. Do you really need them? What would happen if you replaced them with guidance and gave your people ore freedom to do a great job for your customers?

Yearn for the Vast and Endless Sea
To finish, I love this quote (again from Reed's slides):

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea"
Antoine De saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Truly Great Customer Service: Learning From Bernie

We have got the builders in at home, Bernie and his gang. And they are rather amazing, they keep finding extra things to do. They changed the lock that used to stick, have fixed the window that has had a crack in it for years and sorted the leak from the shower. All for no extra charge. It is, of course, an inspired approach. None of that costs them much but it really delights us. I may have no idea whether their brickwork is better than the next guys but I was already all set to recommend them.

So what unexpected extras can you provide, just to delight your customers?

But it didn't stop with the little things. This week he's had one of his men spend 4 days re-pointing the back of the house. Again, no extra charge. This morning he discovered dry rot in the floorboards and he says he'll sort that too. Now this is getting ridiculous. But Bernie explained: "I hate charging extra so I build in some contingency in the original quote."

Would that approach work for you? Make the quote a bit higher and find some serious extras to include once you get started, that really meet the needs of the customer.

The result: Bernie hasn't had to search for work for years and won't need to even in the current climate. Everybody recommends him. Me included: if you want his details, just get in touch ( Though he only works in North London, and doesn't actually stray far beyond the streets of Stoke Newington and Crouch End.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Management Lesson from Tiger Woods

The July 6 2009 edition of Fortune has Tiger Woods, among others, talking about the "best advice I ever got".

'When I was young, maybe 6 or 7 years old, I'd play on the Navy golf course with my pop. My dad would say, "Okay, where do you want to hit the ball?" I'd pick a spot and say I want to hit it there. He'd shrug and say, "Fine, then figure out how to do it." He didn't position my arm, adjust my feet, or change my thinking. He just said go ahead and hit the darn ball. '

I think there is something profound here about how to help a talented individual develop. Let's translate it into management speak:

When you sit down with one of your people to plan their development, get them to set their own objective. Then ask them to figure out how to achieve it. Don't tell them how to do it, let them work out their own way. With your support.

That's it.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

In Defence of Hackney

I'm a proud dad this morning. The Times this morning published my 15 year old daughter's letter defending our fair borough from a savage attack by Giles Coren:

Hi Giles

I'm 14 years old, female and living in Stoke Newington, HACKNEY. When you finally decide to venture out into the world where multiculturalism is the norm and bicycles are seen more often than cars, let me know. You're assumptions on the hoodies and canals (or sewers as you prefer to all them) are what make me never ever want to move to Highgate/Islington/Hampstead

Miriam Stewart

The original article is here. That was the edited version. This is her full letter:

Hi there Giles,I'm 14 years old, female and living in Stoke Newington, HACKNEY. I am also embarrassingly upper middle class. I got the gist from the article that you are too, except unlike me, you've never ventured out from under your rock in hampstead heath or highgate. It's people like you that give middle classers like me who live in Hackney a bad name.

My family have lived on our road for, coming up to 20 years, and we have never once locked our car. And never once has it been stolen. Yes i admit it is a bit of a rubbish family minivan but none the less, my point remains the same it has never been stolen. I imagine you probably don't drive a minivan, I also imagine that you have a receding hair line and drive a BMW because your midlife crisis makes you too self conscious to be seen in anything but that.

I'm even imagining you wearing glasses, which by the way, you really should go and see an optician about because you seem to be having some real trouble opening your eyes. When you finally decide to venture out into the world where multi culture is a norm and bicycles are seen more often cars, let me know, because until then you're opinion is absolutely worthless to me.

You're assumptions on the hoodies and canals (or sewers as you prefer to all them) are what make me never ever want to move to Highgate/Islington/Hampstead, because like you clearly cant stand Hackney, i don't think i could stand you.

Miriam Stewart

P.S commenting on your sat nav problem, they are, as you clearly know, useless. the only reason you have one is because you are either too lazy, incompetent or up yourself to be seen reading an A-Z.

To Giles' credit, he did send a very nice reply and encouraged Miriam to stay angry when she writes!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Staff Surveys, Recruitment and Retention

Written for The People Bulletin:

Nandos, the popular restaurant chain, some years ago carried out research into what were the key factors that explained why sales at some of their restaurants grew faster than at others. After detailed analysis they found one factor stood out above all others in explaining the difference. This was how happy the staff were, as measured in the annual staff survey. In response they changed their bonus system, so that 50% of each manager’s bonus became based solely on those staff survey results.

So do you know what your staff think of working for you?
It gave a powerful message to managers that the root of success laid in happy and motivated staff and also of the importance of bothering to find out how they felt. In these challenging times it is more important than ever to create great working environments, where people feel valued. When we work with organisations to improve their workplace, our first step is generally a staff survey, plus interviews with employees, to find out how people feel at that particular moment in time. In particular, the results can show what needs to change to keep people, and thus improve retention.

It’s not just about pay
Managers are often in denial about staff dis-satisfaction and assume that people leave for jobs with better pay or prospects. Indeed research published in the Harvard Management Update
[i] found 88% of managers believe this. But research among the people who leave jobs indicates the opposite is true[ii]. The Saratoga Institute[iii] followed up 19,500 people who had left jobs in 18 different organisations and found that only 12% left for better pay or prospects.

The other 88% left due to factors related to the job, the manager, the culture or the work environment. If we assume this may be true of your organisation too, and many of those are people you want to keep, then you need to be working out what in your organisational culture is driving people away.

There is really only one way to find that out, and that is to ask your employees. What do they like about working for your organisation? What don’t they like and could cause them to leave?

Our own back yard
At Happy we have been carrying out staff surveys and upward appraisals for over a decade and I am pleased to say that they are now very positive. But it hasn’t always been that way. One of the first appraisals I received was truly shocking. I hadn’t seen it coming. I thought I was doing a great job of representing the company, networking and bringing in business. My staff agreed. But they also told me that, back at the office, I wasn’t listening well, wasn’t appreciating the work people did and wasn’t engaging enough – and that this was important to them.

My response was to put myself on monthly appraisal. I was determined to change and I figured it was no good waiting six months or a year for feedback. As I responded to the feedback, steadily my ratings improved. It was a crucial period for me and I believe the growth we’ve had since then wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t done those surveys and I hadn’t made those changes to my behaviour.

We are very proud of the fact that Happy was this year rated the best company in the UK for staff health and well-being, and has been rated in the top 20 workplaces in the UK for the last four years by the Great Place to Work Institute.[iv]

I know that upward appraisals are controversial in some organisations. But my view is to not have them is unfair. How can you be sure how you are doing as a manager if you don’t get clear feedback from those you manage? How can you improve and develop without that?

Staff surveys, whether they are about the company as a whole or appraisals of individual or collective management, are essential if you truly want to create a great place to work through more than guesswork. And, providing you phrase it to get the positive as well as the negative, you may even be pleasantly surprised by some of the results.

Free staff survey
You can create your own staff survey using easy-to-use software like (just $200 a year for as many online surveys as you want to create) or use the free staff survey at the Happy People web site: register at, get your staff to complete it and receive a full report, including benchmarking information.

[i] ‘The keys to retaining your best managers in a tight job market’, Marie Gendron, Harvard Management Update June 1998. Obtainable directly from Harvard Business Publishing

[ii] The 7 hidden reasons employees leave by Leigh Branham in association with the Saratoga Institute, published by the American Management Association, 2005

[iii] A human capital measurement service part of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. Details can be viewed at


Friday, 29 May 2009

Trust Even for MPs?

At a speech this week on giving people trust and freedom (key components of creating a great workplace) I was asked how that fitted with the MPs expenses scandal? We were just down the road from parliament at Millbank and the questioner wanted to know if this is what happened when you trusted people.

My answer was that trust needs to be combined with transparency. It is unlikely that they would have made such extravagant claims if they had known the details would be published. Or will in the future, now that they know the details will be available to all.

Indeed that is a possible solution for all companies. Instead of complex expenses rules you could have one that simply stated: “Claim what is reasonable, but be aware the details will be available for anybody in the company to see, on the intranet.”

The common complaint of MPs has been that their salaries have not been allowed to rise and so they have had to rely on the expenses allowance as effective income. A quick check of the facts shows this to be total nonsense. In 1983 the MPs’ salary was £14,500. If it had kept pace with inflation, it would now stand at £32,180. If it had increased in line with average earnings the salary would now be £51,952. In fact they are now paid £64,766 a year. So they earn over three times median earnings (revealed by the TUC this week as £19,600) and have had rises over the last 25 years well in excess of most people.

Fancy a Jog from Birmingham to London?

I met up with my sister at the weekend after she ran from Birmingham. Now I wouldn’t mind cycling from Britain’s second city to London. But running along the canal, through the night, is a whole different achievement. 148 miles in total, taking just under 40 hours – and you get disqualified if you take a break of 40 minutes or more.

As the web site (, this is Britain's longest, toughest, non-stop running race. I met Lindsey in Southall (there was a 4 mile diversion from the canal), 135 miles in and found her a little bit down. But we remembered the classic Lance Armstrong line (“Pain is temporary, quitting is forever”) and she was soon back on track.

A remarkable achievement. I wonder what she will do next?

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Richard Branson, This Time you are Wrong

Richard Branson has stated his opposition to the new 50% tax rate, for those earning more than £150,000, claiming it will be a "block on the next wave of entrepreneurs".

The reality is that, of the hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs in the UK, very few pay themselves over £150,000 or even aspire to. If an entrepreneur makes a fortune it is from the sale of their company. The most successful one I know was shocked not by how much tax they paid when they sold up, but by how little. After the Brown-Blair tax reforms of 2001 the amount he paid on the tens of millions he received was just 18% - less than the lowest income tax band, paid if you earn just £15,000 a year.

Opponents of the 50% tax seek to focus on the cuddly entrepreneur because they know the public will have little sympathy for the professions who actually are the highest-paid. These are bankers, accountants, lawyers and consultants. And I would be surprised if Branson sees those professions as the ones that drive innovation and enterprise in the UK.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Worlds Most Democratic Workplaces

Happy has today been listed as one of the most democratic workplaces in the world. Although there are 40 companies on the list, organised by WorldBlu, Happy is one of only two in the UK:

So what makes a democratic workplace? Does it mean all staff vote on everything? Of course, if we use our standard model of democracy it would mean the staff electing the company's leaders once every 5 years and then leaving all decisions to them!

I've never actually described Happy as a democracy, especially as certain principles (such as training Being based on involvement) are not up for discussion. To the extent that we are democratic, its because it makes for a better business.

Its About involvement
We don't involve everybody in every decision but we do seek to involve people in decisions that affect them. Its common sense. That way you tend to get better decisions and you certainly get more commitment to them.

So when we were getting ready to move to our current site, we took everybody there to decide whether it was the right place. The vote was unanimous and so, despite it adding 20 minutes to the commute of most staff, there was total commitment to the move and we didn't lose anybody.

Now the question is whether to go to the conference for those inspiring companies who made the list. Is it a good use of funds in the current climate? We're going to put it to a vote.....

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Listen to the Protestors

I joined the G20 demo in London on Saturday (March 28th). I was struck first by the energy and sense of fun. Though that was partly because I found myself alongside the drumming band Rhythms of Resistance. But also the geneuine sense that another way was possible. I especially like the philosphy of 'tactical frivolity' - we could do with a bit more that in the business world!

These demonstrations have been taking place for a decade, since Seattle, and as I marched I was struck by how they had been proved right. An appropriate chant would have been "We were right, you were wrong."

The world leaders, with the IMF and World Trade Organisation, placed total faith in markets, in deregulation and in financial systems. They were wrong, disastrously wrong.

They may dismiss the demonstrators as weird or whatever, but there are many more sensible proposals for how the world should be run in the alternatives on offer here. The best thing the G20 could do? Invite the demonstrators in and listen to the view from the other side. Its certainly better than listening again to the same old people who got it wrong last time.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

A Parable of Management

It was management guru Peter Drucker who said: “So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work”

This parable, which a colleague sent me, is a great illustration of this:

Or, if you haven't got time to see the presentation, here is the transcript

The Ant ... A Fable ... Or Maybe Not

Every day, a small ant arrives at work very early and starts work immediately.

She produces a lot and she is happy.

The Chief, a lion, was surprised to see that the ant was working without supervision.

He thought if the ant can produce so much without supervision, wouldn’t she produce even more if she had a supervisor!

So he recruited a cockroach who had extensive experience as supervisor and who was famous for writing excellent reports.

The cockroach’s first decision was to set up a clocking in attendance system.

He also needed a secretary to help him write and type his reports and …
... he recruited a spider, who managed the archives and monitored all phone calls.

The lion was delighted with the cockroach's reports and asked him to produce graphs to describe production rates and to analyse trends, so that he could use them for presentations at Board‘s meetings.

So the cockroach had to buy a new computer and a laser printer and ...
... recruited a fly to manage the IT department.

The ant, who had once been so productive and relaxed, hated this new plethora of paperwork and meetings which used up most of her time…!

The lion came to the conclusion that it was high time to nominate a person in charge of the department where the ant worked.

The position was given to the cicada, whose first decision was to buy a carpet and an ergonomic chair for his office.

The new person in charge, the cicada, also needed a computer and a personal assistant ,who he brought from his previous department, to help him prepare a Work and Budget Control Strategic Optimisation Plan …

The Department where the ant works is now a sad place, where nobody laughs anymore and everybody has become upset...

It was at that time that the cicada convinced the boss , the lion, of the absolute necessity to start a climatic study of the environment .

Having reviewed the charges for running the ant’s department , the lion found out that the production was much less than before.

So he recruited the owl , a prestigious and renowned consultant to carry out an audit and suggest solutions.

The owl spent three months in the department and came up with an enormous report , in several volumes, that concluded : “ The department is overstaffed ...”
Guess who the lion fires first?

The ant , of course, because she “showed lack of motivation and had a negative attitude".

Adapted from Portuguese by PR. Obrigado Mário.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Happy Becomes Carbon Neutral

I'm delighted that my company Happy has just achieved the status of being Carbon Neutral, based on reducing our energy use - and then offsetting what is left. TrainingZone has asked me to write 10 tips on reducing your company's carbon impact so here they are:

10 Tips for Reducing Your Carbon Impact
We are all aware of the threat of global warning and its easy to feel the problem is too big for us to do anything about it. However all our businesses contribute and we can all do our bit to reduce our carbon impact. The good news is that most of the steps result in lower costs or more engaged staff. Morrisons, for example, has saved £3.4 million a year by reducing its energy use.

1 – Measure It
The first step is to find out what your carbon impact is, and which areas of the business are causing it. We used, at very reasonable cost. The Carbon Trust can also be very helpful, often for free.

2 – Turn Equipment Off

A single computer left on permanently can cost over £30 a year. Several dozen left on overnight are not only a waste of energy but a considerable waste of money too, and the cost soon adds up. Ours turn off automatically if not in use. O2 reduced its electricity use by 15% simply by ensuring heating and air conditioning was turned off when buildings were empty.

3 – Install Low Energy Light Bulbs
An old fashioned light bulb can use as much energy as a computer. The easiest way to reduce energy use, and electricity bills, at home is to ensure all your light bulbs are low energy. The same is true at work, though it may be harder work to find the low energy versions. And turn those lights off when not needed.

4 - Source Energy Renewably
One of Dell’s steps to carbon neutrality was to invest directly in wind energy but most of us have to rely on the existing electricity suppliers. All the mainstream companies offer green alternatives, with Scottish and Southern now sourcing 11% from renewable. Then there are specialists like Green Energy, EcoTricity and Good Energy, who are 100% renewable. The cost may be a bit more but as well as getting a warm feeling for doing good, you also avoid the government’s energy tax.

5 - Reduce Car & Aeroplane Use
Encourage car sharing, trains and bicycles. Explore teleconferences instead of air travel. Use the government scheme which provides your staff with new bicycles at up to half price. It doesn’t cost you a penny but does give you the benefit of fitter, healthier staff.

6 – Make Your IT Greener
Data centres and IT generally can be a major part of a company’s energy use. There are complex issues involved, but technology like thin client and virtualisation can have a big impact. Get your techies to check it out .

7 - Set up an Office Recycling and Reuse Scheme
Not just for paper, but also for card, cans, plastic cartons, cups – and also mobile phones and tonner cartridges. And ensure, wherever possible, you buy paper and other products from recycled and sustainable schemes.

8 - Engage Your Staff
Get your people activity involved. Set up green teams to find ways to reduce your energy use. Our Green Group came up with a range of changes. For instance, switching from paper towels to Dyson power dryers saved us £800 a year.

9 - Green your Supply Chain
Work with your suppliers. Simply including a question in your procurement, about carbon reduction plans and offset commitments, will get people thinking about the issues.

10 - Offset What's Left
The above steps will reduce your carbon impact but there will be some left. To be carbon neutral you can offset this by paying for projects which save as much carbon as you use. At Happy we’ve been unofficially doing this by endowing rainforest since 1991. This time we used the project Rhino Ark, a conservation charity which helps build energy saving stoves that reduce the need for firewood by 70%. This conserves the woodland and wildlife habitat that live in and around the Aberdale National Park in Kenya.

This will make your company officially Carbon Neutral. As I’ve said its not only good for the planet but it makes business sense. It saves money, increases staff loyalty, gives a positive picture of the business and helps with answering those government procurement questions on your impact on the environment.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Cadbury Does the Right Thing

Congratulations to Cadbury on its decision to make Dairy Milk a fairtrade product. This seems to be a rare but genuine example of a major corporation using its power and influence for positive effect. Chief Executive Todd Stitzer has done well.

Despite loving chocolate, I have not always been a fan of Cadbury. I remember listening to Chairman John Sutherland at a Business in the Community conference some years ago, just after Channel 4 had broadcast a powerful documentary on the role of slavery in chocolate production in the Ivory Coast. The programme had reduced me to tears. I was hopeful that I would hear this corporate giant proclaim that slavery had no place in their industry and they would get the leading companies together to create a programme to outlaw it.

I was to be disappointed. Mr Sutherland chose instead to whine about the role of the media and how consumers might blame Cadbury, even though they sourced very little from the Ivory Coast. For a company that claimed a positive role in society (while selling consumers vast quantities of not very healthy products) it was a truly feeble response.Many companies proclaim their commitment to corporate social responsibility.

However for many it is little more than a marketing gloss. This is obvious in extreme cases like British American Tobacco. BAT has a great community programme but its effect is trivial compared to the devastation wrought by its main product. If BAT had any genuine commitment to society it would at least stop marketing its cigarettes (especially in the third world, where it now focuses most of its pernicious efforts).

Let's hope that Cadbury's decision will be good for sales and will lead other companies to do the right thing. This could be shifting to fair trade products. Or it could be to simply ask the question of what they would do differently if they actually put ethics at the heart of their company.Imagine. Mobile phone companies might give lower rates for customers who hang on to their old models, rather than endlessly persuading them to upgrade. Supermarkets could restrict their special offers to healthy products, rather than 2-for-1 on giant packets of crisps and the like. Electricity companies could do more to help their customers waste energy.

If companies were genuinely committed to social responsibility they would put ethics and values at the heart of their products. It is great to see Cadbury doing just that.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Radical Idea: Don't annoy your customers

Why do some companies have rules that can only annoy their customers? My daughter's phone is with 3 Mobile and is in my name. She is on a £15 a month contract, which includes 600 texts. Seems a lot to me, but not to her. The latest 3 offer is a £15 a month contract with unlimited texts.

So I rang up 3 and asked if we could switch. The answer was, of course, no. The offer was for new customers only. Now this concept has been brilliantly parodied by Mark Benton in the Nationwide adverts. The ads, showing how Nationwide does not have offers for "brand new customers only", are said to have brought them a million new customers.

I asked the two customer service people I talked to from 3 whether they thought it better to follow a strict rule or to make a customer happy. They both laughed and agreed it would be good to make the customer happy. But they weren't allowed to. They weren't even allowed to give me a contact number or email for somebody who might be allowed to.

Why does 3 (and many other mobile companies) do this? The extra cost of the new contract is marginal. Much of that £15 actually goes to subsidising the cost of the phone that came with the contract. But the rule is rigid and you can only have the original deal you signed up to.

I am happy to give 3 a simple idea for their next marketing campaign. Why not offer any customer signing up to them the chance to swap to any other contract of the same monthly cost that comes out over the period of their contract? It would be a simple promise that they value their customers and want to keep them happy. And it would cost very little.

Of course 3 aren't alone here. I could give stories of dreadful recent service from Sony, Virgin and many others. I have a simple principle here: Don't have rigid rules that annoy your customers. One day I hope that won't seem too radical and crazy an idea.

Friday, 13 February 2009

It is good to pay tax

Some years ago my mother was cold called by a financial adviser. The conversation went something like this:

"Hello, can I help you pay less tax", he said
"No, I'm not interested" replied my mum
"No, really, I can save you money" he continued
"No thank you" said my mum
"Please, just give me 10 minutes of your time and I can prove that I can help you pay less tax."
"No, you don't understand" explained my mum. "Its not that I don't believe you. But I'm a socialist and I believe in paying my taxes"
Quick as a flash the adviser came back "Perhaps I can help you pay more taxes?"

My mother declined this kind offer but her attitude, believing paying taxes was part of being a responsibile member of society, is all too rare nowadays.

When we tendered for a new auditor in the summer the main focus (even obsession) of nearly all the accounting firms who presented was how they would help me avoid paying my tax. All I wanted to know who would do my audit best and give good business advice.

Over the last two weeks the Guardian has shown the extent of tax avoidance among the UK's leading companies. Many of these make much of their corporate social responsibility. But theya re exposed here as complete hypocrits. While they spend a few million on the local community, they go to great lengths to avoid paying hundreds of millions, if not billions, in tax.

And you can be sure that the bankers wallowing in their millions in bonuses would have found a hundred-and-one ways to avoid paying the proper level of tax on it.

One of the principle social responsibilities of any business is to pay the tax that enables the health service, the education system, the country's infrastructure and much more besides.

So I hope I can live up to my mother's example. And I hope one day tax avoidance will be as illegal as tax evasion - doing a lot of our leading (and supposedly socially responsible) consutancies out of a major source of business.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Happy Wins Double Gold

Last week was the Institute of IT Training's annual awards. And it was a great night for Happy Computers. We won Gold for IT Training Company of the Year and Gold for IT Trainer of the Year.

Which was fantastic and a complete surprise. We had got Silver in Training Company in 2006, 2007 and 2008 but I wasn't sure it was our year. Apparently the judges were especially impressed by our social responsibility work.

It was great that Ed Lepre won Trainer of the Year. Ed is profoundly deaf and teaches his courses using British Sign Language. He originally joined us on a work experience scheme 3 years ago and has had such dedication to learning and improvement.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Socialise at Work And Get More Done

Should you let your staff spend time at work on social networking? Some recent research suggests that if you don't, your staff may be less committed and effective.

The research was presented at London Business School's Management 2.0 conference last week. Bruce Rayner, of employment benefits company You at Work, found that those staff who spent up to an hour a day on non-work emailing, texting and social messaging were far more committed than those who spent no time on those activities.

Big Issue for Generation Y
And its an especially big issue for Under 25s, the group known as Generation Y. The survey found that 33% of this age group were frustrated by employer restrictions over the web (compared to just 9% across all age groups). Over three quarters of under 25s said they were "less likely to leave a company that encourages me to socially interact with colleagues”.

Bruce divided companies into 3 categories: the 'ban-its', the 'agnostics' and the 'embracers', those companies who actively encourage staff to use social networking. He argues: "If employees take a 'social networking' slice out of their day it doesn’t mean the 'value adding' work slice decreases - it means the overall pie increases. Trust is repaid through higher creativity and productivity"

So is your company in the "ban-it" category or are you ready to join the forward-thinking embracers like Cisco, IBM and Microsoft?