Monthly Archives: November 2012

Once your toothbrush dries……..

How many of you are married? In a long term relationship? Remember when you decided to marry/move in/take your toothbrush round? You knew, in that small dark cupboard in the back of your head, that it could all go horribly wrong if you weren’t careful, but it could all go so very right if you were doing the right  thing. It felt right, it smelled right – it felt and smelled damn good if you are honest! Despite a little voice saying “take care”, you were happy, skipping down that path, toothbrush in hand, towards that open door and that embrace.

Ok – your toothbrush was hardly dry when you realised that there were some things you didn’t realise about your other half. Love was in the air, you knew you had made the right choice, but you were becoming aware that some of the things you had been told were less than truthful – some were lies of omission, and some were downright porkies.  But hey, that’s what we do sometimes when we want to impress so you forgive. But as time goes on you discover bigger porkies, more major gaps. You start to get angry and you have rows, shout a bit, let it out a bit. You begin to regret committing.


Think about it. Think about the reasons you had for committing – the rush of excitement, the feeling of rightness, the opportunities to do stuff you enjoy (shhh….!!!!). Take  time to reflect on the  face you fell for, the reasons you felt the excitement, the rush of affection. Step away from the disappointment of finding out the flaws, look at the love.

Ok, you will know by now that I am also talking about taking that new job. You were wooed by an organisation who needed you and fell for you too. They put their most attractive side forward to attract you and perhaps were less than honest about the flaws. Weren’t you also a little eager? You fell for the job as well as the organisation, you felt that lurch in your heart for the role, became excited by the opportunities, perhaps you overlooked the clues that might have been there because you wanted it so much……….you have had jobs before, you know the score, you will have noticed the clues, you chose to ignore them in that heady rush towards commitment!

If you care deeply about what you do, if you have high expectations of your professional colleagues, if you buy into the carefully crafted appearance of the organisation, you will feel disappointment when those flaws surface. The extent of your disappointment will depend on two things: the extent of the flaws and whether they are more important than the rewards and the opportunities to achieve. But before you bale, reflect on whether the organisation also cares as much as you do about what you do. If it does, if there is a shared drive, put that anger away, reach out your hand of friendship and support, and walk forwards together towards that shared goal. The flaws  may or may not be repaired, you may or may not regain that first flush of love, but perhaps you may both be stronger for the honesty and the clearer vision.

Feel the love, look with clarity on that face, and try again.


What if…….oh, well…….

Why you might be losing your Hockneys

If you suspect you are one of those who are inviting your Hockneys to paint your shed (see last blog!) this may help to explain.

An Institute of Leadership & Management document dropping out of some interesting research says:

“There are few other occupational areas where it would be considered normal to appoint someone to a role without any training before or immediately afterwards. The research suggests that the majority of managers receive no training before or immediately after their appointment, causing a skills gap as applicants step up to first line manager level. The research identified three key skills that were desired at all levels of management – communication, people management, and organisation and planning. Developing these skills in all employees will prepare them for management and assist them in their day-to-day work. It will improve communication with colleagues and management, help them manage suppliers and contractors, and help them organise their own workload”.

The bold highlights are mine

Source –

of respondents say low levels of management skills are impacting on their business

of employers cite lack of internal staff capability as the biggest barrier to an effective management pipeline

of employers have a plan in place to ensure a pool of future leaders and managers

of UK employers expect managers to have received any management training prior to appointment

I don’t think I need to add anything……………………

Would Hockney Paint Your Shed?

If, by some fabulously lucky turn of events, David Hockney fetched up on your doorstep and offered to paint you a picture, would you say “no, ta, but the shed needs a lick of taupe, so off you go, son”? I thought not. So why do so many organisations do just that with their people? There is a richness of talent out there sitting in offices being dimmed by the indifference of the organisation, shrinking from the sides of their role for want of a bit of watering. Walk through any organisation and you will see wilting branches, and execs wondering out loud why their workforce is not more motivated. Those same execs may well spend a fortune on motivational exercises or exec training in “Motivation and Modern Man” or some equally painful title, and still wonder why the workforce slips sideways in its chair.

Well, to be blunt, it’s you.

Those wilting shrinking violets will thrive on a conversation, good use of their talents acknowledged and rewarded, and good, solid, old fashioned engagement. You remember, before we all had to grab the latest buzzwords and trends, when we talked to people, took an interest in them as individuals, noticed their talents and enabled them to achieve.

There is little doubt that Hockney, if faced with the blundering disempowerment of having to paint your shed a nice shade of taupe, would find a way to creatively subvert that and create something better. Your teams are probably doing the same in their own way and within the limits you have imposed on them. Free them from those shackles of under-estimation and your own fear of being exposed as having areas of weakness and let them paint their masterpieces and practice their etchings. Nurture and release them and they will come back to you with riches and rewards, smiles and friendship, and a genuine gratitude that no money could ever buy.

The Care Plan for your SOS

We have been looking in the past few blogs at organisations and how they can become sick, tired or past their sell by date. Check it out: is yours a patient? To combat Sick Organisation Syndrome takes skill, experience and chutzpah – if you have decided you, or someone you know, is qualified to revive the patient, it is time to plan ahead!

You have identified the meaning of the Organisation? You have felt its admittedly weak pulse, have found the something that causes its heart to beat, and have understood what it was that gave the reason for all those good people to join it in the first place? If you haven’t done this yet you must set about it immediately, before the patient becomes too clapped out to survive! Without finding the purpose of the organisation you have already failed. If you think the purpose of your organisation is to make money, or to provide services, you are only part way there: those may be some of the aims, but Purpose is different, Purpose is what gives warmth and humanity to an organisation regardless of size. And warmth and humanity cannot be faked or injected, they grow outwards from the people driving the organisation and depend on those qualities being in those people and ready to share. A Company can be successful in terms of P&L,  acquisition, growth, without warmth – although it is far more likely to be more successful with warmth and with empathy. But an Organisation stands or falls on its relationships, its warmth and its human face, which should never ever be confused with chumminess or clubbable relationships, or worse, dependent and sycophantic, often inbred or incestuous, relationships . And people know when it is real, especially in Health and Social Care and Support Organisations where the emotional intelligence is usually high and the Purpose more complex.

If you are in the centre of a sick organisation you may need some help to see past the infection to the healthy tissue, the Purpose. You may need some fresh eyes. However, we have all been involved in “consultations” which are paper exercises designed to push through the hidden or covert agenda – you know what I mean: those consultations run by bureaucrats or others with their own agenda already decided, rubber stamped and packaged ready to go but who have to conform to an expected or mandatory “inclusion” charade in order to move ahead. They tick the box, they do the job, but they don’t carry the people with them, and in the long term are counter productive as they serve to confirm negative views without providing evidence of positivity or genuine inclusion and run a real risk of patronising those involved. I am sure you recognise some of that if you have been around for any length of time. And what will actually, genuinely, move people forwards inside the organisation, will massage that near-dead heart and get the blood flowing again, is a genuine and warm reach out that values those participating and gives a virtual hug to everyone in the organisation. Not everyone will be first hand participants, so reaching out with that virtual hug across the groups will make that vital difference, and that can only be done if those first hand participants buy into the process and believe the deal. They won’t if the warmth is absent. The warmth will be absent if the people running the show don’t possess it.

So – if you want to get the paddles onto that heart and revive the patient you need not only skill, experience and chutzpah, but warmth and humanity as well. Add integrity and honesty and you may well have a fighting chance! Without them – there’s the door, get your coat.

Next time: what next?

The Cure…….

Ok, following the blog yesterday you have noticed your Sick Organisation Syndrome going on. You have flagged it, got a skilled medic in, decided it is worth trying to save, and are trying to  plan the treatment. What next?

Organisations – rooted. remember, in the word Organic! –  are living breathing creatures with many living and breathing creatures inside them who need them to work. Most of them will be people you care about who need their jobs, and who joined the organisation for a reason – whatever that reason was it is worth remembering that there was, at some point, a reason. We like to be proud of where we work – sure, we need the job, but layered onto that are the other reasons like pride in our achievements, status, opportunities to contribute and be valued, basking in the reflected glory of the organisations reputation, working with people who share some of our ideals, enjoying a particular style of leadership, contributing to a Greater Good. Many people working particularly in the Third Sector have chosen the sector for a mashup of those reasons, chopped up with good intentions and a desire to Do Something Worthwhile, with a side order of self interest. All of those are good motivators and salary is the icing on the cake of incentives.

Saving your organisation can mean a couple of things: stripping away the canker and curing the problem from within, or giving it to someone who can. As I noted in my last piece, the medic administering the cure will have to be someone with outstanding and muscular medical skills or someone who has nothing to lose in the trying. This means it can be someone within who understands the underlying issues and the need for prompt and fearless action, or someone from outside who does not depend on the organisation for survival. If you like, in order to keep the organisation alive you can attempt to cure it yourself or you can give it to another medical team to cure and keep.  Keeping it within means there should be a good understanding of the causes and the potential pathways up, enabling takeover means a fresh start with new injections of cash and ideas and a more objective view of the internal toxins. You pays your money………  Either way there is a need for ruthlessness and skill. Those living breathing people huddled inside the failing organisation need to know they are needed and that there is a motorway out leading towards a better future. Without someone in the driving seat who can inspire, value, encourage creativity and share vision it will continue to fail.

Your organisation, however troubled it is right now, has roots and had meaning. If you can find those roots, assert that meaning, and find the right people to treat the disease you are part way to cure and recovery. Next time we will look at the care plan and recovery programme that will follow the treatment and the cure!

Sick Organisation Syndrome…..or SOS

I have wittered on about integrity, honesty, openness and trust recently, and with good reason. Organisations operate in very specific ways: as businesses, as workplaces, and ideas-incubators and as generators, and unless they incorporate – and I use the word deliberately – all of those qualities and attributes they will inevitably develop Sick Organisation Syndrome. The signs are easy to spot: a haemorrhage of good people, lack of respect for those left behind, fear in the workplace, and lack of trust from other organisations which can lead to a reduction in the pool of potential partners as well as isolation in the sector. These signs and symptoms drip directly from the top – if the top is infected the organisation will also be infected – and other organisations fear the contagion. It is a potentially fatal disease.

The first step towards well-being and cure is for the organisation to recognise the symptoms and seek medical help! People in the workplace who are often the first to spot the signs and suffer with them will already be flagging this with their teams and their bosses. They will have seen the haemorrhaging, have heard the fall-away of other organisations (it sounds like a CLANG and there may be some swearing involved!) and will be feeling the fear. More often than not at this stage the bosses will have their fingers in their ears and be singing La La La La La to avoid facing the inevitable – and that is because at this stage some drastic medicine is probably needed. There is a risk of amputation in some areas, and certainly for some the medicine will taste very very bad. Bosses may even try to simply apply sticking plasters to the affected areas and offer placeboes in  order to put off the inevitable need to think clearly and take direct action. It is very likely that those in powerful positions will be contributing to the spread of disease and resisting the cure as they are comfortable with their own sickness and besides, they have health insurance……..

At the point at which the bottom line begins to drop noticeably and the clanging becomes too noisy to ignore the bosses will smell the infection, they will be scenting each other and identifying the source. This is not easy! The source is often a carrier without the fear of infection and hiding in plain sight, with a healthy visage and no visible signs of disease. And the carrier has often, like many bacteria, bonded invisibly to the other bosses, binding them tight with the implied promise of a better smell, a healthier outlook to match their own and a better bottom line. Difficult to resist, especially in the face of all that infection and sickness and despite the fact that the one offering the cure is in fact the source of the disease, hidden in plain sight! There is also the possibility that the carrier knows where another carrier is hiding, out of plain sight, and the risk to that alternative carrier is too high for them to chance breaking cover by exposing the source. Business can be a mucky affair.

There are now a limited group of medications available if this sickness is to be cured properly, lastingly, and with a full recovery. And it will take a person with cojones  – or nothing to lose –  to administer it. This person needs the experience to detect the disease and its source, the knowledge to understand what it needed, and the skill to administer the cure quickly. Too late and the outcome is the inevitable, but possibly prolonged and agonising, death of the organisation. Too timid and the one administering the medicine risks contagion and the same fate. Administering the cure is sometimes best done by a confident and reliable group, who can share the risks and share the fallout, diluting the risk of contagion and offering a wall of strength if the source resists. If you like, one to hold the legs, one to pin the arms down, one to cover the face to reduce the risk of droplet infection and another to jab the cure in. The source will not survive…….

If this happens and is successful, there will need to be a period of rehabilitation and recuperation, some R&R, some integrating of the organisation that remains. The gaps left by the amputated source(s) will necessitate a morphing, will change the shape of the organisation – there will be different strengths, different objectives, better appreciation of what works and what doesn’t, and a newly charged energy and direction with a leadership that is genuinely healthy and has clear vision. Those who remain standing will have a keener appreciation of what they see and will be better able to support the newly minted objectives, to support the healthy and exciting leadership on offer, and to contribute to the recovery.

Do you have a healthy and fit organisation with clear, safe, leadership, shiny objectives and a motivated and fearless workforce? If you have, cherish it and nurture it, reach out to colleagues to keep them well, keep those clearly signposted pathways of communication clear of debris and germs and safe to tread, keep the conversations going so that potential ill health is easier to identify and easier to flag.  Make sure, however well the organisation is now, that you are prepared for sickness, have a medicine cabinet stocked with remedies and a skilled medic on hand just in case.

If you suffer with SOS you have two choices: bail or find a cure. Make sure, though, that you can tell if the situation is curable before you choose an option. Are the doctors listening? Is the source too embedded to be shifted? Is the cure too late? Or is there time to get the emergency services in on time and with the right meds? If you care about the organisation, if it worth saving, get the life support machine cranked up and plugged in and try everything you can to revive it – but be prepared to switch the plug off if needed. Sometimes that is the kindest act of all.

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