It’s not about the money, money, money.

May 16, 2015

At a panel discussion on the banking industry I attended a few months ago, someone asked if it was possible to attract talent to senior positions without the promise of high, guaranteed bonuses.  A senior HR executive from one of the major corporate banks and an academic both answered, quite confidently,  that they thought it was.  Bonuses, they agreed, could be much less than they currently are and banks would still attract top talent.  The academic even said that talented people are not particularly motivated by money, but by the cut and thrust of deal-making.  They want to be in the thick of big M&A activity.  It’s a myth that the banks need to pay big bucks in order to stop top talent from joining other industries.

I asked why the banks didn’t bring their bonuses to a level that the rest of society would find reasonable. The answer was that none of the big players had the guts to try it.  In other words, they were frightened of losing talent not to other sectors but to each other.  If one bank blinks the talent will not be interested in joining and eventually what talent they have will disappear.  If so, then there’s no question that the only way to deal with the matter is at the industry, if not, governmental level.

It has been proved many times that a strategy based around providing the best possible work experience is a more effective way to retain talent than paying the most.  Indeed it was proved just last week by my friends at Goodman Masson, the finance industry recruiters.  Their staff turnover level is well below 20% in an industry where average turnover exceeds 30%. A four point approach won Goodman Masson the coveted Great Place to Work award for Best Workplace in the medium size business category, and those four points are 1) Giving employees the tools and infrastructure to do their job well, 2) Giving them opportunities to develop professionally, 3) Paying them well and correctly, and 4) Giving them an environment they won’t want to leave. (Click here for the full report).

Note that the third point does not talk about excessively high pay, but it does suggest that Goodman Masson aim to be competitive with pay. They recognise that while remuneration is an important factor in staff retention, it’s not sustainable as the only tool in the box, because all it takes is for a competitor to offer more for the strategy to fall flat on its face. It’s the rest of the package that’s really important because that’s what creates the culture required that stops people wanting to leave.  You will never build engagement by throwing money at your staff.  In fact the more you throw at them the more they understand that you don’t care about them, but that you are simply buying them.  People like to feel loved.

Retention comes from engagement and commitment to the company.  It’s about creating an environment with shared values and where people appreciate that the company cares about them.

Now it may well be the case that bankers are somehow different to everyone else and are only interested in money, but that’s not my experience.  In my experience some bankers are perfectly decent and lovely people, and some are something that rhymes with “bankers”.  In other words, they’re pretty much like anyone else.

Can banks change? That’s not looking likely given that they are still a very long way from understanding that a business can stand for something more in the world than profit.  Goodman Masson stands for caring about its people.  Their priority is not about constantly demanding improved results from their staff. As a result of this employee engagement is high and guess what – performance is constantly on the up.


Twenty-somethings and the World of Work

April 16, 2015
“Can you help my child to move their career forward?” is a question I’m often asked.  My first response is to ask whether it’s the child or the parent who is worried.  It’s usually the parent who, understandably, is concerned that their child should start to climb the career ladder and is able to live independently as soon as possible.

If you’re a parent of one of those twenty-somethings, here are a few thoughts that may help you to manage your concerns.

The first thing to say is that it takes time for some people to decide what they want to do and are best suited to.  Don’t worry if your son or daughter spends the first few years of their working life trying different jobs.  this will help them  to work out where their strengths and interests lie.  Are they better suited to working with the public, a close set of colleagues or largely alone?  Do they like to be moving about or sitting behind a desk?  Can they sell? (I always recommend people try at least one job where they have to sell – it’s excellent training for all areas of work). Do they like the cut and thrust of business, or are they better suited to something that is related to social values?

Think of those first few years as a set of extended paid internships and by the end of it they will know themselves pretty well.  I like to think that in the future there will be far fewer people coming to see me around the age of 40 having realised that they have been unhappy for the best part of twenty years because they entered a career without knowing if it really was right for them.

Secondly,  the world of work is probably very different compared with when you started out.  There’s much less long-term careering nowadays.  The workplace is changing so rapidly that skills needs come and go almost overnight.  I think you’re going to see many more people who enter the job market today end up with upwards of four or five different careers behind them.  By the time they end their working life there’s a chance that some of their early jobs will be as obscure and obsolete to their grandchildren as a lamplighter is to us.  In other words, they might look like they are drifting from one thing to another, but the reality is that this is how many people will work in the future.

Which brings me on to my next thought: I don’t think the current generation entering the workforce think about work in the same way as we and our parents did.  Many are still motivated to achieve in a professional sense.  They are concerned about being able to enjoy a good quality of life and they worry about whether they will ever be able to own a property.   Nonetheless, a career (and life more generally) for the next generation will not be about climbing a ladder, but about gathering a range of fulfilling and challenging experiences.

One final thought.  Your children are going to be a long time working.  Much longer than us.  They are going to live longer, and if they retire at 60 or 65 they’re going to struggle on a pension plan that will need to stretch for perhaps 40 years.  They know that they are probably still going to be fit enough to work into their 80’s and they know they will probably need to.  Is it any wonder they’re not all champing at the bit to get started on their career now? In a sense they are bringing their retirement forward.  Instead of going on cruises at the end of their working life, they’re going to irrigate African villages at the beginning of it.

In conclusion, don’t worry that your child appears not to be engaging in their career they way you might expect them to do.  They are probably looking it through a different lens.  Their world of work is very different to yours, and the way they are approaching it probably looks strange to you, but not to them.


Leadership: Talkers and Listeners.

March 17, 2015
It never fails to amaze me how how many bosses are such poor leaders.  The reason, I believe, is that those who are doing the promoting tend to value qualities such as determination, confidence and presentation skills amongst the best indicators of leadership potential, often resulting in the promotion of those most ambitious to climb the ladder.

Furthermore, while they may not realise it, decision makers are highly influenced by the candidate’s ability to “play the game” also known as “managing upwards”.  These people are good talkers able to tell a great story about success, and place themselves in the starring role.

In other words, leaders are often made into leaders not because they have the right skills for leadership, but because they impress, and it’s easy to confuse an impressive personality for leadership potential.

There comes a point, however, when true leadership qualities are required because if they are not present then the right things don’t happen, people leave and organisations begin to fail.

Let’s look at organisations.

For me there are three types of asset in a business: financial, capital and human.

Humans control the financial and capital assets, so I would argue that the best bosses are the ones that are good at managing people rather than those that are good at managing the financial or capital assets.  Interestingly, many organisations promote on the basis of technical achievements – a finance person may be promoted because they are good at making investment decisions, an operations specialist is promoted because they make sound decisions about organising the equipment or properties owned by the business.

Organisations often fail to realise that once promoted these people do less of what they are good at, and instead are expected to direct others who manage these other resources, yet the employer rarely consider whether the person also has the required people management skills.

Managing people is very much about listening because listening effectively builds trust. If I feel heard then I am more likely to put my faith in your judgement.  In other words, trust means a person will follow their leader.

If you want to be a successful leader, any leader, you need followers.  To get followers you need people to trust you and believe in your vision.  To get people to trust you, you need to show you understand them and you can only do that by listening carefully and empathically to them.

When looking for leaders I would argue for seeking out the good listeners before the good talkers.


Cote D’amour: The art of fitting in

February 5, 2015

Alfred Dreyfus was a brilliant student of warfare and military tactics. He was ambitious and dedicated and he was immensely patriotic.  

Against great competition he won a place at the prestigious École de Guerre where he was determined to pass out as the best in his class.  

He didn’t manage that.  He would have been third, an exceptional achievement under any circumstances, but for being marked down to a zero by one of his examiners.  The reason for this zero grade?  Not as simple as you may be thinking. Institutional anti-semitism almost certainly had a part to play, but it wasn’t the whole story.

Although he was intelligent and highly motivated, Dreyfus lacked one important quality:  Côte D’amour; what we might call likability or the ability to fit into a group. 

He lacked warmth as a person, could not do small talk, lacked empathy, had little sense of humour and possessed a dull, monotone voice.  As a result he was not deemed suitable by his superiors for the highest ranks in the armed forces because they felt he would not be liked by his colleagues or subordinates.  

Côte d’amour is important for everyone at work and it is definitely something that can be worked on and improved, but it’s not easy. Many don’t even realise that they need to work on it and it is rarely pointed out in appraisals, partly because it’s often hard to put your finger on why someone doesn’t fit in – it’s just a feeling you get about a person. 

If you’ve ever wondered why you haven’t managed to progress beyond a certain level in your career, or struggle to make a good impression at interviews, it may well be that you lack côte d’amour.


Pre-crastination

December 22, 2014

This is an article I wrote for my newsletter earlier in 2014 and was meaning to upload it to this blog.  When you read it you may understand why it has taken so long.

Shortly after unleashing my last newsletter article on unblocking, I saw a piece in the Evening Standard under the headline of “Just do it” all to do with procrastination. Immediately I ripped the page out of the newspaper and turned to the sports section, making made a mental note to read it later.

That was a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve just read the article and I’m pleased I did finally get round to doing so. Not because I thought it was particularly enlightening, in fact I found much of it contradictory and confusing, but because it’s given me a something to write about today.  (Yes, I’m still suffering from writers block).

Anyway, the gist of the piece was that procrastination is psychologically bad for us because it means storing up stress.  If we get things done and out of the way we relieve that stress.  However, a peculiar experiment conducted at Penn State University suggests that many of us are so keen to relieve this stress that we will actually put ourselves at risk in other ways to do so.

Here’s a link to a fuller explanation

http://news.psu.edu/story/318282/2014/06/13/research/study-finds-some-people-finish-difficult-tasks-first

but for those of you who already have too many tasks backed up and don’t want to add another, the gist of the experiment is that students were stood at one end of an alley along which at different distances were placed two laden buckets. Students were asked to pick up one of the buckets and drop it off at the end of the alley.  The majority picked up the first bucket even ‘though it meant carrying the object further than necessary. The conclusion is that people saw the overall task to be made up of two sub-tasks:  pick up a bucket and set it down at the end of the line.  By picking up the nearest bucket they were mentally ticking off one of the tasks thus relieving a level of stress, but increasing their chance of injury.

This phenomena of doing a task early has been dubbed pre-crastination and it may not be a good thing.  Some problems need noodling over otherwise they may not be done efficiently or well.  Rushing to complete a task may lead to a worse outcome than waiting until you are ready to do it.

The trick is to balance pre-crastination with procrastination.  If you are delaying a task know why, and if you are getting it done quickly know that it is the right thing to do and there are no risks involved.  Of course, this goes hand in hand with prioritisation, the topic of my last newsletter.  You can only procrastinate for so long, and similarly, if the task is not urgent then there is no need to pre-crastinate on it.

Thanks for reading this, if indeed you have got round to doing so. Oh hang on, if you’ve got this far you must have.  Hope you liked it.


Put your phone down for a minute and read this please

December 13, 2014

Yes, I’m talking to you, sitting over there in the corner playing Candy Crush Saga.  Don’t think you haven’t been spotted.

I do feel sorry for Nigel Mills.  Sort of.

I’m willing to bet that the majority of readers of this newsletter have, at some time if not regularly, been bored in a meeting and decided to check their emails.  I would even go as far as to say that a few of you have played games when stuck in a meeting.

One of the problems of the modern world of work is that there are just too many meetings, and they go on far too long.  I was in a meeting this week and the convenor, only half joking, suggested that it would be over and done with a lot more quickly if he removed the chairs.  An idea I’ve heard suggested before and not a bad one.  

We’re obsessed with meetings, and they are usually not efficient.  Think about it.  Eight people in an hour long meeting.  That’s a working day right there, but they are not all working.  OK, there is a value in a group of people sharing ideas and bouncing off each other, but most meetings are not like that.  Most meetings are a series of one to one conversations where people go round the table reporting to the chair on something or other.  Do the rest of the participants really need to be there or can those reports be shared in some other way?  

Yet it’s more than just boredom that drives some people to their mobile phones.

There are many who express their sense of being ignored or undervalued by passive withdrawal, by which I mean they deliberately and obviously detach themselves from the group.  

I’m not saying that Nigel Mills falls into this category.  Maybe he really was bored during the committee session.  Nonetheless, to explain his behaviour as the result of boredom would certainly be the politicians way of handling it.

There can’t be many who would deny that they might find sitting through a tedious hearing as boring, so he’d attract the “he’s only human just like the rest of us” vote. It’s a much better claim to make than “Nobody was interested in what I had to say so I decided to draw attention to myself by playing with my phone”.  That response is only going to result in 60 million citizens clamouring for his resignation as yet another immoral, egotistical MP.

Whatever the real reason, he wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last because many, many meetings are unnecessary wastes of time.

But Candy Crush Saga?  Really?


There are only two types of people in the world.

March 25, 2014

As we all know, there are only two types of people in the world… depending on whatever it is we are talking about.

Actually that’s not true.  In the world of mathematics there are 10 types of people:  those that understand binary maths and those that don’t.

In the world of work there are two types of leader: those that change things and those that keep things as they are.

Leaders who change things are needed when there’s a big problem.  They go in and try to fix the big problem.  Then when they’ve fixed it (or failed to fix it) they leave.  If they have failed to fix it the owners will either appoint someone else to fix the problem, or the organisation will have gone out of existence. When they have fixed the problem they will go and look for another problem to fix elsewhere because they know that they will become bored staying in a place where there’s nothing to fix.

What’s important is that these leaders shouldn’t stay for too long after they have fixed the problem (unless there are other significant problems they can turn their attention to), because if there isn’t another problem for them to fix they’ll probably try to fix stuff that doesn’t need fixing, and then it will break, but because they think they’re fixing something they won’t see the need to fix what they have broken and then the organisation will either go out of existence or they will be fired for being in charge when the thing broke.

If you see what I mean.

Leaders who don’t change things are needed when there aren’t any big problems.  They are very good at keeping things ticking over well.  That’s not to say they are passive people.  They are not.  They are very good at understand the organisation and at spotting when changes in the environment are occurring.  Really good “hand on the tiller” leaders, as I call them, bring in change people (not necessarily leaders) when stuff looks like it might be breaking, so that it gets fixed before it breaks.  When something breaks under a “hand on the tiller” leader the owners blame that leader for breaking the thing, and get rid of them.  Then they have to go and find a change leader to fix whatever it is that has broken.

Because the world of work and industry is changing so rapidly everyone needs to be comfortable with change, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs to be a change leader.  Organisations also need stability and it is the quality of staying calm, not panicking, being able to keep the ship on an even keel through changing times that is why “hand on the tiller” leaders are also important.

So which of the two types of people are you?  Are you the sort of person that fixes things when they have gone wrong (or, potentially when they haven’t gone wrong), or are you the sort of person that keeps the ship on a steady course (or, potentially misses the signs of change that require the introduction of a person who can help you to navigate through choppy seas)?


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