Smile Please…

I was communicated to last week. Much more communication than normal. More spoken. More emailed. More teleconferences. More instant messages. More individually. And more in groups. I thought more, listened more, and learned more.

But as I sit and consider, it seems as if much more of this week was about us and – for me – was about me. In the first two weeks since our big news announcement, most communication I experienced was information giving. Who the new company is. What they do. How they do it. What they stand for…believe in, care about…value. What they – and we – want and need, hope for and dream about, as we look to a new future.

Against that backdrop then, it makes sense that more of my time this week was internal. Our company and our people. Our partners and our work. My friends and my family. My team and my self.

I have been through a number of big changes during my career…in fact many more than I ever expected, predicted or wanted. The most amazing aspect of any big change is that those involved always come through it. In hindsight I know I have always come through change and I believe I found myself in a better place. And when I look around, I see others who say the same. It can be harder to evaluate of course, but that’s what they say. And that’s what I have experienced.

Because of big changes in companies I have worked for, I have found new friends, new science and new opportunities. And I have learned new things about myself. I would not go so far as to say that I would have chosen to instigate these changes…but when I look back…I have found change to be good.

As I have asked and listened this week, I have also observed and considered. It is never possible to truly assess how anyone else is doing – all we can do is compare what we see and hear to what we have previously seen and heard. But what I do know is that the most stressful aspect of my week was a close call at the end of the week with a reckless driver. My most exciting moment was the start of a global teleconference with more than 100 people waiting to be engaged. My most rewarding moment was an ingenious idea I heard one morning from a colleague. My most intriguing moment was a conversation with a new potential partner company. My most proud moment was my son receiving another university place offer.

All of which was a normal week. I didn’t need to be asked to stay focussed on my work – there is so much going on at work it just pulls us in. And despite so much change apparently going on, I continue to come to work each day and it looks and feels the same. My family haven’t changed. My apartment is still cold in the morning. My exercise bike is still calling my name. Yes there is change…but no, nothing seems to change.

But I do find myself think at times about how I am doing. How I am coping. Perhaps that is the only real difference. I don’t normally self-reflect (that much). I always tell myself I am doing well. I congratulate myself unconditionally. I reward myself with another coffee. I know I work harder. I explicitly look for opportunities and challenges to seize or solve. I find more colleagues to talk with and people to listen to. I listen more carefully…ask more open questions…praise more often…encourage more explicitly.

I find reasons to smile.



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Two CEOs…

I once had opportunity to have dinner with two CEOs. They were both CEO of the same very large company. One was the current CEO…the other was the ex-CEO. It was a few years ago now, but I remember driving home after dinner thinking that had been a special opportunity. Both CEOs were open and amicable – to us and to each other. They talked business, strategy, decisions, people, stock price, growth, families and work.

Their vision and belief was compelling; their insights and understanding was impressive; their assessments and analyses were absorbing. As I sat and soaked it all in, I kept having to remind myself to enter into the discussion rather than simply sitting, eating, listening and learning.

That dinner feels like a lifetime ago…although it is only really a new career ago. Back then, I couldn’t imagine when I would ever again have chance to spend time with two CEOs…especially two CEOs who had such good relationship.

And yet, last week I had a second opportunity to spend time with two CEOs. Last week I was in the UK. It was foggy, grey and very wet. Last week two CEOs came to visit.

Two CEOs visiting together can happen when the planned combination of two companies is not hostile. Our visit was part of tour of multiple locations. Meet and greet. Hear. See. Watch. Listen. Consider. Assess.

It wasn’t a long visit. Although most of our time beforehand was spent working to ensure we would impress two CEOs, I recognised it was also an important opportunity for them to impress us – everyone they met; everyone who heard them speak. I knew it was a moment for me…I wanted to be inspired.

We planned for a short breakfast before, and a fast site tour after. A group for breakfast. Pairs of presenters on tour. Common messages of partnership and value. Common themes of energy and excitement. Common concerns about too much rain…and not enough time. But the main event – in the middle of the visit – was the ‘Town Hall’.

We knew the conference room would be full. We wanted other groups to be able to connect by telephone. In the days before, we had thought about who would be present in person, how the telephone connections would work, the PA system, the Q&A process, the seating lay out and even whether we needed a dress code.

And then we were there. Town Hall about to start. I had been requested to make my introduction brief. I went for ‘short and sweet’. As I sat down I thought to myself “sweet enough, but maybe too short”, but still, no-one was there to listen to me! I relaxed. I waited.

Ninety minutes later we had finished. It felt like ninety seconds. It was compelling. I was enthralled. Every word. So much information…so much inspiration. I was amazed. I had expected a focus on our future. But we also heard two ‘real-time’ descriptions of the deal being done. Two CEOs describing one story but from their own unique perspective. They told us so much – they can’t have held anything back. I understand so much more. The drive. The desire. The options. The intent. Their passion. Their excitement. Their emotion.

Two leaders. Two different styles. One message. One voice. Their vision…for our future. Opportunities. Challenges. Potential. More than I expected. Everything I needed.

As I drove home at the end of the day I remembered we had planned to record the session. I hope it worked. I have to listen again. Like my first time, two CEOs together had been special. I knew how important. I felt how impactful.



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Last Week…

I was tired on Friday. I was driving home…missing my wife, missing my family and missing my sleep. I still had work to do; a business meeting over lunch with old (and new) friends; an evening partner leadership teleconference. I worked hard to concentrate on the road as I drove.

Last week was a week like no other. But in many ways last week was identical to every other week. I came to work each day. I met colleagues. I spoke with partners. I met more colleagues. I received and sent many more emails than I normally do. I missed my wife, my family and my sleep.

My week started with briefing meetings late on Sunday – more precisely it was very early on Monday. Big news requires different routines. Anything to do with corporate acquisition or takeover is incredibly regulated. Big news is kept confidential until the last minute. Everyone has to be communicated to at the same time – internally and externally.

My calls finished around 3:00am UK Monday. I had to get some sleep before the actual morning. My mind was racing. My 6:30am alarm came around very quickly. My mind was still racing. I called my wife when I woke. I had to talk…even in general terms. I needed her to tell me we would be OK. I knew that of course. I needed to hear it.

Monday was amazing. A blur. Exciting & energising. Adrenaline and caffeine. Checking emotions…my own and everyone else’s. Listening to everything. Reading everything. When change happens information is essential. I like to read, hear and see as much as I can. I pass on anything and everything I receive. Change is not the time to hoard information.

We all crave certainty. We can handle good news or even bad news. It is uncertainty we struggle with. No matter how much experience we have, and what we say. Uncertainty is a challenge. And yet change always comes with uncertainty. By definition. We never know for sure how things will play out – how can we? But yet we still seek certainty. It’s far too easy for us to worry about what we don’t know.

Our work is certain. The people we work with and the people we do work for – they are relying on us to be there for them. To meet our commitments. To achieve our goals. It is not necessarily easy…but it is absolutely true. And this is something we can control, influence, and succeed in.

My family is certain. They are unconditional. My friends are certain. Friends at work. Friends at home. Friends who reach out to chat. Who tell me they are there for me.

When change comes I keep my routines. I don’t give up my exercise time for email. I always have lunch. I talk to my family and my friends all the time. I focus on essential activities. Sleep is an issue. But only if I don’t get enough! I had to try to catch up from Sunday night. It can be tempting to keep going longer. I know it doesn’t work. Or help.

Personal calm can be elusive at the best of times. Personal calm is so valuable in changing times. By definition I can control how I feel. That’s why it’s called personal calm. The opposite helps no-one – personal panic? I don’t think so.

We do great, valuable and important work. We do that work together and we do that work with partners. We rely on and we support each other. We deliver as one. We succeed as one.

I am with my wife and my family. I still miss my sleep



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Trust Transfer…

I had a flat tyre last week. This was not good news. But fortunately it happened when my car was stationary. Or at least it was spotted when my car was stationary. I drove to work on Wednesday – enjoying the late Autumn sunshine – and left my car in a space near to my office building. Happy. Carefree. About my car at least.

My problem was spotted mid-afternoon by a couple of colleagues walking past my car. When I went down to look for myself the tyre was flat. Completely. Evidently I had driven over a screwdriver head which had embedded itself. Fortunately we were able to inflate the tyre and I decided to get to the nearest repair shop as quickly as possible before the slow puncture released all the air again.

As I drove I felt worried whether the tyre would deflate more rapidly (it didn’t) and felt relieved that the tyre was spotted whilst it was still daylight and whilst the repair shop was still open. I have had tyres repaired before – 5 minutes, low cost.

I hadn’t ever been to this repair shop before…but it was a national chain and I’ve used other branches for repairs. They even had a decent coffee machine in the waiting area, where I sat and sent emails apologising for the abrupt cancellation of my meetings.

The moment came a few minutes later. The technician spoke with the manager. The manager looked up and beckoned me over. The puncture had happened at ‘an angle’ and the tyre (only 3 months old) could not be repaired. I would need a new one – 24 hours, high cost.

This moment was not a moment of disappointment. Rather it was a moment of truth. Did I believe (or did I want to believe) the story I was hearing. A puncture? At an angle! What did that mean? A new tyre beyond repair…really? The moment involved me doubting what I was hearing and wondering if I was being taken (metaphorically) for a ride.

Tyres is big business. Repairing and replacing tyres is all about cars and customers. But it is a business. And a new tyre generates more profit than an old repair. They knew I had come from work. They knew I was desperate to sort my car and eager to get back. Do I trust (and order the replacement) or do I test (and get a second opinion)?

I paused and I thought. I had never been in this workshop before. But I had used the chain before. Lots of times. So what was my experience? It had always been good. Very good. The other workshops had always been honest. Very helpful. Really efficient. I was confident I had only ever had good advice.

And I realised that whilst I sat, sipped, emailed and waited, the manager had engaged with three or four other customers in person or by phone. And each time he had reminded me exactly of the managers in the other workshops in which I had waited.

So I trusted. I trusted a team I had never met before based on my experience of their colleagues…colleagues they had never met.

The new tyre arrived the next day exactly when they said it would. They checked my other tyres (all OK) and my exhaust. All OK. They offered me another coffee. The old tyre (if I wanted it). And even apologised again.

I knew I had to say something before I left. I thanked the technician and I took a moment to explain to the Manager about their ‘trust transfer’.

He smiled. “We know”. He said.



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Four Flights…

I flew four times this last seven days. To the USA and back. And to Scotland and back. I was in the US for our annual budget review. We were in Scotland to visit my daughter. Four flights in seven days is probably two too many. But I had to be present for the budget and I wasn’t going to miss Scotland. And in between the trips we had an exciting event at my son’s school where he was awarded a prize he won last year.

A busy week. A tiring week. An amazing week. A week for family. A week for work. A week like many others.

The budget discussions were very good and the team presented themselves – and the large team we represented – very well. At this time of year we have everything to play for in terms of 2014 budget and we are full of anticipation for 2015. I had an extra day in the US as well. And I used that to rekindle personal relationships in person. I talked business, family and friends with business partners who are also friends. I spend a great deal of my time talking to people on the telephone or via email…it is a great deal to get time to talk to some of them in person. I try really hard to get this face time on a regular basis.

My flight back to the UK was on time but was a late night flight. It was also very fast as there were strong winds blowing us home. I probably managed about four hours sleep. I felt fine the next day back in the UK until around about 9:00pm when I suddenly felt so tired I could hardly get upstairs let alone get to bed. I slept so well and woke up feeling so much better, so refreshed, and ready to go. I looked at my clock and was surprised to see it said 1:15am – I had only been asleep for about three hours! I managed to get some more sleep that night…but it was all stop-start.

School prize giving is a very British event. The closest we have to graduation ceremonies. The head teacher makes a speech and a visiting dignitary presents the prizes. And then the visiting dignitary makes a speech. I was there as a very proud father. We were there as very proud parents. We held hands and smiled at each other as he went on stage. My son took it all in his stride.

Getting to Scotland on Saturday involved another early start to drive to the airport. The flight was short and smooth. The visit was short and superb. My daughter is doing so well. And Scotland is such an amazing place to visit….even just for one day and one night. We leave for home this lunchtime.

Leaving is always emotional. But only ever because the visits are so amazing. We walked, smiled, ate, laughed, drank and all enjoyed ourselves. We climbed hills and breather fresh air. We took photos and watched the sun set. The weather was wonderful and the family were together. I was there as a very proud father. We were there as very proud parents. There was much hand holding and smiling. My daughter was happy. My son took it all in his stride.

A week for work and a week for family. In many ways a week like many others but in so many so important ways a week like no other.

It is special to have special time with my family. Moments and Memories. Special people. My people.



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Training Learning…

I travelled by train last week. Up and down the country. I was in London for a UK National Health Service meeting and train was somewhere between my only and best option. There is much to admire in the NHS. And there is much to change and improve. Time will tell the benefit of our meeting last week, but the mere fact that NHS leadership are engaging with UK industry feels positive.

The people I spoke with were passionate and committed; interested and engaged. Some were NHS employees but most – like me – were representatives from related and associated industries. I left London pondering the challenge of changing and improving an organisation that employs over 1.7 million people (only surpassed by Wal-Mart apparently).

Every challenge and every opportunity is magnified in an organisation of 1.7M…let alone an organisation with 63 million clients and a budget in excess of £100 billion. How would you define the culture…let alone change it? How would you define the purpose…let alone measure performance? How would you assess customer satisfaction…let alone improve? If I were involved, what would I do? What would I focus on?

Travelling by train to and from the NHS was a fraught experience. I didn’t have as much control as I do when I drive, and I had to make more decisions for myself than I do when I fly. I travelled north from London late at night (hopelessly delayed). I travelled south from London in the middle of rush hour (exactly on time). I could see WiFi on my computer all the time; I was able to connect to WiFi about half the time; I could send and receive email for even less time. My cell phone couldn’t find any cells. I read. I slept. I thought.

I had booked ahead (dramatically cheaper seats) in a quiet coach (an apparent contradiction in terms). I planned my connection transfers from station to station…which inevitably were either too long and tedious, or too short and frantic.

When I drive I am mostly by myself in the car. With the radio. With my cell phone. When I fly I am by myself on a plane. With the cabin crew. With my email and movies. On the train I was with lots of people I didn’t know. In their space. Seemingly involved in their discussions.

The most enjoyable aspect of my train travel was the selection of coffee shops at every station. My worst was this forced interaction. I seemed to spend my time apologising (I have long legs), or declining (I am not interested). Quiet carriages ban cell phones – although no-one seems to have told people continually calling my fellow travellers – but yet passengers are seemingly free to enter into long and loud conversations with each other.

Catering on my trains was mixed. Sometimes surprisingly good; frequently not; always quite expensive; occasionally non-existent. But I do remember Leo. Leo pushed the catering cart on my train north (the late one). He made that journey bearable. He was amusing and he was engaging. He explained more about or delay than the train driver, and seemed to ask (and care) how everyone’s travel had been impacted.

He joked about the train coffee (he was right) and recommended the red wine (right again). He diffused the angry passenger; and informed the concerned traveller about alternative connections. He did it all with a smile.

He made a difference to me. He made an impact on me. I was impressed and grateful. Just before we arrived I made sure I found him, told him and thanked him.

The answer to my question then? It’s always the people.



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Complex Curiosity…

I spoke with lots of people last week. Nothing unusual in that I guess, but the vast majority were one-to-one discussions. It was just the way my calendar fell. No big meetings or big telephone calls or big anythings. Only a balance between remote and in person meetings. Local and international calls. Work and personal. Engaging and exciting. Disconcerting and bewildering.

It’s obvious really, but as a general rule I find it easier to interact with someone I know, or with someone I have similar experiences to. And these days it is so much easier to find out so much more about so many. The internet is replete with information about our careers, our companies and our challenges. I always try to look at company web sites, social media, and – if it is an internal call – through our internal data sources (organisation charts, internal web sites) before I connect with someone I don’t know. That having been said, it’s amazing how often ‘engaging and exciting’ comes from those I haven’t met, or those I hardly know anything about.

I also give myself a moment at the end of any meeting to consider how it went, how I felt? What did I learn and what I would do differently next time. What other questions would I ask? Sometimes this process is external – I seek feedback – and other times it is internal – I contemplate. But I always consider. It helps me close one discussion and open the next.

And yet every so often I have a discussion where something really hits me. Something really resonates. I know when this happens because I realise that I talk about the same topic through the majority of my calls. I will ask everyone I interact with about the same topic. No matter how hard I try not to. I sometimes wonder how much this helps (OK – confuses) people talk with. But I know it helps me. A lot. I talk out loud about this topic of interest. I ask and hear and see other responses. My thinking and understanding increases.

I spoke to an old colleague one morning. Someone who was a great personal help to me two years ago. We hadn’t spoken in ages. Time flies. It was great value. And great fun. We discussed a range of topics – by phone – I knew at the time it was energising for me. I couldn’t sit still. I had to get up and walk around the room. I am still thinking about what my friend said. It was complex and complicated. Literally.

If a situation is complicated; we need to seek clarity. If situation is complex, we need to remain curious

I went straight to google but couldn’t find the quote anywhere. I looked up complicated and complex. I certainly use the words interchangeably. But the message implies a difference

This helped. A complex problem tends to have many components; but complex has no implication of difficulty. Complicated – on the other hand – always implies a high level of difficulty. My interchange of these two adjectives is evidently wrong. But it was the behaviours that help in each situation that had the biggest impact on me.

Complicated drives a need for clarity. For an explanation. I can relate to this. But complex is different. And the insight that in complex situations we should remain curious was enlightening.

Curiosity is a desire to learn about a subject or about a situation. Curiosity is all about questions, ideas, options and possibilities. And remaining curious is as much about belief. Belief in people, in each other and in ourselves. Belief that solutions will always appear.



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