Express Team…

I travelled by train this week up and down the UK. Not a regular occurrence…but occasional. Train journeys in the UK are much better than they used to be. I think the train lines are much the same…but the trains themselves are much better – comfier, cleaner, larger – and the train staff are also much better – more friendly, more helpful, more of them.

There is more choice for the passengers. And there is more competition than there used to be. Certainly for the franchises to run the respective routes. And regulation. Of the train companies and their performance. And more recently of course there is a multitude of social media based methods of the general public letting the train companies (and the rest of us) know about their experiences and views.

So yes. I travel by train more than I used to…and yes I also tend to enjoy it more than I used to. But yes…it also costs more than it used to!

My journey north from London last week was well planned. I am one of those travellers who likes to know where I am, where I am going, when and how. We had chosen an express train…not just faster but also many fewer stops between where I boarded and where I disembarked.

It was out of rush hour as well. So the whole train was very quiet. I had reserved seats (another relatively recent introduction) but was able to sit almost anywhere I wanted. The team on the train were happy and relaxed. They obviously knew this was a quiet train. They were well prepared and very helpful.

And we passengers were happy and comfortable. We had space, wifi, power, coffee, water, newspapers and time.

It was about ninety minutes before the train guard told everyone. He made an announcement that the earlier express train (the one that left in rush hour, the one that is always busy) had broken down up ahead…and we had to make an unscheduled stop to pick up those stranded passengers. He regretted any inconvenience this would cause.

Everything changed. As we approached the station it was apparent that our previously relaxed and happy crew had instantaneously morphed into worried and fraught. They were shouting up and down the train to and at each other. Nobody seemed quite sure about anything.

The existing passengers felt the mood change and we started to tense up. Everyone collected bags, cables, bottles. It was if we were hunkering down for an impending storm.

And the new passengers were grateful and relieved to get on board. Well no actually they weren’t. They were hot, angry and upset. They argued with each other over seats. They complained to the crew over reservations. They shouted down their cell phones to whoever was on the receiving end.

It was obvious when calm, sense and composure reappeared. It was also apparent why. It was two members of the train team working together. They were calm. They were sensitive and sensible. And they were understanding, reassuring and smiling. I could see them. And their impact. They changed everything…and changed it very quickly. Everyone else was frantic. They were unruffled. I knew they were trained…but they were natural as well…and very good!

Teamwork and focus and even philosophy are easy for us all when things are going well. The real test of us as individuals and of us as teams – the real test of the sincerity of our beliefs – these tests happen at times of pressure and challenge. How do we cope then?

Do we set the example? Do we help? Do we partner? Do we inspire? Do we lead?



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Development Strategy….

Strategies change. Strategy changes when organisations change…when organisation leadership changes…when the environment that an organisation works in changes. Strategy changes when opportunity changes. And opportunity can change for the same organisational, leadership or environmental reasons.

This makes sense. Strategy can be driven by a powerful combination of reacting to, and getting ahead of, events. And our strategy is – or should be – what we do. By definition: our strategy should dictate what we do…as opposed to what we are doing dictating our strategy.

But what is a strategy? And why is it so important in an organisation? I found myself thinking about this last week as I was going through a round of mid-year reviews.

Whenever I have a number of similar meetings at the same time, I often find myself with a theme – ideas, questions, suggestions, observations – that come up multiple times during the week. Normally I am the only one who knows sine I am the one who has multiple conversations…everyone else just has the one…

My simplest answer then to a definition of strategy is…how we get to where we want to be.

Sounds obvious…and definitely sounds simple. I guess that’s why I like it. And of course as a definition, this one also implies what else we need as well as a strategy. We need a description of where we want to be. We need a picture of where we want to be…and we need details of how we will know we are there, and how we will measure our progress (our way forward is seldom instantaneous).

All of which helped me as I was thinking about my mid-year reviews last week. Most organisations have a compelling vision and will have an agreed strategy. Our role as leaders, teams and individuals is to ensure that what we are doing is aligned to help maximise contribution, progress and delivery to that organisational vision and strategy.

It helped me as well in thinking why strategies can change when organisations or opportunity changes. There would be little value in a company continuing to produce movie videotapes, if everyone is using DVDs or downloads. The vision and objectives could still be the same – to provide ultimate choice and quality in home entertainment – but how that company made progress would have to change.

When Microsoft bought Skype they immediately set about integrating Skype into every device and platform they could think of…whilst removing anything similar from their existing portfolio. Microsoft and Skype saw a potential emerging opportunity and changed their strategy to seize and to develop.

I have been in situations where I cannot see or understand the vision – that feels confusing and leads to questions as I seek to comprehend and to clarify. Similarly I have been in situations without an agreed and aligned strategy…which can lead to false starts as I set off on the wrong path.

And when I find myself in situations where we have a vision…appropriate measure of success…and we have a strategy…along with necessary skills, incentives and resource…it is both a powerful and empowering place to be. It does not mean progress is always easy…but it does feel engaging and exciting and creates an engaging and exciting place to be.

Vision and strategy can often sound like leadership jargon – for example I don’t tend to ask my wife about the vision and strategy for our summer vacation. But in an organisation – any organisation – clarity and alignment over vision, strategy and measures of success are essential…and it really is worth the effort.

Most of us like to feel empowered. We all want to be engaged and excited by what we do.



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Quotable Stories…

I tell a lot of stories. This I know. A boss I once had explained to me that telling stories is a good way to change culture in an organisation. I remember that conversation vividly…not least because my boss always told stories and I always wondered why.

I don’t actually remember an explanation as to why ‘story telling’ can change organisational culture. But I have a hypothesis. I like a hypothesis. A hypothesis is just a theory that merits further investigation. We thrive on hypothesis in research. A hypothesis can be of more value than a thesis…and much easier to produce!

My hypothesis is that by telling stories we are sharing our experiences. We all develop our beliefs…our values…based on our own experiences. If we share our experiences (in an engaging story) we create opportunity for others to share that experience and opportunity – potentially – to influence beliefs. Culture is based on beliefs – culture is simply how things are done around here. Our beliefs dictate how we do things.

I also use quotes a lot. I quote well known people. And I use quotes that I find memorable or impactful. I remember them and they have impact on me. I haven’t got a hypothesis on why quotes work. But memorable and impactful is a pretty good starting point!

I haven’t got a favourite quote. It varies day to day let alone situation to situation.

Well over fifteen years ago I attended a global leaders meeting ahead of a big acquisition. I remember how positive the whole meeting felt; the enthusiasm we sensed from every senior leader. Every day. Every topic.

But I also remember one evening we had a guest speaker. He was introduced as an expert in Crisis Communication. That’s right. In amongst all the excitement, positivity and enthusiasm we had a guest speaker who was an expert in Crisis Communication! I wasn’t the only one to find myself wondering quite what we were about to experience….

‘People want to know that you care before they care what you know’.

That was his quote – the expert in crisis communication. It is everything I like in a quote. Simple. A play on words. Impactful. I even wrote it down on my napkin. I didn’t need to. It was already engrained in my memory. Impactful and memorable.

It wasn’t our expert’s quote of course. The most common attribution is to Theodore Roosevelt. Makes sense. But my Crisis Communicator passed it on to me.

The play on words is important. Somehow a play on words is more engaging…encouraging me to repeat the quote several times (to myself and my dinner partners that evening) to make sure I had the order right. And it pulled me in to think about what the quote was saying…what it meant…and did I believe.

Today I know Theodore is right. I believe this to be true. I act on this basis. The quote (and maybe the story of when and where and how I heard it) changed my beliefs. And by the way, our crisis communicator also shared stories of successful and unsuccessful communication to exemplify his quote.

Since then I have had personal experiences (fortunately not often crisis communication experiences)…experiences where I ensure I share how much I care about a situation, topic, person, project before I share what I know. Or experiences when I have been communicated to by someone who doesn’t let me see that they care.

And I know Theodore’s quote has helped me. And still does…Theodore is right.

A significant moment. A memorable quote. An impactful story. Beliefs altered. How I do things around here changed…



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New Memories…

Last week was a family week. My daughter graduated. Four years. It still feels like yesterday that we first left her – such a vivid memory. It still is. But now we have new and wonderful memories and moments – memories and moments that we all were part of…and that we all now share.

The graduation itself was fabulous; my daughter looked stunning and so happy. My wife looked stunning and so proud; my son looked so smart and so pleased. We were all there for her. It was as emotional as it was memorable.

I was in my suit and tie. I felt so proud. And happy. I am not sure about smart. My back was very sore.

In addition to graduation on Thursday, I had spent Monday and Tuesday helping my daughter move out of her apartment. Her top floor apartment. Three flights of stairs. Lots of boxes and bags and suitcases.

I was fine until the morning of the ceremony. I felt my back twinge whilst making breakfast. I did all my exercises but to no avail. I could feel the muscles tightening up. I could still walk so didn’t miss anything. My back just ached. A lot.

I knew I needed a massage to relax those muscles. They are just doing their job – tightening up to protect the spine. The simplest place to get an immediate back massage is at most airports. Presumably air travel is notorious for creating back or shoulder pain…or else there is a captive audience waiting for flights. Good to know, but no use to me in Scotland last Thursday.

Friday morning I was on the coffee and croissants run. I say run…hobble would be more accurate. But the best thing is to keep moving. On my way I spotted an ‘organic remedies’ store displaying a sign for walk in treatments.

I asked. There is no harm in asking. Unlikely I thought but worth a try. No back massage openings until 5:30pm – too late for our schedule – but the acupuncturist was available!

Acupuncture. That was another moment. Not only have I have never experienced acupuncture, I have never even considered acupuncture before that moment. Should I go for it…or pass. My head said no way. My back said try it….for goodness sake just try it. …why do you always have to be such a scientist? My back won. I went in.

My inner scientist was still talking though…it believed that if acupuncture was to do anything then relaxing muscles would be a pretty good option. Try something new. Do the experiment.

An hour – and somewhere between six and eight needles – later (I lost count)…and after something that was called – and I kid you not – ‘bloodletting’…I was finished.

And I felt so much better. My back felt much better. My muscles felt relaxed. My inner scientist was impressed. I stood up straight, paid, thanked the acupuncturist and left to find my family and tell them my story.

They were confused about what had happened to their breakfast. They were amazed when they heard where I had been. Stunned when I gave them my treatment details (minus the bloodletting).

It was a wonderful week. The memories, the happiness and the pride will last for ever. I wouldn’t have missed any of it for anything. A week for my family.

And a week when I tried something new. In the moment. Partly though necessity and partly I am sure because I was feeling more emotional – and less rational – all week. Something new that worked for me. Something new that helped me.

Trying something new is good…



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Leader Team…

The end of a surprising week in the UK. Not that I was in the UK last week – I was in the mid-west through to Friday morning. I had a postal vote arranged though. My Friday back in the UK was its unusual mix of jet-lag and copious emails…there was more variation than normal in my emails…

The highlight of my week was Saturday. Late evening in Australia…late morning in the UK. England won. Rugby Union. Not European politics nor European soccer. England beat Australia at rugby. It was a significant and unexpected outcome.

Sports events are common analogies and metaphors. I try to avoid them. Sports analogies are black and white – they either work very well or they work very badly. They resonate or they irritate. The only worse analogies in my experience are military. I never use those.

Rugby analogies are different. If not only because rugby is my favourite sport and following England (through thin and thin) is my one illogical pastime. I dutifully – if not bizarrely – have multiple England rugby shirts…as was apparent last week when I could be seen each morning proudly wearing the current version…doing an embarrassing impersonation of a rugby player working out.

England beat Australia at rugby. An almost unheard of event. Three games to zero. A never heard of event. In Australia. An inconceivable event.

Eight months ago Australia beat England in the Rugby World Cup and in doing so eliminated England. So what had happened in those eight months? What momentous events caused such a change? One event – that’s all. They changed their leader. Nothing else.

Rugby involves a team of fifteen players, eight back up players, and one head coach – the leader. England changed only their leader and have never looked back. The players are the same players. Yet since changing their leader, they have become champions of Europe – for the first time in years – and have beaten Australia…in Australia…for the first time. Ever.

And all they have done is change their leader. Eight months. Unbelievable. I am as amazed as I am delighted. And intrigued. A team changes its leader and its fortunes are changed for the better completely – it’s the stuff of legends…and myths!

OK. So it may not be quite as simple as that. But the root cause is undoubtedly the Head Coach. The first thing the Head Coach did was to change what was – in effect – the leadership team. All the existing assistant coaches left and new ones were appointed. And the on field captain of the playing team was changed (although the old captain is still on the team).

The Head Coach and the Leadership Team have defined and communicated a new vision, have induced a new ethos (or culture) and have instilled a level of self-confidence and self-belief – team confidence and team belief – that is decidedly un-English.

A belief the team can achieve their vision. That they have the skills and understand how their progress will be measured. That they have the resources and have a detailed plan.

And their success is apparent.

Maybe it’s because of my jet-lag, but I still can’t believe what happened. We all know that leadership is important. We all feel good if we look up and see a leader. Someone who is advocating and defending, inspiring and compelling. We all worry if we look up and see anything less.

But such a change in performance…in such a short period of time…in my favourite team. I never would have dreamed it let alone predicted it. And I am inspired and compelled. I am in awe.

I have to understand…I need to learn…I want to apply.



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Big Day…

Today is an special day. It is a big day in both the UK and in the US. June 19 – third Sunday in June – is Father’s Day. It’s less obvious than it sounds. Mother’s Day takes place in March in the UK and May in the US for example. And not all countries celebrate Father’s day in June – March in Spain and May in Germany to name but two.

I have been a father for more than twenty years and have had a father for much longer than that. It is wonderful to be a father. My father is amazing.

I am a father all the time. All day…every day. I don’t often sit and reflect on what I do as a father or how well I do. It’s like most things we all do I guess…we are often just too focussed and busy ‘doing’ to contemplate or reflect. We are in the moment and the moment needs us as much as we need the moment.

I know how much I have learned – and still do learn – from my Dad. I always knew he would have an idea. It never mattered what the situation was…how complex or simple. How personal or how professional. How urgent or how relaxed. I always knew that I could rely on my dad to offer an explanation, to give me good options, to be able to help. I always knew that my dad was there for me whenever I needed it. Unconditionally.

Somehow he was always able to reassure and relax me; inspire and encourage me. Whether it was about cricket, school, home, family or life. Whatever I have achieved – everything I have done and how I have done everything – is based on what I have learned from my father. And he never set out to teach me anything. He just was who he is.

And as I sit here and reflect, you know I can’t ever remember him just telling me what to do. He probably did. I am sure he did. But he somehow managed to always do it in a way that left me thinking it was my own idea and my own decisions.

I have his values and beliefs (as well as his genes). It is inevitable. And it is wonderful. I have had very different experiences of course – and our experiences define our beliefs – but one of my defining experiences is to be his son.

Love is all encompassing and all powerful. I know that I would do anything for my children, and I know that I want to do everything for them. Always. Every day. But I also know that I can’t live their lives for them – I learned that from my dad. They don’t need me to solve every problem for them. They are inspiring. And they are defining their own lives. They are doing things I could never imagine. I feel so proud. So happy.

Once a year then I reflect. Perhaps that is what Father’s Day is all about really. Reflection is good…and is helpful.

But it’s not what Father’s Day is for. It’s not. Father’s day is a celebration. It is a day for us to feel good. About who we are, what we have become. About what we want to do next, where and how. And who with.

I don’t see my father as much as I used to…but he is with me all the time…in everything I do…just in a different way. He is there for me always…unconditionally.

I love my dad every day – not just on Father’s Day. Today is simply an opportunity for me to tell him.



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Confused Enjoyment…

I am easily confused…and often bemused. By situations, discussions, conversations and presentations. Good news – I am easily confused because I am exposed to a great deal of very different and complicated topics. Bad news – I don’t know or understand very much. I like the ‘good news’ option here….

Best news is that I am easily amused. I laugh a lot – always at myself, often to myself; frequently out loud especially when there is no-one else around; and as much as possible with other people – especially at work. I enjoy the work that we do. I enjoy myself at work. I take what we do very seriously, and I am committed to us doing our work as well as we possibly can. But I try to avoid taking myself too seriously.

Laughter and happiness is an indication of enjoyment, of satisfaction and of fun. Of course we have to choose situations where we laugh or where we don’t – but enjoying life, enjoying our work and enjoying the people we have opportunity to work with – is very important to me. We all spend a lot time and expend a lot of energy at work – it seems only appropriate that we enjoy ourselves in exchange for that investment.

But despite all that enjoyment and satisfaction, I still frequently find myself confused. I hear things and see things that just ‘don’t make sense’. Things I just ‘don’t understand’.

Often these situations are east to explain. If I am at dinner with a group of US colleagues and our discussion moves onto the vagaries of US healthcare or US taxation then it doesn’t make sense (to me) because I don’t understand. But that’s OK. I don’t live in the US, I don’t benefit from US healthcare and I don’t pay US taxes…so why would I expect to understand?

In situations like these I accept and even appreciate my ignorance. I listen to the discussion but don’t – or even can’t – significantly contribute. Conversely, the UK National Health Service does make sense to me…as does our Value Added Tax and our Road Tax…but please don’t ask me to explain them to anyone else.

Nevertheless, I frequently find myself in conversations about our work, our industry, our business, our partners, our people or our locations where I realise that things being said or actions proposed simply do not make sense to me.

And these are moments. Moments where I realise that I must be missing something.

It’s far too easy to assume that what I am proposing or suggesting is right. It is not. Rather these are moments where what I believe we should do or say is simply based on what I understand and believe. If an individual or team believe or suggest something different then – by definition – I must be missing something.

If something does not make sense to me then I am missing something…something crucial or something significant. And that is what I have to understand. What are they seeing that I do not? What don’t I appreciate that they know? How have they interpreted data that I have misunderstood?

At moments when I do not understand or when something makes no sense to me. I ask. I seek to understand. After all, whatever I am missing…no matter how big or small…could be the missing part of the puzzle. Information that if combined with what I see and believe will change everything.

I often get feedback that I am inquisitive. I take this feedback as a positive and with pride. It means I do not understand. But I have decided not understanding is a good thing.



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