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Month: November 2008

Reach out and touch an Indian colleague today?

During the week, I prepared a post on HR and the recession.  Turning to it today, I thought I couldn’t post it.  The anguish of colleagues in India and the thoughtful and dignified ways they are responding to events in Mumbai are model enough for us all.

Reach out and touch an Indian colleague today?

Suggested links:

In Bangalore



UPDATE:  TED India lectures are coming out.  They are a wonderful way to sense the strength and dignity of Indian.

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BHAG for Britain!

Do you still dream?

What is your BHAG for the UK? What is the Big Hairy Audacious Goal for your industry?

What is the one thing that could take your industry from stagnation to contributing to the 2.5 million new jobs or the equivalent that we need here in the UK?

Big Hairy Audacious Goal

Last night, my heart soared when Roland Harwood welcomed the ‘Network of Networks’ at Amplified08 with this BHAG:

to be the most networked nation in the world.

Getting down and dirty

Toby Moores, founder of Sleepy Dog and Visiting Professor at De Montfort University brought this goal alive.archive-since-nz-0571

Leicester, cotton city of the English Midlands has been transformed from 5% design:95% manufacturing . . . to . . . 50% design:50% import/export.

Networking via Creative Coffee Club and other social media configurations, using technologies like blogs, Twitter and Facebook, provides designers with the hyper-competitive domestic environment, or space, that an industry needs to be competitive in the international world.

Breaking the British reserve?

One of the epiphany moments in my life was visiting Roman ruins at Coimbra in Portugal and imagining running water several centuries before Christ. Superimposed on the ruins I was looking at were mental images of the dams that Italians have built all around the world. Civil engineers, then; civil engineers now.

Leicester is also taking their core competencies and the best of their past into the future.

Something tells me the British may be very good at networking. Something verbal, something witty, . . . .?

A highly networked country also offers advantage that is not here now. Youngsters can find mentoring more easily. New ideas transfuse in that mysterious way they do between two people who have never met yet share a common acquaintance.

As a goal, to be the most networked country in the world, is sufficiently concrete for us to monitor it. It is sufficiently open for us all to agree. It is sufficiently enjoyable for us all to get started.

It is inclusive. It is generative.

Some of the new 2.5 million jobs will be directly in the networking industry.  Most will be because our knowledge workers are finding it easy to access to information, make decisions, and provide services that are valued throughout the world.

Good input NESTA.  Thankyou.  And thanks to @DT, @sleepdog, @loudmouthman and @joannejacobs who did much of the organizing.


P.S.  2.5 million jobs are Obama’s target for America.  About 30m people work in the UK and 3-4 people may be unemployed before the economic downturn is done.  What is our target?

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10 steps for making beautiful Moo cards efficiently

Do you use Moo cards?

I have some typical corporate cards, but in truth, I am not sure what I am trying to convey.  That I am a relic of the Emily Bronte era?  But are Moo cards, half the size of a business card, with pictures on one side and minimal contact info on the reverse, too frivolous?

Whatever’s the right choice, Moo cards require quite a lot of conscious decision making.  Which pictures should I use?  What do they say about our products and services?  And what should I say about myself in exactly 6 lines?

Moo cards also require a modicum of administrative efficiency.  I need to load up photos, or find some on Flickr, edit them using an online service like Picnik, and then place them on the Moo interface, pay Moo online and wait – for about 10 days for them to arrive through my letterbox.

Starting from scratch, it took me about 3 days (!) to make a set of 10 cards which will be printed 10 times each.  The magic of Moo is that the customization is done at no extra cost.   I could do 100 unique cards, if I wished, or 100 of a single card.  Anyway, three days is way too much time, so I paid attention to what I was doing and this is the routine that I will use in future.

Routine for designing Moo cards

  1. I’ve set up a directory called Business Cards, and a subdirectory for each month: November, December, etc.  In free moments while I am hanging on to a call centre, for example, I will search Flickr for pictures and download them into the upcoming month’s directory.  I also did one more thing: I went into the Tools of my browser and set it to ask me where to download (or it dumps everything on me desktop/screen).
  2. I explore rather than search Flickr.  Under explore I go to Creative Commons and search pictures that are listed as “By and Share-alike”.  This means the owner is happy for me both to use them and to change them, provided I indicate who took them and provided I allow anyone else the same right to use the picture I come up with.
  3. I am continuously thinking of tags that might represent my business.  Being a psychologist, so far I have searched for words like “horizon”, “dream”, “steps”.   When I find a promising picture, I download it carefully saving it with filename like “Name of the Picture by Photographer via Flickr”.  Normally the picture will save as a .jpg file.
  4. In the future, when I have some free time, I will go into the online editor, Piknic. It’s free and there is nothing to download.  Here is where I hope to save a lot of time that I spent last time around.
    • Use Edit to resize the picture so the width is 330.  The length doesn’t matter so long as it is 900 or so or less.  An alternative is to resize the picture to something bigger and crop to the right width.
    • Go to Create and add frames.  I’ve found the trick is to set the inner and outer frames to full and change the colour to suit the picture.  I’ve also found it simplest to make both frames the same colour.  At a picture width of 330 and both frames on full, the final picture printed by Moo will have no frame along the long sides and a thick frame at both top and bottom where I can add text.
    • Use Text to add a heading at one end or the other. So far I’ve mostly used a variation of the picture’s name, such as “horizons”.  Then I vary the font and colour to suit the picture.  I also found, after much trial and error that the title must fit within the picture width. As a guide, the circle placeholders must be within the picuture, not overlapping its ends.
    • Use Text to add the copyright information “Picture name By author via Flickr” and use Shapes to find the BY and Share-a-like pictures.  These shapes look like a man and a broken c (not full c) respectively.  Occasionally, I put the copyright information on the picture itself.  Whatever looks good.
    • Save the picture with a new file name.  I extend the original filename with the word “pikniked”.
  5. When I need to order some more cards, I will go go to Moo and select mini-cards.  Using upload, I can pick out the images I have already edited and saved onto my harddrive, position them, and preview them.  In the past,  I have done this even if I am not going to proceed with an order, just to make sure I have edited the picture correctly.  As in this run,  if I want say 20 of one card and 10 for 8 others,  then I just upload the first image twice!  Lastly, I whip out my credit card and pay online.   The going price as of the end of November 2008 is 9.99 pounds and 3.68 postage.  Print out the confirmation and wait 10 days!

I am looking forward to the cards I have made especially for Christmas.  Two geese, looking quite fat and prosperous are waddling through the snow.  That’s my metaphor for the recession!  A fun, happy and prosperous 2009!


Light at the end of the tunnel!

Forget the recession for a moment

and look at this up-and-coming recruitment specialist in our midst! Funny, stylish, and on the nail.  If this is what Gen Y will be bringing our industry, we are in good hands!


Dear Client,

I’ve written to you today to talk to you about recruitment and I have chosen a letter in which to do this. I have opted for this pre-dated method of communication for a few reasons.

1) All of the carrier pigeons were out.

2) I can’t talk to your secretary anymore. Shy of knowing her bra size and favourite day of the week, I’ve come to know more about her than my own mother and whilst I enjoy hearing the words ‘If you’d like to send me an email, I’ll ensure your details are passed on to the right person who will be in contact soon’ more times than Michael Jackson say’s ‘chimone’, I feel my relationship with her is becoming one of those relationships that cause people to bungee-jump – minus cord. I know she’s lovely but her telephone sign off can only be heard by near-by dolphins and my ear-drums can’t take it anymore.

. . . for more, I’ll pass you over to Ian’s blog, Branded Jeanes.

Ian is a specialist recruiter in new media – the read-write web and everything that entails: SOE, coding, community management, etc.

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5 years’ time: where will we be?

Skate to where the puck will be

“She’ll be alright”. “Manyana, manyana”. We may not wear this attitude on our sleeves but we English are notorious short-term thinkers.  Not for us, saving for a rainy day or a stitch in time.

Is it healthy though, to plan ahead? Isn’t planning ahead exactly the opposite of what is recommended by positive psychologists: be mindful and attentive to what is going on around us?

The difficulty with living in the present seems to me that we can be living in the past. Just as the ice hockey player skates to where the puck will be, we have to interpret the present in terms of the energy and dynamism that it represents. One of the beautiful phrases asked by positive organizational scholars emerging in the business schools in the US is: what is trying to emerge here?

What will the UK look like in 5 years’ time?

In some respects, I am sure the UK will not have changed muchin 5 years’ time. An endearing quality of the UK is that it piles layer over layer. A scratch below the surface is always interesting.

Demographic change

There will also be some trends that will stretch out linearly. For the most part, those people who already here will still be here. 5 year olds will be 10. 40 year olds will be 45. 75 year olds will be 80. Some people will be off exploring the world, but we will mostly be here. Even in Zimbabwe, most people are still there!

Structural changes

But some things will change qualitatively, fundamentally, or definitively.

I have just read a prediction that IN FIVE YEARS, Africa will overtake China as the supplier of low cost labor.

On line virtual laboratory

Being linked to universities, another prediction that caught my eye is that new ideas will no longer come out of US business schools. Nor will they come out of Chinese or Indian business schools. They will come out of ‘on line virtual laboratories’. There are obvious implications for universities who carry on treating the value chain as the long 7 year process of thinking up ideas, testing them, and publishing them.

Journalism collapsing

Similar changes are being predicted in journalism. Jeff Jarvis predicts changes even deeper than those predicted for academia. Editors will no longer drive news policy. They will encourage the creation of better news.

So what is my time line?

From time-to-time, I play with Curriculum Illusione in which you input what you think will happen between now and the year you die (chosen by yourself). It is interesting how hard it is, particularly when you have to back up your ideas with photos.

So where are we exactly?

Or maybe, the question for today is what do we need to know?

Is it sufficient to get up and go to work and just hope for the best?

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From badgers to pewterers

I always talk to people in queues, on trains, well anywhere!

Eurasian badger


Image via Wikipedia

I always talk to people in queues, on trains, well anywhere!  England is an interesting place!  This is who expanded my horizons this week.

  • An environment manager for a major infrastructure company, who amongst other things, is looking for a pheronome to discourage badgers.
  • A young buyer who negotiates purchases penny-by-penny for a fashion chain
  • A psychologist investigating whether executive coaching increases flexibility & success in senior managers.
  • AND two gentlemen from The Court of The Worshipful Company of Pewterers!

Ancient Companies of London

Did you know, which I didn’t, that there are 108 Livery Companies in the city of London?

Livery companies date from the 1400’s or so and were originally trade associations or guilds.  Membership of a Livery company may be by patrinomy – an ancestor may have been a pewterer, for example.  It is also possible to join by redemption, for example, by having something to do with the pewter trade.

The trade associated with some Livery Companies, such as “long bows” might have died.  The Companies live on, though, with people joining and rising through the ranks.  The Worshipful Company of Pewterers continues to support the pewter trade.  They organize competitions for design and arts students every year.  They support charities.  My travel companions were returning from a meeting of Neurologists (yes, doctors) who were doing research into the effect of heavy metals with financial assistance from the Peweters.  One of my companions had also visited an arts class at a school whom they support in north London.

And nominally, at least, Court members have freedom of the City of London.  They can sell oranges on the street if they wish, and herd sheep across London bridge.  I didn’t catch whether Free and Livery members have these privileges.

And now to give the pamphlet about the design competition to my neighbour who is a fine arts graduate!

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HR doubles your money?

Supermarket in São Paulo

Image via Wikipedia

State of Retail 2008

On Monday, The Times published a summary of OC&C’s report State of Retail 2008.  As a typical Gen Xer, I love numbers and numbers abound in this article.

Rates of return are slim

They report the EBIT (earnings before interest and taxation) as a profit margin. None of the figures surprised me.  They are quite constant with figures achieved in other countries.  After all, the nature of an industry does define what we do and how we do it.

Grocery stores achieve 2.5-3.5%.  Books & stationery, Electricals and Music, video & gaming achieve similar margins.

Opticians, pharmacies and health & beauty achieve twice that rate at 7%, and clothing, footwear and accessories achieve slightly better at 9%.

What this tells us about work is this:  if we own a business, even a successful one, we have to sell a lot of stuff to make 1 pound profit!  The local convenience store or bookshop must sell 40 pounds to leave 1 pound profit in the hands of the owner.   The local clothes shop must sell about 12 pounds to keep 1 pound in the pocket of the owner.

Some do so much better than others

The article also gave a good comparison of the margins achieved by the top two retailers and the rest.  In almost every case, the top two retailers achieved TWICE the margins of the field.

What the report didn’t tell us were the “HR Costs/Revenue” ratios: how much of the sales dollar do large companies like TESCOs spend on HR?

It is clearly obvious that industries like consultancy where 20-35% of each sales dollar is paid in salaries, more money is spent on training, etc.  When the return on 1 pound on HR is 3 pounds in sales, we pay more attention to HR than when we spend 1 pound on salaries to make 30 pounds such as might happen in a supermarket.  Simply, in a supermarket other factors have a bigger impact on sales.

But when the margins are DOUBLE in one firm than another, then the question arises, WHY?

  • Does the firm have an advantage of size?
  • Does the firm operate in a more lucrative niche?
  • Are the management somehow superior to management in the other firm?
  • Are the management practices better?
  • And how does HR contribute to a better HR costs/Revenue ratio?  (Profit=Sales-Costs-HR Costs)

I do wish OC&C had give us the HR figures too!

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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Uni degree, then what?

Meeting up with psychology students around the world on Twitter

A psychology student, Trudy, commented on my post about Work Psychology: 2008 AD. I first ‘found’ Trudy using Twitter, the micro-blogging service, where you say what you are doing in 140 characters or less. I ‘followed ‘her there, and from there to her blog psychology in real life.

Gen Y are proactive

Trudy is an example of Gen Y: connected and proactively connecting to the world by writing about what she is doing now. Blogging & twittering illustrates an important issue for work psychologists. The world changes and we need to be up-to-date about the way we work, communicate, and interrelate. Work psychology is as much about work as it is about psychology.

Now Trudy doesn’t want to hear about her – she has her own voice! She would like to know what I do. So with permission of my client, here is a case study of a project currently on my desk.

Case study

A graduate, let’s call him Tom, lives and went to university in a remote regional capital.  Tom always had very clear work ambitions and read far beyond his university studies about his chosen industry. Unfortunately, this industry (industry not function) doesn’t operate in his home town and ‘getting into play’ means applying for jobs thousands of kilometers away where he is unknown and unsupported.

Undaunted, Tom is setting off to a trade meeting where he hopes to meet people and circulate his CV as a committed wannabe that someone should take on as an apprentice production manager. This is pretty proactive by any standard. Understandably though, he is anxious, in rather a diffuse way.

There is plenty advice about networking and job hunting on the internet. And it is valid. Look the part you want to play (preferably one level up). Have a smart CV stating your achievements briefly and with numbers. Speak to the needs of your targets (whom he has researched). Circulate with copies of your CV. Keep conversations focused and sum up what has been agreed. Follow up with an email and follow up again when you get home.

What does a work psychologist offer that is over-and-above this advice?

1.  We are on your side

We know that only 1 out of 20 students leave university with written goals and they achieve as much in life as the other 19 do together! A ROI of 2000%! We also know that 1 person out of 100 creates content on the internet, 9 comment, and 90 lurk. What distinguishes active, proactive people from the passive?

Actually nothing. Achieving goals is very easy. Setting goals is the difficult part and we cannot be continuously proactive about everything!

A psychologist helps you to assess what is reasonable to expect of yourself, taking into account your life as a whole, and most importantly, stays with you during the whole process. A mentor and supporter is critical to Tom’s professional success.

2.  We take the trouble to understand your task

When I was growing up, career advice was a matching process in which we find appropriated holes for pegs of various shapes.. In this century, we understand careers as “discovering and shaping the place where the self meets the world” (David Whyte). We no longer believe there are holes or pegs. Instead we encourage students to make the place where they interact with the world.

Trudy does this very well with her blog. Tom is making that place by attending the trade meeting, but can he do more?

3.  We share with you what we have learned in other industries

The last ten years has seen growing tension on many fronts. Indeed, many people see the credit crunch and Obama’s election as two sides of this coin. Any one watching the Obama election will know he used Facebook, Twitter and a website where supporters (and non-supporters) could log on, make their own profile, and talk directly to each other.

This is not just a political phenomenon. We have all used call-centres and so, we know about out-sourcing. What has been less visible to the public is a move from ‘push’ management to ‘pull’ management. What this means is that, just like in the Obama campaign, we have added a third stream to management.

We still have people-2-purpose, we still have people-2-resources. Now we also have people-2-people. The fun part of people-2-people systems is that we can take the initiative. Moreover, because people-2-people systems use platforms similar to Facebook, Gen Yers are very comfortable taking the initiative.

My suggestion to Tom is that he takes the initiative hugely and sets up a social media interface for his trade meeting. In practical terms, all he needs to do is spend a couple of evenings activating a community on Ning, a hashtag on Twitter, and start connecting with people attending the meeting.

What would he expect to gain?

  • Early contacts whom he can follow up in person

  • Better conversations among graduates in the same boat as himself

  • A place for employers to ‘come out’ and engage at a deeper level with ‘wannabes’

  • Reputation as a project manager in the industry

I would expect that as he worked on the project that his goals would refine themselves quite fast and that would maintain my interest and motivation! I would be quite forgiving of phone calls and DM that have the time zone calculation wrong! I would not think it impossible to create the ultimate space where the self meets the world: a special assignment as assistant to the CEO.

This is an ongoing assignment: will it work?

This may surprise you. It doesn’t have to work. Tom is going to the meeting anyway. He will walk around introducing himself anyway. Twittering, Facebook, Ning cost nothing but “intellectual surplus” [TV time] and if he gets bored with the project, or runs out of time, he doesn’t even have to clean up!

Modern day norms allow this. That is the nature of “pull” management. Take part if you wish, don’t if you don’t want to. The world is our oyster!

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5 signs our education system has got better

Best Buy Store located in Shanghai, China


Image via Wikipedia

Do you believe that the education system is better or worse than when you were at school?

Micheal Porter recently published a strategic plan for the recovery of the US economy.  It applies equally to the UK economy.  A key requirement is that our education system must get very much more rigorous and competitive.

We all like to criticize the educational system and claim that it is not what it once was.  I think, in business subjects at least, our education system is BETTER than it was when we went through university.  This is what we can expect of graduates

  1. Strategy.  They will know who Micheal Porter is and rattle off his work on 5 competitive forces, define the supply-chain, and appreciate how international competitiveness rests on hyper-competitiveness at home.
  2. Management science. They will have done some management science and be able do some basic process modelling with diagrams and excel spreadsheets.
  3. Social media. They are likely to be able to set up, with relative ease, basic social media facilties like networks and blog and work effectively in companies like Best Buy who use internet-mediated collaboration extensively.
  4. Social constructionism.  They are used to giving their opinions and are well schooled to accept there are many points-of-view to a single issue.
  5. Positive organizational scholarship.  They are increasingly exposed to the idea that ideas emerge from the group or situation and are not dependent on an all-powerful, all-knowing “boss”.

Is this enough though?

While I believe that our education system has got better, is it enough?  There are three areas that worry me about what our students learn.

  1. General knowledge including knowledge of science.   Students, reasonably in my opinion, are most interested in material that seem relevant to what they want to do in life.  Adolescents and young adults, won’t settle until we recognise their unique identity.  Nonetheless, how can any student in an educational system in 2008 not know of the CERN accelerator, the Obama election and the credit crunch?   That is the modern day equivalent of switching off the radio as Armstrong landed on the moon, when Martin Luther King spoke and or Sam Miller sold Trademe for 200 million pounds (you didn’t know that one!)  We need to be able pick up events of the day and bring them into our courses and to do that, teachers need time to follow events and time to redesign their classes.
  2. Time spent on cutting edge ideas. In seeming contradiction of the first point, students have a limited number of hours in their day and our textbooks are often old.  It is bizzare to be teaching them procedures that are no longer used. Having said that, why don’t we have an interactive museum that teaches them the history of work and business?  Is it not reasonable that any examing authority, including every university, review its curriculum annually and account for what is taken out and put in?  I believe these curricula should be public and available for any one to inspect and comment on the internet.
  3. Quantitative skills.  When we were students we studied statistics but only a small percentage of students can actually use the skills they were taught.  Workers on the Toyota assembly line use means, standard deviations and t-tests as part of their daily work.  Herein lies the call for more rigour in our education system.   We must use the skills we teach and if we think it is beyond us, we need to convey deep respect for those who do.

So those are my three issues, none of which are so difficult to implement.  They require no capital and no retraining – just leadership.

My optimistic view of the future

As we move towards networked organizations such as we see at Boeing and Best Buy, our graduates will be mapping out complex supply networks, resolving performance problems at source using sophisticated analyses, and proposing solutions to diverse audiences all of whom are experts in their own right. Students do get this experience working on non-educational projects on the internet.  It is time for us to bring this activity into the classroom too.

I am generally optimistic.  My expectation is that within a year or so, graduates will be routinely presenting a portfolio of work on the internet.  Alex Deschamps-Sonsino, London based interaction designer is an example.  Daryl Tay, young Singaporean social media evangelist, is another.  Students might also show off wikis and multimedia project via links or pages.

I think the young people of today are up to it and it is they who might drive the development of more rigorous education!

So what is your view?  Do you believe that our education system is better than in your day, and what are the key issues that need to be addressed to “allow our workers to compete with workers anywhere in the world”?

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Leadership parables

Weekend special.  Leadership from the top or from the bottom?

Good pic for a lecture on leadership and organizational design.



Customized shoes by Van.

For those mulling over HR and the recession

Have we organized the work in the organization so every person on the edge can use their skills, and the situations that arise in their patch, to advance our cause?

The genius of the Obama campaign machinery is that they provided the resources to do a good job (communication channels, how-to-do manuals, moment-to-moment goals e.g. make 100 000 calls) and let people get on with it!

Let’s tell the stories of what works well and do more of it?

What are the great HR stories where we have helped managers focus the management system to (a) reduce management cost and (b) increase initiative and productivity?

And did we manage to pass on the gains to the workforce?

Mmmm, lets publish the success stories of  HR and the recession.  The press will do a fine job for the downside.

See you on the brightside?

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