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Month: July 2009

The productivity of procrastination. Yes!

In the good company of entrepreneurs

Are you one of the 14% of UK’s working population who works for yourself.  I am!

And if you are, like me and so many others in UK and everywhere where solopreneurs and the Free Agent Nation are booming, you are probably obsessed with productivity and getting things done.

You also probably beat yourself up for procrastinating. And you feel really bad on days when you just cannot get yourself going?

Is that you? Well, you are in good company. We all feel the same way.

To stay sane, this is what you need to know about procrastination and productivity

1 Keep your to do list simple

2 Accept that some days you need to chill out

3 And for the surprise – procrastination may be a sign of experience

I am not going to write on keeping your to do list simple. Lot’s of people have done that. I also won’t write on chilling out. I’ll do that another day.

Let me stick to the surprise that procrastination is wise

. . . and remind you about Caesar as he sat with his army on the wrong side of the River Rubicon. He knew that once he crossed the Rubicon, he would be declaring war on the city of Rome. And battle would commence.

You are like Caesar waiting to invade Rome

Some times, when we are resisting getting down to work, we are in the same position as Caesar on the edge of the Rubi con. We know that once we cross, there is no going back. We will be causing less strife, but once we get started, we will accomplish this task no matter what.

As Caesar undertook a long march and bloody battles before he triumphed, so will we. We know we face long hours, physical fatigue, frustrations, disappointments, conflict and anger.

We know about the power of goals. Once we get going, we move inexorably toward them. We don’t get care what gets in our path. We trample over it all in our determination to win our prize.

With age comes wisdom

When we are twenty-something, we are very good at crossing the Rubicon because at that fresh age, we don’t really understand the damage we do as we stampede everyone in our way.

When we are older, we resist.  We know that the victory is not always worth the battle.  We know we emerge the other side as a different person. And there is no going back.   At the very least, we want to linger and enjoy the desultory delights of just being with people before battle commences and carnage ensues.

But we do get moving eventually

But we do get moving when battle calls.  We know, rather sadly, that we enjoy the battle even though it has consequences.   We will even make new friends, because undoubtedly once we set forth with a clear mission, the universe does conspire to help us.

Get you things. Dreams mean work.

So we dilly-dally for a while. Half-treasuring the present. Half-summoning up the psychological resources. Is that so unwise?

We will be leaving soon and we must say good-bye properly so we can so hello to a new dawn.

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5 pretty petals of future work

I can see clearly now

Today, I visited Wirerarchy, Jon Husband’s blog. I was delighted to find the 5 principles of future work in plain language.

I do encourage you to go over and read his version.

To make sure I fully understood what Jon was saying, I rewrote his five points in my own words and compared them to other writings on the future of work.

Yes, Jon’s principles almost perfectly match the work on positive organizational scholarship, poetry and work, Hero’s Journey and positive organizational design.   Jon uses much more accessible language though.

Here is my version. I’ll add links to other versions below. And then I’ll walk the talk and tell you how I used the principles in the most unlikeliest of circumstances!

1 Changing focus

The future of work is not about institutions and organizations.

The future of work is about you and me.

2 Listening to the people who do the work

We don’t want to talk about abstract theories any more.

We want to hear the stories of people. Directly. With no translation.

3 Valuing what we can do for ourselves

We don’t want organizations and institutions to decide things for us.

We ‘ll support changes that allow us to do things for ourselves.

4 Representing ourselves

We won’t listen to so-called experts who secretly represent other people.

We’ll listen to people we know or who our friends recommend.

5 Being active and positive

We aren’t interested in being told to wait.

We will begin with what we do well. Right here. Right now.

How would you phrase these rules-of-thumb?

I would love to hear what you think of these rules-of-thumb and the way I have phrased them.

Links to my previous posts and slideshare

All phrased a lot more esoterically –

Previous posts on future work

The essence of a happy life is a point of view

5 point comparison of the Hero’s Journey, Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Psychology

5 poetic steps for exiting a Catch 22

Lighten your personal burden for navigating 2009

Be still: Kafka and Joseph Campbell

Slideshare on future work

Positive organizational design

Positive organizational scholarship

So how will we get things done in this enchanting, new world?

For three years, I taught Management to a very large class of 800 to 900 students in a lecture theatre with 400 seats. You may remember attending lectures in one of these oversized rooms yourself. Hordes of students come in and sit in rows and struggle to stay awake as the lecturer drones on.

Of course, no lecturer wakes up in the morning intent on being deadly dull. But they do feel constrained. After all, how much can you do with this format and the size of the class?

Well, a surprising amount – if you follow the principles above.

The world through the eyes of the individual

I was teaching Management and Organizations. Students simply aren’t interested in perspective of the organization. But if you can think of how they view the organization from the vantage point of their part-time jobs and where their careers are going, then you have their attention.

Give me the whole story at once – circumstances, goal, steps, feedback loops, quirks and fancies

Students aren’t interested in the rules of organizing. No matter how elegant these rules are or how much work we put into thinking them up and trying them out!. They do like case studies, though, where they could follow a story. Then their active intellects take over. They imagine themselves playing a similar role in similar circumstances and start asking probing questions.

Don’t leave me out of the story – let me try out parts of it

Students don’t like being passive. Taking notes is better than sitting still. Solving puzzles is even better. I used questionnaires a lot in which they could see illustrations of concepts and relate them to themselves. Or I used two sets of power point slides – theirs had blank spaces and mine had the answers. In this way, they could anticipate (not just fill in) what I was going to say.

The way I relate to other people is part of the story – I’ll do this with others

Learning is social and students are influenced more by their peers than by us. They like to see and hear what other students think. There is a surprising amount of feedback from the noise and murmuring in a lecture room which is why so many students come to class in the first place! We also took polls often with a show of hands. It is active in an minor way. More importantly, students could see how much opinions varied. Developing a keen acumen of how much we vary in our preferences will be important to them as organizational leaders and influential citizens.

Harvard has a video of 2009 Reith lecturer, Michael Sandel, using the Socratic method with 800 students in one lecture theatre. Our students would have liked that – as long as we were able to be as courteous as Professor Sandel. Students really don’t like being put in the wrong in front of their friends, particularly in such a large room. (Who does?)

There is no journey unless I can take the first step

The jobs my students imagined after graduation were, to my surprise, not particularly ambitious. Though I didn’t fully approve at the time, now I think they had a well developed sense of starting with the ‘ground beneath their feet’ and growing from there.

These students particularly liked techniques that helped them do their jobs better, right now, or helped them put in words something that had puzzled them for some time.

Am I exaggerating the good points and dismissing the weak points?

You might be thinking that this was a University – we set the curriculum and the exams and the students did not have much control.

It is true that we began each year with a ‘classical’ textbook. But we would take topics that students had responded to well and use those as cornerstones to introduce new topics -or extend the conversation, so to speak. Thus as the year proceeded, a theme would emerge that was distinctive for that class.

One year, for example, the refrain became: “I will be me as I am. Not who you want me to be”.

You might recognize this line as coming from the film about Steve Biko, Cry Freedom.

Organizing for  “Me as I am.  Not who you want me to be.”

The challenge of management, as we put it to that class, is to design organizations where each of us can be “Me as I am. Not who you want me to be.”

What do you think?

Can you imagine organizing along these lines? Would you like to give me a case and see if I can rephrase it using Jon’s five principles?

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Beating the odds in recruitment and selection

338187446_682b87504a_mOne of the biggest complaints we hear from businesses is that they cannot hire the skills they want in the UK market.  It’s called the talent war.

I want to show you a simple calculation I did for someone that might explain what is giving you a headache in your recruitment and selection.

Person specification

This little firm was looking for ‘partners’ to work in a role similar to agents or franchisees.  Their partners don’t have to have any particular qualification, so they should be easy to recruit.  After a little thinking and talking, this is what we came up with.

  • The partners don’t have to be super-bright,  just normal bright and have finished high school .
  • The partners should be energetic & persistent and are likely to have demonstrated this energy by excelling in competitive sport, the arts, or some activity that has required them to make a clearly great effort than their peers.
  • The partners should be entrepreneurial.  They should have a history of trying things out and be just as happy when things don’t work out.  They are curious.
  • The partners need to be honest.  I don’t mean financially meticulous – I mean wanting to deliver a good service.  They are likely to have done something well in the past even when people around them wanted to take shortcuts.

Running the numbers

Now we can add some figures to this model and here is where you might get a surprise.

Let me remind you of some figures.

  • The midpoint on any characteristic divides the world 50:50.
  • The next step up divides the world 83:17.
  • And then next level up divides the world 97:3.

These splits correspond to 3 standard deviations on the right hand side of a normal curve.  You might recall that?  We could use finer divides but we will start with these to get a preliminary fix on where we are going.


The people we are looking for do not have to be super intelligent.  University and above is at the 83:17 divide.  We are happy at the 50:50 divide.  Below that, people may have trouble filling in commercial documents.

Energy & persistence

We are looking for someone who stood out in some way – played at the highest levels of school sport, for example, or raised a lot of money for charity, or even did well at academics.  Probably at the 97:3 split.  Someone who took a big prize at school.


These people don’t wait for someone to tell them what to do.  They work things out and find new opportunties.  They aren’t people for the sausage-machine of institutions. They are the people who make us think, “I wish I had done that”, or “How did you think of that?”  And they view setbacks as adventures.  97:3


Unusual levels of integrity and sincerity.  At least once in their lives, they’ve done something properly when people around them were spinning, skiving or taking shortcuts.  97:3

How many people in the UK fit this description?

There are 30 million people in UK of working age.  How many of them fit this description and are candidates for our recruitment and selection drive?

Half of them have the intelligence required: 15 million

3% of the top half of intelligent people are very energetic and persistent : 450 000

3% of these have unusual levels of entrepreneurial spirit or curiosity:  13 500

3% of these have the commitment to integrity that we need: 405

(and this is from aged 16 to 65 – 405 people in the UK match our specification).

And how many of the right people are looking for a job?

Well, first of all let’s look at turnover.  It is usually 14% a year in the UK and that includes the high churn sectors like hospitality and catering.  Even if we bump up the turnover rate arbitrarily to 20% for the recession, we have only (.2 x 400) =80 people in our group who are looking for a job.

And of course some of these are doctors and lawyers, and some people are in the wrong sectors or wrong part of UK.  They are not available to be recruited or selected by us.

Not many left are there?

Shocking isn’t it?

I am used to the process of selection and to these numbers, yet they still shock me.  So please find my error and dm me.  I am hoping you will find my mistake because the numbers are shocking.

My point – and it is a serious point –  is that you cannot have one demanding requirement after another.

There simply aren’t enough people in the UK to meet your demanding needs.

There aren’t enough exceptional people in the economy to run it if is based on exceptional talent.

Our businesses need to run with normal people.

  • When we are selecting, it’s best to set the minimum requirements of the job, preferably from the candidate’s point of view, and begin there. Trim your list.  Ask, “Is this feature absolutely required,  and if so why?”
  • Stop adding requirement after requirement!  No more than three requirements!
  • After that, be ruthless in thinking about this recruitment assignment from the candidate’s point of view.

Ruthless in thinking about selection from the candidate’s point-of-view.

No one taught you that at uni, did they?  Yep, we like to keep some secrets to ourselves.

But now, it’s yours.

Review your HR specifications.  And keep it real.  Let your competitors be the ones to live in the world of make-believe.

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Is UK drifting towards a “nothing allowed” culture?

Idiosyncracies that we love

I am a serial migrant and one thing you learn “on the road” is that every community has phrases and ideas that are deeply coded.  They simply don’t mean what they sound as if they mean.

When I first arrived in UK, I heard people saying “Bless”, quite a lot.  I even asked someone what they meant.

It was a dumb thing to do, of course. When he said “Bless”, he was saying “Oh sod off, I can’t be bothered with your troubles.”  He certainly wasn’t going to translate accurately.

He said he was commiserating.  And no, he did not follow through on what I was asking him to do and what I though he was obliged to do. Lol.

Legal systems differ

I remember someone returning from UK to Zimbabwe after studying for four years here and he told us seriously that he was going to study face recognition because it was important in jury trials.

I remember looking around the room and thinking, “Who is going to tell him?”   No one spoke up, so I said as gently as I could, “X, we don’t have juries in Zimbabwe.”

And we don’t have juries in Zimbabwe not because of the current troubles but because we have Roman-Dutch law.  So does South Africa, and oddly Sri Lanka.

On the look out for deep differences

Because of this difference, I am always on the look out for things that I just “don’t get” – where I might be jumping the wrong way because I grew up in another system.

Look at this quotation from a famous US lawyer, Newton Minow.

“After 35 years, I have finished a comprehensive study of European comparative law. In Germany, under the law, everything is prohibited, except that which is permitted. In France, under the law, everything is permitted, except that which is prohibited. In the Soviet Union, under the law, everything is prohibited, including that which is permitted. And in Italy, under the law, everything is permitted, especially that which is prohibited.[9]

Which category does UK fit in to?

It is my understanding that Roman law fits into the German camp.  Unless I am allowed to do it, I can’t.

And it is my understanding, that English law (I am not sure about Scots law) is in the French category.  Do whatever you like.  We will say if you can’t.

An example of how these differences create confusion

This is how confusion arises in practice.

When I read a sign that says “Parking is Permitted with a Permit from 10-11 and 2-3”, my first reaction is puzzlement – followed by a eh? Why would I want to park here from 10-11 and 2-3?

No, it doesn’t mean that at all.  It means you can park here whenever you want, but you must

a) move your car between 10-11 and 2-3


b) buy a ticket.

I bet you thought that was obvious.  I am still confused every time I see that sign but as it only costs 40p to park there all day it is a confusion I will put up with.

Does this difference account for the nanny state and other British wonders?

When I heard the Unions negotiating for workers to go to work in shorts during this past very hot week, I got into a Twitter conversation about the nanny state and I started to wonder if this difference accounts for differences in management style as well.

The differences between Germanic and Anglo meetings

Meetings in Germanic countries are brisk.  You go in armed with facts and figures and MAKE DECISIONS, quickly and definitively.

Anglo meetings swirl around this way and that with no agenda and no outcome.  As an American-trained, Indian-born manager used to say in NZ (nudging me with his elbow and whispering out the side of his mouth):  “Sit back and wait. We will be here for the next hour discussing process and there will be no goal”.  Sure enough, for the next hour we discuss who wants what.  What we are trying to achieve collectively is not mentioned at all.  Who knows whate we were there for but we’ve had a spirited discussion about individual preferences.

What does it mean to ‘manage’ in the two systems?

I think I prefer a system where everything is allowed unless it is prohibited.

But possibly when you grow up in  system like that you aren’t used to designing systems or spaces where things happen.

And then you get a profileration of crazy rules.  10 signs per 100 yards, or whatever the figure is for British roads.

And it also means that one of your choices in life is to sit and do nothing.  Though some people are trying to prohibit that too.  This illustrates my point.  Designing and organizing for action is quite different from banning the few things that we may not do. Banning someone from doing X will not get them to do Y.


This thought process is starting to feel like ‘reaching’ to me.  But to try to illustrate my point.

What if you simply told people to drive safely and they will be accountable for what they smash into?

What if you told people to pay their taxes but that we would display online how much they paid?

Life can be made very simple if we choose.

And we shouldn’t have to tell people what to wear to work.  Really. If it is hot, wear shorts.  If it is cold, wear a jumper.

Of course, if you cannot afford a change of clothes, that would be my concern.  I’ve been brought up in system where managers are supposed to make things possible.  We are certainly accountable if people cannot see the way forward and don’t have the resources to get there.

Have a great weekend!

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5 lame excuses in HR for bad job descriptions

I’ve been in UK for two years now and frankly, I find the HR documentation here well. . . what euphemism shall I use  .  . . undeveloped.

From time to time, I’ve been sufficiently unwise to comment – and these are the excuses I get, sometimes concurrently, a dazzling tightrope of logic.

Excuse 1 : We are too chaotic

Turnover is so high that we cannot keep up with the documentation.  So we issue poor documentation or none at all.

Excuse 2: We are learning

Nobody knows what will be done in the job.

Excuse 3 : Not made here

This is the system we have worked out.  That must count for something.

Excuse 4 : We can fudge it

Well, we will put in a clause “And any other task required by the Head of Department”.  90% of work comes under that clause.

Excuse 5 : If we are sufficiently muddled, we can shift the blame

I know I didn’t mention it but it is on page 56 or in the middle paragraph of an email addressed to someone else and copied to you.

Beginner’s dilemma

I remember years ago, one of my former students asked to see me at my house on a Saturday morning.  He had been given a rough talking to be a line manager at work and he didn’t really understand what he was doing wrong.  “I just took him some forms to fill in,” he said,”and the guy laid in to me”.

My reply was to ask whether he was a high-paid messenger boy.  Did the organization need a graduate to move forms from one point in the organization to another?

What the organization needed was an intelligent, thoughtful, informed person to ask the line manager questions in the line manager’s language, translate into HR-speak, fill in the form and return it to the line manager for signing.

And the line manager should look at it and look up with a shine in his eyes, and say: “Oh, that’s what this is for!”

The line manager should feel that scales have fallen from their eyes. They should see the work they do as clearly as if someone wiped the mist off the mirror and they saw themselves for the first time.

Example of good work

This morning I stumbled over this excellent example of a job description, and given the quality of job descriptions that I am seeing daily, I thought it would be good to flag it up and link to it.

Job description of a website owner

It says clearly

  • what the person’s day looks like
  • what the job holder does
  • the decisions they make

It says clearly how each task contributes to

  • Work for the day
  • Long term planning

Get the organization organized

And now you might say, I would like to but this place is just not that organized –  the work changes from day-to-day.

Then that is your first job. To get it organized.

Actually, the organization is probably more organized than you think.  Wipe the mist from the mirror and let them see themselves.

Just write down what they do all day and sort it out.  It may take you a few hours but everything else in HR flows from there.

When the job description is clear, it is easy to

  • communicate with job applicants
  • select people who can and want to do the work (without discriminating)
  • pay equitably
  • train & develop
  • coach & manage performance.

In short, you cannot do your job until you have worked out what people do on the job.

And writing it down allows us to check that we have a common understanding.

That is our job.  To be the mirror of the organization so that we develop a common understanding and confidence in each other.

Collective efficacy, believing that the next person is competent, adds 10% to the value of an organization – and a 10% that cannot be copied by your competitor.  No money in the world can buy collective efficacy.  It comes from the continual work of developing  confidence in each other.

And we cannot be confident of each other when we each have a different idea about what we are supposed to be doing.

It’s as simple as that.

How did the story end?

Well, my former student’s eyes lit up as the penny dropped.  He went back to work and started delivering value to his line managers.

The firm did fold eventually (but not because of him).  Indeed, they kept him on to manage the redundancies.   When he was done, he joined Ernst & Young as a Consultant.  Then he moved to a bank and after that he started his own firm of consultants.

I hope you enjoy the job description. It is a fine example of good work.

PS I’ll tell you where the 10% comes from if you want.

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4 things I learned in 24 hours with Google Adwords

Do you used Google Adwords? And does it bring you the traffic you want?

I think all ‘noobes’ to the internet struggle with Google keywords and experienced geeks around us don’t want to come clean and say simply how the system works.

Well there is a chicken-and-egg system here.  You don’t know which keywords to use until you know!  Maybe you may learn something from my this little experiment of mine.

My 24 hour Google Adword Experiment

On Monday afternoon, I found a Googles Voucher in my ‘maybe sometime’ box and it was about to expire on Tuesday.  So I decided to run a Googles Ad and see what 30 pounds could buy me in 24 hours.

Seven steps to running your first Google Adword

  • Log on to Google Adwords and set up your account
  • Write your ad and link it back to your website (they have a handy system on screen)
  • On the basis of your website, Google will suggest some key words
  • Edit your keywords
  • Put in your bank details & your promo code if you have one.  They will charge you 5 pounds for this entertainment.
  • Set your monthly budget at 30 pounds.
  • Sit back and watch comfortably knowing you can switch all this off at anytime at the cost of whatever bill you have run up – capped at 30 pounds.

My entertainment

  • What I am going to sell.  I wrote a special blog post for this game: I offered to set up interview questions to match a job description and let someone practice with me over Skype (with webcams).  The nature of my product didn’t really matter. What mattered was that it was offered on the landing page of my blog.  Google does limit the length of url that goes in the advert so I couldn’t direct to any post or page.
  • My ad.  I wrote a simple ad saying “Practice for your job interview over the internet with webcam with an experienced coach”.  (The word Skype was disallowed).
  • First impressions.  There was an immediate flurry of activity with impressions from Search (that is the keywords I had chosen) and 3 Click Throughs.  My CTR or CTR was well above 0.5% at that stage.  As we only pay for the Click Throughs and Google is setting the price on a rolling auction, the price varies.  I paid 133p for 3 clicks on my blog.  No one contacted me so I had 0 conversions but I had set my prices rather high.  I was interested in the Google-end of this experiment.
  • Frills. I had left the ‘Content Network’ on.  Google puts the ad on Content partners too.  It advises to leave that option on.  The impressions from Content Partners were slow at first but rose dramatically on the second day.  The CTR was rubbish though.  After 36 hours, my ad was delivered (impressions) to just under 1500 partners with 1 click through.
  • Results.
    • From search traffic, “interview questions” drew 350 or so impressions with 3 click throughs – just under 1% and above the 0.5% which makes Google frown and say you are wasting our time.
    • “Interview tips” drew around 100 impressions and 3 impressions – so 3% click through.
    • “practice your interview” drew no impressions and of course, no click throughs.
    • All my ads appeared on the first page of Google search, but rarely at No 1.  The exception was “behavioral interview”.  (Remember these are ads we are talking about not the list of websites on the left.)
  • Cost.
    • This all came to 313p for 7 click throughs and an average price of 21p per person who arrived at my blog.
    • That might be meangingful in an advertising world.  Can you imagine though attracting 50 000 people a month at that price?  That would be 10 000 pounds a month.  I would need to be selling an awful lot.
    • The real issue though is the conversion rate.  Obviously of the 7 people who arrived – I had made one sale with a profit exceeding 313p, I would be ahead.

What did I learn?

  • Advertise in 10 minutes. Now, at any time, I can log in, write an ad,d and spend down the 30 pounds in my Google Account.  I know I can do it in 10 minutes. I recommend giving it whirl just for the pleasure of being clearer about how Google works.
  • Writing Ads is hard.  Do you remember all those Marketing types at Uni who we wrote off for being flibbety-gidgets?  Start buying them a lot of drinks.  And get them to write a whole lot of boiler plate ads to keep in a notebook when you need them fast!
  • Start early. Google is a chicken-and-egg system but you can break that vicious cycle by beginning.  I learned two important things from this experiment which had no purpose but to spend a Googles Voucher.
    • People are out there looking for interview questons and tips.  The click through rate was better on tips.  There is a market there.
    • No one is looking to practice their interviews.  No market.  Or is it a market waiting to be made!
  • Marketing.  How many of us have an explicit marketing budget?  How many of us have costed how many people we have to wave our product at (impressisons).  How many of us know our CTR (how many people we meet and how that translates into meaningful contacts?).  How many of us know how much each CT has cost us?  How many of us check the check our conversion rate to sales?  Have we budgeted adequately the time we need to spend, the time we need to wait and the money we must spend to achieve the conversions we want and need?

Good luck with your experiment.  Buzz me if you need help.

And sorry about the ad yesterday.  I wasn’t trying to sell you anything.  If you are a friend of mine, I helped you practice your interview for free!

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