Would you behave like this?

I enter the restaurant, the server takes me to a table and offers me the menus. I refuse. I say that I know what I want and give my order:

“To drink I would like Between 1.5 and 2 cups of sugar, 1 packet of yeast, half a gallon of grape juice”

I pause briefly while the order is entered into the iPad. Then I place my food order:

“2kg Maris Piper potatoes, 1 garlic bulb, 100ml rapeseed or sunflower oil (the chef can choose), 8-10 fresh bay leaves, ½ tsp lemon, 1 tbsp olive oil, 3 tbsp caramelised onion chutney, 4 parsnips, 4 carrots, 200g sprouts, 2 small red onions, 12 cocktail sausages, bacon, 2 bay leaves, 4 rosemary sprigs, 2 red onions, 4 large eggs, 140g plain flour, 200ml milk, ½ small bunch of sage, sunflower oil, 1 small red cabbage, 2 red onions, 1 dried red chilli, 2 juniper berries, 2 allspice berries, 200ml red wine vinegar, 75g demerara sugar, 100g walnut, 1 small pack dill, 3 Granny Smith apples, 140g crustless sliced white bread, 85g butter, 1 onion, 1 bay leaf, 1 thyme sprig, 600ml milk, pinch of ground cloves, pinch of ground nutmeg, 100ml double cream, 60g light soft brown sugar, 250g pack fresh cranberries, 100ml sloe gin, 4 juniper berries, neck and giblets from your turkey, 4 chicken wings, 2 onions, 1 carrot, 2 celery sticks, 1 garlic bulb, 1 tbsp sunflower oil, 1 tbsp clear honey, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp tomato purée, 50g plain flour, small handful dried mushrooms, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar or Sherry vinegar, 150ml port, Sherry or red wine, 1.2l chicken stock, 3 bay leaves, small bunch thyme, 4½ -6kg/10-13lb turkey, 2 leeks, 2 carrots, 50g butter, 300ml dry cider, 2 onions, 25g butter, 1 small Bramley apple, 2 x 400g packs meaty Cumberland sausages, a handful sage and 140g granary breadcrumbs”

The server asks me if there will be others joining me for the meal. I reply indignantly that there will not and how dare he question my order, I will take my business elsewhere if I am questioned again.

The server thanks me for my order and as he leaves I say:

“And once I have that you will have the pleasure of my company for 90 minutes and I will grudgingly pay the bill, if you are very lucky I will give you a measly tip.”

My drink arrives, I gulp it down and leave the restaurant without a word, without paying and without my food.


Does your organisation treat prospective employees and suppliers like this?


The order is for red wine and roast turkey with all the trimmings, it would feed a few people! And the picture is of something else!

A Tale of Three Managers

Helmut

Helmut is a German technologist. He lives in Frankfurt. He moved there to develop his career as a technology leader. He is extremely successful. He is a widely recognised thinker, speaker and writer on the industrial use of new technologies.

Helmut gets his kicks when he is teaching, when he is waving his arms about, speaking passionately, drawing frenzied pictures to explain a complex concept. He is thrilled when he creates. He is excited when he wakes others up to new ideas. He loves to create excitement.

Helmut grew up in the black forest. He loves the mountains, the fresh air, and the lakes. He spend his spare time walking, skiing, and sailing. Getting back to nature allows him recuperate from the intensity of the corporate world. It allows his mind to recover. Towards the end of a weekend or more extended break you will find Helmut frantically scribbling down ideas in a mixture of words and pictures.

Jamie

Jamie’s accent is immediately recognisable to the non-Scot. It is Scottish. It has a slightly musical quality that holds the listeners’ attention. But to anyone brought up in Scotland, it is mystifying. There are elements of Glasgow, of Edinburgh, of the Highlands and some unplaceable oddities. Jamie is Scottish, posh Scots. He went to a very good school in England. He tries to hide his background by adopting a “Scottish” accent based on characters from the TV.

Jamie inherited a castle, a large estate which he has farmed for him and a collection of very valuable paintings. He has shipped the paintings to America where he now lives. No one in the USA spots the fake accent. Some people think it quaint and like to listen to him no matter what is actually said.

Jamie has two passions. His pictures and gambling. He just about balances his finances. The farm income and his job give him enough to live comfortably and to cover his losses. Big losses mean selling a picture. Big wins mean buying it back.

Jamie is intelligent. He is a theorist. A conceptual thinker. But when he talks he doesn’t care if he communicates. It is all about the voice. He loves to hear it. It is as though through oratory, in that perculiar accent, Jamie enters another universe where he is at the centre.

Zach

If there is a caricature of an American that will irritate the British then Zach is it. Film star looks, square jaw, bull neck, blue eyes, tall, loud, confident, talks and doesn’t listen. There is the goal, let’s go for it now, we will push through obstacles when we hit them.

Zach was always on the up. Could have played pro football but for injury. Glittering military career. Worked at the top consultancies. Lived in the most glamorous locations. He knew all the stars and even allowed himself to be an extra in a couple of movies. And then he joined us!

What is the opposite of a servant leader? What is the opposite of humble? Zach is! Who knows best? Who doesn’t need advice? That’s Zach! Zach knew us better than we knew ourselves and he knew what was best for us.

Me

I worked for Helmut first. Helmut was inspirational, I would have followed him into any venture that he tried. And I did try to. But Helmut knew me, what I was good at and what I wasn’t so good at. So when he got frustrated with corporate life, he moved on and I stayed put.

Then Jamie came along. This was a struggle that I eventually won. The guy tried to micro manage me. Plus he was a bully. After a bitter six month battle, he was fired. No one should go through the stress of being bullied. Some forms of bullying are illegal, why not all?

Zach was a whirlwind! He was gone before most people noticed he had joined us. The organisation regurgitated him like a pill it could not swallow.

Which brings us to Prem!

PREM

Prem was insecure. He came from an Indian family with a long and aristocratic history. He could bask in glory of his ancestors, but he was not adding to the story. He went to a second rate private school, his elder brothers went to more prestigious schools. He joined the navy because that was what expected of him. As an officer, he was never given respect by other officers or by those he commanded. When he left the navy, his service record was OK, but those he served with didn’t keep in touch. Prem left India and went to live in the USA. He joined a middle sized retailer with the help of an uncle. His career outside the navy was following a familiar path somewhere between success and failure.

Prem was headhunted, much to the surprise of his colleagues. He was offered a huge step up to create a new team. He jumped at it! It was finally a chance to make his mark, to be someone, to show the doubters, to prove himself. He would no longer be looked down on. He would no longer be mediocre.

But Prem had a flaw. He liked people around him who agreed with him, he wanted to be the cleverest person in the room, those who didn’t fit were quietly pushed out.

Me

Prem would have been the fourth manager in the tale of three managers. However, I had seen his style, I knew what was in store for me. I just wanted to do a good job for my customers and help my team become the best they could be. I was tired of the political battles. I was tired of the organisation protecting bullies at the expense of talent.

It was time to move on. Time for a sabbatical. Time to recover. Time to open my eyes to the outside world. Time to laugh. Time to get my creativity back.

Slow!

Nish always takes it slow! He may be ten steps ahead of his audience but he is very careful to nurture their understanding as he tells his story. I had the honour to be present as he introduced some new ways of working to his colleagues.

We knew the answer. We had a plan. My natural approach would be to tell the world the plan and bask in the glory of my great insights and creativity. However, after too many failures to convince others of how to do things better, I have learned that others are better at getting ideas accepted than I am.

I have watched others and tried to learn. Where I can, I have adopted their approaches. I wrote previously about the puppet master. He had great techniques for getting things done. Then there is Don, he is Australian and the slight accent seems to charm people. But his greatest skill, in my eyes, is taking my injudicious statement, rewording it and making it acceptable to a potentially hostile audience. I did adopt, in my own clumsy way, a technique from a CIO that I used to work for. It was to use the phrase “I want to build on that” and then say what ever I wanted to say very loosely attaching it to the previous statement. I have got away with some quite outrageous leaps doing this.

Back to Nish. He would identify all the people who might have an interest and work out a message that they would accept. He would then very carefully work out the steps in getting that message over. He would then pace his communications to take just one step at a time. He would meet each group of people face to face or by phone and slowly and carefully take them through one concept, one change, one idea at a time.

I would sit and try to fade into the background. I wanted to speak, I wanted to accelerate the conversation. But I knew better. My natural confrontational approach does open up the discussion but sometimes it closes minds. So I continue to sit there, only speaking when asked to, partly frustrated and partly bored.

Nish would achieve his communication goal and close the meeting, no extended discussion. We would then review what had happened. Did I notice the body language, did I notice the voice tone, were any strange phrases used, did I notice any changes in posture? Nish wanted to understand if he had indeed communicated what he had intended. We would assess and revise our communication plan after this review. We would also assess and revise the changes that we planned. Nish emphasised that we should be learning from our communication not telling.

After our audience had time to adsorb the message but before they forgot it, we would take the next step in the communication plan. After some weeks or months, Nish would have convinced all the stakeholders that there is a useful change to be made and we would be given the go ahead to implement the changes. These changes were not ours any more. They had evolved through the conversations and now belonged to the group.

Why write?

I always wanted to write a book. I thought of writing a business book but I realised that “The Art of War” said it all. I started a project management book with a friend but the publisher didn’t want originality. A novel … No ideas.

I posted a couple of blogs on the internet to let off steam at the pointless nonsense that management gurus have conned our largest corporations to waste their time and money on. This made me realise that my contribution to the management arts would not be a great insight but the rant.

Most managers seem to be able to put up with the rubbish that management consultants often spout. They don’t just tolerate it, they act on it, without anyone noticing the irony, they demonstrate the utter stupidity of these notions. They don’t laugh when the inevitable failure occurs, no they collude in the cover up. Despite the obvious they continue to proclaim the beauty of the emperor’s new clothes.

What do I do? I point out of the emperor’s nudity. I point out the emperor’s hairy back. I rant.

It came to me, the rant is my great contribution to management. In fact, it is the foundation of my talent as a leader. I rant to demonstrate that you don’t have to put up with it. You can do what common-sense tells you. You don’t have to wrap an old failed idea in new terminology and pretend that it’s innovation. You don’t have to acquiesce. You don’t have to be a sycophant. You can be your own person, but there will be a price …

You may lose your job. You may not get promoted. You may be unpopular. You may find it stressful when senior management threaten you. But you will have integrity.

Is the blog the rant? No, the rant happens in real life. The blog records and explains the rant. In the heat of the rant, there may not be much logic apparent. The rant is caused by a clash of rationalities — my rationality and corporate logic. The blog is my post rationalisation.

Trapped!

I couldn’t get my trapped car out of the station car park following an explosion on a construction site that closed the city center. As far as I know no-one was hurt, it caused a bit of local excitement, a few seconds on national TV, and inconvenience for people separated from cars, house keys, etc.

A shopping mall and bus station has been knocked down to be replaced by a shopping mall and a bus station. I’m not sure what we have achieved. It did get me thinking about the grand construction schemes that seem very often to be short term ego and career boosts for politicians. Otherwise they are grotesque wastes of money which leave us all with a legacy of financial, social and ecological debt.

What do I have in mind? Most obviously, the collection of Olympic villages across the world. I would add the Channel Tunnel, the Millau bridge in France and, if I could be bothered to do the research, a series of other mega-schemes. You can do your own research to get a good strong list!

These monstrosities seem to me to be pointless adventures where politicians posture and strut like peacocks to show how virile they are. It seems very 18th century in outlook, it seems as though the south east Asian Tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake, the destruction of New Orleans and other events haven’t quite convinced us that we are not in control.

In London, we built the Olympic complex at huge expense. We reclaimed some spoilt land that no-one could otherwise afford to develop. Why? Because it’s London. Actually, I think London would benefit more from a “green lung”. I also think almost anywhere in the country needed investment more than London. However, there are more votes in and around London. And that battle is lost.

The next one is CrossRail — building a mainline railway underneath London to connect the east and west. Then we have HS2 and CrossRail 2. The benefits will be shorter travel times and easier commuting. I was initially in favor because I suffer from long travel times and difficult commutes using multiple trains. But thinking about it, these are really disbenefits. We are investing more money into a massively overcrowded region. We are encouraging more jobs into the region which requires either more housing or more commuting. The pressure on land drives up prices which drives up salaries which drives up inflation which means we have to think of ever more expensive ideas to increase the efficiency of the infrastructure which takes us into a vicious circle.

If we need to improve the travel infrastructure, then what about improving travel to neglected regions away from London? How about building communities? How about eliminating much of the need to travel? This won’t happen because its not a grand scheme, it requires thought and votes aren’t there.

We lack true leaders who can see the real needs and are prepared to tackle them. We lack real leaders who do what is right out of conviction and who trust the people to follow them because they are right. But it is our own fault, we value style over substance. We like our politicians to be celebrities instead of effective stewards of our resources and freedom.

Do I have a solution? No! To change the race, you have to join the race, to join race is to be corrupted by the race. We are in a trap of our own making !

Toxic employees – look at yourself first

I recently read an article that had been posted in LinkedIn from Inc. This particular article highlights 8 rules for spotting a toxic employee.

I am generally uncomfortable with frameworks like this. They give the lazy manager a way out of managing effectively. They make it easy to fire people when the focus should be on developing people.

Before any manager starts to use such rules they should look at themselves and their management colleagues to assess whether they have created the climate where “toxic employees” thrive. Are you, as a manager, taking responsibility for the working environment or are you finding scape-goats?

The rules in the article are useful for identifying problems with your teams but you should look both ways before you decide what the cause of the problems is.

Rule 1 is about gossip – do you have an open and transparent environment where there is no need to gossip? Do you have a blame culture or are mistakes welcomed and seen as opportunities for the team to learn?

Rule 2 discusses the meeting after the meeting – again do you have an open and transparent environment where your decisions can be challenged? Are you able to admit to your team that you make mistakes? Are you able to take advice from your team members? Do you allow open discussion of key issues? Do you let your team know in good time of the critical issues that are coming up so they can help you? Are you humble?

Rule 3 covers not working as a team member – do you get your hands dirty and help the team out? Do you have an appraisal system that encourages individuals to compete with each other? Do you micro-manage? Do you allow teams to organise their work among themselves?

Rule 4 relates to coasting – are you really appreciative in a tangible way? Does your organisation provide any real benefits to doing a good job over just getting by? Have you set stretch goals? Do you penalise staff for missing stretch goals even when they have over-achieved? Do you recognise the value of your employees? Is it clear and transparent why some staff are rewarded more than others?

Rule 5 talks about experience – are you identifying useful experience in your team? Are you giving experienced staff objectives and tasks to pass on their experience? Are you showing that you value learning? Do you ask your experienced staff for help?

Rule 6 focuses on peer pressure – have you built a set of objectives for your team where their interests are aligned with those of the organisations? Do they win when the organisation wins? Does their hard work result in benefits for the staff?

Rule 7 adds grabbing credit – do you give credit where it’s due? Have you created an environment where staff are competing with each other? Which do you praise more, team work or individual performance? Do you encourage the quieter team members to contribute? Do you know the team well enough to understand who is really doing the work?

Rule 8 finishes the article with blaming others – is there a blame culture? Do you praise and reward taking responsibility?

Management sets the culture of an organisation. Good managers recognise this and work hard to put in place practices that support team work. Good managers are followed by their teams. If the team is following a “toxic” employee then the management need to take a good hard look at the working environment that they have created.

Leadership Principles

Introduction

Manager’s are often under pressure to compromise and deviate from what they feel is right. A manager, project manager, or any other leader needs a baseline of principle from which to base his actions. Managers need to know when to stand firm.

The Principles

These principles of leadership are based on my understanding of “Tough Minded Leadership” by Joe D Batten. The “traditional” approach to management is based around a steady state with well defined projects to make incremental changes. It concentrates on budgets, objectives, and timescales. This approach fails dismally in times of rapid change. It fails the individual and the organization generally due to its attention to the invalid goals of budget, schedule and objectives. A far more dynamic approach to management is required. It is more challenging. It recognizes that budget, timescale and objectives are in flux. The principles ensure meaningful deliverables and keep managers sane.

So what are they principles?

Create Expectation

Create a common understanding of project, corporate and personal goals. Develop plans cooperatively as a team to achieve progress on personal goals through achieving project and corporate goals. Create expectations of each person fulfilling their role. Create personal moral contracts between team members to help each other achieve personal goals.

Expectation := Results

Open honest supportive expectation become results. You create a moral obligation that is far stronger than threat or authority because this is personal.

Don’t order, direct, instruct or tell team members what to do or how to perform. This is hard to achieve. The corollary, which is more difficult, is to get those above you in the management to act in the same way.

Integrity

“… what’s on my lung is on my tongue. I will always stand up for myself and I won’t toe the line. I won’ t play the game if it’s not an honest game and an honourable game. There are a lot of people who don’t make waves and don’t speak up. I can’t be like that.” — Alan Sugar

If you don’t know, then say so. If a schedule is slipping then say so. If quality is low then say so. If you screw up then say so.

Always be open, honest and vulnerable. If someone takes advantage of that vulnerability then that’s life! Integrity is more important than a job. It is important to accept that the truth is often risky in the short term. However, messing with the truth is more risky, especially in the long term.

If you’re dealing with suppliers, then be honest and open. You may say, “What about negotiation?” I would reply, “What about partnership?” A good negotiator can reach a fair deal by being honest and open. If you reach an unfair deal then you open yourself for the same treatment later. In technology, you must accept that the supplier has some aces because technology is not a commodity.

Expect the Highest Standards of Yourself

Give 100%. Don’t be above the team. Don’t be a hypocrite. Encourage and accept criticism from the team — but make sure you can handle it. Make sure you know enough about the jobs that others are doing to know what they are facing. Also to gain their respect, to contribute to their work, and to understand their progress or otherwise
Guts and determination are an essential expectation.

Enthusiasm

It’s that can do, positive thinking thing. Most objectives are near impossible when they are served up by management. You have to be positive to be able to work out how to achieve something useful. There will be plenty of negative people in the team ready to accept failure from the start. Your enthusiasm and ability to find solutions will win them over so they can make a constructive contribution. There will be plenty of people outside the team ready to pull you down. You’re determination will prove them wrong.

See the Positive in Everyone

You need to see the positive in everyone, particularly in the team when often you have no choice over the members. Everyone has strengths that can be used to support the work and others in the team. Sometimes they hide them well — maybe that’s their strength!

People are People

Try to understand why people act as they do. It is often down to their conditioning, their background, and the environment that they are or were working in. The only way you will understand how people think is to get to know them. If you think badly of them then they probably think the same way of you. Is that how to do a good job? Give them a chance. They might give you a chance when you screw up!

Tell The Truth

“I have only two eyes and ears: there are other eyes and ears on the pitch and I am always prepared to listen.” — Lawrence Dallaglio

Tell your boss the truth. He can’t make sensible decisions without good information. Managers are idiots because no one tells them the truth!

Don’t wait until you have the full facts, it might be too late. Give your boss the pieces of the jigsaw that you have. Between you might be able to see the full picture.

Please, Thank You and Help!

It is simple courtesy to say please and thank you but how many managers say it? It’s also important to act on it. In an appraisal, a good rating or a pay rise says you meant it. Asking for help is a great compliment to someone and rarely an imposition. It also recognises that you are not perfect.

Fun

No job is worth it if there is no fun. The fun should be during the work as well as socially. Don’t do stupid hours.

Some managers and users won’t like to see your team enjoying themselves. You need to protect the team from the “Victorian” work ethic, it’s destructive. Why should anyone work for you if it isn’t fun?

Control

If the personal contracts are in place then the team control themselves. Communication within the team is established to deliver the contracts. Reporting is automatic. Exceptions are reported as potential failure to honour a contract. Regular reporting is automatic to help you fulfil your role.

Be Bold

“Its not what you predict but what your imagination inspires. It is aspiration that creates the future.” — Zurich Group advertisement.

Work is about realizing a vision. That vision must be communicated and understood by the team. A bold plan is an honest plan. It doesn’t say more than is known — you can’t commit to a date until you’re on top of it. The management or client won’t like it but you have to tough that one out.

When you have information, create a plan that uses it. Don’t ignore the facts because they don’t fit.

Live the Plan

You have to believe in the plan for others to take it seriously. If others are to take it seriously then it must be credible and your belief in it must be credible.

Conclusions

The principles are simple but effective –

  • Create expectation
  • Integrity
  • Expect the highest standards of yourself
  • Enthusiasm
  • See the positive in everyone
  • People are people
  • Tell the truth
  • Fun
  • Control
  • Be bold
  • Live the plan

The danger of passion…

Like many enterprise architects, I am extremely passionate about my work. I like to work with and employ passionate people. But the passion that creates drive, which causes them to push through when others would stop, is dangerous. It can override sensitivity to other people’s feelings. It can mean poorly thought through action prevails over a considered plan.

If you are about to employ a passionate person then think it through. Get them to work through tough scenarios. When they miss out on a promotion or pay rise because they upset a key person who doesn’t understand passion, how would they deal with it? When a colleague actively obstructs them, how will they handle it? When the strategy that they have worked on for six months is rejected by the board, what will their reaction be? Can you help them think things through without stifling their power? Can you protect them? How would they avoid the situation? How would they reduce the damage caused to other people and themselves? How will you look? How will you deal with the problems that a passionate person can cause? You need to understand how you will use and direct this passion for positive effect. You need to understand how you will manage the risk to yourself and your passionate employee.

As a passionate person, you need to understand that how ever much your employer talks about wanting people who are passionate, this is usually a myth. The job adverts and person profiles are mostly written by “dry old fish” who wouldn’t recognise passion if it came up and kissed them. They are writing to attract staff, they may be half copying someone else’s work, they are selling. You are buying, you need to make sure it is not a con. Can your new manager cope with you? Will they protect you? Is the political situation one where you will be easily provoked into rash action?

Take a walk around the office — it is easy to spot passion — there should be raised voices, there should be people standing around talking animatedly about work. If there is quiet, if people are huddled in their own cubicles with little interaction then there is no passion. A passionate person communicates and shares. If there is quiet then you will be a misfit. Are you willing to be a pioneer and create some, at least initially, unwelcome noise? Does your new manager really want you to disrupt the current peaceful working environment? Is your new manager prepared to take a risk? Is your new manager prepared to have some fun?

Good performance?

Most architects that I know pay very little attention to their reputation and visibility within their organisations. They typically consider such activities with contempt.  It is playing politics, it is putting style over substance, it is dishonest.

Dishonest? Yes, dishonest! Why? Because every success is a team effort. Any one person taking credit is disrespecting the other team members.

So what do you do in a culture that recognises and rewards those who glister rather than those who just get on with their work and do an exceptional job. Your choice is stark – play the game, move on, fight or accept it.

If you play the political game then you earn the contempt of your peers and sometimes yourself.

If you accept then you will see those with little talent prosper, they will advance and perpetuate a political system that creates a kakistocracy – rule by the worst and all that this entails.

As one who has fought many times, I cannot recommend it. It is stressful. It will damage your reputation. And support is hard to find among managers who are just trying to survive themselves. A little passive aggressive resistance may be in order – be humble, retain your integrity, give valid praise in public to those who deserve it, counter any undeserved criticism of others and help those with unrecognised talents to find places where they can excel.

Your remaining option is to move on. This may take time since there is little point in moving on to a similar environment. You need to find the right people to work with. In particular, the right manager…

A manager of mine, when he understood what was happening, said “perhaps I am looking in the wrong place”. He realised that he could not rely on the grapevine to provide an accurate picture of performance. The news spread by others is biased, it is politicised, it carries the advertisements of the carriers. He had begun to realise that the formal performance reports of project managers, clients and others were often biased.

He worked out that he needed to get out there and continually and consistently look for himself. He started to take a deeper interest in the capabilities, aspirations, working environment and efforts of his team. Only then did he start to get an accurate picture of the performance of his team. And only then was he able to help them. Only then did he start doing his job as a manager. Only then did he discover the excellence in his team. With this knowledge he was able deploy the team better, grow their capabilities and to start to repair the reputations of his team.