It’s good to talk

In the 1990s the late Bob Hoskins irritated a nation in a series of TV adverts for British Telecom that ended with Hoskins looking into camera and telling us that ‘It’s good to talk‘.

In today’s world, dominated by email communication, texts, and social media we seem to be in need of Mr Hoskins again.

In a recent survey I carried out looking into internal communication trends, the biggest gripe was lack of face-to-face communication and the opportunity to ask questions. What was interesting was the perception that questions that are posted onto an intranet noticeboard or emailed to a suggestion box won’t get answered.

“They say it’s two-way communication but those things are like a deep well. Throw in a question and you’ll be lucky to hear it hit the bottom let alone get answered.”

The danger here is that staff are becoming disengaged but more importantly the organisation is cutting itself off from a source of great ideas and potential innovation. If getting your thoughts is impossible then people will give up. That means that before too long the entire organisation is being developed with the ideas generated by fewer and fewer people. That’s not good.

A few weeks ago I asked a group of people how many emails they received a day and how many they actually read. The numbers were staggering. Hundreds of email per person per day. Those that were willing to admit to how many they read confessed to ditching/ignoring or ‘filing’ anywhere between 25%-40% every day. How many ideas for saving money, improving service, increasing productivity are sat in the thousands of emails that one person ignores every year?

There were 205 billion emails sent last year, if 25% went ignored that’s 50,000,000,000 emails – what are the chances that some of those were good ideas?

Email and other digital communication are, on the face of it, efficient. But are they effective? Certainly not all of the time, which is why staff are crying out for more face-to-face contact with management. Bob Hoskins was right, it is good to talk and we need to do more of it.

Change, Adaptation, Evolution…..

Semantics – the meaning of a word or phrase; the interpretation of words within a particular context.

Many leaders are now grappling with the word ‘change’. ‘Change’ has been a great word for businesses, it has been a call to action, created a sense of urgency and motivated people to work and think differently. Now though, they are getting a bit bored of change and are wondering when it will stop. The short answer is, it won’t. 

However, if you’re a leader of a team, the constant change that we are now becoming used to, can feel like indecision and a strategy without a plan.

Employee confidence is becoming a regular measure for many organisations who are desperate to implement changes without disrupting productivity and morale, but the data at the moment is inconclusive, although anecdotal data suggests that employee confidence in corporate strategy and leadership is starting to dip.

So let’s be honest. Change or evolution is here to stay. There isn’t a bus stop at the end of this journey, just a lot of junctions and choices about which way to turn. This can feel like chaos but actually chaos may be the new future.



Southern Rail – the right Strategy?

If you’re in the customer service business you would think that customer satisfaction would be an integral part of your strategy.

However, following the announcement this morning that Southern Rail’s parent company made £100m profit before tax, up 26% on last year, the company issued the following statement:

“Whilst we have largely achieved the financial and strategic targets set at the beginning of the year it is clear that we have not delivered the required levels of passenger service on our Southern routes.”

Did anyone think to question the strategy and ask if it was the right one to pursue?


Looking ahead

Very interesting that most of my work over the summer has been to help shape papers and arguments that create a picture of what the world will look like in 5 or 10 years from now and the implications for business.

A number of themes have emerged:

  • We are living longer
  • Pensioners in 10-15 years will be less well-off than pensioners today
  • We will continue to de-value skills (creative and manufacturing) through free content and the rise of 3D printing
  • We will need to re-learn more regularly to remain employable
  • We will be doing jobs that don’t exist yet
  • We will live in smaller homes
  • Mental wellbeing will be a growth market

There are a whole host of other possible scenarios and emerging trends that are unique or particularly relevant to certain industries and sectors but even the few above are enough to warrant some thought.


Motivating the Millennials

There were two stories that caught my eye this morning. The first was an interview with the ‘UBS Rogue Trader’ who has warned that the culture that led him to lose $2.3bn still exists, meaning that such gambles and losses could happen again. The second story told how KPMG (and others) were changing their recruitment process because the ‘milliennials’ (those born between 1980 and 2000) don’t like waiting around for decisions to be made, so the whole process has been made much shorter and decisions are reached more quickly. The same article goes on to describe millennials as being less concerned about  job for life, are looking for genuine work-life balance, and are more motivated by fulfilling work than making money. It states that 75% of the workforce will be millennials by 2025.

I wonder how many companies are ready for this change? And what will it mean for all businesses in the future?

For the majority of businesses success is measured by profit and year-on-year growth (many say this is unsustainable but who wants to be the CEO that says we’ve reached peak trade?), how will managers motivate the millennials who, by all accounts, are not motivated by money? Will corporate culture change the individual, as in the case of UBS, or will a generation of young workers stick to their principles and force change in the workplace?

If the KPMG story is anything to go by then it seems that big business has recognised that it needs to change in order to accommodate the workers of the future. When you think about it, that’s a huge shift away from the days when businesses tended to recruit people who were already similar to those they currently employed and then moulded them into workers that they wanted. Even the American military has seen a change and is having to confront a generation of recruits who are less disciplined, don’t like the rigid career path or the ‘up or out’ rules. Rather than conforming, they just leave.

MillennialsFor years politicians, philosophers and others have said that we ought to find new ways of measuring success in society and it shouldn’t be the value of the FTSE 100. In November 2010, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, launched the Happiness Index stating that “this measure that we are setting out today reaffirms the fact that our success as a country is about more than economic growth.”  So it seems somewhat ironic that the quote that appears on the latest set of results states: ‘Life satisfaction has increased over the past year [to march 2016], which is what one might expect given the improvements seen in the economy and record high employment during that period.’ The vast majority of us are still equating our personal happiness with work, income, and job security. We are told that things are less important to the millennials – a well performing economy might mean that they need to work longer hours; that will upset the work-life balance that they are striving for. If 75% of the workforce isn’t that interested in making profits for shareholders, what does that mean for our existing operating models?

Change is on the way but it’s being driven by a generation of workers with very different views about employment than their parents. Some businesses are already adapting but I suspect there are many that haven’t given it much thought yet; and they probably ought to.


Presentation is everything

In 2004 Jonas Ridderstrale and Kjell Nordstrom published a follow-up to their successful 2001 book, Funky Business with their latest advice to businesses desperate to differentiate, Karaoke Capitalism.

Karaoke Capitalism described (and is still a valid description) the constant struggle to differentiate in a market where competitors can emerge and imitate almost immediately. A unique product now has a very short window of opportunity before similar products follow into the market, often riding on the back of the publicity and awareness generated by the first entrant.

Ridderstrale and Nordstrom had some very simple advice: create organisations that relentlessly innovate and design exceptional customer experiences.

I was reminded of this yesterday when visiting the Devon village of Colyton. Colyton is a little village but boasts at least eight places to eat. Devon itself appears to be the ‘tea room’ capital of the world and any such establishment located within a few miles of a pebble beach usually sports a chalkboard proclaiming ‘Fresh Devon Crab Sandwiches’. As someone who is partial to a crustacean between a couple of slices of granary bread, I’m immediately drawn to the chalk scrawl for refreshment.

Tea rooms can be hit and miss but for many proprietors, once they’ve got the basics right they stop. Not so the Liddon’s Dairy Tea Gardens. Sitting outside in the afternoon sun and listening to the cockatiels chirping away created the perfect relaxing atmosphere, which was in contrast to the underwhelming interior. The coffee was good, my wife’s cake was “very good” and then the chef brought out my crab sandwich. It was more than a sandwich, it was a delight to behold.

This is exactly what Ridderstrale and Nordstrom meant about designing exceptional customer experiences and if it can be achieved with a sandwich it can achieved with any product or service.

all about presentation

Presentation is everything – freshly picked herbs and petals make the difference

So what’s your equivalent of the freshly picked herbs and flowers that differentiate Liddon’s from other crab sandwiches?


Textbook change management

Change management

Anyone involved in the process of change management knows that the first two stages are:

  1. Create a sense of urgency
  2. Have a clear vision

In the recent Brexit and Remain campaigns it was the ‘leave’ team that wanted to bring about change and therefore up to them to create messages that would motivate change. And it worked.

Whether the vision can be delivered, only time will tell but the Brexit campaigners knew their audience, knew what messages would resonate and consistently pushed those messages to achieve their goal. It was textbook change management.

Think of the audience

think of the audience



I saw this recently.

An advert for ‘beginners’ would suggest that the audience for this flyer may not familiar with the jargon.

‘Beginners’ might also be anxious, intimidated, unsure and lacking confidence. 

I’m not sure this says ‘Come along, have a good time, it’s all very relaxed’


Internet – luxury or necessity?


This weekend we have been without a broadband connection, we have still had an internet connection but at 0.7 Mbps it was like going back in time to dial-up!

Oddly I had been discussing broadband with some friends after reading an article about the increasing gap of bandwidth service between urban and rural communities. This was in part a response to the government appearing to backtrack on a pledge roll-out broadband, as it said it would, because there was no point making it available to people who didn’t want to use it.

This would suggest that the government is very out of touch with the role that technology plays in our lives. Perhaps shopping online is a luxury (but if you can buy something cheaper perhaps it’s not) however, more and more services are only available online and information is often only available through a website. ‘Googling’ is now the first place to go for local information about A&E departments, emergency vets, dentists and more. The government themselves are steering people towards their websites to renew car tax, submit tax returns, pay VAT and…and…and…

960px-Wireless-iconForget streaming television programmes (and BBC 3 is only available online). Forget looking at websites packed with photographs, such as the holiday cottage sites we were trying to view at the weekend. Forget trying to download the digital edition of your newspaper or magazine. These all assume you have access to a decent broadband connection.

I’m sure that we can find alternative methods of getting information or processing payments but they are likely to be less convenient and more convoluted, which means that we are creating a two tier society – those that have access to broadband and can enjoy all its benefits, and those that don’t. 

Our broadband is now back up to 9 Mbps and I’m grateful but I’m also feeling for those who can only get 0.7 Mbps every day.

Authority, Presence, Impact – Presenting with confidence

This is mainly a follow-up note for those Doctors that attended the Communications Skills Workshop in Madrid last week, however, the words may resonate with us all. 

You have a responsibility as a communicator. Communication is already a large part of what you do and has probably become more important as your career has progressed. Therefore, it won’t be a surprise to know that the more successful you are the greater your responsibility as a communicator will be.

I tend to talk about ‘effective communication’ rather than just ‘communication’, because it is only when we add the word ‘effective’ that we ensure our efforts at communication can be measured.

To my mind the objective of most communication is to provoke some sort of action, whether it is a change of behaviour, a change of mindset or attitude. 

Effective communication compromises of:

  • You
  • Your audience
  • Your message
  • Delivery Channel

Often we forget that the way a message is distributed/delivered says something about the message itself. It’s the birthday card or text message test. When thinking about the recipient, are they likely to be more or less appreciative of a birthday message that is delivered via a card or via a text message? The reason why this is important is because sometimes we choose the wrong medium to communicate – for example you can’t really launch a change programme with just an email and expect it to be effective.

Why are we not as good as we would like to be when it comes to effective communication?

There have been various studies published and I have 20 years of my own experience of watching others and I think there are 5 main reasons:

  1. Communicating effectively is hard and we don’t practice enough – a tennis champion doesn’t just play matches, they practice between games
  2. We don’t get enough feedback – people talk among themselves about presenters but rarely do they offer constructive feedback
  3. We tell people what we know, not what they need to know – we need to think about the audience and their expectations
  4. We treat communication as a tick box exercise – we don’t clarify, we don’t build on messages. we don’t measure their effectiveness
  5. We don’t always understand the value communication has on morale, team spirit, productivity, standards of service, quality and more

Authority, Presence and Impact

  • Authority is what you bring into the room – titles, your role, qualifications, publications, experience – it’s your credibility
  • Presence is the rapport you have with the room, it’s your ability to read the room, have empathy, listen to questions and build a solid relationship
  • Impact is your ability to bring your own insight to a situation, to reframe the data or provide a context that brings about a shift in feelings and behaviour

If Authority, Presence and Impact is you, what you are trying to achieve is: Trust, Understanding and Action with your audience

Most people are strong in one or two areas but really we all need to be working on all three.

For example:

TP works as a sales manager = he has good Presence but no Authority or Impact. Therefore, he is just a nice guy that isn’t going to motivate his team.

FS works in HR = she has Authority but no Presence or Impact. Therefore, she’s pretty intimidating and what she says doesn’t get through the fear she creates.

JD is a senior manager in a law firm = he has lots of Authority and good Presence but very little Impact. He’s a good presenter, nice to listen to but his messages are not structured to bring about a shift, therefore there is no action.

API is a tool, not a pill. We all gain confidence through self-belief and practice. Keep practicing and email me if you have questions.