Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Water again

In September last year, I blogged about a poignant and frightening slide presentation on the issue of the global water shortage THIRST

. Garr Reynolds highlights another water presentation that we should all be listening to. Pass it on. It is important.

Really important!

Do you have a one-buttock business?

Benjamin Zander , conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra talks about passion and music in this remarkable TED presentation.  But if you listen to the message in the spaces, he’s also talking about leading people and finding ways to provide a vision and excitement in what you do.

BZander_webHis realisation that the quality of his work depends on his ability to awaken possibility in other people, is a phenomenally powerful insight.  There are many facets to that art – allowing people to see themselves differently; showing them that they too are capable of running a marathon, or taking on that project, or going on that fantastic trip. Sometimes just giving them permission to give it a try is enough. Sometimes its just a case of stepping out of the way. And sometimes its getting behind them and giving them a shove that does the trick.

Working out just which actions to take to awaken those possibilities can be a daunting task for many leaders. But looking at how we act and the messages we’re giving, is probably a pretty good first step.

Our stance and language combine to speak volumes – perhaps more than we sometimes intentionally say.

So what does this have to do with the one-buttock business?  Awakening possibilities is an emotional act – you can’t do it without being passionate about the people. I think where you place the emphasis in your business is the key. Benjamin Zander’s presentation has a lot more than music at its heart – but you’ll have to watch it to find out.

Enterprising Women

Yesterday I had the privilege of talking at the Enterprising Women 2nd anniversary lunch. It was amazing to have the chance to talk to almost 180 women entrepreneurs. An inspiring experience.

There was consensus that one of the most motivating elements of hearing other people's stories is the realisation that, even though you're going it alone, others are having the same experiences. There's a normalising effect in that.


There’s been a theme in some of the blogs I read and on Squidoo recently. Its all about Superheroes. But not the comic book type. This is about real people who are exceptional or who do something exceptional and make a difference.

If you haven’t heard of Randy Pausch, I recommend you read his blog, and most of all watch some of his videos. His Time Management video is exceptional watching. I would recommend it to everyone.

Randy is exceptional. And he’s doing something exceptional. And he is making a big difference. Watch him. Follow his progress.

He’d like this Superhero I suspect.

Most Influential – the morning after

Last night's event was really interesting. I attended Human Resources Magazine's Most Influential in HR Awards at Claridges in London. It was a great event, where I had the opportunity to meet some really interesting people.

We had some great conversations about metrics and how you prove the returns on measuring the engagement of your staff (amongst other things). 

It was generally acknowledged that measurement was essential in HR, and that there was enough soft evidence to show that keeping your finger on the pulse of staff motivation and competence is critical. What is not quite as easy is to do is to find hard figures to help build a case to the board. It is possible and we discussed a few examples from personal experience. By and large though, I think its going to be up to HR directors who want real growth in their people, to argue their case strongly and persuade the board to give it a try. After all, as we said last night, even 1% growth in employee engagement can make a far greater contribution to the bottom line.

So here's a question for you – when did you last take the pulse of your organisation? If not recently, then measure the engagement, or the competence levels in your organisation at the very least, and see what you discover. There will be something – I can guarantee it.

Oh, and you want to know who are HR's most influential thinkers and practitioners this year? They're listed on Human Resources magazine's website.

Energy banks

Energy is a company asset. I don’t mean utilities. Electricity and Gas are essential to operations as anyone in South Africa will know all too well at the moment. But what I am talking about is people. The energy that is applied to thought, to problem solving, to customer relations. Its critical to any business, but I wonder how many count it as an asset?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on the concept of Entrepreneurship with Graham Singleton of Make Yourself. We’ve been discussing a model for a presentation. As we explored what could be done to enhance entrepreneurship within companies, we discovered the links with energy. Its been a great experience working with Graham. His enthusiasm is infectious.

Energy is the life blood of an organisation. Its the fuel that drives both the pace and the quality of growth. But the challenge lies in the intangibles. Some people have it in spades, and others don’t have quite the same amount of ‘go’. Those that have it can infect others with enthusiasm, but they can also overwhelm. And although its not finite, it does need to be nurtured and sometimes conserved.

Its value is hard to measure – it never appears on the company’s balance sheet. But without it nothing happens. Although we can’t always control it, we should perhaps look after it – think of it as deposits and withdrawals from a bank. If we keep drawing on it without top ups, we’ll start running low. But shared with others effectively, it multiplies rather like compound interest.

Investing in your energy bank could well pay great dividends.

Creating Entrepreneurs talk

I’ve been asked to speak at the Institute of Directors Annual Conference in Suffolk. The topic is Entrepreneurship and I guess my opinion is considered relevant as East of England Business Woman of the Year Enterprise Award recipient. Public speaking isn’t an area where I have much experience. Those of you who know me may well raise an eyebrow at that statement and think ironically about the fact that I talk up a storm – all the time. But speaking in public is quite different to just having a big mouth!

I decided for a number of reasons that if I was going to accept this request I would need to make an investment in getting the final product to the state where it was absolutely the best I could do. Firstly, I know how valuable time is to people who run businesses. I owe it to the audience to make it worth their while to sit and listen to me for half an hour. I also owe it to myself to use this opportunity to develop a killer presentation and the skills to deliver it really well – because then I can do it again in June when I have a second speaking engagement.

Over the past 6 months, I’ve been working with two great people to get my output to a professional enough level. More about them in a later blog.
For the current presentation I’ve been researching companies that behave in exceptional ways. And I found it fascinating. I just had to share one of the best stories I’ve come across:
Southwest Airlines took part in an event which became called ‘Malice in Dallas’ in 1992. At 61, with a smoking and drinking training regime, Herb Kelleher took on 37 year-old weight lifting head of rival company, Stevens Aviation in an arm wrestling match. And all because they didn’t want to involve the lawyers in a dispute over the use of a slogan. If only all corporate disputes could be settled so brilliantly – its worth reading the story.

Its easy to see why Southwest Airlines is one of the USA’s top companies to work for when you understand just how far they go to make work fun.

The Right Questions

Ten times a year I give myself the gift of a day of developing my business skills. As part of a fantastically powerful group called Association of Business Leaders (ABL), I have the benefit of being able to focus entirely on my business issues for a day, and share current issues, problems and suggestions with other members.

The impact of this peer coaching is surprisingly powerful given that the members are not professional coaches. What we are tapping into is the shared experiences and perspectives of a group of highly motivated people who understand the pressures of building a business. Although the industries, business sizes and specific expertise of every member is different, the common thread is the willingness to share knowledge, support a fellow member, and help each other grow in capability, and profitability. This is powerful stuff and every one of us is loathe to miss a single day despite our heavy pressures.

Our speaker this morning was Anne Miller, a highly knowledgeable and enormously talented author, inventor and entrepreneur from Cambridge. Anne has recently published her first book, The Myth of the Mousetrap, in which she unravels some of the critical barriers to getting new ideas adopted. For anyone attempting to build an innovative business, Anne’s book is an essential management tool.

It turns out, we learned from Anne today, that its really important, when gathering information to back up a hunch, or provide data as the basis of an important decision – to ask the right questions. So often, we miss some critical nugget of knowledge just because we forget to ask some of the more obvious questions. Anne’s example of NASA’s Challenger disaster is a poignant reminder of at least one instance where this critical step wasn’t included, with devastating results.

Clearly, in most situations, the consequence of asking the wrong questions (or omitting the right questions) isn’t catastrophic. But even in our discussion of business issues during our ABL sessions, effective questions provide greater clarity in the least amount of time.

Consider your teams and your organisation’s culture. Do you encourage lots of questions? Do you focus on asking the right questions to get the whole picture?

Ask yourself those questions.

Trust your intuition

At the recent Cambridge HR Summit we treated the delegates to a couple of sessions of glorious song from Collegium Regale – the choral scholars of King’s College. It was a slightly ‘out there’ decision to take, given that there wasn’t any obvious link between the choir and the conference theme (aside from the fact that both live in Cambridge).




Some people had expected to hear classical choral music and feared it would be rather dry. Most people couldn’t work out why the choir was on the programme – that was until they heard the first piece. And then they ‘got it’!




The choir picked just the right pieces from their repertoire. The post-lunch session ended with an uplifting rendition of ‘New York, New York’ which sent delegates back into the afternoon’s learning sessions with energy and bounce.




Absolutely the best comment I had was, “…the choir is fantastic! It’s like a palate cleanser for the brain”. Perfect. That’s just what we wanted from them.




Do something completely different next time you’re planning an event, meeting or away day. Our instincts told us that the choir would make the event memorable and would provide delegates with something completely different from the workshops they were attending.Go with your gut reaction.

Taking a Risk

A couple of months ago I read Seth Godin’s blog about hard work. I love the 15th item on his list:

Putting on a conference or – Taking a risk and making the conference interesting

This is exactly what Judith and I aimed to do when we started planning the first Cambridge HR Summit six months ago. We asked ourselves why a place like Cambridge shouldn’t have a world-class HR conference. Then we decided to make it happen. Seth’s point is well made and seems absolutely obvious – but if so, why doesn’t everyone do it? Perhaps its not so easy to do. There’s no single correct way to achieve excellence – but we chose the one we’re most comfortable with. Every element of this conference is one that we can get excited about. Here are a few examples of what we think is interesting:

  • Our keynote speaker is a lady who not only changed the world – she did it without shouting about it. Early in her career Dame Stella Rimington DCB, former head of MI5 didn’t believe that women couldn’t be field operatives. That was the beginning of her transformation of the organisation that most people associate with James Bond (007).
  • We’ve chosen workshop speakers who are different and push the boat out. For example:
    • Steve Boast, head of organisational development at HM prisons who says he has some of the most challenging customers in the world. I can’t wait to hear his approach to dealing with his ‘difficult customers’.
    • Richard Ellis head of CSR from Alliance Boots will lead the workshop which will uncover whether its possible for an organisation to be carbon neutral. And he should know – Alliance Boots have been leaders in the environmental awareness stakes.
  • The venue is amazing. Magdalene College, Cambridge has managed to combine state of the art facilities, beautiful design, fantastic spaces for informal networking and intimate workshop rooms. And along with all of this modernisation, they’ve still managed to retain the traditions and ethos of centuries of imparting knowledge.
  • And then we became a little self-indulgent and booked these guys to perform at lunch time. We chose them partly because music enhances learning, but also because every time I hear them perform (and that is one of the perks of living in Cambridge), I can’t help feeling utterly inspired.

We’ve got a few more surprises up our sleeves as well. But if I told you now, that would spoil it.

There’s no guarantee that just because we’re passionate about these things that everyone else will be too. But we sure as hell wouldn’t be looking forward to sharing all these aspects with delegates if we weren’t inspired by them. In my view, that’s a pretty good first step towards moving into the right hand column in Seth’s list.