Invisible Ink

This morning I was writing with a silver gel pen. I noticed that, as the ink dries, it fades. It fades a lot!.


In fact, I came back to the piece of paper after leaving it for 10 minutes and had to squint to read what I had written.  Invisible ink came to mind and on reflection, it occurred to me that there’s a parallel between invisible ink and engaging employees.

Did you ever try that cute childhood trick of writing a message using lemon juice and then heating up the paper to be able to read the invisible message? It struck me that when you first deliver the messages about an employee-centred culture, the message is crisp and clear, but over time the impact fades. Just like invisible ink, you need to take further action so that people can see the details again.

So now you know why engaging employees is like invisible ink.

The Craving for Clarity

I noticed a new pattern of conversations last week. In all the meetings I had with associates and others in business, whenever the subject of credit crunch, recession or the euphemistic ‘cut backs’ (which for some reason makes me think of hedge trimming – sort of neat and green) came up, one theme came through loud and clear.

The desire for clarity. People are concerned about the downturn in the economy. But when you listen to them, its clear that they are more concerned about the uncertainty it brings. If we all had crystal clear knowledge of the extent and timescale of the downward trend, it would all be easy. We’d know exactly what action to take to sail through tough times. Trouble is, when there is less clarity, we have more options and therefore more choices we could make – but we have no clear indications of which we should take.

We’re told that we should cut back on spending, sit tight and ride out the storm. Then we read that companies that do so seldom thrive, but those that have taken risks and used recessionary times to expand have come out of the other end ahead of the pack. “Focus!”, we’re told – its critical. But wait! We also need to diversify to make sure our sales don’t suffer.

Last week I heard all of these opinions at some point or another and that when I realised that its panic that causes the problem. Everyone has a view but no-one really knows how to respond to the changes in the economic state of the country. We’re all just guessing to a large extent and therein lies the real problem.
Clarity is what we crave in order to reduce our choices and and increase our chances. Its easier to manage when we simplify the activities being completed but that’s not an easy thing to do. We feel compelled to work faster, harder and smarter. In fact, perhaps all we have to do is pause for long enough to make some clear decision.

I’ve just started reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” in an effort to make my life simpler and my time more productive. He points out that until we learn to manage our actions, we can’t control our productivity and stress levels. And further, that clarity of thought is what helps us to make better decisions on the actions we take.

The trick is not to seek clarity in the media, or from associates or colleagues. We have to learn to trust our intuition to some extent. Get to the essence of the problem, work our which actions will potentially give you the best outcomes, and then roll up your sleeves. That way you’ll spend less time worrying about what’s going to happen in the next couple of years, and more time focused on what actions you can take to be effective.

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.

Getting to the essence

“If I’d had more time, I’d have written a short letter.” – the classic quote that’s been attributed to Mark Twain, T.S. Eliot, Blaise Pascal, George S. Kaufman, and many others continues to be applicable, no matter who said it first.

Seth Godin’s blog post, ‘Start with a classified’ has the same message. Of course the original quote provides us with the idea that it takes more care (and hence more time) to write a shorter letter. Seth goes further and gives us a method of getting to the core of what we want to say. By distilling it into a few words, we get to the nub of it. Only then is it useful to start elaborating and adding the extras that will provide colour and context.
Perhaps we’re conditioned by formal education to provide all the information we can, but there is a down side to that. We’re so overwhelmed with information in the e-world we inhabit that people don’t have the time, or I suspect, the inclination to read more than they absolutely have to. I’ve recently provided feedback on a couple of CV’s and I found myself giving the ‘less is more’ advice in both cases. We should apply this thinking to all of our work. Provide the information that is necessary, relevant and useful – but no more.
And perhaps this adds the most value when it comes to emails. At the very least, take the time to re-read your mail and see which words can be cut without changing the essence of the mail. In these days of email overwhelm, its not only considerate to the recipient, it makes your email more likely to be read. Simple as that.

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.

Most Influential

What makes someone 'Most Influential' in their field?

I've been invited to Human Resources Magazine's Most Influential in HR Event tomorrow night. I'm looking forward to it immensely – its going to be a fascinating evening.

And I'll let you know what makes someone 'most influential' after the event…

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.

Recruitment pitfalls

A couple of days ago I had a conversation with a friend who has just had a really bad experience with a senior member of staff. The incident has been expensive in two respects – the member of staff has taken that which was not his to take in some significant measure, and there is now the cost of recruiting and training a replacement. The cost of getting a new staff member up to speed is not insignificant. And its almost impossible to quantify the loss of knowledge that goes hand-in-hand with a key person leaving, in any circumstances. His faith in the recruitment process is somewhat shaken at the moment, to say the least.

You’ll understand then, why I was particularly impressed when I met Katherine Wiid from Recrion. Aside from the fact that its always nice to meet another South African in the UK, their approach to helping companies get the right people just make real sense.

Recrion doesn’t replace recruitment agencies. Instead, the service they provide is a really solid bridge between company and recruitment agencies. Recrion has all the expertise in writing job specifications and interviewing applicants. They’re the experts at filtering candidates so clients only see the best of the bunch. How great to be able to save time and money two different ways simultaneously. I was struck that using specific expertise like this not only saves the time spent screening and interviewing the candidates who are less than the best. But it also provides an independent standard for the recruitment process in the business.

Not only that, they’ve got a seriously cool giraffe on their site!