• 25 Jun 2020 10:39 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Many of us think we are very good at what we do for a living. Some are even arrogant enough to think they are ‘the best’.  Companies sometimes act as if they have a ‘divine right’ to their market share, or market superiority.

    However, the worst offenders must be politicians.  They know they are right and act accordingly.  This can seem patronising or arrogant to the rest of us - even when we share the same, broad political views.  Politicians often take decisions  without apparently thinking things through - rarely seeming to consider the unintended consequences of their decision and subsequent actions.  When some of those consequences become apparent and suggest more thought is necessary, the politicians plough on, taking further actions  and creating more of a mess.  

    Remember, when you’re in a hole, stop digging.

    In the current pandemic, the UK government decided that some form of contact tracing would be helpful - allowing contact to be made with those that had been in contact with others recently diagnosed with COVID-19. A number of other countries had already implemented technology - via smartphones - to assist with this ... and Google and Apple had already collaborated on the core technology for such an app, leaving governments to add the user interface and tailor the top level to meet their own needs.

    Did the NHS (National Health Service) or the British government go with Google/Apple technology?  No, they did not.  they were arrogant enough to think they could do it on their own, and presumably do it better .... even though the record of major computer system implementation in the NHS is one of failure, overspend and scandal.  

    Why would you not adopt what is in effect a global standard? ... especially one which had been developed (thanks, presumably to Apple) with privacy in mind.

    But no. The UK government and NHS went ahead, trialled their app on the Isle of Wight, found it didn't work  and  then announced a delay in implementation before going ahead with a people-based  (and expensive) track and trace approach.

    Sometimes politicians just have to accept their limitations and seek help from those better equipped to deliver.   Your company is just the same.  Accept what you can't do - and work with others to fill those gaps.

  • 18 Jun 2020 7:08 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    The last few months have confirmed what many of us already knew.  That monitoring the behaviour and performance of employees can help improve that performance.  However, when many, if not all, of those employees are working remotely, such monitoring becomes difficult.

    However, the other, more important lesson learned from lockdown is that monitoring employee performance is less successful than creating high performance via a positive and supportive culture which creates engaged and self-motivated employees, eager to make their contribution irrespective of the type or level of monitoring.

    Again, continuing to fully engage employees is not always easy.

    Obviously, engagement starts with communication, so the various communication tools that have come into common usage can be very helpful … but only if you:

    • communicate in the right way
    • communicate the right things.

    Employees need information to do their jobs effectively. So shared file systems can also be important - ensuring employees can tap into organisational databases and reference files.

    It can be  useful to allow communication about non-work-related topics - the equivalent of moving the water-cooler or other social focal point online - but there should be  a separate channel for this ... and clear protocols about what can, and cannot, be included on ‘official’ channels.

    We are talking about culture here, so it is important to continually reinforce the organisation’s core values - by what is said and what actions follow.

    Effective communication is always dependent on the will to communicate. If you really want to communicate, you will find ways to make the communication effective. And if the messages you send show trust and a commitment to shared values, your employees should be engaged and reassured.

  • 11 Jun 2020 10:44 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Many of us have become used to working remotely during the COVID 19 pandemic.Some of us have become used to managing others remotely - though there are still issues to resolve.  Of course, some processes are more difficult than others and, for some, we need specialist software support.

    But ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. If we can’t do things face-to-face, we have to find ways of doing them remotely.

    Can we hire people. Yes, we can. The administration of the hiring process can obviously be carried out remotely - and  we can use our remote meeting technologies to conduct online interviews - though this needs careful planning and preparation.

    We can monitor performance - though here we have to avoid a simple emphasis on ‘duration of activity’ and find ways to monitor and assess outcomes or achievements.

    We can communicate - work instructions, rules and regulations, and even elements of the organisation’s values and culture. 

    We can carry out training - using online learning, video demonstrations and so on. 

    So, it seems as though the question is not ‘What can we do remotely?’ But rather ‘What can we not do remotely?’.   Humans are innovators; they like a challenge.  

    We have a range of technologies at our disposal. Let’s think creatively; let’s get things done.

    Some of the things we have started will continue when the pandemic is over. Let’s have a positive legacy from the awful situation! 

  • 04 Jun 2020 8:01 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    I got my quarterly summary of the performance of my various financial investments recently. As expected, results were not good. So many companies have not been able to trade at all, others have been seriously affected by lockdown and quarantine arrangements.

    But, of course, some companies have been able to take advantage of their ‘special situation’.  Supermarkets have had some problems but have remained open, able to take advantage of the fact that people cannot go out to cafes and restaurants and thus were forced to buy and cook their own food. Supermarkets were even able to sell less essential items, giving them a temporary market advantage over their locked-down competitors.

    A small number of companies in other sectors had similar strokes of luck - enabling three to take advantage - albeit temporarily - of a temporary market advantage.

    Probably the biggest winners were those who had an established online business - but, of course, they also needed to have the ability to raise capacity quickly.

    Ancillary service companies - delivery/courier services, for example, have seen a real boost to their business.


    Did you manage to invest in such companies early in the lockdown - recognising and exploiting the potential?  I did not.

    It does, however, remind us that in most situations, however dire, there remain opportunities. Not always to take financial advantage - but to take some advantage of the opportunity to focus - on writing - for example - while there are fewer distractions around.  

    Those who succeed are often simply those who recognise opportunities early - and act on that recognition.

    But, what the above suggested, is there is no substitute for good luck.  Successful companies recognise their luck and swiftly line up behind it and push it to the winning post!

  • 28 May 2020 10:30 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Most of the world is slowly emerging from some form of lockdown. It is still too early to establish what the ‘new normal’ looks like - how have people’s habits changed due to the enforced period of isolation?  Many people will rush back to their old habits - but many will not.  They will have re-evaluated their values, their beliefs, their priorities - and changed actions and behaviours as a result.

    Companies too will have re-evaluated.  We are almost bound to see quite a few re-evaluate the need for great estate - when home working proved so successful for many.

    Many of us got used to ‘virtual meetings’ and found Zoom, Teams, Skype and Facetime  very easy to use ..... perhaps too easy.

    When email first arrived, it too was very easy and convenient - but this very ease of use turned it into a monster - that consumes attention, focus and resource. We copy too many people into emails and often do not make it clear who is to action  the email. Many people find their lives dominated by email - and not just within working hours.

    Virtual meetings might go the same way. Because the various platforms are so easy to use, we might find ourselves swamped by requests to participate in many more meetings - just as we were copied into more and more emails.

    Companies need to get a grip on their use of virtual meetings - setting a protocol for when and how they should be used, who has the authority to call them in various situations, how they should be ‘minuted’ or recorded, etc.

    Otherwise they will be counter-productive, sucking productivity out of the organisation and demoralising staff. We need to start thinking now about their use - and misuse.

  • 21 May 2020 10:52 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    During any crisis which affects large swathes of the population, any nation needs leaders who can galvanise the collective spirit and collective will of the people to withstand the pressures of the crisis and take the actions necessary to survive and emerge from it.

    In wartime situations, such leaders tend to emerge - though  not always.  Too often  what we get are crisis managers who try to marshal resources and manage the situation, without creating the shared will and the shared vision of a future worth fighting for.

    America has for long been held up as the leader of the free world’ - but, in this Coronavirus crisis, we have seen little evidence of any leadership from that source.  America has looked inward, looking after its own…but in a shared, global crisis, this is not enough. We need concerted, cooperative action - and policy-making - based on effective global leadership.

    The European Union has also failed its constituency - where has been the agreed pan-European action or policy-making?

    As we slowly emerge from the crisis, we will again need leadership, concerted action and shared policy-making to help rebuild the global economy. However, what I expect to see is increased competition,, increased insularity, less free trade and less cooperation.  This puts post-Brexit Britain in a difficult position - looking to negotiate tariff-free trade deals in a situation where everyone is looking to protect their own economies.

    Where are the leaders we need?

  • 15 May 2020 7:12 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    Since the lockdown started in the UYK, the weather has been very good. Small compensation, perhaps ... but let's count our blessings.

    Of course, once, when the weather was good, we did all we could to maximise our harvest - so that stocks of food could see us through the bad times that would inevitably come.

    The current economic crisis seems to suggest that many people and most firms - have not bothered to invest in the future.  They have taken their returns in the good times - and expect government to see them through the bad times.

    Being optimistic - as I am, we will get through this ... and signs are currently quite good.

    Being a realist - which I also am - the economy of the UK will be in a mess. 

    Future generations will have to pick up the tab.

    For now though, I listen to the weather forecast for next week - which is excellent - and I go about with a smile on my face.    Let's smile together - and at each other.  Let's smile out way into a better future.

  • 07 May 2020 10:01 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    If, like most, people, you have been  working from home for the last few weeks, you will no doubt have participated in (endured?) a number of online meetings.

    Presumably, therefore, you will have a list of things that you should do to make such meetings effective.

    If you compare that list to the things you would have written when answering the same question about face-to-face meetings, you will probably find little difference.

    Of course there is the added issue of ensuring that everyone  has the right technology and knows how to use it  … but that is the easy part.

    Apart from technology, key ’DOs’ are:

    • make sure the purpose of the meeting is clear and shared by all participants. (Is it to collect and share information, to each a consensus, to make a decision?) 
    • construct and share an agenda (with timed entries) so that people can prepare for the meetings. If appropriate, ensure people know which data/information they are responsible for bringing to the meeting
    • make sure all participants have their chance to contribute (this means that you, if you are the meeting host, need to know the tools that are available within you platform of choice that enable you to do this)
    • Stick, as far as possible, Ito the agenda/schedule
    • Summarise each discussion and make any future actions and responsibilities  (with deadlines) clear
    • If you are trying to reach a consensus, take advantage of any included polling features to collect views.

    As we said above, apart from making sure everyone - especially you, as host - knows how to operate the software, these DOs apply just as well to face-to-face meetings.

    This is quite common. Technology doesn’t fundamentally change what we do - it can make what we do more effective (or it can make us inefficient and ineffective faster!)

  • 30 Apr 2020 4:55 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    One of the lessons to emerge from the Coronavirus situation is the need for governments to adopt an evidence-based decision-making strategy.

    Businesses, too, should make decisions based on firm evidence and reliable metrics. Gone are the days of decision-making by whim or by gut feel (unless you sore president of the USA, of course).

    This means that in the good times, businesses need to establish the measurement regimes that will provide the data and the metrics in the bad times.

    if we have reliable measures in place, we can see trends (so we have a better understanding of the future) and make predictions.

    Of course there will still bee uncertainties - but remember  the old adage…. what really hurts you the most are not the things that you know or the things that you don’t know - but the things that you don’t know you don’t know. If you know where your knowledge is lacking, you might be able to fill the gaps with interpolation (or  extrapolation) from known data … but if you don’t know what you don’t know,. you obviously don’t know you need to fill in the gaps.

    Ignorance may be bliss - but it is a poor foundation on which to base long-term planning and decision-making.

  • 23 Apr 2020 10:25 PM | John Heap (Administrator)

    What differentiates humans from the great apes?

    We know that a number of other creatures have some traits/abilities that we previously thought were exclusively human ….like the ability to use tools.

    Though some animals (and even some birds) do use tools, only man seems to have developed the ability to plan new uses for existing tools - or new, improved tools that can do the exiting job better.  This ‘creativity’ and ‘development’ seems to be uniquely human.

    Why does this interest me personally.

    Well, it seems as though man is uniquely able to improve productivity - a key element of the human condition seems to be s propensity for continuous improvement.

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