Saturday, 29 December 2012

More Seasonal Selections

I went to the pantomime last night with my boys (“Oh yes we did”) – it was a very risqué version of Aladdin at the Landor Theatre (, so, with theatrical performances in mind, it seems apt to give you the final Seasonal Selections candidates for this year...

All of the below are individuals who feature in festive stage productions.  As with the previous festive characters, I am not convinced that the majority of them would get jobs if interviewed (but woe betide an organisation that hires number three who, on the surface, appears so promising):

First candidate

Appearance:  A man of few (if any words) and a little frosty in manner.  I suspect he might be unwell - he was extraordinarily pallid, with an ice-cold handshake.  Much to my surprise he attended the meeting wearing nothing other than a floppy green hat and scarf (although he had glued three pieces of coal vertically down his midriff, to give the impressions of large buttons – it did little to distract from his rotund figure).  He has a bizarre orange nose and dark, coal black eyes that seem to match his “buttons”.  He did not suffer from body odour but I am concerned at his approach to hygiene – I noticed a damp patch on the seat after he had gone and there was a small pool of water under his chair (that was nothing to do with the spilt coffee).

Observations:  I found it hard to warm to this fellow, despite his huge grin and beady eyes.  During our time together, he refused to utter a word and he seemed to find the modern work environment a little bewildering.  His naïve outlook and demeanour creates a childlike impression, although he clearly likes to be the centre of attention.  Judging from his responses and reactions to the things around him, I suspect that he could be accident prone and hence a health and safety risk both to himself and others.  During our time together, it seemed as if he was experiencing things for the first time and was visibly upset and offended when I gave him a cup of coffee -  despite having nodded acceptance when I proposed a warming brew (and after initially reaching out for it),  he forcefully thrust the cup away from him, causing the mug to slide off the table, shattering and spilling its hot contents, he then leapt onto his chair and remained standing there in a shocked pose with his hands to his mouth, eyes wide, apparently frozen in horror, until the streaming puddle was mopped up.  Hearing the sound of young people in the street, he rushed over to the window and watched and waved.  It was clear that he finds the company of children preferable to that of adults – perhaps they enjoy communicating via mime more than I do.  The meeting felt like an awful game of charades with a mad and deaf elderly uncle, tipsy on too much sherry.  I hope I am mistaken, but I think I understood him to indicate that he is not adverse to abducting minors and taking them flying (“walking in the air”), despite not having a valid pilot’s licence.  I am proud of our company’s Diversity and Inclusion Policy and believe in employing people of mixed abilities, however, I fear that this simple minded mute might be a step too far. 

Second candidate

Appearance:  Dressed in a garish servant’s jacket trimmed with gold braid, fastened with enormous brass buttons and wearing a bellboy’s hat, with distinct circles of rouge on his cheeks. He grinned constantly and kept telling me in a conspiratorial whisper that he was “in love with Baron Hardup’s daughter”.  He perhaps suffers from ADD as he could not sit still and at one stage in the meeting even broke into song, to the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas but with peculiar lyrics - “five toilet rolls, three pots and pans, two rubber chickens and a bra that was made to hold three” if I remember correctly – I’m all in favour of having a cheerful disposition, but that’s not the kind of conduct that we need in our office.

Observations:  This somewhat cheeky chap was highly irritating – he constantly corrected me, repeatedly shouting “Oh no it isn’t” to almost everything that I said.  When he wasn’t contradicting me, he was trying to make me paranoid by informing me that there was something behind me; I never did discover what the “it” was, which he kept referring to.  To calm my nerves, I suggested a brief pause in our meeting, at which point he wandered off to the typing pool and invited three of the prettiest secretaries to come and join us.  He made them sing a verse of his ridiculous version of The Twelve Days of Christmas and then presented each of them with a bag of sweets and a balloon.  He bust poor Jane’s balloon, but assured her that if she placed it in an envelope and sent it to me, via the internal mail, that it would magically be transformed into a £50 bonus to be added to her next pay check, provided that she believed in magic, which she assured us she did.  In my opinion, the fellow is manipulative, mad and a menace.   

Third candidate

Appearance:  Immaculately presented (although clearly a little vain, as she kept admiring herself in a mirror that she carried with her and appeared to ask rhetorically “Who’s the fairest of us all?”).  She has an aristocratic bearing and is clearly used to being in command – a natural leader.  I suspect she has a sense of humour, as she claimed to be 200 years old – having been “brought into the world by the Grimm brothers” (presumably famous obstetricians) – a ridiculous idea as she does not look a day over thirty.  All in all I found her to be charming, beguiling company – the only thing slightly disconcerting was her laugh, but one shouldn’t hold that against her.

Observations:  She was able to give me some good examples of when she had been decisive and encouraged others to follow her commands – she muttered about a huntsman, but he did bring her a heart as she had requested.  I asked her to provide me with some times when she had convinced others to use products that she was responsible for offering.  She told me of instances where she had given pretty ribbons to a pretty girl, provided combs for luxurious locks (clearly fashion products suit her given her own appearance) and finally fresh produce in the form of apples.  She remained undaunted and in control throughout our discussion.  I found her to be almost magically alluring.  It would be hard to not offer her a job...

I hope you are enjoying this festive period.  I’m off to see the production of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” in Middle Temple Hall this afternoon ( ), in the immortal words of Scrooge may each of you be

“As happy as an angel, as merry as a school-boy. giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!"

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Seasonal Selections

In today’s highly litigious, politically correct work environment, I am not sure that the following Christmas icons would get the job if interviewed:

First candidate

Appearance:  Hirsute, overweight fellow, attired in an unorthodox, scarlet, fur-trimmed suit and black boots. 

Observations:  Given his probable body mass index and the fact that he clearly prefers to be sedentary (expecting people to come and see him in “a grotto”), I suspect that he might find the physical requirements of the role over demanding.  He declined to remove his hat during the meeting – probably a good thing as he did not appear to have brushed his hair.  He smelled faintly of alcohol and had what appeared to be crumbs of mince pie in his beard – I have concerns as to whether he presents a sufficiently professional image.  He likes animals (he keeps reindeer) but seemed to feel that it is appropriate to leave them unattended on house roofs and high buildings and to take them out for exercise just once a year (I suspect that the animal rights activists might have something to say about this).  His work-ethic is suspect - he stated that he was only prepared to work one day per annum – and that that had to be on the night shift.  In addition I am concerned by his response as to how he fills his time, he seemed to confess to breaking and entering and he says that he enjoys creeping into children’s bedrooms whilst they are in bed or else having them sit on his knee in his “grotto”, which sounds pretty grotty to me (and he appeared to find it funny – he kept saying “Ho ho ho”) – wonder if I should contact the police… 

Second candidate

Appearance:  Traditionally attired in a flowing Middle Eastern thawb; he came across as a slightly intolerant man, but, in his favour, he does have experience of working in hospitality. 

Observations:  He is clearly commercially minded (even to the extent of providing accommodation in excess of his specified room capacity – must check whether this could negate his business insurance).  I am concerned at his lack of understanding of potentially serious health and safety requirements, following his response that "there is nothing wrong with allowing a young couple to sleep out the back” if/when the hotel is full.  Of perhaps greater concern was his opinion that a new-born infant could be laid to rest in a manger – despite the regular media coverage of severe cases of E. coli infections in young children from bovine contact.  A manger, by definition, will be covered in cow drool and other insanitary deposits.  He also seems to be lax in his approach towards guest security and privacy – allowing total strangers (such as random shepherds and foreign kings) access to hotel residents without their prior consent.  Indeed, his willingness to adhere to rules and regulations in many areas is suspect – witness the impromptu party that was held by the angelic host (not to mention the noise and light pollution engendered by the star hanging over the place).

Third candidate

Appearance:  Arrived for the interview wearing only one shoe and in soot-stained torn garments – clearly not aware of the importance of first impressions. 

Observations: Nice girl but with slight delusions of grandeur.  She demonstrated a worrying “just-in-time” approach towards time-keeping and, as a result, has had to hurry in order to follow clear instructions (such as leaving premises before a specified time).  She confessed to being careless with possessions, especially those belonging to others (for example the missing shoe, which had been loaned to her by her god mother).  Given the animosity felt towards her by the people with whom she lives (two step sisters and her step mother), we should perhaps look further into her manner of interacting with others (there’s no smoke without a fire, as they say).  Perhaps most worrying is her unrealistic and potentially psychotic view of the world – she is convinced of the existence of fairies, “who can make everything work out for the best” (rather than achieving goals through her own efforts) and she has a peculiar attitude towards rodents - believing that mice can talk and that both they and rats make good footmen and coach attendants (clearly ridiculous, given their size) – it is probably prudent to refer her to a medical expert for psychological assessment.

More to follow…..

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Room At The Top

This morning I had a brief discussion with a friend who is a senior HR manager in Cairo.  She is brave and knowledgeable, with the ability to understand Western best practice (having grown up in the USA, as well as having held senior roles covering the Middle East for one of the world’s leading global brands) and she also values and appreciates the nuances of Islamic and Arabic life (she is a devout, Arabic speaking Moslem and proud of her Egyptian heritage).  She knows when to apply conventional international HR approaches and when to adapt to accommodate local and cultural requirements.  Understandably, she is concerned by the current conflict in Egypt (in many ways it is worse than prior to the overthrow of Mubarak), her family home is near the presidential palace, where there are fierce demonstrations (to date six people have died and over seven hundred been injured); the recrimination and bitterness in Egyptian society is almost tangible.

Anti Mursi protesters outside palace in Cairo - Reuters
The issues in Egypt seem to be rooted in disagreements over governance, the same could be said of Syria – where the problems are deepening and the potential ramifications (such as the use of chemical weapons) are terrifying.  It is believed that Syria has significant stocks of sarin – a foul chemical, used by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds and by the doomsday cult in Japan to kill innocent people on the Tokyo subway in 1995; it attacks nerves and paralyses muscles around the lungs causing people to suffocate.  Something, given my recent medical experiences, I understand a little about and I can imagine how dreadful a way it would be to die. Should these chemicals get into the wrong hands the impact could be devastating.  If President Assad is persuaded to leave Syria, in an attempt to create peace, this could leave a power vacuum, which might result in ongoing civil unrest (as has occurred in Egypt and Lebanon).  Good governance is crucial at all levels in society, just as it is in business.

Earlier this week I participated in an interesting meeting between HR directors and academics, to look at the issues of governance within organisations (and most specifically the role of board members).  We heard a great case study in which a CEO needed to be replaced at very short notice.  It reminded me of a time when I was in a business where the CEO was asked to step down, an interim CEO (a senior executive from within the business) held the reins until the new CEO was appointed and commenced.  Individuals who had joined because of the chemistry and rapport between the former CEO and themselves found the new regime very challenging and business was adversely impacted, whilst employees’ focus was on internal matters, rather than customers and revenue.  Some senior executives chose to leave the organisation and the company was not pleased to see all of them go.  It’s not always rats that leave the ship.  Better communication prior and during the period of unrest probably would have helped to retain good people, but it was a patriarchal business that felt that information should only be provided “on a needs to know basis” and most of us were not deemed worthy of needing to know.  Times of change are, understandably, potentially destabilising for those involved, even when they have been well briefed, and can have a significantly adverse impact on performance and public reaction to a brand.  However, the reverse can also be true, if change is handled well a brand and business can benefit. 

According to Sir Win Bischoff (Chairman of Lloyds TSB) and Edward Speed (the Chairman of the eminent global search firm, Spencer Stuart), both of whom spoke at a recent live event hosted by the Financial Times, less than 20% of interim CEOs are appointed to the permanent role (so press speculation that Paul Dempsey is unlikely to become the full time CEO of BBC Worldwide is likley to be true).  Traditionally interim CEOs have came from inside the business (the argument being that they are familiar with the organisation and its people).  Given the probale brevity of their tenure, it is not surprising that many interim heads of organisations usually are loathe to introduce any radical policies or approaches that might need to be overhauled by the permanent appointee.  Yet, the reason for the original CEO’s departure might be because of the need for appropriate action to be taken swiftly to stem a problem (such as occurred in the recent situations at both the BBC and some subsidiaries of News International).  To better facilitae these times of change, a growing market for professional “interim CEOs” has developed.  They can offer the unusual skill set required to manage a crisis situation, as opposed to having solely the day-to-day operations of the company.  It is infrequent that an interim head meets the requirements for the role going forward – it can be done, witness Colonel Richard Harrold OBE, who stepped up to steer the Tower of London through a difficult period after his former boss, The Governor, was asked to leave following adverse coverage in the media and internal ructions.

Although organisations usually find a way to cope when disaster strikes, it is prudent to avoid the need for an emergency replacement for a CEO and/or at the least, to have a known and understood plan for interim governance.  A plan should exist to enable a smooth transition if, for example a CEO’s to be taken ill (as occurred at Lloyds TSB in 2011, when Antonio Mota de Sousa Horta was signed off with stress).  It is not usual for a Chairman to make it common knowledge as to whom he has lined up as the CEO’s successor.  When John F. Welsh announced his intended retirement, GE was rumoured to have commenced a rigorous internal search for a new chief executive.  Reportedly, it was a three-horse race and all there individuals knew that they were contenders.  When Jeffrey Immelt’s selection was made public he commenced a year of working closely with Welsh, so that he understood the requirements of the role – an effective induction to ensure continuity and stability.  However, GE lost two good employees (namely Robert Nardelli and James McNerny) when they found that they were not the chosen one.  Senior leaders are ambitions and can easily feel slighted if they are seen to come second.  What’s more, the head-hunters will circle like sharks if they know that good employees are feeling disgruntled and can therefore be enticed into considering external opportunities.

A good relationship and mutual understanding is required for a Board to be truly effective.  Clearly the rapport between the Chairman and CEO is crucial, however it must not be too “chummy” – the Chairman needs to feel comfortable challenging the chief executive and the CEO must appreciate that he and the other executive directors are under scrutiny.  Increasingly Boards as a whole are undergoing psychometric and other forms of assessment, to ensure enhanced awareness of their strengths and capabilities of the team as well as to improve the way in which individuals interact with each other.  At times this is taken further – I am aware of one instance where a subsidiary wished to make a representation to the Board for a significant amount of funding.  The Board had been quite open about the Myers Briggs types within the team.  The subsidiary’s leadership team decided to trial the planned presentation on individuals whom they knew were similar in type to the main board members - this enabled them to anticipate the issues that might be of interest or concern and have prepared responses.

Summary Of Myers Briggs personality types

Being well prepared goes a long way towards winning the battle.

Boy Scout Badge

Sunday, 2 December 2012


This week, for personal reasons, I have felt somewhat like the rural community of Muchelney in Somerset, which has been marooned, due to the severe flooding that has impacted the region.  All roads in and out of the British village have been closed for seven days.  Rescue crews have had to deliver vital supplies by rubber dingy to the 120 villagers. 
BARB rescue crews help villagers stranded by floods in Muchelney
One of the UK's leading potters, John Leach (eldest grandson of the renowned potter Bernard Leach, “the father of the British studio pottery”), has had his workshop flooded and his business disrupted.  In my own way, I too have been cut off from normal life – on Tuesday I saw a medical consultant who rapidly diagnosed the reason as to why I have been suffering vocal issues for the past three months – I have a paralysed right vocal fold (aka vocal chord), caused by an ineffective nerve.  That sounded unpleasant, but not life-threatening, until the consultant said that I needed to go for an MRI that afternoon to determine whether a tumour was compressing and damaging the nerve along its path from my brain.  The concept of a brain tumour is pretty unpleasant although the enormity of the issue and its impact did not hit me until later.

Before we progress, I’m pleased to report that a brain tumour has been ruled out as a cause for the paralysis and, as a result, I am able to look back at the week’s events, assess their impact and see what I have learned.  The MRI visit certainly added to my life’s experiences.  I spent about 40 minutes inside the noisy, clunking scanner, aware of its every sound and the vibration of my wedding ring, causing my fingers to tingle.  I had an almost Hannibal Lecter-like grill over my face and, despite having a diagonal mirror above my eyes to enable me to see out of the tube, I am glad that I don’t suffer from claustrophobia - the doughnut ring of surrounding magnetic coils could be intimidating.  I had little emotional response to what was happening until I reached home that evening and placed the disc I had been given into my PC.  The sight of the cross sections of soft tissue and bone that make up my head and neck had a profound effect on me.  It made me acutely aware of my own mortality and the need to ensure that, if my days were numbered, I had made sufficient plans to support those I love.

I am quite organised (I have: an up to date will; agreed with individuals that they will be there for my sons should something awful happen; a good relationship and am in regular contact with both my parents and the people I love; a wonderful group of friends who know of my deep respect and fondness for them; a succession plan in place at work, etc...).  However, the sudden, sharp shock of my situation made me review what I had put in place to ensure it was all as it should be.  It is sad that it took a traumatic experience to make me reconsider things that are probably the most important to me/in my life.  As time progresses certain plans need to be amended/adapted to reflect the changes in circumstances – I make sure that it is done at work but I was not so rigorous where it really matters at home.  I will be from now on...

People with whom I have clashed recently came into a different focus, as my own outlook changed – small spats seem so unnecessary and hurtful compared to the pleasures of companionship, mutual support, shared joy, growth and understanding.  Those who are unwilling or unable to be friendly and polite are in a bad place in their own heads.  There are so many wonderful things in life that it seems stupid to allow the petty and trivial to deter from all there is that gives pleasure.  I knew that, even if I only had a few days or months, I intended to live life to the full with the people I love.  I will hang onto that thought – I will focus on the good times and make sure people round me are enjoying their lives too.  I became more aware of the value of things that matter to me.

Although I only spent a few days marooned with my own thoughts and fears, the experience has actually brought me closer to those I appreciate and love.  I was reminded of how amazing people can be by friends, family and acquaintances who knew what I was going through and who, unconditionally, were there for me.  Thank you!  Your attitude was humbling and I hope I can show the same positivity, compassion and care, especially if it is not required.