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. 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Butterfly Effect

Have you ever touched a butterfly or moth and ended up with shimmering powder, like iridescent fairy-dust on your fingers? Even when trying to help (such as when attempting to get them away from fluttering against a window pane to return to the garden), it is easy to damage them – partially because they do not understand what you are trying to do and hence are not cooperative.  When I was a child my mother and my father, although it was harder for him as he wore glasses, used to give me "butterfly kisses", which involved softly stroking my cheek with their eyelashes - the most important aspect of a butterfly kiss was that it was gentle.  There are many similarities between butterflies and business.  When you are trying to introduce change it is best to handle people with care, unless you want to hurt them and hence reduce their ability to operate effectively in the future.  Clear and honest communication is often the best way to gain trust and support from employees for a new plan.  Unlike a helpless insect, if you explain your intentions and the desired outcome, people are capable of understanding the vision and working with you to achieve it. 

Adonis Blue, rare UK butterfly

There is nothing wrong with ensuring that you present an attractive end result to promote participation – a bit like growing suitable plants or placing food out to encourage butterflies into your garden. As it is with people, so it is with Lepidoptera – different things appeal to different types (it would be a dull and very competitive world if we all only liked the same things).  Some butterflies and moths are attracted to carrion, just as some people like working in an environment where they are not forced to curb their worst behaviours (this is currently a hot topic in the media and on some blogs where HR has been blamed or defended for not curbing bankers’ excesses for example see ) others are drawn towards particular flowers or fruit.  If you want a wide variety of skills and diversity in your business you must make individuals aware of the benefits that are most appealing to them:

  • some employees want to develop skills;
  • some value having a great community to work with;
  • some desire a career path; and
  • some simply want a secure and supportive place of work that rewards them appropriately for their contribution. 

The latter is a more general need amongst employees (who doesn’t want to feel valued and to have a good place in which to work?), but increasingly people want a work-life balance too. 

I can’t tell you exactly what you need to do to do to make your workplace attractive to the people you require, but, if you like butterflies, there are some types of feed that seem to have a universal appeal – a good recipe that attracts a wide range of butterflies is:

2 cans of beer,
1 pound (500 g) of sugar,
3 mashed overripe bananas,
1 shot of rum,
230 ml (circa 16 tablespoons) of syrup
230 ml fruit juice

Mix the ingredients well.   Place in shallow dishes around your garden or paint the mixture onto tree trunks, fencing, stones or (if you don’t have a garden) place in a bowl on your window ledge (but be warned, wasps like too).
A butterfly’s wing under a microscope is even more astonishing than it appears when glimpsed as part of the insect resting on a flower.   As you can see from the photograph below, the wing is covered in overlapping scales made of chitin (the material that often constitutes the outer skeleton of insects).  Like employees, each scale is different and yet, all these independent pieces, working together in an orderly fashion, create an efficient wing to carry the butterfly forward on its journey.  Just because people are different it does not mean that they cannot work well together with a shared sense of purpose.

Butterfly wing magnified 5,300 times

Earlier this week I attended the Strategic HR Network’s International HR Conference.  There were some excellent speakers covering a range of topics from HR strategy and capability to cross-border leadership.  The value of diversity was a common theme, as was the need to adapt in order to connect with employees around the globe.  Some fascinating data was shared, some of which surprised me, for example according to research by a leading firm of consultants, Japanese workers hold process in high regard (and are often shocked at the apparently disorganised manner in which their American or Northern European colleagues approach and complete tasks) however, they are less keen on individual job descriptions as culturally people are expected to step up to do what they see needs to be done rather than being constrained – the Swiss in contrast like to know clearly what is expected of them.  One of the thoughts that stuck with me since Tuesday is a phrase that was made in the opening key note about employees “wanting a career lattice instead of a ladder”.  I first came across this phrase two years ago in the book written by Cathy Benko, the Chief Talent Officer at Deloitte, and Molly Andersen, a former Deloitte colleague and organisational effectiveness expert, “The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance In The Changing World of Work” .  According to the US National Bureau of Economic Research, companies have 25% fewer organisational layers than they had 20 years ago – as a result there are less opportunities for employees to move upwards, combined with this more people want a choice in what they do and may opt for a role that provides them with desired flexibility rather than seeking upward promotion.  The current economic strain on companies, combined with enhanced technologies and available data, is resulting increasingly in organisations collaborating with what were formerly perceived as competitors.  Workers often are retained for a specific project and are then expected to move on rather than anticipating or wanting a “career for life”.  We are living in an exciting era of change and businesses will need to do more than simply make cultural adaptations to ensure success going forwards.  It might amuse you to note that the scales of a butterfly’s wings are made of a lattice with interconnecting strands.

Butterfly wing scale magnified 14,000 times

Most of us are familiar with the “Butterfly Effect” in Chaos Theory – i.e. where a small change in one place can have a huge impact on a wider environment.  The effect was initially defined in 1961 by Edward Lorenz (although he referred to a seagull rather than a butterfly flapping its wings, and only changed to butterflies later as they provided a more attractive image.)  The phrase refers to the idea that the creature’s wings can make minute changes in the atmosphere that could ultimately alter the path or even the existence of a tornado.  Lopez himself was trying to predict weather by using a computer model to rerun forecasts and determine likely outcomes.  He entered the decimal .506 instead of entering .506127 and the result produced by the computer was a completely different weather scenario.  It is hard to predict outcomes at work as even small fluctuations in employee behaviour can make huge differences.  However, as information continues to be disseminated at ever increasing speeds and social media maintains its growing impact on the workplace, I am happy to predict that the people outside an organisation’s immediate employment will have to be taken increasingly into account.

Mathematical illustration of Butterfly Effect - A plot of the Lorenz attractor for values r = 28σ = 10,b = 8/3
By way of an example, I shall end with a story told at the conference about the launch of a new product – instead of spending millions on marketing, the product was given to a leading blogger, whose opinion was seen as influential across the industry, so that he could trial the product and comment on his blog.  He was not an employee, the business had no editorial rights over his comments and he received no remuneration (other than the kudos of being the first person to be able to sample the product and tell the world what he thought of it).  His comments were spread virally, he liked it and the product achieved huge sales.  This type of viral marketing, using social media, is known as Butterfly Marketing.  On the other hand, when BIC launched a biro specifically aimed at the female market there was widespread outcry across the web ( ) and the adverse public comments have had an impact on sales.  The world in which we work and live is adapting, as we become increasingly networked; small things will make big changes for all of us, like letting butterflies loose, there is little control once the lid of the box has been raised.

Migrating Monarch butterflies

Given the theme of this post, it seems apt to end with the very 1970's video, The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast, inspired by Alan Aldridge and William Plomer's book of the same name. 

The book won the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year Award when it was released in 1973 and the video became a surprising global hit.

(Roger Glover, The Butterfly Ball and The Grasshopper's Feast - Love is All, 1974)

"Come one and all to the Butterfly Ball...."

PS The original poem, written by William Roscoe in 1807, inspired the above, it is as follows:

The Butterfly's Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast

Come take up your Hats, and away let us haste
To the Butterfly's Ball, and the Grasshopper's Feast.
The Trumpeter, Gad-fly, has summon'd the Crew,
And the Revels are now only waiting for you.

So said little Robert, and pacing along,
His merry Companions came forth in a Throng.
And on the smooth Grass, by the side of a Wood,
Beneath a broad Oak that for Ages had stood,

Saw the Children of Earth, and the Tenants of Air,
For an Evening's Amusement together repair.
And there came the Beetle, so blind and so black,
Who carried the Emmet, his Friend, on his Back.

And there was the Gnat and the Dragon-fly too,
With all their Relations, Green, Orange, and Blue.
And there came the Moth, with his Plumage of Down,
And the Hornet in Jacket of Yellow and Brown;

Who with him the Wasp, his Companion, did bring,
But they promis'd, that Evening, to lay by their Sting.
And the sly little Dormouse crept out of his Hole,
And brought to the Feast his blind Brother, the Mole.

And the Snail, with his Horns peeping out of his Shell,
Came from a great Distance, the Length of an Ell.
A Mushroom their Table, and on it was laid
A Water-dock Leaf, which a Table-cloth made.

The Viands were various, to each of their Taste,
And the Bee brought her Honey to crown the Repast.
Then close on his Haunches, so solemn and wise,
The Frog from a Corner, look'd up to the Skies.

And the Squirrel well pleas'd such Diversions to see,
Mounted high over Head, and look'd down from a Tree.
Then out came the Spider, with Finger so fine,
To shew his Dexterity on the tight Line.

From one Branch to another, his Cobwebs he slung,
Then quick as an Arrow he darted along,
But just in the Middle, -- Oh! shocking to tell,
From his Rope, in an Instant, poor Harlequin fell.

Yet he touch'd not the Ground, but with Talons outspread,
Hung suspended in Air, at the End of a Thread,
Then the Grasshopper came with a Jerk and a Spring,
Very long was his Leg, though but short was his Wing;

He took but three Leaps, and was soon out of Sight,
Then chirp'd his own Praises the rest of the Night.
With Step so majestic the Snail did advance,
And promis'd the Gazers a Minuet to dance.

But they all laugh'd so loud that he pull'd in his Head,
And went in his own little Chamber to Bed.
Then, as Evening gave Way to the Shadows of Night,
Their Watchman, the Glow-worm, came out with a Light.

Then Home let us hasten, while yet we can see,
For no Watchman is waiting for you and for me.
So said little Robert, and pacing along,
His merry Companions returned in a Throng. 
Book plate from 1860 edition of the William Roscoe poem

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Give and Take

Why do we do what we do?  Maslow had much to say on the subject, based on a hierarchy of needs:

However, Maslow’s view is very self-centric and, throughout history, there are examples of individuals doing things with no obvious benefit to themselves.  Of course, it can be argued that some people have showed charity to others out of a desire for respect, or in the hope of gaining God’s (or the gods’ ) blessings and securing a pleasurable existence after death.  Indeed it is prescribed in many religions that salvation cannot be obtained without a devotee undertaking charitable acts:  in Islam, “Zakat” (i.e. charity) is one of the five pillars upon which the Muslim religion is based; from early times Judaic and Christian societies have been founded on the concept of tithes and alms giving; and the Hebrew term “Tzedakah” (which translates as “righteousness”) is frequently used to denote charity and the obligation on an individual to do what is right and just.  The history of and drivers for Philanthropy are long and complicated.  That aside, the following quote makes me smile: 

“Anyone... can give away money or spend it; but to do all this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, for the right reason in the right way, is no longer something easy that anyone can do.  It is for this reason that good conduct in such matters is praiseworthy and noble.”

So, not much has changed since Aristotle made this statement in circa 300 BC.
Mosaic of Aristotle
In our consumer driven, capitalist society, I find it interesting to note that increasingly modern businesses are using charity as a means of encouraging employee engagement and enabling learning and development, whilst simultaneously undertaking good deeds that benefit and enhance connections with the wider community or achieve specific objectives.  Many organisations now encourage employees, not only to make financial donations, but also to give of their time, authorising at least a day per annum to activities that “benefit the wider community”.  With their employer’s encouragement individuals undertake charitable actions, such as digging and planting community gardens, raising funds through events, or cleaning/painting schools and hospices.   In certain countries globally this has become a national tradition – I love hearing what my South African colleagues undertake and achieve during Mandela Day However, although actively involved in a number of regular charitable activities, I still wonder what it is that drives people to behave in the ways that they do...
It is 20 years since Sir Adrian Cadbury, the former Olympic rower and Chairman of Cadbury and Cadbury Schweppes, headed up a committee that looked into and published a report on business ethics and corporate governance within the UK.  The Cadbury Report, actually titled “Financial Aspects of Corporate Governance”, made recommendations on the arrangement of company boards and accounting systems to mitigate corporate risks and failures (many of the concepts proposed have inspired and been adopted by the European Union, The United States and the World Bank, as well as UK businesses).  However appearing to follow recommended best practice does not guarantee ethical conduct.  It is all too easy for senior management to lapse into a tick-box mentality where, because they see that a box has been marked as “task having been done”, leaders presume that a required action and/or approach has been undertaken effectively and to the requisite standard.

Much has been said about the need for effective boards, with the right mix and make-up, to ensure appropriate corporate governance.  On the surface, the following, ”experienced, successful business men and women” and “experts in areas of finance and accounting”, look like the members of a potentially great board for a major organisation involved in complex, worldwide financial matters: the former dean of a globally renowned university (a respected finance professor), the former CEO of an insurance company, the ex-CEO of an international bank, a hedge fund manager, a prominent Asian financier and an economist who was head of the U.S. government’s Commodity Futures Trading Commission; all of whom met regularly, had substantial personal equity stakes in the business they oversaw (that should have encouraged them to act in the organisation’s longer term and sustainable advantage), were of diverse ages and experience.  They are in fact the profiles of a selection of the fifteen individuals who sat on the Enron Board.  It’s what people do, rather than simply who they are, that matters.

Returning to Sir Andrew’s alma mater, Cadbury (now part of the global giant Kraft Foods but still retaining some autonomy) offers an exemplary leadership development programme to its leaders of the future that not only builds up skills, but also is specifically linked to community and charitable works – very fitting and culturally apt given Cadbury’s history.  The Cadbury approach is well demonstrated by Bournville, the leafy and beautifully planned village that was established as a considerate (and carefully considered) living environment for workers, by the company’s Quaker founders, George & Richard Cadbury ( ).  Admittedly, Bournville is now run by a charitable trust, as opposed to by Cadbury itself; however it does show the caring face of capitalism which is being perpetuated by Cadbury’s leadership development programme.  By embracing CSR related training, the Company is remaining true to its roots and culture.  With the on-going governance scandals at institutions such as the BBC, in many of the world’s leading financial institutions and even within the UK Public sector, it is good to remember that there are some good examples of businesses trying to operate and conduct themselves with an eye to the common good - a stark contrast to the inappropriate practices and ethics of many organisations dominating the front pages of our Media.  It bodes well for Cadbury’s leadership going forward.  Sir Adrian should be proud. 

Bournville Village Park - illustration from 1931 leaflet
I am in Jersey this week (to catch up with people in the businesses and attend various board meetings and committees).  On Tuesday I finished slightly earlier than anticipated and was able to wander into St. Helier to grab a bite to eat, instead of having a late night sandwich in my hotel.  I found a very pleasant restaurant called Seven Angels ( ), so called because of the seven members of staff who work there.  Whilst enjoying some delicious local fish, I contemplated the importance of the number seven.   Many of us can name the Seven Deadly Sins (indeed popular films have been based on them) but in Medieval and Renaissance times people could as easily name the Seven Acts of Charity (also known as the Seven Works of Mercy), for the main part they come from Matthew 25:31-44 and are:  
  1. To feed the hungry.
  2. To give drink to the thirsty.
  3. To clothe the naked.
  4. To harbour the harbourless (i.e. to shelter the homeless).
  5. To visit the sick.
  6. To ransom the captive (which means to visit the imprisoned – it was common for prisoners to be responsible for their own food, medicine and general upkeep so a visit could be life saving).
  7. To bury the dead.

The below painting depicts all seven (can you spot them?):

Altarpiece oil painting of Seven Works of Mercy by Caravaggio, c1607
Without undertaking charitable acts a baptized Christian soul could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Hospitals were founded, lepers tended (they were often viewed as suffering purgatory on earth and hence were considered as being closer already to god) and almshouses were built – many of which are still in use today.  If you knock on the door of the porter’s lodge at St Cross Hospital in Winchester in Hampshire, UK (described by Simon Jenkins in England’s Thousand Best Churches as “England’s oldest and most perfect almshouse”) you can still claim wayfarer’s dole – a horn of beer and a morsel of bread.  It may seem an antiquated custom but it is one of the ways in which St Cross remains true to its Charter of Foundation.  However, St Cross, like many philanthropic establishments, has had to move with the times.  Bequests in fifteenth century wills and charitable trusts that were established centuries ago, for example to provide “buckets of coal for respectable widows” , have had to adapt (coal is not necessarily useful in these days of central heating and concerns over carbon footprints – the widows are more likely to appreciate and receive vouchers off their gas bills!).
Like modern leaders, today’s charities must keep abreast of the times.  Without being aware of what is going on, neither can take appropriate action and make a difference.  One of the most interesting charities in this respect is the City Bridge Trust (  In 1097 William Rufus, the second son of William the Conqueror, raised a special tax to get funds to repair the old wooden bridge that crossed the Thames at London.   This, the original London Bridge, was replaced with a stone one in 1176, by Peter de Colechurch.  He was a priest and head of the Fraternity of the Brethren of London Bridge.  This was the first stone bridge over the Thames.  London Bridge was popular and at one stage it was 900 ft wide with 140 houses and shops upon it.  Not surprisingly, it required constant maintenance that was paid through tolls, rents, fines for throwing stuff off the bridge, a fee for white-water enthusiast or foolhardy merchants who ran the rapids under the bridge arches and even a fee for being able to display a severed head on a spike (as happened with Thomas More’s after he was decapitated). 
1709 etching of Frost Fair with Old London Bridge in Background
The Bridge was at the heart of London’s growing success.  However, Henry III gifted the Bridge, in 1269, to his wife Eleanor as her bridal gift.  I’m sure you are familiar with the nursery song telling “My Fair Lady” how to build the bridge up again once it was falling down – this rhyme was inspired by Eleanor who, instead of investing the revenue from the bridge into its maintenance, spent the money on herself.  Increasingly, the bridge fell into disrepair but, appreciating its value to the community (and also the fact that bridge building was encouraged by The Church and seen as an act of piety), the good people of London took action and restored London Bridge and a monastic order was made responsible for the maintenance and the money.  The revenue raised was solely to be spent “to the glory of God and maintenance of the bridge” via the Bridge House Estate.  Over the years, as London’s prosperity grew, so did that of the Bridge – the Estate built another bridge with the profits – Blackfriars - purchased Southwark Bridge and, just over a century ago, built Tower Bridge.

London Bridge, nursery rhyme illustration by Walter Crane from Baby's Bouquet
Realising that it had surplus funds (even when a significant amount was kept in reserve to repair/replace any of the bridges), the Bridge House Estate sought a change in its charitable status late last century.  It now spends the interest (circa £15 million) from its existing funds on charities to address poverty and degradation in London.  It is working to resolve current significant social issues (such as helping the ¼ of young Londoners who are no longer in education and are becoming a “lost generation” without employment; addressing London pensioner poverty - it is at 29% in the City, as opposed to 19% outside inner London; working to help the 82% of London prisoners whose writing is below that expected of an 11 year old; addressing causes and supporting victims of some of the71,000 domestic violence issues that occur in London every year; and helping the desperate - do you know that there have now been more suicides amongst the veterans than there were actual deaths in the Falkland’s War?).  It’s good to know that there are people out there trying to make the world a better place, especially when the economic environment is resulting in significant cuts in public funding – local authority funding is down £382 million in the UK in 2012/2013 and this will be at £822 million by 2016.

Perhaps people do what they do because they can imagine what the world would be like if they did not.  Maybe Maslow’s hierarchy is correct and we all are self-centric, even when working for the benefit of the wider community.  Regardless of what drives us, I find it hugely encouraging to know that there are organisations, like Cadbury and the City Bridge Trust, that are doing their bit to build bridges between people and  improve life for so many.  We too, as leaders, need to demonstrate the approaches and attitude that we expect to see in others – maybe then we will have fewer scandals to peruse in the press.
Building new London Bridge with Old London Bridge in the background