Before and After. Big and Small

I’m going to take a quick look at the love/hate aspect of work from my time in big corporate land and in micro business world too. Neither are perfect, both have their wonderful highs and frustrating lows, so here goes:


I hated the way there were targets for everything. The trouble with targets is that people game them all the time. Set people a target, hook it up to the reward system and sit back and watch everyone screw the business and the customer and each other. So I loved trying to find pockets of enlightenment where we could experiment with doing the right thing because we believed it mattered, not because we were driven to it. The handy, overlooked thing about big business is that you can often play around and get things done differently. Everyone is watching the targets, so go play in the spaces in between. It helps if you don’t make a fuss about it, just go ahead and lay a few small bets around service improvement and watch some of them grow. Proceed until apprehended. I hated the games people played, and I love to play games.

I hated the way performance reviews were a) historic b) forced c) tied to reward and d) even existed. Good managers communicate with their people often enough that this old fashioned lack of trust has surely run its course, and yet it goes on. Big business learns very slowly sometimes. What I loved about performance reviews was trying to make them as flowing and continuous as possible, because that meant it was all about the conversation. Getting to know people, to understand what they are good at and then to get out of the way long enough to allow them to be good at it is an on-going process. I love that dialogue.


I hate the way everything takes so long. I feel like I’m always waiting for decisions to get made. When I started my own business this used to rile me badly. I wasted ages wondering why people weren’t getting back to me, particularly when the discussion was started by them. And then I got to realising – for the time we are together, our discussion, the idea, the proposal, whatever – it has some immediacy. Then I depart and the often badly organised whirl of work just picks people up again and deposits them who knows where (how often do you hear a colleague exclaim – ‘I don’t know what day it is!’ I don’t know where I’m supposed to be next’). I manage this better now by having more things on the go, and looking for other reasons to be in touch – not about the proposal or the idea, but about work and life in a wider context. I believe these interactions add value to a relationship and that in time, they will come back around. I love the faith I have that this approach will work, and it simultaneously scares the crap out of me too.

Big or small it matters not. Game less, target less, worry less. Talk more, believe more, love more.

A version of this post originally appeared over at CostofWork run by Chris Fields.

Stuck in the Slow Lane

I had the misfortune to go to a really crappy meeting first thing in the morning last Monday. As I left the house at half past insane o’clock I could not foresee that the meeting was going to be as crappy as it turned out, but I was pretty sure the journey into London would be. Sure enough, the train was packed, the bus was packed, and the tube was packed too. Rush hour sucks.

As I was jostled from raised armpit to raised armpit, and from book cover to scowling face, I started to dream in an attempt to escape the drudgery. My mind wandered back to the few golden weeks of the Olympics and Paralympics in London last year. We were fortunate to spectate at the games a few times and as usual I was in and out of London for work too, but I did not dream of sporting endeavour as I reflected on this time. No, instead I dreamed of emptier trains, buses and tubes, and easier journeys.

In the run up to the 2012 games there were significant fears that the London transport system wouldn’t cope. The fears were misplaced, and even though during that golden period of sporting excellence, the transport networks of London carried record extra numbers of passengers, for a few short weeks, getting around London felt easier. No longer did we feel compelled to jam ourselves in the tube and struggle to our desks for a 09:00 start. Contingency plans were made, and something approaching a city wide flexible working dream briefly became a reality. Businesses worked smarter.

The population of London continues to grow so we need to manage transport flows better before the whole network disappears up its own proverbial arse sometime soon. We have the technology which should facilitate more smarter working, so why aren’t businesses responding more smartly? Among all the advances we’ve seen in recent generations, how we work is stuck pretty much at the back of the line. In fact, it’s not even at the back of the line, how we work is sitting all alone in the corner of the playground of advancement, sulking and wondering why no one wants to play anymore.

A smarter approach to flexible working = an easier journey to and from work. Is there anyone who wouldn’t appreciate that? We know we can do it – we’ve seen it happen………….. and as suddenly as it had begun, my dream of a better journey to and from work faded. I was back in reality being spewed from the underground station as if no more than a tiny particle in a huge pile of human vomit. Sorry, but that’s just how rush hour and our approach to work in the 21st century sometimes makes me feel.

photo credit

How Did You Get That Gig?

I’m packing my bag getting ready to head for home. I have a 13:00 local time departure from St Paul, then an 18:00 from O’Hare which is due to get me into London Heathrow at 06:45 Thursday morning. I’ve had a great time meeting some friends in real life for the first time and I’ve enjoyed some fascinating work and learning with the project management community of Thomson Reuters and beyond. When I get home I’ll write more on both of these things.

For now though – I want to try and answer a question I’m often asked, namely ‘How did you get that gig?’ In all honesty I don’t have the answer totally nailed, but here are a few things that seem to bear fruit, eventually.

Be open to possibilities. I think social media can be a great enabler for this, and I love the chance to forge lots of weak ties (as written about by Malcolm Gladwell, Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen), some of which will strengthen in time.

Be patient. I choose to come from a place of trust, that is to say that my tendency is to trust you first, and ask questions later. However when you’re engaging with others who act on behalf of their professional body, or their company, they may not have that latitude. Give them the time and the means to get to know you and see the trust you place in them. Don’t push it…too hard.

Hustle – very gently. Neil Morrison once referred to me as the least pushiest sales guy you’ll ever meet, and whilst I like that, I also need to remember that it’s OK, maybe even essential to nudge things along at times. I’m rarely that important to someone in a busy working environment, and neither are you. So don’t take it personally, but do take the time to check in.

Practice your ass off. The feedback I get is that people appreciate the adaptable and flexible nature of working with me. And that flexibility is only achieved through hours and hours and hours of practice. Most of what you practice you’ll probably never need, but whether you are speaking, facilitating or consulting, you need to be confident that you are the best prepared person in the room. That way you can relax (a bit!) and both give, and help co-create great value.

Be humble. My work is all about you. I exist to serve and I consider that a huge privilege. I have never knowingly accepted work unless I genuinely believe it is in the client’s best interest. I’ve turned opportunities down and walked away from an assignment when it became clear that the time for me to add value had expired, even though the client was willing to continue. For it to be right for me – first it has to be right for you.

So there you have it. Five things that sometimes, kinda seem to work. And yet here’s the rub. I’m often wrong, I’m often right, I rarely know which is which and I reserve the right to change my mind. If you are happy to share what works for you, I and others would I’m sure appreciate that. And if you have experiences of me you are willing to share, particularly if you think I can learn and improve from them – well that would be great.