This time last month, the commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings were starting to be held. I found them moving, poignant and dignified. Most memorable were the remarks of those who had taken part, whose numbers, like the tides on the Normandy beaches, are ebbing away due to their age. Yet what astonishing and remarkable men and women they were. Never forgotten.
Unlike my 95-year old mother who was a WRN stationed in Weymouth during Operation Overlord, their memories have remained pin sharp and crystal clear. The understated manner in which they spoke about their experiences of the ferocity and horror of battle was humbling. There was no 21st century scream of “Me, me, me!”. Instead, their laser-like compassionate focus was on their comrades, especially those who were killed or injured.
During the last four weeks, I have re-read many articles written about the commemorations. What struck me most powerfully was the vocabulary used to describe the behaviours, motives and values of the soldiers, sailors and pilots. (Pleasingly, due recognition is now being paid to the countless women involved, many working covertly behind enemy lines or diligently in logistical activities, such as Mum.) These words resonated strongly with me. They bear repeating, so here in a random order is a selection:
In Biblical terms, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse were Pestilence, Famine, War and Death. An American psychologist, Dr John Gottman, who researches divorce and its causation, identifies four new horse riders that he names Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling. The adverse impact of these behaviours apply in organisational leadership just as much as marital relationships.
It is the day of the 10th anniversary of the WOW! Awards gala at the Tower of London. I thought it would salve my anger to write about the train “service” my local train operating company, Greater Anglia, “provides”. As a corporate entity it has about as much chance of winning an award as a chocolate remaining in a solid state in a furnace.
Today also saw the annual announcement of the increase in rail fares, 3.1% in January 2019.
There are a great many awards schemes that businesses and organisations can enter nowadays. But which ones are worth winning? My experience as a judge highlights two schemes that are genuine and represent a true accolade of excellence.
What does success in these awards say about the organisation, its leadership and the team and/or individual who has won? And what should critics of business and our public sector organisations take heed of?
It is very interesting to read recent posts from Frank Clayton and Charlie Walker-Wise about millennials’ attitudes and values. Their remarks make valuable contributions to the rolling discussion about this demographic, which seems to me to be often unfairly slighted for being work-shy, recalcitrant and pessimistic.
I intend to keep this blog short; I hope that is a pleasing first sentence. I want to toss you a tough piece of meat to chew on or, rather, give you a piece of astroturf to lay…
Last Week Tonight
Are you fans of UK satirist, John Oliver, and his HBO show “Last Week Tonight”? It is broadcast in the UK on Sky Atlantic.
For me, it is required viewing on a Monday night.
This week, after his usual verbal fusillade at President Trump, Oliver does a lengthy piece about something called “Astroturfing”. You can watch it here, https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6rxztf. There is an ad for a web-site building business fronting the piece.
As ever with Oliver, his soliloquies contain some strong profanity. His frustration at the legal advice constraining him from saying what he wants to remark is palpable and a joy to watch.
It is somewhat disquieting to read that the “Peter principle”, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle, continues to thrive in UK business. Our poor productivity performance arises because too many people gain promotion into managerial roles beyond their level of natural competence. However, in the firm featured in the FT article performance is improving.
It strikes me, however, that simply hanging up figures of Superman (is this unconscious bias by the firm’s leaders?), and doling out pork pies are rather superficial practices. The only likely outcome of this epicurean approach is hardened arteries.
In 1977, the historian Alfred Chandler of Harvard Business School published a seminal book on the history of strategic decision making at the highest levels of American firms, including General Motors, DuPont, Standard Oil and Sears Roebuck. Of these, GM and DuPont remain strong businesses. Standard was broken up as in illegal monopoly in early 20th century although its progeny, Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, continue to thrive. Sears struggles as do so many retailers in the face of the storm called Amazon. The book is called “The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business”. From the book comes a maxim that I believe still rings true. It is attributed to Alfred Sloane, one of GM’s founders. The maxim is, “Structure follows strategy”.