Austerity vs. Prosperity

Ok, I got distracted by the election and was so flabbergasted by what I was hearing in the media that I was too emotionally charged to be writing anything.  Now the election is over and we are back to square one, yes Obama has been re-elected but the status quo in the House of Representatives and the senate has not really changed the divisive political mood; not to mention long list of other threats menacing us, Greece and the rest of Europe have not resolved their debt problem and the US is heading for the fiscal cliff, let’s just hope this is not a remake of Thelma & Louise.

Consequently, there is a lot of talk about austerity in Europe at the moment, and in some cases it makes good sense but people tend to forget that austerity is by design a constricting measure for the economy. One of the things I have learned during my consulting career is that unintended consequences can sometimes undermine the very effort to fix a problem.  This is where “system dynamics” and causal loops diagram can be useful to explore and express the dynamics at play in a given situation. To help explain what happens with austerity, I have developed the following model. The model is quite rudimentary and as it was created in Insight Maker, it is available to anyone to expand on, improve or correct what is already there. (so if you have any input to making my model better, please update it yourself or let me know). You will notice that austerity has the potential to be a severe vicious cycle depending on how it is applied.

Quite frankly I don’t believe Greece will ever be able to repay it’s debt, especially not by cutting spending alone. The current depressive cycle the country is one is only exacerbating the problem. In fact just like in the US, the debt problem needs to be a balance approach of revenue generation (ie Tax reforms) and spending reforms. Let’s face it the tax system in Greece is a disaster, and this is nothing new. The Greek politicians have kick the tax reform “can” so far down the road that the “can” is falling apart in pieces and there is nothing left to kick.

But, whatever gets done on taxes, it will have to be attractive. Greece needs urgently to get its population back to work, so creating private sector jobs has to be a priority.

The other side of the coin is spending. You may have picked up that I just the term spending reform rather than spending cuts. That is because I believe there is a fundamental difference and that one is sustainable and the other isn’t.  Spending cuts equal less services or investment in the future, and as you have seen in the model they constrict the economy. Spending reforms reviewing what you spend money on and what you get in return.  There are some great success stories of how one man was able to transform the purchasing process within government, under President Clinton, there by savings 100’s millions $ in the process. My experience tells me there are still billions $ if not 100’s billions in inefficiencies within government processes, in six sigma we call this the hidden factory. In fact perhaps the best way to think about this is the illustration with the iceberg.

The estimated cost of poor quality, expressed as % of turnover

The estimated cost of poor quality, expressed as % of turnover

The sad part, and often overlooked, is that the majority of these inefficiencies are known or have even been documented. The organization, in our case government, is just not capable to foster the kind of organizational maturity that would allow such opportunities to be addressed. And although the government may be often ranked at the bottom of the scale when it come to “appeal”, there are only a few organizations, world wide, that have the necessary transparency and values to motivate their workforce to truly strive for perfection and continuous improvement. Look at it this way:  how many people do you know trust their boss and organization so much that he would be willing to tell his boos how o make his own job redundant; because he would know that was the best way to demonstrate his value & commitment to the organization?

Ok some of you may have some Japanese friends where something like this is more likely to take place, precisely because they have developed mature organization where the workforce feels stronger together than the sum of the individuals, creating a strong identity! Identity is one of the magic ingredients that separate “groups” from “teams”. But wait a minute we are talking about government here, not Google! Looking for saving opportunities in government processes should be like looking for eggs in a henhouse. There may not be an egg under each hen but you pretty certain you will find some eggs.

As I mentioned above the first step of sliming down government were initiated under Clinton, and a lot of services and processes have been out sourced. In fact the Bush administration conveniently rode that wave when the same trimming down effort and clarification of “core competences” was applied to the military and the military contractor industry was created, suspiciously creating huge profits for companies like Blackwater & Halliburton in the process.  This is also the message Obama is trying to tell the American people when he says that some things are best done together. He has put a canvas that has some broad strokes on it but the question remains whether the other politicians will be willing to shape the landscape and add the color. Nevertheless the road to sustainable prosperity would clearly be smoother with a reinvigorated workforce of loyal civil servants that pride themselves on their work and looks after the governments interest as if the were his own.  Seeding the seeds for continuous improvement in government could be a low cost endeavor with immense potential returns.

Zabok, HR – 14th November 2012

The working class vs. the investment class

The recent divulging of Mitt Romney’s tax returns has put the 99% vs. 1% discussion into perspective. Although it is astonishing to see a guy talk about people who “don’t work” when he himself does not really work, I have come to expect anything coming from the republicans. If we set aside the elderlies and the veterans, whom everyone can agree have already done their fair share of work, we are left with the people that taxes through their payroll (people holding jobs) and the people the people that pay taxes on the revenues from their wealth (investments class) and by definition the don’t hold jobs and don’t work, at least not 9:00 to 5:00. Well I guess to say that they don’t work is not really fair, they work at maximizing the returns on their investments as to accumulate more wealth and, theoretically at least, create new jobs. The only difference here is that this kind of work is taxed at a lower rate.

This reminded me of something, in his book “Rich dad, poor dad’ Robert T.Kiyosaki talks about his experience as a young boy who grew up with two father figures. When discussing as a boy what to do with one’s life, each one had a different message for him. His highly educated, but poor, dad would say: “go to school get good grades, and then find a safe secure job”; whilst his rich, but uneducated, dad would say ”go to school, graduate, build businesses and become a successful investor”.  Two different mind sets that lead to two different results; one where you work for your money and the other where your money works for you.

At the heart of this dilemma lies risk & responsibilities, how they are perceived, how they are weighed and managed. Never mind the fact that job security is a thing of the past, risk averse people will then to look for a jobs a it will provide a sense of security, they do their work within an agreed timeframe and they get a paycheck, they don’t have to worry about anything else. The business owner or self-employed person needs to constantly be thinking about, at least maintaining if not growing their business or practice and revenues. Along with that comes all the administration work and looking after employees. So as you can see the rewards are potentially higher but there are a lot of other things to manage and be responsible for, in other words, a lot of work. Obviously if you have enough money working for you, then you hire people to take care of all that work for you.  Which brings us back to the original point that the investment class does not work for a living. Would they work then they would have pay taxes like the rest of us.

Then there is this “taxofobia”.  As is paying taxes should be a thing to avoid most. Ok, I agree no one wants to give their hard earned money, whether it is through years of patience and careful investments or a 40-hour week of brute force and sweat.  On the other hand we enjoy living in a society and communities where: we feel safe;  if we should fall ill, we can be certain someone will take care of us; we don’t have to miles to the nearest well to get glass of water; etc. So you can see there are lots of benefits to organizing ourselves and creating structures and organizations that can provide theses services to the community and population. That is what government does.

It is interesting to observe the evolution of the role of government in the Republican speech over the last 50 years. They appear to have swung completely off the chart. Under Nixon, government still had a role, some may even argue that his vision of government is what help bring him down, today the rhetoric has moved the masses to believe that government equals socialism. Any redistribution of income is bad. During the past Busch presidency, what was once considered a “holy cow” of government functions, the military has begun to get outsourced, with companies like Blackwater and Haliburton, to name a few, raking in huge profits in the process. Here is another example; this week kids in Kansas grab the media attention with a YouTube video parody of the song -we are young- titled “we are hungry”. The action was a protest against the new school lunch initiative that promotes a healthier diet, fruits and vegetables. This was picked up by the “rightist” media and blown into a debate about how the government is trying to tell kids what to eat! Considering that the USA has the highest child obesity rate in the world, that is actually a good idea.  Sadly this the number news channel in the US.  By exploiting sound bits, twisting or hiding facts or just plain lying, they constantly generate a kind of fog around the real issues and brainwash their viewers with their message, keeping everyone ignorant in the process. Ironically, I must say, it was refreshing to see Bill Clinton, at 66 years old, try to make a case with facts and numbers in his speech at the Democratic conventions a few weeks ago. Unfortunately he only represents one side of the divide.

When the pie is growing the 1% vs. 99% discussion is not so sensitive. The 99% get the 99% of the growth, each a tiny bit, and are satisfied with having the opportunity to dream about making the 1% on day. When the pie is shrinking the 99% have a lot more to lose and suffer a lot more. If growth is not restored to keep it in equilibrium, the pain builds up like pressure and can lead to explosions and revolutions.

Instead of hiding his income, Mitt Romney would have been better off showing his tax returns early on and explaining this difference in tax rate and tax class, creating a reason to celebrate his success. Encouraging more people to aspiring to belong to the investment class is not a bad thing; it’s the American dream!

Zabok, HR – 3rd October 2012

How much baggage do you carry around?

As I continue to think through the time question I have realized that there just is so much to cover. So the upcoming posts will be related to optimizing and helping you make the most of the time you have.  The beauty of this is that you decide how you use the tools and what you do with your time. Whichever way you decide, the whole point is to make you aware. If you followed the last post and did the exercises you will now be more aware of how you spend your time. And like every thing in life, some things are relatively easy to fix others require fundamental change. Today’s segment is of the fundamental type, as I believe that building on a solid foundation, ultimately provides longevity and sustainability.

Rule number 1 – the more stuff you have the less free you are. Every material thing, not only takes up storage capacity and effort (cleaning moving around etc.),  it takes up brain capacity and processing power as well. Think about it for just about every thing you posses have it’s own story: where it came from gift bought when where with whom etc. So all that stuff in the attic, although out of sight is not out of mind. It weighs on you without you realizing it. Sometimes letting go of stuff can be emotionally wrenching, I know, I still got stuff from the seventies and I’m a pack rat by nature. Nevertheless sorting through your stuff it’s easy to keep the emotional stuff and get rid of the other stuff. To do the sorting, I have developed the 4 G approach: Good to keep, Give to someone else, Garage sale, Garbage. You should run through the cycle at least once per year and your “Good to keep” pile should not be getting bigger (and unless your income is expanding at the same rate, chances are you are over-consuming). I have shrunk my to good to keep stuff to a large oversea trunk. When I pass away I know that my kids will have a laugh at all this junk that has sentimental value to me and no one else. But one trunk over almost fifty years that’s not bad, I guess?

Let me tell you the story of a client I had and for the sake of anonymity we will call him Fred. He was an engineer in his fifties and having being part of the original new hires during the construction of the site he was now the operations manager in a chemical plant. The man was brilliant and he had a fantastic memory, we could be talking about a subject and he would say A yes, I attended a conference 4 years ago, hold on a minute I’ll be right back. He would then stand up and leave the meeting we were having, only to return 3-7 minutes later (his office was down the hall). Upon his return he would show you the documentation from the conference and get completely off topic. As you reeled him back and got back on the subject, something else would pop up and he would be off again! This guy was a walking encyclopedia but you could not get him to focus on anything. Although he was a hard worker, came in at 6:00 and was usually the last to leave after 20:00. His spent the entire day on the shop floor, something rare for someone in his position. As our project evolved we quickly realized that something was wrong with Fred. His un-ability to concentrate was affecting his work performance, besides something else was weird about Fred. No one had ever been into his office. None of my colleagues, or even clients we asked, could ever remember having been in his office. Ok I know what you are thinking, what about his boss, the plant manager. Well that’s another story, his had an alcohol problem and was fired 2 weeks after we started our project. Anyway I doubt whether he had been in Fred’s office either!  I made it my mission to discover the mystery that was his office. Since he loved to recount memories and look up stuff, I engaged him in this way and slowly broke down his barriers through my curiosity and interest. One night, in early December as we were working late, I noticed the light on in his office and I decided to pay him a visit. As I knocked on his door I heard the shuffling of papers and his voice telling me to wait a minute. He opened the door slowly to see who it was and seemed surprised to see me. I told him I had seen the light in his office and wanted to stop by to show him the new management report I had been working on. With nowhere to go he quickly open the door and closed it quickly behind him before leading me to the conference room down the hall. However he quickly realized by the look in my eyes that I had seen enough off his office to give him away. Even though he pretended to not to notice, I could see I had unsettled him. As we went through the report, he suddenly burst into tears, and when I say burst I mean literally did burst with tears sprinkling all over my report.  I stood up and walk out to go to the washroom for some tissues. When I came back with toilet paper he was gone. That was the last time we saw Fred. He did not come back to work and ended up in a mental hospital. Later we learned that he had suffered from, amongst other things, what was referred to as information overload.  I spend a good deal of time on the Internet looking for a picture that would represent his office.  The one I found does not really do it justice, his office looked worst simply because his office was bigger and the path through the piles of documents was longer and interspersed with the odd plant.

Courtesy of .Electronic document solutions so your office doesn’t look like this!

Most people’s office does not have the chance of getting like Fred’s. His was a particular situation, and living alone he must have subconsciously known this was not normal hence his reluctance to let anyone in his office. In any case, it was a hard lesson on me as I was the one who delivered the wake up call.

Zabok, HR – 5th September 2012

What time is it ? 2.0

As we have discussed, time is valuable. It’s up to us to make the best use of it. We decide what we do with our time. Now this sounds good on paper and most of you will agree that this statement is true, but why is it so hard then, to put this into practice? If you can remember in one of my earlier post the “duality of individuality” I discussed how our brains functions with a constant struggle between the rider, as the rational side, and the elephant, as the emotional counterpart. You see, when you are faced with a choice, each side will see different benefits and reasons why their arguments are better. This is because the elephant and the rider often have divergent objectives. The elephant is looking for things that feel good; the rider is trying to reach an objective. Each side has different ways to achieve their goal. The emotional side controls the hormones that control our bodies. Just think about all the marital affaires that go on every day, although there may be a thousand reasons and every case will be different in it’s own way, one thing though that they do have in common, they are all driven by their hormones. The rider on the other hand has the ability to plan and think ahead, giving this side the ability to weigh short term pleasure against long term pain; marital affair vs. divorce and lost of family. As this internal struggle goes on, we continue to be bombarded by information from the outside.  Social pressure, religious norms, work pressures, family needs, neighbors, etc.  It’s a tough world! I don’t think there has ever been an era in the history of man when we have been confronted with so much choice and possibilities. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s a good thing; in the end is this not what evolution is all about? As you know, with evolution also comes extinction, we just have to make sure we don’t fall in the latter category. The problem is that with all this choice and opportunities it’s easy to get distracted. It’s a bit like politics and communication today. It doesn’t matter if what you are saying is wrong or a lie, what is important is to brainwash the voter’s into thinking what you want them to think. Sadly that is the reality we live in today, Americans don’t have an obesity problem because they choose to be fat, they have a problem because they are not able to resist the constant appeal of  “getting your money’s worth or a great deal” and the fact that now a days there are not so many alternatives anyway. Everyone knows that eating fast food every day will make you fat. Within the context of the constant internal struggle, the rider loses out to the elephant on nutrition or perhaps the rider is trying to concentrate it’s forces to win the war against the elephant and is willing to lose the nutrition battle, staying focused on the bigger objective. The fact that Americans have gained weight over the last 50 years, evolutionary scale, is what is troubling and give me grounds for concern about becoming extinct in the long term. Could we, as a species, eat ourselves to death?

Ok, I know what you are thinking, this is all nice and good but what can I do about this? This is where we tie this back to time. Eckhardt Tolle talks about time in a different matter. He gives us a different perspective on time, by saying that the only real time is now, the moment. You see most of us will live our lives on auto pilot, what I mean by this is we get caught up in the daily routine and miss don’t live each moment as if it were it’s last. One of his techniques is to observe yourself from a distance. In other word, it would be as if you could detach yourself and observe yourself from a few feet away. This may seem strange but it is like in the movies when you die and the camera rises from your body and you have the impression you are watching yourself, except that in the movies you are usually dying and in our case your rider is arguing with the elephant. This type of visualization exercises are also used in sports, where you can concentrate and run through a perfect jump, run or shot before taking it. What this does is make you aware of what the situation really is; and very often you quickly realize it is stupid to be arguing about such an insignificant thing. When you are aware you are living the moment and that is when you are truly living.  Some people need to sky dive, bungee jump to get their adrenaline kick, others prefer fast driving, whatever your preference the adrenaline kick is just a consequence of your body being aware, it gets released after you have assess danger. Now I’ll grant you that in comparison to sky diving you won’t get much of an adrenaline kick from tee up on the 9th hole on Saturday morning, nevertheless you cannot play golf without being aware of what you are doing and are able to concentrate.  We often find ourselves however just kind of mechanically going through choirs, thinking or wishing we were somewhere else, or reflecting on the past and all the things we could have done differently. During these moments we are not 100% aware of what is happening. These are the moments where, depending on your job or what you are doing, bad thing can happen; like losing a finger on the saw bench or metal press, or simply missing the exit on the highway. A lot of progress has been made in industry to increase safety at the workplace, but nothing can replace awareness and concentration on the task at hand.  The interesting point here is that: when, you are aware and concentrated you are living the moment as Eckhardt Tolle proposes. Awareness is the state in which both the rider and the elephant (to continue on the theme from previous posts) not arguing but are focused on the situation.  It is a kind of inner peace that can also be achieved through mediation and prayers.

So in keeping with our theme of finding out what time it is in your life here is the next level of diagnostics you can perform. In the “What time is it?”  (27/08/2012) there is an exercise at the end called a DILO.  If have taken the time to do it you will know how you spend your day, and will be more aware of your personal efficiency and effectiveness.  The next level of analysis involves assessing how much time in your day are you truly “aware” and concentrated, how much time is spent living the moment. So take your DILO notes and mark each activity with a “0” when you are aware and a “-“ when you are not.  Then you tally up the score. Here are some examples to help you score:

A)   during the meeting this morning, where you aware, concentrated on the conversation, or thinking about your wife’s birthday and the present you haven’t yet bought.

B)   While you made breakfast this morning, were you thinking about your day or were you concentrated on making this the best breakfast you have ever made

Increasing awareness in people generates results. People who have been halfheartedly working along realize that they are not happy and find different work where they enjoy being aware, making them better employees or workers. This is essentially what is at the core or “Kaizen” and operational excellence programs that can release tremendous benefits for all involved.  By discussing and sharing with their co-worker, employees increase their awareness and through their engagement (living the moment) they develop a bigger stake in their work.  How can it be that a machine that run 24 hours a day, on 3 shifts, runs at different performance? The most frequent cause is different machine settings   set by different shift operators, whom each thinks, he has the best way to run the machine. It’s a classic!

So if you are interested go ahead and do the DILO exercise, you may find it?s later than you think.

Zabok,HR – 27th August 2012

What time is it?

I’m sure you heard this question before, and if you happened to know the time you shared this information willingly. Time is time. Unless you are trying to hide something or get an upper hand on an adversary you really have no reason not to willingly share this information. The clock ticks the same for everyone; time is just another dimension in our lives. Sure we could argue whether you have a preset amount of time until the alarm goes off and you wake up dead in heaven or hell, but even that would be a waste of time.  However long or short our lives are the only time that really counts is the time we have.  Time management is a regular topic in Leadership programs and, when well implemented, can release an incredible amount of energy and value for organizations. If you can get your organization to produce more with less and feel better doing it than you can imagine the kind of “incredible” that I’m talking about.  The idea is simple; you need to align your organization to the same time, reset the clocks in all the departments. The implementation is the hard part. I know, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years.  The point is that time is what guides the world, just as our ancestors awaited the right “time” to plant their crops, the ceo’s today wait for the right “time” to release their earnings. Timing is everything!  It’s interesting how we experience time differently as we live our lives , always relative to the amount of time we have already had. As a child, time goes slow, we can’t wait to blow one more candle on the birthday cake, as teenager you already are so distracted that the only thing that seems far away is your driver’s license.  As a parent you watch you children grow, their first word, their first step, first day in school and the next thing you know they are driving your car!  As my grand father used to say “when I was young the weeks used to go by really quickly now it’s the seasons!”

It is then normal that we learn to value time, as we get older. However we don’t all use our time in the same way. My mom read me the fable from Lafontaine, one of which was “La cigale et la fourmi” where the cigale spends the whole summer having fun while the fourmi (ant) spends it’s summer preparing to survive winter. When fall comes the cigale looks for help but the the fourmi tells him : You sang all summer long, now you should dance”. Unknowingly at the time, that was my first lesson in time management.  Time has value, and it is ultimately our decision what we do with it. You can spend your time studying, learning & growing or you can spend it playing & socializing. There are obviously millions of different combinations and socializing should not be seen as wasting your time.   It all depends on your own wiring. There is one thing we have in common, As man has evolved, we have more and more time on our hands. Cave people didn’t have more time as keeping the fire going through the winter months, alone was a full time job your life depended on. For millennia most people worked 6 days a week, from dawn to dusk, as stated in the bible. It’s not that they had more time; they had exactly the same amount as we do. Everything just took longer and tasks we now take for granted consumed hours out of our daily lives. Can you imagine doing your wash down by the river with a washboard and a bar of soap?  That and thousands of other things have made life easier. Although not always so effective many things are more efficient today, giving us more choice about what to do with our time. A choice our parents and grand parents did not have.

If your are interested in finding out what time it is in your life than you might like the following exercise. The first step is to get conscious about how you spending your time.  One of our favorite tool in management consulting is the DILO (a Day In the Life Of). Basically it is a log of the events that happen during a normal day. It is useful because it is an impartial record of a normal day, all you are doing is recording the events. This record of event almost always provides a different perspective for the employee. Think of it like a video recording of your golf or tennis swing, with the right coach you can analyze and optimize your moves. The dilo does the same just in a different context. So we recommend that you take a piece of paper, fold it to a size that will fit in your pocket and register all your activities during the course of the day.  For the more sophisticated ones, most mobile phones have a voice recorder, which also provide an excellent way to log your day. Whichever way you decide on you will also need to think about the analysis part, the paper version already provides the overview.   Now for the analysis bit, an easy way to look at how you can categorize your time is to split it into a 4 box matrix where you weigh your activities according to two criteria, for example: Urgency vs Importance.

Less important More important
More Urgent
Less Urgent

Of course you can pick whatever category you want to analyze for example a teenager may want to weigh physical vs mental activity or type of activity: active- passive vs like dislike. Whatever your case it will provide you with a fresh perspective from where you will be able to start answering what time it is in your life.

OK! Now that you have that in your hands, are you happy with the way it looks? Does it need a bit of tweaking or a complete overhaul?  That will depends on your situation and your ambitions. However your situation is, just remember it can better from here, because at least now you are aware and can do something to improve it.

Where do I stop and where do we start?

The other evening, I walked into the living room to find my wife and two sons sitting together watching television.  Given that at this stage in life they don’t share many common interests, this was a bit of a surprise. I decided to join them and quickly realized that the show was about dysfunctional families; my surprise just shifted up another gear. The show is called “Die strengsten Eltern der Welt”-the strictest parents in the world. The show is about rebellious, “problematic” children who get sent to all corners of the world and live out family life with their host parents for two weeks. The host families range from the tribes people of the amazon to sheepherders in Macedonia. You can imagine that life with the host family is very different then back home in Germany. In this particular episode, the kids were tough; it took them three days before they ate anything and communicated normally, two more days to understand that you have to work and earn your food just like everyone else in the family. In fact, it was only when they were presented with no other alternatives that they begin to see reason and started communicating normally; which led to a normal relationship with the host parents. The lesson being that in the mountains of Macedonia, only as a family can you survive. Everyone has a job and must do their share. Shared is also the food, sorrows and moments of joy. That is the basis of the family unit and where we basically learn to answer the original question.

It is rare that you fine a human being that wants to live in isolation; why do you think they punish prisoners with solitary confinement.

As society evolves as we move up “Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs” it has become easier for kids to rebel and even parents to replace a partner, hence the rising number of divorces. Just think about it, one hundred years ago the majority of the population lived in rural areas. People literally did not have the means to travel. Few in your village would have had the reason, let alone opportunity, to visit the nearest town.  Fewer still would have made it any further. Although the automobile had been invented, it remained just that, an invention and not a common good. If you had to go somewhere, it would be by train or by horse (and just 30 years before that people did not have the train option). You were effectively stuck. Your choice of partner was restricted to what was available locally and just like the sheepherders in Macedonia today, you had to work together as a team to survive.  When the kids on the show made the same conclusion, and accepted their situation they started to see thing with different eyes.  Here is how it went.

On the third day the kids broke down and renounced their hunger strike. So after a good breakfast the hos father thinks they may be ready for some work, like the rest of the family, everyone has a task. Well you can imagine what happens next. The kids refuse to do the work, they tell their host father off and walk away to go sit on a nearby hill. After letting them simmer for the rest of the morning the host father again approaches them again. He tells them that they can’t keep running away from their problems all their lives. He asks them to come back with him and help him with the work.  Again the kids refuse, but this time they are caught off guard by the host father’s calm, and in the end reasonable request. As they reflect on his words and what he is asking of them, reason begins to sink in and their resistance to the whole experience starts to melt away. What is interesting is that once they begin to embrace their situation they also begin to enjoy the different experiences. Well maybe the morning wash in the cold mountain stream was not as pleasant as a hot shower at home, but all of a sudden it becomes fun because it is different and unique. When faced with the experience of slaughtering a sheep, both kids were, again, pushed over the edge of the comfort zone. Yes, they both ate meat but it’s one thing to pick up a package of sausages of the shelf at the supermarket and it’s something else to stick the knife in the animal, cut it’s artery and let it bleed to death. Here again once they identified with their host family the perception changed. This was a normal act in the mountains of Macedonia; you don’t have a grocery store down the street so if you want to eat meat then you have to butcher it yourself. When you identify with someone, you start to see things from their perspective and you then begin to understand that their point of view is not, in most cases, so unreasonable.  As you understand more and more about the under person and their situation you naturally start to see possibilities of contributing of your own knowledge and experience to the situation. In our example the both kids were reluctant to kill the animal, but the boy was willing to part take in the killing and helped hold down the animal while the host father did his deed. You could see by the excitement in his eyes as he was swept away by the experience. Although there are many other facets to identity, which we will not get into at this point, it is a key factor to change. Just as the boy was having difficulties at home with his parents and education, he was identifying himself with the wrong crowd, where petty crime is, somehow, a way to prove you belong to the group. It is sometimes hard as an adult to resist the ongoing bombardments of messages and information we receive from modern media and society (A large proportion of those messages aim to create a appealing identity. In extreme cases some kids have been killed over a pair of Nike basketball shoes), can you imagine what it’s like for a teenager? It easy to fall in with the wrong crowd; I always tell my kids that in a peer group situation, the one who is courageous is the one who can say no, the real “chicken” is the one that gives in.

So as we have seen identification with the other person is the first step to accepting that there is a “we” and that “I” does not necessarily have to stop because the real acid test for a team is when the sum of the “whole” is greater than the sum of the parts. In other words a team can produce more than the sum of what the team members could produce individually.  Once this sinks in, and you belong to a real team (not just a group of individuals), you will have created a strong identity that will be appealing and change will become easier.

How do you know when your time has come…?

Chances are, if you are asking the question yourself this question, your time has already come; it’s just waiting for you to make your move. So why don’t you?

Well as we have learnt in my last blog (The individuality of duality), it is most likely that your elephant is holding you back. If you remember the elephant is in charge of “now” and unfortunately “now” is when action happens. Your rational side, the rider can come up with the best ideas and make great plans, it’s all in vain if you can’t get our elephant to take action and stay focused on the task at hand. Perhaps the best way of illustrating this is to tell you about my current internal debate. My rider has planned that I sit here now and write (because it’s early in he morning, I feel at my best, it’s quiet and I’m comfortable).  My elephant is restless and is constantly bombarding me with ideas of other activities that need doing and would be a lot more gratifying write now. So how do I manage this debate? I breakdown my plan into small steps and reward my elephant with gratifying moments every time I accomplish a step; in my case completing this page or paragraph before making another cup of coffee.

I need to stress that there is not one recipe for this. Each rider needs to learn what works best with his elephant and every situation will demand different steps and rewards. However if you understand the dynamics of rider and elephant, you will quickly see patterns of this dynamic in your own behavior. Opportunities will emerge that you can use to tame your elephant and set you back on your path.

Ok, so what if you haven’t asked yourself the question: How do I know my time has come? Well maybe you are on the right path already and are a master elephant rider. However if you are like most people, you are trapped in a somewhat comfortable and unfulfilling life path.  You may be asking yourself the question all the time but don’t know where to start and what to do.  Fortunately there is hope.   Now that we have learnt that for change to succeed you have to control your elephant and what better way to do so than with emotions. In their book “Success Built to Last” Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery and Mark Thompson make a case that successful people all share one thing in common, they are passionate about what they do.  Here is a quote:

“It’s dangerous not to do what you love. The harsh truth is that if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’ll lose to someone who does! For every person who is half-hearted about their work or relationship, there is someone else who loves what they’re half-hearted about. This person will work harder and longer. They will outrun you. Although it might feel safer to hang onto and old role, you’ll find your energy is depleted and, miraculously, you’ll be the first in line for he layoffs when they come.”

It makes total sense, if we stick to our example, it could not be easier for the rider.  The path he wants to follow is a breadcrumb trail for the elephant. Because passion means emotional engagement, what for someone is work is for someone else fun. Following the path naturally satisfies the elephant’s hunger for gratification, thereby minimizing the efforts of the rider.

You may say that this is great advice for kids entering high school, but not practical for 50 year olds’ who are approaching the sunset of their careers. Of course you are right, however I believe that it’s never too late to change, by the time you are fifty, you should be well aware of what you like and what gives you pleasure. If you are not doing this for a living than it may be too late to change careers, but it’s probably not too late to reorient yourself in a position where you can make use of your work experience to date and do something else that will bring you closer to your passion. And don’t feel bad because the 15 year olds’ may still have a lot of time ahead of them but it is rare that the already know what the are passionate about.

Here again I would like to make a reference to Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman and their book “first Break all the rules”[1] . They make a reference to  a model that constitutes employee satisfaction:

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s book “first Break all the rules”

Basically for employees to be satisfied they need to understand how their role or position is linked to the organisation’s vision and mission. They need to constantly be reminded of the importance of their work as to stimulate their sense of pride. The opportunity to contribute is obvious, who wants to work in a place and be considered a robot. You may have heard some of these classic statements: “ just do what you are told” or  “you’re not paid to think, you’re paid to produce”.  Although this one seems obvious, you would be amazed how many times, in my 20+ years as consultant, employees complain that the issues we identified through our observations and analysis have been known for years but no one does anything about them. Finally, feedback for good work, again this may seem obvious but a lot of companies have not even defined what good work is, so it’s difficult to measure against it. As for feedback, let’s not talk about your direct boss that you probably see every day, what about your boss’s bosses?   Can you remember last time you saw them, let alone received feedback from them?

Whatever you are doing in your career at the moment you can use the model above to test how satisfied you are with your job, it may help you answer the  original question

However, before you can answer: How do I know my time has come?  You will first have to fill in the blank  “my time has come … (to what?) : look for another job? Ask my girlfriend to marry me? Start exercising? Have another beer or position myself in front of my boss? Start a change program in my company? Start my own business and follow my passion. However you phrase it, your answer will ultimately lead to change.


Zabok, HR 31st May 2012

[1] They have also developed a very simple but effective employee questionnaire that can be used in association with organizational maturity model.

Your time has come

The company had been experiencing difficulties. After years of changes in it’s sales engine it was not getting traction in the market and as a result was not growing. Well there were some good explanations: the 2008 Financial Crisis, the Euro debt crisis, industry cycles etc. However things started to go astray long before that. People familiar with the company will tell you the company reached its peak shortly following the management buy out.   Which of course one could say was good for the management behind the buy out and potentially bad for the banks and investors, at the time.  Of course that is easy to say now, with hindsight we know there were changes in leadership and management. We also know we lost talent along the way and all too often theses talented people in turn set up their own competitive business or strengthen the racks of the competitors.

What is interesting is the dynamics of the decline. A classic tale of austerity!   As the company fails to meet expectations year after year, the investors get more and more worried so they get more and more involved, over time filling key positions with trusted people, who don’t necessarily have experience in the business.  These people then take decisions without the full understanding of what makes the company successful. So we start with the classic track: Expenses need to be reduced.

As the one big-ticket item, management first delays the annual regional meeting and celebration (European Company Meeting). The event is a celebration for all the hard work and success stories we individually, or at least as project team, experience on projects. It is also often the only opportunity many people will have to meet there colleagues from other offices and build their networks. Above all it is an opportunity to share and bond together, thereby releasing and incredible amount of energy that always lasts until the early hours of the morning. At first it is just a 6 months delay, then slowly but surely it becomes an, “every two year event” and finally becoming and exception. Unfortunately it is people that make up the assets of the company and thinning out the so-called “ECM” may seem like a wise thing to do, unfortunately it undermines the very fabric of the company.

Of course the annual party is not the only expense that is cut back. Since operations make up 90% (or at least it should) of the workforce it was decided that “Non billable expenses” are to be eliminated in operations. The logic being that operations people work on projects where clients pay the operational expenses. This policy was effective in two ways: it reduced expenses and thwarted all other operational activities that one couldn’t morally expense their clients.   Training some became the next victim of eliminating non-billable expenses. During it’s peak the company invested a lot in training, in fact I was personally involved in upgrading our training initiative, taking the ownership for the “Operational Fundamentals” course in 2005 and delivering the course 9 times to roughly 200 new starters until 2009, when training was sacrificed altogether.

But in the end these cuts are not enough, now the company has started cutting personnel.  The company is downsizing and to be sure it has the biggest impact on its payroll, it is the people with the highest salaries who are targeted first, never mind that they have the most experience and knowledge.  That’s how I got my notice the other day, yep after years of dedication I had finally become a number on a piece of paper, someone who was perceived as “non value add”.  At first I was shocked, but then, thinking all this through, I realized that my time had come.

If the management did not see the need to keep me around then why would I want to stick around? It is kind of paradoxical that the company that preached “linking the top floor with the shop floor” has itself become so disconnected.  Quite frankly I’m happy I got laid off, because it’s no fun to work where you don’t feel appreciated.   So “adios” old job! And hello new opportunities!

To stay true to my motto of  “ helping people”, I have decided to share my experiences, ways and methods, to look at, and deal with change, both personally and organizationally.  You see I have learned that change does not have to be painful and it does not have to be hard. After all, the essence of our being, the cells that make up our bodies, are constantly changing. And just as a year is made up of changing seasons, our lifetimes on earth are made up of different chapters.  Evolution is change!  Yes learning something new does require more mental effort, but it can also be rewarding so whenever you are faced with a life changing event don’t be afraid. Just because it “looks like” you have been dealt a lousy hand, does not mean you are out of the game. Who knows if “what looks like a lousy hand” turns out to be the best hand at the table?  You have to make the best out of what you have, and as Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman have wonderfully captured in their book “first Break all the rules”, stop focusing on trying to repair yourself and start focusing on what you are good at (what you enjoy doing) because that is what you will excel at.  Getting laid off is kind of like coming to a “ T ” intersection in life. You can turn right or left, you just can’t go straight! It provides an opportunity to truly assess ones life and take a different turn. Many people are not given that opportunity and continue doing a less than satisfying job until the day they retire. Why? Because they themselves are afraid of changing, they are reasonably comfortable with what they have.

So just like Greece, the company is stuck in a negative dynamic current, brought on by austerity. The mismanagement of the past has to be paid by the citizens / employees of today. Unfortunately focusing on reducing expenses and costs does not help generate more revenue. The glass is always half full or half empty depending, which way you look at it.  Picking your way to look at it will decide, like the intersection in the road, where you end up.

Zabok, HR – 28th May 2012