Look up

total-solar-eclipse-uk-1999

We look down a lot.

The average Briton checks their phone every 12 minutes and spends 2.5 hours a day online. That’s 38 days a year looking down. This will likely increase as we become more digitally dependent.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing (I’m a massive LinkedIn addict, get inspired by following the crazy 3am workout routines of Mark Wahlberg on Instagram and am a sucker for a crazy dash-cam video on Twitter) but by looking down so much of the time we are in danger of missing out on amazing things occasionally happening around us.

19 years ago something amazing happened when I looked up and it changed my life.

Having travelled 200 miles down south from Manchester to London, I arrived one morning at Euston train station on my way to an interview.

I walked through the station with my head buzzing getting ready for the questions ahead and some stuff going on in a work project on at the time.

I was so oblivious to the world around me that I walked across the concourse area in front of the station to look for the tube entrance. (Which is actually inside the station and shows how distracted I was at the time).

Suddenly a stranger in front of me smiled directly at me, pointed straight at me and then pointed up.

What was this all about?

I looked around and took in what I had not noticed right in front of me – literally hundreds of people were standing still and all looking up into the sky. It was like a scene from a sci-fi film.

Then I looked up…

The sky was gradually going dark. Everyone went quiet. The temperature subtly dropped. All the traffic had stopped. The volume of the world reduced.

Time seemed to stop. It was peaceful. I stopped thinking about the interview and my work stuff and just looked up in excitement.

A total solar eclipse was happening. (I found out later it was the first one visible in the U.K. in decades, and the next one will be in 2090, so a rare event).

I remember there were some people who carried on regardless of the magical event that was taking place right in front of us.

Then a few minutes later the clouds parted like the opening scene from the Simpsons and the lights came back on. Everyone then went back to doing their business. The traffic started again. The volume of the world went back to the normal din.

I went over to the pointing man and thanked him. “You almost missed that!” he said smiling and walked off. I then went and found the tube to get to the interview.

We all live busy lives. Busy projects, busy programmes, deadlines to hit and new stuff always happening around us. Smartphones and social media add more distractions. Switching off is a challenge. It can sometimes feel like a crazy never ending plate spinning contest.

But like the saying from Ferris Bueller goes: “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it”.

I got the job by the way. Call me superstitious but I always think that moment looking up outside Euston had some part to play; getting that particular job changed my life forever.

Look up. You never know what could happen.

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What my meeting with the Prime Minister taught me about selling change

downing street

Recently I met the Prime Minister to pitch an idea on change. I’ll tell you about how it went later. Selling change to senior stakeholders is one of the most critical things to get right when transforming a business.

There are so many things you need to consider: What are you asking for? What are you going to say? How are you going to say it? How do you really engage them and build rapport? How to prepare for difficult questions and pushback? etc. The list goes on.

3 things you can do to prepare are:

  1. Be crystal clear on what you are asking. Don’t be vague or wishy washy.
  2. Be brief and get to the central point as quickly as possible.
  3. Don’t overstay your welcome.

When I met the Prime Minister, it was a scorching hot day. After I was patted down by the MI5 officers I was ushered into a meeting room. And there sitting at a table was the Prime Minister. I sat down. There was silence for about 10 seconds. She didn’t look up, as she was engrossed in some papers.

I initiated the meeting, introduced myself and stuck my hand out. The Prime Minister looked up, smiled, shook my hand and then I went through my pitch which was to introduce some simple change management skills to teach young people how to help a business be efficient. The Prime Minister listened to me and said she’d take it away. She even agreed to a photo.

The meeting lasted 4 minutes. My takeaway was meeting an extremely busy person who genuinely listened. It was like every meeting I’ve had with senior stakeholders. They are all busy people with a million things going on. And you are taking up their precious time.

Whether it’s 4 minutes or 40 minutes be clear with what you want, be brief with your message and don’t overstay your welcome.

Maybe just don’t ask for a selfie at the end. 🙂

TM

Lean Six Sigma for Leaders

‘Schmooze at a book launch party’ can now come off my bucket list…

Great fun tonight at the launch of “Lean Six Sigma For Leaders: A practical guide for leaders to transform the way they run their organization”.

If you are looking to change something that isn’t working, you want to transform your business and nudge people to adopt a “continuous improvement” mindset or you’re just looking for a few practical tips then you can’t go wrong here.

This is the state of the art framework for operational excellence. Recommended.

Big thanks to the authors Martin Brenig-Jones Jo Dowdall and the lovely team at Catalyst Consulting for the invite.

🥋💡 📈 💰 🚀 🎯

4 great book recommendations

💭💭 “When the winds of change blow, some build a wall, others build a windmill” 💭💭

👁’m a bit of a 🤓 & ❤️ 📚s on improvement!

These 🎣 my 👁 for🔬so👂s some 🆒🆕💡s to 🤔 to 🔥🆙📈

🔄 TRANSFORM using 4 “WINDMILL” blades: 1. Clarity of PURPOSE of what the company does, 2. Truly Engage PEOPLE to achieve & drive the purpose, 3. Create attractive, useful & highly marketable PRODUCTS & 4. Build Porous & Relevant PROCESSES. Each blade must turn in sync.

⏱ MEASURE what matters by asking this one key Q: WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT for the next 3 (or 6 or 12) months? Successful organisations focus on the handful of initiatives that can make a real difference, deferring less urgent ones. Their LEADERS COMMIT to these choices in word & deed.

🏃‍♀️RUN meetings with these Q’s: Are OUTCOMES explicitly stated in the agenda?, Is an explicit PROCESS followed to reach each outcome?, Are the right PARTICIPANTS present? & Is enough TIME held for the topic? If you can’t answer them, CUT the meeting.

🏎 STRIVE for excellence. F1 teams & drivers are NEVER SATISFIED with how they are performing. There is always more to do. MARGINAL GAINS can always be found if hard work, innovation, data & human input are used to test results. It’s a race without end.

All highly 👏

Keep pedalling

When I was a child, like most of us I’m sure, I learnt to ride a bike.

Up and down the garden I would go, trying to keep balance and not topple over. I must have memorised every bump and dip in our back garden.

Then the day came when my dad took the stabilisers off.

I practiced more, putting my feet down on the ground to balance myself and using the brake liberally.

And then magically, the moment came when I kept my balance. I was so excited that I started pedalling full pelt as if I was Sir Bradley Wiggins.

“How do I stop Dad?” I remember shouting.

“Use the brake!” was his reply.

I was so focused on peddling and balancing I just couldn’t brake. It was just too much all at once.

And so I crashed into a tree.

But it didn’t matter – I had learnt to ride a bike! I spent the rest of the day proudly peddling up and down the garden.

Changing something is a lot like learning to ride a bike. You have a goal to go from A to B and there are many things to think about.

Sometimes you hit trees and bumps in the ground along the way and things may not quite go to plan, but you just need to keep pedalling.

Things don’t have to be (and often won’t be) perfect. But you’ll know when you get there and its one of the best feelings in the world.

🚴‍♂️ 🌳💥

The Undercover Candidate

sherlock

My worst interview happened just after I’d graduated. I fumbled my answers, got tongue tied and my cheeks flushed.

One of the interviewers politely made their excuses and left the room midway. I wanted a hole to appear to dive into and have the courage to say, “this really isn’t working is it?” I didn’t get the job.

I read something once that said interviews were always about the interviewer and not the interviewee because they have problems and need help to fix them. It’s all about them, not you.

So how to get a grip on their problems and differentiate yourself from the competition?

I ask a question – long before I step in the interview room.

It involves going undercover…

Now what I’m NOT suggesting here is turning up dressed as Sherlock Holmes in some terrible cheesy disguise. Something much simpler.

Whenever I’m invited to an interview I always try and do some research about what it’s like to be a customer AND an employee of the company I’m interviewing for.

Doing this is easier than you think. You just need to be yourself, get creative, be brave and ask.

For example, over the years I’ve…

  • Spent an afternoon with a store ‘guru’ for a mobile phone company (even wearing a uniform) shadowing them while they helped customers.
  • Interviewed a manager for a retail chain store – managing to bag a tour behind the scenes in the store and spend time with the sales team over lunch.
  • Got a free software trial and then contacted their customer service department to ask them questions to see how they responded.
  • Recruited a small army of family and friends to interact with a company and gave them a survey to fill in on their ‘customer journey’.
  • Plus a few “other approaches” – you can’t expect me to share everything right? 😜

These all paid dividends as I could use them to drop into the interview, and subtly show that I had done some extra research around the challenges that their business is under.

Once an interviewer had heard what I’d been up. At the start of the interview they leaned in to me and say “I’m dying to hear what you’ve found out Guy. So come on start spilling the beans!” What a great way to start right? Instant rapport.

Depending on the data you get from your research, you can then get creative on how you use it. I once made an infographic on what I’d found that I used in my follow up thank you email. The hiring manager used it and showed to the top team. Guess what? It made them look good. I got the job.

Let me stress that this isn’t some pithy gimmick to ‘be different’. It’s genuinely about learning about the business, and it needs to be tailored to your specialism and to the business. So, I’ll probe how the organisation ‘does change’ and I’ll see how easy it is to be a customer with the company.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way;

  • Brainstorm how you could interact with the company. This is the fun bit.
  • Be respectful to the environment you enter. Smile, show energy and genuine interest.
  • Don’t be a pain and ensure you work to other people’s availability, not yours.
  • Do give the name of the person who is interviewing you and the role you are going for.
  • Provide assurances that you will treat what they say anonymously if they wish.
  • Look for things that you can highlight as improvement opportunities to help them fix.
  • Timing is key. I often leave this until the final stage of the interview process as it could play a part in the differentiation process.

Beware though. It’s important to check how it will land with the interviewer and the culture of the business. I once interviewed someone in preparation for a role. When I mentioned this in the interview the air suddenly went very frosty in the room…

The interviewer was clearly horrified that I’d taken this approach and it didn’t go down well. I wasn’t the right fit for that culture. You can’t win ‘em all but sometimes it’s good that you don’t.

All you have to do is ask…

 

Don’t Complexify, Simplify

Nessie

A few years ago someone told me about an frustrating experience they’d had attending a Lean Six Sigma workshop.

This piqued my interest. They were a senior leader in this particular business and new to the world of Lean Six Sigma. I asked what had happened to make them feel this way. This is what they told me…

In the workshop, the facilitator mentioned they were fresh out of their Six Sigma training course the previous week. They literally had their manuals and other books spread out open in front of them with post it notes marking up many of the pages. They then read verbatim about what needed to happen next, using the course manual as a script. It didn’t go well. Some people made their excuses and left the room mid-way through the workshop. The project eventually limped along and then quietly died.

When I heard this I felt sorry for the person running the workshop but they should never had got to that stage. They had not been coached. They had left the training with no guidance on how to position the project and applying the tools.

A ‘typical’ Lean six sigma project can last anything from 3 – 6+ months. When time is not a critical issue and the business is prepared to invest resources the results are extremely powerful.

However, in my experience, for most companies time totally IS a critical issue and they just don’t have the luxury of time to go through all the full cycle of D.M.A.I.C. stages in a six sigma project and release people from across the business for the time investment that’s typically required.

Research from the Wall Street Journal suggests a whopping 60% of Lean Six Sigma projects fail to deliver what they set out to achieve. (My gut feeling is that its a lot higher, likely in the same 75% zone of change management projects failing). Today’s business leaders are looking for a faster turnaround in results.

There are many reasons for this but I reckon there are two big things going on here:

1. The projects typically take too long to see tangible results.

2. Most of the time a project is set up when it isn’t actually needed in the first place.

So here’s the thing – you don’t HAVE to slavishly follow Lean Sigma and all of it’s associated methodology.

Like Nessie, it’s a myth. And you don’t need to start a project each time you want to improve a process.

You can cherry pick tools and in some cases, completely remix them in a way to suit you. You won’t get in trouble with the Lean Six Sigma police knocking on your door at 3 in the morning and you’ll arguably get similar results in much quicker time.

coffee

So here are a few alternative ‘remixed’ approaches to use when time is tight, you are really up against it and you don’t have time to start up a 3 month project to show results:

  1. Need to fix a problem fast? Start with the assumption that you don’t actually need to start another project by adopting some ‘guerrilla’ improvement tactics. Recruit an engaging sponsor, tightly define the issue that needs to be fixed and pull together the key players who are involved together for half a day and simply workshop it out. Make it fun – take everyone out of the office and decamp in a corner of Costa. Create a plan. Execute the plan. You’ll save masses of time and with some colleague goodwill and the right wind in the sails of the team you’ll fix the problem. Keep things simple.
  2. Want to quickly understand how something is done? You don’t need a marathon process mapping session to understand a process. Although this is the gold standard, often there isn’t time. So try this – meet with people in brief 1-2-1 meetings and sketch the process out – think of it like creating a patchwork quilt. When you’re done simply stitch it all together. Yes it won’t be perfect, but you’ll quickly get a rough idea of the process, key hot spots and where focus is needed. You can save people hours of time by doing this and get a picture very quickly. Don’t over-egg it.
  3. Need to prove the problem? Sometimes you need to understand just what is going on to assess how much energy you spend on solving a problem. You don’t need to create a mammoth statistical data model and have excel spreadsheets coming out of your ears. Try a simple data collection exercise like asking people to fill in ‘5 bar gate’ forms to understand what’s happening over a week. Don’t over collect data.
  4. Managing the change needn’t be overly complex. Most of the time you don’t need change management theory. Keep things simple by creating a table in Word and list what needs to change, how it will happen, owner and timescales for each change (and who is going to drive the plan). Then drive and track progress. Yes the devil is in the detail, but change management is often about managing relationships, reaching agreements and ensuring agreed changes are implemented. You don’t need theoretical change models to drive change. Ditch the theory, keep things simple and pragmatic.

Lean Six Sigma is great when you have both the time and the resources to do it properly. But here’s the rub. Most companies today have precious little of either to do projects in this time period.

Leaders today are crying out for speed and pragmatism that deliver tangible, bottom line results without all the bells and whistles.

Starting a new project isn’t always the answer. You can remix tools as you go, just keep focused on the outcome and the fastest way to get there.

So don’t over-complexify, simplify.