And The Oscar For Best Project Name Goes To…

I once pitched a new programme to the top team of a company I was working for at the time.

I wanted to make an impact. So I came up with a catchy name for the programme.

The pitch day came. I stood in front of the team and opened with a story of when Julius Caesar stood on the banks of a Roman river ready to cross to Rome and sort things out.

“This programme is all about no turning back, casting the dye, banishing waste and bad work practices and making things simple for our customers”

“And we’ll call our programme…cue 2 second pause for dramatic effect…Rubicon!”

“Whoa whoa whoa! Now just hold on a minute there Guy” one of the directors said.

“Are we talking about the same Caesar who became a tyrant who killed and enslaved millions?”

“Erm well that’s really not quite the point of this” I replied.

“Well we don’t want to be giving out the message that resistance will be given short shrift now do we?”

They weren’t playing with me. This had turned serious. Danger danger!

“Great point. Of course not. Yes you are of course spot on”


We eventually moved on to the actual point of the metaphor but it was an unexpected curveball.

Over the years I’ve worked on many different projects. And some of them had some memorable names. Here’s a selection –

  • Rubicon
  • Unicorn
  • Jocamola
  • Blue Monday
  • Simplicity
  • Hilltop
  • Mephisto
  • Streamline

The list goes on…

All great programmes and projects, with great memories of working with great people.

I am sure that we will all have similar memories of interesting project names.

But look. Why do we do this? Why do we have to give names to projects?

It’s not a pet. It’s not a baby. It’s not going to be up for an award at the Oscars is it?

It’s a project. It’s a vessel to get stuff done.

It’s all getting a bit old isn’t it? I’ve worked in some businesses where there are so many project names that I’ve had to maintain a mental list of what word describes which project or programme. Like a weird sort of “Guess Who”

It gets really tiring really quickly.

So look call me boring, but let’s just stop with the funky, exotic names shall we.

Isn’t the best name for a project just a short and sweet description of what you are are actually setting out to achieve and the outcome you want to see?

Like “Making customer billing better” or “Reducing follow up calls”

I promise you, your colleagues will thank you. You’ll also save time and help people keep focused.

Every time they work on a task, come to a meeting or see an project update, you’ll not so subtly remind people why we are all doing the project in the first place.

You can still be engaging – but do it WITHIN the project. You don’t really need a quirky project name to do all that do you?

What a curveball interview question taught me about grit 

After all the various interview hurdles, I had made it to the magical, final round – the finish line was in sight.

I was meeting a very senior stakeholder in that particular business (let’s call them Bob). All was going well, rapport built, questions addressed, everything gravy.

Then Bob fired his last question at me: “So Guy tell me, how gritty are you?”

I’d never had this question before. Was it a trap?

This one simple question had flipped the whole interview.

I considered the question. I followed my gut and answered it along these lines:

“Well I’m certainly no pushover Bob. When you get into the ‘muck and bullets’ of change and things start flying about it can get interesting (I smiled) but this is where I drive things”.

“Hmmm” was the reply and then he paused.

Bob started slowly drumming the table with his fingers.

I waited. I could feel Bob’s mental cogs turning over while he stared at me.

“Look Guy. Let me tell you about my typical days here. I’ll go toe to toe with my peers and then get my ass chewed out by everyone and their dog. I need somebody who isn’t some snowflake rabbit in the headlights type that turns to wobbly jelly when things get tough. I need strong, resilient, gritty people. So let me ask you – Are you a snowflake jelly rabbit Guy?”

I paused for a few seconds while I reflected on this.

“No, I’m not, but let me say this Bob, I’m not some kind of Mike Tyson ear biter type either” was my reply.

I got the job.

That moment was important as it was the first time I had been really and truly tested about how mentally tough I was. And that moment has always stayed with me.

Positive mental health is vital for all of us. And stress is one of the key influencers on maintaining good mental health.

More and more we seem to be being tested in increasingly stressful situations. And resilience to stressful situations is being seen as a key skill for everyone to develop in organisations today. Recent research indicates that some stress is actually good for us.

With tougher demands on businesses today, shorter timescales to get stuff done and more demanding customers, I’ve seen it manifest itself in creating real pressure cooker type environments in the businesses that I’ve worked with over the years.

Having the skills to deal with this are vital.

You can’t teach resilience and grit, it’s deeply personal. You can only learn them through self discovery.

And the single best thing I’ve found is to experience (very occasionally) some very challenging situations which have required me to increase my resilience substantially. Each time I learn’t valuable lessons about how I cope in these kind of situations.

For me it all boils down to two things – PERSPECTIVE and ATTITUDE.

Without perspective, how can you possibly know the level of resilience you require?

And without the right attitude, you won’t be able to think clearly about resolving the situation.

Both influence my resilience dial, which I use as a subconscious technique to assess how I need to respond to a potentially stressful situation in an authentic and appropriate way.

So let’s say something triggers a need where you need to be resilient…

You can’t say, “ah this situation is going to be a 3, based on what my previous 10 is” as you may not be in possession of all the info in the situation.

You need to be ready to dial up or dial down your resilience as the situation develops and this is where the mix of perspective and attitude work hand in hand, a bit like a venn diagram.

The thing I’ve found that works for me is to remain ticking along at 5 on the dial – and then if required work my way up from there as things develop. This for me feels like a healthy level of nervous energy and being in a state of “resilience readiness”.

And then when the situation is over, I gradually dial back to five.

I see it like needing to overtake a big scary lorry on a motorway with no road lighting on a dark, winters night. Focus, commit, make the manoeuvre and then move back to normal in the inside lane.

Resilience cannot be taught, only learned. And the harder, more stressful situations we occasionally get tested in should honestly be seen as gifts – at the time they will more than likely make us feel uncomfortable and anxious but the outcomes will be that they make us mentally tougher and gritty with the outcome making our ability to deal with future situations easier to handle.

Ultimately though being resilient and gritty in order to deal with tricky situations is about channeling our experiences into positive mental health which is so important for all of us.

Angela Duckworth’s recent book on Grit is fantastic and a brilliant read. Here is Angela’s 6 minute Ted Talk, well worth a watch.


Be Kind, Please Rewind! – “On Demand” Operational Excellence Hacks from Netflix and Uber

Be Kind, Please Rewind! - 5 On Demand Operational Excellence Hacks…

The first film I watched on video was Blade Runner.

Dad managed to wangle borrowing the office video player for my brother’s birthday. Along with Blade Runner, my parents also hired Raiders of The Lost Ark for us from the most exciting place in the world, the local video shop.

We must have watched both films, back to back, at least 5 times over the course of that weekend.

It would be years before I saw either again but that memory will always have a special place in my heart whenever I catch either of them on TV now.

Today of course, we don’t have to wait ages until films come out on video, or go on a waiting list to hire the latest blockbuster, or navigate the different sections of video shops – the experience of which I dearly miss.


Because today we live in an “on demand” digital world.

Sayings like: “Be kind, please rewind”, “where on earth are we? I know I’ll just check the A to Z!” or “I’m just popping down to Boots to to get my holiday photos developed” have no real meaning anymore.

And the way organisations like Netflix and Uber have massively shaken up their industries can provide interesting insights for the world of operational excellence and transformation, which I believe also could do with a bit of a shake up.


Because ‘typical’ models of transformation and change that drive operational excellence usually go something like this; set up a massive programme, recruit a huge team of people from across the business and then try to boil the ocean – and in the process driving the transformation from the centre. 

Think of this as “push” transformation.


And this approach is pretty much the go to model for transforming a business and hasn’t really changed that greatly over the years.

It’s no wonder that most transformation programmes fail. This was recently proven again – with McKinsey revalidating the famous 70% of transformation efforts not achieving their desired goals. It’s a great article by the way and well worth a read if you get time, with some good insights on ‘beating the odds’ of transformation failure. 

Now I’m not saying that the push method is the wrong way of approaching transformation, because its always situational, doesn’t have to be this way.

So what about flipping this thinking and standing it on its head?  


By adopting a “pull” approach where the business approaches operational excellence itself rather than being driven from the centre.

Now of course it needs to be orchestrated and supported to get it up and running, but here’s the thing – by working with a business area on a major problem whilst adopting a mix of strategic and tactical approaches you can get the business to the same sweet spot of operational effectiveness much more efficiently.

In the end it’s just a different method to try.

There is a real shift going on in this kind of push vs pull thinking and the masters of “pull” thinking who have changed the game in their industries is Netflix and Uber. 


I’m fascinated by this and think there are some pretty major parallels to transforming a business.

So here are 5 methods that Netflix and uber employ as part of their core business models that can be employed in any business focusing on operational excellence;

  • Think Choice. Both Netflix and Uber give their customers massive choice. Want to watch your to show on your tv or on the go? No problem. Want to choose your driver? Why not. Transformation should be no different. Instead of imposing an approach, plan or change leader on the business, create some options and then let the business choose what they want and how they proceed.
  • Think Ride Share. Uber allows its riders to co-share a ride in order to get a cheaper fare, called uberPOOL. So here’s the idea...Functional improvement programmes are all well and good. But how about where processes up and down stream are impacted? Ideally, an end to end process review is followed – but this isn’t always the case, with departments wanting to focus on “their bit”. So tap the UberPOOL share approach and look at partnering with another department on sharing the journey – by sharing resources along the way. You’ll maximise the chances of success, save costs and get to the same destination together, faster.


  • Think Box Set. Netflix brilliantly allows customers to watch content as fast or as slow as they wish. It even coined the phrase “binge watching”. So why not think of operational excellence like a tv show? With “episodes each season” (i.e. The changes being made) which the organisation can decide to adopt as quickly or slowly as they wish, all “on demand”. Trailers for future shows (upcoming changes) can even be used to keep people watching and drive up employee engagement on the way.
  • Think Rating. After each show or ride, Netflix and Uber encourage customers to rate the experience. But in transformation, honestly, when was the last time you were asked for your feedback on “an experience” for part of the programme? Typically these are conducted at the end of the programme aren’t they? We should be thinking feedback, feedback, feedback all the time. This can provide valuable data to ensure the initiative stays on track. I’m not talking death by feedback form but small pulse checks like a quick text message to a key stakeholder and ask them to reply by emoji for example after a key event. Keep it simple but remember to keep rating!


  • Think “On Demand” Change. Finally and here’s the big one…Both Uber and Netflix are “always on” and ready to satisfy demand. Yes they have massive algorithms and are always learning about their customers, but the thing is they stand ready to anticipate demand. Operational excellence should be the same – by understanding the core challenges of the business, this should not be about a programme or initiative, but more about “how things are done” in the business. Think less about setting up programmes and more about addressing challenges and equipping people to do this so they can “pull transformation”.

Operational Excellence is often referred to as a journey. But how to get the organisation through the journey is the challenge. 


A paradigm shift is needed.

By flipping thinking from push to pull and helping the business move to an “on demand” model of transformation, the sweet spot of operational excellence can be driven at a far greater speed, considerable revenue and cost savings maximised, investment minimised with a much greater chances of success.

Your next transformation episode will start in 15 seconds…

Shhhhh! | 3 Presentation Secrets I Pinched From the World’s Leading Engagement Agency  


My passion for presenting started on my first day of university.

It was 1992, Ebeneezer Goode was number 1 and I found myself sitting in a dusty old lecture theatre with 100 other students waiting for our first lecture to start.

It was on a subject mysteriously called ‘Systems Thinking’.

The doors at the back of the room creaked open and the lecturer, a tall and imposing chap, strode purposefully into the room. He stood at the lectern, paused, brushed one hand through his long hair and eyed up the room. He then spoke, measured and quietly, as if he was Gandalf sharing a piece of long forgotten wisdom.


Here’s a picture of the actual lecture theatre.

Everybody in the lecture theatre seemed to take a breath and collectively lean in.

He said something along these lines: “Good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Hull. In this course, you are going to learn about some of the complexities of how organisations operate and work together. And the best way I can introduce you to this is to draw you a picture”.

At which point he got out a pen and a sheet of acetate and switched on the overhead projector. (And for those of you who remember those horrible machines from hell, let’s thank god we don’t have to use them anymore!)

He then wrote two words in capitals in the centre of the page that flashed up on the projector screen. These were: “LONDON” and “PROSTITUTION”.

I can safely say he had grabbed the attention of everybody in the room.

I sat there mesmerised yet puzzled. Was I in the right room? Should I be copying this in my book? Would I be getting an exam question on prostitution?

He then proceeded to sketch out how prostitution worked in London. He drew this out (using a technique called a ‘rich picture’) showing the interactions between various groups such as prostitutes, law enforcement, social services, pimps, impact on society, relationships between groups, how information and money was exchanged etc.

I turned to the hippie in the Levellers tie dye hoody next to me and whispered “I wasn’t expecting this; Hull is really quite progressive isn’t it?”.

That day ignited something in me that I have had all through my career where I’ve been fascinated by presentations and how people use different techniques to pitch ideas to others.

I’m always interested in learning different techniques for sharing information and telling stories. Over the years, I’ve tried out various approaches – some have worked well. Some not so well. I’ve taken risks, I’ve given presentations with no slides. I’ve told stories. I’ve used props. Made mini movies. Built Prezi’s. I once dressed up as a rock star…


Here’s a pic of me as a rock star emcee hosting an all employee event for the awesome team at SAS.  Scariest. Day. Ever.

You name it, I’ve tried it. Just call me a presentation geek.

So, last year I jumped at the chance when I got an amazing opportunity to work with upstage – the world’s leading customer and employee engagement agency and support some of their fantastic clients with their transformation programmes.

I want to share some very interesting ‘secret’ techniques I leaned whilst there around how we crafted, pitched and sold new ideas to their existing and prospective clients. Why do I consider these secrets? Because they seemed to subtly break the rules of how to approach pitching and presenting.

Now, of course I’m not going into the nitty gritty and share the family jewels of how upstage do things – because that is their secret sauce.  However, I can share a few things that really stood out to me that are very transferable. (And massive thanks to their awesome and extremely handsome CEO Phil White for letting me do this!)

Secret #1 – Recruit others

Typically, when we come to create presentations, we usually do this on our own don’t we? I know I often have. It’s just the way we’ve learnt to do it right? And then the ego comes into play – because a presentation is a personal thing. Occasionally, other people may get drafted in to help gather feedback, but it’s often a solo effort.

So, the first thing I learned at upstage was to unlearn this thinking, check the ego at the door and see who was around you that I could recruit and engage, even for an ideas knock around session, to craft ideas that could be used in a presentation.

This thinking isn’t new. In America, many of the big budget TV shows such as Saturday Night Live adopt a strategy to craft content through something called a “writing room”. In this approach, a group of writers work together to create and develop content.


Here’s a shot of the Saturday Night Live Writing Room in action.

I saw the writing room method in action daily during my time at upstage. This would involve pulling different members of the team together to work through a challenge a client was having and to brainstorm ideas on how that could be approached. It was high energy stuff.

Everything we did went through this approach, without fail. It would always result in new ideas being presented and suggestions for how the key messages could be delivered in each slide. By riffing and playing on ideas, new magical ideas started to form.

Secret #2 – Get personal

Helping people understand what they are getting is key in a presentation; it needs to be personal. And getting personal in presentations is typically a bit of a no-no, isn’t it? Here’s the next secret – make things personal.

In my time at upstage, we didn’t just talk in theory – we really got deep down and personal by clearly saying what was going to happen. How? By using a technique called ‘activations’. Think of an activation like an ‘mini event’ that is described so clearly, after you have heard it you think – ‘I get what this is all about now!’.

Here’s an example: I was involved in creating a presentation for a pitch one day and we needed to describe how we would physically transfer a group of very important people from one place to another during a conference. So, we made the journey an activation opportunity by describing how 2 buskers who would magically appear and serenade our group of people between the locations. We created a story outline on a few slides that described the experience and used images, music and catchy lines with interesting fonts. Each slide looked beautiful. What we had done was to personalise our message.

The client was sold and the feedback we got on the day was incredible – it got people ready for the main event, because it was personal and engaging. So, think about any activations you can use as part of your presentation, and make them personal.

Secret #3 – Thread stories

I thought I was pretty good at telling stories in my presentations. How wrong I was.

Here’s what I used to do; I would write my presentation out and get all the key stuff in that I wanted to say to pitch my idea. I would then front load it with a story. So far so good, right? Wrong! Because I’d never return to the story. I’d leave it hanging there and wouldn’t mention the story again and dive right into my warm comfy security blanket of my content. I’d then end the presentation and say ‘thanks everyone, any questions?’ The result? My audience’s passions weren’t set on fire and I had missed opportunities to get people really engaged.

Here’s the secret I learned: a good, engaging story used throughout the presentation is key to hook and truly engage people.

The story needs to be woven into the very fabric of the presentation – think of it like a ‘red thread’ that people can follow from start to end. The story would be used to set up the presentation, and every so often part of the story would be told – it had a beginning, middle and end. All the while, the audience would hear the key messages using a ‘drip-drip-drip’ effect while being engaged during the presentation.

The stories we used really resonated with the audience when we pitched ideas to them because they were truly engaged, helped sell our message and kept things joined up. It got to the point where clients were conditioned to expect to be engaged – and in the process made the pitching process that little bit easier. How cool is that?

But there’s a bigger picture at play here…

Let’s face it. The world seems to have pivoted massively over the last twelve months. We seem to have entered a world of huge political and social upheaval, with strange new phrases like ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ in the headlines daily. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO even said recently that fake news was killing people’s minds. We are in danger of moving apart instead of pulling together.

Now more than ever, people need authentic and personal engagement. And this presents an opportunity for each of us to make ‘an engaging difference’ when we present to each other.


I’m not talking of ‘shock and awe’ like my university professor used all those years ago, but adopting more subtle, interactive techniques that I pinched from upstage

Why? Because the world really needs it – really needs all of us – to truly engage each other (I’m thinking along the lines of a massive crowd sourced butterfly effect!). I’m sure we all AIM to do this but, sometimes, for whatever reasons – time, audience, message etc. – it’s easy to just dive into the detail, I know sometimes I do, even today. And please believe me that I am not preaching from the pulpit here, it’s just my take on things.

This is the bottom line everyone, it’s time we always consider engagement as a key element each time we present – and in the process make the world a better place.

It’s time to ENGAGE.


A cheeky selfie with the awesome upstage team at their Christmas Party!

Tick-tock! | What my first job taught me about change  


I left school when I was 16.

The year was 1988 and all I wanted to do was see the world and make some money.

The school at that time had some local work experience jobs lined up for pupils who decided to leave.

Those qualifying had their names put in a box, which were then chosen by the headmaster in a strange little ceremony in one of the classrooms.

Each pupil could then pick which job they wanted.

The jobs were a mix of shop assistants, working on a milk-float, a local abattoir, farm work and the ‘golden ticket’ – a job in a bank.

I still remember how the cards of fate fell on the table for me that day.

Amazingly, my name was picked second (the person who was chosen first chose the milk-float) and I went for the bank job.

Fortunately my manager at the bank asked me to stay on after my 2-week work experience period, it was my first proper job.

This was in one of the bank’s regional head offices, just up the road from my house.

There were 3,000 people who worked there – the place was huge.  It had its own golf course, social club, pool tables and a time clocking system called ‘flexi-time’.

I thought it was the most amazing place I’d ever been to.


Here’s me at the time with my first car, the benefit of an ultra cheap bank loan. It was a beauty!

I worked in the Finance Department as a ‘Branch Equipment Clerk’.  A grand title.

There were 10 people in my team and our job was to perform a rolling cross check audit of all of the equipment in each bank branch to ensure we still had what we had on record.

At the start of each year, we’d start the process again. It was the finance equivalent of painting the Golden Gate Bridge.

Each Monday morning, a fresh batch of microfiche was delivered to our team desk.

This was really a database of all of the equipment in all of the branches.  I was responsible for branches in town names starting with the letters A-D.


This is the kind of microfiche machine I used.

The records we checked against were giant A3 printouts that hung in a massive 20ft corridor of printouts that would could only be moved by rolling giant handles to move each set of shelves along.

The highlight of my day would be if I found a discrepancy somewhere which was called a ‘CODE 6’.  I would then need to write out a branch enquiry form (in triplicate) to investigate what had happened to the equipment.

This would then go off in an internal post bag to the branch in question and then I’d wait to see what had happened over the coming weeks.

I’d spend weeks communicating with branches like this as it would go back and forth. We had to follow the standard process – it was thankless, frustrating and boring work.

This really wasn’t what I intended with wanting to “see the world”. I needed an escape plan…

Executing the plan didn’t happen overnight. With the encouragement of a supportive manager, I took the hard way and studied for two evenings a week for three years at a local college before going on to university.

The way we do actual ‘work’ has changed massively over the years and will continue to change as new technologies evolve.

I bet my CODE 6 form from all those years ago has been replaced by some other process, maybe some form of self-certification by each branch, perhaps automation of some form, or maybe the audit is now conducted the same way with humans aided by computers.

Who knows?  The point is that work and tasks like these offer ways to make businesses more efficient and their people more productive.

And with the nature of work changing, the way people change their businesses is changing.

This is leading to challenges and opportunities for those involved in transforming businesses.

Here are a few things that I’ve seen and heard of from catching up with old friends and colleagues recently in a wide variety of organisation sizes and industry sectors on the nature of transformation and change;

  1. Companywide initiatives set up to focus on topics such as ‘digital transformation’, without clear, practical guidance on what that actually meant for people in the business.
  2. Failure to align ‘analogue’ business process change programmes with ‘digital’ requirements of new technologies, such as fully exploiting the full benefits of cloud based technologies.
  3. Transformation projects and programmes set up in ‘pockets’ within the business without proper co-ordination and common leadership between the programmes.

What’s going on?   Many things – but at the end of the day, I think it comes down to one thing:


Be it from internal or external to the business, the pressure to raise performance is increasing.

I read a a fascinating article recently arguing that businesses today have less and less time to design and execute business plans – suggesting businesses cannot make any meaningful business plan beyond 2 years.


If this is generally true, and I see no reason to see why not, this will have a huge impact on transformation efforts and in turn means the time window to transform is going to be even less – I would estimate 18 month’s max for a significant transformation programme so the benefits can start to kick in and be felt to kick in.

This means the pressure to deliver will be huge.

And now consider this: I recently read a startling fact that the average tenure of a FTSE 100 CEO is just 5.25 years.

This isn’t long.  And the usual remit of a new CEO will be get some early wins under their belt – typically to drive growth, achieve greater stakeholder returns, maximise efficiencies and drive up employee and customer satisfaction, the list goes on – the main headline being that they need to quickly transform the business.

And whether it’s a new CEO or a business with no or a couple of changes in the top team, most large, complex organisations will be looking to release the pressure in some form or another.

This will be by getting to grips with how they can help their businesses transform to become more streamlined and efficient. They may wish to exploit new technologies such as the cloud and adopt digital transformation techniques for example.

These both provide massive opportunities for organisations to transform. But it needs to be done right – to ensure the gains are locked in and the business can reap the benefits of the change.
So, here’s the thing:

It is critical to give people clear guidance on how to transform the business. Here are three things that need to happen to help RELEASE THE PRESSURE when embarking on major transformation:

  1. Have a clear transformation strategy and execute it within 18 months. Sell it and get it agreed by the top team, share this with the business and stick to the plan. Easier said than done, but this is critical.
  2. Keep things joined up. All key changes need to be orchestrated by a single area, not by multiple areas. It needs to be joined up so people see there is a design and method.
  3. Help people ‘see the way’. Signpost the way and give people clear guidance on what the transformation journey looks like and how they will get there.

The world of work is changing massively.  And when I think back to my younger self, grappling with microfiche and writing out code 6’s in triplicate, even from my view from the cubicle as an accounts clerk, the speed of change was arguably much slower than today.

Growing pressure to increase performance means the window of available time to drive transformation and change is closing – the need to help the business change efficiently and effectively has never been so critical.


It’ll Never Work! | 5 Stand Up Routines To Anticipate Hecklers And Make Change Stick


The meeting was going so well.

Months of hard work involving many people from across the business I was working in at the time had led up to this important day.

Then something unexpected happened – one of the meeting attendees started to heckle me.

Here’s a quick recap:

When I was just starting out in my career, my second ‘big’ project was to improve a process.

After following all of the key process improvement steps, my little project team presented the new “to be” process design to our sponsor and stakeholders.

I was immensely proud of what the team had done and we were all excited about the meeting.

We had invested time in creating an engaging presentation.

Prior to the meeting we had also ‘done the work outside the room’ to brief and get feedback from our sponsor and stakeholders on what they would be hearing.

It was textbook. Everybody was comfortable, smiles all round. No surprises – nothing had been left to chance.

Or so I thought.

During the discussion at the end of the meeting one of our key stakeholders decided from seemingly out of nowhere that they didn’t like the change anymore.

“It’ll never work Guy” they casually said.

‘What’s going on? Why the change of heart? They were right behind us on this!’ I thought.

This was unanticipated heckling!

Making change stick is one of the toughest parts of transformation. The desired change needs to stay “standing up” when you finish the project and walk away.

If it doesn’t get fully embedded it can all unravel and it can all go to pieces. You may even experience an unanticipated heckler or two who could also derail things.

Not good.

A detailed plan, clear scope, strong sponsor, supportive stakeholders, focused team and a robust transformation design all contribute to the success of the change at hand.

Now just to be clear. Some people are always going to be resistant to change whether you like it or not.  I’m sure we all know one or two people! Whatever you do they’ll resist. This is where leveraging your key stakeholders to help you work with them to overcome resistance is key.

But what I am talking about here is resistance from unexpected quarters. The unanticipated heckler is dangerous as they can come from your blindside.


I think there are a few reasons for this. People are often dealing with rising workloads and responsibilities. They may not have time to fully consider the proposed change and can’t see the full picture. So they get twitchy. And then a fight or flight mindset kicks in. Perhaps the organisation culture doesn’t encourage improvement or innovation. It could be many things.

So how to help them see the change so they fully buy into it and you reassure them in the process?

Over the years I’ve learnt that there is one thing that you can do that can help stack the deck in your favour and in turn help reassure people.

And what pray tell is that I hear you ask?

The answer…is to run a pilot of the proposed solution for the change that can prove the change works beyond doubt and you can reassure the business.

It is generally seen as good practice to test out certain things before a major business change takes place. This ensures that the organisation really understands the intention and reality behind what is being proposed, key messages honed, problems anticipated and addressed and crinkles ironed out.

And this is especially important when the organisation is not quite sure about the change to prove it’s value.

Since my heckler experience (which all got resolved in collaboration with the help of a fantastic sponsor) I’ve run and been part of several pilots and experienced various ways of running them.

I now use a mix of techniques depending on the project and situation. It all depends on what is changing.

But a recent experience from outside the world of corporate change and transformation introduced me to a whole new and totally unexpected perspective on how to run pilots.

This occurred last month when I spent a few days at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Whilst there I got to see a number of stand up comedians. Many of these shows were billed as “works in progress” where the comedians were trying out new material, in smaller timeframes (usually around an hour) to smaller audiences (usually around 100 people) before going on the road to deliver full shows that I believe would usually last around 90 minutes to often larger audiences.

Just for info, here was the best joke from the Festival:joke

I wish I could share a couple of great one liner gags with you from the shows I saw, but to be honest the routines were often built in sequences with the material layered on top of  layers, with jokes often relating back to earlier stories.

I think one of the funniest “sequences” was from a brilliant, well known comedian describing how he was aiming to fix the market in the sale of his second hand DVDs. This ensured he maximised his sales and achieved the break even point with new sales. He would do this by actually buying his own DVDs on the Amazon secondhand marketplace to ensure the baseline price he had set matched the market price he had in his mind. Clever eh?

It’s the way you tell ’em of course and the way he described his process of hunting down copies, often at 2am in his pyjamas was just magical.

The way comedians shared their stories like this was both extremely clever and totally mesmerising. There was a structure and a design and it was clear much work had gone into the content.

Now I don’t want to go into the way a couple of the comedians brilliantly dealt with drunk hecklers but what was interesting were some of the techniques that a few of the comedians used to test out their content. It was as if they saw their routine as a change project preparing for delivery.

And no, I’m not joking here!


In many ways the comedians were treating their acts like a pilot study. Here are a few interesting things that I saw during and after a few shows over the weekend:

  • Some comedians came out to meet the audience after the show. Some sold signed copies of books and cd’s but were also canvassing opinion on material. I heard “so what do you think of what you heard?” a couple of times.
  • One used a script prompt sheet and had words written on his hands that he referred to of new material to try that evening. This ensured that any tweaks to stories were factored in and any tweaks needed could be recorded.
  • One actually broke down one joke using data analysis on how previous audiences had reacted. They had percentages on days and times when people found the joke funny. They even berated the audience on the night I was there saying that the previous audience found that particular gag a lot funnier!
  • One had an actual feedback box outside the room, gave out feedback forms and pens!, and asked the audience to give feedback on the routine and what they would change and improve.
  • Finally, each of the comedians had a common theme for their shows. They weren’t just talking about a load of random stuff. But a common message connected like a golden thread weaving through their content. Their titles for their shows had interesting and enticing names like “Content Provider”, “The Brain Show”, “Schmuck For A Night” or “The Red Shed” to invite people to buy tickets. They weren’t boring titles. It made it truly engaging and “hook the audience”. The titles were being piloted too.

But here’s the thing.

They all said they would take away their insights and learnings and refine what they had experienced before their final versions.

And from all this I have a few observations from the stand up routines that I believe can be applied to business change projects pilot studies.

This will ensure you avoid the ‘unanticipated hecklers’ and smoothly drive the transformation:

  1. Smaller audience groups seemed to work best for gaining feedback. This made it more intimate and gave the comedian  more opportunity to connect and gain valuable feedback.
  2. You don’t need to pilot everything, in many ways, just parts will be enough. The comedians shared some of their content but often openly said they were holding a lot back. A pilot can just focus on a couple of aspects but doesn’t need to cover everything if you feel it’s an area where it would be beneficial for feedback.
  3. When I say pilot, the comedians used various methods to run pilots. You could trial a new process for a week or two in a department and gather data, or you could give an informal presentation to a small focus group to get their feedback. The point is about trying out the “to be” to see how it lands.
  4. Gaining useful feedback data that you and the change team can use is crucial. The comedians I saw would use a number of methods – I suspect they had an internal “gut gauge” for how successful a gag landed. The feedback box was useful but I didn’t see many use it. I would advise not running any pilot without a data capture method, otherwise a golden opportunity is being wasted where you can learn and apply changes from the data and share valuable evidence based data with your team, sponsor and stakeholders.
  5. Finally, content and delivery is critical. The comedians had quality content to share which had to be good as there was a ticket paying audience coming to watch. They also were experts at delivery. So it’s worth investing time in the key messages you want to share and the method of how you want to share as part of the pilot and consider all of your touch points so you “hook your audience”.

So next time you are about to change something in your business, be it large or small, think like a stand up comedian who needs to test out some material.

Take some time to ‘road test’ a few ideas, get some feedback from your audience by engaging them in some content. You can then make any necessary tweaks for maximum impact. It will pay dividends – and avoid unanticipated hecklers.

And I’ll close with this gem – if you have 5 minutes, here’s Steve Jobs responding to an unanticipated heckler and his take on driving major change. A master at work.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All! | Level Up Engagement With 5 Pokemon Go Gamification Tactics 

My all too brief dabble with Pokemon Go ended up with me being courteously ejected from a local store of a well known retailer.

Here’s how it played out:

Ten minutes earlier, I had been lured into the store by my iPhone buzzing. It told me that a Pokemon monster was lurking about in there. With some time to kill, I ventured in.

I held up my phone to start the hunt.

Fortunately, the Pokemon wasn’t hiding in the ladies clothing section and I wouldn’t need to recreate the “Father Ted Lingerie Escapade”!

However, I soon discovered they were located somewhere in the food section. And I eventually found it – next to the broccoli as it turned out.

I stopped in my tracks. There it was waiting for me – and it started to taunt me by bouncing around and blowing raspberries at me.

I had to capture it – now it was personal.

I had downloaded the Pokemon Go app the previous day to find out what all the fuss was about. After learning the ropes I discovered I was getting pretty good at capturing Pokemon.

I started flicking virtual poke-balls at him. And I was so taken up in the moment that I didn’t realise there was somebody standing right next to me.

I heard a polite cough. I did a double take to my right and saw someone who worked in the store. Then they said this to me:

“Perhaps sir could continue their Pokemon adventure outside. I hear Pikachu has just popped into the coffee shop next door for a skinny latte”.

“Yes, of course, sorry” was my reply. We both smiled at each other, it was a very funny moment.  I sheepishly lowered my phone and shuffled out of the store.

Not my finest moment.

I then decided it was probably a good time to uninstall the app. Which I did in the coffee shop next door as it happens. (I never did found Pikachu, perhaps he only drinks espresso?).

But this wasn’t before I considered the real application of Pokemon Go in business transformation – and in particular gamification…

Let’s face it. Driving change is tough.

Whether you are leading a small change impacting one part of the business or programme managing a major transformation programme that cuts across several departments involving different global territories, people will need  to be engaged – and kept engaged as part of the journey.

In each case, a clear strategic vision of the end state will need to be created and sold to the business, stakeholders managed and updated, plan to move from the current to the future, recruitment of a team to deliver the change, processes and systems updated, the list goes on.

And then, once it has taken place, the change needs to stick. Otherwise everything can become undone and unravel before your eyes. Back to square one.

Not good.

There are many tools and models that can be used to drive transformation but specifically what I’m talking about here is how to really engage people on the journey.

One of the big buzzwords that is really gaining ground lately is to ‘gamify’ elements of the change programme. I think there are some interesting, practical lessons from my experience playing Pokemon Go that are relevant to change gamification.

So, here are 5 tactics to incorporate a Pokemon Go mindset into transformation and change projects and programmes…

  1. Rewarding people for demonstrating the right behaviour can be very powerful. In the app, by checking into a virtual Poke-stop on my map screen i was given new poke-balls to catch new Pokemon, this allowed me to catch even more monsters. Transfer this thinking to a transformation or change programme – how about creating a simple scoring mechanism for accelerating change with your programme team through task delivery. You could have bonus multipliers for size / complexity of task, benefit deliverable impact and early delivery of tasks. Throw in some spot prizes or just the simple kudos of winning points for really engaging your team with this kind of reward thinking.
  2. Competing with others, when done in a healthy way can help everyone raise their game. I didn’t even get to the game ‘level’ of going to a virtual Pokemon gym to compete with other players in Pokemon Go, but by creating an environment where teams – be they organised by project, work stream etc. are given the opportunity to collaborate to win together, without impeding or damaging the overall transformation but instead push it forward faster and more positively can be very powerful.
  3. Augmenting reality is one of the key differentiators of Pokemon Go’s success. It has changed the game in apps. You can’t play it on the sofa or on the train, you need to be out and about. Unfortunately, not everyone engaged in change management and transformation takes this approach – you can’t drive change from your office / desk! You’ve got to be out and about in the business and in the trenches with the ‘muck and bullets’ of change flying about! By flipping this thinking and taking a Pokemon Go mindset, change will be driven, and adopted, faster.
  4. Digitally presenting feedback data to players in the app is incredibly rewarding. When i play a game like Pokemon Go where data is shared in such a brilliant way I just want to play more. I want to keep progressing to see what comes next. So channel this and use data for your transformation in beautiful ways that makes your data really ‘pop’ and keep people engaged on the journey.
  5. Engaging players is the real secret sauce here. Millions of people are playing Pokemon Go. Recent analysis indicates that users are now spending considerably more time playing Pokemon Go than using other apps such as Facebook. Why is this? There are lots of reasons. Yes there are many out there who don’t see what the fuss is about, but for many it’s got that magic “keep people engaged” element.  Translate this thinking to a typical change programme. Team members and stakeholders will often have many other projects and activities to work on that will all compete with yours for their time and energy. The takeaway for me here is to consider what you need to do to maximise engagement through the touch points of your transformation in order to keep people involved.  The big win being that they choose to prioritise as much time as possible on the project.

At the end of the day, at its beating heart, business transformation is all about engagement. To do it right “you gotta catch” all the hearts and minds of everyone in the business to succeed.

So “level up” engagement by gamifying your change or transformation programme. Game on!

Emotionally engage your audience | 4 condiments to make your content sizzle!


When I was 12 I learned a valuable lesson in how to emotionally engage groups of people.

There was a general election going on at the time and my school headmaster thought it would be a grand idea to hold a mini election of pupils, no doubt to inspire young minds and get us involved in the debate going on in the country.

For some reason candidates were chosen in a Hunger Games style by having their names pulled out of a hat. I was ‘volunteered’ (or should that be ‘tributed’?) to be the Lib Dem candidate and then promptly started to worry about what I was going to do as I had to give a short 3 minute speech the following week on why i should be elected – in front of the whole school as part of morning assembly.

I remember sitting on the settee with my Mum and Dad that night and asking them what I should do. Dad could see my concern and reassured me by saying that we needed to write a script.

So we wrote one, by going through a process of writing the key content message over the next few days and refining it a few times until it started to flow.

And then, about halfway through this process, Dad said that this was all well and good but my speech needed to do something weird called “sealing the deal” (he was after all in sales!) which would help me connect with my audience.

So he helped me come up with a killer speech punchline which I still remember at the time made me feel quite sick just thinking about from nerves about how I could deliver it.

I remember practicing my speech at the top of the stairs of our house so I knew it off by heart. My poor Dad, Mum and Brother must have heard me do this over 100 times.

The morning of the assembly came, and I was terrified. After the bell had rung for assembly, all of the school filed into the main hall and I joined the other candidates by sitting front and centre on the stage.

The headmaster went though a quick introduction and explained the speech order, which is when I found out I would be going last  (I wasn’t sure if this was a good or bad thing). Each of the other candidates then went through their speeches, with each receiving cordial applause. And then my name was called.

I stood up from my chair and I looked out at the hall at the hundreds of faces staring back.

I started to speak.

It didn’t start well. I stumbled over a couple of points which in turn caused my cheeks to flush and my leg started to involuntarily shake in an Elvis fashion. But I then somehow got into my stride and went through my pitch to be the school Prime Minister.

I seem to remember outlining three key things in my mini manifesto;

  1. a new food menu as my friends and I were bored with the same gruel every day,
  2. more computers in the lab as 1 BBC Micro between 3 pupils was very frustrating, and
  3. for my year to be allowed to go into the adjoining sports centre at lunchtime so we could play on the arcade machines.


From memory, these all appeared to land quite well with the audience.

And then I came to the moment I had been feeling extremely nervous about – my speech ending.  I breathed in, calmly looked around the room and then literally bellowed:

“Vote for me and I will get us more stuff!

Vote for me as I stand for Pupil Power!”

While I was saying this I hoisted my arm in the air with a big fist pump and in doing so did a very good impression of Wolfie Smith.

There was silence for a moment. The audience starting looking at each other and then suddenly the assembly erupted. People started cheering. I looked bewildered. The other candidates looked shocked. I was a rabbit in the headlights.

After my speech, while I was walking through a school corridor, other pupils who I had never even spoken to (shock horror – some even from the years above) would come up to me and shout “pupil power!” and stuck their arms in the air – even the teachers were doing it! I just wanted to crawl into a very small space and think what had I just done?

Later that morning each class voted for who they wanted to be prime minister. And would you believe it I was actually elected to the honourable position of Prime Minister for my school. The closing gamble had paid off – and some of my manifesto pledges were even delivered! What Dad had taught me was the power of creating emotional engagement with my audience.

Flash forward to today…

Over the last few weeks we’ve all been bombarded with Remain and Brexit leaflets and letters and every day there are presentations in regard to the pros and cons of staying in or out. Each side seems to have a healthy marketing budget to tell us just how we should be thinking and voting. Sadly, the messages from both camps are now starting to morph into one. I’m just not feeling it – there is no emotional engagement for me.

So here’s the thing.

Content really is king. The trick is how to present it, weave it into the key messages and create something memorable that people can relate to and get on board with. And to do this effectively you have to create emotional engagement in parallel.

Even though I stood on that school stage over 30 years ago, whenever I create a presentation today I still follow the same two basic principles that I learnt as part of my ‘pupil power’ speech.  First – I always focus on the key content messages and the goals that need to be achieved – the ‘sausage’ if you will! And  second, then – and only then – do I start to think about shaping and creating emotional engagement – aka the ‘sizzle’!

Note – it is ALWAYS this way around. I have occasionally tried to skip to step 2 first, by thinking of my emotional engagement strategy and then create the content and it’s never achieved what I wanted, with the outcome being the presentation coming across a bit ‘gimmicky’ and not achieving my aims – not good.

And as its bbq time, for your tasting pleasure, here are four condiments to make your content sausage sizzle and squeeze in some emotional engagement in the process;

1. Less really is more. Recent research suggests that audiences can typically only recall 10% at the very most of anything presented to them – it’s called ‘the forgetting curve’. Hone, hone and hone again your message. Be brutal with yourself. My three ‘mini manifesto’ commitments were the core of my message.

2. A quick story can work wonders. Personalise your presentation and sell the content with a story. The other pupils could all relate to the anecdote of crowding around the computers to ‘have a go’. For more on this I wrote a blog on storytelling which you can read here.

3. Practice, practice, practice. Mark Twain famously said “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech“. So practice until it sounds and looks like you are doing the most natural thing in the world. If you don’t like the idea of standing at the top of your stairs and reciting your words, go for a walk in the park and say the words out aloud.

4. Never forget, it’s all about THEM, not you! Finally, don’t waste the opportunity of creating brilliant content and not engaging people with it. Back when I was running for Prime Minister it was all about what the other pupils wanted, not me.

Remember – sausage first, then sizzle!



‘Work-With’ and ‘Do-To’ | The Jekyll and Hyde of Business Transformation


Earlier this year I unexpectedly played a very small part in a life and death situation.

I had arrived early for a morning meeting at an office by the banks of the Thames. I found a quiet bench to sit on and started to prepare for the discussion ahead.


It was such a nice morning I took a picture of the view from where I was sitting.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, two men came running towards me full pelt and were shouting at the top of their lungs – “phone phone!”

At that very moment, time seemed to slow right down.

I asked them what was happening and they frantically pointed to a moored up boat. I looked down the riverside towards where they pointed. They explained moments before two people had fallen in the river in-between the riverbank and the boat.

If you look at the picture above, you can just about make make out the boat to the right of the picture. The people were now stuck in a very narrow space – with a long drop between the riverside and the water.

There was a small group of people trying to help by maneuvering a long piece of wood into the water for the people to grab onto. On a nearby bridge a crowd was starting to gather, they were looking and pointing to the boat.

Then I heard the people in the water screaming for help.

I immediately snapped back to the moment. Time sped up again. It was surreal.

I changed gear from a calm mind-set to an action one. I called 999 (for the first time in my life) and was asked by the operator which service I required.

The question initially threw me – I quickly considered this and said “Send Everyone!”

A few minutes later sirens started blaring, blue lights started flashing, an ambulance arrived and half a dozen policemen came running down the riverbank.

People dived into the water to save the people – it was like a scene from Casualty.

I later spoke to the police to offer a statement and found out the people were safe and recovering in hospital. Kudos to the Services and the people who helped that morning – they were fantastic and deserve real credit for saving two lives.

Later that evening I reflected on what had started as a normal, calm morning turning into the complete opposite. I had needed to react quickly and transform my thinking. My experience has a massive parallel to business transformation. Here’s why:

The ideal model most people take when driving change and transformation is applying a ‘work-with‘ approach to engaging colleagues – a Dr. Jekyll approach if you will.

This is fine when everything is planned and under control. You get the best out of people and can maximise employee engagement.

However, even well designed programmes can suddenly be hit by unforeseen challenges.  These can come from nowhere, for example – key stakeholders suddenly leaving the business, changes in business strategy or unsurfaced, internal organisational issues that can all risk successful delivery of the transformation.

These and many other types of challenge can all result in toxic outcomes such as distracted colleagues focusing on other activities and withdrawing commitment or the change team seen as being “teeth-less” for driving through change.

It’s at this point that the “muck and bullets” of change can really start flying.

In these circumstances, it’s absolutely the right thing to briefly pause and take stock on how the challenge impacts the programme and what needs to happen next.

It’s highly likely that you will need to push on, maintain pace and deliver the benefit deliverables. Meaning you need to react and change gear quickly – but how?

By unleashing your inner Hyde.

Not in a scene where the world turns black and white, the fog rolls in, the hand twitches behind the velvet sleeve and you appear menacingly from behind a curtain!

But more of a way to delicately drive through the change and bring in some ‘do-to‘ thinking. So how to walk the ‘tightrope of change‘ without turning into a monster?

I’ve been fortunate to work with some brilliant transformation experts over the years and one of the key characteristics that struck me about them was their ability to react appropriately when things took an unexpected turn.

I believe they all share these 5 qualities which helped them to subtly and delicately react when they needed to get into ‘do-to’ mode:

  1. Keep it professional – don’t make things personal. Smile and stay positive even when the ‘muck and bullets’ start flying.
  2. Signpost what happens if deadlines aren’t achieved – don’t surprise people and outline the importance of key milestones. Communicate often.
  3. Watch out for the domino effect – be careful your Hyde doesn’t bring out everyone else’s Hyde in the process. Tread carefully.
  4. Keep a record of everything agreed – and follow up quickly with actions and minutes of key meetings and discussions.
  5. Ask people to commit – and if they don’t, nip it in the bud. This is not the time for passengers or fence sitters.

Please note, none of these required imbibing a beaker of a green smoking liquid. 🙂



The Process Improvement Toothbrush Test | Full Cycle Or Spot Clean?

shutterstock_74961160 copy

Chip Bergh, the CEO of Levi Strauss was recently interviewed and he gave some amazing advice about maintaining your jeans – you don’t need to put your jeans in the washing machine. 


Otherwise he says the jeans can fade and lose their classic indigo colour. When they do need a clean he advocated occasional use of a toothbrush to spot clean jeans and argues that we too quickly throw our jeans in the wash and that washing too often was inappropriate.

I was amazed when I read this. Probably because I didn’t want to look scruffy and be smelly for my colleagues on dress down Fridays. 🙂

But on reflection it’s actually pretty sound advice…

Process improvement, when used appropriately can provide a very powerful way to improve efficiency, drive up sales and improve the customer experience. But when we talk about process improvement, what is an ‘appropriate’ approach?

Consider Chip’s jeans washing advice in regard to a standard business process in a typical company. Just how many times will that process have been ‘put through the wash’ in order for it to be shiny and new again? How many times has it had buttons sewn back on? Or holes patched? 

The fact is this. Not all processes need an improvement project using all the bells and whistles at hand. Sometimes a little tweak or patch will do.


And sadly major process improvement or change  management is often promoted when simple tweaking will sometimes do – either through lack of experience – or worse, insisting that processes can only ever be improved by going through a full end to end lean six sigma or change management review. 

This costs valuable company resources, uses up unnecessary company time and can damage a process that on the whole works perfectly well.  And in some circumstances turn people off process improvement when it is urgently needed.

So try the process improvement toothbrush test.

Next time you are asked to either lead or take part in a process improvement project, imagine the process is a pair of jeans – yes imagine you’ve just picked them out of your washing basket.

Are the jeans really dirty like the wearer has just been through 5 back to back “tough mudder” assault courses and need a good 2 hours in the washing machine on a high heat spin cycle followed by some serious sewing and mending?

OR…are there a couple of little dirt spots that a little cleaning with a toothbrush would clear up and avoid the need for the washing machine and sewing box?

If you mainly see dirt spots, then the process has passed “the toothbrush test” – so what to do next?


I would advise encouraging you to discretely talk to the project leader and sponsor to see if they mainly see spots too.  Not in a macheavelian or “emperor’s new clothes” way – but in a way to delicately highlight what you are seeing is not a need for a major wash. It’s important to be transparent and positive when doing this. They may well share other things that are happening you may not be aware of.

If everyone does see “spots” then the project can then be scaled back and a series of short burst “mini projects” can be implemented. At the very worst, if spot cleaning doesn’t work, THEN you can start the full wash cycle. 

When I say “mini project” all I mean is that you dive straight to possible solutions and look to implement – quickly. Just keep it simple.

Use this list to see a few examples of when you’ll need to spot clean or full cycle your process:

image1Spot clean recommended

  • Occasional missed deadlines for an internal, non core process.
  • A few pockets of colleague frustration.
  • A bit of misunderstanding of company policies and processes.
  • Recent system upgrades not bedding in or not well understood.
  • Pressure from key stakeholders in the business to “fix” another part of the business

x-defaultFull Cycle recommended 

  • Regular customer complaints on a particular area.
  • Rework and workarounds in place like sticking plasters.
  • Lots of noise in the business with escalations flying around.
  • Lots of handling delays between departments.
  • Significant problems highlighted in internal or external audit findings.

Take the toothbrush test and save wasted time – because not every process needs a full cycle when a spot clean will often do.