Archives for posts with tag: Behaviour

It’s always good to see people taking the initiative. It doesn’t happen anywhere near as often as it should. Having initiative and taking the initiative is a bit like putting ‘self-starter’ on your CV. Everyone feels it should be on there but few generally do it, at least not early in their careers.

I remember being on a train in London Paddington, about to head west, during the evening rush hour about a decade ago during the time when intercity trains were not just full, they were packed, in a Japanese commuting-style. This particular train was bound for south Wales, but stopped off at Reading, the first major stop 25 mins away and a city that was served by a train every 15 minutes or so. The train was packed, dangerously so.

Many of the travellers were heading for Reading, perhaps 40% of them in my very unscientific estimation. I happened to be standing wedged in a corner of one of the carriages when I overheard the conductor talking to a couple of colleagues. ‘I know what we can do,’ he said. Two minutes later, the conductor came onto the intercom, apologised for the schedule change and announced that the service would not be stopping at Reading.

There was a degree of huffing and puffing, the rain emptied to the point where everyone could just about get a seat, and we took off a few minutes late.

The conductor was probably not authorised to do what he did, but he got the train away, 500 passengers where able to get to their long distance destination on time, and 200 commuters to Reading were delayed 15 minutes getting home.

We need people to take the initiative and shoulder the consequences. That’s how we get stuff done.


I’ve recently been through an exercise to change the way I run. I’ve never benefitted from coaching and only really jogged or ran to keep the weight off and stay fit for more fun pursuits like soccer or racquet sports.

I’d also been picking up a few calf niggles over the last few years and thought it was something to do with my technique, rather than the more obvious reason which is the inexorable sway of time.

What I noticed was that people who run don’t actually plant the heel. The ball of their foot hits the ground first, rather than the heel. I was always heel first, as if I was walking, but a bit quicker. So I set about changing the way I ran.

Because it’s such a fundamental and constant activity, it takes a lot of conscious effort to change. It’s the same in business. If you’re comfortable doing things a certain way, you stay doing it that way. When you find it’s wrong, or it can be done better, you have to embark on a regular conscious process of upheaval or else you’ll give up and go back to the old way. You might not want to change, even if you privately admit it’s for the better. It’s too hard in the short term.

So it was with the running. Every single stride was a conscious effort, otherwise the mind would wander for a couple of minutes and I’d emerge from my reverie to find that the heel was back hitting first. Slowly, but surely, the new way becomes the new natural way, but it’s still so easy to slip the yolk early and step back – literally.

I wrote recently about the so-called Circle of Life, and how it relates to our working lives in a ‘cradle to grave’ stylee.

It occurs to me that within this ‘macro’ trend there are lots of mini cycles, rather like an agile development flow if you’re from a software background.

These cycles can be weekly, monthly, yearly or pretty much any length, but before you know it they link up into a mega trend that defines us.

Here’s an image which pretty well sums up the converse ebbs and flow of the working week for younger and older workers. I hope you can relate to it 🙂

I must admit to a certain frisson of pleasure at the closing of things. Mundane, inconsequential things.

Let me give you examples. That feeling when you load up the dishwasher – surely the single greatest invention of all time – put the cleaning tab in, hit the ‘on’ button and close up the lid. So satisfying.

It’s same when you close the heated oven door after carefully preparing your dish for cooking. Here’s two more for you: Closing and locking the house front door at the end of a day, ideally a Friday, when everyone’s home, last thing at night. Closing the car door when all the family is inside after a long walk somewhere, ready for the drive home.

I know, the last ones have serious womb syndrome about them, but you see parallels in the working world. Submitting that final report, either paper-based or electronically, is a rush too. Signing off on an initiative, a project, a job even, come on, you must feel it too. Sales people – closing a deal! How good is that feeling?!

Perhaps the ultimate work-related frisson of closure is the day you fully retire, as long as what you have lined up after it is better. This post harks back to a recent post about the circle of life, which makes them both all the more valid I think.

The circle of life has a truth and completeness about it. We come into the world, we need help, support, guidance so that we can learn the ropes and participate as independent people, until its our own turn to do the same for the next generation.

Then we gradually fizzle out and eventually reach a similar stage of dependence on others, until we exit, stage left.

This got me thinking about our working lives as well, how we start not knowing anything – about a new career, new job, new company and their products and services – reliant on others to show us the way, give us the knowledge and the inside track until we can work alone, be trusted, and contribute productively.

My rule of thumb was 12 months. I felt it was a full 12 months before people were genuinely up to speed and actively leading or contributing. Then their experience of having seen a full 4 quarters play out allows them to build on the previous calendar year and improve the business. Some people think that after the second period of 12 months you start to stagnate and should move to a fresh challenge, but that has always seemed premature to me. Sure, I’ll give a new career or move 2 years, but will stay longer if I’m enjoying it and enhancing the business.

We improve as working individuals and start to climb the corporate ladder in our 30’s and 40’s, but does there come a time when we start to lose our creativity and the well starts to run dry? Do we step back a little and look to the next wave of high achievers to come up with the fresh ideas that we can help execute and bring to fruition?

I think there’s some truth to it, but conversely there are plenty of people making huge contributions well into their 6th decade of working, and a good proportion of them are at the very top of their profession, and their company.

The body may weaken over time, but the mind, the experience, and the ability to delegate the heavy lifting – literally and figuratively – to others goes the other way. As long as we have the mental energy and the curious mind to go with it.

Most companies tend to study the traditional barometers of performance, such as revenues, revenues as a percentage of targets, and quota attainment as a percentage of salesperson sales quota.

These are your classic ‘lag’ indicators. They lag because they typically come a few days after a reporting period closes, with the lag occurring as companies wait for the final numbers and do their calculations.

Lag indicators are concrete, illustrative and unchanging. But they also indicate performance in a period in the past, one that you can’t change or influence.

Leading indicators do what you think they might, namely give an indication of future performance. The size of your sales pipeline, for example, gives you a sense of how close you are to achieving your sales targets, given what you know about your sales cycle and your conversion rates.

Other lead indicators might be behavioural, especially if you’re looking to measure the new behaviours you want to see if you are to change the way you do things.

This is the power of leading indicators. You don’t have to wait for the lag indicators to see if you’re making progress, because then it might be too late. You can monitor the leading indicators and either confirm you’re on track, or make the necessary alterations and correct your course before it’s too late.

Whenever you try to improve the way you or your company does things, you’re into the business of change. More importantly, the business of changing behaviours, those engrained activities that increase comfort and save time, without necessarily upping productivity or success.

An awful lot of initiatives to change the way we do things come unstuck, and if you believe the research, the success rate can be as low as 30 to 50%. Why is this? A bunch of possible causes contribute. People are set in their ways, or they actively resist change, or the company doesn’t get a host of other things right.

To look at this the other way, and from a more positive angle, there is some first class research from McKinsey about what conditions need to be in place for change to occur successfully. In short these are:

1) A purpose to believe in. Folk have to buy in to what you’re trying to do

2) Reinforcement systems. Front line managers have to coach to the new behaviours

3) The skills required for change. We learn by doing, and doing repeatedly, to acquire the new skills

4) Consistent role models. Seeing people you look up to doing things the new way pays dividends

So there you have it. Easy to blog about, harder to do. Get buy in, reinforce what you’re looking to see, practice makes perfect, and let the leaders lead the way. For more on this excellent research, have a look here.

As punk legend Ian Drury once rather succinctly put it in one of his songs: “There ain’t half been some clever b*stards.” Abraham Maslow was one such clever chap.  His Hierarchy of Needs has stood the test of time and appears somewhere in almost every business school’s sales, marketing or organisational behaviour curricula and most people have a passing knowledge of it.

My father used to simplify it further.  Before I share that with you, I have to say I don’t know if my Dad was familiar with Maslow’s theory, but he – my Dad – was always full of insights and was a classic mentor in the sense that someone who has already figured something out could give you the inside track on an important aspect of life.

Anyway, back to the simplification. My Dad used to say: “Paul,” for that is my name, “people are essentially motivated by two guiding principles. These two are fear and greed.” The more I thought about this, the more I came to the conclusion that he was annoyingly – and rather depressingly – on the money. You can distil how people behave down into two primary – and primeval – driving forces.

The words fear and greed don’t appear anywhere in Maslow’s handy pyramid – and how business consultants love the safe refuge of shapes like pryramids, triangles, funnels and 2 x 2 grids – yet what my Dad had done is cut through the pyramid and produced two possible avenues for explaining why folk do the things folk do.

Oversimplified? Possibly, but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. Just try it yourself. You could view it as a touch cynical or pessimistic, but it works. Forget the 7 deadly sins, you need 1 of them – greed – with the F of FUD thrown in for good measure.