Thursday, 15 May 2014

Surrounded by growth…

I see growth has been in the headlines a lot lately. Earnest and learned think tanks have confirmed the end on the “Great Recession “is nigh. NIESR has revised up its estimate for GDP growth for 2014 from 2.5% to 2.9%. The economy is or will be shortly bigger than it was in 2008. I could go on…

However, I thought it might be interesting to take a different tack and see what other growth indicators might be of relevance to us all. Are there other signs that might give us confidence of being able to battle our way out of the deepest and longest recession we have ever known? Do stats alone do it or do we each need something more tangible and more powerful?

I got to thinking about this as I was walking my faithful dog over the green hills of Cheshire. Musing on what might put these encouraging but essentially dry economic facts into context I tried to look at the big picture. Is there a logical narrative that flows through all the twists and turns we’ve all experienced in business since 2008? Is there anything that ties it all together and makes more sense than just stark headlines or lifeless statistics on a printed or digital page?

At the risk of being laughed out of court I’m going to suggest that the unifying theme could be nature. I know it’s a tenuous link but does that matter if it does the job?

When I first started work for a multinational chemical producer my manager often used to talk about seeing “the green shoots of recovery”. Long before the media got hold of such expressions and used them to excess he used to talk about tending delicate seedlings from which a strong and mature business would grow. Gardening and natural metaphors abounded of which Percy Thrower himself would have been proud.

So I think my old boss might approve of my stance today. Toiling over the hills in all kinds of weather I see at first hand the results of nature’s work. I can frequently see storm damaged trees on one side followed immediately on the other by the most resplendent wisteria blooms imaginable.

For me this is a fantastic reminder of where we have been and where we are now. I’m reminded of what harsh treatment has been doled out as the sights of destruction are still visible. Equally though, I’m now able to feast my eyes on bluebells in record-breaking abundance, cow parsley that shimmers at almost shoulder height and wisteria so heavy and dense it hides the wall its hanging almost entirely from view.

Which will inspire me and drive me more – reading the Economist or walking in the Bickerton Hills? I think you can guess! What will you draw on for inspiration?

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Is motivation worth the sweat?

“He failed to motivate them! They were bereft of motivation!”

So ran some of the headlines when one of the North West’s most famous football clubs recently sacked its manager. The fact that motivation had gone missing seemed to be vastly more important than purchasing the right players, choosing the appropriate tactics or putting in the effort on the training pitch.

And this is a serious matter – whether you follow football or not you probably can’t have failed to see this story. How often do you see the word “bereft” in your daily newspaper? For me it brought to mind the famous Monty Python sketch in which a certain parrot was dead, no more and ultimately bereft of life!

In some ways, this felt like someone had died. So it certainly provides a good backdrop for considering if motivation is a skill worth talking about. The context is wide-reaching and it was no accident that one of the commentators brought in by the BBC to discuss this topic was a Harvard professor of business. The skills needed to lead a football team are exactly the same ones needed to lead a team in the world of business.

David Moyes, in my humble opinion, did indeed fail to motivate. I personally felt sorry for him as his tragedy was played out in the full glare of the cameras but then again he was well remunerated for taking those risks. However, I felt he must take responsibility for failing to motivate – any seasoned business person will tell you how vital a “soft skill” motivation is.

Perhaps calling it a soft skill is partially where the problem stems from. For Moyes, there was nothing remotely soft about the nature of this skill which eluded him so teasingly and painfully. So called soft skills are vital in the world of business. The fact that they are linked so closely to emotional behaviour often makes them less accessible to people not prepared or able to change hardened attitudes and take them on board.

It’s not for me to decide whether Moyes was guilty or just unfortunate but insofar as he’s demonstrating a lack of motivational skills which are undeniably vital to successful business I ‘m going to put in my two penn’orth!

Why use the word “hope” when talking publicly about how his players will perform in the future? To my mind this subtly reveals you are hoping and praying which suggest strongly that you haven’t motivated yourself, let alone the players! Hope is not a strategy and even soft things like motivation need planning. Perhaps, like some business people, he underestimated the value of a seemingly optional concept like motivation.

One thing’s for sure, motivation is hard to build up but it can disappear in a second as you fall off the cliff – better not to fall in the first place as it’s an awfully hard climb back up to the top!