Thursday, 19 June 2014

Plus ça change…

That’s a pretty ridiculous expression!

How can something that keeps changing stay the same? What does it apply to? Who does it apply to? Who uses the expression and is the expression itself in need of an update?

Well, in the business world it’s not very difficult to think of examples of change. When I first began working internationally, the trips were referred to as safaris and receiving a telegram from an overseas agent was not uncommon! This of course was quickly replaced by the telex. The telex was overtaken by the fax and the fax was killed off by email – and all that over a period of only 40 years or so.

Over roughly the same period I can remember clunky desk phones giving way to mobiles like house bricks. Car phones that filled the glove box gave way to the luxury of in-car hands-free communication.

When I made by first business flight to Durban with the very exclusive and business-like British Airways, little did I suspect how budget airlines would come along and totally transform air travel for all.

So, massive change and, as we all know, the pace of that change is now break-neck as we rush into strange concepts like internet specs and driverless cars and so on.

And yet, in the context of business I hear a lot of people saying lately that the old methods are still the best. I suppose the problem is, as with most fundamentals in business, old stuff looks exactly what it is and value is a difficult concept to sell. We all love the idea of something new and that little expression might just be useful in reminding us that the underlying values need never change.

People still buy people, as another popular expression goes, and for my money they always will.

Yes, it’s important to keep up in the race for “new” – how many consumer products get a new lease of life simply by the addition of the word “new” in bright letters on the top right-hand corner of the pack? But for long-lasting business success it might be a good idea to think deeper and work out what’s going on beneath the surface.

Clearly it would be Luddite to deny that the instinct for change, which we all have, is anything but a force for good. Optimism and inventiveness are all bound up with change and what business will not profit from having those qualities in the mix? We need to constantly renew and refashion as we search for better ways of doing things and more efficient ways of living our lives.

On the other side of the coin, it’s also good to remember that a vital sense of stability and security can spring naturally from simply not changing at all.

So it would seem that plus ça change may not be a tired old expression that’s outlived its usefulness – perhaps that’s why we keep using it?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it…

Reading about the kerfuffle caused recently by a footballer getting upset over a forgotten birthday cake, I started to think about special events in the workplace.

Whether or not that particular player was genuinely aggrieved is of course hard to say, given the hype that often abounds in the world of football. It could have been a gambit to presage a move from the club or a negotiating tactic to increase the weekly wage packet. On the other hand it may have been entirely genuine and symptomatic of how he was treated behind the scenes when not scoring goals on the pitch.

Just because he is a famous footballer and very high profile does not mean we can waive the rules of engagement. On both sides of the fence, whether managed or a manager, it’s generally a good idea to treat everyone in the workplace with respect. I think probably everyone will acknowledge that fact if questioned in isolation but how many of us actually behave like that consistently and unerringly?

Yet, by failing to keep up high standards of relationship building in our daily business lives we run the risk of failing to motivate or, worse, giving cause for disaffection. A recent study by Accenture - and reported in the Times - revealed that 43 percent of those surveyed cited “lack of recognition” as a reason for unhappiness at work.

Trained as we are from a very early age in almost every walk of life to look for faults that need correcting, we sometimes forget to look for the positive. By instinct we strive to solve the problems that are blocking our path to the holy grail of sustainable business growth. We spend hours trying to fix what’s broke whereas in reality there may be a lot more to be gained by polishing up the assets under our noses!

We all know that the people are the most important asset in a business but how many of us forget to give the metaphorical birthday cake once in a while? And it doesn’t have to be lavish of course – far more important that the feeling behind the gesture is authentic. Wishing someone “congrats” on Linkedin may be a step in the right direction but is a formulaic statement like that really going to do the job?

And why not give a compliment in the other direction too – even managers or directors need encouragement and support. It’s not a one-way street and of course the benefits of the gesture can flow in both directions.

Perhaps giving a cake is the best way to ensure that you receive one in return?