Harley's Blog


I don’t believe that it is exaggeration to suggest that most people feel trapped in some way. And certainly all of us have felt so at some stage in our lives. This week I witnessed being temporarily trapped as a commuter and I asked myself, 'how many of my fellow commuters are likely to feel trapped in their jobs and careers too?

The heavy weight of mortgages, parenting, and adult responsibility is something that, luckily, us humans are pretty good at bearing. But for a project or change manager whose jobs it is to create a team and lift individuals into a spirit of cooperation and purpose, personal entrapment can be a real challenge.

Of course we can reduce the topic above down to a conversation about motivation. But in order to bring an individual to a higher level of performance, one needs first to release them from the boundaries that they feel are entrapping them. Sometimes it’s purely workload but much more often it is something much deeper within themselves and their lives. If one can be released for even just a moment, the tiny glimpse of something beyond where they are now can be more than enough to spark thoughts that they may have never had alone.

In our private lives un-entrapment often occurs after times of seismic change; be it the loss of a parent or sibling, the ending of a relationship or even something as mundane as a change of house of job. All these events can spark an involuntary new beginning or re-invention of oneself. However, I believe that we can also be released via other, more desirable channels too. For example, by experiencing great art in the forms of magnificent architectural spaces or paintings or most especially for me by music and the human voice.

With September almost here, I am reminded of Richard Strauss’ The four last songs. They are in many ways about release. The setting of Hermann Hesse’s words for the first three is not only sublime but it also prepares us for the fourth and the chance to finally loosen our grip on whatever we believe is holding us back.  Perhaps they are not for everyone. You need to be in the right place to start with and have some space of your own to allow yourself to become lost within them. But when you do…

Have a good week,


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World beating excellence – ‘it’s a system’ not a mindset

For me, the Olympic games is more about the taking part rather than the winning. However, that being said, one can only look at team GB’s medal results with absolute amazement. How can a country so small out-perform every other country in the world apart from the US?  It was not that long ago that ‘Team Great Britain’ used to be right down at the very bottom of the medal tables with only the odd hero, here and there proving themselves to be extraordinary.  Today Great Britain is even above Russia, China and Germany. So what’s changed?

Unlike the ‘Leicester City’ football club story, team ‘GB’s new found status cannot be put down to a new manager or team attitude. It has to be much more than that.  And it is.

For a start, it’s a question of money.  For every medal won, Great Britain has invested more than 5,5 million EUR (coming mostly from the National lottery revenue). But money is only a part of the story.  The secret lies in knowing exactly where to invest and how.  In business we call this process building a business case. We use Net Present Value (NPV) and other matrices to measure how likely we will be in achieving a good return on our investment. Not just in money but in terms of time and effort too.  “If we weren’t doing this, what else could we have been doing, that may have proved better for our business?”

It appears that the UK sport’s governing body does exactly the same thing with the heads of their various sporting disciplines (athletics, swimming, cycling, hockey etc.). Basically they ask three simple questions.

1.       Give us a list of the names of those people that are likely to win an Olympic medal at the next Olympics and/or the games thereafter.

2.       Explain in detail how much money you need and exactly what you will do with the money should we invest in you.

3.       How many medals (Gold, Silver, Bronze) do you feel confident in delivering?

The result of this process is that any sport (or person) that is unlikely to win a medal in the foreseeable future, is extremely unlikely to receive funding, no matter how beneficial the investment might have proved in other terms.

I just wonder if this is A) right in general. B) right for business?  Either way, no one can deny the Olympic medal score list.

Have a good week


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The unexpected advantages of being multi-lingual

In a week where we have learned that being multi-lingual improves one’s ability to concentrate, solve problems and focus, it was an additional pleasure to learn that people who are bi-lingual are also less likely to suffer from dementia. Now this might seem like holiday news hocus-pocus but, having read an extremely interesting article (‘Why being bilingual works wonders for your brain’) by Gaia Vince in The Guardian, I also learned that with each new language one learns, one acquires a new personality too!

According to scientists, it has been proven that multi-lingual people’s responses to questions and circumstances varies depending on the language mode they are in at the time.

Gaia Vince gave an example of an English / French bilingual person who is asked their favorite meal. They answer differently depending if they are asked in English or in French. If in English then their brains will associate more with eating in the UK, and suggest meals commonly eaten in England. whereas if in French, they will tend to select typical French dishes.

Taking this further, it is commonly known that German people tend to be rather strategic and goal oriented, whereas English people tend to be more action oriented. And, apparently, all this can now be explained via language. The English can just add '-ing' to the end of a verb and leave it at that, while the more complex German grammer requires a reason to resolve it nicely. such as: (English) John is running versus (German) John is running to the bus stop.

So what does this mean for those of us that write important communications for multi-lingual environments?  The bottom line is that it is not just a person’s ability to read and understand or speak in another language that is important but how they will react depending in which language they receive the message. 

So, dear reader, I suppose that you are reacting (notice my use of the ‘ongoing active’ -ing) differently to this blog depending if you are bilingual or if you are in the minority group of humans (+/-40%) that only speak one language?

Have a good week,


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“You’re cold and uncaring” - “You’re too emotional!”

There is nothing more distressing than having to work in an environment of personal conflict, where even the smallest thing can spark off a very heated argument.  This is especially because you can find yourself being pulled in opposite directions as those involved seek to find moral support.

It’s strange how life goes but recently I have found myself embroiled in a number of completely disconnected situations where deeply entrenched animosity is seriously impacting, not only the individuals concerned but also on their organisations and ultimately families.

Obviously, I am not going to go into specifics here in public but needless to say, I have spent a great deal of energy and time trying to understand the fundamental causes of each dispute. If you like, to find the real ‘why?’  Apart from the obvious; one person (or group) wanting something different from the other, it appears that often one side tends to argue based on rational logic while the other argues from an emotional standpoint. From a diversity point of view, I am happy to report that this is not definable as a male / female phenomenon.

This is how I see things develop:

1.       The logical people believe in the rationality of their argument and expect others to see things the same way as they do. 

2.       Because something very deep is at stake, the emotional defendants will chop and change their arguments against the logical, to try and win at any cost. When I look deeper I find that often their real problem is not the issue being argued about but something much more fundamental, such as a deep seated personal feeling of rejection or powerlessness or inferiority, or even a sense of moral injustice – “it’s not fair!”  etc. 

3.       The logical, because they are logical, remain by their original standpoint, adapting only as and when subtle improvements to their argument emerge.

4.       The logical’s inflexibility tends to make the emotional even more angry and upset. And because the emotional are unlikely to feel ready to voice their real feelings, especially with those that appear to be ‘attacking them’, the situation is very unlikely to ever come to a sustainable resolution.  

Consequently, while one group might be arguing what is best for the business from a logical standpoint the other is resisting from an emotional one.

So what to do?  In my role as change manager, my approach is firstly to try and defuse the situation and then to win everyone’s confidence.  Once a basic level of trust has been established I then attempt to go down to the deepest emotional level s of both sides to discover the real drivers of the argument.  If (and it is a very big if) I manage to achieve this I can then set out a strategy for helping each person (or side) to manage their emotions to find a way of separating them from the topic of the argument itself.  This is extremely difficult and I am not a professional counselor, to say the least, so it does not always work.  But sometimes you have to try.

In my experience, bringing in specialists sometimes helps, sometimes it makes things worse.  So it is no wonder for me that partnerships in businesses, personal relationships and families sometimes break to the detriment of everyone involved.

Hoping you are not suffering from a reoccurring personal conflict and that if you are, someone is helping you through it,

Have a good week,


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The good old days

Recently we have heard some politicians promise to take us back to the ‘good old days’ in order to make their countries ‘great’ again.  And yet when their voters were asked when exactly the good old days were, they could not could come up with a period where, under scrutiny, was not as good as it is today.

In business too, it is vitally important not to be nostalgic. Good periods in the past, always had their downsides and to be honest, are often not relevant to the current situation. I do believe, however, that there is a great deal we can learn from history, especially on the impacts of technological change. But history only best serves as an indicator of the direction in which we should not be heading, rather than the one we should take.

The secret to making any significant improvement in business or society is to invent new visions that do not fix a problem as such but rather create new environments where the old way is no longer even relevant. For example, at a certain time, you need to forget about making chemical based camera film better and invent a totally new approach to capturing images, such as with the invention of the digital camera.

We can take this argument further by creating a parallel with the creation of new laws. Laws are nearly always created as a reactionary process. i.e. when something we don’t like happens we try to legislate to prevent it from happening again. However, the real challenge is not to try and stop the bad things from happening but to create an environment where they are no longer relevant.  For example, when people and goods were transported by horses there was a great deal of cruelty to horses.  And even if politicians saw a benefit for themselves to pass laws to try and reduce the level of cruelty, the only real solution was to invent a world where horses were no longer needed for commercial reasons.

It’s a bit like the challenge facing our borders. Ultimately you have two options, to try and invent better and more efficient ways to defend them, or to find a way to dispense with borders altogether. After all, it’s not that radical a concept. Our European forefathers found a way to break down the borders and tax barriers that surrounded their cities in order to stimulate free movement and trade.  I appreciate that, for now, someone might still see a benefit in checking my passport at the border, but I am yet to still to be convinced that there is any real benefit in doing so.

Today, I am constantly on the lookout for people that are prepared to think a long way outside the box. People who can visualize, philosophize and invent new business solutions based upon new concepts, rather than outdated paradigms. Solutions that look into the future and offer the potential of something significantly better than what we have today.  

Have a good week,


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How to draw an alien - a lesson in change reticence

According to professor Thomas Ward, if you ask a bunch of people to draw an alien the majority of them will present you with something looking like this. However, commonsense tells us that if mankind were ever to detect alien life the chances are that the alien would look anything but like a human.  And yet, because cinema once created an image of an alien with human like features, we tend to follow the norm and depict them that way. And so it is that once something has been invented, we tend to find it almost impossible to invent radical redesigns, but get stuck in cycles of minor modifications. This process is known as inadvertent plagiarism.

Professor Ward’s findings go a long way to explain the extremely slow pace of change in business environments. At times our nineteenth century notion of what a company is, how it is structured, managed and developed seems impossible to shake off. We seem only able to very gently modify their constructions.  Relatively small adjustments, like centralizing or decentralizing processes are still seen in many organisations as radical changes.

The internet too, is taking much longer than one would expect to change even the basics of our traditional distribution and retail structures, where the price we pay in the shop is over six times the original manufacturing cost, and the entity that proportionally the least is often the producer.

Therefore, if we are to expect our existing personnel to re-design our existing structures then we must, at the very least, try to inspire them to think the seemingly unthinkable. And when they do come up with something extremely radical then we need to take them very seriously, if genuine innovation has even the slightest chance of breaking through. After all, nature only advances through a series of errors and therefore we need to encourage errors if we are to advance at all.

My advice for your next brainstorming session is to begin by drawing an alien and to paste the results on the wall.  The artist whose work is furthest away from ET, should not only be given a prize, they should also be encouraged to lead the creative process from there on!

I am off to re-draw my alien, only then will I begin to tackle a distribution process I am struggling with at the moment.

Have a good week,


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“This company is insane”

Is this what you think about your company?  Is this how people in your team would describe your organization to others?  Luckily for us change managers is that most companies are indeed insane but only according to the definition as per Albert Einstein who famously reported:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time.”

It is so easy to criticize and to make telling observations.  It’s also pretty easy to come up with great new ideas. What is much more difficult (as explored in last week’s blog with our CIO’s) is to get people to behave differently; that once accepting that change is a good idea and needed, to actually do something about it.  Because this is so difficult we find our companies far too close to Einstein’s definition for our liking. 

Perhaps one of the big differentiators in great scientists and successful people in general, is that when they see something is not working, they immediately try another way – and keep trying other ways until they find one that works.

Edison, Franklin, Tesla, Babbage, Maxwell, Smith, Faraday, Ford, Einstein – the list goes on… all these people had enormous powers of concentration, inquiring minds and the ability to stay open and look for different ways of solving a problem.

Change management, if it is to offer any benefit at all, needs to provide the missing elements to motivate people to pick up their good ideas and to implement them in a sustainable way.  And yet still, so many companies fail to recognize that this is the key area where they are going wrong. It’s not in their organization charts, or in their worst processes, it’s in their inability to be able to do anything about them.

If I, on a personal level, am to do anything useful at all with my remaining years of working with clients, it will be to give them the tools and the encouragement they need to bring about change. The challenge is, there’s only one of me and many potential clients and although through The Partnership we are gaining more leverage, we are still only a drop in the ocean.  I know my team are not the only change management specialists in the world but it seems so hard to find others that understand even the basics of how to get teams moving in a new way.

So yes, ‘insanity’ it’s an accurate diagnosis for many organisations.  However, we know the cure. All we need to do is to find enough qualified change managers to administer it.  After all, we should only need one per client as it is not the change managers that need to change, it’s their client’s! – Correction: Change managers can also be found suffering from ‘insanity’, mostly brought on by two drivers: 1. Exhaustion at their place of work. 2. Tackling their own ability to change when it is required within their environment!  :-)

It’s a wonder we advance at all – but we can, believe me!

Have a good week,


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Don't bother making plans

Some of the most memorably stressful moments in my career have been spent arguing the benefit of building detailed project plans. Typical counter arguments included “In this company there is no point in making plans because everything is changing all the time and no one sticks to their commitments”. My reaction was, and still is, “if your company is that chaotic, there is something fundamentally wrong with it and perhaps you should invest time identifying the causes of the chaos and lack of commitment?  Having done so, you could then work with the leadership team to come up with a strategy to tame it.  And once you have a strategy, then you can build a plan to do whatever is necessary to tear down the barriers of progress.

When Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces he famously said “plans are worthless, but planning is everything”. His historic statement is not in contradiction of my position, far from it. It makes perfect sense, especially in times of war where, intelligence is scarce and the change variables are so fast and unpredictable. He believed that plans as static objects were a waste of time, but that planning is a dynamic process. Some people today would call it ‘Agile’.

In the cases where I experienced my stress over the argument for detailed plans, we were not like war time. The situations were rather static. We had a great deal of knowledge of the situation and the technologies involved. There were predictable outcomes (in the form of the fact that previous companies had already accomplished the exact same things as us). The only chaos seemed to lie within the business and project team and their inability to agree roles and responsibilities, tasks and functions. They would have struggled even more in an ‘Agile’ environment.

I believe that once we have a vision of what we want to achieve and why, the best thing to do is to make a plan, not only for others to see and understand but to anticipate the challenges ahead and to estimate the resources required to achieve the objective of the project.  After all, how can one ever expect support and cooperation without some degree of clarity and expectation.  In a word the answer to the always present question ‘what next’?

I was recently reminded of this story by an over enthusiastic visionary who had become frustrated by the lack of support from those around him.  The situation was clear to me. They bought his vision, they desired the outcomes; they just missed his strategy and a detailed plan of how it could come about.

In the autumn, my colleague Jürgen Van Gorp will be publishing his master work on when and how to use Agile, or Waterfall planning techniques and it is even rumored that he has a completely new methodology that will allow hybrid project solutions. In expectation of this big event, I am going to spend some time anticipating how project managers that are too lazy to even make a plan could be persuaded to learn from someone with Jürgen’s experience. Watch this space! J

Have a good week


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What holds CIO's back the most?

Yesterday I challenged the world conference of CIO’s at CIO Net’s annual meeting in Amsterdam with a question: When it comes to implementing great ideas, what holds them back the most? My precise question was:

“Imagine at this conference you came up with the perfect idea for your organization, what would be the first No. 1 block for you to overcome?”

My question was part of my key-note speech ‘Leadership in the digital age’, where I argued that leadership (as in the words of Patrick Thomas, CEO Covestro AG) was about ‘taking people somewhere other than where they are headed’). And in order to do that, the challenge of great leadership was largely about over coming fear, both that of the leader and the people they are leading.  I drew from history that like all great leaders, CIO’s in the digital age need to have a powerful vision of how things could be and then inspire those around them to make it happen.

There were more than 150 CIO’s in the room from all over the world, representing organizations, governments and business of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps not the biggest surprise ever, but most CIO’s blamed their first major change resistance challenge on their senior management teams, however what did surprise me was that the next biggest single reason was blamed on their own teams, either due to pure people resistance (risk aversion, narrow mindedness, not invented here syndrome, fear of change, etc. etc.).

From this one can logically deduce that if the CIO’s of the world are finding it difficult to influence their own teams to go in new directions, then it can be of no big surprise that they are also having trouble overcoming resistance from their management teams too.

The early results of the data received, clearly shows that the biggest benefits for the CIO’s organizations might not come from deploying new technologies and applications alone but from engaging effective leadership and change management lobbying techniques.

The pie chart below shows the primary areas of resistance as first analyzed from my hotel room this morning.


One CIO wrote” my biggest challenge is in convincing other people to take my ideas seriously”.  Perhaps it is this lack of influence and communication capability that keeps CIO’s out of the big decision making process at board level? After all, you cannot imagine a similar response from Marketing or Sales director, or could you?

My plan now is to study the feedback data more carefully and consult with my Bayard colleagues to see how best to explore any possible next steps.  The results will be published in an article in DataNews in the next few weeks.

Watch this space, as they say in journalism!

Have a good week,


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Not so much a debate but a full blown out argument!

I guess all of us have, from time to time, become dragged into discussions that end up developing into arguments?  This week I want to explore the rapidly disappearing art of a well-constructed debate.  A debate, in contradiction to an argument, is supposed to explore differing views and opinions and to eventually come to some form of conclusion.  In a debate no one argument or opinion has authority over another. All are an essential component of the process.

In today’s politically correct world, the art of debate is becoming a rarer occurrence. Too many people are scared of being seen on the same platform as those with whom they strongly disagree in case of being somehow linked with their opponents. I even heard one politician criticize another for attending a debate where a well-known radical socialist was also talking part; it was as if he somehow sympathised with the views of his radical opponent.

The great thing about a really good debate is that it can end with you still liking the person but disagreeing, or even hating their views. I personally find tolerating even trivial racist comments and arguments extremely difficult, and yet, if I were to run away from them or to face up to them in an aggressive way then the debate would be over and never have a chance of advancing.

Spending time with those we disagree with, in the ambition to influence them into another direction, is never a waste of time for me. I have a few friends that I simply cannot align with on a number of topics, politics being one of them but none the less I always look forward to our inevitable after dinner debates.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing better than finding a soul mate who shares your views and outlook on life, but that experience is rare and very special and tends to drive ones thoughts inwards.

The point I am trying to make is that in our business lives and families too, it is vital for us to find a structure in which intelligent debate and discussion can occur and where diversity has a voice. As Voltaire, the eighteenth century French enlightenment writer once said (but is more likely to have been Evelyn Beatrice Hall) “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Have a good a week


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Content subject to copyright, Harley Lovegrove 2011