VIVE LE PRIX ANGLAIS

We have a 500 year old wall that goes all the way around our 6 hectare property that goes from 2-3 metres high on the road sides to about 5 metres high on the vineyard side. It is the original wall in the same way that George Washington’s hatchet remained original despite having had 3 new heads and 6 new handles replaced over the last 200 years.

Our wall has been patched and re-patched so many times over the last half-millennium that it is a mix of stones, sand and cement styles, shapes, colours and age. It needs constant attention and care as when it was first built it wasn’t built with a foundation. In the old days they just flattened the earth and started laying the stones.

Sadly, we had two parts of it collapse last December on the same day, about 100 metres apart, after 5 weeks of almost continuous heavy rain. The insurance company refused to accept that this was caused by unusual circumstances and therefore would not accept responsibility for payment of reconstruction.

Front Wall Before

Back wall Before


I went out for quotes from local French stone masons, and the three that I received ranged from €10,000 to €20,000. As these are significant amounts, and seemed rather inordinately large, I decided to widen my search. I eventually, through a friend, found an English stonemason who had recently moved to France who quoted me about €2,000, has already finished rebuilding the first hole, and is doing a great job.

Front wall after

Back Wall After


This is not the first time that I have come across the local custom of the “Prix Anglais”… a special price for foreigners, particularly English speakers.

The local view of many tradesmen and service providers seems to be that if you are a foreigner and you come to France and buy a chateau you must be rich, and as your French is no better than their 8 year old son’s, you must also be stupid so, as there is no way that you would have any understanding of the value of anything, they may as well load their quote to the highest levels, in case you are rich enough and stupid enough to accept an inflated quote.

This is such a short term view of how to conduct oneself that it just doesn’t make any business sense at all.
Our English stonemason took one look at all the old stonework on our property and realised that there was enough work there to keep him busy on a regular basis for the rest of his working life, and that if he was reasonable (not necessarily cheap), I would be glad to continue using him. He was right as I have already asked him whether he could spend 2-3 days every month doing general upkeep, at a time to suit him.

Contrast this with the “Prix Anglais” attitude which is to try and make as much as you can out of this foreign git on the one job,as you never know whether he will want you to ever come back.

The first time I hit this was when we wanted to have the locks changed on our current house when we took possession in 2001. The first quote we had was €2000, the reasoning being that the locks could not just have the tumblers adjusted as they were too old and would therefore need total replacement. One of our neighbours gave us the name of a locksmith mate of his who came in and adjusted the tumblers and gave us 4 sets each of new keys for all doors and charged us €160.

The next time involved the collapse of a retaining wall in our back garden, when the initial quote of €20,000 came down to francs (about 1/7th) when the contractor realised that I was somewhat more fiscally savvy than my French accent would have suggested to him. I did not use his services then or ever again.

I have found this short term thinking to be so prevalent among many French trades and service people I have met that it is a refreshing surprise to find local tradespeople who understand that successful business relationships are built by securing and retaining clients that use you automatically without having to fight competitively for every piece of business. That what most people look for is honesty and trust rather than just being cheap. The attitude that every foreigner is there to be fleeced as quickly as possible, even if you can only get away with it once, is not the way to build a long-term successful business reputation amongst the foreigners living in France, who are an increasingly larger part of the demand for services. When I have challenged trades people about this “Prix Anglais” they will often openly admit to it, and generally find it terribly amusing rather than being embarrassed at being caught out.

Over the last 15 years we have found and use a builder, plumber and electrician whom we call automatically whenever we need their services without worrying about whether we should get competitive quotes to ensure that they are being realistic. To this list we can now add a stonemason.

The success of any business is not based on how many customers you can “screw” the one time, but how many of the same customers you can service well and fairly forever.

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IT’S ALL GREEK TO ME

I am going to change my name to Leonidas Haymanopolis and move to Greece.

I would like to get away from the austerity measures that have been imposed in every other European Union country and which the Greeks have decided doesn’t apply to them.

I would like to borrow money from those around me to support my living standards and never have to pay it back.

I wish to pay minimal taxes to my government for running the country and paying my salary and retirement benefits. I will do this by making sure that most of my transactions are in cash, even if I am in a professional role, and by only declaring about a quarter of my real income as a way of minimising my tax bill.

I want to be able to take 41 days paid leave per year (annual leave plus public holidays).

And… I want to be paid for 13 months of work even though there are only 12 months in my year.

After all, apart for kites, fireworks, eyeglasses and yo-yo’s Greece gave the world democracy and Greeks have overwhelmingly democratically voted to tell the rest of the world to bugger off.
“Thanks for the loans, but we have spent them all on ouzo, luxury boats and sandals, so we will not be paying you back”. Ah … democracy at work.

Author: Rutger2; via Wikimedia Commons; GNU Free Documentation License


I guess that we should have realised that the expression “Beware Greeks bearing gifts” actually cut both ways and that we also had to “Beware Greeks asking for hand-outs”.

A number of studies, including one by the Federation of Greek Industries last year, estimate that tax evasion is costing the Greek Government about € 30 billion per year.

In the wealthy northern suburbs of Athens only 324 residents ticked the box on their tax return admitting that they have a swimming pool. Tax officials using satellite photographs of the same area came up with 16,974.

Source: Wikimedia Commons


The worst offenders are the self-employed, who form a major proportion of working people in a country of small businesses, and it’s not just the taxi-drivers, plumbers, electricians and restaurant owners. Tax authorities recently surveyed the returns of 150 doctors with practices in Kolonaki, a trendy neighbourhood in Athens that hosts the major global designer brands. More than 50% claimed incomes of less than € 40,000 and 25% claimed incomes of less than € 13,300 which exempted them from paying any income tax at all. These levels of income would not even cover them for paying rent on their premises in this area let alone being able to afford the luxury homes, cars, boats and jewellery that these people possess.

In a country of 11 million only a few thousand reported earnings in excess of € 132,000 per annum and an inordinately large number of people claim that they earn less that € 12,000 per year, which would not even cover them for heating their home or running their car.

If the Greeks just paid their taxes the way most of the western world has to, any part of € 30 billion extra annually would go a long way to alleviating the financial crisis that exists and that threatens to envelope the rest of Europe.

Instead, the Greeks have taken to the streets with an attitude that expects the rest of the world to pay for their lifestyles, and for the corruption and practice of “fakelaki” (Greek for little envelope) used for bribing everyone from Government officials to medical practitioners, which is so widespread that the rates for each one are common knowledge.

Author: Joanna; Source: Flickr, via Wikimedia Commons


George Papandreou is struggling to form a unity Government, the EU Finance Ministers can’t agree on what to do next and under what conditions, Greece’s debt has been downgraded to junk status and it looks at as though Greece is heading towards default on its debt, which could herald another global financial meltdown.

As Leonidas Haymanopolis in Athens I will be significantly better off than if I stay in France and continue to pay all the French taxes, and I will be able to take to the streets and do battle with the authorities to protect my right to ask everyone else to fund my idleness.

Αντίο και Θεός σας ευλογήστε. (good bye and god bless you)

PRAISE AS A KEY MANAGEMENT SKILL

We all know that positive reinforcement is the right way to train and manage behaviour with our children and our pets (See “Teaching old dogs new tricks” posted June 20, 2010), and yet most managers are quite unskilled in how and when to praise those around them, relying on short term and minimal return programmes like “Employee of the Month”.

Recognising good performance should be on a daily, weekly, contact by contact sincere reaction to what has been achieved, as structured recognition programmes tend to be short-lived and of limited real benefit in reinforcing the behaviour that you want employees to repeat.

The focus should be on “catching people doing something right” and reacting straight away, so don’t just spend time creating formal recognition programmes, but make it part of your management responsibility and focus.

Some tips …

1. Be sincere and specific

My first real job was at International Harvester NZ (a company now long gone so I can name them) which had a CEO who would walk the corridors and shop floor regularly and would say hello to everyone and tell them that they were doing a great job. While it was nice to meet the CEO, the reality that he did not know who we were or what we did, meant that not only did it have no meaning, but the fact that he couldn’t tell anyone how or what they were actually doing well meant that he wasn’t treated seriously, nor was he reinforcing any specific behaviour. It also meant that when he actually did try and honestly praise someone for having done something specific and worthwhile, the impact was diminished.

Author: Tomorrow Never Knows; via Wikimedia Commons


2. Strike while the iron is hot

The longer you wait the lesser will be the impact. To wait for the end of the year to do performance reviews and hand out performance awards has little lasting impact. To wait till the end of the month for the “all hands” meeting can have some benefit from a peer recognition viewpoint, but telling someone that they have performed well immediately after the event has greater impact, and reinforces the behaviour that is being recognised.

3. Forget the advice about being balanced when praising

Many managers believe that praise should only be handed out when balanced with some advice on improvements. This doesn’t work, and discussions on what improvements are needed should be left to another time with a session that is well prepared. The advice that negative feedback should be balanced with something positive is reasonable, but using a praise opportunity to also cover shortcomings will just detract from the chance to encourage someone to keep doing what they have just done well.

4. Praise at all levels

It is always easy to praise top performers, as they tend to exhibit the behaviours that are needed to make them successful anyway, but you should also look for reasons to praise the behaviour and positive actions of those that are under-performers, as it is unlikely that even those who are struggling are doing everything incorrectly.
As it is your job as a manager to help everyone to improve their performance (See “Move them up or move them out” posted 23 August, 2010), praise for a “struggler” is one key element of trying to help them move up the performance ladder. It is obviously much harder to do this with low performers but the results can be dramatic if done with sincerity, and as a way of showing that you are aware of what they are doing and that you are there to help them succeed.

5. Praise needs to be tailor-made

Praise should not be doled out in an approach of “one size fits all”.
Some people want their recognition to be open, loud and visible (like many sales people), whilst others prefer it to be very personal and private. You have to know your people well enough to understand what form of recognition has the greatest impact for them rather than believing that everyone wants to be picked out in front of a crowd.

Author: Inga Munsinger; via Wikimedia Commons


6. Surprise them

Don’t always use the same approach as after some time it will lose its impact and become mundane. Recognition at a sales meeting is fine, but I have found that a personal visit, or a hand-written letter, from the CEO congratulating someone (or a team) on winning an important sale for example, can leave a greater impression.
It is important to also not forget the contribution made by an employee’s family, as flowers sent to the wife of a hard working employee, thanking her for her understanding and support for his absence from home can have even greater impact than just praising your team member.

Author: Rico Shen (User:BrockF5); via Wikimedia Commons


I believe that effective and timely use of praise is a key element of success of any team.
Whilst most managers find formal and structured recognition programmes easier to implement and administer, using personal praise that is due when it happens has much greater impact on long term behaviour and performance. At the same time, it is also important that you don’t overdo it as that will downgrade its value and make it humdrum.

Praising every minor thing that happens will ultimately have the same effect as praising little, but its proper use as a management tool is critical.

HOW MEN CAN SUCCEED IN THE WORKPLACE

Penelope Trunk’s latest piece on BNET advises men on what they have to do to be able to compete with women in the workplace. This is based on the today’s reality that females do so much better than males in school these days that some universities have lowered their admission standards for boys, that there are more unemployed men than there are women, and that young single women in their 20s earn more than young men in the same roles.

Penelope gives so much unusual advice (see “How to get promoted” posted 4 April, 2011) that I felt that her latest effort could not pass without comment.

Her solutions for men who want to succeed in her increasingly female dominated business world are as follows:

1. Work for a woman.

Penelope contends that men working for women do better than those that work for men. She also believes that “…Women are more likely to leave a job they are great at to take a break, so you are more likely to have a boss you like AND get the boss’s job if it’s a woman.”

I had always believed that it was only prejudiced men that pushed the theory that women are less dependable than men, as you never know when their hormones will dictate their need to have time off work.

To be even more effective, I would add to her advice that it also helps if the woman you work for is your mother, wife or other close female relative. If this is not an available option you should try hard to find an attractive female boss who is recently married and who is worried about her biological clock ticking away.

2. Put candy in your office.

Penelope describes women as being “ …more chatty, more compassionate and more likely to be team-oriented”, and as “… you can’t turn into a woman …”, you can do the next closest thing which is to look like you exhibit this same behaviour, as putting candy in your office says “I’m friendly. Sit down and talk with me.”

Dum dum pops; via Wikimedia Commons; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dumdums.jpg


However it does suggest that for men who are very ambitious, a sex change operation should not be discounted without some serious consideration of its positive impact on a career, as well as on dental hygiene.

I feel that as well as candy, men wanting to get ahead should also adorn their office with Anne Geddes calendars of photogenic toddlers in pot plants, photos of cute baby animals, and a large collection of cuddly and fluffy toys. This will work particularly well if you are working for a hairdressing company or Karl Lagerfeld.

3. Don’t look at porn at work.

Penelope advises that “… Men who look at porn at work are more likely to subconsciously objectify women at work for the rest of the day …”. Thank goodness that the effects of pornography are only transitory, and will not affect the way that porn-watching men view women once they leave the workplace.

According to Ms. Trunk, it appears that the only reason that you should not look at pornography in the office is that it will make you think of women as sex objects for the rest of the day. To her it seems to be irrelevant that you are watching pornography while you are meant to be actually doing the job that you are being paid for, nor the fact that you are obviously an addicted sleaze-bag, nor the fact that if you are caught using your company PC and company time to surf porn sites means that you will get fired.

4. Don’t hit on the young girl at the office.

Sexy secretary drawing by Dimorsitanos (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


According to Penelope “She gets hit on every day … she thinks you should fix your home life instead of avoiding it with her. So force yourself to keep your secret lusts secret. You look stupid when you confess to a girl half your age …”.

So this means that, in theory, it should be OK for us men to hit on women in the office who are closer to us in age, rather than those significantly younger than we are. We should leave the younger women to be hit on by the younger men, as they will not look foolish in doing so. Being a sexual predator is therefore acceptable in the work place as long as you limit it to your own age group.

5. Hire gay women.

Penelope believes (although she does say that she has no proof) that “… the men I’ve worked with who can work with gay women are a thousand times more competent than men who cannot relate to gay women”.

I have always thought that great managers surrounded themselves with competent, capable, skilled, enthusiastic and passionate people irrespective of their sex, colour, religion or sexual orientation. Now it appears that according to Penelope Trunk, this is incorrect as to be “… a thousand times more competent …” all I need to do is to surround myself with lesbian subordinates.
I have therefore decided that I will start a courier company in Sydney using the local chapter of “Dykes on Bikes”. As this will immediately increase my competence a thousand-fold, it has to be a success. Any of my readers interested in investing in this sure-fire venture please send your bank account details to my Nigerian partner asuka.isborn@everyminute.com

Dykes on Bikes taken by User:Pretzelpaws; via Wikimedia Commons


I have now realised that Penelope Trunk only writes articles like this to make sure that men waste their time doing things that are totally irrelevant (and destructive) to their career advancement, thereby ensuring that her vision of a female dominated business world becomes a reality. I have therefore decided to give the fluffy toys in my office back to my grand-daughters, despite the fact that I did become attached to the pink rabbit.

By JadziaLover at nl.wikipedia; via Wikimedia Commons