PREPARING FOR THE END OF THE WORLD

The world will end on December 21st, 2012.

I understand that the world was actually also meant to end on May 21, 2011 according to US preacher Harold Camping and a reported 40 million others, but I was busy on that day on my way to a board meeting in Switzerland and therefore missed it all. Camping has now reset his forecast of Doomsday to October 21, 2011. It appears that he made an arithmetic error in his initial calculation when “subtracting the number he first thought of”, though the one common element remains that it will happen on the 21st of some month.

Author: Lenin and McCarthy; via Wikimedia Commons


One outcome is that I’ve stopped trying to lose the 10 kilos that I promised myself I would shed in my last New Year’s resolution. If the world is due to end in about 18 months on the winter solstice next year, dieting now seems to be somewhat pointless. This is good news not only for me but for overweight people everywhere… they may as well eat up as it will make little difference anyway, as we will be judged by our deeds rather than by our BMI.

This date of 21st December, 2012 for the World’s end seems to be the one that is most widely agreed upon, whether you believe the Mayan b’ak’tun, being the end of the 5125 year-long cycle of the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar, predictions from Nostradamus or the Hopi Indians belief that the world will go through a destruction and renewal at this same time.

Mayan Calendar; Author: Truthanado; via Wikimedia Commons


Anyway, Hollywood legitimised it all with the disaster movie “2012” so it must be true.

It is not 100% certain how this end will come about, some soothsayers predicting a destabilisation of the Earth’s core, some foretelling Earth’s collision with a black hole and others foreseeing a collision with a rogue planet called “Nibiru”, which to me sounds more like something you would find on a sushi menu, than a serious threat to earth’s survival.
Fundamentalist Christians see this as the Armageddon (“End of Days”) when the Messiah will return to the earth and then take 200 million Christians with him to heaven whilst the other 6.8 billion of us perish in eternal hell fires. I never realised that Heaven had such limited seating and a ceiling on available harps, but it looks as though it will be even harder to get in than getting tickets for the London Olympics.

Based on the fact that the end of the world will be only a few weeks after the US Presidential elections on Nov 6th, I am sure that Republicans believe that this will come about as God’s punishment if President Obama wins a second term in office, and Democrats will be nervous that it will potentially happen if a newly elected President Sarah Palin decides to test out the big red button in her nuclear-scenario-buffalo-skin-briefcase, called “The Football”.

So, if one does believe that this time around there is some strong support for the world ending on December 21, 2012, how do we prepare for and survive this apocalyptic event? As it may be a bit hard to get in to that favoured 200 million (odds of 35:1 if we just include the living candidates alone, and not all the dead rising up as well), is there something we can do to try and survive, or possibly be overlooked, or at least have a great time and go out with a bang.

A few possibilities to consider:

1. Some people in France believe that you can survive by being in the region called the Gers on December 21st.
I feel that this is a distinct possibility as it is an isolated and boring part of the country and if God was going to overlook any place in France it could conceivably be the Gers.

Author: fr:Utilisateur:Rinaldum; via Wikimedia Commons


2. Kiwis believe that their country is “God’s own” and it would therefore be unlikely that God would allow any harm to come to his own domain. This to me seems somewhat optimistic as there appears to be an attempt to destroy the country beforehand as a warning to others. To the people in my home town of Christchurch, the end of the world can only come as relief from the never ending earthquakes.

3. Greeks have decided that nothing could be worse for them than the conditions imposed by the EU financial bailout. They have therefore decided to hold a national strike on that day to protest against the EU conditions that will try and force Greeks to actually pay some taxes, which is akin to ending their world anyway.

4. The Irish have been living their entire lives as though the world was going to end tomorrow so as far as they are concerned December 21, 2012 will be treated as just another day, and “feck the consequences”.

Author: Firebelly (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


5. In Australia, December 21 is at least one week into the annual summer holidays so the entire population will be trying to squeeze onto Bondi beach and struggling to keep their “tinnies” cold in the 40C heat. Though there will be very few Aussies with seats on the “heaven express”, it is definitely a good place for a final party, as heat levels will be close to those in Hell anyway, and so good acclimatisation.

Author: Andrea Schaffer; via Wikimedia Commons/Flickr


6. The UK will be in the throes of another cold and wet spell. The roads will be closed because they will have yet again run out of grit to sand them (though a shipment will be on the way from Egypt), and everyone will be at home watching re-runs of Coronation Street. It will be hard to get there anyway as it’s a good chance that Heathrow airport will not be able to stay open in the inclement weather, and most Brits will welcome the warmth that Hell will bring.

Based on these available options open to me, I have decided that we may as well stay at home in Tabanac drinking our last 2 bottles of 1982 Haut Brion. As we sit about 150 metres above sea level, the approaching floodwaters will at least enable us to experience the feel of a waterfront property, even if only for a few moments.

The interesting thing is that the descendants of the Mayans will just be getting on with their lives, as they believe that this is only a date changeover, and that it is just time to start counting down the next 5125 years in their calendar’s cycle.

Ah well, at least it will finally give me a good reason to pull the corks on the Haut Brion after 30 years of waiting.

CHARACTERISTICS OF A SUCCESSFUL MANAGER

It’s not easy to define all the elements that differentiate a successful manager from one who isn’t, but there are some behaviours that tend to be common amongst successful executives at any level.
Here are some key things that you will need to do to become one of them.

1. Delegate responsibilities rather than tasks

Good managers do not micromanage their people. They ensure that people understand completely what is expected of them, and what are their objectives, and then work with them to help them achieve their goals, but allow them to freedom to get there in their own way.

2. Fight for your people

Successful managers are tough when it comes to getting the resources and budget needed for their people to succeed. If you are weaker than your peers they will sell their ideas more easily and you will be left with only the remnants making it hard to create the needed environment for your team.

3. Be timely, tough and straightforward when it comes to bad news and criticism

Nobody likes to deliver bad news, and handling behavioural and performance issues is not easy even for an experienced manager. The problem is that the longer you leave it the harder it gets, so you must not procrastinate but must address these issues immediately. A capable manager is always straight with his people and does not waste time holding off dealing with day to day challenges. The sooner they are addressed the sooner they can be resolved.

James Tissot - Bad News (Oil on canvas); via Wikimedia Commons


4. Manage upwards to protect your people

Good managers ensure that they protect their people from above and keep management off their backs. It is every manager’s role to protect their people from politics and interference from above by ensuring that they deliver what is expected upwards. In the same way it is critical that managers take the flack if anything goes wrong in their area of responsibility, rather than letting their people take the heat from above. Successful managers pass on the kudos and hold on to the knocks from above.
It is your responsibility to fix issues in your team not the responsibility of someone else. “The buck stops with you”.

5. Pay people what they are worth

You don’t need to pay the highest wages in your company or in your industry but it is totally invalid to pay people the least that you can get away with. Compensation needs to be in line with industry and company standards, and should be used to reward individual and team performance “over and above the call of duty”. Money is not the only motivator but it should be realistic and equitable enough to not be an issue for your people. “If you pay peanuts you get monkeys”.

By Aaron Logan, taken at the Los Angeles Zoo; via Wikimedia Commons


6. Give clear directions and be specific

Too many managers see themselves as too important and too busy to spend the time making sure that their people have clear and well defined goals that are specific enough for people to get on with doing their job within their area of responsibility. You must make sure that your people do not have to “guess” as to what it is that you meant otherwise they could misinterpret and head off on tangents that are outside the scope of what is needed to meet team, division or corporate goals, or need to come back to you all the time for clarification.

7. Challenge your people to stretch beyond their current state

It is important that you encourage your people to take calculated risks by challenging them with projects and assignments that will make them step out of their comfort zones. Good people need not only to be kept busy, but they need to have challenging tasks to enable them to grow their skill sets and capabilities.

8. Keep your people informed with what is happening

Knowledge is power, but managers should not believe that they should grow their own personal power by knowing more about what is happening in the company than do their people. It is critical that people understand not only the corporate strategies that they are meant to help achieve, but that they also understand what is happening in the organisation that can have an impact on their ability to do their job well. It is significantly better that they hear the realities of what is happening from you rather than to get their information from the rumour mills around the coffee machines.

By Scott Penner; Admin team meeting; via Wikimedia Commons


9. Grow your people

If your people learn nothing new each year they can only do what they are already doing.
A strong manager will ensure that his people learn new skills and capabilities all the time to enable the team to grow in strength, no different to a sports team. A smart manager will also understand that the stronger his team, and the more successors he has in place, the more he will be well positioned for promotion.
Nothing pushes a manager up the ladder faster than the success of his subordinates.

10. Manage behaviour through values rather than policies and procedures

Very few people will read a policies and procedures manual before setting out on a task.
It is much more effective to have a set of values and behaviours that are strongly embedded in the team. Formalised and strongly policed policies and procedures can act as a barrier to innovation and creativity as they are generally designed to protect the status quo. A strong set of values also encourages a team to self-manage behaviour inconsistent with the team standards, rather than making this the sole responsibility of the manager.

via Wikimedia Commons


Successful managers exhibit a passion for the success of their people.

The question you need to ask yourself is “Would they follow me if I didn’t have the title?”

I HATE AIR FRANCE

I actually hate most European airlines but I hate Air France most of all, because they always frustrate and disappoint me.

Author: user Wikinator; GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons


Living near Bordeaux I am pretty much a captured client for Air France as the Bordeaux airport authority has managed to drive most other airlines into relocating to Toulouse through greed and overconfidence about their own importance. We have recently lost Alitalia and Lufthansa to Toulouse making Bordeaux flights to Italy and Germany necessitate a connection through Paris Charles De Gaulle (Paris-CDG) airport.

Paris-CDG was designed by a team of French Engineers who not only hate people who travel, but who to amuse themselves, have ensured that even when you don’t need to change airlines, you still need to move from one end of this massive multi-terminal complex to the furthest possible corner for any connecting flight. As well as this challenge of distance, and despite the fact that you have just disembarked from a flight, you will now need to go through the delay, and strip, of security scanning at least one more time to get to your connecting gate. This process design took significant help from some of the best mathematical modelling minds in the country to ensure that this complexity would apply to the vast majority of travellers at any time, making the airport look like a jogging track for a horde of fully dressed, sweating, confused and harassed suitcase testers.

It is therefore little wonder to me that Air France, my most frustrating Airline, should be based at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, considered to be the worst airport in the world, regularly beating out London’s Heathrow for the #1 slot in annual traveller surveys.

Air France TV advertising consists of an attractive young couple in swimsuits sitting on some comfortable lounger chairs by an infinity pool, which turns out to be positioned as being synonymous with seats 8A and 8B on some mythical Air France flight. I have sat in both seats at different times and they are unlike any lounger chair that I have ever sat in. If you are in 8A, the basketball player in 9A will have his knees pressed through the brightly coloured unpadded burlap which is the back of your seat, the rugby player in 7A will have managed to break the angle control mechanism on his seat and is now lying on your lap in the only position that enables him to squeeze into an amount of leg-room meant for Japanese schoolgirls, and the traveller to the obesity clinic in 8B (never an attractive young woman in a swimsuit) will have lifted the armrests to enable him to squeeze into a seat width designed for an anorexic pygmy. At this point, to be able to fit into your seat at all,your bottom is halfway up the side wall and your left buttock is perched on the aircraft window. As a result the cabin crew will now come and admonish you that you must be properly seated for take-off, and that the luggage handlers will not approach the aircraft to load the bags for fear that your buttocks could break through and shower them with glass.

The announcements and safety demonstrations will now cover information on the procedure for “landing on water”, more properly termed crashing, as the word “landing” by definition involves land, and instructions on how to use the seat belt in the belief that the flying public have never been in a car before and all got to the airport unharnessed in bullock carts. There will also be an announcement that the cabin crew who are wearing red badges saying “Safety and Security” are there for that purpose and not for trying to date, as was the case in my younger days. All Air France cabin crew now wear these badges as they have replaced name tags as standard wear meaning that we have no ability to report a particular individual for rudeness over and above their call of duty,for example. (See “Managing your Career” posted July 14, 2010).

The problem is that Air France tends to see us as passengers rather than customers.

I have no problem with Easyjet and Ryanair considering me a passenger as they are really running buses with wings. Their image is that the flight will be uncomfortable, you will have to fight others for a seat, you will have to pay for anything extra such as food, drink and luggage (and the loo if Ryanair get their way), but that they will get you their safely and inexpensively, and they generally deliver on these commitments.

Author: Ruthann; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license; via Wikimedia Commons


On the other hand, Air France tries to convince you that you will be treated as a valued client which is not the case at all. Apart from the allocated seats (done to help identify crash victims) and the free instant coffee andsynthetic snacks (which will confirm your suspicions about what happens in France with recycled matter), Air France is only different to the low cost airlines in their pricing.

If I was a valued customer I would be welcomed on board by name (it’s on my boarding pass and they check every one as we board), I would get seating that matches what I have input into my profile rather than at the whim of their booking system, I would not have to share my seat with the anchor man for the Hawaiian Tug-of-War team, I would have a seat that had some pitch rather than the new Air France short haul planes that have seats that are locked in the upright setting, I would have enough leg-room to not have my knees in my nostrils, the crew would not treat me like a naughty schoolboy, my seat would not cause back pain, andI would have a hook for my jacket. There would also be enough overhead luggage space for all passengers, and not just for the first 20 pushy ones who have boarded quickly to capture all available slots for themultiple bagsthey have sneaked on as cabin baggage, in the often valid fear that anychecked bags that pass through Paris-CDG could end up somewhere totally different than they will, thus sending Uncle Jacque’s ashes and urn to Buenos Ares, even though he had previously never ventured further than Nantes.

I am looking forward to the day when teleportation becomes a reality or someone with a better service attitude, like Ariana Afghan Airlines, decides to fly out of Bordeaux.
Until then I will have to continue flying with the world’s most disappointing airline.

Author: Courtney Walker; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license; via Wikimedia Commons

WHY MANY COMPANY BOARDS ARE INEFFECTIVE

Most companies have some form of establishing performance criteria and review of their executives, but too few have any form of structured performance evaluations for the Board of Directors, as though those who have reached these heady heights are beyond review or reproach. Yet many Boards are ineffective and so can have a serious negative impact on an organisation’s success.

Author: Markpruce (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Some Boards I have worked with have not even had an agreed code of conduct nor had established performance criteria for individual Board members beyond recording their attendance at the requisite number of Board meetings. One Board I served on even had a chairman that believed that this was unnecessary as Board members were senior enough not to have to be told how to behave, and he would not allow discussion of any topic that even hinted at the criticism of another Board member’s actions or behaviour. As a result some Board members would spend time during the Board meeting handling their emails instead of actively participating in the meeting, when the topic was not to their liking.

It is therefore not surprising that many Boards add little real value to the business beyond providing a list of names that are meant to make markets and investors impressed enough to not delve too deeply into whether the Board is actually more than a collection of empty suits.

Author: VirginiaTechAlumni (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


As a minimum, Board members should be measured on whether they turn up to meetings consistently and on time, whether they come to meetings well prepared having reviewed the material and the agenda, that they actively participate in meetings, that they follow meeting protocols and don’t try and dominate the conversation, that they support the organisation’s mission and vision, that they actively support board decisions and do not sabotage board efforts, that they keep board confidentiality and that they maintain a group rather than a personal orientation.

Board members who don’t pass even in these basic areas should be voted off and replaced in the same way that any executive who does not meet minimum requirements would be discarded immediately.

One of the biggest issues that I have come across with Board members is that it is critical that all Board members externally support the decisions that are taken by the Board, and not just those decisions that they agree with. There is no question that the best Board decisions are unanimous ones but this is not always possible, and if a Board member cannot support, and live with, majority decisions taken, then they should resign from the Board. It is not acceptable for a Board member to take a message externally that says “This is what the Board decided, but I did not agree with it”, or even worse to have decisions taken by the Board and then to have individual Board members operationally disregard the decision. One executive Board I served on agreed to impose an immediate hiring freeze for 3 months based on a projected need to manage cash flow. At the end of the headcount freeze period global headcount had gone up by nearly 10% as some key Board members just disregarded the decision that had been taken.

Another critical issue is the need to keep confidential the whole Board decision making process, and in-camera decisions. I am amazed at how many Boards have minimal or no confidentiality. This can result in some disastrous situations, particularly when there are some tough discussions at the Board meeting, for example a discussion about possible redundancies in uncertain times. I am sure that many Boards had discussed and planned for possible redundancies based on our recent economic uncertainties, but which never had to be executed. Had the fact that the Board was discussing redundancies leaked out into the employee base the impact on morale and business confidence could have resulted in making the redundancies a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The key critical element is that Board members must have a focus totally on the group and not on themselves and their individual needs. Board members who do not keep confidentialities and who disregard Board decisions do so because they are putting their individual needs above those of the group. The more senior and older that executives become the harder it is to find those that have not built a strong belief in their own “rightness” and the fact that they know best, after all those are some of the characteristics that enabled them to fight their way to the top in the first place.

To be an effective Board member it is critical that one accepts that decisions will not always go the way that they wish, as that is the nature of the way Boards need to work. Unanimous decisions will not always be possible and trying to always achieve unanimity will mean that little will ever be resolved.

Author: Stuart Yeates; via Wikimedia Commons


It is critical for a Board to be effective that Board members do regular peer reviews of each other to ensure that all Board members are working and acting in a way that is consistent with the role that a Board has to play in the success of an organisation.

Beyond that, it is critical that the Board members, and in particular the chairman, do not tolerate dysfunctional behaviour in individual Board members. The chairman must counsel those who do not function within the Board’s agreed behaviours, and if the dysfunctional behaviours are not modified these Board members need to be voted off the board.

The role of the Board is too critical to the success of an organisation, and Board time is too short and too precious to tolerate ineffective Board members.

Even more importantly, good companies and good people are too precious to deserve and tolerate an ineffective Board.