LES’S LIFE LAWS

I have become a fan of Facebook.

I love the fact that I rarely forget a “friend’s” birthday anymore. I also know in which airport they are currently having bad coffee, what my friends pack for lunch for their children, what people think of them, what games they are playing and what was their score, and I love the fact that I can post photos of my culinary experiments to an admiring audience of obviously even worse cooks than I am.

Author: David Ferreira; via Wikimedia Commons


I do however find it a bit strange that many people feel that it is a worthwhile contribution to the betterment of humanity to just keep regularly posting on Facebook some inspirational saying that they have found on one of the many web sites dedicated to this art form. I assume that these truisms of life are meant to make us feel better and be able to get on with the day overcoming ails like clinical depression, bad career choices and even worse relationship decisions as we all bask in the wisdom of these aphorisms.

I have never understood sayings like “If you can’t beat them, join them”. As far as I am concerned it would make more sense to say “If you can’t beat them, attack again, as they will be taken totally by surprise having built an expectation that you were about to join them.”

Celestine Chua, founder of the School for Personal Excellence in Singapore loves Inspirational quotes, both as a prolific creator and a collector and believes that life can be made significantly easier by uttering mantras such as “To create more positive results in your life, replace ‘if only’ with ‘next time’” and “Everything around us is made up of energy, and so to attract positive things in your life, start by giving off positive energy”. I agree with her to the point that “next time” I will “positively” keep away from her blog and web site. I guess that there are enough life-confused people wandering about in this world that a smart operator can transform a book full of pithy sayings into a business and an image as a wise educator.

Author: Dave Ahlschwede; via Wikimedia Commons


So called inspirational quotes like “When you say yes to others make sure you are not saying no to yourself” have about as much chance of changing one’s attitude to life as “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. No it doesn’t … life begins when you can use a potty and understand that you should not play with its contents … from then on it’s all real life, whether it is comfortable or not.

To counter all these “life is just one long positive thought” gurus, I have therefore decided to pull together some of my own true “Laws of Life” that make real sense, are not at all inspirational, and that I believe point to the true meaning of life, which we all know is 42.

Author: Daniel Ventura (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Les’s Laws on women

– If you have been divorced twice already, you should not remarry. Instead, you should, every 10 years, find a woman you really dislike and buy her a house.
– On the hospital form, where it says who to call in an emergency you should always put “Doctor”. What could your wife do?
– Women will scream the same whether they stumble across a ravenous tiger or break a fingernail.
– There are 2 excellent theories on how to argue with women, but neither one works.
– When a woman asks “Does my bum look big in this?”, the correct answer is not “Come over here to the light so I can get a good look.”

Les’s Laws on intelligence

– Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.
– The reason people can get lost in thought is that for many it is very unfamiliar territory.
– Artificial intelligence is never a match for natural stupidity.
– You are never too old to learn something really stupid.
– A computer may be able to beat you at chess, but you can always beat it at kick-boxing.

Les’s Laws on life generally

– Never take a sleeping pill and a laxative in the same night.
– Everything you lose will immediately double in value.
– The only thing that is worse than death is spending the evening with an accountant.
– Worrying actually does bring results. 80% of what I worry about doesn’t happen.
– With sufficient thrust, pigs can fly just fine.

Les’s Laws on business

– Live every work day as though you are going on vacation the day after.
– It’s a good idea to not get between a highly competitive jerk and his goals.
– There is nothing worse than a nervous boss, particularly if you are the one that is making him nervous.
– Never try and teach a pig to sing. It is a waste of time and it really annoys the pig. (G.B.Shaw)
– There are a lot of idiots out there who have been deprived of a village. Don’t give them yours.

Friedrich Nietzsche said “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

If you can live your life with friends, love and laughter and just disregard the more that 14 million hits that come up on Google when you search on “motivational quotes”, you can be just like Hercules.

WHEN YOU KNOW THAT MANAGERS ARE AMATEURS

I have had a number of instances in recent years where I have become involved with a company and fairly quickly come to the conclusion that the management team that has been tasked with effectively running the company is actually incapable of delivering on that responsibility.

I believe that anyone in a role where management capability needs to be observed and measured, whether in the role of a management coach or as a board member, should be aware of a number of warning signs that point to the fact that the company executive management may be actually incompetent.

1. Wrong hiring decisions keep being made at senior levels.

When the executive team too often have to terminate senior people who they themselves recruited, it is a serious sign that something is wrong with the management team. Good managers hire good people and go through a stringent recruitment process to make sure that they are hiring the right person for the role. Incompetent managers hire emotionally and with “gut-feel” rather than with a structured understanding of what they need and what they should be looking for, and tend to hire people who are weaker than they are, and who will not be a challenge to manage. These weak hires can then be blamed and terminated when things go wrong as a way of diverting attention from the manager involved.

Author: Tanemori; Source: Hatena Ftolife; via Wikimedia Commons


2. Tough decisions are made but rarely executed

Strong management can not only make tough decisions, but will carry out their plans to successful execution and completion. Managers who talk tough but do not execute are a danger to success. I worked with one management team which rightly took the decision that they had no option but to go through a process of cutting heads and the closing of some small non-performing subsidiaries, as the previous 12 months had seen rapid headcount expansion without the expected increase in revenues (a warning sign in itself). The executive team agreed on “who, where and when”, and advised the board of their decision and the details for execution. When the dust had settled, very little had actually been achieved against their own plan, beyond having a long list of excuses and justifications as to why they had changed their minds at the last minute.

3. Deadlines are not met

A deadline that is set, and agreed, is a commitment and executive teams that consistently miss committed deadlines will not honour other commitments either, and this is unacceptable, and a serious sign of incompetence. One board that I am a member of regularly receives its board papers from the CFO on the night before the board meeting despite the commitment that this will be distributed at least 48 hours beforehand, enabling the board to have some chance to review them. This has happened so often over the months of my involvement in this board that it is just another indicator that the CFO needs to be replaced.

Financial Statements Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.; via Wikimedia Commons


4. Love of external consultants and professionals

A management team that readily calls in external consultants is often covering up their lack of skill, knowledge and capability. Bringing in an external consulting company to ratify the strategy, or perpetually bringing in external legal advice for example is generally a sign of “covering one’s arse” and can show that a management team does not have enough confidence in themselves nor their decisions to be effective. Not only is it expensive and habit forming, but external consultants are generally like a case of herpes, in that once established internally are impossible to get rid of.

5. Inconsistent stories from the members of the same management team

A management team that can’t agree on their stories is an obvious sign of a management team in disarray. I recently sat through a presentation from a CFO who presented the proposed budget for the coming year to the board, to find that half of the management team refused to commit to the numbers when pressed for their agreement. The management team were so divided that work was occurring and decisions being taken in camps and without the involvement of all the team members. When a management team is this divided it is a sure sign that not only is the team not working but that the CEO is incapable of pulling the team together. Definitely time to make serious changes in the team.

Author: Areyn (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


6. Meetings bloody meetings

Competent management take the decisions needed for their area of responsibility and keep the relevant people advised of their actions. Incompetent management teams spend most of their time in meetings, which are a great way to try and spread responsibility when things don’t work (See “Meetings bloody meetings” posted 18th April, 2011), and are also a great way for managers who don’t know what they are doing to look incredibly busy and always “on the go”. Meetings are one way of keeping everyone advised on what is happening but are rarely successful vehicles for decision making or business management.

7. Working incredibly long hours

Executive teams that always work very long hours, and tell everyone about it, are generally not functioning well. Effective managers know how to prioritise and manage themselves in a way that means that they work hard (and mostly longer hours than those they manage) but that still gives them time to “refuel and replenish” with friends and family. Incompetent managers try to cover up their lack of capability by working excessively long hours as their visible “badge of courage”, and as a smoke screen to the fact that they don’t know what they should be doing. If they can’t manage themselves they definitely can’t manage anyone else.

As Peter Drucker said

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done”

Author: Jeff McNeill; via Wikimedia Commons


CAPITALISTS USE MONEY, SOCIALISTS THROW IT AWAY

Winston Churchill said

“The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter”.

The average voter in France appears to be heading towards handing over the country to the Socialists, seemingly more as a way of showing their distaste for Nicolas Sarkozy, the Centre-Right incumbent President, rather than any specific appeal of the Socialist agenda nor its candidate Francois Hollande, nicknamed Monsieur Flamby (Mr. Pudding), as much for his flabby political beliefs as for his long time rotundness. (See “A Dummy’s Guide to French Politics” posted 28th November, 2011).

By David Monniaux; via Wikimedia Commons


If he does win it will mean that France will join the only four other countries in the world who currently openly describe themselves as Socialist being China, Laos, Vietnam and Cuba … a great club to join, and with even some other French speakers in the group.

Author: Jake Choules; via Wikimedia Commons


Hollande’s answer to solving France’s economic difficulties, like all socialist governments worldwide before him, is to increase taxes and to massively increase the number of public sector employees, seemingly in an attempt to ensure that any incremental tax trove is spent without delivering any increase in productive useable output nor any nett national value.To make it even harder for France economically he has also said that he will roll back the retirement age from 62 to 60, heading in the opposite direction to every other country in the world generally moving to 67 based on inreasing life expectancies and diminishing workforces.

Author: Jackolan1 (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Earners over € 1 million annually in France will be taxed at 75% but not in an attempt to “soak” high income earners, but as a way of allowing them to be patriotic (Hollande’s words not mine). The standard marginal tax rate will also be increased from 41% to 45%, as well as proposed increases in Capital Gains tax and Wealth tax, which I consider to be one of the greatest despicable examples of state sponsored theft.

Taxes will also be raised on evil (but as yet undefined) “big business” to ensure that they do not have the ability to generate any jobs that would actually add to the country’s wealth or long term well-being, and which will ensure that businesses keep moving everything that can be moved to overseas locations, including their executive teams who will be branded as non-Patriots because they do not wish to pay 75% in income tax.

Interestingly, I believe it will also have quite some impact on France’s second most popular sport of soccer (the first being the holding of national worker’s strikes) as high paid French soccer stars have to weigh up the price of this new definition of patriotism, being the right to pay the 75% income tax on their inflated salaries(which only they and a diminishing number of executives will have to pay).

I had always believed that patriotism needed to be a widespread national initiative rather than just the sorting out of some individuals from the herd for a sacrifice that others will not be asked to make.
London already has a French expatriate population of 400,000 making it France’s sixth largest city, and Hong Kong which had a handful of French expatriates 10 years ago, now has over 10,000 and is growing at an estimated rate of 60% annually. In fact whereas the French long had a reputation of not readily leaving home, beyond the occasional colonial foray, France now has nearly 3 million expatriates globally, who I am sure will think twice before rushing back home, despite the strong attraction of foiegras and boudin noir, which can now be sourced anywhere in the world anyway.

Hollande’s fundamental platform also includes hiring 210,000 additional civil servants including creating 60,000 new teaching positions, as well as rescinding the Sarkozy government initiative of allowing only one replacement for every two civil servants who retire. In a country where over 20% of French workers are in government sponsored jobs, with another 20% in the educational sector, plus more in government owned enterprises (compared with 8% total in US), it is hard to understand the benefit to the country in increasing the number of jobs somehow paid for by the taxpayers.

The last time the Socialists had control of the country was when Francois Mitterand became President in 1981 and the Socialists dominated all aspects of French politics after having been in opposition since 1958. They immediately nationalised 12 of the largest industrial companies in France giving the government control of industries as diverse as telephone and telecommunications, iron and steel, electric power, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, electronics, aeronautics, gas, coal, railways and transportation as well as large parts of the banking sector such as the BNP. They also implemented a major spending spree that quickly brought the country to its knees and by 1983 had to be curtailed and replaced with an era of austerity to try and bring the country back to some measure of fiscal stability.

Author: Tangopaso; via Wikimedia Commons


After having seen so many socialist governments get it so very wrong so many times, in so many countries, how can the French people not see past Hollande’s crash diet, new suit and hyped up marketing, and remember that socialists always tend to fatten up again when they do get their snouts into the trough? (See “Are we Students or Prisoners of History?” posted 13 February, 2012).

It is unfortunate that Sarkozy managed to create an image that made him look like a lightweight playboy to French voters, as he has shown considerable leadership in many ways including attempts to contain the euro crisis and to keep France afloat despite the loss of the AAA rating during his term. The Socialists, in contrast, have already announced that they will renegotiate the EU Fiscal Compact which will deal another blow to weakened European unity and to the health of the ailing Eurozone currency.

Author: Wilson Dias/Agência Brasil; via Wikimedia Commons


Francois Hollande has also said that he will pass legislation that will allow euthanasia for the terminally ill.
Unfortunately, in France, euthanasia may also become one viable exit option for more than just the terminally ill, as the socialists never seem to learn that there will never be enough tax-take that can be squeezed from its citizens nor from a diminishing and penalised business community needed to support an exploding public sector with its incumbent spiralling costs and bottomless pensions pit.

David Horowitz, American writer and reformed Leftist, said it best

“In practice, socialism didn’t work. But socialism could never have worked because it is based on false premises about human psychology and society, and gross ignorance of human economy”

ENGAGEMENT HAS A NICE RING TO IT

I have long found it worrying that all of the numerous studies of employee engagement point to the fact that at any one point in time, in most companies, only about one-third of employees are fully engaged, with about one-third partially engaged, and one-third actively disengaged, some of these last ones being “terrorists” who actively work to recruit others to actually undermine those who are engaged.

I define engagement as being actively involved physically, mentally and emotionally with passion and energy, and with a profound connection to the company.

I have no question that employee engagement is directly related to the quality of management in an organisation, and that in tough economic times when people are being asked to do more with less, it can become harder to keep people fully engaged, as people become emotionally disconnected driven by pressures like fatigue, lack of direction, belt-tightening and downsizing of work-mates.

Author: Jonnie Nord (User:Zaphod); via Wikimedia Commons


But employee engagement needs to be a key critical focus of all managers and should be a major measurement of management performance, as it is one the most important elements of business success, significantly more than having a sexy product or marketing message, both which can be very short lived.

Gallup’s analysis of about 200 separate employee engagement surveys in 2009 found that

“business units scoring in the top half on employee engagement double their odds of delivering high performance compared to those in the bottom half, and that those in the 99th percentile are five times more likely to deliver high performance than those in the 1st percentile.” (See Gallup´s Employee Engagement Analysis).

Furthermore their survey of 42,000 randomly selected working adults showed that disengaged workers cost the US economy an estimated $ 350 billion annually.

George Gallup; via Wikimedia Commons


In France, whilst I have no numbers for the loss to the economy, a recent article in the Economist highlights the fact that French workers are not lazy, as most of Europe cares to believe, but that they just actively hate their bosses. (See http://www.economist.com/node/21538733).
The report states

“In fact studies suggest that the problem with French employees is less that they are work-shy, than that they are poorly managed. According to a report on national competitiveness by the World Economic Forum, the French rank and file has a much stronger work ethic than American, British or Dutch employees. They find great satisfaction in their work, but register profound discontent with the way their firms are run.”

A 2010 study by BVA, a polling firm showed that over 40% of French employees actively dislike their firm’s top management, ranking France last out of 10 countries for worker’s opinion of company management. Whereas in US, UK and Germany about 70% are satisfied with their management, in France it is less than 30%.

French management styles are still generally very hierarchical seeing management concepts like “empowerment” as being an Anglo-Saxon maladie. Furthermore the majority of French CEOs come from one of the handful of “grandes ecoles”, and through what is known as “parachutage” suddenly appear in CEO roles direct from the civil service. Alexandre de Juniac was unexpectedy appointed CEO of Air France in 2011, coming directly from his position as Chief of Staff to Christine Lagarde when she was Minister of Finance. No need to fight your way through the ranks in the business or even the industry, no need to develop some management skills along the way, you just need to get high marks in the school exams and keep your nose clean in the public sector long enough to end up in the top slot of a multi-billion euro enterprise.
No wonder Air France is such a moribund, infuriating airline with rude, arrogant, condescending and uncaring staff (See “I hate Air France” posted July 11, 2011), and no wonder French workers are generally disengaged from their companies and their jobs, even more than the global average.

Alexandre de Juniac (CEO Air France)

Author: priceminister; via Wikimedia Commons


Despite all this information about the impact of employee engagement on a company’s performance, very few organisations use employee engagement as a measurement of management performance.
I have seen it regularly measured in employee surveys, usually through responses to 5 or 6 questions like “I am proud to work for the company”, “I am seriously considering leaving in the next 12 months” and “I actively promote the company to external candidates”, but generally many just seem to accept the 1/3 ratios as being an acceptable metric of business reality.
I consider this to be short-sighted and believe that most companies should focus less on recruiting more people and more on increasing employee engagement as a way of driving improvements to business results.

I have managed to convince one company that I work with to use employee engagement as a key measurement in management performance and its inclusion in calculating management bonus payments. Furthermore they will not allow incremental recruitment if the business area has less than 60% of employees that are fully engaged and more than 20% disengaged. These are not world shattering metrics even though they are a great improvement on current results, as they still allow for 20% sitting on the fence, but at least they are a starting point in making employee engagement seen as a serious business metric in this particular company.

I am actually surprised that employee engagement and other metrics such as employee turnover are not seen as major decision points when people make financial decisions about in which companies to place their investments. I would always rather bet on the people as a starting point before I would even start to look at products, services and past financial performance.

I have long believed that people are the only true sustainable competitive edge, and how passionate and committed they are to the company is the only true measure of whether great performance can be achieved.

As Peter Drucker, business guru, said

“But I like to think that a lot of managers and executives trying to solve problems miss the forest for the trees by forgetting to look at their people — not at how much more they can get from their people or how they can more effectively manage their people. I think they need to look a little more closely at what it’s like for their people to come to work there every day.”

Author: Jeff McNeill; via Wikimedia Commons