Where is your manager? 

The context 

Yesterday we launched a London wide peer to peer mentoring scheme for the CIPD. It was chaotic and overwhelming and as I wake up this morning there is a good chance to that 40 people will get a mentoring relationship out of the exercise, which would be amazing. Thanks to all the mentors – it was incredible to see you all in there. 

The evening was run a bit like speed dating, so we got to see a host of mentees over the evening and listen to what they wanted to a mentor. 

The bit where I’m annoyed 

What worried me was that most of them just wanted a manager – or what their manager should be providing.

  • I need to get more confidence 
  • I need to understand how to talk to a senior team
  • I need to understand data better
  • I need someone to be on my back constantly to deliver 
  • I’m working in my comfort zone, I need someone to push me

As I listened I became more and more concerned at the level of support afforded to people by their managers. Especially in the SME world, but also in larger organisations. 

It seems I got incredibly lucky in my career because the list of things above are all things I’ve been coached and supported through by my manager at various parts of my career. It’s fair to say I wasn’t allowed to be bad at them. 

And most of the list comprises things that you need to see someone in action (or more regularly than a mentoring relationship tends to be) to support and advise on. 

I’m sure people will benefit from the evening and the relationships formed – but they would benefit even more from some care and investment from their manager each day. A regular meeting with a mentor can’t fill the gap caused by regular neglect. It shouldn’t have to. Managers – up your game.  

Catching the tortoise

The Greek Philosopher and smarty pants Zeno articulated a number of paradoxes. Paradoxes are statements that, despite seemingly soundly based on reason, appear to lead to seemingly logically impossible or self contradictory positions. 

One of the most famous is the Liar paradox – “This statement is false”.  A paradox because if I’m telling the truth then the statement can’t be false –  so it can’t be true. More variations can be found here.

The most famous of Zeno’s 9 paradoxes that have survived the years is probably Achilles and the Tortoise. I’m turning to Wikipedia to ensure it is explained clearly. 

In the paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise, Achilles is in a footrace with the tortoise. Achilles allows the tortoise a head start of 100 meters, for example. If we suppose that each racer starts running at some constant speed (one very fast and one very slow), then after some finite time, Achilles will have run 100 meters, bringing him to the tortoise’s starting point. During this time, the tortoise has run a much shorter distance, say, 10 meters. It will then take Achilles some further time to run that distance, by which time the tortoise will have advanced farther; and then more time still to reach this third point, while the tortoise moves ahead. Thus, whenever Achilles reaches somewhere the tortoise has been, he still has farther to go. Therefore, because there are an infinite number of points Achilles must reach where the tortoise has already been, he can never overtake the tortoise.”

We know this doesn’t make sense, we know that we can get there, that Usain Bolt would easily catch a tortoise, but because the problem is formulated around reaching a moving target, no matter how fast we move and no matter how much energy we expend we will never quite reach where we need to be. For infinity the tortoise dictates our failure. 

Modern business is full of this thinking: that we can never complete the race, that the world is moving on so we can never quite get there, that the natural logical progression of year on year growth is a requirement to reset for more year on year growth. We spend our lives never quite getting there. Never quite catching the tortoise. 

The way to resolve the paradox is simply to ignore, for a time, the concept of relative movement and just ask ‘given the tortoise’s current speed where can we plot an intercept point?”

Stop getting distracted by closing the gap to the tortoise, jog past it to where we want to be and then take charge. At what point can he stop the tortoise, pick it up and dictate all future movement by virtue of being a person. 

It is, after all, a tortoise. And what type of person would allow their life to be dictated by a tortoise? 

The Sweet Spots for Speaking

I have a lot of blogs in draft at the moment and I’ve been wondering about what to prioritise finishing. 

Then I started thinking about what people enjoy reading or listening to. 
Then I started thinking about recent political events and from this (and with the employment of absolutely no science) here are my theories on what the majority of people want from a speaker

– Confirmation of what they already know, but dressed in a way that makes their current position appear smart or gives it more scientific rigour or gravitas 

-Information on something they haven’t thought about yet, but feels like a position they could take if they had

-Unique information they can quote or recite

-A narrative that taps into their own frustration or experience 

-A degree of entertainment (it needs to be in some way compelling) 

-A feeling the speaker is tapping into something that the rest of the room shares. A sense of becoming part of a community that shares a common viewpoint. 

I’m not saying that is all everyone wants, but I’d guess if you can provide that you send 80 percent of people home happy and feeling positive about you. 

If that is your goal. 

1 in 4 chance of being British. 

That’s my grandfather. Bill Fox from Bolton.He married Frieda Thomas from Pembrokeshire. 

My grandmother on the other side was Elizabeth Thorburn from Cardiff. 

My grandfather, however, was Francis D’Souza and came from a India, more specifically from Goa. He was a doctor and his father, my great grandfather, Major Peter D’Souza, was a doctor in the Indian Medical Service within the army in India. 

I only found this out for sure last week, as one of my aunts has spent 20 years piecing together a family history and that’s a family history has achieved mythical proportions within just one generation. 

It turns out my grandfather didn’t get scars wrestling a tiger and probably didn’t play at Wimbledon. 

He did, however, perform a documented case of CPR long before the technique became popular on these shores and there is a well reported act of heroism with him entering a collapsing mine and refusing to leave the injured despite risk of further collapses. There’s some truth to the myth. 
It’s an incredible read – a family of 14 children growing up as outsiders –  outsiders, yet at the heart of a Welsh mining village. He died before I was born, but I remember my grandmother well. 

David Fox, David Thomas and David Thornburn would be nice British names. David D’Souza? Less so. In fact any of the other combinations and I’m guessing nobody ever bothers to ask me ‘Where are your family from originally?’. 

It’s a natural question for people to ask, so much so that I’ve had it asked at the end of job interviews several times. I’ve never taken offence – but recent events would mean I’d be concerned if I was asked it next time I go for an interview. 

Last week I had some gaps filled in with regards to my sense of identity. I found out about our family and some things that were true and some that were untrue. 

But I’m still dominated by a surname that doesn’t fit in. For all our talk of multiculturalism something as simple as my surname marks me out as an outsider. And it marks my daughter out too. It’s the thing people most closely associate with you even in this day and age. The name of your father’s family. 

A couple of weeks ago I considered changing her name. I considered whether that was the right thing to do – to reduce the risk of her being bullied or being marked out due to a surname that represents about 1/8 of her lineage. Whether she would be better off as a Thomas.

Identity and ownership are at the core of lots of debate at the moment. Neither are simple concepts. In a world that people view as marked by scarcity the temptation to say ‘I was here first’ can be a compelling one. The temptation to say ‘I am only happy to share with my own’ is compelling. They are, in fact, understandable. 

My grandfather’s approach to being an outsider  was apparently a typically Indian one, to become more British than the British. To adopt the archetype of a British gentleman and proud subject of the Empire – to render the issue of difference to be redundant. 

It never will be. 

But a society where my daughter can have her difference celebrated rather than marking her out?  That’s something I’d like to sign up to. I’d just like someone to tell me how I can do that.

The D’Souza family. 

Broken Arms and HR.

I got the chance to speak to Owen Ferguson of Good Practice today. I liked Owen the first time that I met him and after that point confirmation bias took over and I couldn’t help but like him.

We were chatting about a host of stuff today including the research they do at Good Practice when Owen said something I loved, which I will badly paraphrase below.

Too often HR and L&D are like a doctor rushing, uncalled, to the side of a person with a broken arm. They appear and ask the person whether they would consider changing their diet to lower their cholesterol. Whilst that isn’t a bad suggestion in itself, it is hardly the priority for someone with a broken arm. The patient again gestures towards the arm – the doctor walks off in a huff disappointed that their advice on how to lower blood pressure wasn’t followed.

The point is that the advice is sound, but if you don’t match the priorities of the people you are serving and don’t support or intervene at the right time then you won’t make progress.

There is an element of earning trust and working alongside the people you are supporting with any job and pushing a solitary agenda and then asking why people aren’t paying attention is of no benefit to you or the organisation. If you want a business to share or explore different priorities then you might need to help some people with their priorities first.

So next time you are working out how to get your next HR initiative done make sure you aren’t ignoring the broken arm that someone is complaining about.

Rigging your review: this works and it shouldn’t

It’s always handy to know how to rig or beneficially influence a process. Especially if you work in HR and you want things to be fair.

So here is a list of things that people should watch out for their colleagues doing. And if you run the process it’s worth reflecting on how you compensate in your process for real or accidental manipulation.

1. Complain about your salary not matching market rate in the run up to the process. Why? Because it’s the time in the year when you are most likely to get significant movement in the salary budget. There’s little point complaining one month after.

2. Deliver your best piece of work in the month heading up to the review. Why? Because the process should recognise overall outputs/inputs over a year, but we tend to place more emphasis on recent achievements. A strong Q1 is in the distant past. A strong Q4 and you are an ‘up and coming’ star.

3. Get matey with people across the business. Why? Because most processes involve a broader review by senior teams in other departments. You need to pass the good egg challenge in order to keep the positive rating that 1 & 2 have delivered you.

4. PR relentlessly. Why? Because organisations continue to reward the work most easily made visible. The person behind you quietly getting on with being awesome? Far less likely to get rewarded well than Ted, who brags about every single thing he has delivered at every single opportunity. People know about Ted. Why? Ted talks

5. Don’t argue with the boss in the run up to the review. Why? Ideally you want to be irreplaceable. Most bosses still believe supportive and compliant to be irreplaceable as it requires less work than thinking and responding to challenge.

6. Be a guy. Why? Because it unfairly helps in so many ways… I’d insert the research but the cut and pasting would tire me out.

7. Circle the wagons by insisting any failure is down to the business area that most recently annoyed your boss. Why? Any criticism of your performance will be deflected by a broader ‘I think we know there are some issues there’. They’ve had similar problems so they can hardly criticise you for not making more progress.


Please note the author has no need of such tactics as he relies on his beard to denote wisdom and creativity.