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.

Dragnet, Being Naked and Politics.

(Yeah, it’s a Brexit one, it’s about the debate around Brexit. My only publicly expressed view on the Brexit decision remains that it’s very important) .

There’s a crucial debate going on at the moment, except that there really isn’t. Or to put it another way, you have to look really hard to find something worthy of being called a debate and that saddens me. This is about the debate, not a view on the rightness of wrongness of any potential outcome.

I tend to lob in pop culture references into my writing and I offer three for you now… The debate makes me think of Dragnet, the Bluetones and John Lennon. Here’s why.


Whether you have seen the original TV series or the movie with Tom Hanks and Dan Akroyd you’ll know that Sgt Joe Friday in Dragnet wanted ‘Just the facts, m’aam’.

And I wish that occasionally we’d find a disinterested observer, without a case to make, who could just call out the facts. Of course facts are complex and open to interpretation, but wilful misinterpretation should be made some kind of crime. It’s already a crime against the truth.

Separating the signal from the noise has never been harder. Separating truth from cliché has never been harder. There are too many people trying to win and not enough trying to work out what a win would really look like. ‘Lies, damn lies and statistics’ isn’t supposed to describe a multiple choice question about your preferences for portraying your side of the debate.

And you need to be sceptical, because even facts aren’t straightforward. Joe Friday didn’t say ‘Just the facts, m’aam’, or at least the facts aren’t straightforward.

The Bluetones

In the jangly genius of Bluetonic by The Bluetones there are a few lines that are zingers when it comes to quality of debate.

I give you, for your entertainment, the following.

You may not see things my way, like my method or my reasons, but you can’t tell me that I’m wrong

You may not see things my way, I don’t care because I’m not asking

That appears to be my Facebook timeline.

More interestingly for me there is a line that’s always stuck with me.

When I am sad and weary and all my hope is gone, I walk around my house and think of you with nothing on

There’s a beautiful ambiguity as to which of us is wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes in that statement. About whether I’m vulnerable or I have mentally disrobed you. It’s a wonderfully deceptive phrase and could mean one of two completely different things.

Ambiguity kills education. That doesn’t mean everything is clear, but it means it you deliberately aren’t clear then you retain power, but the world loses any sense of meaning except through the interpretation of the individual.

John Lennon

All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth

Organisational veneer – Scratch the surface

The thin veneer that both organisations and people maintain vexes me. It gets my goat. It is a bugbear. An annoyance. A useless distraction from and distortion of truth. What happens when we scratch it?

I’m sure we all manage our reputations to a degree, we are human and it’s a part of that. You might not call it that and the prime motivation for your action probably isn’t that, but most people care. But I’m talking about people and organisations more concerned with managing perception than reality. Where their version of the truth makes little accommodation for how things are.

I’ve seen an organisation recently clearly attempting to manipulate ratings on a well known website that is designed to rate how good an employer an organisation is. Astring of negative reviews from leavers about how poor the culture was followed by a veritable tidal wave of internal reviews (all with very similar ratings and wordings) which popped up on the site in a short time frame. It’s sad they have time enough to do that and not enough awareness or commitment to get things right in the first place.

Similarly, I’ve been in more than one conversation recently where people are clearly wanting to come across as reasonable and then mortally wronged, because high ground is handy. The arc of the conversation is predictable and the goal is point scoring. Not to be up front or honest or progress the conversation. Throughout my career I’ve found a strong correlation between people saying ‘Let’s get our cards on the table’ with being able to see a whole deck of cards hidden clumsily up someone’s sleeve. They use a phrase that I associate with some really honest people – they are just using it dishonestly.

It saddens me. Not allowing the truth out for long enough to be vulnerable costs us all. Whether you are an organisation or an individual the truth should matter, not effectively creating a mirage.

So next time that you see an organisation appear on stage talking about how well they treat their people then try speaking to some of their people to get to the truth.

The next time someone feigns hurt at a perceived slight to gain something else – then just treat it as something else you know about them.

The world has too many people trying to win a debate and too few trying to get to the truth. That truth includes ugly bits. Scratch away the veneer and deal with the reality.

Do a #RIGBY – A Different Performance Review

If you are watching Silicon Valley then you will know about #RIGBY. If you aren’t then you should watch Silicon Valley.

#RIGBY stands for ‘Richard is great, but y’ know’ and is a shorthand used by the characters for skipping the bit where we are nice about people before immediately criticising them.

‘I can’t fault their hard work but… ‘
‘They are an absolute expert, no doubt, but…’
‘They’ve got incredible experience and they really know their stuff, but… ‘

A conversation with @MJCarty (fresh from a 100th much smarter than this one blog) prompted me to think how much shorter performance reviews would be without needing the flannel.

The current trends in this area are to focus on forward looking development areas and strengths based approaches, but wouldn’t it be glorious to work in an environment where the great stuff was praised so much during the year that we could really be highly analytical of poor performance without the tension of the set up? As Simon Heath so wonderfully illustrated…


The Red Arrows apparently finish each display and basically do a #RIGBY. They start talking about what went wrong openly, candidly, clinically and with a focus on improvement. They #RIGBY.

They don’t start off the conversation ‘You are great at flying jets at high speed and not passing out at high G Forces, that almost goes without saying but.. ‘

There are a couple of things bouncing around in my head

1. It’s said that a positive ratio of praise to criticism is needed to keep people motivated. Does a #RIGBY count as praise? ‘Seriously, 5 #RIGBYS for that project, but what I wanted to talk to you about…’

2. Someone once told me that if you value people then you value their time. Would a #RIGBY be the ultimate sign of that?

Please note: this blog continues to be written with a mixture of curiosity and tongue in cheek. Please do not take this as an organisational Bible. This advice may ruin a company.