Super-agile-project’s-fantastic-culture’s-still-atrocious: Mary Poppin’s guide to mandatory fun at work

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!. You want to get some fun into the office; start by not planning it, nominate your Mary Poppins and ensure that there’s always a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

Mary Poppins is the original Culture Transformation consultant. She came into an organisation with some major staffing challenges (unruly, messy, children), a dysfunctional executive board (Mr Banks being only numbers driven, Mrs Banks focussed on other projects) and operations managers struggling with the scale of their job.

Her first task in the house, rather than to define a framework or strategy for culture was to focus on practical operations concerns (e.g. tidying the nursery). Her first change was not to recommend huge expenditure on a new environment, on training or new processes but rather ‘In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game! ‘. She very successfully changed the mindset of the everyday task into something fun e.g. tidying up by singing a song with some characters (and granted with some magic).

Looking at Mary Poppins, she isn’t a naturally ‘fun’ person (even if she is practically perfect in every way). She is very serious even with the fun, she smiles rarely, she is hugely strict in management and on timescales, and is incredibly inflexible. After a few short weeks though, even though her focus was on the lowest ranks of the organisation (the children), she made a huge change to the whole organisation; including the bank of the children’s father

What would Mary make of today’s corporates?

There is a recognition that the way we are all working is changing. Projects are shorter and more intense, Agile etc, people are working harder in shorter timescales. We are increasingly blending together people of different working backgrounds; designers with testers, analysts with accelerated workshops, digital native grads with 30yr veteran CFOs. There has been huge investment in working spaces; activity based working, collaborative spaces, innovation centres etc. This is all worth nothing unless there is single thread of culture you can weave throughout. The simplest thread that everyone can connect to is ‘fun’.

The only problem is, corporates are typically pretty poor at being fun and consultants are even worse. Here is what Ms Poppins thinks.

Not about planned fun – there is an obsession with having launch ‘parties’ or quarterly meetings with a ‘fun’ element. These things are usually heavily planned and agreed in advance, typically watered down to be acceptable and usually run by HR. Mary has a simple rule for this; if you put an agenda item called ‘fun’, it’s not going to be fun. People will go to these events partially because they have to and partially because ‘why not’. However, the Christmas party does not make up for a whole year of boredom and it’s madness to try. I once watched the senior leadership team dress up as the ‘supremes’ and sing a karaoke number; the memory haunts me to this day. Fun needs to be a way of working, not a reward. It’s like a bonus, if you come to expect it the value is reduced and can actually work the other way. Examples of my own include; an all day connect 4 match where a move is played only at 15 minutes and 45 minutes past the hour; the Susan Race, where the team had the time to complete a deliverable as long as Susan took to run 10k which we monitored online. (name changed to respect Stef’s identity); the Wednesday afternoon British vs Australian Dairy Milk taste-off (controversial victory to Straya). Mary would build fun into the fabric of the day to day and you should too.

Nominate your Mary Poppins – don’t underestimate what a few people can do to a working environment. An office is like a party, there will always be a few people which make the difference between okay and great. You can still have a quiet conversation in the corner but you remember the person singing cover songs of Frank Sinatra into a banana and wearing a tea cosy. You get the strange effect of fun osmosis where the atmosphere spreads to people who aren’t involved. You need some people to be like casino concierges, walking around having chats, handing out free fruit/chocolates, showing some interest, tell a few jokes. Mary was constantly thinking up new ideas, new people, new adventures.

Micro fun – a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down – in most organisations, you give big carrots to people for big achievements. There should be more little carrots for little achievements and they should not be financial. Take a process like doing your expenses. If that could be improved just a little with some fun, you would vastly augment the experience. Working on something big can be reward itself but it’s the little jobs everybody hates. You work a 60 hr week and it’s the 90mins on the expenses you complain about all week. E.g. completion of an expenses report entitles you to one spin on the roulette wheel which could win you a coffee or an iPad or half a banana; anyone completing expenses is allowed to sit on the special massage chair with an expenses only laptop to do the work. Little incremental changes have huge benefits. Mary made the small boring tasks the most fun, this is a great place to start.

So before you spend a fortune on rewards and environments have a think about how you put some fun into the workplace; get onto it before the wind changes

For all the reasons why fun is important and for some much smarter writing, have a look at these.

The magic circle: how to consider potential and performance in 10 seconds

In only three measures; charisma, smarts and hard work, you can assess potential in the time it takes to read this blog. (including looking at yourself).

‎There has been substantial change in measuring performance, interviewing and recruitment, providing feedback and identifying potential. Some corporates have moved to no formal reviews with ongoing and systemic feedback and others are trying to push Digital Transformation – gamify, system driven and managed.

‎The problem with either is that what’s a good idea on paper needs to translate to something which works. Take a example of a three year cycle where feedback in year 1 says you were too quantitative and numbers based, and too precise on defining what good looks like. In year 2 you go too far into the qualitative side where it is harder to defend some decisions and feedback is that you weren’t specific enough. In year 3 you have a blend of the two which is cumbersome to deliver and feedback is that it takes too long.


Get Rid of the Performance Review! It destroys morale, kills teamwork and hurts the bottom line. And that’s just for starters

Reinventing Performance Management ‘We found that creating the ratings consumed close to 2 million hours a year’

‎Both articles are well worth reading and have great suggestions but there is always that tinge of over-consulting about them. Hundreds of interviews supported by the strategy work and a hefty spend on external marketing. One of my biggest challenges is the idea that you assess the people in your team about what you would ‘do with them’. e.g. would you work with them?, should they be promoted right now? do I like them on my team? Whilst I like the notion, can you remove enough of the politics and the objectivity to make that fair? Or do you risk removing some diversity; I’ve worked with a lot of people I’ve struggled with and haven’t seen their value. In another project they’ve been reported as superstars. Is their new manager wrong or am I wrong? Or is there something in the middle?

To get to that middle, you have to align the different views. Create a way to calibrate the decision making and recognise the range of personalities, skills and approaches. That process needs some rigour and thought or alternatively, you have to have a very homogenised management team (very not 2017).

But if you only have 10 seconds so here is a nice simple one based on my experience.

Magic circle

‎1) Charisma – not just extroverts!, what does the person do to a conversation, what do they do to a room? Do you get a sense of enthusiasm or wonder from them? Do you learn anything?

‎2) Smarts – not just intelligence!, what do they know, do they have connections and ways to use them, do they have a massive brain? Are they devoted to a particular subject and just love it? Is there something clever in what the say?

‎3) Hard working – not just the hours! How much do they care, work hard for their time, do the extra?

To tread water, you need to be good at one. To be really good, you need two. To be remarkable, you need all three. There are very, very few people who are great at all three. The most charismatic people are not typically the hardest workers, the really smart/really hard working people don’t often have loads of charisma.

So, think about your team in the context of the above. Think about yourself, if you are all three please give me a phone and offer me a job.

Kindergarten Con(sultant) – developing corporate creativity

The world economic forum have published a fantastic article about how 98% of children are ‘creative geniuses’ when they are in kindergarten but that this skill is reduced dramatically as they go through the formal schooling system where at age 25, only 3% remain ‘creative;. This is even before they join a consultancy company and spend their first year on a PMO engagement and I doubt the trend improves for directors updating weekly pipeline reports to astounding levels of pointless detail.

What the article also says is that the skills required for jobs as early as 2020 has ‘creativity’ in the number three spot after complex problem solving and critical thinking. The big loser in the list from 2015 to 2020 being ‘quality control’ which disappears completely. Now, there is loads of investment in education going on to try and build those skills better in children – see children in Finland starting school only when they are 6 or in New Zealand where tests show that kids who learn to read at 7 have better coFuture skills.pngmprehension skills aged 11 than the ones who learn aged 5 so children will be fine.

So Please will someone think of (someone other) than the children!

My concern is not for the future generation of workers but the current ones like me aged 37 who are still going to be around in 25 years time. I worry that I’m a coal miner in the 80s or a horse manure extraction specialist just before Henry Ford. We need to be looking at ways to teach us old dogs new creative tricks or we’re destined to be overrun by Burning Man visiting, co working, boat shoe wearing, hipsters called Rafi.

Before my skills are completely redundant though, let’s do some consulting on this issue. Starting with identifying the problem

1) SEE WHAT YOU HAVE – The results above for children are based on the application of ‘Torrance Tests of Creative thinking’ for kindergarten students – read this : We should run the tests for corporates to judge where the pool of talent sit against a creativity score. This score will at least give a baseline for a Corporate Creativity Score CCS(TM, Patent Pending- Keith Logan). What you want to do is to get a sense of how people approach creativity and having ideas, because once you know that you’ll be able to have the evidence to do something about it. (which is required is any corporate to gain any meaningful support).

The simple test given to children is to take a simple paperclip and ask them what you can do with it. The score is then based on;

Fluency. The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.

Flexibility. The number of different categories of relevant responses

Originality. The statistical rarity of the responses.

Elaboration. The amount of detail in the responses.

Take a practical example of how this is applied day to day with design thinking. As part the ideation phase, we commonly ask adults for a large volume of ideas and then wonder why not everyone is good at it.

2) CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT FOR CREATIVITY – there has been a huge amount of money invested in Innovation centres and corporate co-working spaces but they commonly fit into a few categories;

1) a beautiful shiny, technology space run by militant ‘ innovation types’ the whole room humming with the raw processing power of the live demo equipment no one uses more than once a week and kept immaculately clean in case clients come in

2) A trendy spot with a funky name ‘the junction’, ‘the jungle’, ‘the ideas jetpack jamboree juice bar’ always with a ping-pong table than is only used once a week on a Friday when people book it or

3) A repurposed couple of walls with white board material usually stained from the ERP project plan that was written on it 3 months ago and no-one bothered to rub it off.

What you need is a ‘Corporate Kindergarten’ where the activities are constantly moving around and where people can invest time that they choose in the things that interest them. They can be engaged entirely in what they are doing both individually and with others. After a while, anyone with children will testify that these spaces are rarely tidy and organised. So why not create a space with games, puzzles, music, water, plants, toys where there is no objective to be met, you have to leave your phone outside and the environment is constantly changing. You create an adult ‘creche; where you are essentially dropped off by your manager to spend some time? Children learn by playing and we shouldn’t be any different, if you’ve ever had a good idea in the shower it’s because the brain helps itself when it’s focussed on something else.

3) INSERT THE MADNESS (AND SOME STRUCTURE)- To be avoided is the ‘invasion of the Creatives’; the UX/UI, creative teams almost always move themselves into the place in the room which looks the most collaborative, visual or visible. If you have high-desks and comfy seats, they will soon be overrun with people in t-shirts with large noise cancelling headphones and no-one else gets a look in. You want to care about the whole group not just the people who already are creative and imaginative. What if all the training budget went on people who already knew the subject? Accordingly, you do need some process behind using the space. Time by team, by project, nominations for individuals, rules about phones, work, clearing up etc. Rather like a kindergarten, it might seem messy after a while but the start of everyday is neat and tidy (and different). There is also a rough plan to what the children do, it’s not a complete free for all whether it’s ‘animals week’ or ‘naptime’.

There does need to be some ‘madness’ added to the mix. People have the have the psychology safety to be creative which means you have more fun and have more ideas in a pub than you do in a library . Furthermore, if you want to create an atmosphere where anything can be imagined, you have to create something wild enough to set the range. If you see your CEO playing twister with the leadership team, you give everyone permission to be braver, wilder or ultimately more creative.

There is a point for most of us where the desire to play, be creative and to have fun is eroded by process and structure. If there is a change in what’s important in work towards creativity, Emotional Intelligence and problem solving then perhaps we all have to go back to Kindergarten and start again.


The avocado munching, living with the parents, future makers: a new approach to graduate

‎There is a now famous line in Australia where the suggestion was made that the real reason young people can’t afford to buy a house is because they spend all of their money eating smashed avocado for brunch ($20) when they should be saving for a deposit (Sydney median house price about $1,000,000). Everyone had a good laugh at this but it is reflective of a new type of corporate graduate; the live at home, no risk, avocado munchers.

‎Alongside the house price growth, we have created a world which is more short term, more connected to opportunities and with increased expectations of what is possible for people in their twenties. When I joined a consulting firm in 2004, the was still a typical trajectory to follow; start at the bottom, compete heavily to learn, save enough for a deposit on a house, marriage/kids, pressure to maintain mortgage e.g. need to stay with consulting firm at higher wage point. I’ve been lucky to have worked with a lot of graduates over the years and there is a definitive trend (certainly in Australia) where they increasingly live at home, they are given opportunities to move employers earlier (and not just the high flyers) and they see their learning pathways not just in terms of their employer but as a wider system of opportunity.

‎Essentially, a graduate of 23 no longer sees risk in the same way as we did even 10 years ago. If the chance arises to do something fascinating outside of the corporate world, to set-up a business selling socks or move fields completely I believe they are much more likely to do so now than ever before. Contrast this with the core corporate ethos for graduates namely; graduates are a cost, VP’s and directors are a cost, the objective is to invest in graduates to get them to Senior Analyst/Consultant or Manager grades where they make the real money and add the most value.

‎This approach no longer matches up so I’m calling for a new approach to managing grads in the corporate world

‎1) Holistic rewards – we typically see rewards as money and then benefits as a cheap film tickets and vouchers for the supermarket. For graduates, what we typically don’t appreciate if that they’ve come from a word where they’d paid lots of money to learn (University). When they come into a graduate position, the dynamic shifts completely. Rather than see salary as $100, why not see it as 100 units where units can be exchanged for external learning, trips to labs in San Francisco, exchange programs, increased holiday. If we change the dynamic away from a purely financial transaction, we will be able to better fulfil graduate’s expectations of value. Put simply, if you are living at home with no chance of getting house, your salary is probably not the major driving force in your life right now.

‎2) Long term incentives – corporates are terrible at thinking in medium to long-term for resources. I can usually tell within a couple of months whether a graduate is going to be great, average or mediocre. For the ones that we think are going to great, why don’t we try and lock them into NBA style long term contracts. We are going to give you a $100k in cash right now, your 2018 H2 is planned to be in our offices in New York, Singapore or London, in 2020, you will have this salary and this job title if you meet the following objectives. We should be applying a total cost of ownership calculation to our grads over 5 years and invest accordingly.

‎3) The Avocado Café Start-up mentality – every graduate knows of 10 people their age who are billionaires and 10 people they’ve heard of working in start-ups in Melbourne or design agencies in London. Almost all of them are convinced they would be just as successful if given the opportunity and a number of them try. They should be celebrated for this mentality but they should be channelled into making that a success for the business. We should be putting some skin in the game in allowing the graduates to try. Why not create a real commercial venture within the corporate and put the grads in charge with equity and profit share. An increasing number of grads join with ‘entrepreneur/euse’ written on their CV and they either immediately give it up or run it on the side which is then the thing they’d rather be doing. They could be running the Avocado Café outside your office

‎We are operating in a world where expectation and potential is a quantum jump away from what it used to be. It’s time maybe to think a bit smarter .


Darth Vader’s approach to a two speed Digital corporate culture

‎Say what you like about Darth Vader, he ran a tight ship. He was consistently results driven and he delivered feedback (usually fatal) in a timely manner rather than wait for the Death Star half yearly appraisals. I also never saw him punish a stormtrooper, not one single lower level employee, Darth reserved his ire for the senior members of the team, make changes quickly to improve performance and always, always promoted from within. I’m sure he was seen as a wonderfully charismatic figure by the rank and file and he was always diligent in applying the wishes of the Emperor. He is therefore, a fine example of a CXO in modern corporate business.

‎He is a strong symbol externally to the market, he works his leadership hard but never seeks to micro-manage. It is also impossible to challenge the remarkable political and technological achievements made by the ‘Empire’. The creation of a seriously killer app (literally) and the subvention of the entire system of government without military intervention.,

‎This year perhaps more than in the past 10 years; conversations about moving corporate culture have been more prevalent. There is a general realisation in the power of the force (culture) being required to adapt to a digital, customer centric world as a pathway to Digital Transformation. If you add the technology of the empire and the scale of managing the galaxy without getting the people right. You’ll never defeat the rebellion.

‎However, with all the will in world you aren’t going to change everyone to the right culture in the time available before the next wave of innovation and progress arrives; so do we have to take advice from Darth?

Your clone army

‎You need to respect your clones – the basis of the stormtroopers was a clone army which was superior to the robot equivalent as the power to think creatively was preferred. These clones are easy to manage due to training, repeated performance and a strict adherence to orders. All due respect to them, they aren’t going to progress up the ranks and actually, you don’t need them to. You need to keep them focussed on tasks, reward them well for performance (shore leave on Naiboo maybe). You want them to focussed on details, rigorous and engaged. Success is commonly it’s own reward and pride at every level in the organisation’s performance is hugely powerful.

Your leaders and your leading edge

‎You also need some charisma and some fun as you live your values – All of the lead bad guys in Star Wars are gloriously compelling – gravel voiced with masks, red spiky faces and cool double lightsabres, giant worm things or Christopher Lee. They all have their gimmicks, their specialist skills and they all have charisma and people willing to fight for them. Perhaps even more importantly, the top, top guys all have a messianic pursuit of a single corporate value – the force. Every action is set and measured against the instinct and the strength which comes from this single unifying spirit.

‎Allow Darth and the bosses to lead the way but where you need to put the money is in the culture is in the ideas people? The person with the crazy idea for the Death Star would have had some challenging early steering group meetings in the concept phase. How much steel? How much power? How many special explosive crystal things? How long? There needed to be the culture in place to allow for such an idea to be brought up in the first place and then to get the support behind the project…… There is also the remarkable autonomy given to the lead engineers so that such a creation could be made even when it has a major design flaw (single shot to the exhaust vent blows it up – even though it’s probably not, and goes into Beta testing when it’s not finished (Return of the Jedi – geeky reference this one).

‎So, perhaps it’s time to accept that a balanced utopia in the your corporate culture is not what you need in the first instance. You need to create a 2 speed culture which allows one group to focus on what they are good at and another group to be the (Death) Star team. In time perhaps you can move everyone, but success brings it’s own challenges. Don’t believe me – look at how Google has split their business into the money making bit and the ideas bit and their corporate motto was just one word away from the Empire’s – Do(n’t) be evil!


The Million Dollar Nurse and the battle of EQ vs IQ


Imagine if you will, the starting salary for a nurse at $1,000,000. Thousands of applications for a small number of available spots at University and then fierce competition for years. Some go into private nursing at huge premiums and all the golf clubs are filled with nurse helmed self-driving Mercedes.

It’s the thing to talk about at the moment that AI and robotics stands ready to make 50% of people redundant ( and make the rich richer and poor poorer. It’s common knowledge that the so-called lower skilled and repetitive jobs are at risk but maybe it’s the basic dynamic of value in work which has most to fear.

The rewards in society are designed to reflect IQ. You win the Dux medal at school for having the best grades, you get into University and then into graduate jobs based on your scores and then your salary and progression commonly follows a path where the smartest do the best. Your EQ is not present in your scores at a math quiz and though you might be voted ‘most friendly’ you don’t typically put this on a college application. In short, there are a lot of Nobel prizes for the smart people and not many for the nice people (Peace? Anyone).

However, has anyone felt their own intellect increasingly irrelevant. I used to know the 20 ,14 digit numbers of my friends off by heart. I used to be able to know which player scored for Hamilton Academicals in the 1987 famous win at Ibrox (Adrian Sprott). Now, I just need access to my phone. Today, all static information is easy to get to and almost pointless to learn.

Let’s look at Surgeons then. Very well educated (thankfully), experienced to know what to do when the worst happens, if x happens to y then do z. They have to learn huge amounts of information, have incredible precision and then often specialise deeply. They are rare and therefore valuable, they are highly skilled and highly paid. They are also famous for having no bedside manner and acting as if robots with their work (because they function better like that.).

Surely we should be replacing a robot with real robot then? The description above describes perfectly what you expect from a robot. There is already progress in robotic surgery (albeit with the doctor steering) but there is further progress in diagnosis and decision making., What we are less likely to replace is the emotional and human requirement. You already see your nurse much more than your doctor, she/he is there to support, reassure and understand, to talk to family and deal with questions day to day. The value put on this is currently inexcusably low because it’s hard to explain qualitative levels in empathy and the learning process need not be as long or specialised or arduous as the surgeon.

Skip forward then 30 years where we’ve squeezed AI into every possible IQ task, who will be left as the leaders in society? Tell your kids to get into Nursing.

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