Category Archives: Management

Red letter daze

Two years ago I suggested that the true nature of management was widely misunderstood in the UK (see Management is a dirty word). Last month a short, but revealing, comment in the Guardian provided more evidence that business may well be a victim of its own bad press.

In the last year or so, Rachel Elnaugh has become one of the most recognisable female entrepreneurs in Britain. She was one of five judges on a BBC television show called the Dragons’ Den in which aspiring entrepreneurs presented their business plan in the hope that the judges (aka the “Dragons”) would invest in the project.

Unfortunately for Ms Elnaugh, her own business (Red Letter Days) went into Administration this summer, and she became the subject of much criticism in the press.

Last month she was interviewed for the Guardian from which the following excerpt was taken :

There’s no such thing as a nice businessperson, she believes, although for the first time in the interview she’s aware she might be saying something controversial. “You’re not there to be namby-pamby and nice, you’re there to make the business work.”

It’s quite astonishing to hear a recognisable role model such as Elnaugh express such a negative view of her own occupation. The implications for her self-esteem are frightening, and you know the problem is serious when it so clearly comes from within.

The antidote

From the Daily Telegraph:

Directors at Jessops are contractually bound to receive as little as a week’s payoff if they are fired after a big fall in the company’s share price, according to the camera equipment retailer’s annual report.

The clause, which was agreed by Jessops’ two executive directors when the company floated in November, has been hailed as an “innovative approach” by corporate governance campaigners to tackle the issue of directors being rewarded for failure.


From the Financial Times:

Carly Fiorina will be paid a $21.4m severance package after being fired as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard last week. She will also be able to keep her computer and receive free tech support for three months.

Only three months? It’s a good thing she got the cash.

6 Myths Of Creativity

From Fast Company | The 6 Myths Of Creativity:

5. Competition Beats Collaboration

There’s a widespread belief, particularly in the finance and high-tech industries, that internal competition fosters innovation. In our surveys, we found that creativity takes a hit when people in a work group compete instead of collaborate. The most creative teams are those that have the confidence to share and debate ideas. But when people compete for recognition, they stop sharing information. And that’s destructive because nobody in an organization has all of the information required to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

I knew it all along.

Corporate newspeak

Some of Tesco’s grocery stores have a new slogan on display in their windows. It states Helping you spend less every day.

I wonder if the company’s shareholders think that’s a good idea? Presumably, if Tesco does a good job and follows that objective through to its logical end, it’ll eventually destroy itself. Call me cynical, but I just don’t believe ’em!

US Embassy delays

We were somewhat appalled to discover on the weekend that there is currently a 10 week delay for appointments at the US Embassy in London. On Saturday the earliest appointment we could book online was for October 18th.

So if, like us, you want to file a “Consular Report of Birth Abroad”, you’d best make the appointment two months before the birth occurs!

The situation is so desparate, according to the photographer at the Passport Photo Service, that some US citizens are travelling to Dublin for their appointment, where there is presumably less of a delay.

Hell’s Kitchen

For a reality TV show Hell’s Kitchen (aka has been pretty interesting, but not for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t the cooking, nor the cut-throat competition, and certainly not the foul language, that made it compelling television. No, it was Chef Gordon Ramsay’s management skills that really made it worth watching.

This programme, which came to an end on Sunday, centred around 10 virtually unknown “celebrities” (with one exception, a former Conservative cabinet minister) competing for the public’s popular vote in order to remain in the kitchen of Britain’s best and most profane chef, Gordon Ramsay. Most of the contestants’ culinary skills were basic to say the least, but Ramsay spent the two weeks on air teaching them how to work as a team in order to prepare a very limited menu to his exacting, professional standards. Every evening the fruits of their labour were served to a restaurant full of famous and not-so-famous celebrities, although quite a few of the celebs left hungry on more than one occasion.

By the time it was finished it was obvious why Ramasy’s restaurants work so well. The man isn’t just an excellent cook; he’s also a natural leader. His vision for the enterprise was well defined; he communicated it clearly and continuously to his staff; and he provided them with both positive and (infamously) negative feedback about their performance pretty much all the time. Never mind an annual review; those celebrities were bombarded with useful information during every working hour of every day. It was really interesting to see such powerful textbook management skills deployed so effectively.

Much has been made of Ramsay’s profane language and the severe reprimands he gives his staff. However his management style has a lot in common with the traditional training techniques of the military. First you make sure everyone knows who is in charge through intimidation and fear; then you retrain to the required standards by providing constant feedback; and finally you rebuild confidence by recognizing good performance. Teamwork is developed by forcing the recruits to depend on one another in order to achieve their objective.

It’s textbook stuff, and clearly works very well in a kitchen; and according to The Daily Telegraph (see Chef’s recipe has a dash of method in its madness) I’m not the only person who thinks Ramsay’s true genius comes from his management skills.

It’s the way that you do it

Yet another example appears in this weekend’s FT to suggest that “it ‘aint what you do, but the way that you do it” that counts. Except this time the context is political (see Tales show a president need not be smart).

Writing about the similarities in three recent books on George W. Bush’s administration, Peter Spiegel wondered:

How is it, then, that senior aides are ignored on their areas of expertise? Much of this dysfunction, it emerges, is due to the old Washington adage “process is policy” – in other words, how decisions are made profoundly effects [sic] which decisions are made. In this administration, the “how” is at the core of the dysfunction.

I wonder if they’re any fans of Jimmie Lunceford at the White House?

‘T aint what you do

Last week I read two independent descriptions of the importance of business processes. As a former business analyst they were music to my ears.

The first was in an article on business innovation published by the Economist (see Companies and innovation – Less glamour, more profit subscription required):

Likewise, in the past few decades most of the companies that have created truly extraordinary amounts of wealth have done so by inventing great processes, not great products. Dell, Toyota and Wal-Mart, for example, have risen to the top of their respective industries by coming up with amazingly efficient ways of getting quite ordinary products into the hands of consumers more cheaply than their rivals.

The second was a review of The Future of Work by Thomas Malone in the Financial Times (see Corporate culture on the cusp subscription required):

There are also sections on “business process outsourcing”, “process architectures for interchangeable organisations” and “the deep structure of business processes”. Why is there this obsession with process? Strip any company of hierarchy and you are left with nothing but processes – the flow of work. In the flat, decentralised organisations of the future, it is argued, the ability to configure and reconfigure processes will be an important source of competitive advantage.

Jimmie Lunceford album

As Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra pointed out in 1939:

When I was a kid about half past three
My ma said “Daughter, come here to me”
Said things may come, and things may go
But this is one thing you ought to know…

Oh ‘t ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
‘T ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
‘T ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
That’s what gets results

Lunceford should be the patron saint of business analysts. Now, repeat after me …