Monday, 13 March 2017


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My daughter has reached that age when she is thinking more seriously about her career path. She is HR Manager for a fairly large company [400 employees] and has held similar positions in businesses such as P&G and WSP. She attends high-powered business courses and was telling us yesterday about one held in Manchester where the session was about bias in the workplace:

‘We were split into three groups. They showed us a film of someone playing a piano concerto; one group could hear the music but were unable to see the pianist; the next group could see the pianist but couldn’t hear the music; the third group could both hear and see the music and the musician. Then we were asked to rate the quality of the piece; this was the result:


Ø  People who could both hear and see: 56% liked the music.

Ø  People who could only hear the music: 51% liked it.

Ø  People who could only see the pianist: 68% liked the music’


A fairly amazing outcome and the facilitator said she got the same result every time.

Speaks volumes about bias. Isn’t this the USP of television shows like The Voice? When the judge turns round and sees that the contestant is 99-years old or of Asian heritage, it is as good as over for them.

I once attended a course run by the Dale Carnegie Management Consultancy. I’m not, you know embarrassed by that; I didn’t go to Uni so I had to use the tools available to me to run a business. We needed training and they offered the right package at the right price. It came about like this: we wanted to achieve a business qualification called Investors in People which a lot of Construction Industry sub-contractors were applying for, particularly in London but couldn’t think how to go about it. There was no shortage of ‘Management Consultants’ in Newcastle but were they right for us? An awful lot of them seemed to be man & wife set-ups who seemed superficially to be a good fit for our relatively small company [14 employees] but all of our employees were highly skilled and we weren’t at all sure they would take kindly to being lectured to by people with, frankly rather less intellectual weight than they had themselves. Plus, my people worked incredibly hard and efficiently. On any given day we might have someone in London, someone in Glasgow and someone in Liverpool all of whom would not get home until after ten at night. They didn’t need motivating but perhaps they did need help with strategic thinking.

So, my accountant and I were in a bar, a very unique event, discussing how we might go about getting this qualification when a thin woman in a suit approached us from out of a group of about ten, sitting together at another table. She apologised for interrupting, introduced herself and said she had overheard us talking about Investors in People and thought she could help. She turned out to be the area manager for the Dale Carnegie organisation, up from Manchester just for the day.

Felt like fate. God, the number of times that has happened to me in my life; just as I am scratching my head about how to resolve some intractable problem, the answer walks up and taps me on the shoulder. I had never been in that bar before. She had come up from Manchester for that one day.

I was so, so impressed with her; walking up to a complete stranger in a bar like that.

We signed up.

On her course, I learned:

Ø  Public speaking

Ø  Leadership

Ø  Interviewing

Ø  Communicating concepts to  others

To be honest, at that point in my largely successful life I thought I knew enough about leadership and communication but it turned out I knew nowt. I certainly knew nowt about public speaking before I went on the course and I came out the other end really quite confident about getting up in front of an audience. I remember having to talk in front of about thirty people and teach them how to swim, without props.

After that I sent four of my senior staff on the same course [£2000ea] which may have been a mistake because they all left for better jobs, within two-years. The super-training meant that they were suddenly ambitious for other opportunities. Speaking to my daughter last night about what a waste of money it seemed to be she said they would have moved on anyway if you didn’t give them any training: it was a lose-lose situation. If you didn’t put them on a high level training course they would go elsewhere because they would feel stunted and restricted, if you did put them on a quality training course they would move on as soon as it seemed ethically acceptable to do so. What about loyalty? ‘Business is different now, there is a great deal of churn; most people move jobs every two years’.

It’s a glass ceiling in a way; everybody thinks it looks easy but out by themselves in the harsh, cold reality of cut+thrust business life, it is a great deal harder than it looks.


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