A consulting view of the hot air balloon tale

Andrew M. Lothian, Insights Group

A man in a hot air balloon realised he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below.

He descended a bit more and shouted, “Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The woman below replied, “You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude.”

“You must be an engineer,” said the balloonist.

“I am,” replied the woman, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is that I am still lost. Frankly, you’ve been no help whatsoever.”

The woman below responded, “And you, you must be in management consultancy.”

“That’s amazing, I am,” replied the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” said the woman, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going. You have risen to where you were due to an ability to generate a large quantity of hot air. Coming down to earth you need to find someone to talk to. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, you are blaming me.”

Andy Lothian is Chief Executive of The Insights Group


Richard Branson on Office Ties … and the Company Dress Code

Reprinted from Entrepreneur

Richard Branson on Office Ties and the Company Dress Code

While out walking in London recently, I passed a group of uniformed schoolchildren moving in an orderly, single-file line, with teachers in front and rear.

Nothing unusual, except for one thing that made me laugh out loud: their identical school ties. Or more accurately, what was left of them. More than half the kids had cut their ties so that only three or four inches remained below the knot.

Intrigued, I asked the teacher who was bringing up the rear, “So what happened to the ties?”

He chuckled and said, “Well, the kids hate wearing them, but school rules say they have to. What the rules fail to specify, however, is how long they have to be — so, snip-snip!”
Why didn’t I come up with such a naughtily innovative solution when I went to school?

This caught my eye because Virgin just got into the banking business with the acquisition of Northern Rock, a British bank that we are gradually rebranding Virgin Money. In British banking, few things strike terror in the heart of a customer quite as much as the prospect of facing a tie-wearing, three-piece-suited bank manager across a huge mahogany desk. So we redesigned the banks.

Related: Richard Branson on Decision-Making For Entrepreneurs

One of our first changes has been to start to remove the traditional counters and replace them with informal seating areas. We also thought that the staff’s formal business attire was almost as solid a barrier to customer-friendly experiences as those counters were. Our newest group of Virgin employees were told they could dispose of the ties.

This would suit me — I have always hated ties, maybe because I’ve never seen the point. They are uncomfortable and serve no useful purpose. I am lucky to have always worked for myself, and therefore have never been a victim of corporate dress codes. For years, a sweater and corduroy trousers were my standard business attire. Someone once joked, “The day Richard shows up at the bank wearing a suit and tie, you’ll know that we are in serious trouble.”

Lately I have taken to wearing a jacket, which is handy since I encounter many different climates and situations through my business travel, but I will only wear a tie under extreme duress, which usually means some ultraformal official occasion, such as the state dinner at the White House that I was fortunate to attend.

Suits and ties in an office are just another type of uniform, but in an arena where uniforms no longer serve any useful purpose. At one time they probably showed that the wearer was, at the very least, able to purchase and maintain a fairly expensive piece of fabric. Now, however, in an individualized, interconnected culture, your achievements speak for themselves. The suit and tie is an anachronism.

It used to be that the one male in the room with an open neck (which was usually me) would be self-conscious about it (which wasn’t me). Nowadays, however, I am delighted to note that it’s the man wearing the tie who is most likely to be the odd person out.

Related: Richard Branson on Strategies for Success

Probably one of the biggest breakthroughs in the gradual demise of the suit-and-tie dress code came, rather surprisingly, in some lofty political circles. Tony Blair was one of the first British prime ministers — Maggie Thatcher excepted — to frequently appear in public without “proper” neckwear. Now President Obama has carried it to a level where he seems to be tieless almost 50 percent of the time.

I have always prided myself on throwing out the rulebook when something proves a barrier to business — or is just plain silly. And there is no viable argument why “gentlemen” should wear ties. The best anyone can muster is: “It’s expected,” or “Everyone else will be wearing one.” One of the signs that business culture has changed is that when people arrive for a business meeting with me, often the first thing they ask is, “Do you mind if we remove our ties?” They surely never thought, “If we don’t wear our ties we’ll stand a lesser chance of getting the deal done.” So why did they wear them in the first place?

So on behalf of the oppressed tie-wearers of the world, here is my appeal to those corporate despots who still force their male employees to put nooses around their necks every day: Please think again.

(Original article available here)

How To Keep Your Job Without Working Yourself To Death


Just when we thought the economy might be improving, on the cusp of a holiday weekend the March jobs report was disappointing. Then this week Sony Corporation announced plans to cut 10,000 jobs, or about 6% of its global workforce.

All this confirms what, deep down, we already knew: Employers are reluctant to hire and want more productivity from fewer people. In this age of working 24/7 and constant connectivity, how can we fulfill the company’s expectations, while getting the rest we need and having some semblance of a personal life? That’s the question we all grapple with.

Before your blood pressure rises, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that whatever goals the company sets from on high, you don’t have to single-handedly fulfill them. Keep in mind, too, that the person best suited to look after your interests is the one who stared back at you in the mirror this morning. Here’s a survival guide for the week ahead – and for today’s tough economic times.

Harness your biological clock. By figuring out your best and worst times of the day–what scientists call circadian rhythms–you can take less time to complete complicated tasks and improve your creativity. For instance, if you hit your stride between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., schedule the most challenging work for this high-energy period. Save job-related activities that require less attention, like answering e-mail or returning phone calls, for mid-afternoon when your energy lags.

Avoid multiple breaks during the work day. Each time you leave your desk—for example, to get a cup of coffee, fetch a glass of water, or bring back lunch–it probably takes you 20 minutes to resume concentration on what you were doing. Ditto personal phone calls and e-mails. The more intensely you focus while you’re there, the more quickly you can get your work done and go home.

Leave your work at the office. This means physically and mentally. Unless you’re up against a deadline, don’t bring home things to do. Zealously protect dinner time with your family or significant other. Although it’s pleasant to ask each other, “How was your day?” a lot of conversation about everything that happened just causes you to relive the events, and hampers your ability to disconnect.

Limit e-mail during off hours. Query whether you really must check your office e-mail when you’re not at work — and if so, how often. If you really do need to stay in touch, don’t start the thread or reply to a message unless there is an emergency.

Schedule personal time. Make sure the agenda includes taking care of yourself (perhaps by exercising, preparing healthy foods or going to the doctor), recreating with family and friends and doing activities that you enjoy. Being overworked can be an out-of-control sensation. Choosing to do certain things (rather than being required to do them) combats that feeling of powerlessness.

Don’t make a habit of working on weekends. You can’t schedule inspiration, creativity or innovation. In fact, sometimes we think most clearly about a work-related issue when we are out of the office. (For examples of inspiration in the middle of “down time,” see my post, “Wasting Time Can Make You A Star At Work.”)

That said, just because you’re feeling clearheaded during off hours doesn’t mean you need to drop everything and implement the idea. It might be enough to jot a few notes to yourself and use them to boost your productivity on your next regularly scheduled day in the office.

Take vacations. Burnout hurts your company as much as it hurts you. So there’s nothing noble about piling up unused vacation days. With your boss’s permission, take time in the way that benefits you most. That probably means setting aside a decent interval, rather than taking off days here and there over the course of a year. Longer vacations also make more financial sense if your getaway includes airplane travel.

Changing your venue and getting away from familiar stimuli will leave you feeling more rested than puttering around the house on a “staycation.” Here, too, resist the temptation to check e-mail and don’t volunteer that you will be reachable by cell phone.

BCS to recognise The Open Group certifications towards CITP status

LONDON, March 9th, 2012 – BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and The Open Group have signed a new agreement that will allow Open Group certifications to be accepted towards Chartered IT Professional (CITP) status.

The agreement allows individuals who hold The Open Group Certified Architect (Open CA) and Certified IT Specialist (Open CITS) certifications at Level 2 (Master) and Level 3 (Distinguished) to be exempt from the initial review and interview elements of the BCS Charted IT Professional (CITP) process. Applicants will still need to take and pass the BCS breadth of knowledge test as well as be Professional members of BCS to achieve CITP status. The Open Group certifications complement CITP status as they are globally recognised, credible qualifications which demonstrate that IT professionals have the knowledge, skills and expertise required to complete certain jobs.

The CITP assessment process was developed by BCS in response to industry and government demands for deeper expertise and relevance from the IT profession.

Adam Thilthorpe, Director of Professionalism, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, explains: “We have assessed The Open Group’s Open CA and Open CITS certifications and are happy that the criteria and processes established by The Open Group meet the level of experience and competence demanded for CITP. Globally there are about almost 6,000 IT professionals who will be able to take advantage of this new agreement when it is launched supporting our objectives to champion global IT professionals and give practitioners the professional development and career support that they deserve. This is important as employers are increasingly demanding CITP recognition from candidates for key IT roles.”

James de Raeve, VP of Certification, The Open Group adds: “This agreement is great news for IT professionals who want to complete both a qualification from The Open Group and achieve CITP status without duplicating effort. The chartered status demonstrates the same degree of professionalism recognised in other chartered professions in the UK and provides independent validation that Level 2 and 3 of The Open Group’s professional programmes are at least equivalent to SFIA Level 5.”

CITP status shows that senior practitioners possess a broad technical knowledge and can demonstrate business experience, commercial accountability and competence in their individual IT specialism(s). Applicants need to have eight to ten years experience with at least three of the last five years in a complex IT role requiring business insight. Professionals also need to demonstrate competence in their chosen specialism(s) and interpersonal skills via an online interview with expert assessors.

Holders of The Open Group certifications forming part of this agreement can register their interest in achieving CITP status through the scheme at: www.bcs.org/citp-theopengroup [1]

About The Open Group

The Open Group is an international vendor- and technology-neutral consortium upon which organisations rely to lead the development of IT standards and certifications, and to provide them with access to key industry peers, suppliers and best practices. The Open Group provides guidance and an open environment in order to ensure interoperability and vendor neutrality. Further information on The Open Group can be found at http://opengroup.org [2].

The Productivity Paradox: How Sony Pictures Gets More Out of People by Demanding Less

Read the spotlight article.

Companies are experiencing a crisis in employee engagement. One of the problems is all the pressure companies are putting on employees to produce. Workers are trying to get more done in less time-and are burning out. But while time is finite, energy is not; people can increase their reserves of personal energy. The key is to establish rituals-such as shutting down your e-mail for a couple of hours a day so you can focus on priorities, or taking a daily 3 p.m. walk to get a breather-that renew your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy. These behavioral changes are sustainable, though, only if leaders at the most senior levels of an organization are willing to set a context for them, both by creating their own rituals and by setting a tone where people feel safe taking time out of the day on a regular basis. This is just what the leaders of Sony Pictures Entertainment did. Working with Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project, they implemented energy management training that has reached nearly half the company so far. To date, the reaction to the program has been overwhelmingly positive. Eighty-eight percent of participants say it has made them more focused and productive. More than 90% say it has helped them bring more energy to work every day. Eighty-four percent say they feel better able to manage their jobs’ demands and are more engaged at work. Sony’s leaders believe that these changes have helped boost the company’s performance. Despite the recession, Sony Pictures had its most profitable year ever in 2008 and one of its highest revenue years in 2009.

The new normal means constant change. Companies must reinvent themselves if they want to survive. This HBR Spotlight section looks at organizational change through two very different lenses-the first examining the connection between restructuring and improved performance, the second making the case for reorganization as a means of keeping a company’s structure in tune with the human dynamics that drive creativity and innovation. A third article suggests new ways to keep overworked employees engaged and productive in an economy struggling to recover from global recession.