Setting your mind racing

There was a big event in the UK last week, for those that didn’t notice.

No, I am not talking about the general election, Wimbledon, or even England (scraping through) at the Euros.

No, what I am talking about is the British F1 Grand Prix.

Getting ready

Now for the many who are not motor racing fans, I can hear you yawning already. But whether you like it or not, if you live near the circuit (and I do) for one weekend a year, it takes over our lives.

Normally it is a relatively calm place, with cows eating grass, a local store selling cakes and the usual moans about potholes or pavement parking. But for one week a year, madness begins.

Huge trucks roll into town, crowd control barriers go up, traffic restrictions start, grass verges get cut, and even some of those potholes get fixed, all to get ready for 150,000 fans heading to the track on each of the race days. It is a complete transformation.

And, being in the centre of all this, it kind of takes over your thinking. Residents need to plan ahead for food and any kind of trip out, be it work or school… we pretty much go into lockdown.

Of course, there is a little complaining… ‘what, no parking on the road in front of my house’, ‘blooming taxis’, ‘people driving too fast’, or for this year ‘exactly which roads are closed now’… but the reality is we have a world-class event on our doorstep. It is exhilarating and a real buzz for the whole week… a city moves to us and we all feel like we are at the centre of the world.

but then

Last week I headed out… past all of this circus, to the nearby town of Buckingham. It is not far, maybe 8 miles/ 12 km.

With my excitement levels still buzzing I arrived in town to find, well just another weekday in the somewhat leafy, semi-rural town at the edge of the commuter belt to London… it was all quite quiet really.

In my frenzied state, this was all a little too normal and I felt a bit of a letdown. It was like that day after the Christmas holidays suddenly arrived early… humpf

Yet, all of this got me thinking about perspectives, my psychology and how this feeds into what we all feel from our experience of the world around us.

Outside the bubble

My frame of reference was one of excitement, yet for everyone outside of this bubble, it was just another regular day. They had no connection to the event, or the engagement I felt at all, in fact, they would probably be quite bemused had I mentioned it anymore.

Our worlds revolve around our own experiences. Sometimes this is all consuming and it can be difficult to perceive other people’s perspectives. This is true in our personal lives, but also true at work too.

How many times have you been part of a project, one you are living every day, fully owning the results… it is completely engaging and absorbing.

But, then you are forced to take a step back, normally by attending that meeting with another department or building… and you find everyone does just not seem that interested.

In fact your project was towards the bottom of the discussion and the investment list! It can be really quite de-moralising.

However, by taking a step out and into the other people’s shoes, you find they also have their projects and priorities. It is not that what you are doing is not important, it is just that it is not important for them… and of course, this also applies to customers too.

By not recognising these dynamics, it is a recipe for misunderstanding, poor support (in the case of customers), goal misalignment and disappointment.

But, recognising and understanding another person’s perspective it becomes an enabler, supercharging engagement, building relationships and providing better support… it may also support you in getting what you need too.

So, as this year’s F1 circus moves on to another town this week (Mogyoród, Hungary… good luck!) and things return to normal, my takeaway this year is to try to be more conscious of other people’s perspectives.

It is a good way to drive engagement and of course, also makes you realise to make the most of your own environment while you still can (and is fun).

Now I am off to not get a taxi… next year, Glastonbury :)…

Have a great week everyone

Posted in Observations | Leave a comment

Don’t be toast – small things matter, sometimes a lot

Every Saturday, I find myself playing the role of ‘taxi driver’, needing to take a trip into town to pick someone up and give them a lift.

As is the nature of these things, it can involve a bit of waiting and I have worked out that by arriving a little early I am provided the perfect opportunity to grab a coffee (of course a slice of cake) and watch the world go by.

This routine has been going on for a couple of years now and although I wouldn’t say I’m considered a regular just yet, the cafe staff do recognise me. [I am yet to achieve full regular status – one where your order is being prepared before you open the door – “Brrriing….Hi Chris, Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi?” – was great for my dinner, terrible for my waistline, but I digress].

Over the years, I’ve seen the cafe undergo several changes, both in ownership and style. Some of these have been good, some not so much and a recent experience got me thinking about the essence of quality.

What makes quality, and more pertinently what ruins it.

Quality is subtle and often evolves gradually. Fresh furnishings wear down over time, maybe to be replaced; menus adapt to local tastes, find new styles or just adjust to what sells best.

Yet there are also simpler things that can serve as talismans of quality no matter where you are. For gelaterias, it is undoubtedly chocolate ice cream, and for the humble British cafe, the ham and cheese toasted sandwich (for me at least).

Now I am not asking for artisanal sourdough bread, a mix of three cheeses, or home-baked oak ham, delicious as this may be. No this was a sneaky lunchtime snack, simple white sliced bread, cheddar cheese, and supermarket pork shoulder ham was just fine, and most of the time has been… however, it does need to be done right.

Toasted properly, crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle; Cheese properly melted, a little gooey or even better a little toasted; and importantly it needs to be served in a helpful (if not cheery) manner.

The difference between this ideal and the undercooked slabs of cheese, unceremoniously plonked in front of me the other week could not have been greater. To add to my misery the travelling plate spilt my coffee, which I had to find and then search for a napkin to clean up.

It struck me how much these small things greatly enhanced, or in my case degraded, my experience and perceived value of the time there.

It was not like this cost extra, in time or money, it just needed a little extra care.

A little extra makes all the difference

Excellence it seems doesn’t always require grand gestures or Herculean efforts. Often, it’s about consistently taking that little extra care, and spending a few additional minutes to add those extra touches.

This may be as simple as tidying up, fixing that broken chair in the coffee room, or spending a little extra time ensuring a deliverable is perfect. The good news is finding the idea or the task needed is really not difficult.

The real challenge, however, is doing whatever it is, consistently, every time, time and time again. It may feel old or routine to you, but for each customer, even an almost regular like me, it’s a new experience and it does matter.

Small, consistent efforts accumulate over time, leading to higher quality, a better reputation, and ultimately greater success. Not doing it starts to normalise poor quality and the same spiral, just in reverse.

So, whether you’re enjoying a ham and cheese toastie or delivering that board report, it seems that little bit of extra effort makes a huge difference.

It doesn’t have to cost the world but can mean a lot.

Have a good week, everyone.

Posted in Observations | Leave a comment

Awards Season – Making it count

It is nearing the end of exam season and in the last couple of weeks, I have also spent some time marking… judging industry award entries. 

As always it has been an interesting process, with lots of close entries, which often made it hard to determine winners.

Of course a winner there has to be. Based on the entries, category criteria, and combined judges’ responses (no sorry I cannot be influenced!) it was a robust process.

However, having seen the bulk of the entries, I thought it may be useful to jot down some of my observations. What indeed made a good entry and what were the trends in those I felt had a greater chance of winning?

So here goes.

  1. You need to enter to win.  This sounds obvious I know, but I was surprised that some really great businesses and ideas had not entered.  They will not win for sure.  
  2. Don’t enter multiple categories with the same response.  In most of life if you use a similar approach you get a similar response.  Entries are reviewed and reviewed by humans and they will notice if the text is generic the same, or not a good fit to the category.  Try to change it up so each of the responses is fresh and of interest to the judges for review… you will get better attention for your entry.
  3. Explain what is new.  Don’t just use generic boilerplate or text describing what the product or company does and has done in the recent past.  Instead, describe what is new and what has been developed or innovated recently.  We all like to hear new or interesting ideas, and what has changed for the better and this plays well in an entry
  4. Be specific. Provide examples that are specific to the category.  Explain why this entry fits and why this is the choice, rather than hoping the fit can be seen.
  5. Make it easy to read.  Information that is easy to read and understand floats to the top for consideration (just like in the rest of the business).  Dense text or complicated prose may contain some fabulous information, but if there is work to extract it is all too easy to move on to the next which is easier (remember the entry is only one of many).  Make your text easy to read, well-spaced, and (my preference) use bullets.
  6. Keep it short.  It is always easy to write a lot and difficult to write a little (and have it meaningful).  However short, tight entries are quicker to read, understand and review.  Make it easy for the reader.
  7. Use Data.  Use a little data around specific % improvements. Customer or employee feedback anecdotes also really go a long way to illustrate the case for your entry.  If you have made an improvement, the best practice is to measure it, so just put these (summary) measures in.  This makes a massive difference.
  8. Invite the folks who completed the entry to the actual awards.  If you are shortlisted make sure you get the folks who spent time completing the entry to the awards.  These evenings are fun and a great incentive for helping to make sure your entry is the best it can be.

Now, I do remember how difficult completing these can be.  When you have a lot on and are given this to do, so often it is extra ‘side of’ desk work and all too easy to cut corners.  But hopefully, these few simple tips can make a difference and at minimum help smooth the process… it can be all worth it.

Have a good week everyone.

Posted in Observations | Leave a comment