If At First You Don’t succeed…Then quit

Consider re-writing your success software

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”  W. C. Fields

The flight to Faro was particularly bumpy. High above the Bay of Biscay we were bouncing around like a table tennis ball in a Jacuzzi. At one point I was tempted to email the Bacardi factory in Cuba and ask them to put on a 3rdshift. By the time this plane landed, the worldwide stock of rum would be well down!

Flash Cards: To take my mind off dying, I was busily reading flash cards – trying to master Portuguese phrases beyond  ‘Bom Dia’ (Good Day). It had been a long and brutal slog. Night classes in Marino and Clontarf for 3 years. Practice lunches with other learners, wrestling with masculine and feminine nouns over skinny lattes. Twisting your tongue around the Russian-sounding pronunciations.

Keep Going: I definitely wasn’t enjoying it but was determined not to quit. Something about giving up communicates ‘loser’ and I’m programmed to follow through. Incorrectly programmed in this case. So, what were the ‘facts’? I definitely wasn’t enjoying learning this language. I never use it. Where we go in Portugal (the Algarve) almost everyone speaks English. So, other than reading some road signs and being polite/respectful about the local culture – this had no practical usefulness.   But, I started and was determined to finish, on some pre-recorded mission to succeed. For what? To impress who? Because, when I really thought about it, that was the psychological payoff. Impress the hell out of someone because I could read the menu in Portuguese. Converse with a local waitress around the fact that the weather was exceptionally hot or say ‘good afternoon’ at the correct time of the day. Oh, take a bow!

Throw it Out: In thinking about some of this old ‘programmed stuff’ about being successful, I realized that it was written for me in childhood. Most of it had served me well. But it was now time to grow up. To decide what I wanted to do. To disallow my life being steered by ‘train tracks’ about stickability that were laid when I was a teenager.

Take Control: It’s the same for all of us.  We are in charge now and can do what we want. If that’s learning something new – great.  Like that Bon Jovi song that I’ve wanted to sing for ages but can’t seem to find the time to learn properly. Now you’re talking. Move over Portuguese. From now on, I’m doing stuff I want to do.


PS Lighter Notes…

Resignation Letter:“I’m quitting to pursue my dream of not working here”

Q:What’s the difference between the 1960’s and the 2000’s?

A: In the 2000’s, a guy goes into a chemist shop and shouts, “Give me a box of condoms!” … and whispers to the shop assistant: “Oh, and slip in a packet of cigarettes, too.”

Q: Why did the can crusher quit his job?

A: Because it was soda pressing.

I should have known I’d never last as a deep-sea diving instructor. I’m no good under pressure.

OCD Sufferers. Their days are numbered.

Past, Present and Future walked into a bar. It was tense!

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Positive Psychology | 2 Comments

HR’s Role in Building High Performance Organizations

Ensuring HR adds real Value

Back in my GE days, the Finance Director was skeptical about the merits of the HR function which he labeled the‘Health and Happiness Department.’ He honestly didn’t believe that HR added any value. It was part of his worldview that social science was basically bullshit, totally un-provable. It was a great put down.  Despite his misapprehensions about the function, I liked the guy and subsequently came to be more confident about HR’s role in building High-Performance Organizations.

Phone Call: We were recently involved in an interesting project in Galway which reminded me of that GE story. The project started when I phoned a senior HR Director, congratulating him for winning a high-profile award at the end of the previous year. He was (naturally enough) in good form. The business was making money, the HR team had ‘clicked’ into place and the relationship with the Chief Executive and broader executive team was upbeat. “That’s the problem”  he said. “Everything is going so well, I don’t know what are we going to do next.”

Our Encore: This issue (it might be labeled: ‘what will we do for an encore?’) is a dilemma for all successful HR Departments. When there are big ‘presenting issues’ in an organization it’s relatively easy to ride in on a white horse, complete your diagnosis and ‘fix’ the place. Visible problem solving is an obvious way to prove your worth to the business. But what do you do when there are no obvious problems to be sorted?

Winning the Peace: Paul Vickery of I.B.M. fame, had earlier described this syndrome as follows: “A lot of HR people are good during the war but not as able in peacetime.” Schooled on a diet of constant firefighting, some HR Managers become ‘fix-it’ junkies and don’t have a good understanding of their role when the presenting issues are not jutting above the waterline.  “Hey, I’ve just thought of a great idea”, my contact continued during our phone conversation. “Why don’t you take some time to figure it out and come back to me with a list of possible ways forward.”

What ‘To Do’ when things aren’t broken

So, what do you do when there’s nothing obvious to be done? How do you add additional value in an organization that’s performing extremely well? The challengein this case was to take an award-winning HR function and improve their impact on organisational performance.There are several broad approaches – and in a short blog post it’s only possible to provide a ‘flavour’ of these.[1] A summary of respective approaches is detailed in the following table.



Option 1

Strategic HR Plan

Develop a robust HR Plan — superior to anything done historically — that addresses real business issues. There are a number of sub-possibilities here (e.g. focus on increasing customer service, cost reduction, speed, etc.)

Take HR specialists off-site for 1-2 days, work them through a defined agenda to tackle these issues before going ‘public’ with the outcome internally

Option 2

Ask the customer

Devise a semi-structured interview format and ask the customers what they want from you. Discover the critical needs of the top team and ‘fix’ these

It’s normally some combination of remedial (tactical) fixes and longer-term development options

Option 3


Decide which key areas you are particularly interested in

Spend time (phone/net/in person) benchmarking the best in class sites in Ireland and internationally

Option 4

Executive Teambuilding

Take the top team through a robust strategy/personal planning session. There are several possibilities e.g. (a) ‘hard’ agenda that focuses on core business issues versus (b) a ‘soft’ agenda that focuses on the interpersonal issues among the senior team
Option 5

Engage the Troops

Review a range of mechanisms that drive up participation/employee voice levels

Ask: how well are we currently tapping into this key resource?

Option 6

Superb Management

Goal: Best management team in the industry & within the company worldwide

Put together a world-class programme of offerings and development processes: underlying goal = develop ‘self sufficiency’ in this group

Option 7

Play with rewards

Build a system that drives performance upwards (reward systems are often under-used in driving performance).

Introduce new/fun/novel reward mechanisms to drive specific outcomes/changes

Option 8

Organisational Audit

Conduct a robust organisation audit (not limited to HR function) & confront the organisation with this

Present data to management team in a ‘health-check’ meeting


The Genius is in the details. Making the options work in practice

Making a significant performance contribution to an organization requires a detailed understanding of the specific operating environment. You need to assess what will work (and what won’t) in the real world.  But the central point remains.  Even when you are doing a fantastic job there’s always room for improvement. Apply the Nike slogan ‘There is no finish line’to the HR function.

In this we can usefully take a lesson from the sports professionals. After the tournaments are over, when the cameras have been switched off for the night and the crowds have ‘hit the bar’, the golf professionals go to the driving range or to the practice bunkers – trying to perfect aspects of their game. The ‘top players’ constantly notch up their game to keep themselves sharp. As HR professionals, should we do any less?



Lighter Notes:

 A HR manager was knocked down (tragically) by a bus and was killed. Her soul arrived at the Pearly Gates, where St. Peter welcomed her. “Before you get settled in”he said, “…we have a little problem. We’ve never had a HR manager make it this far before and we’re not really sure what to do with you.

“Oh, I see,”said the woman, “Can’t you just let me in?”

“I’d like to,” said St. Peter, “But I have higher orders. We’re instructed to let you have a day in hell and a day in heaven, and then you can choose where you’d like to go for all eternity.”

“I think I’d prefer heaven”, said the woman.

“Sorry, but we have rules…” at which point St. Peter put the HR Manager into the downward bound elevator.

As the doors opened in Hell she stepped out onto a beautiful golf course. Around her were many friends, past fellow executives, all smartly dressed, happy, and cheering for her. They ran up and kissed her on both cheeks, and talked about old times. They played a perfect round of golf and afterwards went to the country club where she enjoyed a superb steak and lobster dinner. She met the Devil (who was actually rather nice) and she had a wonderful night telling jokes and dancing.

Before she knew it, it was time to leave. Everyone shook her hand and waved goodbye as she stepped into the elevator. The elevator went back up to heaven where St. Peter was waiting for her.

“Now it’s time to spend a day in heaven,”he said. So she spent the next 24 hours lounging around on clouds, playing the harp and singing; enjoyable but a bit boring. At the day’s end St. Peter returned.

“So,”he said, “You’ve spent a day in hell and you’ve spent a day in heaven. You must choose between the two.”

The woman thought for a second and replied: “Well, heaven is certainly lovely, but I actually had a better time in hell. I choose Hell.”

St. Peter took her to the elevator again and she went back down. When the doors of the elevator opened she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends dressed in rags, picking up rubbish and putting it into old sacks. The Devil approached and put his arm around her.

“I don’t understand,”stuttered the HR manager, “The other day I was here, and there was a golf course and a country club. We ate lobster, and we danced and had a wonderful time.”

The Devil looked at her and smiled:

“Yesterday we were recruiting. Today you’re staff.”

Good One-Liners:

“You can’t fix crazy. All you can do is document it.” 

“I need to make a Pencil drawing of Shakespeare for my art exam. 2B or not 2B? 

“I’ve been trying to teach my dog to dance but he’s useless. He’s got 2 left feet”

“I was doing some decorating, so I took out my step-ladder. I don’t get on well with my real ladder.”

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development

[1]For a more detailed discussion of this route see ‘Turbo-Charging the HR Function’, Paul Mooney Ph.D., CIPD, ISBN # 0-85292-896-3.

Posted in Organization Development | Leave a comment

Direct Working Relationships: Explaining Your Non-Union Philosophy to Staff

Non-Union comes of Age

Way back in ancient history (1980’s) I was a student in Trinity College. At the time the ‘hot topic’ in Human Resources was negotiations and I wanted to understand that area.  Under the tutalage of Dr. Charles McCarthy – who has since passed away – the advice given was that I should  ignore negotiations and concentrate on the development of the Non-Union sector in Ireland that was emerging in Ireland.  Five years later that advice (along with huge support from Dr Ferdinand Von Prondzynski) morphed into a doctorate and a controversial book called Union-Free.

Complex Topic: While the overall topic about how to maintain a non-union status is complex, one question that continually surfaces from  client companies is how do you communicate this stance internally?”  Here’s a couple of ideas…

Executive Team: Key Working Arrangements

  • People management practices in place are the most important determinant of your success in maintaining a direct relationship with employees. The best defenseis to demonstrate the right managerial behaviors. Nothing promotes cynicism quicker than an espoused set of values, which doesn’t apply in practise. Actions SHOUT; words disappear into the ether.
  • Your approach must ensure that employees believe that a union cannot provide anything that the company doesn’t already provide or is planning to provide in the future.
  • The internal environment shouldn’t allow any ambiguity on the topic of unions. Employees must understand that the company philosophy is to maintain a direct relationship along with the core rationale for this. All managers need to understand that they have a central role in promoting positive employee relations. For example, team leaders and line managers must be skilled in communicating the ‘union free’ message and the company need to invest sufficient time and resources in skilling-up this group to deliver this.
  • It’s vitally important that you have the right measures in place to counteract any external approaches i.e. a proactive ‘early warning system’ is in place.
  • The local management team needs to be seen as decision-makers i.e. not a satellite with key decisions made elsewhere.A subtle but important point in the Irish cultural environment is that the relationship with corporate staff needs to be seen as equal status. Corporate visitors need to carry the same ‘messages’ as those espoused locally. For example, the Norwegian notion of a trade union as a ‘club’ or a ‘partnership’ with management could conflict with the Irish experience where relationships tend to be more adversarial.
  • If a central tenet of the operating philosophy is ‘we are all on the same team’, it’s critically important that your top team role model this behaviour. The Executive team needs to be cohesive on the question of remaining union-free.

Explaining A Non-Union stance to Employees

While each company will express this differently, the following ideas are normally helpful well….

(a) The rights of each individual employee are respected. We don’t need a third party to help us to maintain a positive relationship.

(b) Our people provide the company with competitive advantage.  Viewed in this light, it makes perfect sense to continually invest in the development and growth of our people.

(c)Every effort is made to build a successful and healthy business and to communicate how each of us benefits from this.  We continually communicate the state of the business and  source ideas for future improvements from our people.

(d) Terms and conditions of employment are set at competitive levels vis a vis comparable employments.  In many areas, pay and benefits are superior to comparable employments.

(e) Within all organisations problems occur.  In the event of a problem arising, we act speedily to overcome this.  We take a long-term view of the employment relationship – placing fairness is at the heart of this.

(f) We believe that work can be fun — enjoyed rather than endured — and seek through positive work design to put this philosophy into practise.

Explaining the Non-Union Philosophy to Managers: A Q&A format is often helpful, anticipating questions that people want answers to but are afraid to ask…

Q: Will The Company allow staff to join a Union?

A.We acknowledge the right of any individual to join any association, including a Trade Union. However, there is no obligation in Ireland for any company to recognise a Trade Union in the running of their business. Since the formation of this company we have operated a model that emphasises a direct relationship with staff and has not involved any external third party. To date we’ve been very successful with that model. It has helped us through both good and tough times and there is no intention of changing this way or working. It’s no accident that this is also the model for many of the most successful companies in our industry.

Q: Could a Trade Union improve pay and conditions of employment?

A.The Company has a culture that promotes fairness. A key ingredient in this revolves around the way we handle pay. Pay and conditions are competitive versus other companies. We are fortunate in being involved in a modern, clean working environment, which is very safe. Specifically in relation to pay and conditions, we conduct an annual salary and benefits survey. This is completed in (date) of each year. We also subscribe to 2 additional surveys which are conducted by outside consultants (name these). These mechanisms ensure that we maintain our pay position relative to competitor companies. Issues like vacation time, flextime, the cafeteria, health screening, internal promotions, continuous learning and stock purchases all underpin a central point. To deliver world-class customer service, we have to hire and retain world-class people.

Q: In the event of a significant union recruitment campaign, the Company would have to recognise a Trade Union as it wouldn’t pull out of Ireland with all the € invested?

A.We see Ireland as an extremely attractive location and have invested heavily here. We are now one of the largest operations within our division — larger than X or Y. However, none of us can be complacent that this, on its own, assures a long-term future. If Ireland was to become either too costly, or if employees wanted to change the direct model for successfully doing business, this would have negative consequences on both current and future investments.The need for a Union has not existed historically anywhere in the company. We would be really disappointed if staff felt the need to seek help from an outside third party. If an individual employee or a group of employees feels the need to address any issue, let’s use the open door policy to work together to resolve this.

Q: Would The Company hold it against any person who seeks to have a Union recognised?

If an employee perceived the need for a Union, our first concern would be to understand why he/she felt the need to be represented by a Union.Any employee who has a grievance or complaint (and let’s face it, with over X people on site there will be issues) should use the established channels e.g. problem solving procedure, open door policy etc.We are fully committed to working with individuals to help them resolve issues that arise.

Q: The Company don’t have a problem with unionised suppliers & contractors on the site e.g. security, cleaning, cafeteria?

A. Contract staff are not our employees. We are not in a position to dictate to external companies how they should run their business.  Other companies, for historical and other reasons, choose to involve a Union in the running of their business and that’s their prerogative. Typically, we evaluate suppliers/contractors against a number of criteria (competitive pricing; quality of service; reliability). Once they meet these criteria we are happy to do business with them.

Q: Communications can be one way and staff are not always involved or consulted. That might not be the case if we had a Union?

A.We are trying to build an environment where we work together to ensure the continued success of the business. Over the past X years we have grown from A+ to B+ in terms of staff numbers and it’s a challenge to keep everyone in the loop. While there are areas that we can improve, there are a number of mechanisms to keep people in touch with the business; employee lunches; 1:1’s, staff meetings, business update meetings and the open door allows anyone to involve any level of management in problem resolution.


Q: If the market downturns, we could be vulnerable. Would a Union help to secure jobs?

A. Firstly, let’s remember that we all share the same interests – i.e. to make this a successful company, providing job security and good pay and conditions. In reality unions don’t protect jobs. If you look at the history of ‘redundancies’ in Ireland, most of them occur in the unionised sector. Excellent customer service protects jobs. Our current model of working is the best guarantee for employment security because it provides a customer-focused, responsive organisation. It’s not just ‘talk’. We have an X year history, which proves this case. Since we commenced operations in (date) we have never experienced redundancies or any form of layoffs or short-time working. While there have been some peaks and valleys in demand for our products, every effort has been made to minimise the impact of this. While, in reality, no company can absolutely guarantee job security (market forces are not totally within our control), this is a pivotal part of our philosophy. In the event of a severe business downturn, headcount reductions would be a last rather than a first option for us and we will do everything within our power to avoid this.  If headcount reductions did occur, we would endeavour to help staff find suitable alternative employment.

Q:  Are ‘junior’ staff working here vulnerable?

A. Informality is stressed in the business in a number of ways. Everyone eats in the same cafeteria, uses the same toilets and car park, participates equally in sports and social activities.  Everyone is on first name terms and an open and supportive environment is encouraged including a casual dress code. Rules that apply to one person apply across the board. Our philosophy is one of internal equity. No one who works here, provided that they are making an honest effort to complete their job, is ‘vulnerable’. It might be naieve, but we’d like to believe that the word ‘junior’ simply doesn’t exist in the management vocabulary.

Q: If everything is working well,why would Our Company be a target for a Trade Union?

A.Trade Union membership is in decline throughout Ireland. It’s highest in the Public Sector. The vast majority of multi-nationals establish a direct relationship with employees. Given the fall off in union numbers, the trade union movement is keen to sell its services. In our particular case, the X site would be a bridgehead for the unions (e.g. as most of our neighbouring companies are non-union).

Q: What, in the Company’s View, is the downside of establishing a link with a Trade Union?

A.  A key success factor for our site is an ability to move with pace to meet changing customer requirements. Speed is part of our DNA. The best way to maintain this is to have a direct, robust relationship with our own staff in an internal partnership. It’s a formula that’s worked really well to date.

Obviously, you would craft your own messages.  But, this stuff might give you a ‘head start’ in putting a positive communication in place and help you avoid the tyranny of the blank page. 


PS Lighter Note: (Warning: not for the faint-of heart). Probably a tad Un-PC, but still funny.

A dedicated Teamsters Union worker was attending a convention in Las Vegas and decided to check out the local brothels. When he got to the first one, he asked the Madam, “Is this a union house?”

“No,”she replied, “I’m sorry, it isn’t.”

“Well, if I pay you $100.00, what cut do the girls get?”

“The house gets $80.00 and the girls get $20.00.”

Mightily offended at such an unfair ratio, the man stomped off down the street in search of a more equitable, hopefully unionized shop. His search continue until finally he reached a brothel where the Madam responded, “Why, yes, sir, this IS a Union House.”

The man asked, “So, if I pay you $100.00, what cut do the girls get?”

“The girls get $80.00 and the house gets $20.00.”

“That’s more like it!!!”the Teamster said. He handed the Madam $100.00, looked around the room and pointed to a stunningly attractive blonde.  “I’d like to select that lady at table number 5.”

“I’m sure you would, sir,”said the Madam, then pointing to an 85 year-old woman in the corner, “but Ethel has seniority.”

The Cure: Two guys and a union worker were fishing on a lake one day, when Jesus walked across the water and joined them in the boat. When the three astonished men settled down enough to speak, the first guy asked humbly, “Jesus, I’ve suffered from back pain ever since I took shrapnel in Desert Storm …could you help me?”

“Of course, my son”, Jesus said, and when he touched the man’s back, he felt relief for the first time in years.

The second man, who wore very thick glasses and had a hard time reading and driving, asked if Jesus could do anything about his eyesight.

Jesus smiled, removed the man’s glasses and tossed them in the lake. When they hit the water, the man’s eyes cleared and he could see everything distinctly.

When Jesus turned to heal the union worker, the guy put his hands up and cried defensively:  “Don’t even touch me! I’m on long term disability.”

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Art of Staying Awake at Meetings….

“Here we go again”

Every now and then a new word or phrase comes into common usage and gets plugged so much, that you begin to hate it – like an overplayed Christy Moore track that makes you wish you were deaf. One current phrase in vogue is ‘socialise’ as in: “We need to socialise this idea.” I hate that phrase just marginally more than ‘Mindfulness’ (people are always searching for a BIG new idea to Hoover up human unhappiness). This curmudgeonly stance (look it up!)  motivated me to delve into the archives and pull out an old standard called Buzzword Bingo! Do you remember it?

Instructions: Do you keep falling asleep in meetings?  Then just tick off five buzzwords in one meeting and shout out Bingo really loud.  Here’s a list of 40 items. Listen up hard at your next meeting!

Hardball Sense check The full 9 yards Touch base Value adding
Heads up Synergies Top quartile Lessons learnt Leveraging
Take that off line Goal posts Bandwidth Proactive Core business
Metrics Movers & shakers No brainer Game plan Put this one to bed
Ball Park Disconnect Win Win scenario Tick the boxes Results driven
Mindset Show stoppers Big picture Cascade downwards Strategic Fit
Schedule driven Remedial Action Mission Statement Stake Holders Big ticket items
Raincheck Ducks in a row Fast track Bench Marking Any F***ing latin word

The Message: Stop using tired clichés to communicate. Saying things like: “Not every egg becomes a chicken”  might be funny (the first time you say it).  But there’s a good chance that some people won’t have a clue what you mean or are just bored hearing you say the same stuff over and over. Here’s the deal.  Start to really listen to what others are saying, rather than working on your ‘clever response’ while they are still speaking. Then you have a much better chance of people actually listening to what you are saying. Start doing it now i.e. don’t ‘kick that can down the road’…


PS Lighter Moment: Golf Rule Changes for Seniors (courtesy of Brendan Butler)

Rule 1.a.5

A ball sliced or hooked into the rough shall be lifted and placed on the Fairway at a point equal to the distance it carried or rolled intothe Rough with no penalty. The senior should not be penalized for tall Grass which lazy ground keepers failed to mow.

Rule 2.d.6 (B)

A ball hitting a  tree shall be deemed not to have hit the tree. This is simply bad luck and luck has no place in a scientific game.  The Senior Player must estimate the distance the ball would have travelled if it had not hit the tree and play the ball from there.

Rule 3.B.3(G)

There shall be no such thing as a lost ball. The missing ball is on or near the course and will eventually be found and pocketed by someone else, making it a stolen ball. The player is not to compound the felony by charging himself or herself with a penalty.

Rule 4.c.7(h)

If a putt passes over a hole without dropping, it is deemed to have dropped. The law of gravity supersedes the Rules of Golf.

Rule 5.

Putts that stop close enough to the cup that they could be blown in, may be blown in. This does not apply to balls more than three inches from the hole. No one wants to make a travesty of the game.

Rule 6.a.9(k)

There is no penalty for so-called “out of bounds.” If penny-pinching Golf course owners bought sufficient land, this would not occur. The Senior golfer deserves an apology, not a penalty.

Rule  7..G.15(z)

There is no penalty for a ball in a water hazard, as all golf balls should float. Senior golfers should not be penalized for manufacturers’ shortcomings.

Rule 8.k.9 (s)

Advertisements claim that golf scores can be improved by purchasing new golf equipment. Since this is financially impractical for many Senior golfers, one-half stroke per hole may be subtracted for using old equipment.

Not a golfer? How about these….

“I’m sick of all the shit on TV at the moment.  Although it’s probably my fault for putting the birdcage there in the first place.”

 “My wife said she’s leaving because of my addiction to Facebook. I didn’t Like her comment.”

 “I’m not a big fan of shopping centres. Once you seen one, you’ve seen the mall.”

 Check our websitetandemconsulting.ie. or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organisation development.


Posted in Management Practices | Leave a comment

Building Self-Confidence: The Importance of Positive Self-Regard

Yes, you can!

Lifelong Task: The goal of improving (becoming the best possible version of yourself) is a lifelong task for most of us. When things go wrong, we often want to ‘outsource the blame’ to others. However, there’s often more mileage in looking for solutions internally.

Self-Control: The good news is that this is something that we can control. Positive self-regard/confidence has a spill-over impact on resilience i.e. it increases your capacity to deal with the normal speed bumps of executive life.  I’ve worked with executives who’ve had to overcome incredibly stressful situations, including being publicly fired and even sent to prison. They survived. I’ve also worked with executives where relatively minor ‘speed bumps’ (e.g. a less than perfect performance rating) have completely floored them, in one case actually ending a positive career. Confidence, like the foundation of a building, needs to be solid to withstand the normal turbulence of life.  And, in my experience, it needs to be continually replenished.

Easy Sale: Most people intuitively understand the importance of confidence.  Ask a parent what they want for their kids and most will reply (a) for them to be happy (b) for their kids to be confident. Indeed, there’s a strong argument that happiness and confidence are closely intertwined. Tip: If they say that they want their kids to become a Lawyer, reply “Oh that’s nice” and quickly walk away.

Pony Up: In their book Advances in Management Education, John Beck and Charles Cox tell the following story:  A psychiatrist had twin boys aged 10.  They were completely different in temperament, one being an incurable optimist, whilst the other was a pessimist.  Their father decided that he would try to alter these fixed patterns. On the night before their 11th birthday he made extensive preparations. He packed one room of the house with presents, everything a boy could want – books, toys, games and so on. Outside he filled a large shed with horse manure.

In the morning he greeted his sons and sent the pessimist to the room full of presents and the optimist to the shed.  After a while he went to see how they were reacting.  The pessimist sat looking worried in the midst of all the opened gifts: “What’s the matter?”  said the father.  “With all these presents here, there just has to be a catch” replied the pessimist. The father sighed and walked in search of the optimist who could hardly be seen for flying shovels.  He was standing waist deep in the manure, laughing and shoveling.  “Son’ said his father, ‘why are you so happy?”  The boy turned, still laughing, and replied, “Well, dad, with all this horse shit, there must be a pony!”

Wrong Conclusion: It’s a good story and usually raises a smile. It’s just a pity that it reinforces an incorrect message. In my experience, the idea that our personalities are a fixed commodity, like some form of mental birthmark, is incorrect.  For sure we are born with certain physical attributes. And, there is good evidence to suggest that aspects of our personality have a strong genetic component. But our ‘software’  (how we see the world and interpret events) is enormously malleable. Regardless of whether we were born with a ‘silver’ or a ‘rusty’ spoon in our mouth – we can overwrite the mental tapes which were laid down in our early years.

Long Journey:  This isn’t some magic potion; there’s no instant fix.   It’s a lifelong journey to become the very best possible version of yourself.  But, it may just be the most important journey you will ever undertake. In my experience, the confident place you will arrive at – will definitely be worth the hassle of the journey.


PS I’ve put together a separate set of ‘exercises’ on how to build confidence. If you would like a copy of this, just send an email to paul@tandemconsulting.ie  There’s no cost and no catch.

PPS Lighter Note: Couple of funny 1-liners on self-esteem.

Always be yourself. Unless, of course, you can be a Jedi. Then, always be a Jedi.

I’m actually quite attractive, if you stand far enough away.

I have this weird self-esteem issue where I hate myself, yet I still think I’m better than everyone else.

I have to be funny because being hot is not an option.

I’m Jealous of my parents. I’ll never have a kid as cool as theirs.

Best Friend: “I think your low self-esteem comes from you being a completely worthless person.”

I’m a big fan of low self-esteem. It comes in handy at review time.

Moment of Truth:“What if I’m not actually the cutest boy in the world – and my Mom just said that to boost my self-esteem?”

At least Mosquitoes find me attractive.

If a fat kid falls in the forest, and there’s no-one around to see it, is it still hilarious?

“I can’t seem to find myself” Where’s Wally in Therapy!

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development

Posted in Building Confidence | Leave a comment

Retirement Planning: Taking Control of the Final Chapter

You get to write the Last Chapter

As an executive coach, I get to work with people at all careers stages.  25- year-olds launching into their first managerial role with all the normal anxiety which accompanies transitions (“Should I keep going to the Friday Night Beer sessions with the lads?”).  40-year-olds jockeying for the corner office (“Am I good enough?”).  And, those approaching 60, trying to figure out the next chapter (“Can I do another lap, somewhere else?”).

Developing Options:  The process of coaching people facing retirement is actually fairly straightforward.  We normally chat about the past to get a sense of the type of work people have enjoyed.  We talk about the present, focusing on remedial issues they want to fixor ‘bucket list’ items to be progressed. In terms of the future – we mine unfinished business or explore brand new avenues to be travelled.  At the early stage of the process, the task is to divergei.e. consider a wide range of possibilities – along with the upsides/downsides of each.  It’s easier to remove stuff from a list than add to it. So we brainstorm every possibility, knowing that some ideas won’t make the final cut. Of course, we have to ensure that the basics are covered i.e. the client has the mortgage paid and has finally waved ‘goodbye’ (financially) to the kids! (“The bank of Mammy and Daddy is now, officially, closed”)

Doing Nothing:  When developing the list of possibilities, a do nothing option is normally inserted as a standard placeholder. Every day can be a Duvet Day for those who retire. For the 1st time in their life, they can mute the alarm and wake naturally. What percentage of people actually choose this? After a lifetime of hard slog, thousands of early morning starts and three zillion air miles, how many executives plump for the easy life?  Almost no-one.  In his autobiography (Born to Run) Bruce Springsteen said: “The possibility of everything is just ‘nothing’ dressed up in a monkey suit.”

What’s Next? Executives may not want to take on another 9-5 job (or more realistically, an 8-8 role). Sometimes, they don’t even want to work 5-days every week.  But they do want to work, in the sense of being engaged in something important, an activity that provides structure in their life.  For most people, the only way they can really enjoy Saturday/Sunday is the feeling that this time-out was earned earlier in the week. They like to ‘earn their lazy’ and adhere to the Dylan Thomas school of philosophy, expressed in his poem: ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”…

“Do not go gentle into that good night

Old age should burn and rave at close of day

Rage, rage against the dying of the light”

Better Navigation:  Perhaps some people are better able to navigate this phase than others. If you are getting close of this era in your life, you have several options…

DIY: Take some time out. Read books about retirement.

Structured: Sign up for a retirement course (have a look at DCU’s 3rdLife programme).

Coaching: Talk to someone externally who can ‘walk you through this’ and develop a customized solution for you.

For sure, there’s life after retirement.  But, for some people it’s a shitty life, devoid of meaning and a sense of doing something centrally important. Take control of the final chapter in the same way that you took control of the earlier phases of your life. In this particular case (health issues permitting), you get to write the ending to the book.


PS Lighter Note: Bumper Time: The other day I went downtown and into a shop. I was only there for about 5 minutes, and when I came out there was a cop writing out a parking ticket. I said: “Come on, man, how about giving a retired person a break?” He ignored me and continued writing the ticket. I called him a “Nazi.” He glared at me and wrote another ticket for having worn tires. So I called him a “doughnut-eating Gestapo.”He finished the second ticket and put it on the windshield with the first. The more I abused him the more tickets he wrote. Personally, I didn’t care. I came downtown on the bus, and the car that he was putting the tickets on had a bumper sticker that said ‘Trump in 2021.’

Doctor Visit: The retired guy goes to the doctor and says, “Doc, I ache all over. Everywhere I touch it hurts.”

The doctor replies, “OK. Touch your elbow.”

The guy touches his elbow and winces in genuine pain.

The doctor, surprised, then states, “Touch your head.”

The guy touches his head and jumps in agony. The doctor asks him to touch his knee and the same thing happens. Everywhere the guy touches he hurts like hell. The doctor is stumped and orders a complete examination with X-rays, etc. and tells the guy to come back in two days. Two days later the guy comes back and the doctor declares: “We’ve found your problem.”

“What is it?”asks the retiree.

“You’ve broken your finger!”

Boom Boom: Regular naps prevent old age, especially if you take them while driving.

The reason grandchildren and grandparents get along so well is because they have a common enemy.

Money isn’t everything but it sure keeps you in touch with your children.

Suggested Senior Citizen Remixes

“You’re So Varicose Vein” Carly Simon

“How Can You Mend A Broken Hip?” Bee Gees

“I Can’t See Clearly Now” Johnny Nash

“These Boots Give Me Arthritis” Nancy Sinatra

“Once, Twice, Three Trips to the Bathroom” The Commodores

“I Get By with a Little Help from Depends” Beatles

“Talking’ Bout My Medication” The Who

“Bald Thing” Troggs

“You Can’t Always Pee When You Want” Rolling Stones

From Aidan Cahill:The Importance Of An Occupation After Retirement

As we get older we sometimes begin to doubt our ability to ‘Make a difference’ in the world. It’s at these times that our hopes are boosted by the remarkable achievements of other Seniors who have found the courage to take on challenges that would make many of us wither. Harold Schlumberg is such a person:“I’ve often been asked: ‘What do you do now that you’re retired?’  Well…I’m fortunate to have a chemical engineering background and one of the things I enjoy most is converting beer, wine and whiskey into urine. It’s rewarding, uplifting, satisfying and fulfilling. I do it every day and I really enjoy it.” 

Harold, an Inspiration to us all!

Holidays:  On a trip to Ibiza, my husband went Bungee jumping. As his body hit the rocks below, I thought to myself:  “That’ll teach you to lie about your weight.”

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Career Coaching | Leave a comment

Labour Retention: How you can create ‘Sticky’ Talent

Keep focused on your best people

Management consulting can be likened to a ‘fashion business’, in the sense that new ideas fall in and out of vogue all the time. At the height of the Celtic Tiger,labour retention was definitely ‘in’.  Trying to keep up, I wrote a book called ‘Keeping Your Best Staff’.  The book attempted to distil the methods deployed by the best-managed companies to create what’s sometimes referred to as stickytalent.  In the years of austerity that followed the fall of the Celtic Tiger, Labour retention disappeared off the radar.  Companies were happy to let people move on, sometimes to avoid the dreaded conversation (“Tony, I have some bad news…”)and to save the associated redundancy costs. But, with the economy now back in ‘re-heat’ mode, it’s time to drag that book back off the shelf. It’s a complex topic to capture in a few paragraphs, but here’s a couple of points to kick-start your thinking…

Intervention #1: Hold Onto Your Leaders:  At a time when leadership talent is again at a premium, organizations face several contradictory trends:

  • Lowered Loyalty:Executives now typically see themselves committed to a career — rather than an individual organization i.e. they have to be given a ‘reason to stay’. In the banking sector in Ireland – historically – it was tantamount to treasonto work for a competitor. Now staying with the same bank for a lifetime is the exception rather than the rule.
  • Talent Wars: As the ‘war for talent’ increases, there’s emerging evidence of systematic poaching, in some cases encouraged by headhunters who make a living from ‘executive churn’.Don’t take talent for granted.
  • Leadership Development:Organizations often don’t have the skills internally to make a real difference around leadership development. You get hired. You get ignored. Then you leave. Generic ‘sheep dip’ management development programmes (labelled ‘cheque book development’– because they require zero involvement by the employer) don’t cut the mustard.
  • 100% Capacity:Many senior executives report being underutilized(not underworked). Example: Executives are not engaged in the succession planning process (it’s done tothem not withthem). Suggest: Throw away that ‘black box’ and make this process transparent.


  • Intervention#2: Be Alert to Early Warnings: Early warning signals often indicate that employee’s concerns are changing.  Option A: Completely ignore this. Option B:  Make an intervention to prevent concerns degenerating into defection. What should you look out for?
  • A noticeable change in behaviour patterns or attitude e.g. loss of enthusiasm.
  • A non-complainer expressing discontent (ignore lifelong ‘complainers’ who can’t be cured – they won’t be happy in Heaven).
  • Discussing salary surveys and benchmarking, particularly regarding key competitors (or referring to former staff and how great their ‘new job’ is).
  • A noticeable drop in productivity or a change in work habits e.g. reduced hours.
  • Not wanting to meet socially and generally withdrawing from others.

Executive Response:If you detect early warning signals, arrange to meet privately with the employee to discuss your observations.  Follow these guidelines…

  • Explain the purpose of the meeting and thank the person for their time.
  • Refer to the ‘early warning signal’ you’ve detected. Probe: does it represent a deeper concern?
  • Summarize the response from the employee’s perspective.
  • Ask for the person’s ideas to help address the concerns expressed.
  • Decide the actions each of you will take and set a follow-up date.
  • Thank the person for being candid. Reinforce the mutual value of the relationship.

Intervention #3: Start Measuring Labour Turnover: How much is labour turnover costing you? Perhaps you don’t know because no one is measuring this. Well, I measured it in 2 organizations. Before we completed the analysis, the ‘guesstimates’ were all low-balled – usually only taking account of the direct ‘replacement costs’ e.g. the cost of advertising and hiring. In one manufacturing company – where we completed a comprehensive measurement – the cost of replacing a single Technician was an eye-watering €230,000. I found it hard to believe myself – until we factored in the ‘waste’ of very high raw cost materials (silicon) that a new employee destroyed during a 9-month training period. OK, I’m using a ‘high cost’ example to make the point. But, many organizations would be surprised at how much Labour Turnover actually costs.  Change the conversation from: “Labour turnover is a pain in the ass”to “Labour turnover is costing us €1.3 million a quarter”and watch the lights go on. A ‘stitch in time’ and all that good stuff…

Managing Labour retention is hardly rocket science. But then again, not too many things in management are particularly complex. Don’t confuse simple with simplistic. This stuff works in the real world. If you are asleep at the switch, the next labour turnover statistic may be your own!


PS Lighter Notes: A couple of jokes to get the week off to a good start…

The Raise: Sam walks into his boss’s office and says:

“Sir, I’ll be straight with you, I know the economy isn’t great, but I have over three companies after me, and I would like to respectfully ask for a raise.” 

After a few minutes of haggling the boss finally agrees to a 5% raise, and Sam happily gets up to leave:

“By the way,”asks the boss, “Which three companies are after you?”

“The electric company, water company, and phone company!”

Day Off: An employee goes to see his supervisor in the front office.

“Boss,”he says, “we’re doing some heavy house-cleaning at home tomorrow, and my wife needs me to help with the attic and the garage, moving and hauling stuff.”

“We’re short-handed,”the boss replies. “I can’t give you the day off.”

“Thanks, boss,”says the employee “I knew I could count on you!”

Salary Expectation: Reaching the end of a job interview, a Human Resources Manager asks a young engineer fresh out of College about his salary expectation. The engineer replies:

 “In the region of $125,000 a year, depending on the benefits package.”

The interviewer inquires: “Well, what would you say to a package of five weeks vacation, 14 paid public holidays, full medical and dental, company matching retirement fund which is 30% of salary, and a company car leased every two years, say, a red Corvette?”

The engineer sits up straight and says: “Wow! Are you kidding?”

The interviewer replies, “Yeah, but you started it.”

The Holiday: I met a French guy on holiday and he forced me to start drinking and smoking. Bloody Pierre Pressure.

Text Message:  My wife texted me after an argument to say that I was very condescending. To be honest, I was surprised that she could spell it!

 Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Management Practices | Leave a comment