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 or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organisation development.


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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  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 or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development

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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 or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

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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 or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

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Saving the World is Overrated: How about starting with yourself?

Saving the World is over-rated (if you don’t save yourself first)

I have just finished reading the book ‘To Russia with Love.’ No, it wasn’t the James Bond story (“From Russia with Love) by Ian Fleming. But there was still plenty of adventure in this one.  The book details the story of Debbie Deegan, a stay-at-home mother in Clontarf who initially took in a ‘Chernobyl Kid’ for the summer. That decision kick-started a process which ended up with Debbie running a range of initiatives to improve the lives of kids in orphanages across Russia.  It’s a great read and all the profits go to the charity – so go out and buy a copy.  With that  ‘plug’ completed, what has this got to do with you? Quite a lot actually.

Mixed Bag: I never really tire of telling this tale. When I was about 20 (a confusing age for many people), I was a volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  The Conference I was attached to visited people in hospital – targeting those who didn’t have regular visitors. It was all a bit chaotic. We didn’t know who had regular visitors and who didn’t and had to figure it out ‘on the fly’.   The people in hospital (some of whom were very sick) had no idea what we were up to. Many thought we were Mormons or some religious cult.  Those of a more suspicious disposition kept an eye on their bedside lockers in case we stole their watch or bailed off with the green grapes.  Perhaps the intention was good. Mark Twain said: “There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist.” After some months of ‘mixed success’, I was questioning the whole enterprise and spoke with an older man who’d been a long time member. He listened intently and then relayed the following story…

Battleship Duties: He asked: “Do you know what a Battleship is for?”  I replied: “No, I don’t.”  He told me that the central purpose of a battleship is to protect other ships.  I said: “OK, I get it.”Then he told me that in order of importance, the first 3 duties of a battleship are (a) to stay afloat (b) to stay afloat and (c) to stay afloat.  If a battleship is not afloat, it can’t protect other shipping. In a very empathetic way he suggested that at a time in my life when I was not ‘afloat’ myself, I wasn’t in any great position to be protecting others. In fact volunteering was a distraction from what I needed to do. Go back to college. Learn something in depth. Establish a niche for myself. Later I could return to the core instinct to add value outside of my own immediate interests.

Mind Yourself: In the book Accidental Leadership, I wrote about the difficultly for senior executives and particularly for CEO’s around the topic of ‘self care.’ I’ve seen people in the not-for-profit sector run themselves ragged because of the nobility of the mission and a sense that they have made personal promises to philanthropists and so on.  So, here’s an idea. Let the world take care of itself for awhile. You are not Tequila i.e. you don’t have the responsibility for everyone else’s happiness – they own that one themselves.  Overall, saving the world is a bit overrated.  But, even if you are addicted to this, perhaps start with saving yourself.

Have a good week.


 PS Lighter Note: A mixed bag of ‘pub jokes’ this week. What do you think?

Q: Why does California have a lot of lawyers and New Jersey a lot of landfills?

A: New Jersey had first pick.

Q: What do you call a three-legged donkey?

A: A wonky!

Q: What do you call a three-legged donkey with one eye?

A: A winky wonky.

Q: What do you call a three-legged donkey with one eye that listens to country-western music?

A: A honky tonky winky wonky!

Lisa:“Do we have any food that wasn’t brutally slaughtered?”

Homer:“Well, I think the veal died of loneliness.”  (The Simpsons)

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


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Solicit Feedback: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.

Getting Comfortable

According to Mike Abbot (General Partner in Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield and Byers) we all need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. The point was made in response to emerging research that indicates most of us will have completed 11 jobs by the time we are 50.  With this rate of churn, by implication you are facing a lot of time ‘being uncomfortable’(in the sense of not being fully sure of what you are doing).  It’s no longer a case of studying hard for 4 years and ‘milking it’ for the next 40. So, how good are you at being uncomfortable? Take a little test by answering the following questions:

  1. How long since you’ve been to college i.e. when was the last time that you formally ‘studied’ something?
  2. Do you actively solicit feedback on your performance and how you are seen internally? (some managers see feedback in the same light that Dracula views a crucifix).
  3. Do you have an active PDP (personal development plan) and are working to close the gaps? Really?

Back to School: If the answer to the above is ‘ages, no and no’ you might be in deep Kimchi (as they say in South Korea).  The burning question: By swimming in the shallow end of the pool, are you afraid to go deeper, to stretch yourself and upgrade those skills? You might well have graduated ‘top’ of your accountancy class in 1995 – but there’s been a lot of change in financial services (and engineering, HR, technology etc.) since. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw: ‘The single biggest problem with education is the illusion that it’s finished.’

Tuning Up: You may or may not know that guitars need constant attention. Every month, or so, they need new strings. That’s about 20 minutes and €20.00. Just like those guitars, we all need constant tuning to play at our best. While you are thinking about what skills to upgrade and where to do it, here’s a simple, zero-cost idea that you can begin to work on immediately. Find out how you are seen right now!

Straight Talk: One of the stated values in Pfizer Inc. is ‘Straight Talk’. It means what it says – productivity increases in direct proportion to being straight. Going ’round the houses’ in terms of communications is unauthentic and a waste of energy.  In geography, the shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line. So too in communications. Taking a leaf from Anthropology 101, the company minted a physical coin with the words ‘Straight Talk’ etched into the metal. While not everyone uses the coin, the central idea borrows from a tradition deployed over centuries by many tribes.  The ‘straight talk’ coin/concept essentially gives permissionfor people to have real conversations. Sometimes it’s difficult to do this internally, because people want to ‘save face’ or because there’s more politics where you work than in the Kremlin i.e. blood on the Parquet floor. If that’s the case, you need to find someone external who can provide real feedback.   And, not your best pal Tony, who continually waffles on about how great thou art!

The Eulogy: It’s often said that the Irish don’t speak ill of the dead. When someone dies, the tributes start to pour in.  Well, here’s a funeral story heard recently.  A man who lived just around the corner from where I grew up in Cabra West, passed away.  He was a hard man on the beer, almost single-handedly keeping the local pub open (against stiff competition).  At his funeral, his friend was tasked with delivering the eulogy and spoke in such high tones that it seemed like Jesus himself had come down off the cross to walk among us.  The Widow, listening to the litany of achievements of this great man, said to one of the kids: ”Pop across the aisle and check who’s in the coffin. I think we might be at the wrong funeral.”  It’s too late for straight talk at that point.  Best bet: Get someone to conduct a 3600feedback exercise on you. Now. It’s uncomfortable. Embrace it.

The following simple questions might assist…

 *Describe Mr/Ms X…leadership at its best? What strength should he/she not lose?

*Which are the most critical Leadership Challenges Mr /Mrs….is currently facing that may hinder him/her from managing his area successfully? What could she/he do? What should he/she not do?

*We all have developmental issues. What 1 or 2 critical things should Mr/Ms do differently to be more effective?

*People react differently under pressure/stress. When Mr/Ms X is under pressure, what does it look like?  (What does he/she do or not do?). From your perspective what seems to triggers this behaviour?

*If you had to characterise Mr/Ms X’s current leadership style, what metaphor or picture would you choose?

*Please give me a rating of Mr/Ms X overall effectiveness as an executive/leader. It’s a 10-point scale where 5 is average and 10 is outstanding. Briefly explain your rating.

*What single message would you like to pass on to Mr/Ms X as part of this development process?

War Story: In the South Sea islands they use the term ‘Mokita’: The rough translation is ‘the truth which everyone knows and no-one speaks.’ In your organisations you already have an existing ‘brand image’ which may be putting a glass ceiling on your efforts to get promoted.  Here another real-life war story. I was working with a senior executive. Good guy. Warm interpersonal skills. Highly intelligent. Hard working. But, somehow, his career seemed to have stalled. It was difficult to explain – but the fact was that he’d undergone several internal interviews but always received a ‘Dear John’ letter afterwards. What was going on? We conducted a formal ‘data gathering’ exercise.  Turns out that he was seen ‘not to be able to manage his wife’.Yes, you read that correctly, even it it’s not PC.  There were a couple of instances where he’d ‘gone home early’ to deal with some domestic crisis (one story about a mouse in the kitchen had become a legend in the organisation). The perception: he ‘couldn’t manage his house – so how could we trust him to manage an entire operation’?  Sexist? Yes, absolutely. Unfair? Perhaps.  But very real.  We figured out a way to ‘overturn’ that perception and he successfully moved on from that role (it took about 12 months). Central point:  don’t allow yourself to be blocked by invisible barriers. Solicit feedback. Getting comfortable in being uncomfortable is often a way to climb the mountain.

Have a good one.


PS Itchy Scalp: David, my brother-in-law was complaining for some time about having an itchy scalp. His wife told him to stop moaning and get on with it (she is a graduate of the ‘we all have our cross to bear’ school of counselling!).  It turns out that she’d mistakenly put a new dog shampoo (nice packaging!) into the upstairs bathroom and he’d been using it for weeks.  I’m delighted to report that his hair now looks particularly shiny and David has zero fleas!

PPS: Sick Bay: Need to get a couple of ‘sick days’ off work for whatever reason? Try the following….

*Page yourself over the intercom (Don’t disguise your voice).

*Come to work in army fatigues and when asked why, say: “I can’t talk about it”.

*Send email to the rest of the company telling them what you’re doing. For example “If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the bathroom.”

*‘Hi-lite’ your shoes. Tell people that you haven’t lost your shoes since you started doing this.

*Put mosquito netting around your cubicle.

*Every time someone asks you to do something, ask if they want fries with that.

*When someone hands you a piece of paper, feel it, and whisper huskily, “Mmmmmmm, that feels soooooo good!”

* Put your garbage can on your desk. Label it ‘IN.’

*Walk sideways to the photocopier.

*Say to your boss, “I like your style”and shoot her/him with double-barreled fingers.

*Reply to everything someone says with “that’s what YOU think?”.

*Kneel in front of the water cooler and drink directly from the nozzle.

*Finish all your sentences with the words “in accordance with prophesy.”

*TYPE ONLY IN UPPERCASE. (don’t use any punctuation either)

*Repeat the following conversation a few times: “Do you hear that?” “What?” “Never mind, it’s gone now.”

*As much as possible, skip rather than walk.

*Ask people what gender they are.

*Sit in the car park at lunchtime pointing a hair dryer at passing cars to see if they slow down.

*Wear a hands free phone headset in all meetings. Every once in a while drift off into an unrelated conversation, such as: ‘I don’t care if there are no Dwarfs, just get the show done!’

*Respond to a serious question with: “I don’t know what to say, obviously I’m flattered, but it’s all happened so fast.”

*At meetings, pull out a large roll of bank notes and count them demonstratively.

*Produce a hamster from your pocket and suggest throwing it to one another as a means of idea-exchange.

*Use a large hunting knife to point at your visual aids.

PS Final Lighter Note: A touching story from John McGlynn…

A small boy named Hamed lived in a village in Morocco. None of his classmates liked him because of his stupidity, especially his teacher, who was always yelling at him “You drive me crazy Hamed!”

One day Hamed’s mother came into school to check how he was doing. The teacher told his mother that her son was a disaster, getting very low marks. She had never seen such a dumb boy in her entire teaching career. The mother was shocked at the feedback and withdrew her son from the school & even moved to another town.

25 years later, the teacher was diagnosed with an incurable cardio disease! All the doctors strongly advised her to have an open-heart operation, which only one surgeon could perform… Left with no other options, the teacher decided to have the operation, which was initially successful.

When she opened her eyes after the surgery she saw a handsome doctor smiling down at her! She wanted to thank him, but could not talk. Her face started to turn blue, she raised her hand, trying to tell him something but eventually died!

The doctor was shocked and was trying to work out what went wrong, when he turned around he saw our friend Hamed, working as a cleaner in the clinic, who had unplugged the oxygen equipment to connect his Hoover.

Now, don’t tell me you thought that Hamed became a doctor! Are you nuts!

Posted in Executive Coaching | Leave a comment

Getting the Most from Consultants: The E-Tender System Sucks

‘How not to’ allocate business!

This blog format is relatively straightforward. Grab attention. Make the point. Move on. But every now and again, a slightly more difficult topic is worth exploring. Indulge me this week as you take a 5-minuteexecutive break!

Avoiding Decoys: In the bad old days of consulting, the focus was on avoiding decoys.  A decoy was an opportunity to pitch for a piece of work with a client. On the surface, this sounds good. But, sometimes, the work didn’t actually exist; like an oasis in the desert, it was a mirage of potential income.

How It Worked: Most clients asked 3 consultants to submit proposals. They then selected one firm to work with.  In cases where the client had a preferred supplier, internal procurement procedures forced them to go through the motion of asking a number of consultants to make a bid. The selection process seemed outwardly objective.  Hence the word ‘decoy’ – it looked like a duck and it swam like a duck – but it wasn’t a real opportunity. Most consultants, acknowledging the presence of decoys, rationalized the time involved. The chances of selection were of the order of ‘1 in 3’i.e. not too shabby.  As there’s always some migration to newconsultants over time, decoys provided the opportunity to meet potential clients, albeit like flogging a 747 Aeroplane, it sometimes took a couple of years to get the sale over the line. Very early on in the consulting business you learn a key lesson; there’s alot of distance between a lunch and a cheque.Looking back now, it all seems somewhat innocent; the rules on procurement were about to change dramatically.

EU Legislation: To conform to EU legislation, all government tenders above a threshold value (as low as €5K in some cases) now have to be advertised on the E-Tenders Website. A couple of scandalsin the public sector underscored the need for a transparentapproach to awarding contracts and the science of ‘procurement’ was born. In this scenario, consultants who pitch for a piece of work are 1 of god-knows-how-many.  For example, Tandem Consulting won an open competition for a Management Development contract in a semi-State company.  Turned out that we were one of 110 consulting companies that pitched i.e. there was 100+ unsuccessful bidders. This is an enormous amount of wasted time for the unsuccessful bidders, some of whom had very little chance of winning this contract in the first place. It’s also terribly laborious for the client to wade through a raft of complex tenders. The better managers in the public sector know that the system is hugely wasteful, but feel powerless to change this.

Competition is Good: I can almost hear the pushback from some quarters. ‘What’s the problem here’?Competition is a good thing. It drives quality up and prices down. So what if a couple of overpaid consultants have to ‘burn the candle’ writing proposals? That conclusion is overly simplistic on several fronts.

Unclear Specifications: In the Management Development proposal cited the specification was crystal clear. In my experience, this is seldom the case. I’ve seen many instances where the client is wrestling to define the problem and unclear on potential solutions. When this gets written up, the result is a muddled specification. Resolving complex organization issues presupposes understanding which comes from exploring issues in depth. As often as not, the solution emerges from debates betweenthe organization and external consultants. It’s like going on holidays.  You need a break and a Vitamin D sunshine hit. With tons of options, you talk to a travel agent who has actually been to the place you’re thinking of visiting. Eventually you opt for Sardinia (or wherever). In trying to resolve organization problems, skipping the ‘exploratory’ stage simply doesn’t make sense. The result is often a poorly thought through project, which external consulting group then ‘bid’ on.

Recent Example: A recent experience in the public sector organization will bring this point alive. To save blushes, I won’t mention the organisation. The company asked for a single proposal on two separate issues.  Both were areas of expertise for Tandem Consulting and we made a detailed submission. The topics were complex and the timelines tight (we ended up finalizing the submission at 2:30 am on the morning of the deadline). Then we waited on a response. And waited. And waited. At one stage we were planning to kidnap the postman, praying for a ‘Dear John’ letter to give the thing a proper funeral. We phoned the organization several times. When I met one of the senior managers (by chance) at a conference his answer was that some of the key personnel involved had taken early retirement and the process was delayed.  Over one year later, we still don’t know what happened. That poorly conceived project has since disappeared into a black hole. In another example, Tandem Consulting actually ‘won’ the competition. The original tender proposal was whittled down to 3 external consultants and we were awarded the contract following a subsequent presentation. But the organization then decided not to go ahead. The time consumed in both of the above projects was enormous – 20+ consulting days – and that’s just our group. God knows how many other organizations chased those particular decoys.

Empire Strikes Back: Some time ago, the advertising industry made a decision to boycott Dublin Bus – for exactly the reasons noted above – an abuse of power in asking reams of consultants to pitch for their annual marketing contract.  A full creative pitch in the advertising world is estimated to cost about €80,000 with staff working around the clock to produce these. These major documents have to be customized to the individual organization and have very limited ‘re-use’ value. And, here’s the rub. At the moment, all proposals are completed for free. If the clients had to pay for the time involved, they would be much more selective in the way they run the process. Imagine a scenario where you walked into your local GP. She runs the ruler over you and announces the good news. All is well – clean bill of health.  You then tell her you’re not paying; you are simply meeting a number of doctors to get a general update on your vital signs! You’d be arrested. But, that’s precisely what happens in the consulting world.

Project Management: The second issue of concern relates to project management. In the tender documentation, even where the project is only understood in a very loose way, the consultants are asked to ‘map out’ the process in minute detail. My guess is that somewhere, a long time ago, a public sector management team hired a group of consultants who could not put together a project plan. And they spake:

“Lord, this shall never happen to us again. We will request the most sophisticated and detailed project plans, even for simple projects, that we will nary lose face.”

And so it came to pass – that consultants all around the world are now developing detailed, colour-coded project plans, with histograms running off the page. It’s based on the misnomer that if it looks good, it must be good. Never mind the quality, feel the width.

The Price is Right: Finally, lets touch on the issue of price. Most of the e-tenders specify that ‘price’ is only one of the selection criteria. To add some ‘science’ to the argument, price is listed alongside a number of factors (typical weighting = 20%). The consultants then play a game called “Let’s guess how long this project is going to take.” In a fixed price project, the consultant carries the downside risks in project delays – often in areas where they exercise zero control. Organization development projects are not like supplying stationary; there are enormous variables. While the client needs to have some indication of potential costs, this can only ever be a guesstimate(the actual costs can be less or more than this).  Fixed priced contracts actually inflatecosts, as consultants seek to cover the financial risks by ‘featherbedding’ their time input.

Unintended Consequences: The overall e-tendering process is designed on a cover your asssystem, a paper trail to demonstrate ‘transparent’ decisions being made. But it doesn’t lead to quality decisions.  It’s the equivalent of producing concrete life jackets – as long they are made in a consistent way. Not every government contract is the award of a 3rdmobile license and they don’t need the same rigor. The false scienceof procurement has actually stopped some of the best consultants in the market from tendering.  While Tandem Consulting still tender for some work, we probably select about 5% of the jobs that come up in our specialist areas. It’s just too time consuming. Realistically, we can have better quality conversations in the private sector.

Poor Outcomes: So, where have we ended up? The public sector, which, arguably, needs the highest quality consulting talent, is being fed a diet of bland same-o interventions. The bigger consulting companies ‘churn out’ proposals using an identikit format. These pro-forma pitches are cobbled together – without the requisite research on the client – by junior consultants following a formula in the same way that people follow a Jamie Oliver recipe. Most senior consulting teams don’t like competitor odds of 100: 1 and have disappeared from the pitch.

The Answer: So, what’s the solution?  One idea might be to ask all consultants to donate a day a month to not-for-profit organizations or pick up all the paper along the Royal Canal i.e. something socially useful. Anything, rather than writing junk proposals that are time consuming and soul destroying.  However, a superior solution might be along the following lines:

1/ Clear Proposals: The Buckinghamshire Council in the UK also run e-tenders. The difference is that they select a few consultants to road test and refine the tender specification before it goes live on their website. This makes the service being sought by the council crystal clear. Those consultants are paid for their time – just as all professionals should be paid for their time.

2/ Smaller Field: Reducing the field to a manageable size makes perfect sense. Public Sector organizations should continue to use the e-tenders process, but ask consultants to complete a simple pre-qualifications stage. They should then talk superficially to 5 or 6 consultants, asking for detailed proposals from 2 or 3. Lots of times the decision is made on ‘chemistry’ anyway i.e. companies that the client feels comfortable working with. This idea would save a rainforest of trees and a lot of consulting time in chasing decoys that don’t exist.

3/ Project Roadmaps: The smaller number of consultants should be tasked with producing a project roadmap and the intellectual property included in this should transfer to the client. Consultants should be asked two simple questions: (a)what is your understanding of the problem/opportunity presented? (b)How would you move this forward? Where the client organization subsequently decides to work with only one consulting firm, they should be able to use the ideas generated by each of the consultants who made it to the final stage. A payment should be made for the roadmaps completed by each of the final group consultants (perhaps billing at 50% of their normal rate). In this way the system maintains a competitive edge, but is a slimmer and fairer process, which produces better outcomes for all parties.

The current system isn’t just bureaucratic. It is an abuse of power. Understandably, no one wants to be the 1stto shout stop, for fear of being labeled negative or even blacklisted. It’s time that Management Consultants pushed back.  We have an obligation to our staff to run our companies efficiently and not engage people on ‘make work’ projects. As we are in the business of telling clients how to respond when their environment changes, shouldn’t we take the same medicine ourselves?

Thanks for taking the time to stay with this one.


PS: Lighter Moment: True Story…On a recent holiday, I was worried that the top of my head (thinning hairline) would get sunburnt. I only need to get a lick of the sun and I end up redder than Rudolf’s nose – so I wanted ‘full protection.’ Linda had bought an Ambre Solaire factor 50+ and I rubbed it all over my head and face, before jumping into the car to go and meet a potential new client who was holidaying in the same location. The only thing it didn’t say on the bottle was that this level of sun protection actually turns Blue about 7 minutes after you apply it. I was completely unaware of this until I came back from meeting the potential client and the kids started calling me Papa Smurf. Despite my best sales patter, the meeting hadn’t gone that well and I couldn’t quite figure it out. Until I looked in the mirror!

Subject: FW: Dr. Geezer’s Clinic (from Larry McGivern)

An old geezer became very bored in retirement and decided to open a medical clinic. He put a sign up outside that said:

Dr.Geezer’s clinic.  Treatment $500; if not cured, get back $1,000.

Doctor Young, who was positive that this old geezer didn’t know anything about medicine, thought this would be a great opportunity to get $1,000.  So he went to Dr.Geezer’s clinic.

Dr. Young:  “Dr.Geezer, I have lost all taste in my mouth.  Can you please help me?”

Dr. Geezer:  “Nurse, please bring medicine from box 22 and put 3 drops in Dr. Young’s mouth.”

Dr. Young:  “Aaagh!! This is gasoline!”

Dr. Geezer:  “Congratulations!  You’ve got your taste back.  That will be $500.”

Dr. Young gets annoyed and goes back after a couple of days figuring to recover his money.

Dr. Young:  “I have lost my memory, I cannot remember anything.”

Dr. Geezer:  “Nurse, please bring medicine from box 22 and put 3 drops in the patient’s mouth.”

Dr. Young:  “Oh, no you don’t – that’s gasoline!”

Dr. Geezer: “Congratulations!  You’ve got your memory back.  That will be $500.”

Dr. Young (having lost $1,000) leaves angrily and comes back after several more days.

Dr. Young:  “My eyesight has become weak –  I can hardly see anything !!!!

Dr. Geezer:  “Well, I don’t have any medicine for that so, here’s your $1,000 back.” (handing him a $10 bill)

Dr. Young:  “But this is only $10!

Dr. Geezer:  “Congratulations!  You got your vision back!  That will be $500.”

Moral of story: Just because you’re “Young” doesn’t mean that you can outsmart an “old Geezer.”

One Good Man (Courtesy of Aidan Cahill – a great source for jokes).

All the members of the company’s Board of Directors were called into the Chairman’s office, one after another, until only Ted, the junior member, was left sitting outside.

Finally it was his turn to be summoned.

Ted entered the office to find the Chairman and the other four Directors seated at the far end of the boardroom table.  Ted was instructed to stand at the end of the table, which he did.

The Chairman looked Ted squarely in the eye, and with a stern voice, he asked:

“Have you ever had sex with my secretary, Miss Hoyt?”

“Oh, no, sir, positively not!” Ted replied.

“Are you absolutely sure?” asked the Chairman.

“Honest, I’ve never been close enough to even touch her!”

“You’d swear to that?”

“Yes, I swear I’ve never had sex with Miss Hoyt, anytime, anywhere,” insisted Ted.

“Good. Then you fire her.”

Emerging Technology: 

 – Hello! Gordon’s pizza?

– No sir it’s Google’s pizza.

– So it’s a wrong number?” Sorry

– No sir, Google bought it.

– OK. Take my order please

– Well sir, you want the usual?”

– The usual? You know me?

– According to our caller ID data sheet, in the last 12 times, you ordered pizza with cheeses, sausage, thick crust.

– OK! This is it …

– May I suggest to you this time ricotta, arguably with dry tomato?

– What? I hate vegetables.

– Your cholesterol is not good, sir.”

– How do you know?

– We crossed the number of your fixed line ☎with your name, through the subscribers guide.We have the result of your blood tests for the last 7 years.

– Okay, but I do not want this pizza! I already take medicine …

-Excuse me, but you have not taken the  medicine regularly. From our commercial database, 4 months ago, you only purchased a box with 30 cholesterol tablets at Drugsale Network.

– I bought more from another drugstore.

– It’s not showing on your credit card statement

– I paid in cash

– But you did not withdraw that much cash according to your bank statement

– I have other sources of cash

– This is not showing as per you last Tax form unless you bought them from some undeclared income source


– I’m sorry, sir, but we use such information only with the intention of helping you.❤❤❤

– Enough! I’m sick of Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp. I’m going to an Island without internet, cable TV, where there is no cell phone line and no one to watch me or spy on me

– I understand sir, but you will need to renew your passport first as it has expired 5 weeks ago!

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Organization Development | 1 Comment

How am I doing? The CEO Survival Kit

Key Questions for all Executives

In Executive Coaching, I often work with newly appointed executives. The job is to help them ‘scope’ what they are going to do and overcome the inevitable speed bumps which occur during the entry process. Here’s a listing of actual questions discussed with a senior banking executive who was 3 months into his new job.  Even if you are not in a ‘new job’ could you answer these questions?

 #1: 100 Day Action Plan (Personal Effectiveness)

  • Did you have a formal plan to help you ‘think through’ the role? Did you follow it?
  • Are you ‘getting through’ all the issues? Are you avoiding any critical issues because they are distasteful, socially awkward or where you don’t feel competent?
  • Do you feel that you are making a difference? Too soon to make this judgment?
  • Do you have a ‘picture’ of what you wish to achieve in the next 2 years?

#2: Synchronisation Agenda (identifying/working with key stakeholders)

  • How much effort did you make in formalising a stakeholder map? Did it add value?
  • How well is this working (helping to build personal relationships)?
  • Do you have concerns at this point about particular stakeholders?

#3: Driving Strategy

  • Is the FOG clearing? (for you, for everyone else on your team).
  • Do you have an agreed ‘tomorrow’ with your team?
  • Are you spending enough time with external audiences e.g. consultants, industry groups, conferences etc. to really understand how the market is shaping up?

#4: Organisational Change

  • To what extent do you have a ‘worked out’ organisation change strategy?
  • What % of your time is spent trying to influence the work of others rather than being overly busy/doing yourself?
  • How visible are you in the business? How much time are you spending on the ‘leadership’ agenda? (face-to-face contact with the troops).  What ‘technology’ (e.g. social media) possibilities exist under this heading?

#5: Day Job: Meeting/Beating the Numbers

  • The current scorecard provides the data you need to ‘sleep easy’?
  • How well are you doing on Strategic Cost Control? Are the current targets being met?
  • Where are your concerns/what should you do?
  • Have you shifted your team from ‘beating budget’ to ‘beating competitors’?
  • If ‘execution is the new Mantra’ — are you getting there?

#6: Team Effectiveness

  • How well is you team working – as a team?
  • Do you have the managerial bench strength to run this organisation?
  • Do you need to Buy, Build, Borrow, Bounce, Bind any particular talent?
  • Management processes (meetings, budgeting arrangements etc.) are working well?
  • Everyone is crystal clear on their role?
  • You are creating growth opportunities for individuals? (not just piling on more work).
  • You know what they really want from their careers/are helping them with this?
  • Are you getting someone ready to do your job? Should you be?

#7: Building Organisation Capability

  • Are you building the infrastructure for ‘tomorrow’?
  • Are you happy with the IT plan? The HR plan?
  • Where are you on the critical processes (e.g. Selling, Customer Service)?
  • Are you spending enough time ‘getting the organisation ready for a new tomorrow’? (‘shovelling coal into the engine’ versus being ‘on the bridge’).
  • Where are you on Mission/Vision/Values. Any mileage in those concepts for you?

#8: Managing Boundaries

  • How well are you managing relationships with key accounts, politicians etc?
  • How well are you using the organisation’s Corporate Citizenship programme?
  • Have you impressed the institutional investors? How do you know?

#9: Work/Life Balance

  • How well are you doing under this heading? Is it a myth?
  • Can you do your job in reasonable hours?
  • Are you staying somewhat fit/healthy?
  • Do you feel happy/fulfilled in the new role?

So What? Is there any value in this listing of questions for you? While not every question will be relevant, I’m guessing that about 80% of the stuff listed will be relevant to most of us. Don’t be like the guy I met last week. When I asked him how his new job was going, he replied: “Only six more years of this shit and then I’m out.”  That’s not a job.  That’s a sentence!


PS Lighter Moment: From John McGlynn (does that man do any work at all?).

The mother-in-law arrives home from shopping to find her son-in-law Paddy in a steaming rage and hurriedly packing his suitcase.

“What happened Paddy?” she asks anxiously.

“I’ll tell you what happened. I sent an email to my wife – your daughter- telling her I was coming home today from my fishing trip. I get home… and guess what I found? Yes, my wife Jean, naked with Joe Murphy in our marital bed! This is unforgivable, the end of our marriage. I’m done. I’m leaving forever.”

“Ah now, calm down, calm down Paddy” says the mother-in-law.“There’s something very odd going on here. My daughter would never do such a thing! There must be a simple explanation. I’ll speak to her immediately and find out what happened.”

Moments later, the mother-in-law comes back with a big smile.

“Paddy. I told you there must be a simple explanation. She never got your E-mail!”

From Joe Bell: “Don’t know whether this is a scam or not.  Just got a text stating that I’d won €250 or 2 tickets to an Elvis Presley tribute night.   It said: “Press 1 for the money or 2 for the Show.”

Tip of the Week: Never do a runner from a Kenyan restauraunt!

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Executive Coaching | Leave a comment

Tour in the Sewer: Creating Significant Emotional Experiences

Rat-tling Home the Message!

We were running a training program in Antwerp with an engineering crew from a large pharmaceutical company.  The program covered leadership, emotional intelligence, team building and personal branding. Additional key strands involved solving 2 key business challenges, personal coaching and career insights from the company’s own leaders. All good stuff.  Question: could we do something more?

Rat-Light District: When working in cities, we like to get some ‘local flavour.’ Participants, having flown half way around the world, need to see something more than the inside of a training room. One suggestion –  to visit the (fully legal) red light district – got shot down pretty quickly. An organised ‘brothel-spotting’ trip is hardly a decision that any large public company with a diverse executive team wants to be associated with. While some participants might decide to go AWOL after hours, we couldn’t encourage it.

Underground Sewers: Turns out that there was a dramatic alternative. Some European cities e.g. Paris – have a working network of sewers that can be visited. We donned rubber boots along with a full protective clothing suit. Then took a 1.5 kilometre walk through an underground labyrinth of tunnels – guided by one man and his flashlight. It was slippy underfoot and we also had to avoid deep channels of ‘water.’ There were rats everywhere, running past our feet and along ledges at head height. Oh, did I mention that the place was also full of spiders? It was magnificent. A construction marvel which the engineers loved (for reporting balance: not everyone was crazy about the rats).

Boring Events: Let’s face it.  A lot of training is boring. Some weeks previously I was working in North America. The trainer in the room next door (paper-thin walls) was teaching leadership and empowerment. She started speaking (really loudly) at 9am. She paused to take a breadth about every 27 minutes. The only ‘empowerment’ was when the audience was asked if they agreed/disagreed with her (people who ‘disagreed’ got short shift). It was the most top-down day I’d witnessed since being in junior infants. The ‘Lecturer’ obviously didn’t understand irony i.e. the fact that the topic was empowerment. 

Experiential Learning: Learning by doing is hardly a new concept. A Chinese saying, thousands of years old, neatly captures this: ‘I hear & forget; I see & remember; I do & understand.’ You can’t lecture people into acquiring new skills. It’s boring. It’s disempowering. And it doesn’t work. Give participants the money for a holiday in Marbella. At least they might come back refreshed and with a suntan! To embed learning – you need to take participants beyond ‘hearing’. Doing something powerful and emotionally engaging works. If you can wrap some fun around this (like that sewer tour) this makes it truly memorable.

Mama Mia: On a previous mission in Sweden, I’d re-written the lyrics of 3 ABBA songs. One of the guys on the course was called Fernando – so that song choice was low hanging fruit. I bought 4 ABBA wigs and costumes from a dress-up shop opposite the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin and recruited one of the male participants (a great guitarist) and  two of the woman to sing. When the ‘band’ got changed and we emerged from the disabled toilet, it generate a lot of fun. We handed out the reworked lyrics and had a Karaoke session that’s was, arguably, more memorable than most of the stuff I’d been teaching. Creating strong team working across a global network was a key goal of the programme; so, that box was ticked.

Don’t just run training programmes for your people. Make your events memorable. Otherwise, those events (and you) will be soon forgotten.


PS Lighter Moments:

An Irish guy, Mick, drinks in his local pub. Every time he goes to the bar he buys 3 pints of Guinness, then he sits down, drinks them, and goes back for three more. One day, I asked him why he buys three at a time. He said:

“Well, it’s like this. Me brother Paddy is in Australia and my other brother Walt is over in New York. Years ago, we made a pact that no matter how far away from each other we are, we always buy a pint for the other two, so it’s like we’re drinking together.”

It was a touching story. Then I became concerned when, yesterday, I saw Mick in the pub getting only two pints of Guinness each time he went to the bar. So I asked him if his brothers were both okay.

“For sure,” he replied. “My brothers are fine, but I’m on antibiotics so I’m not drinking this week.”


Is this Gordon’s Pizza?GOOGLE:
No sir, it’s Google Pizza.CALLER:
I must have dialled a wrong number. Sorry.GOOGLE:
No sir, Google bought Gordon’s Pizza last month.CALLER:
OK. I would like to order a pizza.GOOGLE:
Do you want your usual, sir?CALLER:My usual? You know me?


According to our caller ID data sheet, the last 12 times you called you ordered an extra-large pizza with three cheeses,sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and meatballs on a thick crust.

OK! That’s what I want …


May I suggest that this time you order a pizza with ricotta, arugula, sun-dried tomatoes and olives on a  whole wheat gluten-free thin crust?

What? I detest vegetables!

Your cholesterol is not good, sir.

How the hell do you know!


Well, we cross-referenced your home phone number with your medical records.

We have the result of your blood tests for the last 7 years.


Okay, but I do not want your rotten vegetable pizza! I already take medication for my cholesterol.

GOOGLE: Excuse me sir, but you have not taken your medication regularly.

According to our database, you only purchased a box of 30 cholesterol tablets once, at Drug RX Network, 24 months ago.

I bought more from another drugstore.

That doesn’t show on your credit card statement.

I paid in cash.

But you did not withdraw enough cash according to your bank statement.

I have other sources of cash.

GOOGLE: That doesn’t show on your last tax return unless you bought them using an undeclared income source, which is against the law.


I’m sorry, sir, we use such information only with the sole intention of helping you.


Enough already! I’m sick to death of Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and all the others.I’m going to an island without internet, cable TV, where there is no cell phone service and no one to watch or spy on me.

I understand sir, but you need to renew your passport first. It expired 6 weeks ago…

Posted in Staff Engagement | Leave a comment

Moving On: When is the right time to leave your job?

Have the guts to make career decisions that suit you – not someone else!

From time to time I meet an executive who’s ended up in the wrong job. Sometimes, it’s a temporary blip and they just need to sit tight. The chessboard pieces move quickly; if they inhabit a disliked role for 12 or 18 months, over a career lifetime that’s no big deal. But, in some cases, the ‘misfit’ issue runs deeper. Punching in more time isn’t always the right solution.

Not-For-Profit: Over 20+ years, I’ve worked with a range of not-for-profit organizations. For a host of reasons (detailed in earlier blogs), this sector poses several unique managerial challenges. Helping staff to understand that ‘not-for-profit’ ≠ ‘we are for losses’ is often the starting point. In some cases, the CEO is the founder of the organization. In other cases, the CEO is attracted to the sector because they want to ‘give something back.’ But, being happy in a job requires more than a noble cause. One CEO described this prosaically: “Having a great mission doesn’t trump all the other shit I have to put up with.”

The Dilemma: Let’s assume that you are a senior executive in a not-for-profit organization. You have become publicly identified with the goals of the organization. You’ve spent a lot of time fundraising, selling the message externally in the media, and meeting clients to demonstrate your support. But you are ‘unfulfilled’ or secretly have a grá for some other line of work. Yet, you’ve become so identified with the organization that you feel stuck, almost as if your personality and your role have morphed into a single entity. I am personally aware of two founders of not-for-profit organizations who suffered breakdowns as a result of being caught in this specific dilemma (one recently went public in an autobiography which described months when she literally could not get out of bed). They both wanted to move on but felt trapped.

Medical Neighbours: It’s not exclusive to not-for-profits. Many years ago, I worked in a medium-sized country town. In a new housing development, people made a lot of effort to get to know their neighbours. 3 of the guys on the estate where I lived were Medical Doctors. When we’d meet, 2 of them would typically talk about patients, medicine and healthcare. The other one would invariably swing the conversation around to computers (his key interest). He plied me with questions about the computers in the pharmaceutical plant where I was worked (it was generally a short conversation – based on my lack of knowledge). At an earlier point that guy, the brightest boy in his class, got pushed into studying medicine and became a GP because of his family’s need to secure a high status occupation. As about 50% of a GP’s role is actually counseling, this intelligent but introverted, shy man, ended up in the wrong job with no obvious exit strategy. He should have moved on but he felt trapped.

Dublin Party: Roll the clock forward a number years. I’m at a party in Dublin, conducting a Bacardi Summit i.e. ‘solving the problems of the world at 2 am.’ A woman I’d never met before told me that her partner was hugely committed to a house renovation project in Co. Clare. Restoring its original features had become his life’s work. I was fascinated and somewhat envious. When she asked: “would you like to do something similar?” I made a range of excuses about why it wouldn’t work, pleading busyness (forgetting to mention the small matter of a complete absence of D.I.Y. skills). Then the lady said: “You don’t have your life sorted, do you?” In the cold light of day, that comment seems smart-assed, a put-down. But it was simply a question and a solid one at that. It’s a question we all need to answer. Do you have your life sorted? A couple of days after that party, I made a significant career changing decision.

The Fear: Many executives worry about leaving an organization where they’ve huge service on the clock or have made a strong personal commitment. They ask: “what will happen to the organization if I move on?” As pushback, I use the following metaphor: the impact of their resignation will be like taking their hand out of a bucket of water and looking back in to see the space left behind!

Suit Yourself: When it comes to deciding the best job, suit yourself. Do everyone a favour and chase down a role that you really want. For sure, the announcement that you are going will be a 5-minute conversation, a storm in a thimble. Then people will quickly revert to worrying about their own lives as you get on with yours. All other things being equal, the right time to leave your job is when you stop enjoying it.

The only thing you are trapped into is the mistaken belief that you don’t have a choice.


PS Lighter Notes: I was driving this morning when I saw an AA van parked up on the hard shoulder. The driver was sobbing uncontrollably and looked really miserable. I thought to myself ‘that guy’s heading for a breakdown.’ 

Mathematically Minded? Statistically, 6 out of 7 dwarves are not Happy.

Why do people leave their jobs?

Oil rig worker: “It was boring”

Refuse collector: “That job was rubbish”

Medical Doctor: “I’m sick of it”

Gastroenterologist: “Couldn’t stomach it”

Cardiologist: “My heart wasn’t in it”

Clairvoyant: “I couldn’t see any future in it”

Car mechanic: “I jacked up”

Meteorologist: “Too unpredictable, so I stormed out”

Paratrooper: “Got the push”

Optician: “Didn’t see eye to eye with clients”

Caged bird breeder: “Got caught with my hand in the Trill”

Historical Note: I used to be addicted to swimming, but I’ve been dry now for over 6 years!

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Career Coaching | Leave a comment