Tuesday, 23 December 2008

My crunch hunch

Optimism is dead. Regarding the wider economy, at least.

You no longer hear the occasional optimist saying things will pick up in the spring. Everyone agrees that things are going to get worse.

As winter suddenly bites in January and February, the only thing getting brighter will be the sky as the days gradually lengthen. The economic outlook will get darker.

The post-New Year lull can often feel a bleak time of year but in 2009 it could be dreadful.

Over 80 percent of marketers are investing in CRM because of the economic downturn but this sudden focus on relationship marketing comes too late.

With brand and product homogeny, and the relentless growth of online retailers fueling the Long Tail, differentiation by customer service is increasingly important. A concept widely promoted in the 80s, it is sad that so few brands really embrace it.

Charity brands from the NSPCC down are losing direct debit donors at an increasing rate, and commercial brands such as Dixons are reporting rapidly dropping sales. The sorry demise of Woolworths, it has been said, is only the beginning.

Improved customer service seems to be one of the few ways left to avoid catastrophe as the recession bites.

(Interesting, then, that just at this critical moment BT axes 10,000 posts ... and if you have ever had the misfortune of calling BT Customer Services, you will agree that this move does not inspire confidence in future levels of service.)

Marketers must start to engage with customers – really engage, by taking time out to sit on the phones and take Customer Services calls for example! Similarly, fundraisers must start to engage with donors, for example by regularly spending time with Supporter Services, opening post and seeing what they're saying about their appeals.

In September, CAF and ACEVO reported that 88% of charity CEOs expect income to drop over the coming year. And recent press reports appear to be confirming this outlook.

While 62% of charities expect to increase fundraising investment to mitigate the effects of the recession, according to IoF/PwC/CFDG's Managing in a Downturn research, some charities are already on a slippery downward slope. They are the ones whose copies of Relationship Fundraising have been gathering dust for the past decade, while they’ve persisted with the charity equivalent of the assault on Falluja.

So what can you do to stem the attrition of donors, and protect your income in 2009?

If I were back in that position, I would seek to communicate – at least twice between January and March – the following key messages…



‘Your money’ is the vital phrase. And it is one that I think deserves a moment’s reflection.

This slightly old fashioned notion of it being ‘my money’ is very relevant in times of recession. It’s my money. Why should I continue to give donations on the vague promise that, ‘this is what you will do with it’?

I want to see what you did do with it.

Otherwise, I’m not so sure about giving you any more.

As Karen Osborne puts it, this ‘delivery on the promise’ is what donors want – and it is the best way to unlock their next gift.

The good news is that Bluefrog has developed several solutions to this challenge that are already reaping rewards for clients.

My hunch is that unless charities lead on this message in 2009 they will end the year with fewer than half the active donors they have now.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Keep the change

Managing change well can result in stronger, better teams. Managing it badly just produces a box of bad or bitter apples, with many good apples falling out along the way.

Leading people through change is always tricky. Whilst there will usually be around ten percent who are positive, there will always be another ten percent who are negative.

This latter group – the ‘mood hoovers’ – need skilful handling, including the judgement on when not to waste any more time on them. This is especially true when one of the aims of the process of change might be to shed this ten percent.

But it is the remaining 80% who need most careful handling.

When it’s all over, you need them to hit the track sprinting.

My thanks to performance coach Struan Robertson for what follows. I was lucky enough to be coached by Struan for a couple of years.

To emerge from change with your 80% intact, you need to start with a plan.

And your plan needs to fill in some blanks. It needs to fill in the blanks in people’s heads.

When change begins, everyone has questions. But the answers are blank – unless you are ready to fill them in for them.

If you don’t, the mood hoovers will be only too pleased to help.

The questions people have can be summarised with five Ps:
  • Picture
  • Purpose
  • Process
  • Payoff
  • Part I play

Your people – let’s call them changelings – appreciate knowing what’s going on. It is incredibly stressful to be in the midst of something over which you have little control and about which you know nothing. You won’t be able to tell them everything, sure, but you can convey that you are telling them as much as possible.

Changelings need to see where this is going.

Why? Why is this happening? Why are things changing?

People are amazing. If they can see why something’s happening, they can adjust much more quickly than you’d imagine.

Changelings need to know.

If you’re restructuring or merging with another organisation – or simply introducing a new procedure – your changelings will react much better if they know roughly what will happen when.

They will also stick with you through the various stages if they know how things fit together.

Will it be worth it?

Or if I run with you through this process, if I back you on this, will I regret it?

In many ways, changelings need to answer this for themselves, but you need to give them enough to go on. And it needs to be more than empty reassurance.

Changelings aren’t daft.

Part I play
This is the most important P.

If I can’t see how I might influence the outcome, I will start to switch off.

Changelings need to feel involved, and as with Payoff, they should be able to fill this one in themselves. You have to make it clear that they need to engage.

And this leads nicely onto another dimension of managing change: coaching staff through it. For the mathematically minded, the following equation states an immutable law of change…


A changeling [often] has no control over the EVENT.

But they have 100% control over their RESPONSE.

A simplistic but insightful analogy is that of the brown bug.

A brown bug lived in a brown field, and everything was familiar. The brown bug was good at being brown – surviving and thriving.

One day the field turned green. Being a brown bug in a green field was not good. Predators were drawn to her and potential mates avoided her.

So the brown bug had a choice: leave and find another brown field or stay and become a green bug.

She decided to stay and embrace the change. And as it turned out, things were much better in the green field. Food was much more plentiful – and happily, potential mates were very fit indeed.

A little trivial for most business changes, but the principle is sound: each person can choose how they respond, and if they respond as ‘change agents’, i.e. actively and positively engaged, you have a great team.

In summary, it really boils down to conveying three things to your teams:
  1. that they have been considered
  2. that they are appreciated
  3. that you want them to be onboard

Go on! Lead people through change.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

What is genius?

Well this is...

As is this...

Genius is the ability - and inclination - to look at something through your lens and turn it into something new.

Or to come up with something totally new.

Most people focus on ability, and there are myriad blogs, books and videos about increasing your ability. But true genius emerges only when you have the inclination to let it out.

Consciously switch your head on, open your eyes and ears, plug into it.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Moonlighting - sheer betrayal

18 months is a long time to be shackled in charity HR bureaucracy.

Endless 121s, consultation meetings, capability procedures and finally disciplinary procedures. All in an attempt to ascertain why a previously satisfactory, if a little dull, manager had suddenly unplugged from the grid.

Even his team weren't sure what he was doing - working three days from home and only two in the office left plenty of room for speculation.

The best explanation I could come up with was that his wife must have some form of mental illness.

But no amount of guesswork could prepare me for the shocking discovery that he and his not-ill wife had set up an ad agency from home ... highlighting its 'ethical' credentials.

But moonlighting is hard to spot unless you micromanage - especially if, as in this case, the individual does just enough to avoid dismissal. There were so many other competing priorities that I never had long enough to focus on this issue in enough detail. If I had, I might have spotted the inconsistencies, and may have saved his team twelve months of frustration.

Sadly, one thing's now sure. His betrayal of his team means my starting point is "no" if someone asks for flexible working.

Friday, 28 November 2008

The Mo thing I'll miss most

Perhaps the nerve endings around the hair follicles stimulate neurological activity.

Or maybe stroking things with your finger tips gets you thinking.

Whatever the physiological explanation, my Mo helps me think! Problem solving has never been so swift. Pondering my next move has never been so fruitful.

So it will be with a tear in my eye that I defy you all. The vote says "No!" but my common sense and self-respect says "Mow!"

Thank you to all who sponsored me.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

My Mo - I saw it in a shop window!

Nearly there!

Four days to go and I think I went through the pain barrier today.

Walking past a shop window on the way into work, I glanced inside but caught a reflection of a moustached fellow looking back. Not someone with a strange upper lip infection but someone with a bona fide Mo!

However, by the time I reached the office the feeling of pride had faded, leaving me to seek inspiration in a mug of coffee, as you can see. Which worked actually.

Meanwhile, Barnardo's ad campaign broke this week. It is not unfair to say that working for marketing teams in brands such as this is what really drives me. Coffee provides caffeine but this stuff injects rocket fuel...

What do you think? It's a powerful ad. Attention (yes) > Interest (yes) > Desire (ish - not sure what I'm supposed to do) > Conviction (yes - Barnardo's seems to be in the zone) >>> but as ever, the challenge for fundraisers will be to convert this brand campaign into Action.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The power of anger

Here's the thing. What do businesses, friendships and families have in common? They are made or broken with good or poor communication.

Poor communication can disable you. It can ruin a family. It can kill a relationship.

Even very blunt and direct people can communicate well though. The key is to learn how and when to use different styles.

However, really good communication begins with listening. Two ears, one mouth.

And one of the most perilous times in communication is when one person is angry - or worse, when both are.

Anger is perhaps the most frequently misunderstood emotion. It is almost always a defence, covering up someone's real feelings - consciously or unconsciously. People often get angry when they are hurt, and when this anger is stirred they can become aggressive.

The trick is to hold tight, let the aggression come out, and learn to speak at the right moment in the right way.

Take an apologetic, understanding stance and the aggression and anger fade. Take a defensive and contradicting stance and the situation spirals.

Then, with all the strength you can find, pick your way gently through the mess to achieve a constructive, reconciled outcome.


But being hurt or angry is never an excuse for personal, wounding comments. You need to learn to pause before breathing fire or taking out your verbal sword and slaying someone.

And if you're on the receiving end of such an attack, you have to learn to respond in a way that will increase the chances of an constructive outcome.

> see Working the Crowd.

If the other person is too angry to calm down, you have to take a break - suggest that the conversation continues later. No amount of good communication skills can deal with someone who won't calm down.

Working the crowd

Stand up comedians live or die by it.

If they don't work the crowd, to get them on-side, they get booed off stage.

In business, and in fact in every interaction in day-to-day life, people who work the crowd do better than those who don't.

Each time you open your mouth, write an email or fire off a text, you have a choice. Do you say whatever you're thinking or feeling in a way that will open the other person up and result in a constructive conversation?

Or do you say it in a way that will get their defences up, and result in conflict or an unsatisfactory result?

It's your call - every time.

Not a very funny comedian but he does a good job of working the crowd.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Three weeks and three reactions

Movember marches on, and the MoBro's Mo grows long.

Some quite like it.

Most ridicule it.

But my wife says it is, "singularly unattractive", and insists I walk along the pavement two yards ahead of her.

Should I shave it though? When you've sponsored me, please vote!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Building a team - be ruthless

In the mid 90s I was a member of a five-person team on an expedition to a remote village in the Western Himalayas, Pakistan's Karakoram range, or "Black Wall".

We needed a woman and a man with local language skills, and so it was that we selected a guy who at first glance seemed perfect. Affable, intelligent, and the son of Pakistani parents.

However, something in me was unsure. He seemed ever so slightly arrogant and once or twice failed to deliver on agreed action points on the list of preparations. I was not leading the team, however, and it was not my call.

Fast fwd four months and we were in the village, situated at 6,500ft in the fertile floor of an enormous valley. Hundreds of miles long, the valley wound its way between 24,000ft peaks up to the Chinese boarder. The section where we were was forty miles end-to-end, four miles wide, with peaks down either side and at each end that towered three miles above us.

Three or four weeks into the expedition, we had a day's R&R. This guy in question and I both wanted to revisit a high goat pasture we had seen a week before. Hidden by a giant fold in the rocks and directly beneath an overhanging glacier, the goat herder's stone hut was one of the most serene places I had ever been to.

We set out early and made good progress in the lower part of the climb. Through apricot groves, past white mulberry trees surrounded by huddles of ancient buildings, and up to the mountain track flanked by fragrant wildflowers. The path wound its way between fields, following the lines of irrigation channels that fed the crops with silty water from the river. This river tumbled down from the glacier high above the village, into the mighty river thousands of feet below in the bed of the main valley.

The path led up into a narrow gorge, carved by centuries of glacial run-off, with near-vertical sides that were lined with boulder clay, towering hundreds of feet either side. Boulder clay is a mixture of sand, silt, gravel and boulders, which is created by the seasonal advance and retreat of the glacier, grinding over the rocks high above.

Although we had to rest frequently, as the air became thinner over 10,000ft, we reached the goat herder's hut by lunchtime and sat chatting with him, sharing our food in return for some lussee (cooled goats yoghurt). Lunch over, the two of us took time to wander the vast pasture separately, agreeing to leave in one hour.

Teetering at 13,000 feet at the lip of the gorge we had just climbed, and surrounded on three sides by 10,000ft walls of ice and rock, the scale is impossible to describe. Probably a mile and a half long by a mile wide, the pasture is nearly silent, except for the distant sound of the glacial run-off, some eagle cries and an occasional groan from the glacier, which would send an eerie echo into the cobalt blue sky above.

I got the photos I wanted and returned to the rocks that we had agreed to meet at. Just after 13:00 and plenty of time to descend before the late afternoon light would fade into the evening darkness.

One peculiar aspect of Himalayan valleys is that two or three hours after the sun passes its midday zenith, it sets very quickly, as the 24,000ft mountains on one side cast a shadow onto the slopes of the 24,000ft mountains on the other side. An hour later, you can see the movement of the shadow, as the sun paints the opposite side of the valley with gloom.

So it was that TWO HOURS later, my team mate arrived, and gave an inadequate apology and explanation. There was no time for argument. We decided to return to the village as we were not equipped to spend the night up there in sub-zero temperatures.

We made quick progress, descending a few thousand feet before the light began to fail. We were half way between the pasture and the village - and we realised our mistake. The light faded much quicker once we were down in the gorge and soon the sandy grey boulder clay faded into the gathering dusk.

It became impossible to follow what faint path existed and we soon found ourselves at a dead end. We were probably 300ft below the top of the gorge side and I guess we were 100ft lower than the path. Scrambling had given way to technical climbing without ropes, and our advance was halted by a 50ft lump sticking out from the side of the gorge.

I managed to climb around it and reached a much easier place, where a small stream had carved a natural path. I could see that this ran past the original path lower down, near the place where it began to open out and ease off.

I turned back to help the other guy and was reaching down, ready to help him up. He was just out of reach and was climbing up the side of a tiny channel carved by another stream.

I think we both realised what was happening in the same moment. The TV-sized boulder he was pulling himself up on began to move. Boulder clay is incredibly unstable, and as he froze he understood it was already too late. Sand, stones and boulders began to shift all around him.

He looked up into my face and said, "Matt, I'm not going to make..."

And the sound of the river in the gorge below was drowned by a crashing roar, as chunks of the boulder clay around me fell into the channel after him.

I saw how big the boulders were that tumbled down onto him but I had to retreat as the ground under my feet began to shift too.

I climbed down a little to see if I could see him but the channel was clear, but for the dust that hung in the air. The roaring of the rock avalanche subsided and the sound of the river far below filled the air.

I called his name but there was silence.

My heart pounded even harder as I realised that the whole area around me had been destabilised. I turned and climbed back up, as quickly as I could, even as boulders began to give way beneath my feet.

As my mind raced, thinking about returning next day to find his body, I began the easy descent in the stream bed I had seen earlier.

Then, to my complete amazement, I heard his voice.

He was at least a hundred feet further down the side of the gorge, but I found a vantage point and peered over to see his dusty and disheveled face looking up. I directed him over a ridge above him and up to the stream bed.

He had literally miraculously escaped serious injury and was just bruised and scraped.

We rested for a few minutes and then started the descent once more. We jogged where possible but mostly clambered down the rough slopes in the semi darkness.

It was pitch black by the time we reached the apricot groves, and finally, after several trips and falls, we reached base camp in the village, exhausted and conscious of how close we had come to not making it back at all.

The moral of this long tail?

Trust your instincts when building a team. And be ruthless if you have doubts about someone you interview.

Oh, and never climb to 13,000ft without overnight gear.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

How classical music defines a person

At my local train station they play classical music very loud whenever young people are on the platforms. I think it's meant to be a deterrent, to get rid of them. In fact, the target audience seems to hang around longer, perhaps enjoying the free Baroque tunes.

As the Mo creeps onward, I am frequently struck by how it alters my appearance and others' perception of me. There is still a look of suspicion in many eyes, but as I walked onto the platform today with my jacket, pullover, shirt and Mo two people stepped out of the way deferentially.

I could almost hear the classical music being switched on for my benefit, and thought how different it would have been if I had been wearing a hoodie. I thought of Barnardo's Chief Exec Martin Narey's words, "we must end this discrimination against young people". As he says, no other minority is demonised in the way children and young people are in Britain today.

My Mo twitches uncomfortably as I watch this Barnardo's teaser ad, ahead of their new advertising campaign beginning 24 November, calling for a change in attitude...

Friday, 14 November 2008

Half way and getting serious

Don't worry. This won't be a millimetre-a-day chronicle of the Mo.

But we're two weeks into Movember, and the reaction from clients is getting more serious. I've just been told I look 'European', and yesterday someone called me 'disturbing'.

Think I'll use the phone as much as possible in the next two weeks.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Pity gives way to wariness

I suppose one can see why my fellow passengers are a little suspicious.

I'm clearly not a fashion student or member of a band - in which case the Mo could be seen as a conscious statement. But nor do I look completely out of touch with contemporary design.

As I sit on the train, working on my MacBook and listening to my iPhone, I've begun to notice the look of pity changing.

People are now wary. "He must know how odd he looks," they think, "yet he remains completely serious."

And wariness seems to be a licence to stare...

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Train journeys are the worst

Every morning and evening for the past ten days I have been an object worthy of public inspection. And it's getting worse.

Some people quickly look away when I look up. Others blush. Others stare more intently. For some, there is a strange look of pity - "isn't that terrible," they think, "such a prominent skin infection."

Today I forgot the mo and started to think to myself, "I didn't think I looked any different this morning; huh, maybe this shirt looks particularly good." It was only when I noticed that look of pity that I suddenly remembered the growth.

So please, for pity's sake, visit my Movember page and sponsor me!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Why bother?

If you are able to sponsor me in this ludicrous venture, your gift would be put to good use!

Donations are made directly to The Prostate Cancer Charity, who will use the funds as follows:
  1. Research on a range of subjects from new drug treatments to studies exploring the practical support for carers of men affected by prostate cancer.
  2. A dedicated lobbyist to work with government and other policy leaders for improved access to prostate cancer treatments.
  3. Infrastructure investment to ensure resources are available to drive TPCC forward.
  4. Funding of a specialist nurse and awareness raising activities within the African Caribbean community who are at greater risk of prostate cancer.
  5. Recruitment of men with prostate cancer to provide voluntary peer to peer support, and to raise awareness.
  6. Additional specialist nurses for the TPCC Helpline which provides information and support to callers affected by prostate cancer.

So thank you in advance for your help.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Movember - time for new growth in my life

New growth = blogging at last.

New growth = a MO!!!

To sponsor me, please go to my Movember page.