A moral dilemma



A Grapevine reader got in touch recently with a tricky problem.



Like a lot of people, Tom (not his real name), has been through many company reorganisations. In the last round, he kept a job, but not his original one. He now finds himself on a grade well below his previous grade, in a job that he could do standing on his head.



The question arose when he was asked to write his objectives. Should he just fall in line

How to Write Objectives that Work

A good way to write your objectives

with the standards expected for this grade or should he write more stretching objectives commensurate with his considerable skill and experience?



Here’s the issue. Imagine Tom makes chairs. With his skill he could make 150. The actual grade he is now at requires just 50. Let’s say he then makes 100. What if he gets penalised for not achieving a standard that is well above what he is being paid for?



His manager (who has also been through the same process) cannot give him a pay rise or promotion as his hands are tied. He does not want to rock the boat for fear that he will lose his own job.



So what do you do in this situation?


On the one hand, why should you work your fingers to the bone for a company that refuses to pay you properly and demotes you (whilst still increasing the pay of senior executives)? On the other hand, morally, are you obliged to do your best whatever the circumstances? If you do are you just being a fool?



Consider your long-term goals


One way to come to a conclusion is to identify your long-term objectives. Think at least five years ahead if you can.



Then identify which course of action is most likely to get you there.



Identify what is important to you


Another way is to ask yourself what’s important to you about your work and your life. We all have different answers to this question.



You could say that if everyone in the whole company did their best all the time, no matter what, the company might not be in the position it is now in, laying people off and demoting them.



Of course you may also want to consider the moral side of things. Sadly it’s not always clear-cut.



You may feel on principal that you should always do your best, but what if it’s obvious others are taking advantage of your hard work? Would you feel differently if the directors had taken a pay cut themselves or had dealt with obvious performance issues?



Back to basics


Objectives are really there to make sure that everyone knows exactly what they need to achieve in order for your organisation to achieve its goals. SMART objectives and goals should do this.



So perhaps another option is that Tom should just find out from his manager what the cascaded objectives are and confine his more stretching objectives to personal development.



Sometimes producing 150 chairs when you have only been asked for 50 means that 100 Chairs end up unsold on the shelf (so to speak). There is nothing wrong with giving people exactly what they ask for.



One last point


I once interviewed a woman who had worked in a department that I had run many years previously. She was unaware of my background knowledge.



She told me she made CMAs and I asked her how many she made each day, in the full knowledge I’d be able to judge her skill on the answer to that question. However, she surprised even me with her answer (which I still remember, 25 years later): “I could do 12 but I only ever bother to do 10.”



I was completely astounded. If she had said “10”, and kept her mouth shut, she probably would have got the job, as this was a perfectly respectable output.



But this answer showed that her values were rather different from mine.



We were working in an environment where high output was valued and we were always looking for ways of improving it. Had she said: “They expect 10, but I usually manage to make 12.” She would have been hired on the spot.



So whilst it may not have done her any good in the previous company it would have stood her in very good stead in my then current department.



Next week we’ll look at this from the manager’s perspective.

Procrastination cure – 10 easy steps


15th January was Procrastinator’s New Year. I’m surprised it’s that early.



No doubt it’s not celebrated till some time in February.



Why do people procrastinate?


On our time management courses I often come across people with this problem. They put things off as long as possible and then do them at the very last minute. Or they put off things like filing and tidying their desks for ever, resulting in massive piles of un-processed documents and mail.



In a radio programme on this topic, we were presented with a woman who had not filed any taxes for years and was paying the taxman a daily fine, which had already cost her thousands of pounds.



She had piles of unopened letters and masses of unfinished work – I think she was a novelist.



In the end she reported that she had hired a student to open her mail. Amongst all the junk mail were offers of work and un-cashed cheques for the work she had somehow managed to complete. She confessed that having the student do this work for her was a proving to be a great help.





Her life seemed to be ruled by fear. She was frightened to tackle tasks. It seemed she had turned them into big ugly horrific events in her head. They were just too awful to contemplate.



The wrong objective


One of the biggest problems that people like this have is that they are setting the wrong objective. They are making tasks frightening and impossible. This goes back to the old tip about eating elephants.



Question: How do you eat an elephant?

Elephant looking at you

How do you eat an elephant?

Answer: One bite at a time.



Trying to eat the whole elephant in one go is just too challenging.



(If this question were “How do you eat a horse?” sadly we now know the answer to that question. Here in the UK we have just discovered we have all been eating horses, probably for years. We’ve been doing it one bite at a time in our beef burgers, and it seemed no one noticed.)



The right objective


The best way to resolve an issue like three years of unopened mail or mountainous piles of unfilled materials on your desk is to do a bit of analysis and planning first. Here’s what you do in 10 easy steps.



1. Identify what you would like to achieve. This might be to have a clear desk, to have everything filed in its correct place or it might be to have only relevant paperwork that you will be using in your work.


2. Now you set some sub-objectives under that main objective. Your first sub-objective is to find a system that will enable you to achieve your goal of a clear desk or whatever.


3. Work out roughly how much stuff there is. For this you may need some simple tools like a ruler or some scales. There is no need to count it all by hand (especially when it is a large pile). Just identify how high the total pile is. (Or how much it weighs if you have one of those great sets of scales that look like an iPad this is pretty easy.)


4. Set yourself a reasonable time scale. This is one place where the procrastinators really go wrong. Do not go for one day, or even one week. Be sensible, so that you have plenty of time and it’s not going to be a struggle. Then double it.


5. Now work out how much of the pile you would have to get through each day/week to achieve your goal. If it looks like too much, increase the time scale. Do this till you have an amount you are confident you can complete easily each day or week.


6. Test it out. Try doing it for a few days. Each time you meet your target, congratulate yourself. Give yourself a treat (chocolate always works for me). Focus on how nice it will be when you have completed your daily quota, not how awful it will be while you are working on it. Find some ways to make it pleasant if you can. I tend to listen to the radio or some music while I am carrying out tasks I don’t like.


7. Modify your technique till you have found a process that works for you. Once you have done that, you have achieved your first objective.


8. Now you can review your original objective and time scale. See if your system will give you the results you are looking for within your time scale. If not, it’s perfectly acceptable to change the objective in these situations. (After all, you probably weren’t making any progress at all before).


9. Measure your progress. It is really motivating. Draw a little graph or have some kind of tick list so you can see how well you are doing. Another easy way to monitor your progress is simply to take a photo of the desk or pile of mail on your phone once a week so you can see how much better it is. This can be very motivating.


10. If your system is not working, review it and keep modifying it until it is.



The key to eating the elephant


The key is planning so that you don’t take on more than you can handle and then just focusing on the small daily task rather than getting stressed about the enormity and horror of the whole thing.



So, if you are a procrastinator, have a go. You’ll be amazed how much you can achieve just using these simple steps.

Three tips to getting the most out of your objectives



It’s a big mistake not to have any objectives, but just having them is not good unless you use them. Find out what you need to do here.


Dr Dave Nicol and cat – Dave is on the left

Last week, together with Dr Dave Nicol, I presented a Webinar on recruitment for vets. We called the Webinar “The 5 mistakes most vets make when recruiting”.



Of course, there are more than five, but of all of them, the biggest (in that it is consistently the most costly), is not working out the objectives first.



Do you recognise this recruitment scenario?


You go rushing into hiring a new team member, thinking you know what you want, or possibly thinking you just don’t have time to prepare. So if you do any preparation at all, it’s mainly comprised of finding the old job description and advertisement to save yourself the time in having to write either of them again.



A ghastly recruitment mistake


One organisation I worked with had a massive reorganisation and as part of the process, everyone had to reapply for their own job. Yes, this does count as recruitment.


You are probably all too familiar with this yourself if you work in a large company. It can be an unpleasant experience. However, if it’s not done properly, then any potential benefit is lost and all you get is the unpleasantness.


There were some areas where they just about scraped through and did an almost OK job. But one place where they failed completely was in getting the top level objectives right and cascading them to each role and making sure the job descriptions were aligned with them.



Just use the old ones


They simply used the old descriptions, many of which were very badly written, to the point of being virtually meaningless (through constant random additions over the years), and it was pretty obvious they had not thought the organisational objectives through at all.



The cost


The consequence was that many people who should have stayed, left. And many people who should have left, stayed. Many of those who were left were in the wrong jobs or jobs that weren’t really doing what was required.


As a result of that, they did not achieve their goals. And all because they just didn’t have the time to carry out the process properly at the beginning.



Starting a big project without clear objectives


If you do not take time to work out your objectives before any major task, how do you expect to be successful? Yes, it may seem like a delay, but it’s not. In our webinar, Dave and I talked about how, before we recruited anyone, we worked through the values and objectives of his business. We made sure we had them crystal clear.


We have even reviewed and updated them many times since.



The benefits of getting your objectives right


We recruited an employee for another client, an accountancy firm, just a few months ago. Initially the client wanted someone at quite a low level, but I persuaded them that they could get someone who would do a lot more than they had in mind and that this was what they needed in order to progress their business.


The new recruit has not only met the standards we agreed, but has far exceeded even my expectations. Because he works so quickly and learns so fast, my clients keep running out of things for him to do.


“What will we do if he learns the next stuff really quickly too?” Moaned my client. “I won’t have anything to do myself then!”



Review the objectives


When she said this, I suggested to her that we review the overall company objectives. One of them was to do with developing a whole new side to the business. “You would have time to start on this new project.” I pointed out. She laughed. Sometimes people come up with objectives that are really good and then don’t look at them again, and so forget what it is they want to achieve.


Her greatest fear was not having any work to do herself (she loves her work). In being so tied up in it she had forgotten to review her objectives and discover that one of them, one that will make a big difference to the business as a whole, is now within her grasp (and much sooner than they had hoped).


Not only that, but because they are now much more efficient than they were, it’s time to update the top level objectives to reflect that and other improvements that they have made.


It’s an easy mistake to make. So let me offer you these tips to help you to get the most from your objectives.




Three tips for getting the most out of your objectives


  1. Make sure you get them right. And most importantly, that the ones at the top are right. It’s really worth putting in a bit of time on this. (SMART objectives and targets aren’t necessarily the right objectives just because they are SMART.)
  2. Look at them regularly (once a week or month at the least) and check everything you do against them. If that’s difficult for you, or you keep forgetting, put a reminder in your diary.
  3. Update them (don’t be frightened to do this).


Memorial – Ros Munton – The Best of Bookkeepers


Ros Weaver (Munton), our greatly missed bookkeeper
on her wedding day, 21st July 2012

It is with great sadness that I write this short tribute to our dear friend and bookkeeper, Ros Weaver, or Ros Munton as you would have known her if you bought anything from us over the years.


Ros passed away on 15th December at home with her family.


Ros was with me right from the start of Vinehouse. I worked with her for longer than any other single person in my entire career. It was always a pleasure and, more often than not, great fun. When we have helped clients to recruit a bookkeeper Ros has always been our gold standard, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone else could ever take that place.


She checked all the advertisements I wrote for bookkeepers, usually spotting the odd spelling mistake and always telling me they needed to be a bit longer. She was always right.


In all the time we worked together, Ros made about five mistakes. Charlie and I loved those days, because it made us feel a bit better. Most of the time she pointed out our numerous mistakes. But always with humour and good grace.


She had the rare ability to get the detail right and also see the bigger picture. She was flexible, thoughtful and completely, utterly reliable.


But much more than that, she was always delightful to work with.


I first spoke with Ros when I interviewed her for the post of bookkeeper at Vinehouse. This was in the early days of our recruitment process. It was not nearly as involved a procedure as it is now. However, it was still obvious that she was a head and shoulders above any of the others.


I was looking for someone who would point out when I had made a mistake, who would make sure we followed our procedures but would also produce figures the way I wanted them. So I knew I needed someone who might possibly be a bit annoying at times. Ros managed to do all of this and more without being the least bit annoying.


Over the years she did all those accounting and bookkeeping things that most of us find tedious, annoying or boring both quickly and efficiently. She chased up those people who paid late and she made sure that we had all the information we needed to keep on top of the cash flow. She chased us up when we didn’t hand our expenses in on time and made sure our figures were always right.


She wrestled with the cumbersome and awkward software, websites and systems that we threw at her. She even managed to deal with a string of not very good accountants. She always had all the figures they needed ready promptly and organised exactly as we wanted them.


We are particular about how we allocate our expenses; we don’t even have petty cash. Everything is accounted for. So, when we got the accounts back at the end of the year, usually with a ‘miscellaneous’ category added with several hundred pounds mysteriously allocated to it, it would be Ros who sorted them out. She would always have a chuckle at what they’d done.


We would find another accountant. But never another bookkeeper.


When we were all away she would take on other responsibilities too and always have everything in order when we got back.


Ros carried on working with us through most of her illness right up till the end of October.


She never let us down in all the 17 years we worked together and I can’t remember her having any time off sick. Needless to say, she left everything in order for her successor. Thinking of other till the last.


At her funeral we learned of all kinds of good deeds things Ros had done to help others throughout her life. Typically she did not boast about them or even mention them, she just got on and helped people whenever she had the chance.


If you are a Lord of the Rings fan you may not be aware that JRR Tolkien had a slightly different view of the story to many of those who have read it. He saw Sam as the hero, not Frodo, who most think of as the main character. Sam was the one who carried the bags, did the cooking, and just kept everything going without taking any of the credit. That was how Ros was to us.


It is hard to imagine life without Ros and our thoughts are with her family.
Ros was cared for very well by the Marie Curie nurses. She asked that donations be made to them instead of flowers when she died. If you would like to make a donation in her memory, here is a link.



Tips for keeping your New Year’s Resolutions


Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions?


It’s the New Year. Time to take the decorations down and  check if you kept your New Year’s Resolutions from last year.



Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions? If not, why not?


If you are one of those people who can’t even remember what your resolutions were, you may want to ask yourself why you set them in the first place. You may have decided to tackle something quite difficult like stopping smoking or losing a few pounds.


The trouble with these kinds of resolutions is that unless you include some new ways of behaving, you are likely to fail at an early stage.


One of mine this year was to try 52 new recipes over the year. I’m proud to say that I have achieved it. I’ve been publishing the recipes on our FaceBook page each week.



Was it a success?


My long-term goal in doing this was to get some new ideas for our meals that would be part of our regular menu. I also I hoped I would learn something and have some fun. I certainly achieved all of that.


Sundried Tomato and Rosemary Palmiers

Sun-dried Tomato and Rosemary Palmiers from Lorraine Pascale’s recipe

Not every recipe was a success, but just the act of trying out new recipes was extremely successful. I found myself trying all kinds of new things that otherwise I would not have tried.


I kicked off with Heston Blumenthal’s Steak and Kidney Pudding, which was a two-day job. However, as it was a one-off special event for my husband’s birthday, I didn’t mind too much. He loved it.



Lavender and Honey Cake

Other recipe highlights include


Moroccan Chickpea Soup, Lavender Honey Cake, Chocolate Sauce for Strawberries, Butternut Squash Soup, Sanwin Makin, Lamb Biryani, Sun-Dried Tomato and Rosemary Palmiers and Marzipan Chocolates.



Should New Year’s Resolutions be SMART?


Of course all SMART objectives and SMART goals are much more likely to be successful than vague targets. So, yes!



Do your research


Before you set one of these challenging (but very worthwhile) goals, identify some options for achieving it.


I quite deliberately didn’t decide to do a new recipe every week because I knew I’d be off travelling or on holiday for several weeks. So instead I made it a total of 52 and made sure I could get ahead or catch up if necessary. This weekend I tried five new recipes. Three were very good, one was awful and one was OK.



Find out what really makes the difference


Here’s a great example of how one long-term objective was achieved. My father was head (principal if you are in the US) of a school for 22 years. During that time there was a period of years when they won all the relay races in the athletics meetings.


It was during the tenure of a particular sports teacher. You may imagine that the teacher spent all his time helping his students to run faster. But you would be wrong. Whilst he did help the students in their running, his main focus was in handing over the baton.


It seems that most relay teams at that age simply drop the baton or hand it over badly, so losing vital seconds (or minutes in same cases). They spent much of their time practicing this part of the race and reaped the benefits.



Avoid temptation


It’s very tempting to make assumptions and dive headlong into a goal without researching and planning. I have come across many people who like to do this. In behaving this way they often cause a great deal of extra work for others and, just as importantly, fail to achieve their goals, or keep their New Year’s Resolutions.



Start thinking now


So if you are the kind of person who likes to set New Year’s Resolutions, let me urge you to start thinking about them now (if you haven’t already) and to work out a sensible plan. It may be you even allow yourself the whole of January (and possibly February) to do this. That’s OK. I guarantee that you will find the results are much better than simply dashing in.


And good luck with them – whatever you choose.


Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year in 2013.


To get help working out your New Year’s Resolutions, get this booklet, “How to Write Objectives That Work”. New Year’s Resolutions are just objectives.