Do you have problems you are completely unaware of?


A recent report on what’s been going wrong in some NHS (National Health Service) hospitals has highlighted that; at Stafford hospital there were many reports of problems by staff (hundreds of them). But the people on the board of the Trust didn’t see the details of complaints and issues. Nor did they take any action and so staff gave up.


It’s important to point out here that there are many, many examples of excellent service in the NHS and that needs to be remembered.


It’s very easy to criticise others in this respect, but can you put your hand on your heart and say you really know what’s going on in your business or team? And that you know what the problems are and how customers see your service or products?



‘Targets and Terror’


One of the problems identified was that in some areas of the NHS there was a culture of fear and bullying. It seems this was quite a deliberate policy.


According to someone on Tony Blair’s delivery unit team, the good thing about targets is that they put fear right the way through the organisation. He seemed to believe that fear was an effective way to motivate people. One person, Adair Turner (businessman, academic and a member of the UK’s Financial Policy Committee) objected saying it was wrong.


Apparently this era was referred to as ‘Targets and Terror’. Just another way of describing bullying.



There is nothing wrong with targets or objectives


It’s the way they are used that can cause the problems. Unfortunately, instead of encouraging the behaviours you need, using fear is a superb strategy for ensuring that people bend over backwards to hide problems from you and massage the figures. So you can easily mistakenly believe that everything in the garden is rosy.



You can create the same culture by accident


Just responding badly when you get bad news (killing the messenger) is often enough to

Do you have problems you are unaware of

Do you have problems you are unaware of?

make your people fearful. So people avoid giving you the information you require.


That leads to a situation where you have lots of problems that you are completely unaware of.



What can you do?


You need to respond well to bad news.


Yes, I know it’s hard. But if you are a manager then it is your responsibility to know what’s going on. Realistically, to do that you have make sure people are happy and comfortable to give you the worst news.



It’s emotional intelligence


(See this blog if you missed it: Emotional Intelligence – An easy way to improve it) You need to be aware of the kind of feelings, and therefore behaviour, you are generating in others. And then you need to know which feelings you need to be generating in them. If you generate the right feelings you will get the information you need in order to excel in your work and to be successful.


If you don’t get that information, you will come to grief and there will be all kinds of hidden problems, but no one will have the guts to tell you. So it will be all too easy to believe that everything is fine.


It’s up to you.

Emotional intelligence – An easy way to improve it


How good is your emotional intelligence? And does emotional intelligence help anyway?



And if it does, can you improve it?




Emotional intelligence



This is your ability to


• Identify emotions (both in yourself and others)

• Understand what those emotions mean

• Identify which emotions would be useful in which situations

• Get into the most useful emotional state for the context and help others to do the same




Emotions drive your behaviour


You know when someone is angry, sad, cross or happy. You know this because you see or

Managing your emotions can be improved

Can you manage your emotions?

hear a change in their behaviour. You can interpret slumped, dejected shoulders or an angry, antagonistic tone. You know it might not be a good idea to ask for a favour when you see these emotions in your colleague or partner.


This is because emotions have a huge impact on how we see the world and how we respond to it.


Often people we think of as ‘difficult people’ are just ordinary people who often get into a bad mood.




How do you use emotions to help you?


Here’s something you might find useful. Before you go into your next meeting, ask yourself:


• What do I need to achieve?

• What emotion for myself would best help me to do that?

• What emotion would be best for the other party?


When you have worked that out, then work out how to access the emotion you need in yourself and what you need to do in order to move the other party into the right emotion.


For example, if you want to persuade your manager to adopt your new idea, how do you want him or her to feel? Here are a few options to get you started:


• Cautious

• Confused

• Curios

• Delighted

• Enthusiastic

• Envious

• Fearful

• Frightened

• Good-Humoured

• Inspired

• Interested

• Intrigued

• Manipulated

• Miserable

• Open

• Panicky

• Puzzled

• Reluctant

• Sceptical

• Serene

• Trusting


Some obviously won’t help at all (but it might be worth recognising if your boss is feeling like this). Others may help in varying degrees and in different ways. I’m sure you can think of many more.


Once you have chosen what would be useful, work out how you can get your manager into that state. Will your approach make a difference? What about the words you use? What about your voice tone? What about your opening line? Are you planning to use an example or refer to something else that will do the trick?


Often a good way to elicit the correct emotion is to ask a good question.


What works and the impact it has will depend very much on the individual you are dealing with. So it’s always worth having some background to work with.


If you are really stuck, observe what impact different approaches from your colleagues have on your boss. Then use one that works.




Stick with it


The more you practice this, the more skilled you will become. Just paying attention to what you are doing and the results you get will naturally help you to learn. As your skills improve I guarantee your results will too. You will be well along the road to improving your emotional intelligence.


Should you ask people to dance at a job interview?



Last week there was an interview on the BBC Radio 4 with a graduate, Alan Bacon, who applied for a job at an electrical retailer, Currys, here in the UK. As part of the interview he was asked to dance to a Punk song. He said he felt humiliated by this.


Currys has apologised to candidates, saying this was not part of any official recruitment process and offered them the opportunity to demonstrate how they could contribute to the business.


Many others said they had been asked to carry out all kinds of apparently irrelevant tasks during interviews at various companies, including imitating chickens and being asked to sing. Someone suggested that this indicates these employers may not realise that “The Office” was a spoof.




Was this reasonable?


During the recruitment process, if you are an employer, you are trying to find out if the candidate will be able to do the job. If you are the candidate, you need to know if this is the kind of job that meets your criteria (Would you like the job? Would you like to work with these people? Does it pay enough?)


The sooner any of these questions can be answered from either side, the better. The purpose of tasks as part of the recruitment tasks is to move as far as possible in that process.


If used properly they are much more reliable than just conducting an interview.


So you really need to know how seeing candidates dancing helps the employer to assess abilities of candidates, and how that assessment correlates with the performance of successful candidates in the role.




Choosing tasks


In my view, it is generally best to pick tasks that are as close as possible to what you need the candidates to be doing in the role. This is most likely to get you the information you need, and it also gives the candidates an idea of what the job may be like.




Checking tasks

We used to use a task to recruit people onto the shop floor of our factory. The task was

If you are nervous this can be hard

If you are nervous this can be hard

putting small metal pins into holes in a wooden block using a pair of tweezers. Whilst there were no jobs with this exact task, it was not far off some parts of some of the assembly work.


When I checked the validity of this task, incredibly those who did this task quickly often performed very poorly in the job, as compared with those who took twice as long to complete the task.


This was because introverts (who tend to perform well in roles requiring long term concentration) are often nervous in interview situations and so their hands can shake. Extroverts (who are more relaxed in interviews) often get bored and are easily distracted, so though they can complete these tasks quickly, they can end up causing all kinds of problems in these roles.




Treat candidates well


In our recruitment process, when we ask candidates to carry out tasks we explain to them why we are asking.  We give candidates tasks to do before they go for an interview. We let them know that the tasks are highly representative of what is entailed in the job, and if they don’t like the tasks they probably won’t like the job. But if they do like the tasks and do them well, this could be the job for them.


So many times, when I have explained this to candidates, I have been regaled with stories of wasted days spent being badly interviewed. Many of them say they think doing the tasks is a really useful part of our process. It’s always disappointing when a candidate the says that the job isn’t for them, but it’s so much better to find that out at an early stage, and it leaves them thinking well of the employer.




Tasks are a vital part of the recruitment process but need to be used effectively


There may be some seemingly bizarre tasks that are very helpful in the interview process, but if you are going to use them, do be prepared to explain to candidates why, and to give them feedback on their performance.


But most importantly, check that your tasks are actually telling you what you think they are telling you.


Lastly, if you are a candidate, the tasks and the way the whole process tell you a lot about a prospective employer. It’s hard if you are desperate for a job, but at least you are warned what you might be letting yourself in for.


A few useful phrases for those awkward situations



A client of mine recently asked me what he could say in a difficult situation and remain truthful whilst not hurting the feelings of his friend.



It reminded me of a couple of very useful phrases I have come across over the years. He, a keen Grapevine reader, urged me to share them with you. So here they are.




Clement Freud


The first comes from Clement Freud, the grandson of Sigmund Freud. Clement Freud was very well known here in the UK. He was an MP, a TV cook and a panellist on “Just A Minute” amongst many other things.



During his initial political career he wanted to get to know the people in his constituency. This was before the days of the Internet so Twitter and Facebook were not an option. Instead he trawled the local newspaper’s Births Marriages and Deaths column. He sent letters to those appearing there, congratulating them or offering condolences.



After a while he ran into a bit of a problem. People would approach him in the street, having received one of these letters and thank him. Of course he could not really ask them which letter they had had, or what the occasion was. After many attempts he finally came up with this useful phrase that covered all eventualities:



“It was the least I could do.”




A reference for a lazy person


The second phrase is one my father came across on a reference many years ago. The job was a teaching post. The insightful comment containing the hidden warning was:



“Anyone who can get this man to work for him will be very lucky.”




Unpopular people


The third response covers that awkward situation when you meet up with an old but unpopular or troublesome colleague or neighbour who has since left. He or she rushes up to you, clearly pleased to see you and asks you how things are. The truth of the situation is that life has been immeasurably improved by their absence.


What do you say? Here is the response that I can personally claim credit for:



What to do if you want to tell the truth

So you don’t have to lie

“It’s not the same without you.”


I can guarantee that this works very well, having had to use it several times.

You may think some of this is ducking the issue, but I believe there are times when feedback is important and there are other times when there is no need to offend people needlessly. Here’s a sieve an old colleague shared with me. It’s a test to help you to decide whether you should say something or not. If it meets two of the three criteria, it’s OK to say it.



Is it

•    Honest?

•    Necessary?

•    Kind?



A rule I have found to be very useful.