A80pxtree café conversation yesterday grew and grew.

It started with an innocent exchange around the signs of a good café.

(These are never turnover or profit, or size. Those so called key metrics tell us nothing we really want or need to know.)

So we all shared the clues we personally liked to use that signal, or short cut, what would take much longer to find out through experience. And of course, everyone goes through a similar process when starting work with any new client.
Why hadn’t we thought to ‘professionalise’ this before?

image00I’ll spare you the huge amount of reminiscing involved in generating some useful signals (and some of the stories were pretty incredible) and cut straight to a list for you to recognise, enjoy, and possibly use.  They might even replace those meretricious metrics about business performance that we are all being fed constantly – especially during this phony-data election time.

Here are a handful:

The splendor and comfort of Head Office will be in inverse proportion to the quality of conditions in which everyone else is working.  (I interviewed Directors at the The Co-operative, as part of a project, while watching the new huge, glistening and overweening HO building rising into the air through the window behind their heads. We know how that story ended.)

The bigger and glossier the pictures of people, or the outside world, on meeting room walls, the less actual contact with actual people in the outside world there will be.
(Big media companies, anyone?)

The more automated the visitor registration system, the greater the repetition and duplication of projects and work inside the company. (I’m not sure why either – could there be a link between visitors not speaking to each other and…..?)

The funkier the furnishings and environment, the less tolerant the culture will be of difference or dissent.
(It’s the ‘but look what we do for you’ pattern. Counter-intuitively, young companies are particularly prone to this)

The more frequent the staff satisfaction surveys, the lower the morale.
(I’ve always suspected that this is because the map begins to replace the territory in leaders’ minds. It’s such an easy trap to fall into.)

Shall we extend and develop this list?

A subject for another day is that of the language used by organisations and what that inadvertently reveals. Keep your ears open and do send me any gems that you find. It’s time to spread the use of real metrics that actually tell us something…


Penny Hunt's blog coffee conversations

Business as usual in the café today: lots of activity. Some bare feet, extravagant smoothies, jabbing of fingers to make a point, T shirts and bags. A normal day at the office. A productive buzz and hum circles around the tables at a height just above everyone’s heads.

Except for one corner.

The meeting going on there is serious, mostly in suits. And in the way these clichés go (leaping up and shouting ‘I’m true!’) the meeting configures itself into ‘this is very important’ mode, with one person talking at the others. The lucky recipients are using their laptops – to misquote Mark Twain – as defence rather than illumination.

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Am I being mean? My eyes are drawn back to them. It looks so familiar, so miserable, and so old fashioned. The suit thing is irrelevant, you know. I’ve watched the same unintentional dance in a TV production team. Each becoming a role: an invulnerable, perfect, component of the whole.

I have worked in a Whitehall Ministry and a hip marketing company this week.

They were similar.

Superficially one felt formal and academic, the other childlike and energetic. One was monochrome and restrained, the other self consciously groovy and colourful.

In both places any visitor was instantly clear about what was normal, expected, and valued.

I think a regime is authoritarian if it enforces a way to think and be. It doesn’t matter whether that way is deferential and thoughtful, or informal and whacky: both colonise their employees. The organisation becomes a regime, a sort of factory, and as individuals join it they must adapt and become the ‘type’ that the factory requires in order to survive.

I’ve read that the coaching industry, encompassing wisdom on leadership, business success, achieving goals, has grown exponentially over the last decade.

I am bemused. We seem to me to be less, not more, ready for the modern world in which we must do business. Somehow, the thinking around the ideas of ‘organisation’, ‘culture’, ‘success’ seem to have become embalmed rather than liberated.

The factory model of business can’t solve the sorts of issues that are just beginning to pop their little heads above the surface (The basic idea of annual growth for example. We’d need several billion solar systems if growth was the way to go )

The factory model of business can’t nurture our full capabilities and talents because it lives on adaptation and conformity. Too much ‘hyper rational’ thinking excludes and closes down possibilities – and people.

Let’s choose some qualities we might think we are going to need.

Co-operation perhaps? A modest ability to see a bigger picture? A genuine interest in others that winkles out the best they have to offer? Good listening perhaps, so that unformed thoughts can be encouraged, synthesised and built upon? Empathy? They sound sort of desirable, don’t they? (Strangely, phrases like ‘man-management’ or ‘performance optimisation’ don’t spring onto the list).Blog_for_June_122x1

I don’t have an answer, but I do have a hunch. I suspect that thing to do is to encourage these sorts of qualities. Just about everyone has them when they start out. So the best thing you can do (apart from doing your best – I’m quite old fashioned about that) is ensure you never go native. Keep a healthy, human, connected to yourself – ness.

I look again at the corner. One loud voice: check. No interaction: check. No connection: check. Fear: check. I wish I could say it got better. It ended exactly as you would have predicted. Lots of automatic nodding.

May I suggest that you ignore recent best-seller advice?

Don’t lean –in. Lean out.

Penny works with senior people who want change.

Her approach is unconventional, and fun.
By challenging perceptions, creatively re-framing situations, and reclaiming their energy and bravery, her clients create new options and successes for themselves and their businesses.
If you’re feeling stuck and want to get moving again, contact Penny: