A New Beginning

Saturday 11:34, Rocket Barber Shop, Hackney Road, London

It has been awfully quiet on a The Executive Kitchen for the last few months, but I trust you haven’t been losing sleep over this, because neither have I. In fact, I’ve had quite an eventful summer to say the least.

More out of curiosity than anything else I had a quick look at the fancy stats page kindly provided by WordPress and I had a good old chuckle to myself. The number of visitors and readers are bizarrely proportional to the number of new posts. The beautiful charts presented look like the inverse of a revenue graph as if proudly proclaiming ‘Look! The less you write the more you suck!’. I know, my creative flair and passion for sharing my insights have gone down the proverbial drain.

Now, staring failure straight in the eyes was never my forte, so this is my attempt to inject life into the blog and maybe some insight and laughter into yours. but with some changes:

It won’t be focused on my MBA as I’ve decided to take a study break. As I’ve taken the sideways and downward step into the life of an SAE in medical communications it makes little sense to study management when I need to learn all things pharma. Management can wait.

I’d like my blog to continue focusing on topics related to work but I may cast a wider net. Without revealing too much, I think the next topic will be on the ethical dilemma of expensive cancer drugs. You have been warned.

It’s no longer necessary to count the number of days as in previous headings. I mean, who really cares? It’s not like I’m on an intergalactic solo mission keeping a log.

So to all my 341 readers out there, from my dear friends over the Pond to those unbeknown readers in South Korea and Brazil, I’m back, so please keep on reading; it does warm my little heart every time someone reads what I’ve written.

Readers

Why I Suck at Doing Scientific Research – Day 161

Friday 17:17, Ballards Lane, London

It’s finally time for the research project! Yay! No more exotic sounding surnames, theories and years of publication, or number crunching for that matter. For the next few weeks we will be scoping out a research proposal on which I will base my research project that will complete my first year of the MBA.

Although we must not call it a ‘project’. The online literature and our virtual tutor insist on calling it an evidence-based initiative (EBI). I’m still trying to work out what the difference is. I think it has something to do with the fact that the ‘initiative’ is on such a small scale (6-7 weeks) that it hardly can be classified as a research project.

Once the scoping proposal is submitted, we have until early summer to organise our thoughts and approach before starting analysing our chosen topic. I haven’t finished the scoping part yet, but I’d like to cover an aspect of lead generation, perhaps how effective marketing activities are in relation to cold calling. We’ll see.

I’m really looking forward to this part and I guess it will highlight if I’m any good at social science research and if I like it. I know that I’m awful at medical research, having dropped out from my DPhil, mid-way. If I think back at my relatively short-lived life as a research scientist I can identify three top research failures.

I once decapitated a pregnant mouse. For context I was extracting embryos from pregnant mice to study polydactyly and tibial hemimelia, a congenital malformation where the hand has too many digits and part of the lower leg is absent. The most humane way of killing mice is to break their fragile necks using your bare hands, and although I had been trained to do this during the animal husbandry course, I couldn’t stand it. It used to freak me out every time I had to pick up the poor little buggers. One day I decided that I needed an alternative and instead of using my fingers to break the necks of these unsuspecting rodents I found a blunt metal blade. It didn’t look at all sharp, but of course, I was wrong. Swoosh! The head of the mouse was instantly separated from the body and it rolled off the lab bench as the body itself remained twitching for a second. Blood came gushing out of the severed neck like a mini sprinkler. Luckily mice only have about 150 ml of blood so the mess I created wasn’t catastrophic. Yet, it was a very unpleasant experience and I do not wish to repeat it.

I once lost a test tube full of radioactive material. Hopefully nobody from the Karolinska Institute is reading this but when I was doing a summer internship at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research I lost a test tube full of radioactive material. As it so happened, I didn’t close the lid of the centrifuge properly and as the test tubes started to spin around at increasing speed, the lid of the centrifuge flung open and out came hurtling the test tubes. To say that I panicked is an understatement! With the help of a gamma detector device, I quickly found and collected as many test tubes as I could and found all but one. I’ve never confessed this laboratory mishap to anyone, so apologies to whomever found it. I’m sure the quantity of radioactivity was so small that it’s completely harmless!

I was never meant to work as a research scientist. Last but certainly not least and in many ways my biggest research failure of all was my last three months at the Department of Human Anatomy & Genetics at Oxford. When I started my DPhil I was certain that I was destined to live the life of a research scientist. I loved the science, I was absolutely fascinated and intrigued by the inner workings of cells (I still am, by the way). But what I hadn’t quite grasped was that as a scientist you spend 90% of your time in the lab, mixing colourless liquids with colourless liquids, over and over again. Hundreds of times. No, thousands of times. Constantly separating DNA, constantly amplifying it through the polymerase chain reaction so that ultimately it could be run through the gel electrophoresis overnight. Nobody told me that it would take ages to master the skills of doing research. In the beginning I totally sucked at it. I used to forget to put the DNA back on ice, which meant it was immediately rendered completely useless. But I would only find out two days later when the experiment yielded results – or no results in my case. I learnt that I sucked at getting the gel out of the electrophoresis machine too, and I can’t remember how many times that damn gel broke and disintegrated before my very eyes. I struggled, but I persevered and eventually, after a few months, I got better at it. But boy did I hate it… When I told my tutor that I wanted to quit she said ‘I think you have the brains to do this, but you’re heart wants something else‘.

Radioactive

The Great Unacknowledgement or Poem on the Underground – Day 149

Thursday 08:47, Somewhere on the Northern Line, London

I often forget how peculiar the morning commute is. Quintessentially a big city phenomenon, most of us go through the motions of this odd ritual more out of necessity than anything else. Every morning, like clockwork. For over a decade my ‘commute’ was on a bicycle and consisted of a pleasant, leisurely ride along London’s Regents Canal and Park, although cycling through the latter was not without risk as I precariously dodged the police who were trying to fine good and honest folk trying to get to work.

Like so many other big city phenomena, the morning commute brings together complete strangers who never talk, sometimes touch (by mistake) and whose eyes tend to fleetingly meet, only to quickly and perhaps embarrassingly look away.

Every morning we go through the same motions of unacknowledgement, pretending we don’t exist beyond our preoccupied selves, keeping strangers as strangers. It’s sad if you think about it. It reminds me of my time at the Medical Research Centre’s mouse genome hub in Harwell, outside Oxford. There, busy scientists were scurrying away, looking down their microscopes, working their pipettes, breaking the boundaries of science but forgetting the very human social traits of light conversation, smiling and acknowledgement.

I don’t care if nobody says hi back to me‘, exclaimed Anna-Maria, the Argentinian DPhil student. ‘I will continue to say hi until one day, maybe one day, someone will take their eyes off the ground, look at me and say hi back‘.

Not that I profess we should do this during rush hour at Old Street, where zig zagging your way to the ticket barriers requires focus and determination, and where a polite smile would cost you your place in the queue or worse, you’d be mistaken for a freak.

More often than not it crosses my mind who my fellow commuters are, where they are going and why; what their names are, what they do for a living, if they have siblings or even a favourite colour. Most of us appear lost in thoughts. Perhaps thinking what the new day ahead will bring; perhaps not thinking at all, but daydreaming away, subconsciously contributing to the great unacknowledgment.

This week I observed seven fellow commuters, standing (she was unlucky) and sitting (they were lucky) opposite me. They probably have nothing in common, apart from sharing a ride to work and being observed by me. All in the name of talent artistique.

Poem on the Underground

Standing, casually leaning
Handbag in the fold of her elbow
Staring out into the void, blindly
He’s reading her newspaper
She doesn’t notice
Sitting, ankled crossed
Listening to music, tapping away
Like her own silent disco
Putting on make up, lipstick, mascara 
Curling her eyelashes with what looks like
A medieval torture instrument
Arms crossed, feet together
Looking down at his phone,
Glasses sliding down his nose
Catching up on work, playing games
Some wearing shoes, some wearing boots
Some carrying a rucksack, some with a designer hand bag
Or carrying a brown paper bag with an empty cup of coffee and a half eaten brioche roll
Yawning, eyes closed
Picking his nose
Getting sleep out of his eyes

Morning commute

How Do You Go About Getting People at Work to Do What You Want Them to Do? Part 4 – Day 119

Saturday 09:30am, Hyatt 48 Lex, Lexington Avenue, New York

The fourth and final part of this mini-series on control looks at self-regulation. This is a pretty huge topic and the theories and discussions surrounding self-regulation are plentiful. I’ll try to keep this entry short and sweet, so here are a few of my thoughts and insights concerning self-regulation, performance-related incentives and motivation.

First of all, from a manager’s point of view, self-regulation is really the elixir of control management. When it is in place and works well your team’s self-regulation allows you to focus more on bigger picture stuff and less on micro-management. Secondly, a central assumption of self-regulation is the notion that an individual is highly professional, excels at working and thinking independently and is motivated. And really, it’s the motivation part that I find fascinating.

One of the key takeaways from the unit on human resources management that I completed last month was that I actually don’t know what motivates my team. Nor do I know what would leave them feeling dissatisfied. Sure, most of them have financial incentives and the like, but I also know that other factors apart from money are important motivators. So, I’ve decided to find out, and I’m getting some very interesting and surprising answers.

At Primal Pictures (pre-acquisition) we had no financial incentives. Zero. However, post-acquisition we nearly drowned in incentives; it could not have been more different. If you closed a deal during the week, you could dress down on Fridays. If you closed a deal, you could enter into the weekly draw to win dinner for two or a spa break. If you closed a deal, you could earn your right at the temporary Speakeasy where you could play video games and have cocktails. While it seemed to motivate some people, I never really connected with this type of incentive.

I recently watch a TED talk on motivation that turned my view on motivation and incentives upside-down. It’s well worth the 17 min, but the summary is that scientific research has shown that financial incentives work well for jobs that involve mechanistic tasks that require focus, but that they have the opposite effect when applied to jobs that require complex bigger picture stuff.

We’ve been doing it wrong folks.

Thoughts While Waiting for a Haircut – Day 103

Wednesday 17:38, Rocket Barber Shop, Hackney Road, London

Today I’ve been at FSG for six months and received via e-mail the good news that I’ve passed my probation!

Yay!

There’s hardly a queue at Rocket today, so this entry will be uncharacteristically short. I’ve therefore decided to summarise my six months at FSG with my top 5 list of achievements and small victories:

  1. I’ve created a team. I cannot stress the importance of this. If you don’t have a team that believes what you believe and share the same goals and aspirations, as a manager, you’re in for a real struggle. Luckily, the guys are great. Lots of banter and jokes and with the continuous effort we will secure another year of double-digit growth.
  2. Instil best practice across sales and marketing. The saying goes ‘don’t fix it if it’s not broken’ and in my case there has been a lot of fixing. From small tweaks here and there to some significant systems overhalls. But in the end of the day, everyone has welcomed the incremental changes and improvements to make us a strong commercial unit.
  3. Turned copywriting upside-down. One of my frustrations in my previous company was the way our marketing approach copy. It’s actually really difficult and generally a marketer is not a great copywriter and vice versa. One of the aspects that I love in my current role is that I can implement and train individuals on how to write compelling copy. I’m inspired by great writers and communicators from all walks of life, but especially Simon Sinek.
  4. Remover of obstacles. My former line manager presented himself on his first day of taking over the management of the sales team like the remover of obstacles. I’ve learnt a lot from him, and one of the things that stuck was this phrase. As a line manager, you have to stretch and support, but if you don’t remove the obstacles in people’s way, your stretching and supporting will be in vain. I continually challenge my team to think differently and challenge the status quo. And if I can remove whatever they feel is in their way, I sure as hell will.
  5. Grew the sales and marketing team from 6 to 11 individuals. There are huge opportunities for us and with a strong and hard-working team I know 2015 will be successful.

I can feel it in my bones!

Probation

A Christmas Story – Day 54

Wednesday 15:40, Old Bethnal Green Road, London

This entry is an edited version of my essay on power, politics and organisational change. I’m pretty sure nobody is interested in reading a 12-page academic exercise in management gobbledigook, so here is a version better suited for The Executive Kitchen. As it’s Christmas, I’ve written a children’s story that takes place at The Gingerbread Factory.

Once upon a time, in a country far, far away there was a young boy called Joshua. He worked at a small ginger farm, Zingiber, and had done so for many, many years. Truth be told, Joshua had always worked at Zingiber, and if there was one thing Joshua knew extremely well, it was farming ginger. Joshua was very good at his job; in fact, his dedication to working with one of Zingiber’s key distributors, Silk Road Enterprises, had had a tremendous impact on Zingiber’s revenues year after year.

One day while checking that the ginger bulbs hadn’t been damaged by the first winter frost, Zingiber’s Chief Executive Baker, Mrs Wheat, announced that Zingiber had been sold to the famous supplier of Christmas extravaganza, The Gingerbread Factory. Joshua was ecstatic. He had always dreamt of working for a big company like The Gingerbread Factory.

It didn’t take very long for changes to take place. Some were good, some were bad, and some were pretty terrible. Initially, Joshua assumed that he was going to continue working with Silk Road Enterprises, but he quickly learnt that The Gingerbread Factory and Silk Road Enterprises didn’t really get along. One spring morning when Joshua was admiring the green ginger shoots sprouting from the fertile soil of the farm, the Chief Executive Baker at The Gingerbread Factory, Mrs Icing, announced that all ties with Silk Road Enterprises should be cut.

‘We don’t work with ginger distributors’ she was rumored to have said.

Before Joshua knew it, he found himself in the midst of a change management team. Complex formulas were used to work out what needed to happen and when. An alphabet soup of instructions was created and given to the cookie shop team whose job it was to deliver the change news to Silk Road Enterprises customers.

Joshua felt inspired by the change strategy as he really and truly believed that he was part of something really good and that he was doing the right thing. But it seems that everyone believed in this a little too much. In fact, they believed in it so much that they chose to ignore one small paragraph of an inconspicuous clause of the distribution agreement:

‘Zingiber shall not use confidential information regarding Silk Road Enterprises’ methods of distributing ginger and all ginger-related material, including but not limited to gingerbread men, gingerbread houses or any other form or shape of gingerbread that can possibly ever be made, to its own benefit.’

Almost immediately following the launch of the change event angry and threatening letters started to arrive form Silk Road Enterprises’ head office in New Pork accusing The Gingerbread Factory and Zingiber for breach of contract. Joshua, and everyone else who had supported and worked on the change event, felt like the twirls of a cinnamon bun had been un-twirled. In response to these letters, The Gingerbread Factor’s Chief Oven Engineer, Mrs Car da Mom, was forced to put everything on hold for a few days.

But days became weeks, and weeks became months, and months… well, months started to go by and without any news from Mrs Car de Mom on what to do next, Joshua and everyone else for that matter went back to what they did best – farming ginger.

Several months later, Mrs Car da Mom tried to re-ignite the drive for another slightly altered approach to change, but it was too late. The harm had already been done. You see, when you harm human beings, including ginger farmers, you hurt their sense of pride, professionalism and intelligence, and once this is done, there’s very little you can do to change it.

Not too long after the dispute with Silk Road Enterprises, Joshua got a call from The Cupcake Factory offering him a new job. As Joshua’s loyalty to Zingiber was no longer the same after the acquisition by The Gingerbread Factory, his head was easily turned and he left and did not look back.

Organisational change is a complex issue, littered with pitfalls that may trap even the most experienced professionals. Despite the abundance of change management literature, organisational change remains an area that many organisations have yet to fully master. One possible explanation for this is that organisational change remains largely misunderstood and the dynamic, inter-related and multi-dimensional nature of change is ignored.

Organisational change is rarely managed successfully by applying a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. All change management models have their strengths, but they also have weaknesses as well as assumptions, leading me to believe that a combination of theories and models could be used. This, however, presents us with new challenges, as senior managers who are at the cusp of initiating a change event rarely have the time to take a complex solution and apply it to a complex change event. Ultimately this may be what is necessary to reverse the high failure rate of organisational change management.

Gingerbread men

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t the King Powerless? (Part 2) – Day 26

Wednesday 07:18, Old Bethnal Green Road, London

One of the benefits of studying and learning about management – and, in my opinion, the one that has the greatest impact – is that it gives you a framework in which to make sense of behaviour, situations, actions and processes that we have both experienced and, occasionally, even instigated ourselves.

Theories, concepts, models and terminology, all of which were previously unknown but that through the process of learning are unveiled, provide a new language that enables us to see things through a new perspective.

For the last few weeks I’ve been reading about power and politics in organisations: two interlinked and truly fascinating concepts with political, economical, social and even philosophical connotations. Of the various theories, it’s really Lukes’ three dimensions of power, and the fourth dimension added by Hardy, that truly fascinate me. For context, I’ve described them below:

  • 1st dimension: power is visible and open (e.g., your line manager asks you to do something)
  • 2nd dimension: power is out-of-sight and whoever decides about ‘the game’ is ‘in the game’ (e.g., decisions made by a management group behind closed doors)
  • 3rd dimension: power is purposefully used to normalise and neutralise situations in order to avoid conflicts; things are taken for granted (e.g., your boss asks you to do something that is against your true will and uses language to sugar-coating it and ‘sells’ it to you as a benefit)
  • 4th dimension: power is invisible, relational and systematic and is not ‘owned’ by anybody; its affects are not by design and leaves certain individuals and groups of people disadvantaged while other benefit from it (e.g., a structural re-organisation of a large multi-national)

I’ve never really come across the fourth dimension before and although initially difficult to grasp it is the one that fascinates me the most. As an analogy Hardy uses the pieces of a chess board to describe how ‘less powerful’ pieces like the pawns can, through positioning and relation, bring down a much more ‘powerful’ piece, like the king. What I find interesting in this analogy is that although the objective of chess is to put your opponent in check mate (i.e. render the king powerless), I see the king as powerless pretty much all the time. The way the king moves, the way it is protected by the move castling. To me, I see a vulnerable piece, but one that is also the most important.

How does this relate to organisational structure? Are CEOs the kings of organisations? Are the pawns the employees? Or does Hardy’s fourth dimension create a world in which power and power structures remain largely invisible to most of us? And if this last question has any truth, if we cannot see and, by definition, control a systemic and relational dimension of power, what are the responsibilities of senior management during organisational operations and change? Is it to use power responsibly and create a just culture? To maximise shareholders’ profits and ensure operational fitness? Can the last two situations co-exist?

And to take the analogy even further, is there a ‘player’ – i.e., one that controls all the pieces of chess?

Pawn and king