In the words of Rogers, Hammerstein and Captain Sensible, “Happy talk”. Yes, it’s nice to be happy at work, but that’s only half the story. The Smiths’ classic indie anthem “Heaven knows I’m miserable now” is the modern blues mantra for people stuck in jobs that don’t fit their skills, attitudes, inner or outer desires:
“I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now”
It may not make you popular as a manager to say:
“I’ve got the business blues, cos’ the server is down,
my 360 degree appraisal has come out with a mean rating
of 3.3 out of 4 and quarterly sales forecasts are down.”
Nor will these lines scan into a 12 bar blues musical format! Nevertheless, part of the leader’s skillset is to find out what gets in the way of high performance and do something about it.
So, this light-hearted blog focuses on some frivolous (and, later on, some not so frivolous) lessons that you can learn from the artform that is the blues.
Most blues begin: “Woke up this morning …” “I got a good woman” is a bad way to begin the blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line like, “I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town.” You can’t have a blues that begins: “I got a good manager, who sets meaningful performance goals and critical success factors.” It’s a cathartic artform.
The blues ain’t about systematic creative problem solving, blue ocean strategy brainstorming sessions, option formulation or scenario planning: You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch – ain’t no way out. Sometimes you gotta deal with people at work who believe there ain’t no way out…
Blues can take place in New York City, but not in Rochester or any place in Canada. Hard times in Minneapolis or Canterbury is probably just clinical depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City are still the best places to have the blues, not York, Bath or Slough. You cannot have the blues in any place that don’t get rain, nor in a high tech R&D centre.
If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it’s a blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another blues way to die. So are the electric chair and substance abuse. You can’t have a blues death if you expire during a strategy meeting, a team building day, on an overnight stay at the Holiday Inn, or while receiving liposuction.
People with names like Michelle, Amber, Jade, Les and Heather can’t sing the blues no matter how many men they shoot in the ‘twin blues towns’ of Memphis, Milton Keynes or Milan.
As far as corporate life is concerned, it’s easy to find examples of customer service that give you the blues. Just try establishing human contact with the average ISP or mobile phone company and you will see what I mean. Yet, some other companies stand out in terms of the excellence of their service. In the banking sector, my favourite is firstdirect, who, hire people that are fond of talking and doing things about OTHER people’s problems. A refreshing change and especially so, when one considers that the words banking and service rarely fit into the same sentence.
And finally, the blues need not a negative musical genre as some people may think. It can be a cathartic release for the performers and the audience alike. Here’s “The Credit Crunch Blues”, written and performed by a Housing company as part of their annual conference on high performance. They certainly gave their heart and soul to this performance, even though all the staff were amateurs and none had given a performance on a stage in their lives:
I’ll be appearing at the Customer Service Training Network Awards on July 8th, delivering a cameo performance and keynote entitled “The Customer Service Blues”. For more on business mixed with music, check out our book “The Music of Business”, acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith: