The Sting

I was quite unprepared to see Sting in concert last night and overwhelmed by his superb musicianship, performance and width of his musical canon. I confess I had quite forgotten Gordon Sumner’s songwriting skills.  At the age of 66 his voice, playing and projection were in top form, giving all of us hope that age is no barrier to peak performance.

Perhaps the most poignant thing that connects me to Sting and his music is his solid values of human rights, environmental consciousness and sustainability. I was reminded of this through his lyrics and reconnected to my work for Amnesty International which started in the early 1980’s and which he epitomised through his song “They Dance Alone”. Sadly, Sting’s words remain relevant in these troubled times and I hope that our world leaders listen to him and others at such moments:

Convince an enemy, convince him that he’s wrong
Is to win a bloodless battle where victory is long
A simple act of faith
In reason over might
To blow up his children will only prove him right
History will teach us nothing

Hey Mr. Pinochet
You’ve sown a bitter crop
It’s foreign money that supports you
One day the money’s going to stop
No wages for your torturers
No budget for your guns
Can you think of your own mother
Dancin’ with her invisible son

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too

And especially his song for the Mothers of the Disappeared (Desaparecidos). This was Sting’s symbolic gesture of protest against the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, whose regime killed thousands of people between 1973 and 1990 … on first hearing this song many years ago, I wept uncontrollably about the unimaginable grief and strength of these mothers. There are no words that adequately convey the meaning of his song so I will let the song do the work itself:

We live once more in troubled times and it seems that our human race is about to forget its humanity. Our ability to learn from history seems limited. Watch the video, conduct your own research into what lies behind the concert that Sting gave and take action for a more humane society …

To finish, here are a few excerpts from Sting’s recent tour including tributes to David Bowie from his son and Prince – I was privileged to attend this. Big thanks to Debbie Poli, MD of Lapel Pin Badges for this opportunity. Debbie makes all the badges that I wear, including orders for the last David Bowie album, Virgin, Star Wars and my very special Prince love symbol badge.

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Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock and Human Dynamics, offering outstanding keynotes, masterclasses and longer term Business / OD, Coaching and Mentoring. He is author of 7 and a half books on business leadership. Check them out at Amazon.

Paying your dues

There is much contention and gnashing of teeth over what is called The X-Factor Culture. Some people presume that it is enough to get on the TV with a backing track and be catapulted to stardom. In the vast majority of cases, this is untrue and people miss all the blood, sweat and tears that takes place on the way to lasting stardom.

Jordan Gray

This is never more true in the case of Jordan Gray, currently about to enter the quarter finals of The Voice tonight. Jordan has hardly revealed more than 10% of her talents on the shows to date in my humble opinion. Jordan is an extremely talented pianist and musicologist, a very capable songwriter with massive creativity in her compositions. She is also a very fluent singer with multiple voices which she calls on in her performances and a captivating performer in her own right. That’s such a rare combination of talents in my long experience. Just check out two of her own compositions that show more of her talent than can be showcased in 90 seconds on a TV programme.

 

I am privileged to have shared a stage with this massive talent – the REAL X-Factor.

 

 

Party’s Over .. but I’m still Eight Miles High

I had the great pleasure of playing with a Rock Legend just recently, at London’s Borderline with Bernie Tormé and the band. Even more frightening to be in front of a crowd of fans who can be quite precious about their heroes, not always wanting any interference with their expectations from outsiders.  It seems I more than “got away” with the whole thing, having impressed blogger Darren Johnson with my ability to play with Class A rock stars:

Click on the picture to read Darren's Review

Click on the picture to read Darren’s Review

It seems that the world thinks that not only am I a good business consultant / author but also a rather fine guitar player who can hold their own with world class musicians. Getting an accolade like this is perhaps more important than scoring 11/10 on a happy sheet from an event or masterclass – of course, both things matter, but I think this review has set the week off rather well !! At the point of writing this I confess I am feeling rather smug – back to earth soon I hope ! Here’s some video of the rather drunken jam session:

Bernie Tormé’s tour continues through the month in Oxford, Newcastle, Liverpool and Brighton. Check the band out.

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We also did a superb event in The Virgin Lounge where Bernie did an interview, conducted a Q&A and gave a mini guitar masterclass.

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The Mile High Club at the Virgin Lounge – Picture by Christina Jansen http://www.cjansenphotography.com

The Band et moi and Peter Lawrence - Picture by Christina Jansen www.cjansenphotography.com

The Band et moi and Peter Lawrence – Picture by Christina Jansen http://www.cjansenphotography.com

A full interview with Bernie appears in my current book “The Music of Business” where we discuss the impact of climate on high performance, Jimi Hendrix, the gentle art of improvisation from a starting point of nothing and various other matters.

Click on the picture to check the book out

Click on the picture to check the book out on Amazon

Our next events in the Virgin Lounge are on Friday 27th November with the Godfather of Punk, Mr Richard Strange and Friday December 4th with Mark Christopher Lee, who has created an album of 100 x 30 second songs as a disruptive force in the music industry.

Halloween ROCKS

DATELINE: Halloween SATURDAY 31 OCT 2015, 3.00 – 3.45 pm

I’m launching the first in a series of inspirational events at The Virgin Money Lounge in London’s Haymarket. I will be hosting an interview, Q&A, meet and greet and guitar masterclass with Bernie Tormé, legendary guitarist with Ozzy Osbourne and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, a former Virgin Records’ artist. This is part of Bernie’s UK Tour to mark the launch of his new album “Blackheart”. Book yourself into the event at the Virgin Money Lounge, prior to Bernie’s gig at London’s Borderline on the same evening, where I’ll be joining him on stage for a few numbers. Come to the party !!

ONLY 15 Spaces left – book your place at the lounge via e-mail peter@humdyn.co.uk

Bernie’s tour is itself unusual in so far that it has been entirely funded by his fans all over the world using “crowdfunding”. Fans paid in advance for albums, t-shirts, guitar lessons, jam sessions with the band, studio experience days and even formed a “virtual gothic choir”, singing into their phones and having their voices transposed onto some of the album tracks in the studio.

What did Bernie learn from working with The Osbournes?

As it is Halloween, no doubt Bernie will be performing various pagan rituals to celebrate saints and sinners in the deathly hallows of rock. Only joking !! Do expect to hear some sonically unique guitar playing informed by Jimi Hendrix amongst a cast of giants, plus Bernie’s unique fusion of the blues, psychedelia and traditional Irish folk music.

Innovators in business and music – Jobs, Hendrix, Branson and Clapton – artwork by the very talented Simon Heath @SimonHeath1 

We will also be discussing lessons from life on the road with the Prince of Darkness himself, Mr Ozzy Osbourne and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, a former Virgin Records’ artist. There is much to learn in business and leadership from the School of Hard Knocks and Bernie’s insights are priceless.

This is the first of a series of events for Virgin. We have follow up events booked with Jess and the Bandits, currently touring the UK and the nation’s TV screens and others with Aaron Keylock, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Patti Russo, Meatloaf’s singing partner and, who knows …. Come Lounge With Me on Halloween. It’s not about the money … it’s only rock’n’roll but you will like it – I presently learning “No Easy Way” from “Glory Road” in preparation for a possible guitar duelling session …

Punk Rock Money – Banking with Attitude

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Some of Bernie Tormé’s insights into the creative process and an interview with Sir Richard Branson feature in our forthcoming book for Bloomsbury, Leading Creativity, Innovation and Enterprise. Order your copy now by clicking the image:

Axe Victims

Recently I organised an amazing project to bring 6 perfect strangers together from all over the UK to Bernie Torme’s Studio in the garden of England, with the sole ambition of honouring my friend Bill Nelson, leader of English pop art groups Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise. Bill has given us over 40 years of pleasure through his continuous creativity. United only by a shared purpose and passion for Bill’s music we set about recording three songs by Bill’s first group Be-Bop Deluxe, ending up in recording four in just under 6 hours. The background story as to how we managed to achieve so much from a cold start is worth exploring. In just 22 hours, the band formed, stormed, normed, performed and reformed from perfect strangers to permanent flames.

Lazing Apostles

The Lazing Apostles L-R: Robert Craven, Tim Hands, Neil Turnbull (seated), Graham Burgess (seated), Bernie Torme, moi et Bryn Bardsley

This experience teaches us important transferable lessons about how to develop a high performance team in record time from an extremely unpromising start point.

Get Great Raw Materials

The “Lazing Apostles” (a spoof on one of Bill’s songs entitled Blazing Apostles) were selected using the internet after I placed an online “advert” for band members on Facebook. There were no auditions, interviews or psychometric tests. Nobody knew each other before we met with the exception of the drummer, who I worked with during my time at The Wellcome Foundation. It seemed that everyone intuitively understood the “job spec” and the level of capabilities required. All I did prior to meeting face to face was to arrange a brief meeting on Skype for an initial social chat.

The band we ended up with were a motley crew:

  1. Tim Hands – Lead Vocals – Acoustic Guitar – Tim works on film productions for Handsome Sound Ltd – Lives in Market Harborough
  2. Neil Turnbull – Drums and Percussion – Neil is a worldwide pharmaceutical troubleshooter for Pfizer – also a drummer with heavy metal band Sacrilege. A resident of Whitstable in Kent
  3. Robert Craven – Electric rhythm guitar – Robert is an author of 10 books on marketing and small business leadership. MD at The Directors’ Centre – Based in Bristol
  4. Bryn Bardsley – Bass supremo – Bryn is a professional musician having worked in corporate life for many years – Lives in the frozen north and works as an odd job man
  5. Graham Burgess – Keyboards – Graham performs in a number of Progressive Rock bands – I know little else about him – From Hastings – is a senior member of the local council
  6. Moi – Lead guitar and backing vocals – enough said – A man of Kent

Two management consultants, a film producer, an odd job man, a council officer, a druggist – not quite the usual rock’n’roll credentials!!

Bill Nelson Duane Eddy

Bill Nelson with one of his early heroes, Duane Eddy. Check Bill’s latest work out at Bill Nelson.com

Combine Passion with Purpose

We had agreed to attempt three songs on the day, possibly two if things went less well. I converged our song choices to three using a Delphi type process using a secret ballot on a list of songs chosen by the group. This meant there was a razor sharp focus to deliver these songs on the day and no divergence to try other songs. This is essential under limited time conditions. We also agreed the structures of each song through e-mails and sharing definitive template versions of the songs from Youtube. Each member then set about learning their parts individually – there were no joint practices and fairly little discussion prior to meeting in person.

Getting the Chemistry right

Given our complete lack of playing together, we sensibly agreed to meet at Bernie’s studio the night before, with the ambition of running through the songs once or twice and having a few beers to develop the essential “psychological contract”. We needed just over an hour of physical practice before we retired to the pub to let our work incubate over night …

Chemistry matters – gelling diverse talents and drinking chemicals (beer)

Rules of engagement

Without the use of a flip chart or holding hands in a circle, everyone in the band got the rules of engagement.  In hindsight, I think they were:

  1. Take no prisoners – We delegated authority over musical direction to Bernie Torme who simply told us when we had done enough etc.
  2. No pussyfooting – at various times we needed to substitute someone in the band to play a part. For example I simply wasn’t “feeling the love” when playing acoustic guitar on Crying To The Sky. Unlike some bands, this was done without fuss or damaging egos.
  3. Playfulness – although we were under some time pressure, it was a true joy to play with the other band members and we all enjoyed various mistakes we made, supporting each other etc.

The real boss - Bernie Torme - click to find his tour dates and studio

The real boss – Bernie Torme – click the image to check his tour dates out

Start with the end in mind

Given the huge geographical separation of the band members (I estimate we travelled some 1500 miles between us to attend the recording session), the most important thing we did was to lock in the recording date at the beginning. Creativity and genius counts for nothing if you are not all in the same room at the same time!

80 percent of success is showing up”

Woody Allen

Here are the four songs we produced on the day, plus the ‘re-enactment’ of the cover of “Sunburst Finish” shown above, sans nudity and perspex cage, otherwise completely accurate in all respects! 🙂 We are planning a return project at some point.

Bill and Peter

“Sign your name with a star”

Bill Nelson at the awards ceremony for his “Wakefield Star” award

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Peter Cook offers keynotes that blend World Class Thinking with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock and better Business and Organisation Development via Human Dynamics.

Read more about Bill Nelson in the book “The Music of Business

Harry Potter and the dark side of work

I was delighted to be invited by my good friend Professor Adrian Furnham to the launch party of  his new book  High Potential along with Kate Griffiths Lambeth.  High Potential is Adrian’s 78th book, co-written with rising star Ian Macrae.  The book is a superb compendium of practical ideas about psychology at work, written in an engaging style without all the usual jargon that the so-called professionals like to use to befuddle and ensnare us.

Highly Charged, High Voltage, High Potential - With Adrian, Ian and Kate at Bloomsbury - The Home of HP:  Harry Potter and High Potential

Highly Charged, High Voltage, High Potential – With Adrian, Ian and Kate at Bloomsbury – The Home of HP: Harry Potter and High Potential

The conversation and company were great and Kate and I shared some thoughts about the dark side of life afterwards over some warm beer.

On Twitter and Relationships

Twitter is a massive “Johari Window”, where people crash into each others lives, loves, hopes and fears in just 140 characters.  But, out of this chaotic and complex series of exchanges come a few genuine friendships and connections.  Amongst the people I am glad to know, like and trust that I would not know without Twitter are Trevor Lee, Kate GL, Mervyn Dinnen, David D’Souza, Andrew Sentance, Meg Peppin, Doug Shaw to name but a few, so Twitter works.   However, misunderstandings are the norm on Twitter and I always make a point of meeting people who interest me using more traditional means, such as a cup of tea and a proper dialogue. So 140 characters only take me to the point of “Knowing me, Knowing you, aha” and one needs more than this to create a proper relationship.  More a case of “Text and Drugs and Rock and Roll” … 🙂

140 characters is insufficient to move us out of mutual oblivion on Twitter, but it can help us make a start ...

The Johari Window: 140 characters is insufficient to move us out of mutual oblivion on Twitter, but it can help us make a start …

On High Potential

One of the fascinating conversations we held with Adrian and Ian Macrae was on the impact of loss on high potential.  Adrian, Ian and myself share the loss of a parent at an early age and it certainly affected our drive and determination.  But the issue is complex and Ian gave personal witness to his own example, where he and his brother reacted quite differently to the loss.  This neatly explains why some people lose something precious early on in life and “stay in a ditch” whereas others decide to “get out of the ditch”.  Entrepreneurs such as Michelle Mone, inventor of the Ultimo Bra, points to early hardship as a spur to her success, but the relationship is complex and it does not necessarily work the other way, i.e. treat your kids badly to make them into leaders, as one of my MBA students once suggested !! 🙂

michelle-mone-in-own-lingerie-77130890-874510

From the Gutter in Glasgow to the G Cup and G String – Michelle Mone’s entrepreneurial journey started with extreme hardship

On The X-Factor

Adrian eloquently explained the problem that can arise when confidence exceeds talent, using the X-Factor as a superb illustration.  High Potential explores the ‘dark side of personality’ and Adrian used Steve Jobs as an example of someone with a number of unappealing traits but who was saved by his unique vision and his ability to almost always make great decisions.  The substitution of confidence for talent is also a potentially dangerous cocktail …  Just witness this demonstration of mutually assisted narcissism on the X-Factor: Adrian ironically pointed out that Bloomsbury had made a great choice in commissioning the book, having also spotted the talent that is J.K. Rowling.  In this context, I was reminded of this simply great piece of popular psychology about the difference between talents and choices from Harry Potter:

Thanks for a superb evening of intelligent conversation, insight and inspiration.

High Potential - Click the picture to get your copy

High Potential – Click the picture to get your copy

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

INXS

Check this lighthearted piece out : 10 lead guitarist cliches.  I can definitely say that I have never fallen into any of these traps as a lead guitarist.  There is quite literally no spandex in my wardrobe!  I can also say that I’m not Jimmy Page or any of the other rather famous guitarists and that may offer an explanation for certain stylistic deficiencies …. 🙂

No spandex in my wardrobe ...

No spandex in my wardrobe …

That said, what can we learn about business and music from these cliches, by their ‘creative reversal’?

On “Image”

Pop music may be mostly about the triumph of style over substance.  I was interviewed by Management Today recently, who asked me what we could learn from the pop band ‘One Direction’ and my answer pointed out just how important image is to a modern pop group – in fact the music is almost secondary.  However, this idea is generally not transferable to business, unless we are talking about industries that sell style as their product, such as fashion, hairdressing etc.  Get the substance of your offering right.  Once you have a unique product or service that delivers outstanding benefits, then you can focus on style.

On “Drugs”

When we deal with “drugs” in a business context, I’m not advocating that you take speed to run your business faster. Nor any need to smoke Opium to help rewrite your Mission statement in rhyming couplets, however worthy this might be, compared with the usual fare! 🙂  In my experience, people on drugs think they’re really interesting, but to the outside world, they’re just people on drugs.   So, we’re talking adrenaline and endorphins rather than smack, crack and pop here.  In the business world, “drugs” = rewards and recognition and, on the negative side, punishments and exclusion.  We know that recognition strategies are far more effective than rewards, if rewards are at an adequate level etc.  So make sure you pick the right “drugs” to encourage the performances you want …  For INXS, their use of drugs was prophetic …

On “Performance” Have you ever been to a really great gig? The best performers in the world come on stage as if it’s already the encore and take it on up from there. Whether it’s out and out rock acts like AC / DC, Deep Purple, Guns ’n’ Roses, Janis Joplin, The Darkness or The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, all round performers such as Madonna, Prince and Kylie or something more sublime, such as Kate Bush, BB King, Peter Gabriel, Nina Simone, Sinatra, Streisand or Motörhead. The point is that top acts know how to hit peak performance, time after time, starting with the end in mind and so on … There’s also no rehearsal on stage. If something goes wrong, you gotta roll with it, unlike business, where you can call another meeting or delay the project deadlines. This means

  • A great deal of practice beforehand
  • The ability to improvise and profit from accidents along the way
  • Or a bit of both

These are all relevant parallel lessons for businesses that seek to be excellent.  The idea of practice is well understood by musicians and great leaders.  For some other parallels, check out this article from Entrepreneur Country.  Click the link to go the full magazine article.

Entrepreneur Country - From Little Richard to Richard Branson

Entrepreneur Country – From Little Richard to Richard Branson

We’re off to Dublin shortly to expound some other parallel lessons from music for business people.  If you are thinking of booking an extraordinary event in 2014, do get in touch via Extraordinary Events.  To explore parallels between business and music in greater depth, check out our books “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and “The Music of Business”.

Some of our books

Some of our books – Click to buy for that unusual Christmas gift

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Business and Music programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Waxing lyrical

I went to see Ruby Wax and Alastair Campbell at the RSA event “How to tame your mind” just recently. The title of the event alluded to the general concept of “mindfulness”, which I’ve studied and practised over the years in order to be better at my job as a business consultant and musician.  The event was particularly targeted towards the use of mindfulness to address issues of mental health, especially depression, a topic which is becoming a bigger issue in 21st Century society, just when we seem to be moving towards a position of conquering many of the world’s most limiting diseases.  Some years back I met Professor Susan Greenfield who spoke convincingly on the part which neuroscience may play in dealing with depression in the 21st Century.  It turns out that Ruby and Susan are acquainted.  Small world, as I am connected to Susan via Professor Trevor Jones, who I had the great privilege to work for at the Wellcome Foundation, a truly great company that gave space to people to learn, grow and love their work long before we invented ‘three letter acronyms’ such as CSR, EFS, CBT, NLP and so on.  Perhaps this example comes from an age that time has forgotten.

Firstly some statistics:

  • One in four people will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives.
  • The NHS spends more tackling the problem than cardiovascular disease and cancer combined.
  • The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of the global burden of disease.
  • There is absolutely no doubt that mental ill health will happen either to us, or someone we love – so why on earth are we still so afraid to open up and talk about it?

Here’s some things to do regarding mindfulness:

  1. Find some time every day to ‘put distance’ between you and ‘your conversation with yourself’.  It’s what NLP masters call ‘3rd position’ or detachment.  It’s what my MBA students would call ‘being a reflective practitioner’.
  2. We are confounded by our ‘busyiness in business’.  Being busy feels good and it gives us no time to think.  Yet, a mindful approach to business may help us focus on the things that bring us success, fulfilment and so on.  Our lives are full of distractions – social media, smart phones, security codes and so on – it’s what I called ‘thin-slicing’ in my question to Alastair and Ruby.  More that ever we need time to focus on what matters most.
  3. Whilst it’s good to think, the real killer is rumination.  This is where we spend ours focusing and reviewing our mistakes / foibles etc.  If something goes wrong in life, review it, learn from it and move on.  My wife has this down to a tee on the odd occasions when things go wrong in business and I commence the cycle of endless analysis.  I am firmly but politely told to shut up and move on! 🙂
  4. The ‘myth of happiness’ as outlined by the book “The Secret” is debunked in a hilarious way by Wax in her book, yet the fundamentals are simple.  Find something to do that aligns with your skills, beliefs and values.  Or, in the words of George Michael “Enjoy What You Do”.  Easy to say, harder to do, although I guess I’ve had a pretty good go at this in my career.  I’ll be writing more happiness and work in a few weeks time.

Here’s the full video of the event, including the question I asked about ‘thin slicing’ our lives around 36 minutes in:

Those of you that know me will be aware that I juggle all sorts of things into a 24 hour period and tend to live live as fully as it is possible.  As a musician I also know the value of solitude and focus – a side of me that is less well known.  It’s important to have some kind of anchor to the ground if you live a pressured life and I have found some ways to attend to the mindfulness that Ruby and Alastair mention.  There are always many more ways to learn and I recommend their books.

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I met Ruby and Alastair at the end of the session.  I presented Ruby with a copy of “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and Alastair with a copy of “The Music of Business“, books which feature material on getting relationships right and the related ideas of flow and emotional intelligence.

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk

Ask and you may receive

Ask The Smiths

This is a simply inspirational story of someone who refused to be defined by others and who made a huge impact in the music industry by doing something fundamentally different to the norm.

Amanda Palmer illustrates the powerful impact of connecting through your vulnerabilities as much as your strengths and the power of asking.

VULNERABILITY

I’d imagine that most of us would not wish to get naked in front of hundreds of people of the opposite in order to gain commitment to a project or cause!   Amanda’s method does not have to be copied, but it can be creatively swiped.  The underlying principle is that when you reveal a vulnerability, it can produce a much greater connection than appearing to have no faults.  The process of self disclosure and self effacing humour is much misunderstood, but in the right hands, can be a powerful source of connectivity.

ASKING 

I know so many people who want to achieve things but who do not ask people to help them.  Sure, it’s not guaranteed to work but one thing is equally certain.  If you don’t ask, you don’t get.  It’s a trait that I’ve used positively quite a few times through my life.  See the post on Harvey Goldsmith.  Whenever I’ve regretted things, it’s often when shyness has kicked in.  Shyness is nice, and it can stop you from doing the things you want to … wise words from Mr Morrissey:

A short post this week as I’m taking a break prior to my trip to New York next week – enjoy the summer if you have any wherever you are in the world 🙂

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk

Engaging for success

Engagement unplugged

Engagement unplugged

As many of you know, I have been something of a skeptic of the so-called “engagement movement”.  Lets face it, the idea of being engaged at work is clearly a socially desirable outcome.  Engaged people are thought to work longer, harder and smarter, giving what HR people call “discretionary effort” or what I call the “extra 10%”.  The problem of disengagement at work is also a growing problem as evidenced by a Gallup survey:

  • A recent research study found 71% of employees were disengaged to some degree.
  • The lost productivity of actively disengaged employees costs the US economy $370 Billion annually.
  • Engaged employees advocate their company or organisation to others– 67% against only 3% of the disengaged.

My skepticism with the engagement movement is simply that they want to spend more time talking and researching the topic than doing anything about it.  Hard pressed leaders do not wish to wait 20 years for a white paper to explore the longitudinal correlations between factors.  They want to find good quality, pragmatic approaches that will give them advantages in the short term.

So, it was with some pleasure that I found an approach to engagement that actually seems to make a difference to actual engagement levels at work via a Linkedin contact in Sweden.  Arnaud Henneville runs a company called Challengera that focuses on meaningful employee participation and involvement at work.  I interviewed him to find out more.

Tell me about your company and what’s unique about it?

Challengera is an engagement company. We provide a cloud-based social platform for Enterprise 2.0. In other words, we support companies of all shape and size in engaging their employees to any initiative – from highly strategic to campaign based and tactical.  This could include the launch of a new company direction through to a short term campaign to achieve a specific result e.g. To get employees behind a cause.

What does it do for the hard pressed HR Director?  And the person who has to watch the engagement dashboard?  And, most importantly the staff?

Employee engagement is a hot topic and it’s no wonder when, as you say, 71% of employees globally are not fully engaged in their work. Running campaigns with Challengera secures high engagement as have shown our past roll-outs with companies like global Fortune 20 company General Electric. HR leaders and CEO’s can relax and witness the ESAT and CSAT (employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction indices) going up! And that’s precisely why it works so well; because employees get pulled-in into the experience (one that is interesting, inviting, that builds on human hard wired traits for achievement, self-actualization, fun and competition) as opposed to being pushed messages (emails or PowerPoint).  

For me, this is a simple truth, that participation and involvement breed commitment.  So tell me, how does it work?  Can you give me an example of a company who have used it?  What has come from their use of your approach?

It’s best for me to let a customer talk:

“Our project was clear in DGS, a Global BU of GE Healthcare: Engage our 1600+ employees on our culture, Put our values into practice… with concrete examples given by our employees across the world, Link our people together, Share best practices, Engage discussions around our values & Recognize best practices. We were looking for an Impactful, Powerful & Business-connected tool: Challengera answered our request; a customized social platform for us to engage people around our BU. This is a great success & our people love it: this is new, different and engaging. Thanks to the team for this great success

Catherine B., Engagement Leader at GE Healthcare DGS

Another example is from a world leading industrial group. Key to the group’s profits is its inventory turnover. The group recently announced its decision to use Challengera to engage its workforce on the importance of stock-management, not by talking about it but by inviting employees to actively contribute to reduce it. The Inventory challenge will launch in a few months.

Give me one reason why it’s better than running a focus group, doing a motivational Powerpoint talk or a conventional employee engagement campaign?

Life – business included – is about doing, about moving forward and inspiring others to move forward! Whilst this is obvious, to engage folks around a particular topic and having them do something (for real) is becoming in the 21st century organization, harder and harder. There are many reasons for that and just to name a few (not in order of importance); the economy and the delayering consequences it has had for organizations, change of demographics (GenYers), flatter-matrix-and virtual organizations, the knowledge worker, etc. What’s more, very few companies have managed to bring-inside the company the tools that are (successfully) used by people outside e.g. social/connectivity/effectiveness tools. That’s what we have done: built a social enterprise platform that builds on both macro-tends and what we know of human behaviors.

Now, in practice: the tool allows a leader to ‘challenge’ (the challenge is the vehicle for engagement) his/her organization to X or Y. At first, it is top-down but as it takes off the initiative gets momentum and grows organically as the viral effects kick-in.

Can it be fitted into conventional face to face strategies?  For example, if I were running an innovation event for a major company, how would your approach integrate?

Last May we ran a campaign for the Absolut Company. While 300 staff attended a yearly conference on the topic of CSR/sustainability, we used mobile devices to challenge people on different aspects of the topics covered during the conference. It was a great success – not only because attendees got intrigued, but also because the animal spirit kicked-in. People were willing to engage in this live challenge and consequently in the topics themselves…  We continue to bring value post event as the platform remains open thus allowing people to go back and review relevant content.

So, it extends the life of a conference by putting in a follow up aspect?

Very much so.  It therefore increases the return on investment for a company event or annual conference.

I dislike plug ins for the common ‘diseases’ that organisations face.  How does your approach stand up to the need to customise and internalise things so that they feel part of the company culture?

We offer the platform with two ‘levels’ of customizations.

The 1st one is ‘Branded’, namely we turn the whole solution into a client-product: the solution looks, feels and breathes X or Y company. Whilst the solution is in the cloud, we connect from any client website, intranet, or Learning Management System.

The 2nd level is ‘Customised‘ and builds on the 1st one .  A client wants special features and we develop and integrate them to the solution.

How do people begin with a challenge? 

We typically invite new clients to try with an initiative before we start integrating the tool in the client-ecosystem. We offer consultancy if a client wants help in identifying an internal challenge before turning it into a product. If the challenge is clear (which is often the case) it takes a few calls before our teams ‘box-it’. 3-4 weeks of customization/integration later, the challenge can launch!

You can get in touch with Arnaud at arnaud@challengera.com or +46 700 40 52 25.  He has offered a 10% reduction in the price to readers of this blog. Simply quote The Academy of Rock when contacting him.