Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 I’ve been devouring audiobooks on Russian history. I’ve been naïve and ignorant: I couldn’t fathom why, in this day and age, we could have large scale war and conflict on our continent. I’m sure that casually interested people can cite basic reasons about geo-politics and historical boundaries etc. But I felt compelled to go deep.
I think my audio book journey has ended for now with this (relatively lightweight) assessment from a native Russian. Albeit a Russian living in exile, with an axe to grind… and an ex-Oligarch – but he used to regularly chat and meet with Putin. So it’s an interesting insight of money, greed, botched principles of privatisation at the end of the Yeltsin period and the need for ‘The West’ to be portrayed as the ‘enemy’ in order to perpetuate the need for the ‘strong man’ state of authoritarianism.
And Mikhail corroborates the words of the other authors I’ve read. What is the Russian Conundrum?
Is it a ‘politics of eternity’ verses a ‘politics of inevitability’ compounded by a lack of succession principles? Timothy Snyder and ‘The Road To Unfreedom’.
Is it the complex history, Tsars, the loss of empire, revolutions, the loss of the Soviet Union that forces Putin to mourn those losses? Or is Russia too big and lacking strong and the well established local governments that are needed to facilitate anything other than authoritarianism ? Orlando Figes and ‘The Story of Russia’.
Is authoritarianism the consequence when ordinary people don’t uphold and pursue basic principles – such as supporting quality journalism and not being blindly obedient. Timothy Snyder and ‘On Tyranny and On Ukraine’.
And what was it like living and working in Russian under Putin. Media manipulation, propaganda, ‘narratives’, state intervention, businesses seized, charges falsified, bribery and so on. Peter Pomerantsev and ‘Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible’.
Are there answers? Is there any hope? I haven’t a clue.
In this era of rapid communication, where emails zip across the digital realm at lightning speed, one would think that a simple salutation wouldn’t be too much to ask. Alas, it seems the humble greeting has been abandoned, left to wither away in the bleak wasteland of corporate email chains. “Dear,” “Hello,” “Good morning,” and even the unassuming “hi” have fallen victim to the callous indifference of middle managers everywhere. But why? What has become of the once-mighty salutation?
The absence of a salutation in emails is the new norm. Instead, we are greeted with an immediate assault of curt sentences and cold demands. It’s as if our bosses have morphed into emotionless robots, programmed to crush our spirits with their concise messages. Gone are the days of cordiality and basic human decency; now it’s all about getting straight to the point, devoid of any semblance of warmth or camaraderie.
But one must ponder the underlying motives behind this sudden salutation scarcity. Could it be a deliberate strategy to distance managers from their minions? Is it a tactical move to assert authority and remind us who’s in charge? After all, nothing says “I’m the boss” like a stern command devoid of pleasantries. Perhaps they believe that by omitting the salutation, they can maintain an air of unapproachability, leaving their subordinates trembling at the sight of their electronic missives.
Or is it possible that managers have simply become enamored with the idea of sounding more “managerial” and “in charge”? Maybe they’ve attended one too many leadership seminars, where they were taught that every word must carry an aura of assertiveness and efficiency. Gone are the days of politeness and human connection; now it’s all about sending emails that scream, “I’m busy, I’m important, and I have no time for formalities!”
One can’t help but wonder, what will be next? Will we witness the eradication of “please” and “thank you” from our digital discourse? Will politeness become an ancient relic of a bygone era, reserved only for those rare face-to-face encounters? It’s a chilling thought, but it seems we’re heading down that treacherous path.
So, dear readers (if I may still call you that), let us reflect on the consequences of this salutation scarcity. The loss of a simple greeting may seem insignificant, but it speaks volumes about the state of our corporate culture. It reflects a growing disconnect between managers and their subordinates, a disheartening shift towards impersonal communication.
In a world where interactions are increasingly mediated by screens, we mustn’t forget the importance of basic human decency. It’s not just about getting the job done efficiently; it’s about fostering a sense of community, empathy, and respect within our organizations. The humble salutation may be a small gesture, but it carries the potential to bridge the gap between us, reminding us that we are all part of a collective effort.
So, the next time you receive an email devoid of a salutation, take a moment to pause and reflect. And perhaps, in your response, consider reinstating the lost art of pleasantries. Let’s not allow the sterile world of email to drain every ounce of humanity from our interactions. Instead, let’s bring back the “Dear,” the “Hello,” and the “Good morning” – for the sake of our sanity, our relationships, and our dwindling sense of common courtesy.
And as for the future of “please” and “thank you”? Well, that’s a topic for another day. For now.
…Raab “exercised his executive judgement” and was claimed to have “acted in a way which was intimidating” by being “unreasonably and persistently aggressive” during a meeting…
As justice secretary, Tolley said, Raab had “acted in a manner which was intimidating” by going further than appropriate in “delivering critical feedback”, and insulting officials by making “unconstructive critical comments” about their work.
I get it (I don’t condone it) – you’re stressed, time is short, resources are scarce, and you’re relying on work from your team in order to progress important developments in a project. The pressure is on and others are awaiting your update or presentation or advice or whatever it might be.
But in the final stages, you’re let down when the contribution you were expecting from your team is not to the required standard. Faced with this, it’s hard to remain perfectly composed and to not reveal obvious expressions of disappointment. Your tone of voice changes, facial expressions manifest uncontrollably, micro-aggressions are perceived by others…
Is Raab a bully? Some are saying that Raab is not the problem and that actually this is the snow-flake generation’s lack of resilience. Others are saying that he should have followed correct business management practices. But what are correct management practices?
Is there is a way for managers to avoid the frustration and the feeling that the only remedy is to give someone a ‘piece of your mind’? Yes – there are acceptable responses (as opposed to an ill-thought reaction). And the response should be in the context of the management/employee structures already put in place.
Already put in place? err… what management structures are they then?
Ok – listen… it’s very rare that someone deliberately does a bad job – the chances are, if the work is not as the boss expects then the boss needs to look at themselves, the organisation and how the task was set in the first place: did the member of staff know what was expected of them? Were they provided with the correct guidance? Were they trained correctly? Are they even doing the job they originally joined the organisation to do? And how can you quantify a member of staff’s performance? Is it the boss’ word against theirs?
If there is one key lesson to take away then it’s this: set objective standards!
This is written with the small business owner in mind, perhaps a sole-trader taking on their first employee – but the advice could apply to all levels. The following steps might seem like a lot of work but I assure you that it’s well worth doing – not only does it help with managing staff but also promotes standards, consistency, fairness and contributes to creating autonomous systems that can function in your absence.
STOP – read this: this blog is not about how to write contracts or to discuss employment law, or appraisal systems per se, or QMS etc. We can look at those another day. This post is about how to make your life (as an employer/manager/leader) easier in the long run using basic administration. As ever, meaningful and good quality processes are rarely convenient and easy to put in place. But little incremental improvements soon build up. So…
1) Setup an employee contract which lays out the terms of employment, dress code, ethical codes, details of holiday, sick leave, pay etc. The list is too long to detail here but there is an easy-ish solution for this: become a member of the Federation of Small Businesses which will give you access to plenty of model forms, documents and advice. The ACAS website is also a great resource.
2) Detail the job description – this builds on the employee contract. It might be part of the contract in some way, perhaps as an annexe. But don’t be afraid to list the day-to-day tasks. This could be quite easy for a role that is very prescriptive – such as a machine operator on a production line. However the role of a manager, advisor or researcher might be harder to define. It might take some thinking about – my tip is to think about the outcomes that are required. So a line in a job description might be:
“the role requires the individual to research specific areas of potential new policy and then provide written reports (in the company reporting format) to the managing director that allow her/him to understand the salient points of the subject and they also need to be provided with concise and logically ordered reference documents to allow for their further reading if required (sample briefs and further guidance are provided in the company procedures manual).”
3) Articulate and publish your company policies and guide. This might take several forms depending on the type of business and how much reference material your staff might need. You might have industry codes of practice to follow or key H&S Manuals or perhaps technical manuals for equipment. And you may simply have lots of best practice to follow – for example, letters to clients outlining key facts and essential information etc. The list can be endless. A good way to manage this is to create an over-arching management document that is the umbrella document for all the other references – and where necessary, simply reference the other documents.
4) Lay down specific instructions for staff to follow – eg, the fire assembly point, or car park arrangements, or specific telephone manner, or agenda for the weekly meeting, or the policy for consultations held off-site etc. My solution for this is a collection of SOPs – ‘Standard Office Procedures’ – I have over 100 of these for my small business and they are invaluable – each SOP lays down the details and expectation for any given segment of work activity – SOP 1 is how to open the office, who holds keys and alarm codes and even talks about opening and closing the blinds at the start and end of the day. SOP 121 is some details about handling client money in the context of our accounting system. And everything in between. They’re a great resource – especially, when training and inducting new staff.
5) Layout your disciplinary and remedial procedure. This final point circles back round to the 1st recommendation and could be included in the contract: If you’ve put in place points 1 to 4, you will have a comprehensive and layered system for providing employees with the guidance, standards and expectations required. Thus any deviation by staff from the required standards can be referenced against the contract, the job description, the management book, the best practice guides and the company procedures.
It’s worth repeating this point:
It’s very rare that someone deliberately does a bad job…
…the chances are, if their work is not as the boss expects then the boss needs to look at themselves first. But the remedial system should provide a mechanism for further training, one-to-one guidance and also, if really necessary an evidence and audit system for dismissal etc.
So, the correct management procedure is not to get angry and frustrated… the correct procedures are to provide detailed, comprehensive and objective requirements to form the foundation for the employee’s role and then refer back to those as and when required – they will provide the objective resource and reasoning behind feedback, critique, guidance and praise – which could (or should) be part of an ongoing appraisal and career development process.
Are you a business owner and feel like you can’t get “good people”? These recommendations do require some effort to implement but they make the difference between running an ‘ok’ business compared to an excellent business where people can thrive and grow their careers. If you require specific advice then please contact me. I’ve experience of design and development of training and management systems, QMS, SMS, private business support via app and CRM systems. I’m happy to help you create solutions for your small business.
Final part in this series detailing the basic development of an app for small business use. Rise of the bots – automation to help and assist staff with routine tasks.
After nearly 2 months of development I’m going to call the app complete. Actually, there is still plenty more to add but it’s too boring to write about.
The major development since the last post is the use of the ‘Bots’. This is something I didn’t have with Filemaker (or perhaps I did but I didn’t know how to implement it). But basically the bots allow scheduled automations, or automations that happen in response to a trigger.
This is a really neat development and, to a large degree, is one of the main reasons for developing the new app. Here’s why: a computer database is great for holding data – but it’s also great at concealing data. So, for example, with our old system, you could write a work order to a tradesman – which is all well and good – but if the tradesman didn’t do the work, then the work order remained open and could get forgotten about (until the tenant contacted us and chased it up). The trigger to close the work order was the receipt of the tradesman’s invoice – but if they didn’t do the work or were unresponsive then the open work order was forgotten. But an automated bot can check for open work orders after, say, 2 weeks of them being created and then email an alert to staff; reminders, feedback requests, auto responses etc are all possible. And they can be complex processes – eg, a rent renewal can be triggered by the date in the AST record, and then the bot emails an alert to the member of staff, an advice email to the tenant, an advice email to the landlord and also trigger an order form for the fee.
I had more data sets than I realised – and Appsheet has recommendations for maximum file size of data sources. Check this first!
A suite of apps for different roles might be more manageable than one big app
If you’re migrating from an old system to a new one, then delete as much data as possible
I’m very happy with the end result – we’re cloud-based, with automated functions. Furthermore, our new VOIP soft-phone system has integrated effortlessly – ie, if you’re using the phone app version of our new CRP, then contacts can be dialled by default using the soft-phone app (and not the mobile’s sim) which displays as our local landline number on the recipients display. That puts our whole office into a mobile phone – and can be used anywhere in the world. Neat 🙂
Last week I went to Berlin for 5 Days. I’ve never been to Germany before apart from a short period of time spend on an RAF base years ago.
The trip was part of my wife’s University course – (visual and graphic design) and she was touring design studios. Which meant I had a lot of time to walkabout.
I didn’t want to spend time in galleries and museums. When I go somewhere new, I want to explore. My history knowledge is poor. I’ve spent the last year trying to understand Russian and Soviet history. So Berlin was especially interesting. But I didn’t expect to be so emotionally overwhelmed. The Berliners are not letting anyone forget the brutality of the 20th century in Europe.
Part 3 in this series of tracking the development of a new app for a small business in the business of residential lettings and property management.
Good progress! The easy phase is nearly over – in other words, importing the existing datasets from our previous system and then relating them together. So the app is now (or will very soon be) displaying an impressive series of connections and relationships between the following datasets:
This has been a great opportunity to weed out unnecessary data – with my previous system (Filemaker) it was very easy to add fields to an existing dataset – consequently I ‘bolted on’ extra features and functions throughout the last 9 years or so. Whilst that might seem flexible – actually, it created lots of unused data that we don’t need. With Appsheet, in order to add “fields” you need to return to the source table and create another column, then go through a ‘schema regeneration’ process. This is actually good I think – it encourages correct table/data design in the first place. Thankfully, having already managed databases I have a good idea of what we do and don’t need.
Another lesson is breaking down the datasets – previously all our property data was in one table. Now, our property info is spread across 3 tables (addresses, utilities and particulars). This is because not every address is going to be in our management portfolio – eg, we don’t need information on utilities for an address that is a supplier.
The process has also cemented some design of information flow. The app is not going to be public – it’s only for staff. But we still need clients, tenants etc to be able to submit data. So this is achieved by integrations between our website forms and the same table data that the app accesses.
Also, the app is not going to store files – previously, I didn’t really design document management as a separate system from our database – all our records were within the database and retrieved in PDF format on demand. However, this is vulnerable.
With the new app, it will automate appropriate records, documents and PDFs to be sent to clients etc as required – however. It will also save copies to a separate cloud storage area. That way, records and data can be deleted from the app but, for audit trail purposes, documents will still be available in a long-term archive.
Part 2 of this series tracking the progress of the development of an app for our internal business management and workflow.
After an evening with Google Appsheet I finished with a fairly pleasing app on my phone containing property and people data. The 2 respective data sources (tables) for these are Google sheets – this is neat because the same tables can be used for receiving data from online forms. So, for example, a visitor to our website can (via an online form) register their details into the same table as that used by the app. Meaning that staff do not have a data-entry role when registering new people. That’s an improvement and a nice ‘marginal gain’.
The next challenge is to create a relationship between these tables and then create some basic functionality. eg, when I view a property, I want to see who the tenant is and who the landlord is. This looks fairly straight forward although seems to work a little differently to what I’m used to. Once this is resolved, then most of the data-storage and views will be very similar to incorporate – eg, I need a table for log records, a table for inspections etc. And, again, with relationships created between the tables, I should be able to view all the associated people, logs, inspections etc for any given property.
The other area to think about is data and GDPR. ❤
The other consideration is how to break-down our existing datasets into more manageable chunks. For example, each property has details about the address, and utilities, and particulars for marketing – these probably need to be 3 different tables and not one?
So schema design and setting up the primary keys (unique references that will be used in the relationships) are important.
Hopefully, in my next blog on this subject, I’ll have a skeleton app with multiple tables and relationships. Then I can start to look automation and functionality.
In 2013 when I started trading with Proudhouse, I knew that I would need a software management system. Spreadsheets and MS Office lacked functionality. I knew that I would need to automate repetitive tasks etc. I also knew that it would be very difficult to employ staff in the absence of an easy-to-use interface that would ensure consistent results and outputs.
Very long story short: With initial guidance from a friend, I learned how to develop our CRM environment with relational database software called Filemaker.(https://www.claris.com/filemaker/)
It has since been the foundation of our office and management processes. However, I bought lifetime licences to FM13 and we’re now out of date. Furthermore, although it works over a VPN to our office, it’s not Cloud based. And in addition to cost, there are other challenges to migrating it to a Cloud based version of Filemaker.
So – we have a challenge: we need a new system. Over the last 12 months we have trialled other industry solutions. But they’re not suitable – the flexibility and bespoke nature of using our purpose-built solution has spoiled us.
So our requirements are:
Cloud based solution
Predominantly mobile-app based technology allowing staff to work and update records from anywhere
Easy, intuitive interface
Ability to develop and support from in-house (ie, I’m the support guy)
No-code or minimal code solution
Integration with existing software in use
The solution so far seems to be Google AppSheet. We use Google Workspace anyway. I’ll blog every step until our solution is up and running. Let’s see how this goes!
I’m not attempting to do serious book reviews. In fact, I don’t even read anymore – I listen to audio books which is a relatively new activity for me and I love it. However, audiobooks tend to be overlooked after they’re finished, whereas a real book might hang around for a while, or be glimpsed on a bookshelf on a regular basis etc. And I’m also finding that my memory of audiobooks are starting to blur and merge. So these blogs are really just my way of documenting and reminding me what I’ve listened to.
Jeremy Paxman has described Prince Harry’s claims in his memoir Spare as a “series of moans from a very privileged young man”
Interesting review Jezza – I think that’s the whole point.
The book is in 4 parts. Parts 1-3 are fairly autobiographical which I enjoyed – listening to an audiobook means there is no imagery of the privilege and opulence (I’m not sure if the paper book has photos in it). And he refers to relatives as ‘Pa’, or ‘Granny’, or ‘Uncle’ etc – I thus frequently found it quite nicely detached from the Royal Family – much of the book felt like an autobiography of a military officer, of which I’ve read a few. I’m an ex military officer, helicopter pilot and a man with an older (and younger) brother – so I actually found myself relating to him in many ways!! I’ve also seen him around at RAF Shawbury – I was doing an instructor course at the same as when he was going through basic helicopter training – so I saw him knocking about with everyone else in the mess at lunch times etc. Just one of the guys.
I also had no idea of his true passion for Africa and the work he does in various countries within that continent.
Part 4 is where he dishes the dirt although I only perceive this is in the context of some fairly ‘common or garden’ family bickering. It’s the press and the ‘Royal’ aspect that amplifies this bickering into dark and deep treachery. I’d advise (for want of a better expression) a bit of ‘emotional intelligence’ all round to be honest.
I think the way Harry rationalises the fraught family disagreements is contrived because I’m sure they weren’t as controlled and one-sided as Harry describes. But there are also some cohesive themes and continuity throughout the book that I don’t think could be fabricated. I think the smoke does indicate fire.
But for me the overriding themes which no one seems to be talking about are: anxiety; mental health; bereavement; PTSD, harassment, stalking; racism, drug abuse. He doesn’t really talk about these per se at any great length but for me they’re the ‘elephant in the room’ – if he wasn’t royal, then you’d be giving him helpline numbers.
But Harry clearly wants to escape his gilded cage. And the pain of his mother’s death is central to what drives him. The Royal Family are all clearly living their own version of ‘eternity politics’ – driven by history, protocol, anniversaries and taking meaning from the past. He fears history repeating itself. Can you blame him for wanting to do what, in his very abnormal world, he thinks is right for protecting his family?
Below is a copy of an article I wrote for an aviation safety newsletter. It’s reproduced here and edited slightly for general readership.
I believe these concepts should be of interest; not just to people in safety-critical industries, but also of interest to anyone who desires to improve workplace quality and performance; I would advise that ‘Safety and Quality’ are close siblings.
Have you ever seen references to Safety II and “positive” reports? Safety II is still, largely unexplored and not fully embraced within safety management systems. But what is Safety II and why is a positive report a relevant thing?
First a quick reminder of how we traditionally manage ’safety’:
Traditionally safety has been considered a matter of risk reduction, in both a proactive and reactive manner. Processes and guidelines are given to employees; training is supplied to the employees; equipment (eg aircraft) are engineered (and monitored) to withstand wear/ fatigue/stress and designed to be as easy to use as possible; and then work is done. After an accident, incident or near miss, processes are dismantled and examined. ‘Causes’ are searched for – a broken component, a broken rule or a human error is searched for until the “a-ha” moment is found and the cause or causes can be reported – eg, the cause of the accident was a failure to follow procedures, or a broken widget etc. These causes are important in Safety I systems because they allow the creation of more risk reduction, through more rules, or strengthened components, monitoring of trends, or penalties for guilty and negligent personnel1, 2.
However, Safety I is incomplete thinking: aircraft and their associated systems are too complex for every possible outcome to be predicted – therefore rules, procedures and trend-monitoring cannot be created for events that are not yet known.
The Safety II model is based on building resilient systems that recognise that people and their behaviour are the solution and not the problem. Safety is built and encouraged based on successful outcomes – successful outcomes are shared and disseminated for others to learn from. A Safety II system might not even be thought of as a system but instead as an organic and live process that responds, monitors, learns and anticipates and is therefore resilient to the changes and variations of complex work systems and environments3. People therefore need to be empowered to have self-determination and collaborate to create safety based on the circumstances at the time, and not based on a previous risk-assessment or set of rules that may have become out-of-date or inappropriate.
In Simple terms….
In simple terms, let’s think of traditional safety as “what went wrong?” and “don’t do that because it’s bad” and “follow these rules”
Lets think of Safety II as “what went right?” and “do this because it works well” and “take the necessary action required at the time”.
How do I achieve Safety II?
You already are… but you don’t know it. Every time you operate and have no unsafe events, it’s because YOU, the operator made hundreds of correct decisions, used your experience & knowledge and collaborated effectively to achieve a completely uneventful outcome! Well done – sounds a little boring doesn’t it? Well before we start congratulating ourselves, let’s see how we can improve our Safety II culture. It’s important to look for the things that people do to make things work and succeed – and not just look for the hazards to avoid.
Normal, routine activity is interesting! Don’t take for granted all the little actions that you carry out when operating. Only a fraction of what we do is actually prescribed in a flying guide or contained in an SOP. The vast majority of our actions are the result of habits that we have created for ourselves. There could be many hundreds of positive little things that you do which have never occurred to a colleague. Have a think – can you share ideas and tips? Can others learn from what you do? If you’re in a training role then do you praise the little positive successes that you observe? Do you spot neat little ideas and think to pass them on to the wider community? Or are you just concentrating on finding errors in technique?
Here’s a quick example from Exeter Airport: when taxing out of dispersal the windsock is not easily visible to the pilot – but it is to the LHS Operator. When we leave the dispersal on a dark night with the airfield closed, the LHS operator looks at the wind sock and says, ‘Chris the wind’s from the south’ or whatever. Great – that’s added a little positivity to my situational awareness and helps me plan my departure. There’s no way that can ever be in a rule book. But it is one of many useful little things that build safety and create a routine successful outcome.
When flying with a similarly qualified person are you looking for the little differences? Are you saying to your buddy “hey, you do that? – that’s neat” and put it in your own back pocket… or are you concentrating on being “standard” and not messing up in front of your oppo, and in so-doing stifling the extra stuff you do? (The obsession with critique (in preference to praise) throughout military flying training/assessment has a lot to answer for I’m afraid…)
If you report an in-flight malfunction, then report what you did to create a safe outcome – did you use the AP (autopilot) upper modes (height, heading, guidance holds)? did you use ACANS (iPad mapping system) to assist with navigating to a diversion? did a member of crew make a suggestion? did Air Traffic Control give assistance? There are so many variables – but some key decisions about the positive actions you took is how someone else could learn to have a similar positive outcome. In other words, what did you do? Just reporting that “you carried out the drills iaw the flight reference cards and landed without further incident” omits a lot of Safety II opportunities.
Safety II is a big area but largely unexplored – it shouldn’t just be thought of as ‘best practice’ or ‘common sense’ or CRM (Crew Resource Management) or ‘correct techniques’. It encompasses those, but a Safety II culture also requires the sharing, learning, reviewing, updating, rethinking and positive enactment of all the little granular decisions and actions that you make every time you fly. People makes things safe; not rules and regulations.
1. Drift Into Failure, Sidney Dekker
2. The Field Guide to understanding ‘Human Error’, Sidney Dekker
3. Safety-II and Resilience Engineering in a Nutshell, Dong Han Ham
4. Trailblazers into Safety-II: American Airlines’ Learning and Improvement Team
I’ve also drawn on my own experiences in Quality Management in commercial business: encouraging employees to achieve quality work can generate similar barriers through fear of mistakes and error – telling staff what to do via a set of rules never worked! Giving staff guidelines, telling them what to achieve (and giving them the decision making power) achieves better outcomes.
A PDF of this article is available for download below.