The Importance Of Never Giving Up

Photo Finish

As you may have gathered I am a big sports fan and I see many parallels between sporting achievement and achievement in the business world. This summer I was struck by a number of examples of athletes not giving up when all seemed to be lost. The picture above is probably the most striking I encountered. It shows the 400m Final at the World Athletics Championships. Christine Ohuruogu had been behind for the entire race and looked to be beaten. She kept going down the finishing straight and managed to dip at the line. The result was that she beat Amantle Montsho clocking the exact same time of 49.41 seconds, but it was the Briton who was deemed the winner by four thousandths of a second.

The other example was watching Bradley Wiggins at the World Road Cycling Championships – Time Trial. He would have known that part way into the race he stood no chance of winning gold, as Tony Martin was in unbelievable form and already ahead on time. What impressed me is that he kept going through the pain right to the very end of the race, and in the end claimed a silver medal by 2.25 seconds from Fabian Cancellara.

Over the years I have been involved in enough programmes and projects to know that I will always come up against those that say “We have no chance of delivering on time.  We might as well re-baseline now!” The problem I have with this is that as soon as you concede then you stand no chance of meeting your objective no matter how outlandish the possibility might seem. Just like Christine Ohuruogu and Bradley Wiggins you have to stick to your own game plan and make every effort to achieve the outcome you are after. There might also be that point where the reality sets in that you aren’t going to get the gold. Do you throw your arms in the air pack up your toys and go home or do you focus on the next goal of getting as close as possible to winning?

In my experience many times I have seen what might have been a two week miss turn into a two month miss and significant additional cost because people take their foot of the gas when winning is no longer likely. We have to learn to live with the discomfort that we might fail in order to succeed more times than most. Too often there is the temptation to not push through that final bit of pain when we are just on the verge of success.

I still find it strange that people somehow think that success will just be a walk in the park and everything will go to plan. I have a simple three step strategy to delivering success in a business context.

  1. Things will go wrong – don’t be surprised!
  2. You will need to get creative and be clear on what would need to be true for you to be successful.
  3. Never give up until all is said and done.

What are your strategies for success in business?


4 Realities of Office and Remote Working

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

The big fuss over the benefits and pitfalls of remote working following recent decisions by Yahoo, and Best Buy to revoke the right to work remotely, has certainly thrown up some interesting debates with my friends and colleagues. Whichever side of the fence you decide to fall on here are four realities to consider before you make that jump.

1. Not everyone in the office is working: I clearly remember being in a leadership meeting a couple of years ago which had a glass wall, and watching a contractor from a different department spend almost an hour and a half watching shark videos on YouTube! Also a significant amount of shopping goes on in the office and it is not for office supplies. The first reality is that just because people are at a desk in an office, it does not mean they are being productive. The above examples are extreme but not uncommon. On the other end of the scale how many of us find that we are spending our time managing our email, or sitting in endless back to back meetings that are not primarily focused on driving the business forward? We all know people that appear to be very busy but don’t have a great deal to show for it!

2. Working from home isn’t all it is cracked up to be: There is this myth that those that work from home either permanently or on a part-time basis have the easy life. Have you ever tried to sit in the sun with your laptop it isn’t as great as it sounds as the glare often means you can’t read the screen, you soon get hot and sweaty particularly with a hot laptop on your lap. Also the power runs out and the wireless doesn’t quite reach the shady spot you have just moved to! In all seriousness though there are plenty of distractions from families, washing machines and gas works in the road outside. That coupled with the disconnection and isolation that some can feel does not necessarily make remote working the easy option.

3. Everyone is busy and no one has time to think: One of the biggest complaints I hear from people is that they don’t have time to think. There is a relentless drive to fill up every second of the day in the office with meetings and leave no time for critical thinking that results in breakthroughs for problems or new strategies. Creating time both in the office and at home is essential for ideas to be incubated and turned into meaningful business action through collaborative development of ideas. Maybe we should insist that employees take a lunch break so that they spend non-structured time with colleagues rather than fill it up with another meeting or hope that they will have an epiphany in the corridor.

4. It isn’t an either/or question: There are clear benefits both to working at home and in the office as long as people are actually working. Face to face conversations are vital for building strong relationships and establishing emotional connection amongst teams. Water cooler conversations can occasionally turn up interesting and innovative ideas for a business, but let’s not kid ourselves. How many of those bump into someone in the corridor opportunities actually turn out to be critical work conversations or are they just bitching sessions about the latest poor refereeing decision in the Champions League! Working from home gives people time and space to think, cuts down on commuting/pollution and ensures that critical workers from all walks of life can participate in a business. This is particularly important for working mothers who have to balance family and work. Key I think is to give employees the tools to help them be productive wherever they are and whatever time they are engaging in productive work.

The reality for a lot of people today is that they work both in the office and at home. We need to be able to blend our work and personal lives as more is expected of employees that extends beyond the 9 to 5 and something has to give the other way. How do you measure workforce productivity? It has to be the results rather than the hours in the office or in meetings. What do you think?

What lessons do you learn on the journey?


Sunday morning the temperature was great and the skies were clear, perfect weather for a bike ride and a spot of geocaching. Being a goal orientated kind of person, I had in mind to cover about 20 miles and find 6 geocaches. Geocaching is a hobby/sport which gets me out of the house and active if you want to find out more check out this site

After about a mile my front tyre developed a puncture. Now normally I ride with a spare inner tube and did on this occasion, unfortunately it had already developed a split so was of no use.  It would have been easy to head back home to watch the Grand Prix as there was no chance of me covering the miles, and getting all the caches at that point. However, I decided that as it was such a nice day I would lock the bike up where it was and head out on foot.

Changing my method of travel also had some unexpected advantages. Travelling at a slower pace than normal and not having to concentrate hard on avoiding rocks and tree roots gave me the chance to take in the scenery, and think of other things. For example I normally blast past the bridge that is in the photo at the top of this post. Today I had the time to enjoy it and take the photo.

The slower pace also gave me a chance to think through a problem at work that had been evading me for a few weeks and come up with a solution. Had I been on the bike then I am certain I would not have come to this revelation. Further into my walk I reflected on the leadership lesson that I was learning and one I have repeatedly experienced. So often with a project/programme something will happen that derails progress and things don’t go exactly according to plan; people talk about cancelling; effectively giving up. But when you hold people and yourself to the original objectives then you find ways to still deliver. Now it may not be exactly what you set out to achieve a reduced scope maybe but deliver nonetheless. Also so often in these scenarios you learn something through the tough project either about a better way to deliver, a more ingenious use of the technology or perhaps something about yourself. What I repeatedly learn is that giving up or staying still is not an option it does not help with progress.

With my bike ride I could have turned back and not achieved anything. It would be easy to look at it and say I failed as I did not meet all of my goals but I don’t believe that the goal is always what you start out to achieve.

The best leaders are the ones that don’t give up just because things don’t go according to plan because they have the awareness to recognise that staying still is not an option and chances are they will discover something important along the way.

As for what I achieved; yes I found 3 geocaches and covered 10 miles, but I also got to take in the scenery and solve a big problem. What leadership lessons have you learnt on the journey?

Building Great Teams

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What do you consider to be the right ingredients for a great team? That is a question occupies my thoughts frequently. Many of the corporate IT departments and their related HR teams that I have seen typically want a standard set of skills, experience, capabilities often with a particular technology set to differentiate them from others in the IT department.

For a long time I have been uncomfortable with this approach and it is not just because I have an unconventional background. It is because I have a fundamental belief that building teams doesn’t happen by standardising but requires variety. So here are the top three things I look for when building a great team:

1. Diversity of thought: In the mix of my team I want a varied education and business background. Not everyone needs to have a computer science degree and not everyone has to have worked in the industry that the team is occupying. I want perspectives that come from different ways of seeing the world and not through the same lens. I can’t imagine a football team full of Wayne Rooney’s; on so many levels, but not least because it simply won’t work. A team built like that would have answers that tend to be the same and predictable. The results of which are not always the best and most creative. I want some people with an Arts or Humanities background from different walks of life that won’t always follow the same path as everyone else. I also need people that will complement my own thinking, and keep me in check because as much as I like to think I always see things clearly, and get decisions right the truth is I don’t always, and I need the input of the team.

2. Commitment to the team: I need team players not just star performers. It is vital that people do work as a team rather than a collection of talented individuals. They must demonstrate hard work and commitment to each other not just their own individual role. Being in a team can be tough, things won’t always go your way and that is especially true in IT but I am looking for those that will keep going, and keep committed to the team through thick and thin, and also know who to celebrate the successes when it does come. Along with this comes consistency, loyalty and ultimately results.

3. Flexibility: Things change it is a fact of life, I look for people that are comfortable with that and the reality that sometimes things will be uncertain and woolly. On occasions people will be asked to play out of position for the good of the team, and I respect and reward those that will do that for a time even if it is not always playing to their strengths. Flexibility is also about covering another person when they have had to step into an area of the field that is not their natural position but is helping the team achieve its goals, and another team member has taken on the accountability to protect their colleagues position albeit temporarily.

These are the things I look for in a team not necessarily every individual and people have varying abilities in these three. Obviously once you have the right people in the team then there is a whole bunch of things that need to follow such as having a clear goal, but that is more about what you are going to make with the ingredients than the individual ingredients themselves. My job as the leader is to blend these ingredients into something that is valuable. The other stuff that might be on a standardised recruitment check list very much comes secondary for me.

I am sure you may have a different list, so please comment below and let me know your thoughts…


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