24th September 2015

How Different Things Are

I used it in a recent seminar. It is probably about 100 years old, but in truth that industry didn’t change much up until we saw the end of deep coal mining in this country relatively recently. I use it because I am proud of the gritty spirit of North Eastern working man that it seems to depict, as they stand there; in what I might term street clothes and cloth caps; a Davey Lamp their only concession to safety and not a sign of protective clothing or PPE anywhere. My father and his father were all miners and all shared a similar background.

In those days management was a much different task to what it has become today. In those days it didn’t involve looking after the ‘man’ much at all. But over the latter half of the 20th Century the art of ‘man’ management became much more scientific, much more studied. As the 21st Century is half way through its second decade, the talk is no longer about management at all but leadership. I do not intend to join the vast volumes written about the differences between leadership and management but simply to make the point that the biggest change in how we operate in the world of work has come about as a consequence of man’s growing freedom of choice.

When my granddad was a young man any refusal to do what the mine owner dictated would result in losing his job, but also his hearth, his home, and probably his family. It is little wonder that it took some pretty violent and drastic action on the part of the working man to combine and to start to redress the balance.

The Chinese have a proverb which says “You can throw a stone across a river but you can’t throw a bird”. Why? Well a bird has a degree of free will. It used to be said that when we employ someone at best we buy 8 hours of his or her time each day. Whether they choose to bring their heart and spirit, their enthusiasm and their energy to work with them is their choice and to some degree how much they choose to do that is a measure of the effectiveness of the leadership.

At some point over the last year or so we reached a tipping point where over half of the working population were millenials. These young folk have not only continued but also accelerated the evolution of the working population. In the same way as the previous generation would not tolerate the demands of their forefathers so these young people demand so much more of their employer than their parents did. At the same time the trend that Drucker first observed away from manual labour to what he called ‘knowledge workers’ has also accelerated.

Recently the popular commentators have been asking whether a robot could eventually take your job. To my mind it is an inevitability. Robots and Artificial Intelligence will soon be at a stage where that trend too will accelerate dramatically. As employers it is no longer enough to be offering a job. Our market of would be employees demand that the job must be safe, must provide fulfilment, significance and meaning. If we cannot or do not provide that environment then the cream of the talent will quickly move away to find the employer that does.

There has never been so much mobility among the working population and there has never been such demands upon the employer. If our ‘offer’ to employees remains what it was in our forefathers day, our business model will become as out-dated to our target market as, say, reel to reel audio tapes are to the digital world we now live in. I have referred to the market for labour several times now. In the 21st century often the only real sustainable differentiator between businesses is the people that are part of our team.

We will never have a premier division business if we can only attract third division people and unless we pay as much attention to attracting present and future team members as we do present and future customers we will inevitably find ourselves scraping the bottom of the talent barrel. In chasing the triple bottom line of supplier of choice, employer of choice and investment of choice; being employer of choice is the number one priority from which all the others flow.

That is why the three core competencies of the boss are the ability to;


  • Hire well
  • Develop well
  • Fire well


Book Recommendation

Some clients have asked that I append some reading recommendations to my weekly blog. I hope you get value from the books I recommend. The books are mentioned at random and will have no relationship to the blog above.
‘Legacy’ by James Kerr is about TEAM and the lessons in leadership provided by the All Blacks, the best and most consistent rugby team in the world. It has to be one of my books of the year(2015). You will learn about core values, commitment and teamship.