The tax man cometh

As all Brits know, the tax year ends today. But have you ever considered why we choose this arcane, and seemingly arbitrary day as the end of the tax year? The unlikely answer is: as a result of a decree in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII.

OK, the Pope didn’t issue a decree saying that England’s tax system must end on 5 April, but he did introduce the Gregorian (or Christian) calendar – and I’ve certainly mentioned the calendar in other blogs.

At the time that the Gregorian Calendar was introduced we (the English) were using the Julian calendar and collecting tax every quarter.   Continue reading


Working from home

Managers tend to think that they are more productive when working from home than their staff are in similar circumstances.  A few years ago I wrote a paper on working from home and part of the data-collection activity was a survey – and the survey bore out the fact that many (but by no means all) managers do conform to this stereotype.

I work from home quite a lot, and I have to say that for me there are a lot of advantages: fewer interruptions, a dedicated desk, and a very short commute.  In order to connect me to the corporation I have good communications, videoconferencing, a very fast remote network connection, and a telephone “extension” from the corporate system.  The benefits combined with all of the technology (much of which wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago), I believe that I can get a lot more done in a shorter time – essentially, I am more productive.

But this comes at a non-financial cost – without the day-to-day interactions with colleagues I lose out on the snippets of information which are taken for granted, passing the time of day by the kettle, or the idle chitchat which builds and fosters working relationships.

As with pretty much everything, there are trade-offs.  As a manager I recognise the savings to the company, and as an individual I recognise the potential benefits to my work/life balance. But I don’t think I could do it every day.

Am I alone in my views on homeworking?

Perceptions … a different twist

How often has it been said that some people have selective hearing, selective memory, don’t read the whole email, or don’t get the point?  Is it the message it fault, or perhaps the way it is written?

In 1997 a civil servant was disciplined for admitting that the government could use a big news story to their advantage – an ideal opportunity to release some bad news so it wouldn’t get any coverage.  I’m sure it happens regularly, whether the news is smothered (as was the case here) or disguised with weasel words (as was the case in the rise in alcohol duty in the budget last week).  Unless we are being particularly careful we can simply see or hear what the other person wants us to hear.

But there is a counterpoint: Continue reading

Monkeys in trees

Monkey in a tree

Spider monkey in a tree

I would hesitate to say that I learn everything from primates, but there are two interesting simian analogies which I use quite frequently. So today I will share what monkeys in trees have taught me.

Monkeys are risk averse

It is said that a monkey clambering through the trees will not let go of one branch until he’s securely holding another.  In the case of environments where a predator may be lurking on the ground below, that’s probably a good philosophy.

But it has also been used to describe situations where someone won’t let go of one thing until they have something else to cling to – be that a security blanket or a relationship.  But we don’t have the same predators – unless the security blanket prevents the monsters under your bed from launching an attack?

Equally, in the corporate environment, Continue reading

Political correctness – or how reality is distorted

When I think back to yesteryear I remember things which the commissars of political correctness tell me don’t exist.  I am sure that I remember these things, and in many cases the same people I remember do the same jobs but apparently not.

Some of these are trivial examples of making people feel more important, for example:

  • street sweepers of yesteryear have become environmental technicians
  • secretaries now seem to be executive assistants
  • prisoners (or inmates) are now custody facility guests
  • airlines no longer have stewards or stewardesses but employ flight attendants

I also heard that a well known brand redesignated all of their telesales staff as  Continue reading

And all in the name of security

Over the years (which, in truth, means far more years than I am prepared to admit to) I have seen a trend in limiting access to functionality and settings on the company computer.  Many reasons have been given including

  • to protect the settings;
  • to stop users breaking it; and
  • to maintain consistency.

And recently the main reasons given are often to do with security: protecting our assets, or preventing malicious attacks.  And the more that the devices are locked down, the less that some people can self-resolve; the more that devices are secured, the more exceptions that have to be made for developers and certain types of individual.  The more secured we are the more we pay in security, software, and resolver groups.

But if you are a target then you have to have the security – you can’t just open the doors and let everyone in.  The inside must be protected from marauders, whether they want to steal your secrets (as in the IT example) or blow up your cities (a more traditional security consideration).

So, in the name of security we accept constraints to our daily lives: we undergo searches when we board aircraft, we accept CCTV beyond even Orwellian imagination, and we are tracked by numerous databases in every aspect of our daily life.  Some of these are more intrusive than others, some are easier to forget, but all are sold as making our lives more secure and to help us sleep at night. And we probably do sleep more soundly in our cocoon of protection.

If I protect my house with high security locks and a burglar alarm does that mean that I won’t be burgled? As far as opportunists go, yes it probably does.  But I can’t guarantee security against a determined thief who will find the weak points.

And that’s essentially my point – we have a lot of protection against a known (or perceived) threat, and that’s all to the good.  But what if the opposition isn’t necessarily all about harm or destruction? What if their aim is to add complexity, cost, and obstruction? If this is the case, have they already won?

There is no wholly right or wrong answer; countermeasures are implemented against a perceived threat landscape.  But on this occasion I just want to pose a counter-argument to promote a bit of thought.

Hats off to customer service

When I checked in to  hotel yesterday the front-desk agent greeted me with a “welcome back” (always nice) and then told me that I had left a pair of trousers behind last time – so they had had them dry-cleaned and pressed for me and they were in my room.  They didn’t have to go to all that trouble, but the fact that they did means that I feel that they’ve taken care of me and I’ll tell people.

And isn’t that what customer service is about? Retain existing customers, and hopefully use word-of-mouth to generate new custom too.

It reminds me of another hotel where I have stayed three times – a week apart for the first Customer servicetwo, and then a year later.  On the second stay the head doorman opened the taxi door and without missin a beat greeted me by name – I was impressed.  Then, a year later, as I arrived the same guy opened the taxi door, recognised me and greeted me by name and seeing I was alone asked whether my wife would be arriving later.  Whether he has a phenomenal memory, or whether they have a clever CRM system, it doesn’t matter – it made me feel special.

And after yesterday’s blog about upsetting the boss, perhaps this is the counterpoint because the same concept is portable: without disappearing up the boss’s bottom, if you can make him feel good, keep some of the hassles away, and turn him into your advocate (using word-of-mouth advertising on your personal brand), that can only be good.

Sadly, that’s an idea that I don’t think Jamie has quite understood.

Oh, and before I forget, I’ll play te game: the hotel brand in question is Hilton. And I’ll tell you which properties if anyone asks.

How not to impress the boss

I was in a team meeting today when one of the team, seemingly unimpressed with a reorganisation, made his views crystal clear. To spare the blushes I’ll call him “Jamie”. And before I comment on both what he said and the wisdom of saying it, a few other thoughts.

Foot in mouth

It seems that Jamie was not too impressed with the way that certain parts of the reorganisation outcome was announced at the team meeting – essentially the structure of the management team.  Whether Jamie felt slighted or simply disliked the process I am afraid we shall never know because once he said to the boss “your man management style leaves a lot to be desired” the conversation took a very different path.

I don’t have any problems in disagreeing with my manager, nor in having someone disagree with me.  It’s normal and can promote a healthy discussion – but I don’t agree with personal attacks in a public forum.

Professional disagreements can be raised and discussed professionally, although I try never to back anyone into a corner in public – far better to leave them a face-saving way out and make a friend than the other way round and create the opposite.  And if I were to have an issue Continue reading

Do you want to hear something new

This is the question I have been posing the researchers at a conference: for the attendees, is it better for them to learn something new or for them to get validation that they are already doing the right thing?

Maybe I’m being a little mischievous – it’s not an ‘either/or’, but rather a continuum.

In lots of ways I prefer to learn something new – but today I’m at the other end of the spectrum. Today I’m listening to presentations about an IT security issue and whilst I hear about different companies doing it their own way, I have not yet heard anything that I didn’t know. And this is good news – I don’t have to panic and make a drastic change.

Isn’t this a little counter-intuitive? I’ve come to a series of presentations with the underlying hope that I don’t learn something brand new (unless it’s a game changer).

I call it validation and reassurance.

Am I right?

Prejudice, priests, and gay marriage

I’m getting opinionated today – inspired (and in some cases incensed) by news, facebook postings, a comedy podcast, wikipedia and google. Strange bedfellows indeed.

Anyway, if I’m going to categorise this post at all I’d say it is inspired by prejudice – perhaps a strange inspiration, but if we don’t stand for our beliefs then they are often subtly eroded.

Consider this sentence:

Priests abuse choirboys because they’re afraid of the commitment of marriage.

It was, more or less, a line from a comedy standup routine. It was followed by the comment that Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) threatened to excommunicate any Bishop who revealed details of clergy paedophilia outside the church. (At first I didn’t believe it, but I found enough online references to confirm it as true. Appalling but true.)

So, now suitably interested, I deconstructed the line and looked rather more seriously at the subjects presented: Continue reading