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feeling lost? there is always an answer, and you can always ask the way


At the time of writing this I know that I am about six and a half miles up in the air and that it is Thursday 12th May, but otherwise don’t know what time it is or where I am. Well I know that I am in seat 36K on a Boeing 747 registered in the UK as G-VFAB, but I don’t know where the ‘plane is if you see what I mean. Below me is solid cloud and so I have no sight of the ground to help show where I might be.

The last few weeks have been very hectic and fraught. I have had to be here, there and seemingly everywhere at someone else’s beck and call. Pretty much every waking moment has been devoted to doing something that I have had to do to avoid letting someone else down. Not all of it has been a chore, but I have been driven by other people’s needs rather than my own clock. A quiet potter in the garden fiddling with the horticulture when I feel like it is nice and relaxing; having to fit in getting the beans, spuds, tomatoes etc planted now because it has to be done now takes the pleasure away to a large degree.

Today I had to be at the airport in time to check in, and had to be at the gate in time to board, but thereafter I am just sat here for 9 hours, or whatever, whilst a couple of folk up the sharp end take me to another continent and some of their nice colleagues bring me food and drink now and then. All I have to do is to sit here and behave and so I decided that time and space can all be relative until the moment that I have to get off and face the immigration officials.

So last night I turned off the clock display in the toolbar of this laptop and, as I don’t wear a watch these days, I am sat here with no knowledge as to what time it is or where I am.

Well that’s the theory, but in practice I do have some clues. I know that my destination is south west of where I departed from and I know what time the ‘plane was due off the ground. Going the way that I am I am racing the sun across this day and, at this height, can see the sky up here above the cloud below and can see the subtle change in colour. The shadow of the fuselage that was falling across the wing beside me has gone, but I do not have the sun through my window, so we are heading towards that orb.

Knowing the time difference between where I started from and where I am going and I know what time I am due in, so I know where the sun should be in the sky then. Given all of that I would say that we have little more than an hour to go before arrival.

In aviation circles we have an expression “temporarily unsure of position”. It doesn’t mean lost as such, just that you know where you should be, but not exactly where you are.

This is quite often the case in business; we’re not exactly sure of how things are for a whole range of reasons, but there will be information that we can use and clues that we can follow to help make an informed decision on, and you can always make enquiries. You only have to ask for help.

back to the floor – the sequel


I am a big fan of bosses going back to the floor and have written about here a few times, one of which, on my adventures in logistics, was picked up by Truck & Driver magazine. It is an opportunity that quite a few senior managers spurn entirely, and a in poll I conducted a couple of years ago around half of the responses were a resounding No, so why am I so in favour?

One crucial reason is that it allows you to see what life at the front end of your business is all about. Now there are those that will argue that you don’t need to know that, that you have layers of people along the way that can worry about those sorts of things for you, but knowing your business makes such a difference to the way that you operate. Those that truly walk the talk are, in my experience, the ones that have done the job and can still get in the trenches and pull their weight.

Steve Jobs at Apple has a superb story about the difference between a Vice President and a Janitor, the punch line of which is around the Janitor being able to give reasons why things aren’t done, but the VP has no such room for things not being right. I don’t know whether or not he has ever done the janitor’s job, but he understands the issue and, let it not be forgot, he was once on the front line himself.

My own enthusiasm came about gradually. My early efforts to climb the management ladder were with organisations that insisted on management trainees working in every department of the business to get a grasp of what they would eventually control. Later, as I got to run operations of various types there would sometimes be a need to solve a problem when all hands to the pump was the order of the day and so there were always opportunities to get involved.

As I got into more senior roles and began to devise and implement major improvement projects, being able to get in have a go at the job was often a powerful tool in firstly working out the right solution, but also in understanding how to implement the solution to best effect and to get my people behind the change. The other thing that back to the floor delivers is a clear understanding of what is really happening. As my pal Ian Berry puts it, are they walking in the halls what is says on the walls (is your mission statement really reflecting what goes on in the business)?

Often it isn’t, and that disconnect can destroy a business quicker than anything else. So in all of my senior roles I have committed time to working on the front line occasionally; I’ve driven fork lift trucks, vans and lorries, I’ve been out with the security team, spent time on reception, cleaned the toilets and more. All of that has helped overcome problems and make improvements that might well not have happened otherwise.

So it is with great pleasure that I’ve been reading of Lionel Prodgers’ experiences of going back to the front in FM World lately. Lionel is a top man in our industry; he’s done it all and has nothing to prove to anyone, so all credit to him for putting himself about to such good effect. I hope that others who read of his exploits are inspired to have a go themselves.

Pick a job and put a day in the diary; I’ll bet you enjoy it.

if we want the best to choose from, someone has to make a difference


We often choose something; sometimes because we want to, and other times because we have to, but how do we choose? There has to be some form of measurement that helps us to compare. It may be as subjective as colour or style or more objective as in, say, performance or size. These choices may be personal or business, but we all make them every day.

Those who try to influence us in these choices will strive to pander to those choice triggers. The world of advertising had a field day in the post WW2 eras as the production capacity switched from military needs to consumer goods and fed an increasing affluent society.

From the 1970s onwards a series of events; oil crises, financial downturns and such saw the boom years come to an end and competition to persuade us has become more and more sophisticated, these days with social media and the like playing their part in parting us with our cash.

Some of all that is on a personal level, but business has seen a parallel experience although the choices here are normally much less subjective. Whether we are in facilities management, logistics or any other business discipline we are much more performance related in our decision making and so those who would sell us have looked to raise the bar in that area.

We talk of excellence in what we sell and what we seek. Consider this quotation; “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away” Antione de Saint-Exupery sums it up well there, but what is this state to which we aspire?

Does competition drive excellence? To some degree it does, but if we take sports as an example of competition, there are those who will demonstrate how to win with minimum effort; Sir Jackie Stewart will tell you all about winning at the slowest pace for example. Following this example there are a lot of companies that are content to just be better than the rest rather than to excel.

Am I suggesting that we abandon the quest for perfection just because of this? No I’m not. The point I’m making is that what happens when we look at competing solutions is that we pick what we see as the best to fulfil our need as we see it at the time. Now that may not be a great solution, but better than what we have now and better than anything else so we choose it. If it helps us achieve something then it may well be worth accepting but, if not, we probably won’t, or shouldn’t bother. Hobson’s Choice, as we used to say.

What we want is to have great things to choose from, and that is what those of us in the service industry try to create and deliver. It is what competition should be all about in this context, and there will be times when we have the right thing for the moment; when we catch the wave and ride it in. It will be a transient moment, sure, but getting it right and creating the thing of choice is such a buzz that you’ll want to do it again and again.

If we truly want to make a difference we have, as my friend Ian Berry down under will tell you, you have to change what is normal.

Perfection made be hard, even impossible, but doing something extraordinary is within reach of us all, so why not try? Make a difference.

You can’t take yourself too seriously. If you do you are buying your own con – Ferrol Sams


It’s a quote I found in a book entitled Last Bus to Albequerque and it struck a chord with me when I first read it back in 1994. I used the first half of it as one of my over the desk mottos; the whole thing was too long and, in any case, if anyone thought that I was a con artist I didn’t want anything over my desk that appeared to confirm that view!

But the sentiment is a strong one, and it took a while for me to realise that I had fallen into the trap of taking myself very seriously indeed;  the blinding flash that showed me what a complete idiot I was making of myself was an unpleasant realisation. As I write these words now I am transported back to about 1984 when I had that moment on the road to Damascus so to speak.

Having been able to see the problem and deal with it made a big difference to me in many ways, both professional and personal. I began to enjoy myself and I got even better at what I did as a result. When I adopted the strapline of “25 years of having fun whilst making things happen” last year, that is exactly what I meant.

Getting a laugh out of every day isn’t always easy, and there have been times when black humour has won through. I won’t repeat some of the jokes here because I recognise that they were offensive to some, but in the context of our team and the moment they were just what we needed to lift the mood. The best ones were, of course, the ones that punctured my dignity and I’ll share a couple here.

My team and I managed a diverse property estate and most of the team would have to travel to get to a common location, so hotels provided a neutral venue, but at the previous couple of meetings I had felt it necessary to mention standards of dress; we were on show and the welcome board in reception told everyone which company we represented. After the second warning one of the team challenged me quietly and suggested that suits and ties were maybe too formal, so could we not have a smart casual regime, maybe golf clubhouse standards? I took the point and smart casual was the order of the day for the next meeting. I turned up in golf shirt and chinos to find the rest all in their best business suits – game set and match to the team.

Another time I had been banging the environmental drum and we had begun to have our site vehicles and equipment painted green in an effort to raise awareness amongst our tenants and generally push the Green boat out. Then came a meeting to discuss the issue of the latest set of site manuals for our tenants. “I suppose you want green binders?” I was asked, and the answer was, of course, “Yes”. On leaving that meeting I was reminded that I should wear overalls when on that site as it was both protocol and would be part of the new Health & Safety plan in respect of wearing personal protective equipment (lead from the front John). I mentioned, sheepishly, that my girth had outgrown my overalls and that a new set were needed. No problem, they’d be waiting for me on my next visit. And they were, in lurid green! Team 10, Bowen 0.

You can’t take yourself too seriously.you do, no-one else is going to take your side.

Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.


This is often bandied around as a motivational quote, but like many such quotes, it has its detractors. I don’t pretend to know what William Jennings Bryan had on his mind when he said this, but I have my own thoughts.

On the one hand I often argue here that the choices we make influence what we end up as, and that I’m unlikely to change my mind on. My own experience, both of what has happened to me and what I’ve seen happen to others, is that your choices have a big impact. Of course there are circumstances not of your making that will affect how your life turns out. I wrote last week about the fickle finger of fate and how none of us know how long we have here.

So no, we don’t choose everything that comes our way. The trick for me is in how we react to the slings and arrows through our lives. As with the quotation that started this off, there are loads of old adages, all of which have a modicum of truth in them. One that suits my line of thought here is “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. You can roll over and moan when things go wrong, or you can try to turn something positive from the experience.

On that basis I have no time for the arguments of those who would reject the premise as not being a law of life. Of course we have no choice in many aspects of our existence; we don’t chose to be brought into life and many choices are made for us by others during our formative years, but we do have the choice of whether or not we learn at school for example, and we have choices about how we approach whatever job we manage to find ourselves.

Not everyone is going to make big sums of money, but that isn’t the only measure of success in life. You can either sit around and wait for something to happen or you can make an effort. You won’t win them all, but you have to be in it to win it, so if you don’t try you don’t have a chance. Even a lottery winner made the effort to pick some numbers and buy a ticket.

Having dreams is fine, but they need a little work to make them come true. It’s fine to look up in wonder at the heights and want to be there looking down, but those who go for a ladder have the right idea.

It doesn’t matter how hard things look there is always an opportunity to try something. One of my schoolboy heroes in the late 50s and early 60s was the great Swedish rally driver Eric Carlson. A bear of a man he could make those little 2 stroke Saabs dance over the ice and through the forests, and at a time when such cars were just modified production vehicles with little of the safety aids of today. There was also no route reconnaissance or pace notes, but when he was asked about what went through his mind heading over a blind crest at night in the forest at 100 mph, he shrugged and said, “Well, the road must go somewhere”.

For all of us we have these blind crests on the road of life; destiny may not always be in our hands, and whatever WJB had in mind when he uttered his words I don’t know, but for me they do make a connection. I’d rather go down trying than crying.