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Posts Tagged ‘Networking’

Partnerships or Competition?


Competition, taking sides, winners and losers or true partners taking things forward for common good? My thoughts on this started off from work I’m doing for a client where we have some EU competition issues, and then I read a tweet from Cathy Hayward where someone had mentioned the reaction of their purchasing team to talk of partnerships.

I’m often labelled as a Purchasing Expert, but it is just one thing that I have experience of. I see myself more as a businessman who has, over the years variously been John the Buyer, John the Salesman and finally John the Operations guy trying to deliver what the Sales people have sold with what the Buying people have bought for me. It ain’t easy, believe me, but I’ve made a decent living along the way and had a lot of fun.

One of the things that can hold a business back is functions not getting on, so let’s look at the three tribes:

Purchasing people tend to thrive on the competitive element of their profession. Keeping the market on its toes and keeping their pencils sharp so that the best deals are struck. Shaking up the mix is what it’s all about.

Operations people prefer an element of stability so that they can build up working relationships with both customers and suppliers and have enough other issues that bring instability to the daily lives without any artificial stimulus.

So where does that leave Sales people? On the one hand they want the stability because they can build relationships, cross sell and have a quiet life enjoying the expense account and the Mondeo but, on the other hand, if there is too much stability, how do they break into new markets and clients? It’s ironic, but they actually need the world that the buyers are trying to create because that instability is a major source of opportunity.

Competition does mean that there will be winners and losers, and there is nothing wrong in that. It is a fact of nature that we can see all around us any day of the week if we bother to look. The plant life that we all pass by daily reminds us of how the struggle for survival works and it is foolish to ignore that competition is a fundamental element of what has made humans what we are. Look at the stupidities of trying to eliminate the competitive element factor from schools as a prime example of where that leads.

Whilst competition is good there is also strength in combining efforts to work towards common good. For me the point about competition is that it has its place, but collaboration does too.

Like so many things, competition is a tool and, like all tools, you need to use it well and in the right circumstances. I could buy the best saw on the market, but if I went down to the lumber yard and bought a dozen different sorts of timber there is a fair chance that I would ruin both my new saw and some of the wood in short order because you need even different saws for different woods.

So blindly applying competition to sourcing needs is as much of a waste (and don’t get me started on e-auctions) as trying to do fret work with a panel saw. The art of good buying is to use the right method for each requirement. If you can do that then the right deals will generally fall into place.

So to get it right requires collaboration between good people, but isn’t that always the way?

Use your environment to help the environment – the ultimate in recycling?

November 29, 2010 3 comments

In Facilities Management (FM) we pride ourselves on our buildings and how we run them, and I think that we have been early adopters and champions of sustainable and environmental issues. But are we doing enough? In terms of what we can do in our own right we probably are close to it, but how much are we influencing the people that we look after?

Whether we are an in house or outsourced FM service provider we are unlikely to be able to bring about significant sustainable changes on our own, but there are ways that we can collaborate with others to influence and be influenced by them. The key to this is, to use the word in its original meaning, our environment.

Consider the environment in which the building(s) we manage and the people who use it live and work in: The local geographic environment. Do we talk to our commercial and residential neighbours on issues of common interest? How about the local authorities; do we have any dialogue with them? What about how people get to work? Some of these issues will fall into the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) remit, so are you talking to them about what FM can offer and finding out what they have on their agenda? There are a lot of opportunities.

Consider the business environment that the people in the building work in. What business are they in? What do they want to showcase? What is the image that they are trying to portray to the outside world? Do you talk to the PR and Marketing people (other than when they want a desk moved)? FM has a lot to offer; we manage a lot of the things that interface with the outside world that can affect image and people’s perception of the company.

Your building’s occupants have an outside life, and that is another of the environment that FM impacts on. We manage the place where these people work for about a third of their day.  We recognise that impact in terms of job satisfaction and people retention, but do we acknowledge that it also has a powerful impact on people’s moods and they way that they will interact with family and friends when they are away from work?

The ripple effect of the things that we do in the building(s) we manage goes out into the world around us, but often we are too involved in managing the splash to see where the ripples go and their impact. If we take that analogy literally, we know that ripples on a pond will cause erosion in the banks, so what impact are our ripples having in our local and business environments?

There is the “I’ve got enough on my plate” argument, but I would counter that by suggesting that getting to grips with some of these issues can take away existing pressure points and give you more time to manage. If your occupants are more content then you’ll have less complaints and the same applies to neighbours. If you’re building good relations with various internal and external groups you’re raising the FM stock and gaining a fan club; neutrals are better than enemies and fans are better than neutrals.

Over the years I’ve run all sorts of schemes, some of which seemed very off the wall to begin with but all paid dividends. There’s not room to list them here, but feel free to ask. Talk to others and collaborate on mutually beneficial projects. Using your environment to help the sustainable and environmental agenda is something to consider: The ultimate in recycling?

Is the office dead? Or even dying?

October 25, 2010 2 comments

Is the office dead? No, not that TV show, the real place that many of us have worked in over the years.

What got me started on this was reading on line a posting from a public sector facilities management colleague talking about some of the alternative ways of working and plans to do things that I’d done, also in the public sector 15 years or so ago. There’s nothing new under the sun, but in the same week I also read something on the mayor’s plans for transport in London whereby, if my memory serves me correctly, they were talking about catering for a significant growth in the  numbers of people coming to work in central London in the coming years.

Now, as I mentioned above, I can recall being involved with a working party with HR and IT colleagues many years ago through which we did all sorts of things including drop in centres, hot desks, shared desks, hotelling and much more. We changed the working hours of buildings and even worked with business neighbours, bus companies and local councils to change public transport routes and timetables, almost eliminating the rush hour at one location, green commuting being high in the agenda before I remember hearing that as a term.

Charting my own work style and pattern, I find it a little ironic looking back that, having got far enough up the greasy pole to have landed the corner office and a share in a secretary, I gave up that office for something smaller, but in the middle of the action, then shifted myself into the open plan, then to a shared desk before, in about 1999, becoming truly location independent, i.e.; I worked out of the back of the car, hotel lobbies, supermarket coffee bars or anywhere that I could find, but this would often be, say it quietly, an office.

I can remember 30 odd years ago a lot of trumpeting about the paperless office and yet that is still nowhere near a reality. Yes, we have embraced email, but it has done nothing to eliminate paper; we’ve seen more success in that goal from electronic invoicing and payment systems. Photocopiers and printers still proliferate with all of their other environmental impacts besides paper consumption.

Our offices have certainly changed over the 40+ years that I’ve been at work, but I would argue that this change has come from social factors as much as from technological and operational ones. We don’t have the same hierarchical structures that we used to. Work is much less formal and I believe that it will be the social factor that does as much to shape the future of the office as anything else.

Humans are sociable animals, and there are synergies that come from having us in one place. Yes you can do that virtually, but the dynamics of having us in one place at the same time can’t be beaten, especially when you add the ingredient of the infrastructure that an office provides.

Technology will play its part, but that will be shaped by the demand of the people. All of the gadgets that we enjoy and the way that we use them is coming from us folks. They aren’t being forced on us; the way we use the current generation of phones, computers and other gizmos shapes the next wave, and that will be with us soon enough.

My belief is that the same factors apply to the way we use offices. I don’t know what tomorrow’s office will look like, but there will be one, I’m sure.

Another postcard from America


I first discovered America through TV, then later through the movies. It was 1993, by which time I had turned 40, before I finally got here. On that first trip we arrived in Tampa in one of its legendary thunderstorms. We’d been en route for a long time and, with a delay in getting our bags due to the storm, I decided to drop anchor for the night. The next morning the sun was shining and we headed off from the airport across the bay and up US19.

Everything was instantly familiar in so many ways; the traffic lights swaying in the breeze, the roadside motels, many of the names of various retail and food outlets. “It’s just like in the movies and on TV” said a voice from the back seat. Blindingly obvious really, but it was, and much more so than, say, when we’d been to France or some of the other European countries.

Since that first trip I’ve been here more times than I can remember. We’ve been to many parts on both coasts and have owned a home here for several years. One of the things that we try to do is to get amongst the people rather than stick to the tourist haunts. That has led to a number of experiences that would each take up a 600 word blog, but the point is that you need to reach out to people, to listen to them and to ask them about their lives if you want to grow yourself.

Trying new things is fun anyway. I still have a list of things that I want to experience over here, but it has been a great joy to try some of the things that I’d read about or heard about. I’ve done this wherever I’ve been, here in the UK or abroad, and it has always paid off for me. Sure sometimes I’ve tried a  local dish and not enjoyed. I can recall the huge disappointment of trying pastrami on rye in New York, for example, I just didn’t like it, but that has to be balanced against the Cuban sandwich in Miami, the chowder in Boston, the Cioppino in San Francisco and many more.

Sporting events are huge over here. At one time we used to rent a villa over on the gulf coast of Florida and I became quite a follower of the local high school football team. They would draw half as many again more fans for their home games than Swindon Town could manage in what was then the second division of the football league back home. And this was a school team. This week I was talking to some USF students about their upcoming came against Syracuse. As it turned out the Bulls lost, but the attendance was over 41000. Eat your hearts own premier league. Motor sport has long been a passion for me and I’ve been able to attend several races over here, including the Daytona 500 (Indy is still on the to do list), but the scale is again vast compared to back home. Over the last three years or so I’ve started to get my head around baseball enough to at least follow most of what is going on.

These things are all so much fun. They are family events and the organisers make them work for the fans. And the fans are just fans; who they are where they live or work doesn’t matter. At the track or the game they are fans and they get to enjoy the event for the spectacle that it is.

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Home thoughts from abroad; a postcard from America


Oh to be in England, now September’s here? Not really, no.

I’m taking a few minutes of quiet time in between business and the essential hospitality that goes with it, at least it does more so here in the USA that maybe back home. Shortly I will be back on show when my host’s guests start to arrive and we get down to some serious socializing and, it has to be said, networking.

So, home thoughts from abroad? For me this is more home than home in the sense of where I live. Yes I know that I am British, and I am proud of that, but I am more at home here in the US than I am back in Wiltshire and, if I had the chance, I’d set up home here for good.

For me there is a lot about America that we have seen wiped out in the UK. People do care about each other here and there is a much greater sense of community spirit. In many ways it is like the England that I grew up in in the 1950s and 1960s. Nostalgia may not be what it used to be, but I am nostalgic for a time when people were far less self centred; my Monday Musing last week talked of the Musketeer’s motto of “One for all and all for one”. So much of what I see back home is more like one for all and every one for themselves.

Here there is a much simpler attitude in most people, and it shows up in the way that I am being looked after. The whole concept of me being over here and staying alone in a hotel is an anathema to the people that I’m meeting, so a range of hospitality gets lined up for me to meet families and friends.  This isn’t expense account stuff either; it is a genuine desire to welcome a stranger and look after them.

Back home people often mock the “have a nice day” culture, but here it is, in most cases, genuine. This morning I went for a walk down a couple of blocks to buy a newspaper. I’d not got far before I fell into step with someone heading the same way. By the time we got to the news stand I knew his name, what he did, the names of his wife and his children and how they were doing at school and he’d had broadly equivalent information from me. When I used to commute into London by train there would be the same herd of us heading off to the station each morning for the run into Liverpool Street, but in three years of doing that I got to talk to two other people. Everyone else just kept their heads down and ignored those around them.

The Americans bring this warmth into much of business, whether that be BtoB or BtoC. In most cases there is a real need to give the customer service that goes a bit further and that’s great. It makes doing business a pleasure. Sure they are hard negotiators, and yes there are sharks, but doing a deal here is a very different experience to doing one back home.

Maybe some of this is just because it is a change for me. It’s nearly a year since I was last over and it could just be the grass being greener on this side of the hill. Maybe I would find it less attractive if I was here full time. Maybe not, and I have to come home soon anyway.

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Is the purpose of your visit business or pleasure?

September 20, 2010 3 comments

In a few days time I will walk down another jetway, shuffle along the queue to face an immigration official and face that perennial question; “Is the purpose of your visit business or pleasure?” Now I learned years ago that you don’t get smart with immigration, but the answer for me is almost always “Both”.

I’ve been very lucky over the years in that my various jobs have taken me all over the UK, to nine other European countries and to the USA. I’ve met so many people and seen so many sights that it truly has been a privilege.

I don’t enjoy the travelling as much as I used to. Driving has lost much of its lustre with Labour’s hatred of the motorist showing through in so many ways over their umpteen years in power together with the complete lack of any driving standards. Osama bin Liner and his crew screwed up flying and airports and as for the trains; the method of privatisation ruined them. If I have a choice I’ll drive because at least I can chose my own route, but my next big trip has to be by air because of the distances involved, not to mention the impracticality of crossing the Atlantic in a car.

This time I am fortunate enough to be flying business across the pond and first on the internal flights so I will, at least, be somewhat pampered en route, but it is the destinations rather than the journey that interest me.

I like places, but it is always the people that make the places more often than not. Yes, architecture and scenery have their own power and I am comfortable enough with my own company and a view on occasions, but it is the people who inhabit the buildings and spaces that generally provide interest. How many conversations have I had with strangers over the last forty years or so? I have no idea, but, whether they were the business contacts I had travelled to meet or just someone I ran into, I’ve never ceased to be fascinated by them, their lives and the conversations we have shared.

There is so much pleasure to be had from finding out about people and the way that they live. I may not always agree with their views on life, business, politics or whatever, but so what? I’ve always been in the school of tolerance of other people’s right to express themselves (which is why I stand firm against political correctness). In any case, how can you ever hope to understand if you don’t expose yourself to alternative points of view? Of course I have had my fair share of bores and bigots, but you learn to deal with them. The joy is in sharing and coming away from each encounter richer in your knowledge of the way life is lived in those parts.

So who will I meet on this trip? I’m going to run into someone in the departure lounge, be sat next to someone on the ‘plane and then there are the various airports and hotels on the trip. American hospitality is second to none and I reckon I’ll have talked to at least 300 people that I’ve never met before by the time I get home.

Those that travel on business often complain that it isn’t the jolly that those who don’t travel on business view it as. I would argue that it is what you make it. Yes it can be a chore if you let it be, but you don’t have to. Business or pleasure? Always both.

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working from home – my 10 tips

February 1, 2010 3 comments

I first worked from home in the early 1980s and I’ve now been doing it full time for 8 years. My ten top tips for survival are:

1 – Have a timetable. I’m an early riser, and usually working around 0600. I make a point of going no later that 0800 before getting upstairs for a shave, shower and get some clothes on; at least smart casual – going native is not clever. If you’re smart and looking ready for work, you’ll think like work: Behave like a slob and it’ll show in your work,

2 – Schedule your day in whatever way works for you, but take breaks. I don’t do more that 90 minutes on the computer without stopping to do something different. A brisk walk round the block a couple of times a day is good. It gets the blood flowing and that gets oxygen into the brain. Other 15 minute distractions I’ll use include time  in the garden doing a little weeding or pruning or to do some prep work on tonight’s dinner.

3 – Set yourself deadlines and monitor progress. Plan to get x number of calls made, write x hundred words or to finish certain tasks (or make a start on them). Use a desk diary or put it on Outlook or your phone or whatever, but do have a plan for the day/week/month.

4 – It’s easy to forget to eat and drink properly and neither omission will do you any good. Avoid too much caffeine, and eat sensible foods. One way of taking a break I use is to prepare a decent lunch. I take my food break at the dining table as well, sat up properly to aid digestion. Always aim to take your refreshment breaks at regular times.

5 – Try to have a working area set up in the home so that you do, if effect, go to the office and leave the office. It is an important psychological break point. If you don’t have a separate area and have to use the couch or the dining table then have a couple of stacking crates that you keep your files and working stuff in so that you can pack away and put the boxes in the corner. You have to maintain separate home and office regimes.

6 – One of my cyber pals talks about life – work harmony. He doesn’t like the term Balance in this context and I think that he’s right. It is more about harmony in your life and ensuring that you, and the other people in your life, feel good about your lifestyle.

7 – Replace those water cooler moments with some other form of business contact. For me that’s a business club. What you need is a couple of hours every couple of weeks where you can relax and chat with fellow business people from a variety of functions. If there are presentations you’ll learn from them and get the chance to do your own which practices another skill.

8 – Don’t feel guilty about time shifting your hours. If you want to use daylight or weekdays for something personal, as long as you hit your deadlines, do it, but try to make the time in advance by putting the evening or weekend hours in first: It’s hard to play catch up.

9 – Stay safe: Take care with cables and extension leads even if you are the only one home.  Keep information and equipment secure, and do your back ups. It’s your office.

10 – Have fun – otherwise there’s no point.

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what goes where


I started this blog with no clear idea of what I was doing. Social networking was new to me and I just wanted to get started.

Today I’ve put into place the thoughts that have been coming together thanks to the input of others around cyberspace that have helped me.

This blog will now become my area for blogging thoughts on leadership and team building together with sharing my own experiences so that others can, I hope, benefit from my failures and successes.

John J Bowen’s blog will take the more random thoughts that I sometimes come up with and be a bit more of a personal blog.

Gulfhaven News will blog updates from my primary business identity.

Links to the other blogs are over on the right of this blog page and, when I’ve worked through the mill later today all three blogs will have links to each other and my various web sites.

You’ll also find links here on this page to some of the other business sites and blogs that I find useful.

Thanks for dropping by, or following me, and I’ll try and keep it interesting and relevant. Let me know what you think.

Having Fun


I claim to have been having fun for 25 years whilst making things happen. I’ll explain more in future posts here, but having fun at work is essential. If you’re not enjoying it you won’t be giving the job what it needs or deserves, so you are letting down your customers, your co-workers, your boss and everyone else around you including yourself.

These are hard times for finding a new job, so maybe you just have to stick it out. I’ve been there and it is hard, but it was in those exact circumstances 25 years ago that I had the revelation about having fun, and I haven’t looked back.

For me it was learning not to take myself so seriously. Yes the job was important, but you can be more serious about your job if you lighten up personally.  I learned to laugh at myself and not be such a pompous ****. As people laughed with me the office became somewhere I started to look forward to being at.

So make today the day you find something to laugh at, and remember, it’s better to make fun of yourself than someone else. Life is short – enjoy it.