#49 – Be careful what you say …

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I recently took a train journey from London Euston to Chester on a weekday morning. The train was not packed with passengers but at my table were two businessmen. As we travelled they spoke and discussed issues with one another in perhaps a careless manner.

They were very clear on a lot of detail. Indeed I soon became very aware of who they were and which company – a known high value retailer – for they were the CEO and his Stores Director. Which company specifically? Well I would rather not say as that dilemma (yes, I did give it a lot of thought) is core really to this blog. Their gross indiscretion is something we should all avoid and to state their names and company would be a similar gross indiscretion on my part!

Let me start with one point they were discussing which really reflects as much on them as it did the issue. One of their staff had posted something via one of the company twitter accounts which they described as problematic and naive. They discussed a disciplinary document and even exchanged views on the draft on an iPad they exchanged between them! My thought was: how is this staff member’s error any different to your own? One put information online that was not best for their company and in the other scenario the CEO and a Director discussed confidential details in a public place within very easy listening of others around them.

Perhaps if their indiscretion related to this single and pressing issue I may have been inclined to ignore their error of judgement but their discussions went on! Opinions were given on two named senior staff – not good opinions at all guys but I won’t name you either. An acquisition was discussed – thankfully without names in this case. I also now know their floor footprint profitabilities and which of their stores performs the best and is run the best and it’s not the obvious one!

These guys did not know who I was, nor my travelling companion (also not named so you don’t badger him to get identities!) I could have been from the Press or media, I could have been from a competitor and I am a member of the public. I have been in some of their stores but after this train journey I might think again before doing so again given that management – very senior management – style.

In reality I don’t think they registered I was there. They did when I sat down and when I left as one of them had to let me in/out. However between time ALL other passengers were non entities and discussion of anything was not an issue for them. I fear their staff are treated the same and their customers are deluded if they feel valued.

What we say online (the Twitter error) can cause problems, as can what we say in a public place or forum. We need to think before we speak. My thoughts on whether to blog this lead me to think there was a message worth sharing – the identities would be sensational but really add nothing to the points being made. If this was a corner shop business it applies the same as to this known high street operation.

The adage “if you would not say it to their face then don’t say it” holds true. Online, in print, vocally present no differences. My decision to blog this was in part to make the point: guys, you thought your discussion was not online but due to your errors now it is! My suggestion would be that they take that disciplinary letter they wrote to the member of staff who had erred on Twitter and remove her name. Then place their own names at the top and send it via HR to themselves. I hope they did not threaten dismissal or it may justifiably back fire on them.

Our public message spans more than what we publicly declare in print or via a speech then. Our discussion of individuals can be unwise. We need to consider what, where and how we discuss things. In the future I will think twice before having a business meeting on a train – it could be you, the reader of this, sat next to me. I hope though if we do meet on a train then I will be a lot more courteous to you and the people I know.

#48 People just wanna have fun …

It seems to be a universal truth that the human race “just wants to have fun”! I live in the beautiful city of York and whenever I go into the centre you see people having fun – holidaying, partying, sight seeing. It is unfortunately true though that not everyone is having fun and enjoying things and sadly they tend not to get noticed. The same can be said by many about their work, which forms a very large part of your waking hours generally. People often change jobs because they didn’t like their job – it wasn’t enjoyable or satisfying. Others hate their work because it isn’t fun but many of those keep quiet and tend not to get noticed too.

Part of the lack of enjoyment in an individuals work can be the drudgery. Tedious or laborious tasks performed over and over again. Mankind is good at removing those tasks over the years by the introduction of machinery and automation. In many countries of the world of course huge labour forces are still employed and I have seen some of this first hand. I have seen factories where the thought goes through your mind that if the number of staff were reduced things might flow better! Even in such situations though the introduction of machinery is welcomed as it makes work less arduous and more enjoyable.

So why mention this and what how does it relate to me/you? Well everyone enjoys doing what they do which leads to a better working environment and better outcomes. At the SDC we have changed some things and automated some tedious tasks. In doing so we now have more enjoyable jobs and those who receive the benefit of our services gain too. We have done some very obvious things that should not excite but sadly (?) do, at least for some of us! So SDC members can now join and renew online – who enjoyed filling in a form, posting it and then when it was received processing it and banking the cheque, whilst the applicant waited for news their membership was in place? Well the anticipation did have some appeal but the system is really not today’s with immediate bank transactions and pay and receive now services.

I am also currently in the midst of migrating our finance system to a different one which will be much more integrated. Again this will I hope remove many of the tedious tasks, speed things up and make the process much more efficient. Unlike membership applications I don’t think anyone ever enjoyed the anticipation of processing financial transactions!

The excitement of new systems and improved processes therefore strikes me as several fold:
1. It means service managers and service users gain more satisfaction from their interactions (and less tedium)
2. It means efficiency savings which can counteract increased costs thus avoiding service cut backs
3. It means you can focus on the information rather than the data.

The latter is very important, after increased service provision and delivery satisfaction and efficiency. Data is a collection of text and numbers and means little beyond itself. It brings to mind those old card file indices for libraries where every book had details recorded on a card that was placed in alphabetical order. The information was when the different data was pulled together – in my early research days this involved trawling the card indices (and shelves) and pulling various data together into a package of information on a specific subject. Today electronic databases make this much more accessible, easy to compile and more meaningful.

My aim is therefore to remove some of the tedium, improve the systems and thereby greatly improve the information we have at our finger tips. These has sadly got me excited. I hope it will get others excited too but am reminding myself that whilst they will get excited it will not be about the impressive systems we have implemented, but the impact they create. We don’t care about which logistics system is being used for a parcel delivery but we are impressed when we told when it will be delivered, which half of the day and get a phone call to inform us it will arrive in the next half hour.

It is the delivery of services we need to keep an eye on and ensure improve. When we do that then dealing with the SDC should be hassle free and even fun. When it’s that then people tell others and our community of members and others we engage with grows. So here’s to fun, underpinned by exciting systems.

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#47 It was only a few characters wrong but …

Recently I slipped up – messed up if you like, although that sounds worse to me as I was the culprit. Basically when asked something I said ‘yes’ without checking, when if I had done so I would have said ‘no’. Fortunately, for me, it got resolved quickly, simply and without consequence really. The person wronged is very forgiving and I’m very grateful. I’d like to think part of the solution was my owning up quickly and addressing the issue! A wrong left can get worse by the hour.

So it was not very different – a three letter word instead of a two letter word but with much different consequences. We need to be careful what we say! The same can apply to context, or language used across cultural boundaries. Meaning and understanding can change with time also. Time can deepen divides if one does not own up to errors.

The “slip up” of mine highlighted to me also about how people interactions are important and yet often fickle. We misunderstand, we assume and soon we are off the mark. It appears to me that if people don’t know, the human trait is to invent and fill in the unknown gap – people easily invent their own truths!

Someone whom I respect recently posted a blog they very soon took down due to concerns expressed to them or concerns of their own – I don’t really know so there I go, inventing the truth! Others started their discussions of what should have been done – I had seen the blog he withdrew but many hadn’t, even though they joined in the discussion of the unseen text!

The SDC has been around for a number of years – in fact since 1884. Over that time of course much will have been said and misunderstood. If you read the ‘Servant of Colour’ book on the history of the SDC you will come across references to some ‘characters’ of times gone by. Quite what was said (or not said?) has been substantially edited, so like above one can start to invent your own truth – not a good idea really – or look at where it has lead to. Those words many years ago have passed into history and people have moved on to different and hopefully greater things.

However, what was said and how others responded to it provides the SDC we have today. Could history have been different? Certainly yes! Would this have meant a better or worse SDC today? No one can say. In fact there is not much point in debating the point as we cannot change history. There’s another truth about the human race I see in many different places and walks (so not just talking about the day job here!) – humans like to debate and discuss the past in some vain attempt to identify a culprit to blame in the hope that somehow will change the present and future!

In summary then people – myself included (!) – can get it wrong, even if it is just a word. I’d highly recommend owning up as soon as possible – unlike the business report I saw this week which found that a huge majority of companies do not own up when they have erred. Linked to this though is a need for us to not invent the truth where we don’t know the facts, or to debate what happened in the hope it will somehow magically change history.

Now you are saying, quite what was it he said yes to? Was it really his fault? Could this be changed to make us different? For answers to all of those questions, see above. When you can read this and don’t have to go back to above, then you’ve got it!

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I am currently carrying out some research using an on-line questionnaire about colour choices by consumers in product design. It would really help me a lot if you would take the survey. It only takes about 1 minute to complete. The link is http://questionpro.com/t/AKSnxZP9ij. Please feel free to share this link.

In a few weeks when the survey is completed you can come back to this page and you can see more details about what we were doing, why we were doing it, and what we found.

Steve

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#46 An attogram or zeptogram of truth

My role is a very varied one but that is part of the great appeal it holds for me. Time to write a blog is linked to the extent of my travels – more travelling, more blogs. So from a high speed intercity train I find time to reflect on another varied day and what opportunities it has brought into the scope of possibilities.

Today I learnt what an attogram and a zeptogram are: 10-18 and 10-21 grams, which is a really small amount. The extent of extreme small scale had only reached femtograms for me prior to this. These tiny, tiny amounts can easily be contaminated from air, breath or clothing, so if they are to be measured then extreme care and conditions are required. Indeed, measurement at these levels is arguably meaningless, as false positives are almost to be expected and variation in measurement levels guaranteed. The discussion was concerning a potential collaborative conference on holistic approaches to effluent monitoring and not merely a pursuit of zero levels.
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In other areas today the impact of tiny, tiny amounts was changed for the impact and relevance of the comments of a few or indeed an individual. Is a lone voice an attogram or zeptogram in opinion terms? Small and almost immeasurable but with debatable significant effect? When we deal with a huge volume or weight of compelling information then decisions and directions are easy. When we deal with a balance of information the decisions become harder and, when the volumes or weights are tiny, then decisions are very difficult indeed.

The thing is, a lot of small decisions build up, and today I had small and not so small discussions with the SDC President, SDC Honorary Secretary and the Chair of the SDC Board of Trustees. These small decisions add up and become significant. Each comment adds its weight to a collective approach and I am pleased to say with each heading in a similar direction.

The collaborative conference will involve sectors other than textiles, but for the SDC with an area of interest on water intakes and discharges with respect to colour and water quality. These collaborative discussions are a bit like attograms and zeptograms – very small beginnings with potential for false positives but underlying with some level of truth and information. Like a lone voice they can develop and grow and are worthy of at least consideration.

The SDC is diversifying its areas of focus. Previously even the discussion of this would have been unknown. Someone usually at this point mentions that what I am doing is not new and was tried before, usually without success. This may have been the case but the thing about false positives is that they are not all false – some are actually true positives! Previous lack of success should prompt more tries. What is the saying – planning nothing is always successful?

Zeptograms can get larger, as can lone voices. False positives may some times become real positives. The collective opinion and discussions can start to make things happen and that is where I see the SDC is at. Small changes becoming significant and positive. Changes so small though that some may dismiss or deny them, but small changes all the same. My perception is that positive changes are growing and being seen by more and more individuals.

An attogram today can be the kilogram tomorrow!scale_of_justice