Bubble Chamber CIC

Running, Learning and Kipling

Since my last blog a few weeks ago, the miles and my training programme have certainly been cranking up. One more big run at 22 miles and then I can enjoy the taper (alternatively known as legitimately doing little exercise!).

Since my football rant the big news is that Newcastle FC have belatedly employed a new manager who has a track record for knowing what he’s doing. He has a purpose and vision for how the team should play and that’s a big relief. I’m not sure how the board finally got there (as usual they made a complete horlicks of getting to the point), but I hope that ripping up the old blueprint lasts. It’s taken just eight years to get a strategy – isn’t it amazing what happens when there’s £100 million at stake?

And that’s my last mention of football. I promise. Really.

What was occupying my mind on my last long run was the question of ‘core habits’. I’ve been reading running blogs and taking friends’ advice and there are a number of habits you can develop that give you a chance of being successful (rather than just getting around).

I’ve been focusing on dynamic stretching before starting, having the right breakfast, keeping properly hydrated, giving each run a purpose, then stretching to warm down and using a roller. Wow. Does it really make a difference when you do all of these things? Well, it certainly takes longer to hit the frightening “wall” and I’m not aching so much the next day, so the training plan is definitely getting easier.

It’s the same in enterprise – you can develop a great strategy on paper but the organisation needs to have a number of core habits embedded to make it effective and also to develop an enterprising culture. As well as using Strategy on a Page, here at Bubble Chamber we work with our customers on building these core habits – Plan/Do/Review, time management, coaching, effective meetings, leadership development, feedback, flowcharting and developing confidence in using numbers.

All of these habits are important for embedding strategy into an organisation’s culture but one of the key ones that stands out for me is the Plan/Do/Review (PDR) cycle, which comes from David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. A number of different variations – Plan/Do/Study/Act (or you can swap Study for Check) – are credited to Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who is considered by many to be the father of modern quality control.

For me, PDR is the key for learning within an organisation as it ensures a consistent approach to all projects (however big or small), ensuring a clear focus and a reduction in wasted effort. It maximises enthusiasm and effectiveness.

PDR is simply a description of the key steps that have to happen in the correct order within a learning process. It starts with a Plan, setting out what you want to do. Then the Doing of that plan takes place, followed by the Review of the results. Then, based on the review, you update the plan to start the cycle again.

This is a universal tool that is always of use, from the smallest plan to the biggest. The steps are always the same; it is simply their scale and complexity that changes with the size of the project. I never thought I would refer to Kipling in a business blog BUT any plan can be created by answering the following key questions, often referred to as Kipling’s six honest men.

“I keep six honest serving men
 (They taught me all I knew); their names are What and Why and When
 and How and Where and Who”.

In most cases, the answers can be written on one page. On the occasions when that isn’t possible the questions stay the same but the answers simply require more detail. Always start with the Why, then the What, Who, When and Where in that order before diving into the detailed How.

But also ask “why?” at the end of each question as a double check to ensure everything references the original purpose. It is always possible that details will be added to these questions once the How is fleshed out but doing it in this order gives the How maximum focus and lessens the chances that key elements will be missed.

In my last last blog, I highlighted the why/purpose as being at the heart of any strategy (defined as a plan for a major result). Personally, I like the one page approach for any strategy or project, as it really gets you to clarify your answers and be clear on your direction of travel.

I’ve been around the learning cycle for my running training a number of times now and, although you can know the theory and have a good plan, I’ve found there is the issue of having the ‘talent’ to deliver it!

And there’s suffering a little of Albert Einstein’s famous saying to consider as well:

“Insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

So, back to the training plan and the accumulation of those hard miles….

My next blog will be on Talent Dynamics.

Running (Your Organisation) with Purpose

So, somehow my brother-in-law persuaded me to run a marathon this year. Beer and bravado probably had something to do with it. Now, I’m not built like your traditional runner but I’m really enjoying some serious mileage each week.

Apart from the physical challenge there’s the mental aspect of cranking out those miles. To help with this I went back to a book I read a number of years ago called ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’, a classic by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. He’s a bit of a legend: 25 marathons, 11 novels and some crazy ultra marathons.

I’ve decided to take a proverbial leaf out of the book – that is if you substitute being a novelist for being a social enterprise coach and consultant.

When working with organisations, we always start with the personal and organisational purposewhy are we doing this? If we don’t get this right then the business is simply not going to work. So, taking some of my own medicine, I’ve had to think about why I’m running, if I’m to have half a chance of getting through this marathon and that scary thing called the ‘wall’. I realised I need to get some focus.

Craziness, fitness, raising money for charity, challenging myself & wanting to get a faster time than my brother-in-law are a number of reasons that spring to mind. But thinking this through, it’s not clear as some or all of these are relevant and valid reasons.

This is a common mistake organisations make when they are not clear and have too many “whys”. When pushed, I would say the main reason for me to run is that, having got to the other side of 40, I want to challenge myself. Having defined this, I now know that I should be planning for the THE BIG RESULT, that is the marathon.

Back in Enterprise life, if you know why you are doing something, where you want to go to (Vision), and where you are positioning yourself in the market, then devising a growth strategy becomes a lot easier.

A good organisational example of not knowing why they exist, which is close to my heart, is that of Newcastle United Football Club. From a fan’s perspective, the club has been directionless for about eight years now. Some would say they do know the “why” – the club just acts as a shop front or giant billboard for Sports Direct and the owner’s passion.

Other “whys” include making as much money as possible (another passion) through buying cheap young players with high sell-on values, while just staying in the Premiership and getting stupid amounts of TV money. And, at the same time, cutting the costs of running the club to the bone.

Another key thing about purpose is aligning it with the different stakeholders involved. In Newcastle’s case, the fans want a team that at least tries, provides some entertainment and is a good representation of the region. The players know it is just a stepping-stone to getting sold to another club, so there’s no loyalty. Fans, players and the people who run the club all have different purposes.

The result of this? Well if you know the current state of football, you can look at Newcastle and see we’ve got one giant mess of an organisation! Not knowing the “why” has led to numerous mistakes in sales, marketing, operational, finance and people strategies.

The club is certainly not growing. The owner and board do not understand the marketplace. Even the owner’s purpose of using the club as a shop front for Sports Direct seems less than logical, as a poorly run and performing club is not the best brand advertisement. Or so it seems to me.

Well, rant over – perhaps a long run this weekend will run it off. Another 18 miles to ponder all things Strategy and Social Enterprise!