Category Archives: Life & Style

ISM2015: Somebody brought jazz to an exhibition hall…

This article is part of a series about Hugo’s visit to ISM2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. Today Hugo discovers that Talk Radio and Jazz music have found a home on the exhibition floor…

20150504_135218_resized_1

So, it turns out that it does rain in Phoenix after all. The storm started while I was trundling through the city on the light rail to my hotel just north of downtown, and was at its heaviest by the time I alighted. I didn’t have a chance of staying dry and was soaked to the skin before I’d made it even half the distance. And I really do mean soaked to the skin – sopping shirt, pants, shoes, socks, even the papers in my pocket turned into a pulpy mess. I hurried on, praying that my bag would keep the water from reaching my laptop (incredibly, it did – thanks Crumpler), and sloshed my way into the hotel foyer to be greeted by gales of laughter from the staff behind the front desk. “Man, I’d hate to feel the way you look,” said one wise-cracking security guard.

Anyway. Dry and warm now, and ready to write. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the conference centre this morning was a jazz band in full swing, just like the conference itself. As expected, the crowd was much thicker than yesterday, the stairways and escalators jammed with a slow-moving mass of people. I visited the press room and met some lovely media experts, namely Mike Scott of MCCI Integrated Marketing, followed by Jennifer Shore of ThomasNet and Erin Vadala, Sadie Smith and Dawn Ringel of Warner Communications. To my foreigner’s ears, I thought Dawn introduced herself as “Don” but it’s just those pesky differences in accent again (I’d pronounce it “Dorn”). Don/Dawn invited me to two exciting press conferences (more information to come soon) and I walked out feeling I now had plenty of support and a home base at the conference.

Walking the exhibit hall floor

Downstairs, the wraps had come off the exhibit hall and delegates were pouring through the doors. I spent every spare minute today wandering around the hall, overwhelmed at first by no fewer than 120 exhibitors showing their products and services. I found my way to the pile of bagels and huge vats of Starbucks coffee at the centre of the floor to fortify myself before making my way through the aisles in a methodical manner.

There is such a wealth of information to be found at these exhibitions and I quickly gave up trying to collect all the documents and samples on offer. Some of these companies are offering similar products and competing for the delegates’ business, but one of the first things I noticed was the huge range of services on offer. From travel management to security services, ERP systems to research offerings, credit and staffing agencies, fleet management, universities, media companies, risk management solutions and more. I came to a stop at the booth belonging to PADT Inc. (Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies), where I goggled at the 3D printer like a country bumpkin seeing his first escalator. Eric Miller, a 3D printing guru, had a rapidly-growing pile of plastic gizmos sitting on the counter that the machine was churning out – little ISM2015 badges, plastic gears and something that looked a bit like a Rubik’s Cube. I decided then and there that I would attend Eric’s session that morning to try to understand a little more about the technology.

I’d noticed a couple of middle-aged gentlemen wandering around in gaudy yellow jackets, black shirts and yellow ties yesterday, and discovered them sitting under a sign for “Manufacturing Talk Radio” in the middle of a live broadcast. They were interviewing one of the exhibitors who was eager to get the word out about his company, asking him questions in that deep, booming voice you only hear from radio folk who’ve spent decades talking into a microphone.

20150505_103516_resized_1

As I walked past the displays, the exhibitors would catch my attention and wave me over to tell me about what they do and what’s on offer. There are so many companies here, most of which I’d never heard of back home apart from the very biggest players. I was particularly impressed by a demonstration given by Kristin Carty of ThomasNet, a very famous name in US procurement. ThomasNet is the modern incarnation of Thomas’ Register of American Manufacturers, a 34-volume buying guide offering sourcing information for thousands of products. It was first published in 1898, meaning that my friendly host Kirsty could point with confidence to 117 years of sourcing and supplier discover knowledge passed down through her organisation. It’s lucky they’ve gone digital since the nineteenth century because ThomasNet now has 700,000 US and Canadian suppliers in its database, split into 60,000 categories. The magic is in the search tool, where Kirsty showed me how to qualify suppliers by location, ownership type (diversity) and quality certifications. Each supplier has a detailed information pack available at the click of a button, including product and capability catalogues, line cards, 2D and 3D CAD drawings, case studies, white papers, photos, videos, news releases, key contacts, brands distributed or manufactured, financial information and more. It’s free to use and it’s in suppliers’ best interests to be on the ThomasNet database and to provide as much supplementary information as possible to help buyers make their choice. I’ll be meeting with ThomasNet again tomorrow as they’re one of the sponsors and key drivers of the “30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars” initiative – but I’ll save that for another blog.

As I hurried off to the 3D printing conference session, I was again struck by the buzz in the hall. All around me, people were networking, chatting and laughing, yet underneath the friendly atmosphere I was aware that the exhibitors were locking in some major agreements worth untold amounts with those delegates who had the authority to make a deal on the spot. For some, the exhibit hall floor is the focal point and the major reason for attending the conference, with all of the educative sessions an added bonus, while others may see things the other way around.

Discover more about the Institute for Supply Management (ISM)
Hugo works for The Faculty in Melbourne

Correct Pronunciation Matters

Correct Pronunciation Matters

How often do you meet a new person and have difficulty remembering their name?

What do you do when you can’t pronounce a name?

How do you ask a person how to pronounce their name without coming across as rude?

These questions came to mind as I was working with a mining organisation last week. I met a South African person who came to Australia a few years ago to work on a Queensland mine.  His name is spelt as ‘Dawid’ and pronounced as ‘Dahwid’.  Shortly after arriving in Australia Dawid realised that his colleagues were referring to him as ‘David’ in their verbal and more formal communications.  Dawid gave his name great thought, questioning whether he should simply change his name to David to make life easier for those around him and to assist him to ‘fit in’ to life in Australia.

As our lives become more globalised we find ourselves encountering people with unfamiliar names more and more.  Correct pronunciation and remembering unfamiliar names can be both challenging and anxiety provoking; it isn’t as though we can turn to a dictionary or ask others for help when we are ‘in the moment’.

Correct pronunciation of names demonstrates respect and cultural awareness, it can guide our first impressions, judgements and biases.  Foreign names, differing order of names, multiple family names, accents and dialects are just some of the name challenges that we need to successfully navigate.

Some name pronunciation tips are:

  • When you are initially introduced, try to use the name within the first few minutes of your meeting.  Ask the person to correct you if you mispronounce their name.
  • Keep your tone casual and friendly if you are making corrections.
  • When you find yourself wanting to correct a mispronunciation, try simply restating your name. It will assist the other party to remember and correct any mistakes on their behalf.
  • Remember that your name is possibly equally as difficult for them to pronounce, so help them. Give your name phonetically, as well as the spelling and remind them that they should feel free to ask you for any help remembering or pronouncing your name.
  • Show curiosity.  Ask people the story of their names.  In many cultures names have a meaningful background and are steeped in tradition. Not only does this create a dialogue but it will also help you to recall their name in the future.
  • Speak up early if you have trouble.  If you can’t pronounce or remember a name don’t let time pass; remember it becomes even more difficult as time goes on.

As Dawid decided to keep his birth name, he highlighted to me the impact that the mispronunciation of his name had for him.  Mispronunciation can appear insignificant on the surface, but can have far reaching consequences that you may never be aware of.  Be mindful that expectations, bias and credibility can all be damaged by name mispronunciation. The reality is that we are never going to pronounce names correctly all of the time, and occasionally we will forget a person’s name; but by demonstrating our efforts through some simple questions and behaviours we have a better chance of succeeding.  This can go a long way to improving first impressions and long-term relations.

ISM2015: The human factor in Total Cost of Ownership

This article is part of a series about Hugo’s visit to ISM2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. Today Hugo listened to Thomas J. Kull, Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management (Arizona State University) discuss behaviour under uncertainty with the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) model.

Total cost of ownership

I attended this session for two reasons – a) this talk was marked as “essential” level, and b) I’d pretended to know what TCO was recently in a discussion with a senior consultant at the office, so this was my chance to find out.

Thomas Kull researchers behavioural and risk issues in the supply chain, and has recently turned his attention to minimising uncertainty in the TCO model. In other words, he’s interested in the human side. And there’s a big human side – due to the estimation involved, there are a number of points of subjectivity that are necessarily part of this process.

Kull structured his presentation around a typical TCO model before exploring modes of socio-psychological influences and their implications for practising TCO.

The typical TCO methodology is to try to boil down all the ramifications that go along with a certain spend item to a hard dollar figure. It is then used to determine and compare alternatives. This figure should be captured before you acquire the spend item or venture into a relationship with the supplier. To capture the ramifications of using the item, purchase price, acquisition costs, usage costs and end-of-life costs are estimated using the following steps:

  1. Process mapping and TCO categories
  2. Subcategory elements identification
  3. Cost element measurement
  4. Data gathering and cost estimation
  5. Cost timeline mapping
  6. Present value determination.

There are costs involved before the item is acquired: the costs of the negotiation process, the system necessary to put in place, extensive contract review processes, the management structure needed for managing the relationship. There are a lot of estimates here, and Kull notes that we don’t usually bring crystal balls to the office with us, so judgement, experience and knowledge are essential.

Kull presented a typical TCO Model example for buying computers that has a dollar figure down to a very exact number (two decimal places), and demonstrated how full it is of values and judgements. He advised that CPOs should be suspicious of an exact dollar figure and always ask to be shown where the guesses are. Some systems give ranges because they know there’s a lot of uncertainty. He noted that of all the cost categories, Usage Costs are often the bulk of the pricing and also the bulk of the subjectivity.

Kull then took us through a brief run-down of social psychology at different levels with some fascinating examples for each – person-centric, team-centric, organisation-centric and society-centric. Each level had uncertainty or ambiguity that can potentially result in inaccurate estimates and inappropriate actions. Some of the behaviour included:

  • Evaluability bias – the tendency to weight the importance of an attribute in proportion to its ease of evaluation, meaning people devalue certain elements because they are too hard to evaluate. Also leads to higher risk perception and risk avoidance.
  • Group polarisation. Kull ran through studies that demonstrated the dangers of “group think” – people in a group tend to get carried away and take a decision to the extreme, resulting in a very high or very low cost estimate, but never the middle-ground.
  • Decision norm. Managers will often prefer to use their gut feeling despite evidence presented to them, and 50% of companies are structured to prevent the effective use of analytics to manage this. Decisions can be made on an intuitive versus a rational basis.
  • Dimensions of culture. Some cultures have a high level of assertiveness (take the “just do it” US stereotype) while others have a high tendency towards uncertainty avoidance. High assertiveness has the benefit of giving people greater control over an outcome, while high uncertainty avoidance leads more collective responsibility, system and tools.

Kull also pointed out that while we do a TCO for comparisons’ sake, people often “have a decision made before they have to make a decision”. Perhaps unintentionally, they add bias because they want a certain result.

So, what’s the solution? Kull had some ideas but also put out a call for procurement organisations to help advance his research into this topic. He suggested:

  • When using TCO, be relative and comparative – not absolute.
  • Smart global players adapt to local culture, let their systems adapt and don’t try to take a generic approach.
  • To fix group-think, ensure you have diversity of opinion within your TCO team – this is where a devil’s advocate (contrarian) plays an important role.
  • Use 3rd party or secondary data for triangulation.
  • Get to know the potential biases in your TCO and embrace them.

Kull concluded by stressing the importance of people in the TCO process. By its nature, TCO makes the people who are part of it very valuable. If we were just evaluating quotes, we wouldn’t need supply chain professionals with MBAs – it’s the judgement, experience and knowledge that are critical to making those subjective estimates.

Well, that’s it from me for today. As I mentioned above, tomorrow is looking to be a massive day for ISM2015 – I’ll be meeting my fellow members of the press, joining a media conference, and of course attending some more of the fascinating conference sessions.

Robert Gates summarises the state of the world at ISM2015

This article is part of a series about Hugo’s visit to ISM2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. Today he tells the memoirs of a secretary at war…

Robert Gates talked at ISM2015

Robert Gates is undoubtedly the most high-profile speaker I’ve had the chance to listen to in the flesh. Former Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defence under two very different US presidents, George W Bush and Barack Obama, Gates made the point that over his career in Washington he actually worked for no fewer than eight presidents.

He began by putting out a request to the assembled businesspeople to hire some of the million soldiers, sailors and airmen leaving military service over the next few years who will be looking for fulfilling careers, saying that they will be some of the most resourceful candidates available for hire. Gates comes across as somewhat pessimistic throughout most of his speech, except when he touches on the subject of servicemen and servicewomen, speaking optimistically and warmly of the great potential of America’s youth.

He’s scathing about Washington DC, referring to it as the “city of egos” and he is no fan of LBJ, a big fan of Reagan, and speaks of the surprising similarities in the leadership styles and strategic choices made by George Bush and Barack Obama. The continuity of security policy across the last two years of Bush’s presidency and the first two years of Obama’s was in no small part due to Gate’s presence, with fundamental national interests and strategic choices remaining steady. He notes, however, that the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is blamed equally on Bush for invading, and Obama for withdrawing too soon.

After this brief introduction including some jokes about stupidity in Washington DC and LBJ’s stupendous ego, Gates launches on an absolutely fascinating summary of the state of the world’s security situation. He begins with the consequences and message sent by Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, widens his focus to the whole of the Middle East; ISIS, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iran and his grave concerns about the recent nuclear agreement, Yemen, Egypt, Turkey, Jordon, Lebanon – before turning east to the unsustainable growth of China and north to Putin’s Russia, Ukraine and the Crimea before finishing with Cuba. He has an all-encompassing world-view and draws repeatedly on history – WWII, the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the hopelessness of artificially created borders drawn up by the victorious powers after WWI. Some notable quotes from this part of his speech include:

  • “If we treat China as an enemy it will very soon become one.”
  • “Nationalism is easily stoked but hard to control.”
  • “We can expect more attempts by Russia to thwart US influence.”
  • “The greatest challenge to national security and the global economy is not an international threat – it can be found in the two square miles around Capitol Hill in Washington.”

Gates then pulled his focus back to the US and told the audience that in his opinion, all of the county’s security woes were self-inflicted. He dwelt on the cuts to defence spending and the instability caused by the withdrawal of US world leadership. He touched on the low rating given to terrorism risk in the audience poll [see previous blog post], agreeing with the 5% figure and noting that terrorist attacks were not an existential threat but rather something that can be managed and suppressed (on American soil, at least) in much the same way as crime. He points out that attacks like Fort Hood, the Boston Bombing and Charlie Hebdo are not disruptive in that they do not affect people’s ability to carry on with their lives and continue to do business.

To summarise the main take-outs for procurement professionals from Gate’s speech:

  • Supply chain disruption from global/cataclysmic conflict has diminished dramatically while the potential for localised conflict is very high.
  • International commerce, energy supplies, freedom of navigation and other factors that affect supply chains depend not on events happening overseas but on decisions made in the US.
  • When doing business with the Middle East and North Africa, most states have a good deal of stability apart from the ones already regarded as “failed” – Syria, Libya, Yemen, potentially Lebanon and Iraq.
  • On negotiation: the worst possible position to be in is an unwillingness to walk away from the negotiation table.
  • Hypocrisy in supply chain ethics: the US sources rare earth minerals from China despite its human rights record, titanium from Russia despite its aggression.
  • Young people he has seen (particularly those in uniform) are of an extraordinary quality – they’re smart, eager and they care about things.
  • The most important trait for a leader is a willingness to surround yourself with smart people and listen to them.

Gates received a standing ovation from an audience that knew how privileged they were to hear from such a great mind. A brilliant opener to ISM2015 that really set the standard for the rest of the conference.

Notes from ISM2015: `The future demands us to innovate!`

phoenix convention center for ISM2015

This article is part of a series about Hugo’s visit to ISM2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. Here Hugo swaps sweeping desert for expansive conference floor…

First impressions? The Phoenix Convention Centre is spectacular, both on the inside and outside. Architecturally stunning like most of downtown Phoenix, the building looks like it could easily absorb ISM2015 three times over with room to spare, though I’m yet to see what it’s like with every delegate crowding into the building. The Exhibit Hall remained tantalisingly closed today while the exhibitors set up their displays, so I wandered around the accessible areas with my lanyard around my neck and showbag full of procurement-related goodies in my hand. I even stepped into the neighbouring performing arts centre to get a glimpse of the concert hall but was hustled out by security.

As a guest blogger, I have a ‘media’ badge attached to my lanyard, which I think is pretty cool. I’d like to stick it in the ribbon of my hat the way reporters wore their press IDs in old movies, but a) people might think I’m strange, and b) I don’t have a ribbon on my hat. I’ve been invited to the press room tomorrow morning, which I envision as filled with tobacco-smoke and weathered reporters tapping furiously on noisy typewriters (I know, I watch too many old movies). It’s more likely to be a plain room with PowerPoint capabilities and a handy Wi-Fi connection.

The crowd waiting for the first keynote speaker was buzzing with chatter, making me appreciate that aside from the huge line-up of events, perhaps the single most important aspect of this conference was the networking. ISM has put plenty of time aside to dedicate to networking – there’s a welcome reception tonight, two networking breakfasts, two “dessert receptions” over the lunch hour (I like the sound of that) and networking receptions in the exhibitor hall at the end of each day, for which I am the excited holder of two complimentary drink vouchers. Everyone in the crowd before me is chatting – and I mean everyone. No one is standing by themselves looking lost or awkward, which can be attributed either to the fact that everyone in procurement knows each other, or perhaps they’ve all been to ISM conferences in the past, or maybe it’s just the convivial American temperament that makes it so easy to meet new people. I can pick out a few different languages and accents in the crowd – a fair number of Chinese attendees, some UK accents, French and Spanish speakers and the full spectrum of regional accents from all over the States. I haven’t picked up any Aussie accents just yet, but I’ll keep my ears open tomorrow.

One of the most difficult parts of attending ISM2015 is the sheer volume of events that run concurrently. For example, if I attend a two-and-a-quarter-hour “Signature Session” tomorrow morning, I’ll be missing out on no fewer than twenty-four other sessions – just incredible. It demonstrates the sheer size of this event and makes selection a hand-wringing process, but ISM comes to attendees’ assistance by offering Learning Tracks and audience levels. The Learning Tracks create a clear pathway through the bewildering array of sessions that you can choose to follow, or to mix and match as I have done. The Tracks are:

  1. High Performing Value Chain Management
  2. Best Practices in Procurement
  3. Strategic Partnership
  4. Risk Management
  5. Leadership Strategies
  6. Delivering Financial Results
  7. Strategic Profitable Growth

Each event has a Learning Track listed against it and also a recommended audience level:

  • Essentials (for professionals new to supply chain management)
  • Experienced (next level up)
  • Leadership (professionals in executive and leadership positions with more than ten years of experience).

ISM has also created a handy App to select events, create a schedule, give feedback and other features. I’ll definitely need it tomorrow when I’m dashing from session to session all over the massive convention centre.

ISM in the spotlight

ISM knows how to put on a show. Even though the grand opening is tomorrow morning and the conference crowd is not yet at full size, this keynote speech is the first official event of the conference. The lights suddenly dim in the cavernous hall (massive, but not even the biggest in the building), the crowd falls silent and a single figure stands on stage in a spotlight. “The future demands us to innovate!” he begins, sharing a vision of the future for procurement. He is followed by five other illuminated figures, all beginning with the formula “the future demands”.

This is the theme of the conference. ISM turns 100 this year, but the CEO Thomas Derry tells us that the organisation is looking to the future. Derry introduces the crowd to the innovative snap poll system where we used our phones there and then to vote on a question put to the audience. As a researcher I was very impressed to see the bar graph on the big screen rapidly changing as responses flowed in to the question: “What global threats are most likely to disrupt your business or supply chains?” Results were:

  • Economic collapse abroad: 39%
  • War or terrorism: 5%
  • Direct or indirect cyber-attacks: 30%
  • Natural disasters: 20%
  • Other: 6%

The surprises for me here were the low score for terrorism and the high score for cyber-attacks – a flick through the program confirmed there’s an entire conference session devoted to protecting against cyber-attacks, so this is certainly front-of-mind in the procurement world.

After a few more preliminaries, the audience bursts into applause as the familiar figure of Robert Gates, former Director of the CIA and US Secretary of Defence, steps onto the stage. It’s not often you get to hear from someone who has directly shaped the history of the modern world, and he didn’t disappoint.

ISM2015 Annual Conference: A near-death experience on Camelback Mountain

In the first of a series of articles, The Faculty’s Hugo Britt takes us on a journey to the Institute of Supply Management’s annual conference. But first he must contend with Camelback Mountain…

Camelback-Mountain

Today, in Phoenix Arizona, I climbed the stairwell of the Empire State Building. Well, not the Empire State itself, but rather its equivalent – the Echo Canyon Trail to the peak of Mount Camelback. That’s what the colourful sign at the trailhead told me, anyway, along with a dire warning (unheeded) about the difficulty of trail. But more on that later. I’m here in Phoenix to attend the ISM2015 Annual Conference, one of the premier events for procurement professionals internationally.

First off, I’d like to thank my hosts at ISM (for those not in the know, ISM is the Institute for Supply Management, one of the largest supply management associations in the world) for their generous invitation and my employer, The Faculty Management Consultants, for supporting my attendance.

Today was only a short day at ISM2015, with a keynote speaker and a single conference session, so for this initial entry I thought I’d set the scene with my experiences as a first-time visitor to the US (not counting Hawaii) and my near-death experience on Camelback. The conference’s grand opening is in fact tomorrow, which promises to be an action-packed day full of procurement gems that I’ll be sure to share with you.

To introduce myself, I’m a 30-something-year-old research consultant from Melbourne, Australia, who doesn’t do particularly well in the heat. I’m lucky to have landed in Arizona in spring, as a 30 o C day is much more bearable than Phoenix’s hottest-recorded summer high of 50o C. Even at 30 degrees, I’m dashing from shade patch to shade patch, wearing my battered old akubra that I thought may pass for the local cowboy hat (it doesn’t). As suggested by my job title, I’m a researcher specialising in procurement, but it’s early days yet – I only joined The Faculty in November 2014 and as such am in what I call “sponge mode”, soaking up everything I can on how procurement works with the long-term goal of becoming a procurement guru like my colleagues at the office. The sponge metaphor is actually quite apt, as my expectation that procurement would be a dry topic was very quickly overturned when I discovered the industry to be absolutely fascinating with boundless areas of investigation, a truly international outlook and incredibly passionate people.

I flew in on Saturday afternoon on a 50-seater jet out of Los Angeles. Bleary from the previous 13-hour leg from Melbourne, I was nodding off when a glance out the window jolted me into full wakefulness. The desert below me was just incredible – blinding white sands, abrupt rocky ranges, dried river systems spreading through the landscape like bronchioles, and patchwork clusters of irrigated farms around the two major waterways visible from the air, the Salton Sea and Colorado River. Phoenix itself swung into view and my first thought was how improbable its very existence seemed in such a hostile landscape. The sprawling suburbs hold 4.3 million people, with row upon row of identical terracotta-coloured rooftops and tiny pools glinting in backyards. The city centre itself (“downtown” in local parlance) seems very compact from the air and I strained in my seat to pick out the Phoenix Convention Centre, the venue for ISM2015.

downtown phoenix

Americanisms

Now, I know there’ll be some American readers of this blog who may be puzzled by my harping on certain parts of my experience, but some things seem so quintessentially “American” that I can’t resist including them here for non-US readers. Namely:

  • Tipping – so straightforward to Americans yet a minefield for foreigners like me. Who should I tip? Everyone that I make a monetary transaction with who isn’t a machine? How much? Have I offended by giving too little? Did I just give that waiter way too much?
  • American fare – my room service menu offers the following delights:
    • Jalapeno bacon and pistachio brittle
    • Tater tots
    • Sweet potato fries with marshmallow drizzle and candied pecans
    • Quico corn nut pie
    • Crispy chicken wings with blue cheese dressing
    • Fried whisky sour pickles with horseradish buttermilk dressing.
  • Super-friendliness – people from Phoenix (Phoenicians?) go out of their way to say hello to strangers – lovely!

How I nearly died on Camelback Mountain

I only had one gap in my schedule to go on an outing, so on Sunday morning I took it. I was up bright and early to grab a hotel breakfast (Fruit Loops; don’t tell my wife), jumped in a cab and headed to Camelback via Paradise Valley. The aforementioned sign at the trailhead warned that the second half of the climb was rated “extremely difficult”, at which I scoffed merrily and started on up. Ten minutes later I was still scoffing about the overblown rating when the sun heaved itself above the range … and I was flattened. It was hot. Heat was beating down upon my hat, reflecting off the rock walls on either side of me, shimmering up from the rock face at my feet – awful. My steady trot slowed down to a sweaty crawl (literally a crawl in some sections that required hands as well as feet) and I cursed my hubris. But the heat wasn’t what nearly killed me. What nearly killed me was narrowly avoiding stepping on a Mohave Rattlesnake on the edge of the path. I’m pretty good at understanding American accents, but I wasn’t quick enough to interpret what the guy behind me was yelling. I thought he said something like “heaven’s sake”, but he was actually warning, “there’s a snake” just before my foot when down right next to its head and, thankfully, it darted under a rock rather than going for my ankle. I also saw two fat-bellied Chuckwallas (we call them goannas back home), the Saguaro Cactus (a local icon which grows up to 50 feet tall) and the squat Compass Barrel Cactus.

mohave rattlesnake

Standing on the top, I was rewarded with an incredible panorama of the city and surrounding peaks disappearing into the haze. Phoenix is greener than you’d expect, especially in the wealthier areas, and of course the city’s famous golf courses. I was looking down on a particularly beautiful course directly below Camelback, wondering if it was the location of the first event of the conference, the ISM2015 golf tournament. I’d chosen to climb a peak rather than play golf (I can imagine my golf-mad colleague Chris shaking his head in dismay as he reads this) but the rewarding view convinced me I’d made the right choice. Besides, I hadn’t packed my chequered knickerbockers (or whatever it is that golfers wear).

Gravitas skills are key to unlocking door to boardrooms for women

Less than 25 per cent of board members of FTSE 100 companies are women…

Getting women into the boardroom

Britain’s boardrooms would change from ‘male and pale’ if more would-be leaders learnt to develop the skill of gravitas, according to author and leadership communications coach, Antoinette Dale Henderson. 

Antoinette regularly speaks on leadership identity, influencing with integrity, building inner confidence and communication excellence. In 2007, she launched Zomi Communications to commit to that mission, working with people to identify their purpose and define their unique leadership voice.

“Women, younger people and people from ethnic minorities often face particular challenges in tackling misconceptions about gravitas needed for the boardroom and that needs to stop” – says Antoinette.

“Gravitas is not an inherent trait – but it is an essential skill for successful leaders. My aim is to turn the old-school image of gravitas on its head and demonstrate that it’s a skill that can be developed by anyone who wants to fulfil their potential as a manager or leader. This book will help anyone, no matter what level of experience to use their own individuality to command respect and make a lasting impression. “

Leading with Gravitas is based on research conducted with a broad range of leaders including politicians, business and community executives, small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Her book aims to demystify the concept of ‘gravitas’ through exploring what it means for Britain’s successful leaders. Using a six-key model, it explores what the reader can do to develop their own gravitas and leadership style through practical exercises and tools.

Developing your own gravitas and leadership style

There are a number of practical exercises and tools which will allow you to develop your own gravitas.

The following is encouraged:

•Gain a clear understanding of the vital components of gravitas by analysing how you currently perform and what you can do to improve
•Increase awareness of your unique expertise and qualities as an authentic leader
•Access a range of powerful techniques to help communicate and present with impact
•Enhance your confidence, influence and ability to inspire others and deliver results
•Harness your passion and individuality to maximise leadership presence and project your best self

More information about Antoinette and her learnings can be found at www.leadingwithgravitas.com

Top five ways mindfulness can help you in the workplace

Work-life stress is taking its toll on the nation

A new study has revealed that cases of anxiety and stress are on the rise and taking their toll on our careers – in fact, other than being poorly, stress and depression are listed as the top reason people take time off work with one in five respondents admitting to taking time off work due to stress.

Is work-life stress taking its toll?

The research, which questioned 1,000 respondents and was commissioned by Anamaya to examine the impact our stress levels have on both our work and home lives, also revealed that more than half of us (52 per cent) actually only feel fully relaxed for just a couple of hours each week.

So what’s the answer?

Almost a third (32 per cent) of people questioned acknowledged that they felt mind training and meditation could make a real difference to their day to day stress levels but a quarter were unsure how to integrate mind training into their busy schedules.

Graham Doke, founder and narrator of the Anamaya app and ex-city lawyer, comments: “The majority of us have experienced how, at one point or another, the stress and strains of our work life can be brought back home with us on an evening. If not addressed, this stress can have a detrimental impact on our lives.

“When you look at the US and UK firms that have introduced mindfulness in the workplace, the results are overwhelming and show that simply taking 5-10 minutes out during your work day to focus on mindfulness, relaxation or to meditate, can have some truly remarkable results.”

Last year the US trend of focussing on mindfulness in the workplace began to take off in the UK, with firms such as the NHS and Transport For London introducing mindfulness and meditation sessions for their staff. 

The top five ways mindfulness can help you in the workplace:

1. Increased awareness of your emotions – office politics, rivalry, jealousy and competitiveness can all have a major impact on your work experience.  When executed properly, meditation and mindfulness training can increase awareness of emotions and the awareness of other’s emotion – helping you to control your reactions and be more aware when people are trying to provoke.

2. Manage anxiety levels – anxiety is proven to be an inhibiter of good performance, and it produces a self-feeding cycle of greater anxiety and stress. Awareness of your anxiety leaves you able to deal with the emotion itself, and clears the way to better performance.

3. Ease the pressure – People claim they ‘work best under pressure’, and managers often feel they get the best from their team by being aggressively demanding. However, neuroscience shows that stress, pressure, reaction to aggression all produces a negative reaction in our brains. Anyone who thinks they operating best under pressure is simply not thinking straight! Meditation reduces the activity of this part of the brain and means we can think clearer.

4. Problem solving – meditation can change the structure of the brain, particularly the pre-frontal cortex – this change is measurable with MRI scans and leaves the meditator able to modify their behaviour. One of the most empowering changes that mindfulness can bring is the ability to be less fearful and more willing to approach a problem than previously.

5. Work/life balance – In the modern environment of instant information, instant reaction, and 24/7 availability, it is difficult to achieve any kind of balance. In this ‘always on’ culture, where it has become increasingly difficult to switch off thanks to technology, employers are now much more obligated to ensure their employees’ health and wellbeing is maintained.

You can download the Anamaya app here via the iTunes store.

The need for speed: clothing ‘sweatshops’ in the UK

Garment workers getting paid £3 an hour, it’s a claim we’ve sadly become accustomed to over recent years. As our appetite for fast fashion and low prices continues to grow, clothing retailers continue their search for cheaper and faster ways to produce the clothes we wear.

Fast fashion

Although these disturbing headlines are becoming more frequent, we normally associate them with outsourced foreign workforces in the developing world, which makes a recent report from the University of Leicester quite unique.

The report titled, New Industry on a Skewed Playing Field: Supply Chain Relations and Working Conditions in UK Garment Manufacturing, claims that low wages, a lack of worker rights and poor safety standards are not reserved for garment workers in the developing world and are in fact present in the United Kingdom.

A growth industry

After a period of decline in the early 2000’s, driven largely by outsourcing to the developing world, the UK clothes manufacturing sector has seen a remarkable revival. It’s estimated that between 2008-2012, when most of the country’s economic activity was contracting, the garment manufacturing industry grew by almost 11 per cent.

A significant amount of this growth has been attributed to the proliferation of the ‘fast fashion’ business model, exemplified by firms like Zara and H&M. Fast fashion, dictates that clothes be produced in small batches and delivered to stores very quickly, if the items sell, the store will order more. The model is thought to be successful because it not only reduces the time taken to get fashion from the runway into stores, but also allows retailers to hold much lower inventory levels, maximising their cash flow.

Clearly, the need for speed in ‘fast fashion’ has meant that producing garments offshore has become less appealing and many firms are now looking to source much closer to home.

UK Garment Workers 

The report which focuses its efforts in Leicester, the traditional hub of British garment manufacturing, suggests that while ‘fast fashion’ has driven a revival in the British garment industry, the requirement for quick, cheap clothing has meant that British workers have been exposed to less than ideal working conditions.

Wages for the workers surveyed came in at around £3 and hour (less than half of the national minimum wage of £6.50), these wages were generally paid cash-in-hand and most employees held no contract of employment or workers rights. The report estimates that these underpaid wages would amount to roughly £1 million a week.

As well as inadequate wages, workers raised concerns over poor safety standards, verbal abuse, threats and health problems in the workplace.

Exploiting the vulnerable

The report suggests that the largest group of workers exposed to these poor conditions were women who have been living in the UK legally for more than 10 years, but possess a level of English insufficient to find other work opportunities. Also exposed to the employment law violations are groups of workers that don’t hold the requisite paperwork to legally work in the United Kingdom, these employees tend to work at an even lower rate of pay than the others survey in the study.

Structural change is required 

The report points to the fact the large retail organisations buying garments from these small factories need to take greater responsibility for the activities in their supply chains – this is a point I’ve argued often on Procurious. However, I do feel that in the case of ‘fast fashion’ operations, we as consumers need to take some the blame for these practices.

Our desire for ridiculously cheap, ‘fast fashion’ has created an fashion industry where margins are so low that supply chains must be as lean as possible in order for organisations to stay competitive. This rampant competition to the lowest price point is resulting in the exploitation of workers. Whether workers are located in Bangladesh or Leicester is irrelevant. As long as we, as consumers, continue to drive demand for £3 t-shirts and jeans, we are fuelling an industry that will inevitably focus on price above sustainability, both in the form of human rights and environmental protection.

Clearly, action is required from a legislative point of view in this case, wages need to pulled in line with national minimum standards and worker rights needs to be addressed, but as long clothing retailers continue to compete primarily on price, I can’t help but feel we’ll continue to see headlines like this.

You’ve got two ears and one mouth: why listening is critical in negotiation

How to be a better listener

Last week I kicked off a series of articles aimed at helping you to prepare for your next negotiation. You can read the first entry around strategising and preparing yourself to negotiate here.

Today we are going to address the other side of the equation as we look to understand the motivations of the person/people you are negotiating with.

Clearly some of your interests will be shared, however it’s likely that some interests will be opposing. By putting some time into understanding the motivations and limitations of person you will be negotiating with, you will begin to understand not only the balance of power in the relationship, but also the potential levers you have to move the discussion in a direction you are happy with.

Before the negotiation: Put yourself in their shoes

What do they want from you? Where do their pressures come from? What are their concerns?

If you enter a negotiation understanding the concerns of your counterpart, you have the opportunity to address these fears outright, thus proactively removing some of the obstacles to achieving a positive outcome.

Similarly, understanding the constraints of the other side can help you to frame your own argument. If financial constraints have forced your boss to let go of some staff, perhaps negotiating for more training or some flexibility to work from home is a better course of action than pushing for more dollars at the risk of shutting the whole conversation down.

If you are able to understand what the other side is looking to achieve, not just in this negotiation, but also more broadly as a business, you can begin to engage with them on a collaborative level.

By addressing the ways that you can help them to achieve high level aspirational goals, you move your conversation away from one of ‘what I want vs. what you want’ to something far more strategic that is more likely to be mutually beneficial.

Understand the other side’s BATNA

Last week I introduced the concept of BATNA (basically, your next best option if the negotiation fails to reach a conclusion). While understanding your own BATNA will help you establish a walk away point and will clarify your thoughts as to what constitutes a good result from the discussion, it also pays to hypothesise what the other sides BATNA may be.

By understanding the BATNA of you opposition, you go a long way determining the balance of power in the relationship. Do they need to strike a deal with you? If so, you can push a little harder in the negotiation. If they have other strong options, you clearly have less leverage in the discussion.

During the negotiation: Listen – It’s the most important skill there is

Obviously, any insight you have generated on your opposition prior to the negotiation is based on little more than your own assumptions and best guesses. The only way to test these assumptions is to prompt the other side to speak and to listen carefully to what they have to say.

When you get into the negotiation, leave your preconceptions at the door and listen actively. The best business advice I have ever received came from my father, he said: “You’ve got two ears and one mouth and you should use them in that proportion.”

Remember, you have to address what people actually say, not what you think they are going to say.

Creativity is critical

When you are in a negotiation (and trying to reach a mutually beneficial outcome) its important to think beyond financial motivations. Be creative, keep an open mind and address the full range of interests that the other side may hold, perhaps there is something else you can offer up other than dollars that would satisfy both your needs and those of the other side.

Suggesting collaborative projects, better payment terms, and commitment towards initiatives outside of your previous remit show that your are committed to the relationship and that you are bringing something more to the negotiation than a stubborn point of view on an acceptable savings or salary figure.

The art of negotiation

I’ll leave you with the following quote from Sun Tzu’s Art of War which I think sums up the importance of not only preparing yourself to negotiate but also preparing yourself for your opposition.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”