Boys it really is time to grow up

As a white middle class male, some might say pale male and stale, I have never really been intimidated. I can pretty much walk into any pub on my own, I don’t get lewd comments or looks that might make me uncomfortable. I’ve always thought that I’ve stood up for what’s right… and consider myself right thinking -some might say right on!

However, it only dawned on me just after Christmas this year when I realised the direct impact, of what is commonly known as laddishness, or banter, and the upset, worry that this behaviour can cause.

Someone who I know very well was on the receiving end of unwanted advances over the course of a few weeks. She brushed these off with tact and politeness as is her way. However, over few occasions this man kept insisting, messaging her despite her asking him to stop, saying it wasn’t appropriate. When she was out on group nights out with friends, he was still insistent. It was just little comments and general lack of awareness that sowed seeds of worry.

This wasn’t a case of any harassment that might have been reportable, but it made my friend worry about going to social events where he was, it began to sow seeds of doubt about whether anything might happen if she had to keep rejecting his advances, and ultimately it impinged on her ability to feel free do what she wanted,when she wanted. It was upsetting and more importantly disabling. For a while it curtailed her hard won rights.

This example, probably happens all the time, to women of different ages and classes. Some may brush it off but many, just check themselves before going to that night out, or walking home on their own, and depending on their circumstances, this may slowly chip away at their self confidence. This in 21st Century Britain…

So boys, the next time you make some remarks that you may class as ‘banter’, or down at the rugby club, the blokey jokes about women or in front of the bar staff… they probably do have an impact that you don’t see. However, those affected maybe your sister, daughter or partner. I question whether that is your intention, but maybe it is time to grow up.


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Filed under #Inclusion, Banter, Diversity, Politics, Sexism

Where do we go after Brexit?

In the not too distant past, the British press and commentariat would make cheap jokes about Italy, Spain, Germany because of the fragility of coalition governments and the frequency of elections. In the last 2 and half years we have had 2 General Elections, 2 Prime Ministers, 2 Tory leadership elections and a referendum. The country is still divided and will be whatever the outcome.

This blog does not seek to rehash the old arguments but to understand the causes, begin to explore what might begin to heal a broken nation.

Let me take you back to some of the former mining villages, or manufacturing towns from Bristol, Belfast, Liverpool,and Glasgow. In the 1970 and 1980s a young person could grow up in theses areas, in the knowledge that is was highly likely they could enter skilled work, with good incomes. More importantly, they could aspire to, probably buying a place of their own and ultimately being better off than his or her parents. This wasn’t just about education but structure and opportunity.

Roll forward to 2016, the children of that generation see a different landscape. Unless you happened to be born into the south east of England, opportunity, work and the ability to earn above the level of your parents is a distant dream. Home ownership for the youth is now dependent on bank of mum dad. The towns and cities that were once the centre of industrial Britain are hollowed out shells. There has been no major replacement of industry in these proud industrial towns.

What does Brexit and division have to do with this? It has just exposed fault lines in our political and economic set up that whatever happens, need to be addressed if we are ever to heal the schism the referendum has caused and ultimately, keep the United Kingdom together. I split them out below into clear categories but they are linked. They are not meant to be party political, but of course, I may be criticised, probably from both sides of the divide. Debate and argument are welcome but not ideas driven by ideology that has proved false, or hypotheses that can never be realised. I aim to encourage critical analysis and discussion with an open mind.

Firstly, Devolution. Over the last 20 years, we have experienced devolution to regions of the UK. But it has been piece meal and lacks real teeth. This includes to the English regions. Too much power has been centralised into London, resulting in feelings of anger, and criticisms of remoteness and our politicians being out of touch. This is also a contributory factor in the vast inequality between the south east of England compared to the rest of the country.

I would suggest, more powers of tax raising and investment decisions to local authorities, mayors, and National Assemblies, and ultimately making Westminster a strategic player in ensuring projects are joined up, rather than bulldozing local policy makers.

Secondly, a written constitution. A cross party committee of politicians, political philosophers, legal minds and representatives from the public to finally codify our constitution. This can give direction on powers of executive, judiciary, citizens rights, powers of the media and privacy. Also then use of different instruments in our polity, such as referenda, roles of politicians at different levels of government and the role and boundaries of a second chamber, hopefully curtailing patronage of any of the parties in packing the chamber with cronies.

Electoral Reform – our current electoral process encourages tribalism, entrenched positions and discourages diversity of thought. We need a system that reflects the broad opinion in the country, while encouraging accountability and transparency.

At all levels of government we also need to find a way of encouraging more diversity into our political parties. This is not just about defined characteristics but also encouraging more participation from working class communities. In Italy the Five Star movement has done this, through the use of technology and social media, not old structures of party management. The London School of Economics suggests their output and productivity is equivalent to that of more experienced politicians, once they understand the role they are asked to play.

These are some initial ideas, not simple to implement, after all why would the Westminster turkeys on all sides of the divide, vote for Christmas. However, if we don’t begin the debate and begin to ask the questions of our politicians and officials, these divisions will never heal and ultimately, even those wedded to an idealised view of Britain, and our institutions, may find the years ahead are riven with paralysis, slow decline and ultimately more division.

It’s time Britain started to modernise rather than look at a very narrow view of history that one side of the political divide want to glamourise, and the other wants to blame for all our ills.

Let’s be grown up and debate the evidence with an open mind – hopefully this can begin a renewal process that really shapes Britain and can influence the thinking in other nations, rather than us being considered a joke.

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Fastest isn’t alway best

Some years ago a German colleague of mine said to me, the great thing about the Brits is that you have some great creative ideas, but you try to implement to quickly and that’s where it goes wrong….

This piece of, as I now see it, of wisdom has followed me through the last few years of my career and there is a lot of truth in what Joerg said. The discussion we had was all to to with the way German businesses engage with Works councils or Trade unions and the British leadership of the organisation thought that they were a hindrance and a blocker to progress.

This seems to be still the prevailing view of Anglo Saxon management and leadership. Of course, there is a desire for pace especially if you are the one who thought of the idea and the need to impress a boss or have inadvertently neglected to manage expectations….In addition, in our highly individualistic view it must be a great idea right? Because we had it.

In more collective based cultures this view doesn’t necessarily hold, and as my colleague suggested might lead to better decisions and outcomes. This is the basis of good change management, bring people with you, listen to other views, understand the fears and potential blockers for people affected by the change. After all, no matter how good your idea, if those people organisation don’t embrace it, you will be in a metaphorical guerilla war where actors are silently sabotaging the project or initiative which leads to a demise in productivity and morale.

In the UK we seem to have a larger propensity to engage management consultants than our French and German counterparts. This is partly to do with the ownership structure of European firms and partly culture and attitude. The culture in these and other countries is to consult more widely with broader range of stakeholders and because of the industrial relations structure, a wider range of the workforce rather than voices that will hold similar positions and influence in the organisation.

Modern leadership theory promotes, empowerment and autonomy with the leader as the facilitator and broker. The idea that the worker has best knowledge of their role. It also challenges the idea that external consultants know best.. Interestingly, these ‘old’ structures promote more conversations with the workforce than modern theory would like to admit.

Another by product of this approach, is diversity of thought. The desire to promote more diversity is absolutely the right motivation, but how many organisations really embrace diversity of thought by widely consulting and engaging all levels of the organisation ?

Of course, this don’t solve all the problems of D&I but an interesting reflection from another country, on change management and how we are perceived across Europe. And before we dismiss it, Germany does boast a pretty strong economy and very successful German owned businesses.

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Christmas presents and Ironman are not the best combination..

Christmas Day 2017 and a present that all endurance athletes dream about. Your long suffering partner, who has suffered, supported you, cooked you breakfasts after 6 hour weekend training sessions, has understood your fantastical belief you are an equal to the Brownlee brothers -the unbelievable happens… no she doesn’t dump you because you are seriously talking about training on Xmas day. No, she buys you a race entry and one on the Cote D’Azur…. Blessed….

With every upside, there are obviously bumps in the road. Initially, the French insistence on a ‘ Medical Examination’ to prove fitness should be no problem, unless of course, your organisational skills mean you leave it to the last minute. Of course, our British doctors are slightly perplexed and unsure about this, so several hours of negotiation that Dominic Raab might find handy produce a letter proving I am breathing and walking, which then of course the dog eats…

Anyway, we make it to France… clearly the French requirement for fitness is to prove you can smoke 20 Gauloise in 30 mins (smoking is on the French curriculum). With my Drs note, and British optimism, I head to the race briefing full of confidence. Full distance Ironman under the belt, training gone to plan -half distance should be a walk in the park right?

Normal briefing, safety, sportsmanship, no drafting, mention of 1800m of climbing on the bike..I am no mountaineer. There are some steep hills in Bedfordshire…I paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson when I say that the arse cheeks were somewhat looser than normal.

Race day – early start, usual nerves coupled with excitement. Swimming – I like a sea swim, but 800 m is a long way out in the sea and a bit choppy but all in all happy -the warm Mediterranean when the sun is rising is idyllic.

T1 to the bike -food on board, minor problem dropped chip….Now had I realised how big that mountain was, first 10k gentle introduction next 30k…how to describe? This was the flyweight against Anthony Joshua… at one point 10k straight climbing at an average gradient of 7.5 – 8%. My legs were spinning as fast as gravity was acting against…I think Michael Jackson could have space walked uphill faster.

The relentless grind up and up, punctuated by signs of 4K to go to the summit, 3k was both depressing and pleasing. Counting the metres to the top with the goal of breath in the lungs and relief for the legs was just about keeping me going.

Eventually, the summit. Relief? Well the downhill meant the legs could recover but there was nothing in them to power the downhill, they were empty. Then as little reminder of why the event is so punishing, another short uphill, which may have only been a 400m climb but there it was laughing at us all.

The second half of the bike, is a blur. Relief and some speed but the heat of the Mediterranean sun blessing us all the way back into Nice. The pedals were moving and the legs still not quite responding of what was asked. Nearly T2 and back to the relationship….

Having dropped the chip in T1 meant the inability for interested parties to track me on the bike course…normally not a problem if you are roughly on target but given the gruelling bike course, targets went out of the window fairly rapidly and poor Debbie was seriously worrying about my well being. Eg whether I was actually alive.

By now the Mediterranean sun was at its highest and hottest 31 degrees and run along the iconic Promenade des Anglais was not quite as welcoming as expected. Despite the heat, the crowds and volunteers were amazing. Supportive and always smiling, they were the extra fuel to get us round. The feeling of camaraderie and togetherness always there and as we entered the last mile the view of that iconic carpet and tones of the announcer, welcomed us home. Hot, exhausted, a lit broken and relieved to be back in the Ironman family…..

Nice – you were daunting but amazing – au revoir!

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Filed under #ironman, #training, goals, Ironman Training, Nice 70.3

Counting the heavy cost of company demise

Scanning media coverage on  demise of Carillion, we have, rightly seen scrutiny of the execs that caused this shamble and the political fallout. There has been some focus on the impact on ordinary working people but for the media this is a bigger story.  I am writing this with not much distance between the announcement, so maybe anger is still the prominent emotion. But I feel it is right to vent this for my own reasons but really for the many people affected, who are less fortunate than me.

Like the previous corporate disasters (I am thinking of the banking crisis) the damage, financial, emotional and personal is long lasting and we are yet to really see the havoc that will be caused to employees, the supply chain and pensioners. The SMEs that politicians like to claim as the heartbeat of the nation have been sold down the river, as they always are at the first sign of trouble, with consequences yet unknown but far reaching. For all involved the impact is emotional, financial and personal.

Emotional why? Thousands of people employed have been committed to their customers and colleagues (this was the one amazing characteristic of Carillion), in spite of  heavily controlling and contradictory behaviour at the top. A schizophrenic approach to leadership, preaching empowerment but denying responsibility, whilst not being open about the real challenges the business is facing, grinds away inside.

The financial bit is fairly obvious. There are thousands of people this week who through no fault of their own, will be little more uncertain, despite government assurances and again face the prospect of more change through TUPE not of their choosing. Once again a big company will give them a shiny brochure (uniform, if they are lucky) and spin a line about values whilst trying chip away at working conditions and benefits. More importantly, the long list of suppliers who will never see the money they were owed. The consequences of this are long reaching. Again, the contradiction of the companies’ stated values and the way suppliers were treated, is probably not unusual but something that Corporate Responsibility and governance codes need to cover in future. Carillion was very prominent in promoting CSR credentials but let down suppliers on a systemic basis. No one was was accountable…

Much of this will come under scrutiny over the coming weeks and months. What changes happen are yet unknown but it once again shines a light on governance, behaviour and structure of corporate organisations.

On a personal level there is sadness for a team that achieved huge amounts in a relatively short period of time, were recognised externally for various programmes. I first hand saw many people grow in skill, capability and in confidence, both as Recruiters and as people. The efforts made professionally and as volunteers in their communities is something to be proud of. At times it was hard work, frustrating but overwhelmingly positive. I would like to thank everyone in my team for their patience and dedication. I am sure there are many managers across the business who feel the same about their teams and some of the great client work and real innovation driven at the front line.

I think it is right to express disappointment,anger and frustration at those who perhaps because of the wrong incentives, perhaps because egos were over inflated or maybe even fear has left many thousands of people more insecure and disrupted their jobs, careers and retirement. Actions that were irresponsible implemented by executives but on the watch of the ‘great and the good’ (non execs) who we all thought are their to safeguard stakeholders. I guess humility and shame are no longer fashionable in corporate life as we have seen in the collapse of BHS, the banks and now Carillion.

Maybe its fair to say that these executives never saw those working in the company, nor the supply chain as important stakeholders. Perhaps there are lessons here about how we want to run corporate life in the 21st Century?

I save it for the history writers to describe the actions of those who were responsible, and maybe leave it for them to reflect on the damage they have done….


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Rubber hits the road in Copenhagen

It was almost exactly a year ago today, that whilst on a work conference call, my finger nervously lingered over the entry button of KMD Ironman Copenhagen. With many online entries it takes many attempts to log on and get success first time. However, whilst conversing about some HR matter or other, to my surprise, my entry was complete, accepted and credit card debited. Gulp…..
What middle age crisis was I trying to fix? Don’t most men my age by a sports car or take up golf? With the deed done, the fear excitement, sheer bloody stupidity dawned on me….How was I ever going to complete a 3.8km swim 180km bike ride, and a 42.2 k run all within 15 hrs 45 mins ?
Fast forward 365 days, endless training sessions. cold winter mornings on the roads, early morning swims where I could barely lift my eyelids and back to back Brick sessions 4 hours on the bike followed by runs, looking like John Wayne. And the indoor Turbo sessions… Oh the boredom. How can any sane individual spend 3 hours indoors on a stationary bike? Clearly,driven by an immense goal, obsession and madness takeover.
Here I am with 6 other buddies from Leighton Buzzard who had fallen for the lure of the greatest endurance race.
As Glen and I set off from our apartment on the Copenhagen metro at 530am, the irony not 

lost on us as we bumped into revellers coming back from the clubs and pubs, munching on kebabs and mac as, here we were braced for the Unknown. We had, of course, completed the training, but never could we replicate the 3 disciplines back to back. Swimming with 3200 others was immense, and I hadn’t run more than 15km in training due to an injury.
Crossing the bridge to the start as the sun rose of over the sea, the 10 minute walk to the ‘ village’ was surreal. Music was playing somewhere in the distance, the tannoy announcements lost on the wind, but as we approached, daylight appearing, here we were……the ultimate race. We were very quiet. The nerves were now upon me. Flashing through my head were just the words of my coach – ‘ If you remember 10 % of what I have told you, you will be an ironman’…..maybe but my head was still trying to re,ember 5 % and not collapse with nerves.
7:05 am came and the elites were off…. Another 20 minutes and the masses were in the water.

My time came – a shake of the hand and we are off…. The scandanavian water surprisingly warm, and I’m in…. The first 100 metres desperately trying to hold back – it’s a long day after all. Keep focussed and disciplined was my mantra -I was actually enjoying this. The training was remembered , long slow strokes, keep out of trouble.Even the chaos of the turns were ok. Before I knew the swim finish approached, and a helping hand out of the water, seeing Debbie, Joe and Izzi was a boost and T1….Wow, we really were in the race and all good.
Out of T1 a bit of a blur,I just had to remember keep eating – keep the calories up and only 179km left…. The bike saw us navigate a few km of the flat city of Copenhagen before heading out along the coast…. A tailwind kindly pushing us at an easy speed. So far so good; keep the mantra of keep eating and drinking. 40km in feeling a good and we hit the ‘hills’. Copenhagen maybe flat but the outskirts have a few interesting twists and turns and climbs and the wind turned against us and the weather. The Danish weather is more unpredictable than the British. We suffered a drenching from a storm front,luckily this one only lasted a few minutes. But drenched and wind against – this is now a tougher prospect than the first 90 mins.
Then the turn for lap 2…. I m lapped by the elites who are heading in for T2 as I am heading for lap 2…Motivational?You can say there was a small dip in mood. But ‘keep eating’ keeps the mood up…Knowing that the coastal tail wind was about to bring some relief, lifted the spirits. In keeping with the unpredictability of the weather another heavy lashing of rain was about to give an unwelcome drenching…. But we are on the countdown…
50km to – I had passed my longest ride in training, but I was feeling good. I really did have this – everything was going to plan.The roads in Denmark, unlike our pothole ridden bone shakers, really make biking enjoyable and quick. This really was fun 40km and 30k to go pass by in a flash – one more nasty climb until the home stretch, 10k and we are turning back into the City and the support. Soon enough, we are in the city centre and the noise was incredible. T2 and underground Car Park.I am here, in good time – in all honesty I hadn’t taken any notice of the watch. So no real idea of the pace but I am feeling ok.
A quick drink of the favoured Banana milk – helmet and shoes off – trainers on and we are away – just a marathon to go!
As I’m out of T2 there they were Izzi, Debbie and Joe,right there what a boost. A quick photo and I am away. 4 and a bit laps of Copenhagen. The support is amazing tight streets lined with restaurants and bars tight against the course. In the dark times this is a real boost
I am feeling good but the doubts were there, would the knee hold out – could I sustain a steady pace pain free. Lap 1 ok – I a counting this as 5 separate park runs with a 2k cool down. Lap 1 complete,only 5 parkruns to go. Lap 2 the knee starts to play up but come on we can just walk through the the pain and get well needed nutrition. Respond to the support – and 20k done – 4 parkruns to go….
Lap 3 I see the support crew – clearly they have been for some food and a rest – it’s tough being a supporter….A quick chat and I tell them I have only 3.5 parkruns to go…They think I am stark raving mad but nod and smile as only supporters can. But only 17km to go. We have this nailed. I run past the finish for the 3rd time as the familiar cry is heard – ” You are an Ironman’! 
Only about 12km to go and I see the crew again – Izzi cries ‘Dad the next time we see you, you will be an Ironman…..ok we have this now – I pickup the final wristband, and the home straight 10k left.We wind our way through the narrow streets for the final time and the Danish weather gives us a little boost – a torrential downpour that lasted a good 20 mins. Proper cross country weather, I feel at home as feet are aquaplaning inside my shoes…
The last 6k – of course the quads are super tight now. But there is nothing that will prevent the finish. With 2k to go you can hear the announcer and see the lights – this is it – those months and months of training and here we are _ I turn into the finish and here the infamous words ‘You are an Ironman’ – I see the crew and wow! I did it – it is real. Emotions tumble through me relief, joy and pride and exhaustion. But there was the medal around my neck. Done…. 14hrs 17
Out of the finisher area and everyone is there amazing – all of the people of who have been supportive, understanding and probably thinking I was an idiot but stayed quiet, it’s done. A massive hug – and then the need for a Big Mac…..The hunger was immense.
Was it worth it ? You bet – the best race experience ever. Training loved it ! And I learnt so much. A special thank you to Mark Kleanthous (Ironmate) who tailored the training programmes and always ensuredI kept the faith even in those dark winter days when I doubted in my abilities. We stuck to the plan – and never deviated -never worked about others. There’s a lesson there.
Would I do it again ? You bet…..


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The Countdown begins…

The recent silence on the blogging front is probably due to one thing – training…Well the combination of work, training and complete lack of time generally. So with 8 weeks to go would I recommend this whole process again? What are the benefits of bascially dedicating one part of your life to a fairly solitary existence? After all all of the disciplines are individual. Yes you can train with others but…well lets just say there is more banter in a goldfish bowl…

On reflection, this has been double edged, solitary, a bit selfish yes, but it does show what you can achieve if you focus and are disciplined. There have been sacrifices, the odd trip to the pub and the weekend lie in are luxuries that I dream of.  Indeed, when I am out on  parole after August, maybe these small luxuries will be returned, or maybe I will become addicted to training, lose all of my marbles, relationships and end up an Ironman bore…(some might say this happened), although fortunately the relationship is still going strong.

What have I learnt? Well,  on a serious note, its pretty amazing what you can do when have focus, a clear goal and a bit of determination. I am probably as fit or fitter than when I was professional tennis coach, 20 odd years ago. It has been an exhilarating, exhausting but ultimately satisfying experience. Sleep is now my friend. No night awake worrying about work, kids money – too exhausted. Sleep overcomes all, as soon as your head hits that pillow.

On a lighter note, the ironman is a financial drain like no other. The marketing machine is slick, like a drug dealer selling heroin. The more you have the more you crave. Equipment, merchandise, anything. I am sure that if branded hair bands were marketed as something that makes female athletes go faster, they would sell like hotcakes, at exorbitant margins. Us athletes are willing prey…. In fact I think becoming a heroin addict might be cheaper 😉 This is a joke for any one worried about my mental state.

As the autumn beckons, I dream of the weekend lie in. No more 6am bike rides (well there might be some) but maybe not 6am. The question is what will take the place of this relentless schedule of training. Well, I do hope that I will continue some focus towards training, as I do feel better than ever. However, this is a fairly solitary and selfish discipline. Some attention will go back to those who have supported this endeavour.

A little more social interaction will be welcome. Whilst cycling with others or running is ok. The banter isn’t exactly mustard. There is only so much interest I can take in your resting heart rate or what your cadence is (yawn). I even bore myself sometimes.

In all would I recommend this to someone else. Of course, but given that I am not an elite or professional athlete, don’t take it too seriously or it could absorb your life… And by the way your friends and family aren’t necessarily as interested in split times, VO2 max or in fact anything else to do with your training. Treat these people well….

While you are here. I am doing to raise money for this fantastic charity.. Thanks for reading.

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