Change and dry cleaning – a small, personal example of change

A year ago, our launderette changed hands. This was the first change in our local shops. I had used this launderette, scruffy and a bit down at heel, since we moved in eight years ago.

Gone was our friendly assistant who took special care of our bedclothes and made particular efforts to use the conditioner we wanted. Who washed the tea and butter stains out of our linen after careless breakfasts in bed.

In its place was someone we didn’t know, and a new set of machines. Instead of giving us a ticket, they took our mobile number.

When our washing was ready, the shop pinged us messages. We hated it, but it was so convenient, we didn’t feel we could go anywhere else.

The losses of change

It struck me that I’d gone through most of the losses associated with change, albeit in a minor form. fe3 associates change with five kinds of loss and uses a model developed by Dave Ulrich. These are: loss of colleagues, of control, of competence, of confidence and of core purpose.

We missed our previous assistant who we knew well – we even exchanged Christmas cards! In our old shop, we chose when we collected our clean washing. Now, we’re nagged by text message that it’s ready. I was initially a bit flummoxed by the messages and felt irritated when we had to give our mobile numbers. We weren’t sure that we’d get on with the new owners – could we believe they would do our washing as expertly?

Although we didn’t feel the loss of core purpose, we did wonder if our lovely local shops were going to be overtaken by technology and that the endearing Heath Robinson shops around us would disappear.

But a year on, we now appreciate the swift service and friendly assistants. Our washing is clean and well pressed and the new assistants have learned our preferences for fabric conditioner. The shop sparkles with new chrome machines, and is light and welcoming.

Our change of launderette is a tiny example of how painful change can be, even when the end result is better. Imagine what people go through when their roles are changed, new technology is introduced or redundancy programmes are started?











Four Spaces – building a network to be proud of

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It’s rare that you get the chance to build something from scratch, unless you start your own business.  I was having a drink with an old friend, and some of her friends, when we began to speak about those brain-numbing, toe-curlingly embarrassing networking meetings.  These are the awkward situations where real conversations are the exception rather than the norm, and where people often spend time avoiding others because they’re ‘not in the market’ to buy anything. (This is not what networking is about, but I’ll cover that another time.)

Another way to network

We all thought that there must be another way to do networking and, fuelled by the wine, we began to think about events where we’d rather be – somewhere we learned something, or tried out something new.  Somewhere where as well as learning about the hottest trends in fashion, we could also learn about how to make a career as an electrical engineer, or what wine goes best with spare ribs.  In short, we wanted to be treated as intelligent human beings where all sides of women – not just the business side – could be acknowledged and celebrated. We came up with the idea of Four Spaces, an event where people could make real connections and have proper conversations, rather than just the sterile exchange of business cards.

Head, heart, hands and histories

Four Spaces is where we look at four elements of women – heads (where you learn something new), hearts (where we engage with emotions), hands (where you try something different) and histories (where you tell your story and listen to those of other people).

We ran our first event in June with our mates and now we’re about to do another event at the end of this month – 27 October to be precise in Central London.  Have a look and if you can spare an evening and twenty quid, please join us!

True to form, it’s not just our development we’re interested in – we’re raising money for The Girls Network, which aims to mentor teenage girls from the most disadvantaged communities.

So if you’re fed up of exchanging meaningless polite chat, come and throw some opinions around with us. We’re looking forward to meeting you.

Time is fleeting – do it NOW

Charles Kennedy’s death has produced an outpouring of sadness in the House of Commons today. The speakers tell us he was principled, witty, loyal, friendly, human – the list of adjectives describing someone who sounds a seriously nice individual went on for a good 45 minutes.

One of the speakers suggested that it was a great shame that Charles Kennedy couldn’t hear the outpouring of admiration, affection and loss. Sadly, we never know what will be said in our obituary.

It reminds me of two instances which have happened to me over the years. The first was when an author, who I had read avidly for years, died. I had been eagerly awaiting her next book and it was only when I went hunting for it that I discovered that she had died from cancer.

I was surprisingly stricken, primarily because I had almost considered her a personal friend, so much did I like her books. But I never wrote and told her.

The second instance was about a wonderful man I had worked with in my early career. A client, he was communication director for a huge industrial packaging firm, when we plotted and schemed together. Eventually, he moved to an equally huge confectionary giant in Switzerland to become head of investor relations.

He was charming, gentle, very bright and possibly the first real gentleman of my acquaintance. He treated me with unfailing courtesy regardless of disagreements on policy, tactics or – the old chestnut – budget. We had been in touch sporadically and I always thought really fondly of him. Last year, I decided that rather than dithering, I would be in touch again.

Falling back on the snooper of the world, Google, I put in his name – and found to my horror that he had died only a month before, again of cancer. And again, I had missed my chance to reach out, say hello, and also tell him what his support early in my career had meant to me. I was gutted.

This is not just about making yourself feel better, or in some way ‘repaying’ those who have given you joy, so you no longer have the obligation.

It’s making sure that people who you admire, or who have helped you, know about it sooner rather than later.

Or, as in my case, and that of some of the speakers in the House of Commons today, not at all.


Zero tolerance to zero hours contracts

The Office for National Statistics has underestimated by 50,000 workers the number of people on zero hours contracts, bringing the estimated total in 2012 to more than a quarter of a million workers.

The total number may easily be double that, according to The Work Foundation, that claims at least 400,000 people are employed on zero hour contracts by the public sector alone. Although the number of people on these type of contracts is small, the rise in use of them is not – more than doubling in the last eight years.

In other news, there is much hand-wringing about the levels of engagement, which came in at a lowly one-in-three from the US from Gallup. Apparently, levels are similar in the UK.

Zero hours contracts are just what they say they are – although you have to be ready and available for work at any time as an employee, as an employer, you’re under no obligation to give any work at all.  It’s true that the employee doesn’t have to take the work, but there are tales crawling out of the woodwork of employees being discriminated against if they don’t take work when it’s offered. According to research by the Resolution Foundation  those on zero hours contracts earn less, work fewer hours, and tend to be younger and less well educated than the average worker.

While some companies – Sports Direct, most recently – hail them as essential to business growth in an uncertain market, the devil is often in the detail.  In this case, the detail is in things such as whether workers should be paid the minimum wage while on call at or near the business or, indeed, whether someone on a zero hours contract has employee status.   Those with employee status have some protection in terms of the law – the right not to be unfairly dismissed, maternity right, redundancy rights.  Those who are classed as “workers” – don’t.

I understand that businesses need to be flexible; but to me it smacks of laziness that companies can’t plan their workforces sufficiently well to avoid the use of zero hours contracts, which can hardly be helpful to the UK’s appalling engagement figures.

This type of work is starting to resemble the labourers who turned up at the dock gates in the 1920’s looking for work.  Surely, we’ve come further than this?

Blogging, trolling and the art of petitions

It’s quite possible that the internet brings out the worst in us – from pontificating on personal blogs, to saying hurtful and spiteful things without fear of the consequences to people we’ve never met.

The recent furore about trolling on Twitter puts how vile people can be to one another in the full glare of the public eye. And glaring it certainly has been.

Being a well brought up lass, I’ve been appalled by the language and crudeness of some of the responses to what seem to me to be perfectly harmless comments and campaigns. When all’s said and done, if Jane Austen is finally to appear on an English banknote – well, fab. The vitriol occasioned by some fairly mild celebrations of the announcement was way beyond any reasonable response. And I can barely believe that threats of rape, bombs and death followed in what seemed a mob-like mentality. And, no sooner had the clamour died a little, when the death of a young woman who committed suicide allegedly because of bullying on the internet brought this type of behaviour back into sharper focus.

But – signing a petition is not the right response.

It seems to me to be passive, lacking responsibility in the same way that unpleasant Twitter users don’t seem to accept responsibility for their sexist and violent comments.

The threat of law may deter these idiots – but perhaps we simply encourage people to take less responsibility in this way. By creating laws, those who witness this kind of behaviour simply believe that someone ELSE will do something about it, and therefore they don’t need to. In the meantime, those who are bullying, unpleasant and downright vile simply create false identities, harangue other users and then disappear into the ether. Wherever there’s a law, there’s someone trying to evade it.

I strain sometimes to catch a glimpse of that rare creature, responsibility in both life and work. Responsibility is increasingly one of those things that belongs to someone else – the company, the Government or – as in the case of internet trolling – the Police.

But neither State nor employer can or should be expected to have the final say on everything. In the last ten years, nearly 4,000 pieces of legislation have found their way into law, on everything from mobile homes to defamation. A newspaper report I read noted that in 2010, 13.8 laws came into being every single working day.

Everyone has an opinion about what’s right and wrong – but very few are willing to do anything about it. Which is why, apparently, we need the laws. Someone needs to do something about it – “they”, probably. The law gives that framework, but at the same time, puts the responsibility into someone else’s hands – the police, the lawyers.

I believe we need to take action, to stand up, to not only voice objections, but get off our arses and do something. This something is not signing a petition, which I can do with little inconvenience and once done, absolves me of responsibility to anything else. This is too easy an option, and involves too little effort.

I’m conscious that writing this blog is another version of signing a petition, albeit with slightly more effort involved. So I have not only written this blog; I’m writing to my MP, and watching out for what I see as bullying on the internet and getting involved to point it out and stop it. I may not always get this right, but at least I am doing something.

If everyone did this, perhaps we won’t need to have so many laws.