Author Archive

Why are toilets with a cleaning checklist on the wall always dirty?

July 20, 2012

Have you noticed that the more dirty public toilets are, the more likely you are to find a cleaning checklist detailing how often the toilets should be checked and cleaned, requiring the signature of the person to be publicly responsible for having done that?

Deliver - Toilet - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Why does this phenomenon exist?

Management = designing an efficient process, i.e. a cleaning checklist, and putting it up on a wall and expecting to get results.  When you are not there the cleaning doesn’t take place and you feel frustrated because you have people that are not up to the job.

Leadership = caring about the individual and what they want and need, inspiring them to do it either because they like you so much they want to do things for you, or you make them believe in something greater than both of you.  Like for example, their work means that every person who comes to their toilet finds it in a beautiful condition, that it slightly lifts their day. This combined with many other slight lifts in the day means they are happier. This means they are kinder to other people. This means the world is more human. Toilets get cleaned without you being there.


James Hodgkinson - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement



June 6, 2012

“That’s £5.22 please”

You are being asked to pay £5.22.  But you know that what has just gone through the till should cost at least £14. Someone is offering you a gift on a plate and all you have to do is accept it. You need to make a quick decision. Rapidly your mind assesses the situation, deciding what your next move should be. “I am doing nothing wrong, I am paying exactly what they are asking me to pay” you find yourself talking to yourself inside your head “it is their mistake, not mine”. “The fact that they charge me the wrong amount is not my responsibility, I am doing nothing wrong” “it’s a surprise gift to brighten up my day – some lovely free socks”.

So why, then, are these justifications running through your head? If it is the right thing to do, why don’t you just take the £5.22 and go off happily?  It’s because the action you are taking is not aligned to what your values are. If you have a value of integrity or honesty, then you might take the free gift, but your mind will automatically generate justifications to yourself. This is how you know you are doing something that a part of you does not believe you should do. You spend precious mental energy and time running over these justifications, justifying to yourself why you took the course of action you did, said what you said, did what you did, treated the person as you treated them. You have to justify these things because a part of you isn’t happy with what you did and it won’t just lie down and be quiet, it keeps pushing up into your conscience.

“If you want to see someone in real pain, watch someone who knows who he is and defaults on it on a regular basis” Pat Murray

If we are in real pain, we will not only justify it to ourselves, we feel the need to justify it to others. In an attempt to avoid the truth of what we know, we draw in other people, friends to collude in our own point of view. We tell our stories from our perspective and suck in the approval of the other. The other person too approves and I feel better, “If I don’t call you on yours (your gap between who you are and what you do, your possibility for your own version of who you can be in the world), don’t call me on mine” is the unspoken conversation here, and then we can both make each other feel better, briefly.

Connect - Telephone - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

But it’s not enough for us, this collusion. I need to convince other people, more people, because I haven’t managed to put that nagging thought to bed inside of me.  So I tell other people, “Hey wow, I got some socks for free!” “Brilliant! Good for you, why not? These big companies can afford it right? It’s just money for fat cats isn’t it?” Then my colluder gets to take the easy option next time round too. Some people need to persuade millions of people to believe in my cause because they are not at peace inside.

In these moments when we forget who we really are, we also forget that we are a leader.  Someone who can inspire other people.  We see the world from our own small limited perspective, that we are small and that we don’t make a difference. We forget how intimately connected we are and how what I do almost always has an impact on those around me.

“Sorry, I think you have undercharged me there”.  Now, how does the world occur to this person who made the mistake and undercharged you? “The world is full of people who are generally honest and who will help me out when I make a mistake”, might run through the person’s mind. This might make him or her feel just a little bit better, just a little bit more at peace.  When the next person comes to the till they might now look at them more like an honest, essentially good person, or at the very least I am fuller of a positive energy.  They might smile a little more, be a little more connected to this person. This lifts the next person’s day just a little, they feel just slightly more positive and they carry that with them.

I don’t think we always see the world from this connected perspective, and we almost never get an insight into the impact we have on people and the difference that we make (this is why telling someone the positive impact they have on you can be such a powerful thing for all concerned). As a manager of a team of people, when you start to view yourself as a leader, you step into the full responsibility of who you are.  Someone who every day has an impact on people, who makes a real difference to the quality of someone’s life, and to the quality of their friends and family’s life when they go home from work and carry whatever energy they have from their day at work.   What you do and how you conduct yourself follows on from how you view yourself and what your role is in the world.

A couple of questions you may wish to consider:

  • What kinds of conversations do you have with your friends and colleagues? Do they sympathise with you and agree with you, or do they challenge you to be bigger? And how does your behaviour with them drive the response that you get? Do you want to be challenged?
  • What are your values and principles? Are there some there that you feel you could live more day-to-day?
  • If you do consider yourself as an important leader, what would you do?


James Hodgkinson - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Getting Your Hair Cut Is Like Being A Manager Of People

May 14, 2012

I’ve had a few less than perfect haircuts recently, nothing you as an observer would probably notice, but it affects my confidence.  I have come out of these situations feeling a bit angry with the person responsible for cutting my hair and disappointed in how they have performed.

So there I am, in the hair dressers chair again, and I am reflecting on how I could take responsibility for what had been going wrong, and get the kind of outcome I want; a great haircut.  Perhaps I have had some part to play in a poor outcome.  The first point of self-awareness comes when I realise that I am not always 100% straight and clear about what I want when I am describing how I want the hair cut.

This is because I realise that the truth is I am nervous that other men in the barbers shop will hear what I am saying and secretly laugh at me inside their heads, as surely no proper masculine man worth his salt would really care that much about the way that they look? And have the nerve to talk about it so openly in front of a bunch of men? I understand that actually I am not having the courage to describe clearly and in detail exactly what it is I am looking for in the hair cut, being precise about the exact outcome I am expecting and painting a vivid picture in detail, and then checking back that my understanding is the same as theirs.

I am not having the confidence to say what I want and be clear about it; I am worried about what people might think and what kind of person that makes me.  As I am sat there I am reminded of the conversations I have with managers and sometimes their own fear of being clear in what they want from their teams.  I think they are worried about setting out very clearly what they want and what they expect, and this is what I observe when I see them with their teams.

Confidence - Haircut - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

“I’d like it to really go out at the top of the head on the sides”, I say, “to make a sort of a triangle shape; I think it suits the shape of my face better” I say.   No one in the shop laughs at me.  Actually, I feel very pleased with myself. I feel sort of bigger and stronger.  In fact, I have become so concerned about getting this to be clear, I say it twice.  The girl is great at her job.  She repeats back what it is I am saying and I know she has understood what it is I want. I am delighted inside, I know she has heard and listened and this is the first step. This is all going rather well.

She starts to cut my hair and I am relaxed.  At least, I think I am relaxed until I notice that my hands are clasped incredibly tightly together and they become a little sore as I unclench them and the pressure in my knuckles is released.  I have been clasping them very tightly due to my nervousness of how my hair cut will turn out.   It turns out I haven’t been relaxed at all.  In fact I have been very anxious about how it will turn out and the prospect of more weeks of misery as I wait for my hair to grow back.

I realise that this isn’t helping the situation; I am not helping the situation.  I think at some level if I am tense and anxious she will pick up on this and it will affect her performance.   If I am tense she will be distracted about my reactions, and will not focus so clearly on the task.  So I decide to trust. To let go of the idea that I have much control now over the outcome.   I realise I don’t have much control now anyway in truth. What I can focus on now is deciding to trust her in the task in hand.  She is a professional after all.   I make sure that I don’t look at my hair in the mirror at any stage to give her the message that I am confident about what she is doing.  This is something productive that I can focus on rather than my worry.

“Are you out for lunch?” she says. I am wearing a suit. “Yes” I say happily. It’s a good exchange of pleasantries.  But suddenly things take a turn for the worse, I am aware she seems to be cutting my hair quite fast. This makes me nervous. Why is she doing that? I think. Oh no, this could be going wrong, I think.  Suddenly I understand the reason why.  “She wants to cut it quickly so I can get back to the office quickly” I realise.  I don’t mind about this I think loudly and urgently inside my head, I would rather you cut carefully and it was a good cut I think. But am I going to do? What can I do? I might be making an assumption and embarrass her and make myself look silly if I say anything. I am racking my brains.

I know I am making assumptions but I am worried about the performance I am getting.  Suddenly as she is looking closely at my hair as she cuts I hit up on the answer. “I love the way you are really paying attention to the detail in the cut” I say.  And I make sure I look her in the eye as I say it – so that she knows I mean it.  This seems to have hugely dramatic and positive effect.  I kid you not.  She then spends perhaps the next 30 minutes, an inordinate amount of time it seems, on the tiniest movements and motions. I can’t believe the amount of detail she is going into; I am delighted.  She uses at least seven different tools to do various little jobs around my head and I am thrilled.  It seems that positively affirming what I really like in her behaviour really does produce her to do more of the same.

It’s a great cut, and I am very pleased.  As I go I tell her that, with real feeling.  It’s been an emotional experience for me. And I think she is pleased too.

Of course, I might have been over estimating the impact that I think had on the cut. She might have just been brilliant at her job. But it did make me think about some of the challenges of managing people:

  • Having the courage to be clear about what you want can be hard.  It doesn’t make you a bad person. People like to do well and knowing what well is, is important
  • Letting go of control can be hard. But holding the reins tightly won’t make them perform better.  The more you trust, the more responsibility people tend to take.  Trust implies confidence. Confidence drives performance.
  • Acknowledge and affirm the behaviour you want to see more of. People like to be told they are doing something well.


James Hodgkinson - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Being Human

April 20, 2012

I am walking down a dark street in Glasgow at night, with my head down to avoid the wind and rain, I look up and I see a group of four young people walking towards me. As I register them, my mind makes some quick calculations.  They have hoods on, and they are talking loudly and boisterously. As I look up, the one on the far left looks up at the same time and looks straight back at me. I sense danger. At the same time this happens, another thought registers. I cannot assume that because they are dressed like this and acting this way they are potentially anti-social and violent.  If everyone thought this way and then acted on it, how would this affect the way they saw themselves? And how would this lead them to behave?

So I force myself to look up at them all, look them in the eye and to relate to them like they are normal kids, good people. But I feel anxious at the same time. As they walk closer towards me, they are louder and falling around the pavement; they are coming close. Suddenly the first one who met my eye lifts his hand up and sticks it straight up in the air; “High five” he says. This is bad. This isn’t what I wanted at all. I didn’t want to have any interaction. I don’t want to engage with them, I don’t want to have to risk contact followed by some kind of incident. I feel vulnerable and more anxious.

But then I make a decision and take a leap of faith. It’s a small one, but I don’t know what the outcome will be.  I feel like I want to trust, and I want to live in a world of good people who are friendly and open.  I put my hand up and we high five.

Robot - Being Human - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

I feel good. Someone else from the group shouts out that they want a high five too, and I high five with them.  I think they feel good that someone has high fived them. I think we all feel good, and perhaps just a little more connected, a little more human perhaps. I feel slightly euphoric that my risk has paid off and it’s been a good outcome.

In my mind, I thank the guy in the group for having the courage to reach out; I don’t doubt that took something on his part. He put himself up for rejection. I hope he feels good too. It reminds me, that sometimes it’s good to take a risk to be more human, to reach out, and to be vulnerable.

I know it’s only a small one, almost imperceptible to most people, but I wonder if I could take more small risks every day to be more human and more vulnerable and perhaps connect with people more beyond how I tend to conform to situations. I notice that at the time just before high-fiving it feels like a big risk, a really big risk. Sometimes to be ‘non-professional’ at work seems like a big risk too.

It makes me think, what opportunities do I have with the people I work with to be more open and more connected as a result? What else could I risk to be a little more connected with people? Is there something I could disclose about myself, or some way that I am feeling at that moment that might strike a chord with someone else?

I am so euphoric and lost in the excitement of new possibilities; I miss my turn back to the hotel and suddenly find myself on the wrong street.


James Hodgkinson - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement

On purpose

February 23, 2012

When people ask me what I do for a living there are a variety of responses I can give them:

  • Consultant – this is the worst one.
  • Coach
  • Facilitator
  • Trainer

I work with businesses to make them perform more effectively through their people.

These all describe what I do.

Sometimes when I am working, I am connected to the purpose of what I do:

“Creating the conditions to make people’s lives happier, and helping people love each other more”.

I find that when I am doing anything in my role connected to this purpose, I am instantly happier and more peaceful; and easier to work with. Dan Pink, author of best-selling book, Drive: The Surprising Truth Behind What Motivates Us, describes an inspiring purpose as the yearning to be in service to something greater than ourselves, he cites this as one of the most important factors in human motivation. In fact, I find that I can do pretty much any task in my life, and if it’s in the service of something greater than myself, I instantly have meaning and purpose in my life.

Connect - BlueSky - Bluesky Performance Improvement

A friend of mine and ex-colleague, Bill Hutchinson used to say that it’s not the task we have to carry out that creates our experience, but the spirit in which we undertake the task. For example, when someone asks you to make a cup of tea, you have a choice. You can do it in a begrudging manner, or do it with pleasure because you want that person to be happy and have a really good cup of tea. The fact remains whichever way you choose, you will still be making the cup of tea. It’s the same as when you give money to a charity cause. The act itself will not create you to be happy or unhappy, but the spirit in which you do it will. If you do it with a mind on what benefits you will personally create for the people who receive the donation will receive, you will have one experience. If you do it because your peers will think you are mean, you will have another experience. Another way of saying this is it’s not what you do, but the context in which we operate. It’s the same work that we do, but the context and reason why we do it is different.

Why do we come to work? To make money so that we can enjoy our life outside of work, and hope at the same time that our work will be personally satisfying and fulfilling, and when it isn’t, well hey? No job is perfect.

What about if we came to work because of the reason the work existed? Because we were so compelled and inspired by the purpose of the work we were involved in, it transcended our own need for own needs to be met, and yet at the same time spurred us on to even greater personal achievements.

I find that when the context of my work is centered around me, life can be miserable.  When my job becomes about not getting what I want, not doing the kind of work I want to be doing, things not being done the way I want them to be, people not behaving the way I want them to behave or the way they should, the work not being done the way I think it should be done, things not going the way I want them to be, my boss not treating me the way that I want to be treated, work life can create all kinds of unhappiness. And when I am present to the purpose behind the work that I do, I find that work can be an incredibly satisfying and fulfilling place to be.

And what is a leader if it isn’t someone who has been able to inspire people to be present to a purpose that is greater than themselves?

So what if the places we worked in were more present to a purpose that was more important then ourselves and we were more connected with that on a day-to-day basis? Would that make a difference to our experience of the world and the individual work that we produced?

I’d love to know your thoughts….


James Hodgkinson - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement

The art of handling negative critique

August 24, 2011

Sometimes when talking with managers, a question comes up, “When I am asked to communicate a message from the company, and it’s a message that I personally don’t believe in, how do I communicate to my team, in an authentic way?”

It seems the dilemma for people is that they don’t want to be dishonest in their views and they also know that agreeing with their teams negative opinions, will lead to a spiral of negativity that will end up being de-motivating.  The temptation in this instance is often to keep the relationship with their team by agreeing that the message or company direction is not a good one. The problem is, this undermines an individual’s relationship with the organisation, and the employee’s motivation and morale.

Motivate - Saving Private Ryan (Courtesy of Dreamworks SKG-Paramount Pictures) - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

I think Tom Hanks in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ deals with this delicate situation really well.  His team do not believe in the mission they have been sent on. They respect their leader, and so they ask what his opinion of the mission is.  After listening to them, he responds that he thinks it’s an excellent mission, well worthy of their best efforts, and I think it has a positive effect on the morale of his troops. Here’s the video for reference.

It also has a nice message about how to shape your teams gripes.  Later in the film it transpires that he doesn’t believe in the mission at all.  My take on it is that he is more concerned with his team (their morale and motivation), than he is of his own opinions.

So if as a manager you can’t believe in the message or the direction the company is taking, perhaps it would be helpful to change your perspective?  Imagine that you are the person responsible for the decision or message you don’t agree with. Force yourself to take their view point and to ask yourself, “Why is it a good thing?”  What was the motivation behind it? What is the person trying to achieve with it? It’s not about positive thinking, it’s about consciously and deliberately taking a different perspective in order to help and motivate your team.


James Hodgkinson - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement