Can we learn anything as managers from the 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

Can we learn anything as managers from the 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

“I am invincible!” said the Black Knight

This British comedy film concerns the legend of King Arthur travelling throughout Britain seeking men to join the Knights of the Round Table in the search for the Holy Grail.  In medieval British legend, the Holy Grail was the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper. Beliefs at the time said it could heal wounds, deliver eternal youth and grant everlasting happiness. Today, it is a term used to describe a goal or object that is elusive and can never be found or achieved.

It is one of my favorite movies which I must admit I have watched at least 10 times and has a cult following. In watching it again last month, I realised that it had some important lessons for us as managers.

  1. The Black Knight. 

King Arthur approaches the Black Knight who says: “none shall pass”. Despite pleas to be reasonable King Arthur is forced into a joust, resulting in the Black Knight losing all his limbs in the ensuing sword fight. He refuses all offers by King Arthur to cease the one-sided contest. One of my former business partners refused to accept that a manager was having detrimental effects on morale and profitability, despite being presented with the facts. It was only when the partner went on holidays that we were able to take action and dismiss the manager.

What is the lesson for managers here?

Clearly, the stupidity of the Black Knight resulted in him losing all his limbs. Stubbornness, refusal to face facts, bloody mindedness, denial and continuing poor decision making is not a sound managerial strategy. Managers should be realistic when confronted with facts, however unpalatable.

  1. The Man called Dennis. 

King Arthur approaches some peasants on the way to a castle on the horizon and mistaken calls one of the peasants an “old woman”. He then makes excuses for not knowing the peasant’s name (Dennis), age (not old he’s 37) or the fact that he was a man.

Can you spot the poor management here?

Managers should make the effort to know their staff. It’s the attention to detail and often the small things that are important and appreciated. I remember witnessing a manager whom the staff had no respect for walking around a warehouse pretending to know their names and be interested. It became a game to get him to call the person the wrong name.

  1. The Rabbit Cave

King Arthur and his Knights are directed to a cave by Tim the Enchanter. Inside the cave are the directions to the site of the Holy Grail. The entrance to the cave is littered with bones and is guarded by a killer rabbit. Tim warns the Knights that rabbit is a killer and they ignore his advice. They choose to ignore, they attack, which results in the deaths of several knights.

As managers, what can we learn here?

Why did the Knights attack despite being warned and seeing the bones outside the cave? Because they didn’t listen to advice and ignored the evidence. Often as managers we make these fundamental errors, sometimes because our egos get in the way or we don’t wish to face the facts. When managing a transport business, I remember discounting the option that theft from motor vehicles was occurring in our depot even though the evidence seemed to suggest otherwise. A private investigator proved me wrong

In conclusion, the final lesson is within the film itself. Faced with budget constraints, the use of real horses was deemed prohibitive. Instead the Knights ‘travel’ on invisible horses with the sound of the horses’ hooves clopping coming from the clapping coconuts. The idea came from an old radio technique of  using coconut halves as sound effects for horses. Yes, as managers we should all be prepared to compromise, improvise and find solutions that could be just as suitable and more affordable. In our logistics business we were confronted with excessive waiting costs at a retailers’ distribution centre and could not recoup the costs. After some experimentation initially with shipping containers we negotiated a drop-out system for a van trailer, thereby eliminating waiting time and significantly increasing our returns.

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Does your organisation suffer from Komodo Dragon Syndrome?

Does your organisation suffer from Komodo Dragon Syndrome?

“Dragons are creatures of legend, but in a world as fantastic as Indonesia, myths become reality. On a small, 22 mile long island among the thousands of Indonesian isles lives the planet’s only living dragon -the Komodo (Varanus komodoensis)”

Extract from Wild Indonesia

In 1910, in eastern Indonesia on the island of Flores a Dutch colonial administrator, Lieutenant J.K.T. van Steyn van Hensbroek received word of a “land crocodile” living on the nearby island of Komodo. Intrigued, he decided to visit Komodo to investigate. He returned with a photo and a skin. The reptile was not a crocodile, but a large monitor lizard. In 1912, it was recognised as new to science and the first formal description of the lizard was published. It became known as the Komodo Dragon, the world’s largest living lizard.

So, what is Komodo Dragon Syndrome?

Komodo dragons are endemic to eastern Indonesia. They are found only on the northern coast of Flores and on three nearby islands including the island of Komodo. The Komodo Dragon can grow to over 3 metres in length and weigh up to 130 kgs. They are territorial, can run at up to 20 kph, are carnivores and have very sensitive forked tongues that sense prey and food, such as rotting flesh kilometres away. With a powerful tail, large claws and serrated teeth they have a fearsome reputation. Their bite is toxic due to the bacteria in their salvia and glands in their mouth produce a venom that prevents blood clotting and leads to unconsciousness.  Known to occasionally eat humans, they predominantly eat deer and pigs, which they ambush and bite, and wait then for them to succumb to their toxic bite.

No, it’s not about a fierce venomous predatory reptile.

The Dutch had been in Indonesia as a colonial power since the early 17th Century with the establishment of the Dutch East India (VOC) Company in 1602. The VOC was one of the world’s first multi-national companies. By 1800 however, due to mismanagement, corruption and fierce competition from the English East India Company, the VOC was bankrupt and was nationalised by the Dutch state.

The Dutch had been in Indonesia for over 300 years and had not found the Komodo Dragon, the world’s largest and most dangerous lizard. Even Lt van Steyn van Hensbroek, the ‘discoverer’ of the Komodo Dragon who was living on the island of Flores where it also lived, went to the island of Komodo to find it.

This defies explanation.

How could such an animal remain ‘undiscovered’ for so long?

This is what I call Komodo Dragon Syndrome, where the management can be so inward looking that something so obvious can be missed.

Perhaps the Dutch colonial administrators were ostrich managers or were so blinded by their colonial superiority and preconceived ideas that they failed to see what was virtually right under their noses.

The message is, to avoid suffering from Komodo Dragon Syndrome, we as managers need to ask questions, be inquisitive and manage by walking around.

Are you being complacent?

Too comfortable in your position, inward looking and missing the obvious?

Perhaps you have Komodo Dragon Syndrome.

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A lesson in taking information at face value.

A lesson in taking information at face value.

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please”

Mark Twain – American author and humorist

Many years ago we were staying with some distant relatives in the Orkney Islands. Our visit became a lesson in not taking alleged ‘facts’ at face value.

Over a few drinks we were asked: “Have you heard of the island of St Kilda?”

No.

This sparked our interest as at the time we were living in the Melbourne bayside suburb of St Kilda. The local Australian Rules Football club were called ‘the Saints’ with a saint as their emblem.

Was the suburb named after a Christian saint?

No.

St Kilda is a group of wind swept, isolated and now uninhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The main island of Hirta, until 1930 had been inhabited for hundreds of years and was a breeding ground for millions of seabirds, from gannets, puffins to fulmars.

It appears that the word St Kilda is derived from the Norse or Vikings ‘sunt kelda’ meaning ‘sweet well water’ and was not named after a Christian saint. I could guarantee that very few if any St Kilda Football Club supporters would know that there was never a saint called St Kilda.

Our relatives gave us a book to read about the history of St Kilda. It was a fascinating story about a group of islanders who had a hunter gatherer lifestyle. During the summer and spring months the men gathered sea birds, collecting them for feathers for pillows and bedding, and oil to sell to the occasional passing ship.  They clambered up and down the 300 or more metre cliffs in bare feet – assisted by large prehensile toes allowing them to climb on the cliffs more easily.

Was the suburb of St Kilda named after the islands of St Kilda?

Not exactly.

In the 1840s a trading ship called ‘The Lady of St Kilda’ was anchored in Melbourne for many months. The area was referred to locally as ‘The St Kilda foreshore.’ Legend has it, that the then Governor La Trobe named the new village St Kilda.

Not from a Saint, or an island but a ship.

However, the ship had a link to the islands of St Kilda. The owner of the ship, Sir Thomas Dyke Acland named the ship to commemorate a visit to the island of St Kilda by his wife, Lydia, in 1810. Acland had named the vessel in honour of Lady Grange, the wife of a Jacobite Noblemen, who in 1734 who was about to reveal her husband’s treachery. She was imprisoned on St Kilda for 17 years. It is hard to imagine how the noblewoman endured years of living alone in extremely primitive conditions in a stone dwelling with an earthen floor, amongst a small local population who spoke no English (the islanders spoke Gaelic) in the island’s harsh climate and lifestyle.

What are the management lessons from the St Kilda story?

As managers we should never accept things at face value as what are believed to be ‘facts’ may not be true. This could affect how we effectively manage the many situations that arise in the course of our managerial responsibilities. Furthermore, it is important to be curious, do your homework and ask questions.  Looking back on my career, at times I certainly have been guilty of not heeding this advice.

If you would like read a book about the history of St Kilda (not the Australian Rules Football Club), the book below is recommended.

“Island on the Edge of the World: The Story of St. Kilda,” by Charles Maclean

5 Ways to Invest in Yourself

Guest Blog by Kym Wallis

5 Ways to Invest in Yourself

An investment in yourself is the best thing you can do to advance personally and professionally. Whether your goal is to climb up the corporate ladder or build a successful startup, you need to develop certain skills first.

Make no mistake though: Working on yourself isn’t easy. There will be numerous challenges standing in your way. But when you take the steps to improve your performance and consistently put in the effort, new opportunities will open up to you.

Here we’ll look at some of the best ways to invest in yourself.

1. Set Goals

Many people work hard but still seem to be stuck at the same level either personally or professionally. A key reason is simply because they haven’t set goals.

Why is setting goals so important?

Because a goal gives you focus. It helps you better organise your time and resources to accomplish a worthy objective. Goals let you see clear progress in what may have been thought of as unattainable. Even if you have no idea how to accomplish a certain goal, just the act of putting it down on paper gives you a focal point to start brainstorming the first steps.

Set personal and business goals for yourself. Your goals should be SMART which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Writing your goals down in this manner provides a strong foundation for seeing things through.

2. Read More Books

What do some of the most successful entrepreneurs have in common?

They’re voracious readers.

Successful entrepreneurs like Bill Gates read 50 books a year. “Every book teaches me something new or helps me see things differently,” says Gates. “Reading fuels a sense of curiosity about the world, which I think helped drive me forward in my career.”

He’s not alone either. Other entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have made reading a daily habit for several reasons. It provides mental stimulation and exposes you to new ideas. Everything you read also builds up like compound interest.

Books like ‘Good to Great’ and ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ are great starting points. But don’t ignore fiction books either. Elon Musk credits the Lord of the Rings with shaping his vision of his future self.

Making reading a daily habit is one of the best ways to invest in yourself.

3. Take Care of Your Health

Data from the World Health Organization estimates that 80% of the deaths arising from non-communicable diseases include cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, cancer and diabetes – most of which are preventable with a healthy lifestyle and diet. By taking better care of your health you greatly reduce the risk of being diagnosed with such diseases.

Make regular exercise part of your daily routine and focus on eating healthier. Replace sugary sodas with water and incorporate more vegetables into your diet. Just these two alone will get you on the right track towards a healthier lifestyle, resulting in fewer health problems later on.

Although there are exceptions, you can’t hope to achieve anything meaningful if you’re constantly sick or bedridden. Make the choice to invest in yourself by making better decisions about your health.

4. Invest in a Personal Coach

Even the most successful CEOs work with coaches to bring more insight and new perspectives for the visions and goals of their organisation. If you own a business or are thinking of starting one, a personal coach can assist with setting up your business and bringing to light any common pitfalls people face. And even if you don’t have a business, a personal coach can help you focus on your career goals and show you how to be more effective at work.

You don’t have to necessarily get a coach to improve yourself and work on your ambitions. If one of your goals is to be more financially stable, you can hire a financial advisor to look over your finances. Just remember that a coach is there to help you create and implement an action plan. Their success depends on your success.

Coaches can be expensive but it’s an investment that aims to pay for itself.

5. Learn a New Skill

More employers are now looking for employees with a diverse set of skills. Learning a new skill not only pushes your career prospects further but shows that you are a valuable asset willing to invest in yourself.

You don’t need to enroll in classes or spend a lot of money either. There are plenty of free resources online such as YouTube and Khan Academy that teach valuable skills you can implement in your job. Talent doesn’t just magically appear overnight. You have to actively put in the time to build your skills to overcome hurdles and accomplish your goals. Set aside time in your schedule and make a commitment to learn a new skill.

References

  1. https://www.inc.com/carmine-gallo/bill-gates-other-billionaires-say-this-1-habit-is-secret-to-their-sucess.html
  2. https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2018/05/21/are-you-a-smart-manager/
  3. https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2016/12/19/reading-is-not-just-for-christmas/
  4. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases
  5. https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2014/01/23/networking/

Author’s Bio

Kym Wallis, the founding director of Higher Ranking has over 15 years of advertising sales, digital strategy, and business development experience. He is currently working as Digital Adviser for Konnect Salon Software. Kym has several other blogs on this website.

Another lesson from the farm…

Another lesson from the farm…

“There’s nothing like putting your bare feet into fresh cow dung on a cold day. It’s great “
Makhaya Ntini – first ethnically black cricketer to play for South Africa

In a previous blog I wrote about constant renewal using lessons from the farm and I now have another ‘farm story’ from my childhood.

One of my jobs was to ‘pen up the calf’ each evening. This was done so that when my father milked the calf’s mother in the morning it would have enough milk to collect for our growing family of four boys. Rounding up the calf each evening was often a challenge. Regularly the calf would be cunning and refuse to go through the gate to be penned up.

The cow paddock was also a world of excitement for young boys. A creek to cross, dive bombing plovers in mating season, the odd angry bull, a mob of kangaroos with joeys, snakes……….

What a challenge!

However, the paddock other dangers. Yes, it was full of ‘land mines’ (our nickname for cow manure) — ranging from the very fresh to the dry and dusty.

It was fun to trick my youngest brother. He sometimes followed me around on my afternoon chores. On one of his first adventures into the paddock with me to pen up the calf for the night I encouraged him to jump on a week-old cow pat. Not being entirely convinced, he tapped it with a stick. It sounded hard so he then, with my encouragement jumped on it.

Two things happened.

Firstly, he was shin deep in cow manure and secondly, I doubled up with laughter — apparently the look on my brother’s face said it all. What a mean older brother. I certainly had some explaining to do to my mother when we got home.

The cow paddock in many ways was a great learning ground for a life in business. It was a very practical lesson –

‘what you see is not always what you get’

Are you careful enough in assessing opportunities and problems which are your land mines?

Are they what they seem on the surface?

Reading is not just for Christmas…

gates

Reading is not just for Christmas…

“not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”
Harry S Truman – US President

Several years ago I was assisting with managing a 3 day residential leadership program called “The Challenge to Lead” for my Rotary Club. The program was run by professional facilitators who had donated their time to conduct the program. One of the facilitators asked the question:

“Who here has read a management or leadership book in the last 12 months?”

Of the 28 people in the room only 2 put up their hands. I was horrified. I personally try to read a book a month on leadership and management, whether they are biographies on famous people or management books. I also read novels and books on history.

The facilitator’s comment was:

“Readers are leaders”

It was interesting that people attending a leadership course had not seen the need to increase their knowledge and seek out new ideas by reading. Warren Buffett the billionaire investor reads 500 pages a day, Bill Gates reads 50 books per year and Mark Zuckerburg reads 2 books per month. Successful people do not just read anything, they are selective preferring to be educated rather than entertained.

Why is reading books, particularly management and leadership books important?

Here are some suggestions as to why:

• We can learn from the experience of smart people – Management by Peter Drucker
• It opens up your mind to new ideas – Good to Great by Jim Collins
• It can be inspirational, particularly biographies – Not for Turning. The Life of Margaret Thatcher by Robin Harris
• Show you how to do things – The One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
• Stimulate the mind and get you thinking – How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
• Provide a framework for leadership – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Reading is not just for Christmas…..

“not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”
Harry S Truman – US President

Furthermore, reading elevates you above the daily grind of work and can inspire you and give you new ideas. Reading is a form of learning and can stimulate your thinking processes, providing ideas from a different viewpoint.

If you do not have time for reading than another alternative is listening to audio books. I listen to audio books whilst driving. Instead of listening to trivial talkback radio shows I use the time to increase my knowledge.

In 2016 the 5 best selling management books for Dymocks an Australian national book retailer were:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.
Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.
The One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.
Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

Good to Great by Jim Collins.

With the traditional holiday period coming up in the southern hemisphere it is now an opportunity to think about how can you enjoy the period and start reading. Reading is not just for Christmas, however it is a good time to begin. Take the time to select some books to read and make a start. The 5 books mentioned above are a good reads.

With some planning it can become a life time habit and make you a better leader.

Wishing you and your families a Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2017 and thank you for following my blog in 2016.

What is your plan?

boer maak ‘n plan

In Afrikaans, the language spoken by the mainly Dutch immigrant descendants living in South Africa ‘boer maak ‘n plan’ means a ‘farmer makes a plan’.  The deprivations and harshness of farming in a foreign land brought resolve and the need to plan to get around or solve these problems.  Having travelled recently in Southern Africa I came across another similar saying in Zimbabwe where people often spoke about ‘making a plan’.

What does the saying really mean?

Not as it appears literally. The ‘hidden’ meaning is that you have an alternative plan (a plan B) when your first plan fails or is impossible to implement. In other words, you need to be flexible and adaptable to solve a problem.

How does this equate to being a manager or managing a business?

As business owners or managers, we need to plan in the first instance. As the saying goes, ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’

However, having a rigid plan may not work if circumstances change. Let me give you an example?

Many years ago in our third party logistics business we were having difficulty in getting our trucks unloaded on time at a retailer’s distribution centre despite meeting their strict time slots. It was OK for the distribution centre to run late unloading you, however if you failed to arrive at the designated time slot you were ‘fined’. What made the situation even worse was that to make the early morning delivery time slots, trucks had to battle peak hour traffic to and from the distribution centre as well as the loading delays. This became an expensive experience – instead of 3 hours it was taking 6 hours to deliver and unload. It was further compounded by our fixed price delivery charge.

We had many meetings with distribution centre management and despite their assurances that the situation would improve, it did not.

What would solve our problem and be a ‘win’ for the distribution centre? Our Plan B.

Making some observations and talking to the receiving team at the distribution centre a plan emerged. All loads were hand unloaded (rather than on pallets) onto a conveyor with the individual cartons being scanned as they travelled up the belt. The distribution centre had a prime mover that was used for moving trailers around the receiving area.

We asked distribution centre management whether we could trial loading a 40’ container instead of an ordinary tautliner semi-trailer. We would bring the loaded container in early in the morning before peak hour, leave it in the receiving area for the distribution centre prime mover to move onto the unloading conveyor when it suited the receiving team. The empty container would then be picked up on the next early morning delivery. After a short trial, it was found that it was a win/win for both us and the distribution centre. Delivery time halved with a massive increase in margin for us and the distribution centre was able to utilise their receiving area far more efficiently.  

The success of the trial enabled us to purchase two second hand and obsolete hand semi-trailers for 10% of their replacement value and establish a unique closed loop delivery system that was extremely profitable.

We solved the waiting time problem and the peak hour travel problem which initially appeared to be unresolvable. We significantly increased our profits by having a Plan B.

Remember in any situation, you should always have a Plan B like the farmer faced with the unpredictability of the harsh African environment…….

Questions and Answers

Questions and Answers

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”

Voltaire

One of the biggest mistakes  we can make  as managers is to talk too much and  ask too few enough questions.

Are you a manager who suffers from “I” strain? – I did this, I do this, I, I, I, …

Furthermore, if we do ask questions do we listen to the answer?

Asking questions is one of the most effective ways of gaining information and eliciting team co-operation. It is therefore one of the best tools available to managers.

The skill in asking questions is to know what type of question to ask, when to ask it and how to ask it.

There are 2 main types of Questions:

  1. Closed Questions – these are those questions that require a yes  no, or one word answer. They should be avoided unless you are clarifying a position or answer
  2. Open Questions – these are questions that elicit an open response where if handled carefully you can obtain valuable information and opinions and have your staff committed to the organisation.

A useful technique in asking questions is to start the question with one of the following………Why, Where, When, Who, What, and How

You can continue a conversation and explore ideas by rolling through the five Ws and H:

‘where’ did it happen?

‘when’ did it happen?

‘who’ was involved?

‘what’ happened?

‘why’ did it happen?

‘how’ did it happen?

Other types of questions include

Direct Questions (can be used to slow down a fast talker, confront an obstructionist or draw out a reluctant participant),

Leading Questions (should be generally avoided  but can be used to gain support or bring a meeting to a close),

Ambiguous Questions (when more than one answer is possible. Can also  be used to provoke a response, slow down a domineering talker, start a discussion or spark some action),

Provocative Questions (should be used with care and often used to provoke a response or defend a position),

Rhetorical Questions (very effective in putting an issue ‘to bed’ and moving on)

and

Re-directed Questions (used by politicians to avoid answering the question).

Questions are good tools to have when conducting a meeting.

More importantly we should avoid asking questions that are:

  1. Closed questions (yes/no) unless you follow up with a direct or factual question
  2. Invoke antagonisms
  3. Of a personal nature which may embarrass
  4. Sarcastic

So now the question I ask is “how active is your listening?”

Are you getting the feedback desired and does the person you are questioning feel that you are interested and actively listening to their answers?