Saturday, 6 September 2008

Upon reflection, I wonder

Friday evening, Philippe was in his office checking his emails. There was one from Gaston. It contained one question.

“Have you filled in the weekly questionnaire?”

He hadn't of course. There hadn't been time. He opened the attachment which Gaston had thoughtfully sent along with the email:

What value added have you provided to your organization?
Which new ideas have you and your team generated?
Who have you spoken to in a meaningful way, even if you disagreed with each other?
Who have your observed in your organization who has been outstanding?
Why do you think that person has been outstanding?
What has your shop floor team been doing?
Which information has been passed to you and from distributed by you?
What actual value has this information been to the recipients and to yourself?
How much was this week's “wasted cost factor?”
How does this compare to the “non-waste cost factor?”
What have you learnt his week?
How will you apply these lessons learnt next week?
How happy are you this week?
Can you go home this evening, feeling positive about your contribution?

Philippe shut the computer down and left the office.

“Stupid questions”, he thought.

Friday, 5 September 2008


Episodes 1 – 10 (August 27 – Sept. 05) The story so far: Fish works as a production leader at the Fishing Club by the Duck Pond. The club is a world leader in the manufacturing of fishing equipment. This causes a moral dilemma for Fish but the CEO, Philippe the Angler, sees enormous potential in Fish's career and, for reasons known only to him, wants to support him. Philippe is a modern day manager. He has visited all the relevant seminars, talks to important knowledge trainers and learns many new things in the field of value based management tools, leadership skills, visionary skills and many more. Philippe believes all this content and wants to implement it. He has selected Fish to assist him. Then there is Gaston, the Wise Duck. Gaston has a different view on things and always wants to learn something new. Gaston likes good food, good wine and good conversation. In the course of time, Gaston has many wonderful conversations. Archibald is the Head of the Works Council. He has a problem with just about everything. This is a little story of how they all interact and cope with their respective environments and most important, the story of their diverse yet common experiences.

Fish was stung by the word “idealistic”. Deep down, he knew that it wasn't the case. But then, he also couldn't define what it was. He too had thought about Archibald's credo about being “naive”. Naïve was one of those negative words. It was wrong to be naïve in today's world. All too simplistic. But maybe that wasn't such a bad thing either. But life long learning was the credo as well. Everybody had to learn something. Nobody could actually define what. Some learnt languages, some went on self-awareness trainings. It was all there, all for the taking.

But something was missing. Something didn't feel right.

“You're in a rut” he thought. “Get a grip on yourself and face reality”

That reality was the regular Friday lunch debriefing. Philippe had initiated it as a lessons learnt meeting. As was so often the case, it started but he wouldn't take ownership. Friday lunches were often spent outside with clients or suppliers or friends. What seemed like a good ideas soon became as the le-le meeting. It was still held, because of Philippe's insistence, but without enthusiasm, it almost had become a gossip session, hugely unproductive.

“A rather expensive luxury”, Fish thought. He did the number crunching. Hourly rate of €50. 8 people meeting for about 2 hours. That put a price tag at €800 per week. Not such a significant sum, until you figured you might meet about 25 times a year. That came to €20,000. That was a somewhat larger figure. Too much for the le-le meeting. If there was to be any cost cutting and productivity increases, here was a place to start.

It began to dawn on Fish that using the le-le meeting would be the opportunity he subconsciously had been waiting for. All he needed now was an idea, a plan. And some help from somewhere.

To be continued.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

What is right?

Fish was sitting in his office with a whole pile of paper in front of him. Information which had to be distributed to the various notice boards dotted around the production area. KPI's, production planning, status reports. It was all part of the new philosophy which Philippe was pushing through, it was all about transparency. Continuous improvement was the buzz word. After years of secretive hoarding of information and news everything was open and transparent and everybody had now access to all the information. It was made to be relevant and geared to make the workers feel to be part of the process, to accept responsibility for their actions. The change had been relatively sudden and as in all these approaches, badly explained and rolled out.

All of a sudden, people had to feel passionate about their work.

“Passion and work do not go together,” said one worker, “I cannot imagine that everybody sees a passion in his daily routines”.

“But it is in our core values,” said Fish

“Ha”, came a response, “another one of those empty phrases. Passion is about love and people, not about processes and systems. It is the wrong word. I am satisfied when I do a good job. I am happy when people buy our fishing equipment. But passion? Do we have to love each other now as well?”

“But then, if you don't love your work, why are you here?” replied Fish

“Look”, I have been here for over 10 years, “it's not the company, it's my colleagues here. I have known them all this time. I know the good times, the bad times, and they know me. We do our work because we are happy with each other. Not more, not less. We don't care about all the management hot air coming from the offices”

“Exactly”, somebody else said, “I don't spend 5 minutes looking at the information boards. I don't need them. I need work, not some paper on the wall. It is important for me to know what I have to do and when the deadline is.”

Fish was in a difficult situation. On the one side he could see their point of view. A lot of it was not necessary. But he did also see some benefit from the greater transparency. It was difficult to articulate it however.

“Look guys”, said Fish, “it's all about communication and integrity. We have to talk to each other, be informed and communicate all the problems and the status of our production. You know..”

“Fish”, said one of them, “when was the last time Philippe came down to us on the shop floor, eh? When was the last time he came down, shook our hands, listened to us, spent time with us. I suspect he was told that at some leadership training program. Has he done it?”

“He is a busy man, with meetings to go to. He needs to figure the future strategy, develop his mission and fulfil his vision,” replied Fish, sensing the emptiness of those words.

“Sure he has to do that. And he has to inspire us too, does he? If he wants to inspire us, he has to communicate with us, but that might be too uncomfortable. He is not interested in us, not really. And to be honest, we're not really interested in what he has to say because it only helps him.”

“But doesn't this information, this transparency inspire you?” replied Fish, “Look, inspiration is also about giving people a feeling of a good job. It gives you the possibility to have good ideas for product improvements and production improvements.”

“Aren't you being a little idealistic here Fish?” came a question?

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Wine Tasting

After spending two days in the Douro Valley, Gaston had reached a state of delirium. He was totally unprepared for the warmth and hospitality extended to him. But it was more. He had entered a different world.

Victor and Gaston sat down to shoot the breeze.

“You know”, Victor said, musing over which bottle to open, “I love to be alive and share expertise with professional people who are passionate about what they do and love?”

“Where does this come from?” asked Gaston

“Look around you. I was born in the most fantastic region for great wines. When you have great wines you have passion and care. The Douro Valley is a sacred place for viticulture because here we have fantastic weather and soil. The sun shines at the lovely walls up in the vineyards in Tua and the Douro Valley”.

Victor finally made his choice. “Let's start with a Vinho Verde. It is one of the green wines that we represent in overseas countries”

Gaston watched as Victor poured a small amount into the two glasses. When the wine swirled around in his mouth he could taste a persistent fresh flavour and tropical fruit aromas. It was going to be a long difficult evening, he thought pleasantly.

“This is a beautiful country, but it is not easy here. It forms the character. And, do not forget, the Victor Marques family has been producing wine for over 100 years. So, ever since I was a young boy, I was determined to win in every field that life put me in. I had to learn. I'm a risk taker and I follow all my passions with an open heart and with a smile on my face”

Gaston could only listen. The pride expressed in those words could not be overheard.

“I have it in my soul. The Marques family believe in it and carry on planting more than 13 acres of new vines near Douro and Tua rivers where even the Romans have been cultivating the culture of the wine!”

“You have deep and strong roots then.”, Gaston added.

Victor nodded. “And because of that, there is a tremendous benefit for everybody”

“How so?” asked Gaston, “Is there a secret?”

“Passion for people and for wines is my only secret...I love people and great wines...You can ask me why...!”

Gaston, raising the glass, was about to when Victor continued.

“Passion is a word that belongs to small producers who make wonderful wines. They make it in a such sensitive and caring way! Everything is a process that never finishes until the wine is bottled and go to storage in French oak or in metal containers. The honest and fair way that have been doing business help me to have a smile everyday of my life! Be yourself, so never judge people and never complain against the storms or bad weather because the sun will shine again and again...

“It sounds so simple. Why can't others in business be the same?” questioned Gaston.
Victor sighed.
“You want to try another wine? Maybe you will find the answer there. In Vino Veritas, eh?” he said with a twinkle in his eye and a captivating smile.

“You know the history is very important with the product. The Port wine region was established in 1756 and is still the second oldest region protected in the world! Traditionally the wine was taken to port by the so-called rabelo boat and then stored in oak Barrels in Vila Nova de Gaia. The port is sweeter and is served before or after meals with cheese. The white Port is often served as an aperitif. Tawny Ports are aged in wooden barrels.
Remember Gaston, that you are visiting a fantastic part of northern Portugal . But don't forget a great place called Tua. The Tua river there is very calm and at the same time like a paradise for men and God. Here we have a great micro climate that is optimal for cultivation of olives, almonds and especially the many types of grapes like tinta Barroca, Tinto cao, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and touriga Francesa.
The Douro Valley is a great place for olive oil too. And I usually say that we can compare wine with olive oil because the climate, the soil and the real people who take care of the vineyards and olive trees. The olive oil organic version in produced with care and love from small producers of Tua and Douro Valley! So, olive oil and wine can live in the same land like sister and brother.”

It seemed that Victor was building up his history and geography lesson to give credit to the next wine he was going to try. Victor was still holding a bottle as he continued

“I think we should try a late bottled vintage. It is a kind of wine that had been destined for being bottled as Vintage Port, but the due to the lack of great demand for Port was left in the barrel for rather longer that it was at first planned. Over time it has become two distinct styles of wine, both of them bottled between four and six years after vintage, but one style is refined and filtered prior to bottling while the other is not. So you have filtered wine ready to drink without decanting and unfiltered wines which are bottled with conventional corks and need to be decanted. The cork is so important for a great wine. These Ports are the product of a single year's harvest and tend to be lighter bodied than a vintage Port.”

Gaston recalled the growing number of wines now being bottle with screw capped tops. He shuddered inwardly.

“You are going to try a Quinta Seara Dordens 2003 Late Bottled Vintage Porto bottled last year in 2007.”

Victor poured the liquid into a fresh glass, gave it to Gaston, and then settled back with an expectant look in his eyes. Gaston took up the challenge and raised the glass to the light. It was intense in colour. When he tasted it, it exploded in his mouth with a bouquet of ripe grapes and forest berries.

After a second taste, he said “Very elegant, .....fruity ........and full -bodied.”

Victor nodded in satisfaction. “Yes, he said, it has a unique personality and aged for 20 months and then in old wood casks until bottling in the 4th year. With I wine like that, I love to be alive and share expertise with professional people who are passionate about what they do and love.”

“You said that earlier” said Gaston.

Gaston did not overhear the hidden statement. For all the love of his product, his roots, his sense of being, Gaston had grown to realise that with a commitment to quality came the expectation to appreciate quality. But what quality? Quality of life, quality of work, quality of being generous. There was a sense of modesty in Victor but there was also a man who new what he wanted and how to get it.

“Victor, I must ask you a frightfully boring question now, but this wine here is such a perfect inspiration”, said Gaston slowly, looking for the right words.

Victor nodded.

“What do you understand by leadership?”.

Victor grew solemn.

“Gaston”, he commenced, “I'm not afraid of fighting for the ones that need help! I really believe in what I say or do... I'm very positive and never give up, I follow my passions and all my dreams . Gratitude is a source of inspiration!
Everything is global and I can do everything and I'm not afraid of a fight, not afraid about my future, my own abilities give me the right way of positive things that will always happen because I work hard seven days a week...
I'm like a navigator who never knows what is going to happen next...
So. I'm a long life learner who loves real people and I trust myself and I show it to others in a farming way...

Silence began to settle. “There,” thought Gaston, “sits a truly wise man!”

Victor, slightly uncomfortable, started again. “Gaston, that is business. This is pleasure and what do we do? We try great wines with perfect food and the most important ingredient: Love, family laughs and great moments! Look at this fantastic picture, taken when we were all celebrating the confection of Pork and Beef, both grilled at a local grill!”

As Gaston retired for the night, he jotted down a few thoughts.

“In business, you must have your own world. It contains your roots, your identity and is what has moulded you. It goes beyond being authentic because it also contains your soul. It radiates a spirit. Not everybody will like your world, but they will respect you for it. Perhaps more, when people sense that their world might feel very empty in comparison. It is pure inspiration and all perfectly simple”

In this dialogue, Victor's words are largely his own, taken from his blog entries here on Ecademy and rearranged for the storyline and message for my own observations. I am deeply indebted to Victor and his generosity in allowing me to use his material.