Writing about the business of business


I trawl through bookstores, both real and on-line, in search of business books.

The category is big business, but is rarely stimulating and interesting.

Business books often belonging in the engineering – detailed and somewhat mechanical accounts of a ‘how to’ variety – or science fiction sections – so fantastical and imaginative in their prescriptions and analyses of successful businesses that they belong on another planet.  

Anita Roddick’s Body and Soul has been with me since the early 90s when I played hooky from a tedious HR conference and sat in a Harrogate café with it and endless cups of coffee.  My fascination with the book is more to do with her drive and passion than the Body Shop and its products.

I read Subroto Bagchi's The High Performance Entrepreneur on a train journey to the Lake District at a time when I was also reading the Panchatantra.  One a lesson in business, the other a lesson in life, but the defining lines between the two are never all that clear.

Subroto is a founding director of MindTree.  His perspective from the coalface is very valuable, much more so than writers who have never hewn coal or have long since forgotten the experience

He teases out one defining feature of a successful entrepreneur – the capacity to focus both on  a compelling vision and a disciplined implementation of process, which in combination is then scaleable.  He explains why these supposedly incompatible activities of vision and process need to work together.  

His book belongs in the "Imaginative Engineering and Real-Life Science Fiction" section.

Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow is not a business book - one of its attractions is that it is not immediately clear where the book belongs - but it deserves to be read and then read again by anybody in business.

It is carefully written and densely populated with ideas and reflections so doesn't lend itself to neat summaries.

But the observations keep coming:

  • Successful CEOs rely upon a very significant amount of luck and contribute little overall to the success of their companies
  • Fund managers, investment bankers and other finance experts are clearly not 
  • Predictions about the future are pointless beyond a limited period of time from the present.  The discussion on BBC Radio 4 yesterday about house prices in 3-5 years was an exercise in imagination
  • Job interviews and assessments of potential, including presumably any number of talent management programmes, don't do what they are intended to do
  • Compensation linked to performance is a fudge, if not a waste of time and money
  • Negotiation and mediation activities should recognise the irrationality of much decision making by individuals and organisations

I now understand why I make so many mistakes when hiking with maps.  I force the evidence around me on to the map in front of me, fuelled by a dose of optimism, irrespective of knowing I have made this mistake on countless previous occasions. I shall take Kahneman with me when next I hike.

From here to there.

Or not, on occasion.

Dispute resolution

Sometimes it is easier to talk to resolve a disagreement or dispute.  On most occasions however we struggle to have difficult discussions before disputes then spin out of control.  

Mediation allows a way of encouraging discussions and resolution.


Mediation is increasingly used to resolve employment disputes and is attractive for a number of reasons:

  • it is confidential and any final agreement, which is legally binding, will reinforce the confidentiality of mediation discussions and the terms of the agreement
  • those involved do not have to worry about publicity
  • it is "without prejudice" and thus all possible solutions can be explored before an agreement is signed
  • those involved retain control of mediation and the agreement rather than passing it to somebody else e.g. a Tribunal or an Arbitrator.  As a result, the mediation is less formal 
  • those involved tend to be supported by existing legal advisors
  • it is a cost-effective means of resolving a dispute with a typical mediation taking no more than two days
  • even if mediation is not successful, the discussions often lead to a resolution at a later date, again without further litigation
  • mediation can identify solutions which are not evident during the early stages of a dispute or subsequent litigation e.g. the provision of a reference or an apology
  • Tribunals increasingly expect claimants to have mediated before litigating and will expect the mediation effort to be a serious one
  • litigation is not only time consuming and costly, it is also distracting and worrying over many months for those involved

UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) initiative - April 2014

From April 2014, anyone thinking about making an employment tribunal claim will need to contact Acas. 

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act makes changes to the employment tribunal process, including providing for prospective claimants to contact Acas before they can begin certain types of Employment Tribunal proceedings. 

This service will be called Early Conciliation and will attempt to resolve a dispute outside the tribunal system and before any Tribunal proceedings are launched.  The process and its benefits are similar to mediation in a number of respects.

It is unclear for the moment what impact this will have on Tribunals and exactly how Early Conciliation will work in the early stages of implementation, given the significant increase in workload this will place upon Acas. 

But it is another step in the UK to resolving disputes prior to litigation and will increase the use of mediation.

Early resolution of disputes

Most employment disputes have a number of distinguishing features:

  • An unwillingness or inability to deal with difficult situations in a timely and transparent manner
  • Informal discussions quickly lead to formal discussions with little space for resolution
  • Use of internal appeals or grievance procedures which rarely if ever result in a conclusion which is satisfactory to all involved and are increasingly legalistic
  • A suspicion by employers that employees are being briefed by legal advisors, with the employees confused about how best to proceed
  • An escalation of the discussions to HR and in-house lawyers with local management no longer leading discussions
  • Typically happening at times of significant change e.g. economic downturn or during the company’s annual cycle e.g. bonus, pay and promotion announcements
  • The process of managing litigation takes over immediately before or after a claim is made to the Tribunal or litigation is threatened, by which time attitudes have hardened and external advisors are involved

There is a role for mediation at an early stage in potential disputes and certainly before litigation is launched. And it would be easier to talk.

From here to there.



Hiking and Organisations

I hiked the 2160 mile Appalachian Trail and, whilst poking along through the woods, thought of many things.  

One of the things was the connection between two of my obsessions - hiking and organisations.  

I eventually got this in to a presentation which was alright on content  - some insights about the challenges of long-distance hiking, organisational strategy, leadership and teams - but poor on impact.  

Frankly it was boring to look at and to read.

I have been struggling to find a way of presenting this material in a more appropriate manner for some time.  

I discovered Prezi.com recently and this is the result - Hiking and Organisations

From here to there.