<![CDATA[see-changes.com - Blog]]>Fri, 27 Sep 2019 17:07:49 +0100Weebly<![CDATA[5 Tips for sharing bad news from our Sponsor Series]]>Wed, 25 Sep 2019 13:43:04 GMThttp://see-changes.com/blog/5-tips-for-sharing-bad-news-from-our-sponsor-series
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<![CDATA[3 things I learned working in transport]]>Mon, 23 Sep 2019 10:46:19 GMThttp://see-changes.com/blog/3-things-i-learned-working-in-transport
Passengers leaving a train in a station
Opening of Borders Railway in September 2015
Operational understanding is crucial to any role that you do in transport.
Understanding your mode and how it works, breaks, recovers and keeps people moving is vital.  How it is built, maintained, repaired and renewed is an obvious focus when undertaking major change projects.

Start though by understanding how it works on a day to day basis. Use it as a passenger, work shadow people in operational roles, see it in use and speak to operators.  

A cab ride chatting with a train driver gives you a perspective that’s hard to write into an induction manual. Bus drivers understand passenger personas with more depth and insight than you will find in a marketing book.

There are nuances that you won’t see by looking at designs or performance statistics. How operators iron out glitches, solve day to running issues, manage the people impact of perturbation and focus on moving people around are all areas you should understand before you set out to change any of it. I have yet to meet a member of an operation team who isn’t happy to share their knowledge in order to achieve better outcomes in transport projects.
 
Look at the behaviours to predict project success

As Head of Sponsorship at Network Rail 3 of us annually reviewed the £34bn rail portfolio against likelihood of success on cost, schedule & benefits.  Affectionately (or not) known as the Hendy 2 and Hendy 3 reviews it was an enormous exercise. Crossing the country carrying out intensive audits and reviews over 8 weeks, interviewing hundreds of staff and correlating data. Predicting success and risk is assumed to be a data driven exercise in these days of sophisticated management information tools.

On the team we had the best project controls leader I have ever met.  Management information was the bedrock of our findings but not the final output. The data was turned into information to give us knowledge.

That only became powerful when combined with our collective intuition. What we knew about people, how we saw teams react to questions and answers in each other’s presence, body language, openness to challenge & questions, what people did & didn’t say and crucially the team dynamics. In person reviews are vital in understanding the health of a project as that is hugely determined by the people delivering that project.
 
Transport is the lifeblood of communities
Prior to transport I had been working in programmes to regenerate communities through housing, infrastructure, education, employment, increased social values and integration of disenfranchised subgroups in inner city Glasgow. I was accustomed to looking at the role of transport at a micro level in cities.  It did not prepare me for what I would see sponsoring the reopening of the railways between Airdrie -Bathgate and Borders Railway.  

The detrimental impact of losing transport options to communities is colossal. It’s obvious that travel to work and education would be more difficult but imagine living only miles from major cities with no public transport that lets you arrive before 915 am or gets you home after 6pm. How do you inspire a generation to achieve when most opportunities rely on infrequent, deregulated bus services or cars which may are out of financial reach? Those communities had been economically & socially devastated and two generations isolated by lack of transport. If ever there was a purposeful work, it was delivering railways which reconnected the towns on those routes.
 
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<![CDATA[What do Sponsors do?]]>Tue, 17 Sep 2019 11:31:12 GMThttp://see-changes.com/blog/what-do-sponsors-doThe success of projects is measured by the benefits delivered. As the person accountable for the benefits this makes the Sponsor ultimately accountable for the success of projects. Sponsors are the guiding mind of successful projects. 
Sponsors deal with the ambiguity in projects. They deal with the politics, the volatility in the outside and inside environments and the emotions of influential stakeholders. This can make it hard to distill what they do into a list. Our Sponsorship Series graphic shows a selection of what a Sponsor may do whilst making a successful move from a current state to a future state in a project or change.

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<![CDATA[Car- free can feel care free]]>Tue, 27 Aug 2019 15:05:54 GMThttp://see-changes.com/blog/car-free-can-feel-care-free
a beach in france with people walking a dog and blue skies
Beach at Grau D'Agde in winter
3 travel experiences that came from being car free.

This month I celebrate my 4th anniversary. Not of marriage, but of freedom. Freedom from car ownership that is.
Looking back, it was like any relationship. It had ups and it had downs. The big down was that despite driving a small, eco model car I was still a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions on a scale that I couldn’t balance with my commitment to live more sustainably.
PictureBluebell woods in Bow Brickhill
A change of job in 2015 meant moving to a small town 6 miles from work. Those 6 miles were connected by a traffic free cycle path. It was the spur I needed to switch the car for the bike. I ditched the car and took to 2 wheels for the daily commute.

I’ve now lived in 3 countries that aren’t my homeland. Not owning a car has changed how I have experienced those countries. It hasn’t always been about using a bike, after all I’m no Tour de France prospect. It has been through walking, cycling and public transport


In Buckinghamshire, England I started most days by train on the Marston Vale Line. A journey that will improve greatly when East West Railway is complete. What the line lacks in robust performance and service frequency it makes up for in scenery.

I developed a morning routine of reading the previous day’s press cuttings and performance reports over a coffee. I listened to a morning playlist accompanied by the soft landscapes which are such a contrast with my native Scotland. Flat and lush with more sky than I have ever seen, colours that change dramatically daily and those year-round, low, ghostly hazes showing nature is the finest artist. The bluebell woods alongside the line made for the most awe-inspiring walk home.





In Toronto, Canada I chose to live within walking distance of my office at Union Station. The walk to work in the morning always put a smile on my face. Walking along Front Street dwarfed by the sheer scale of the CN Tower, Union Station and the Royal York Hotel was a great energiser for the day ahead. They were all built by railway companies and it added to the sense of legacy work to be walking past these grand edifices to work on the new rail renaissance projects in Ontario.

Picture
CN Tower, Union Station & Royal York Hotel, Toronto
PictureVineyards in Pomerols. Picpoul de Pinet wine is made from these grapes.
In Agde, France the commute was merely down a flight of stairs to my writing table. That was often preceded or followed by a walk or cycle to the beach. I wondered if I would ever tire of cycling past the Canal Du Midi, down by the River Herault to where it meets the Mediterranean at Grau D’Agde. I’m happy to report that it never did.



Days off in France were different. There is a whole network of off-road cycle paths which connect small towns in Languedoc via the vineyards and orchards. Cycling through those as they transitioned from winter to spring was a sensory treat that we had never experienced in the car on previous trips.


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<![CDATA[‚ÄčThe alchemy of turning busy into productive]]>Tue, 25 Jun 2019 11:08:05 GMThttp://see-changes.com/blog/the-alchemy-of-turning-busy-into-productiveWe live in the age of busyness. We have never been busier nor so desperate to stay busy and to communicate our busyness.
 
There are multiple ways to stay busy. The availability and increasingly low cost of mobile technology brings huge benefits. We have access to our work and social network at our fingertips in almost any location. We have instant access to vast amounts of information. We can maintain relationships that would have floundered had they been dependent on land lines and letter writing.
 
But be under no allusion. It comes at price.

Like sharks who must keep swimming lest they drown we are all adapting to being permanently busy.
The cost of being busy can be measured in 2 ways. Firstly, there is the cost to organisations. Costs can be direct as a result of people being busy rather than productive, more of which later. The costs can also be indirect though such as increased workplace absence from burnt out employees, decreased retention rates. As we learn more about fatigue and its impact on cognitive function, we realise that it could be errors made by frazzled staff or executives making important choices whilst working upwards of 60 hours in a week.
 
The second but not lesser cost is the human cost. The stress of never feeling finished, frenzied races to deadlines, missed opportunities with friends and family, health issues, exhaustion, increased errors, less creative thinking the list goes on. We can no longer pretend to not realise the impact of too much stress in the workplace on our employees.
Maybe it will become an offence to be a ‘knowing permitter’ of too much stress at work if we really want to protect employees from harm.
 
I have certainly been a ‘knowing permitter’ and a willing participant in the stress building game of being busy.
I’m not sure when I became aware that when people asked me how I was my answer had moved from ‘great’ to ‘busy’. Delivered with the same sense of happiness and achievement.
I’m task focused and productive. The type of person who adds tasks to a list just to cross them off if I managed to squeeze in extra, unplanned tasks that day. I like to be busy. Busy = great in my book.
 
Does busy = productive though? Well like all good answers it depends. A never-ending cycle of too busy is stressful enough. Disconnect it from productivity and you have a ticking time bomb.
 
Many busy people are productive. They are busy getting things done. The bustle around them is part of their persona and creates an energy around them which people want to engage with. It is a keep part of their ability to get things done. They have it in balance and know when to stop being busy and rest, play or relax.
 
What about the people who are always busy but never productive?
Highly bureaucratic or less mature organisations can be especially adept at fostering this. If you wish to emulate this style, there are some key features that you will want to build in.
These include:
  • All decisions made by committee
  • Endless committee structures
  • Overly complicated governance structures (extra bonus as these avoiding any individuals making decisions)
  • Meetings, meetings, meetings
  • Pre-meetings
  • Pre-pre-meetings
  • Multiple reviews of simple briefing notes authored and reviewed by multiple parties
  • Email as a main form of communication
  • Information only shared at meetings making knowledge dependant on attendance
All of these are sure fire ways to put busyness as an obstacle in the path to productivity. Let’s be honest we will never eliminate meetings or emails. What we can do is take control how we manage them.  
 
I remember the new Chief Financial Officer of a large organisation talk about personal effectiveness as a leader. It was a good, inspiring talk with lots of personal tips. He promoted a limit of 2 meetings per day.
I asked him years later if he was able to maintain that. He diplomatically explained that his executive assistant worked very hard to make the most efficient use of his time. I suspect that was a ‘No’. He did say that it was still important to find time to not be in meetings.
If you are on your way to the 11th meeting of the day, consider how productivity and effectiveness may be declining. Reflect on how the least satisfying form of busy is the the busy that feels like you are working hard to achieve no progress.  Don’t dwell on it too long if the 12th meeting awaits. Take some time off being busy to plan how to move from busy to productive.
 
Below are some top tips to help. Some are mine and some are harvested from my productivity role models who have graciously shared their solutions.
 
Busy to productive tips
 
Emails
  • Use automatic rules to file emails that don’t need read immediately in folders for reading at your convenience. It’s easy to do on Outlook, ask a colleague or follow the instructions here
 
  • Have all emails that you are ‘cc’d’ into go to a separate ‘cc’ folder. This allow you to focus on emails which are directed to you.
 
  • You can even progress to the ‘auto delete’ of emails if you dare!
 
  • There is also the old fashioned and perhaps radical option of having a conversation instead of sending or replying to an email. As well as reducing your inbox you get the benefits of social interaction.
 
Meetings
  • Check why you are being asked to attend. Most people are nice. They may add people to avoid you feeling excluded or because of hierarchical considerations. If you really don’t need to be there don’t go but do tell people you are not attending.
 
  • No agenda = no attendance. Productive people don’t have time to turn up and see if there is anything to have a meeting about.
 
  • Embrace cancelling meetings when there is no notable change or update. Maybe also consider re-setting your meeting frequency. Perhaps frequent meetings were required initially and now they aren’t. You can always increase again in future if things change.
 
  • Avoid trying to defy the laws of physics. Also known as the back to back meeting day, sometimes with a few locations built in. Until teleportation is on offer this is a guaranteed busy maker and stress builder in employees. I’m thinking of starting a movement to campaign for the 50-minute meeting invite.
 
Personal Effectiveness
  • Find out your best time for working and try to build time in your day for your most challenging/creative/detailed work to be done then. Match how you work best to when you work best, and you are guaranteed to be productive.
 
  • Challenge your daily or weeky routine to see if what you are doing is keeping you busy or making you productive.
 
  • Priortise. You don’t have to do everything. Like all great leadership theory there is a 4-box model that can help. Start using this approach and before you realise this will become your habit.
 

There are several books which talk further and in more detail about applying this methodology.
 
Try these tips and share them with others. If you have your own ways of changing busy to productive, I would enjoy hearing them so feel free to share them in the comments.
 
The good news is that productivity spreads faster than busyness as the majority of people come to work intent on doing a good job. Success is a huge motivator for people. The only successful projects I have worked on or with are those that focus on productivity over busyness and busy boasting.
 
Except for the people busy being busy we all want to be more productive in our work life. It makes us feel more successful, more engaged and leaves more time and energy for our lives outside of work. Our understanding of work life balance and how the success of one has a positive impact on the other has never been better understood or acknowledged so perhaps it really is time to get less busy.
 
And as for sharks well, the reality is that 94% of sharks don’t need to keep moving to avoid drowning. Neither do we.
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<![CDATA[Reflections during Rail Safety Week]]>Tue, 25 Jun 2019 11:02:03 GMThttp://see-changes.com/blog/reflections-during-rail-safety-week
Visiting Cruachan power station

The railway is one of the biggest users of energy in the UK. Recently I had the chance to visit Cruachan Power station to see where some of that energy is generated at peak times.

DRAX took over ownership and operations in January 2019 of the  hydro electric power station used to provide additional power to the grid during surges. Surges happen during peak power usage times such as when the majority of people commute and get home, start popping on their domestic appliances to make tea ( tea= a hot beverage made with tea leaves or a full meal depending which part of the UK you are from), wash & dry clothes and be entertained by a variety of electrical items. 
It was a really enjoyable visit. As well as seeing the operation I was interested to hear the history of the Tunnel Tigers. Many of these men came from the land of some of my forefathers, Donegal in Ireland. They were known for their hard working attitude and excellent organisational skills.

I wanted to know more about what it was like working in those tunnels. Working in rail infrastructure I am familiar with the horror stories of people being treated like an expendable commodity during the Victorian era of intensive railway building. We view those attitudes as abhorrent and out of touch with current attitudes to safety. But what of the interim times between post war rebuilding of Britain and the advent of current health & safety legislation?

Modern tunnel projects I have worked with in the UK and internationally use tunnel boring machines and have extensive safety management systems. They have comprehensive mitigation in place for the safety of workers and the stability of the new or existing structure. 

I was the sponsor of Borders Railway which has 2 notable tunnels which needed refurbishment in order to reopen the railway line. Bowshank tunnel had already had a partial collapse in the 1950s and feelings ran high about working on the tunnel.

The Borders Railway project was challenging technically and logistically with a mostly rural location, limited access and requirement for huge amounts of materials. Tragically it was not without too high a human cost. Feelings ran high because during that project one man lost his life and several others were hurt, some seriously. High risk activities rightly made people anxious for the safety of the team and Bowshank certainly did that.

Graham Bickerdike in his 2015 article in the Rail Engineer wrote a great article describing the history and the challenges we had to overcome at Bowshank. The technical challenge of carrying out works was one aspect that concerned us. The aspect that kept us awake though was concern about the tunnel stability whilst carrying out excavation works to put in the slab track. 

The passenger experience of Bowshank Tunnel passes in a flash.It was not so during construction. The site was managed as a remote micro site and visitors were restricted. They had to undergo additional safety briefings, be accompanied at all times, wear full PPE and could only visit at specific points in the construction schedule. Visiting the site during the excavation and the concrete spraying of the tunnel you could not help but be conscious of how far it felt to the outside for those working inside it. 

We all slept more soundly once we completed the tunnel works at Bowshank and the other tunnel at Torwoodlee. That may sound trite but it was the reality of working to refurbish potentially volatile Victorian structures on a project where people had been hurt, despite extensive efforts to prevent harm.

Since working on Borders Railway I have spoken to many audiences about the lessons we learned on health, safety & well being and what more can and needs to be done to prevent further harm to our railway family. Safety leadership has become a core part of more than my work, it has become a part of me. That has generated a thirst for understanding and perspectives from industries.

What I wanted to understand at Cruachan was how the conditions had been for the Tunnel Tigers in a time period that spans the post war generation and now. It was constructed in 1959, 15 years before the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The men who worked there tell their own story at the Cruachan Visitors Centre. They certainly had what we would now call PPE (Personal, Protective Equipment). It consisted of a hard hat made from compacted cardboard and a pair of Wellington boots. The price of the Wellington boots was deducted from their salaries. Not that they complained as the Tunnel Tigers were being paid £110 per week when average salaries where only £10 per week. Danger money? Most certainly it was.

The men described the environment as terrifying. Dynamite and detonators were carried in the same vehicle not only with each other but also with the men traveling in and out of the chasm they were creating in the mountainside of Ben Cruachan. 

The cavity they were working on would be filled, within minutes of a shift starting, with smoke, particle debris, chemicals and plumes of dust susceptible to ignition. 

They worked shifts ranging from 12 hours to 36 hours. Blasting, digging, excavating and removing the spoil. A multitude of joiners shoring it up as they delved further and further into the mountain. To get any sense of the enormity of their task you need only look in the machine hall which looks like it could comfortably host a thunderbird vehicle. 

Men who worked in it have been filmed telling their stories of working in there as young apprentices. The footage makes a great addition to the visitor centre.  Human stories are endlessly appealing and bring the engineering tasks to life.

Sadly not everyone did live to tell their story. It surprised me that despite construction starting within relatively recent times that 36 men were killed during the 6 years of building Cruachan. 15 inside the mountain and 21 above ground. Many more died or suffered as a result of injuries or occupational health issues such as emphysema. Their number are undocumented and uncounted as it was not a requirement at that time.

As my own industry takes part in  Rail Safety Week 2019 I reflect on the men of Cruachan who never went home again. I feel a deep sadness for the men and women I have worked with who never went home or went home changed forever. I also acknowledge the progress we make every year towards safer working conditions for the railway family and look forward to when anyone getting hurt building infrastructure is consigned to history books.

”Bickerdike, G,(2015) ‘The trouble causer’ available at  https://www.railengineer.co.uk/2015/09/11/trouble-causer-the-story-of-bowshank-tunnel/. Accessed 20th June
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