A word to the why’s

It’s been a little while since I last put finger to keyboard. The end of the school year and start of the holidays always makes time that little bit shorter. Now, I absolutely love my three daughters to bits. They’re great fun (mostly), they live for every minute and make my life fulfilling. However, they trash everything, they wake up too early and make noise that cuts right through you.

WhyAnd they question everything you do! “Why are you doing that Daddy?”, “Why can’t I have a toy Mummy?”, “Why can’t I see Grandma today?”, “What are we doing today? Why are we doing that?” . . . you get the picture!

The power of why

What I’m learning is just how powerful asking questions, in particular those beginning with why, can be? Simon Sinek says ‘Start With Why’, and it seems my daughters have been reading his book far too much.

Why stops you in your tracks. There’s no other question that’s more challenging.

What questions open up possibilities, How questions give you the chance to think through the journey you intend to go on, but Why always requires justification. And the challenge here is to come up with the reason for doing something in the first place. Is it the ‘right thing to do’, ‘what your gut or heart is telling you to do’ might work in some instances, but most of the time, an answer to a why question requires evidence thought through in your head.

The onslaught of why

Why is frequently followed up with other why’s. We used to say when I was working at Roche that you need to ask Why five or six times before you get the answer. Take this (real life) example:

Lawn mowing

“Daddy, why are you mowing the lawn?”

“Because the grass is long.”


“Because the rain and sunlight make it grow.”


“Because water and light act as food to the soil, which makes the grass grow.”

“But why are you giving it a haircut?”

“So you can play in the garden.”


“Because if the grass is long, it’s harder for you to play in it safely.”


“Because you can’t see what’s in the grass.”

“But isn’t that more fun. I can hide from my sisters and you.”

“Yes, and I’ll get moaned at by your mother!”


Why pic

Remember your child

My seven-year-old daughter actually won this battle. The actual reason I was mowing the lawn was because of my own vanity, societal norms and fears for my children (a mown lawn is a better place for my children to play than an overgrown one).

Ultimately, to be effective in life, we all need to be able to call on our inner child. That enables us to ask the why question (and to keep asking why). It can be incredibly frustrating, so you need to be prepared for a frustrated response if you keep asking why.  But it does ensure you’re doing things for the right reason.


13 tips to improve your communication

What are the characteristics that make some people better communicators than others?

Having worked in communications for a number of years, I’ve worked with a number of good, and not so good, communicators. There are some people who are natural communicators, but if you’re not so hot in this area there are things you can learn to become a better communicator.

Here’s my list of 13 top tips to help you become a better communicator.

1. Passion

Passion for your subject is critical to be a great communicator. You have to have a message that interests people, and if you’re not passionate about something don’t expect anyone else to listen to you.

2. Simplicity


To be good at communication, you have to communicate with simplicity. This is key to enabling everyone to understand the point you are making. The more educated you become, the more jargon you pick up. Just strip it out!

3. Brevity

This follows the point above. At all times, use as few words as possible!

4. Tone

Vary your tone. This makes you more interesting to listen to. This requires practice – you could sound silly. Poor communicators often have a flat, monotonous tone.

5. Lyricism and the Rule of Three

Many interesting communicators have a rhythm to their communication. Take Mohammad Ali, he frequently slipped into rhymes so it was almost like he was singing or rapping. Neil Armstrong’s comment on landing on the moon “It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” had this lyrical quality.

If you want to emphasise a particular point, remember the rule of three. Repeat something twice and it doesn’t stick, repeat four times and the mind gets bored. But three tends to stick. Hence the power of Tony Blair’s “Education, Education, Education” quote

6. Listen


Great communicators get nowhere if they aren’t listening. You always need to spend more time listening to others than speaking yourself.

7. Tell stories

Always tell a story to bring your communication to life. The mind finds this far more entertaining and your listeners are much more likely to remember a visual story that you’ve painted than a purely factual one.

8. Reflect your message

This is actually very important. How you look when you’re communicating is key – if your delivering bad news but are laughing your head off then you’re likely to be seen as uncaring and not trustworthy.

At the same time, if you want to appear passionate, you need to show this. Clench your fist, show your determination and raise your voice to make people believe.

9. Be human/converse

Great communicators are also able to show a human side. There is a drive for brevity in communications, but this can sometimes lead our communication to be too blunt. Sometimes it’s necessary to be a little conversational.

If you think you sound like a robot, then you need to work on being more human in your communication (and you probably also need to visit my point about varying your tone).

10. Smile


A simple smile can help others receive your communications better, it’ll relax you and help you convey your messages with more authority.

11. Be bold

Most great communication is bold in how it’s delivered. To be memorable requires a degree of boldness – either in language, tone or delivery.

12. Focus

When communicating with someone, focus on them and engage with them. They should feel like they are the only person in the room with you. Nothing damages your communication efforts more than if you’re drifting off or thinking about other problems.

13. Question and clarify

Ask lots of questions and clarify anything you don’t understand. Then summarise to check that your understanding is correct.



My ambitious streak – not always a winner?

As an ‘ideas person’, I’m often accused of being over-ambitious. I’ll have a vision, often for the longer term, that I’ll try to reach. But then I either don’t quite reach it, or don’t get the time to reach it.

Ambition Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Sky and Clouds.

Not just my story . . .

I know it’s a familiar story. I’m currently reading Alastair Campbell’s book ‘Winners’. In this there’s a chapter dedicated to Boldness, with contributions from visionaries such as Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Dave Brailsford.

In this chapter, internet entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox says: “I have always tried to have completely preposterous ambitions that are totally unrealistic, then I end up somewhere short, but doing OK.”

That’s something I can very much relate to. I can look back now on my career so far and be proud of what I’ve achieved so far. However, in most cases it’s not what I envisioned at the time – I had much bigger and bolder ideas at the time which I didn’t manage to reach, but that doesn’t mean what I’ve done isn’t valuable.

A bigger picture

For instance, my six and a half years working for the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) helped significantly increase the organisation’s reputation. I like to think that my work in raising the profile of health and safety also helped, in a small way, contribute to a fall in work-related deaths – they’ve fallen from 350+ when I first joined to IOSH to less than 200 in the most recent stats.

That’s still far too many, and I know some health and safety professionals used to call for the UK to aim for a figure of zero deaths. That’s bold – and I think it’s the kind of ambition I’d consider ultimate success if I was a health and safety professional.

I’m sure people doing work that’s far more important than mine have lofty ambitions of their own. I’m not talking about Prime Ministers, Presidents or CEOs here – what about firefighters responding to a major incident. Their ambition will be always be to aim high – to save every life. They wouldn’t put themselves in harm’s way if that wasn’t their aim. But they have to accept that they won’t save every life – and aim to do so next time.

A personal character assassination

As someone who works in PR, I’ve been told to ‘tone down’ my ambitions, ‘be more realistic’, ‘set achievable objectives’. However, as Branson says, “It is only by being bold that you get anywhere”.

It comes down to which of the pictures above you sign up to. The best leaders I’ve worked for have encouraged me to reach for my ambitions – you get stronger performance, greater commitment and more empowerment that way.

The challenge then with me is helping me recognise what I’ve achieved, even if it’s not quite my original lofty ambition. And encouraging me to continue to aim high, rather than beating me with a stick for not getting there (I’ll do that myself!)

I’ve also often been accused of being negative. Now, perhaps I am, but I actually think that’s because I can come across as negative because I’m overly optimistic (bit of a mindbender there for you!)

The issue, for me, is that fewer and fewer leaders seem to encourage this. So you end up being told to be less ambitious, which turns a calling into a job. I’m someone who wants my ideas to go somewhere – that needs boldness, bravery and an optimistic approach. Let me be ambitious: I might just help change the world!

What do you think? Do share your thoughts.


The engagement factor

“We want to increase employee/supporter/stakeholder engagement” is a common request put forward by many employers today. But, what does this actually mean . . . and how do you know you’ve achieved ‘greater engagement’?

The dictionary definition of engagement reveals that the word originated from the 16th century. It actually defined military conflict situations: “We have had two very costly engagements with the enemy this week already.” Obviously, it’s also more commonly associated with the prelude to marriage.

So it’s interesting that the word has now taken on an altogether different meaning in business parlance. It’s about engaging or being engaged, which ultimately means ‘taking part’ or ‘be involved’.

What is engagement, and why’s it valued?

Focusing on employees, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development says: “Engagement goes beyond motivation and simple job satisfaction. It can be seen as a combination of commitment to the organisation and its values and a willingness to help colleagues.”

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) add to this: “Every organisations success is built on its people. Engagement can’t be imposed from above. It’s about creating a cultural shift in the way organisations behave.”

So, ultimately engagement is about keeping people happy, motivated and committed. The theory being that if you achieve this, they’ll give more to your business/cause.


How do you achieve this?

ACAS say there are four key factors:

  • Leadership: setting a vision that is good for the organisation, that means something to staff, and that is communicated on an ongoing basis.
  • Line management: managers who relate to their staff through active listening, motivating and empowering, and having the confidence to manage their staff.
  • Voice: to motivate your staff, you need to give them opportunity to productively share their knowledge by giving them the chance, and confidence, to speak up.
  • Trust: the hardest thing to achieve because it’s about delivering on your promises, ensuring your policies work, and ensuring managers practice what they preach.

I’d add to this another factor, which kind of builds on the listening point. It’s about identifying what the stakeholders you want to engage are interested in and keen to deliver for the organisation. If their interests don’t align with what the organisation wants to achieve, then although it’s possible to engage the stakeholder, they may not remain engaged for long-term.

Another even more fundamental point to engagement is about recruiting the right people to support your cause. If you don’t recruit right, you won’t get engagement no matter what you do. So you really do have to know your people, capture their interest, and then set them free to deliver what they want to deliver for your organisation, while ensuring they also help others to deliver their initiatives and activities.

A personal example . . .

This is something I realised in a role I was in. I was happy to do my job, and to drive forward activities that were valuable to the organisation that interested me. But, longer term, my engagement levels were slipping because I believed the organisation was more interested in profit and didn’t care about the things I was passionate about. So I moved on, taking the things I’ve learnt about myself in my search for my next role.

How do you measure engagement?


Too often, we try to demonstrate engagement by rudimentary measures like people attending an event, clicking an article or completing a survey to say “yes, I’m engaged with the organisation.” But it’s ultimately a much more in-depth, personal and qualitative measure (from which you can create quantitative measures).

However, as Andrew Raso says while talking about social media engagement: “We need to measure engagement the right way because we need to understand how people are really responding. Engagement is about how involved people are.”

Ultimately, for me it’s about behaviours. How closely are people living and breathing the culture of your organisation? Do they trust you? Are they able to speak up? Do they contribute the things they are passionate about, and do they help others to achieve their goals? Do these passions match the vision of the organisation, and how closely?

Engagement is so important to organisations because they believe it’s key to keeping employees happy, which can improve productivity that should help increase profits.

Please comment if you have any additional thoughts/comments!



The return of my curse

Oh, how I hate this. Laid up in bed with a swollen leg, feeling sleepy and drained, and once again taking antibiotics to combat the infection.

I’ve had an outbreak of cellulitis (no, not cellulite which you might have heard of from the lifestyle magazines) at least three times over the past few years. It causes significant pain as the swelling feels like it’s crushing your limb, and each time you end up losing days as you need to rest to help the body to fight the infection.

The pictures used below are deliberately tame and show relatively minor outbreaks – my current cellulitis has a black hole where the insect has bitten me, with a pinky purple outer area and then pale pink over a wider area. If you want something more graphic, feel free to search for it!

cellulitis 1

I spent days in hospital on a drip following a more severe case of cellulitis a few years ago. The doctors in that case were even talking at one point about the possibility that they might have to amputate my arm. Fortunately, I recovered with the help of antibiotics.

Significantly more serious than cellulite . . .

When I tell people I’ve got cellulitis, they’ll say “that’s a shame, it doesn’t sound very nice, get well soon”. Clearly, it’s not a condition like a cancer or heart disease, and for me it’s mostly an inconvenience that I’m becoming more aware of and can manage. But most people don’t have a clue about what cellulitis is, and how serious it can be.

If you look it up on Wikipedia, you’ll discover that in 2015, more than 21 million people suffered cellulitis, and, astonishingly, 16900 people died worldwide from the condition. That figure was 30000 in 2013. And yet, no one, as far as I’m aware, is looking to develop a cure.

cellulitis 3Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that affects the inner layers of skin. It leads to reddening around a wound – which in my case tends to be from insect bites or a simple cut. In more serious cases the bacteria can spread rapidly, through lymph nodes and the bloodstream, causing flu-like symptoms, high temperature, sweating and shaking.

Interestingly, my father also suffers with cellulitis. None of the literature mentions this, but this would seem to suggest there may be something hereditary in our genes.


Risk factors

As a cellulitis sufferer, I’m frequently asked if I’m diabetic and tested for diabetes. This is another higher risk factor (along with getting tattoos, being a drug abuser, and being obese – none of which I am).

So how do I prevent cellulitis? Well, I’m going to have cover up my body, use insect repellent, instantly use Savlon or disinfecting wipes whenever I get a cut. It rather impacts on my ability to lead the active lifestyle I like to lead, knowing I’m one insect bite or cut from days in bed or the hospital.

You can find out more on the NHS Choice website.



It’s a cliché, but lessons must be learned

With the latest tragic events in West London this morning, what I was going to write today has changed.

I have to say that I feel pretty cut up about the fire at the Grenfell Tower. I don’t particularly know why, I don’t know anyone involved, but it reminds me of a number of conversations I’ve had at one point or another in my life.

My worst nightmare

Fire is also one of my greatest fears – I’ve always hated bonfire night, for instance, and cannot for the life of me understand why we ‘celebrate’ what today would be considered an act of terrorism! Being caught up in an event like last night’s would be my worst nightmare.

It brings home a number of conversations and experiences from the past. Firstly, I remember visiting a great aunt in Nottingham. She lived in a tower block similar to Grenfell Tower, and I remember always being a little fearful of fire or falling from the tower when I visited. It could just as easily have been her stuck in that tower.

I also remember talking to firefighters during my time working for West Midlands Fire Service. They said that one of their greatest fears was having to fight a fire just like this engulfing a tower block in the centre of Birmingham, Wolverhampton or Coventry.

It’s said time and again that our firefighters are heroes – there’s no doubt that they were superhuman and their courage really does go above and beyond.

There’s lots of unanswered questions . . .

I also spent many years working with health and safety professionals, many of whom will deal with fire safety issues. Clearly, something catastrophic has gone wrong and I know there will be lots of soul searching among health and safety professionals about what more could have been done to prevent this horrific incident.

I know many high-rise business establishments are fitted with sprinkler systems to reduce the impact of a fire like this, so there will be questions about whether such systems should be mandatorily fitted in residential premises too. I know this was a concern at West Midlands Fire Service as long ago as 2010.

My other big concern is that lightbulbs will now be going off in some crazed minds (if they haven’t already). So it’s vital that lessons are learned quickly and measures put in place to prevent anything like this from happening again.

My thoughts are with everyone involved today.

Ancient decisions, modern problems

With the UK getting set to go to the polls (again), I’ve been reflecting (again) on the events of the past few weeks.

If we look back to ancient times, conflict was a regular occurrence. Whether it was religion, greed or creed, war between tribes, states and nations is written throughout our history.

Hero warmongers

genghis_khan_11094_mdJulius Caesar

And many of the perpetrators of war in ancient times, whether that’s Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Hannibal or most British monarchs, are held up as heroes today – with books, plays and films about their ‘feats’ of endeavour.

My feeling is that many of the conflicts of today are being created by people who are motivated to secure their place in history alongside Caesar, Khan et al.

But that’s not the only issue – there’s a more fundamental issue with the setup of humankind on Earth.

Humanity: we have a problem

By creating nation states, we’ve created an environment where there’s conflict over resources, jealousy among poorer nations, greed among wealthy nations and nations driving in different directions or focusing on short-termist agendas. It’s not really a surprise that wars and terrorism result.

What worries me is that the trend towards nationalistic agendas is leading to a siloed approach. The human construct of nation states drives us to be greedy, to ‘look after our own’, to distrust people who are different.

The result of this could be catastrophic. So it’s time for a rethink before more human-made disaster can strike.

Could a unified approach lead to a happier world?

We need a much more unified approach, starting by looking again at our constructions of nationhood. If we all worked together, shared our ideas and resources, there’s no doubt in my mind that the world would be a happier place.

A ‘Council of the World’ is what’s needed to scope out a vision and to make decisions in the best interests of humankind. This won’t resolve current issues like ISIS or North Korea, but could lead to the creation of the global approach that’s needed to tackle these issues.

The global situation is one that is so often repeated in business. A long-termist, unified approach, although difficult to achieve agreement across the board for, is preferable to operating in many silos, which breeds internal competition, jealousy and lack of clarity.

As always, please share your thoughts!

Emotion: is it the key to unity?

I don’t think there’s much I can add that hasn’t already been said about this week’s events in Manchester – it was a tragedy, deeply upsetting and disturbing in equal measure. As a parent with young children who are starting to take an interest in music myself, what happened at the Manchester Arena really does make you nervous.


What has interested me is the way people have come together and united after the event. This always seems to happen after a tragic occurrence, or at times of celebration.

So why do we ‘unite’ after tragedy or at times of celebration? Why aren’t we together in the first place, and how do we draw the threads together? There is always more that unites us than divides us, but often there’s just one or two missing ingredients that could make a difference.

Differences divide us

Each of us is different, but actually incredibly similar in our make up. However, we all attain different strengths, develop our own beliefs and are socialised to act in different ways. We’re all, also, in different situations in life.

Organisations are no different. Each department will have their own strengths, beliefs, situations and will be socialised to act in a certain way. For instance, you’d expect Finance to be very detail focused, whereas HR are likely to focus more on people.

Because everyone is different, it’s no surprise to find silos emerge. There’s competition between areas of a business, just as there is in society. You’ll find cities and towns compete against each other, sections of the NHS and education sectors competing against each other. It’s not just the FA Premier League or Olympians that battle to be top dog!

Open your ears

So, when you’re looking to engage a wide group of people, the first thing to recognise is the wide range of differences. And listen . . . lots and lots and lots.

By listening, you’ll identify the threads, regardless of whether the community is a local neighbourhood, professional network or employees in a business. You’ll have ideas of your own, which you should throw into the mix. But again, listen to the feedback – you’ll find your idea evolves, grows, changes shape or perhaps gets put on the backburner or pushed to one side. That’s all part of the process.

There’ll always be more than one thing that can unite, and there will be something great that 60 per cent of the community knows about, but 40 per cent doesn’t. There will also be disagreement. Your engagement strategy has to consider all of this.

Bringing the threads alive


You then have to come up with creative ways to highlight the common threads so that as many people as possible buy into your strategy. You have to make people aware of the great things they don’t know about, and keep those who already know about it enthused.

Often, this means taking a new approach to what has gone before: this can be a calculated gamble, and there will be times it won’t pay off.

Having got people to buy into your strategy, the next thing to do is to get your community to take ownership of it. You can’t deliver it effectively alone: you have to empower others to deliver it for you. This is where you’re looking for passionate people who truly believe in what you’re doing and who can influence others to drive your strategy on.

Once you’ve got an empowered group of people, it’s about steering the mighty ship. It won’t all be plain sailing – there will be times you’ll meet a high wave or start veering off towards the rocks. Keep your team’s minds on the final goal/vision, keep them motivated and excited by it, and you’ll get them there.

Why does tragedy and celebration unite people?

So back to my original question. To me, the reason tragedy and celebration unite is because both play on our emotions. They affect our hearts and our heads. So to truly engage people, you need to get their emotional buy in. That way, they’ll have the passion necessary to be empowered, and the drive to see it through to completion.

Your thoughts . . .

Let me know if you have any comments/thoughts on this article. This blog is about learning, sharing what I know and you sharing what you know so we all benefit!

Getting my creative kicks

What’s the key to creativity? Why are some people more creative than others? These were some of the questions I’ve been pondering over the last few days.

I’m frequently told that I’m a ‘creative soul’. I’ve done various ‘tests’ that have also highlighted that I’m the sort of person who gets their kicks from coming up with and delivering new ideas and initiatives.

That brings me to Problem One . . .

No organisation I’ve ever worked for has identified a definition for creativity. This is a problem, according to Alan Oram, from Alive with Ideas, because without a definition you’ve got no way to recognise and reward creative behaviour.

Moving swiftly on to Problem Two . . .

A second issue is that so many organisations tend to be incredibly busy all of the time. The enemy of creative thinking, according to Alan, is distraction. If you receive 60-80 emails per day, expect to spend approximately 20-25 minutes dealing with each and getting over the interruption.

That means in a typical working day you can only really deal with around 20 of those emails – leaving no time for meetings or the thought time so important to being more creative.

A third problem . . .

The environment you are in also plays a key part in your ability to create. And yet many employers still want you to sit at the same desk day-in, day-out. And then they’re surprised if you can’t come up with wonderful new ideas.

Get up and out of your office, go for a walk, run, bike ride or swim (somewhere you’ve never been before), meet and talk to other people, find a place that makes you happy. These will increase your creative streak and enhance your mood – making it more likely you’ll be creative when you’re back at your desk.

Some techniques

I’ll be honest, I don’t often use idea creation techniques. However, there are lots of little approaches that can help. These include random word association, imagining you’re someone else or one I like to adopt is thinking about what would an organisation in another industry do? If I’m working for a council, think how would a university, a supermarket or technology company tackle this problem?

You tend to get lots of answers just by taking a sideways view at what others are doing, and then adapting or building on what they’re doing for your own business.

So, there are the keys to creativity: a definition, time, breathing space, friends and some techniques. Have I missed anything?

And I’m off . . . let’s hope I don’t fall at the first fence!

So, here we are. My first blog post. And we’re off . . .

I’m writing this as five politicians blow off a lot of hot air in the first election debate on ITV1. It’s a troubling time . . . the UK is more divided now than it’s ever been in my lifetime.

And no one really seems to have a compelling vision for what the UK should be. Everyone has their own priorities – the rich want to get richer, the poor want to get richer, and the just about managing want to get . . you guessed it, richer too.

Okay, I exaggerate.  There’s more to it than money, but it seems money is what makes the world go round. And that, for me, seems such a shame when there’s so much more to life.

That’s the first furlong . . .


I recently watched the BBC’s ‘The Day the Dinosaurs Died’, presented by Ben Garrod and Professor Alice Roberts (who I recently worked with on the GenerationeXt science fair I organised at Roche), and that brought home the fragility of life.

66 million years ago a giant asteroid hit the earth in the Gulf of Mexico (causing a blast that was six billion times the size of Hiroshima). That led to a chain of events that wiped out the dinosaurs within a week.

Life was ultimately robust enough to survive, regroup and thrive again millions of years later. You can read more about the programme here.

Entering the home straight . . .

I just hope that the same is true of the UK (or England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland as we may be in future). From a PR perspective, it seems very difficult to positively promote the country at the moment.

The need for a clear vision, brave leadership, and for an open, honest discussion has never been greater. And I believe it’s imperative for the PR and Communications profession to relentlessly press our politicians to be brutally honest so that we can have a true debate.

Without this, there’s a risk that politics might go the way of the dinosaurs!

. . . and he’s crossed the finishing line and the horse has made it.

Until next time