State of the operation: FM in 2015

With ThinkFM – BIFM’s annual soiree – almost upon us, here is a personal reflection upon the state of Facilities Management (FM) in the UK (and quite probably beyond), with a focus on the journey to come. I’ve been in – or associated with – this profession in varying guises since 1992, a year before BIFM was founded. Despite many of the strides it has made in this time, it has also shown itself capable of drift, and frequently displayed a lack of confidence. This post is positively framed, and sewn through it is an affection for a profession that has been extremely good to me. It’s now time to harness the talent within.

FM is still searching beyond its walls for a broader validation. Most recently manifested through a dialogue with the CIPD in a bid to shift the emphasis of the profession from asset to people, it has simultaneously required a claim to ground in the amorphous area of “workplace”. Unfortunately the FM sector believes it has far more to gain in credibility from the conversation than HR, a profession tangled in its own perpetual identity/value crisis and “seat at the table” obsession, and therefore dominated the recent 12-week online “workplace conversation”. FM still has a lot of work to do with HR to convince it of the value of a closer relationship – which is why it has chosen the workplace as the most likely “hook”. The accompanying problem for FM in this regard is that it doesn’t speak for workplace which I have argued is a discipline in its own right. If it wants to claim to do so, which is difficult in itself to fathom, it needs to legitimise the claim through understanding and articulating what it means and why it’s important to FM, and bringing together the right people to develop the proposition. On this basis it also needs to convince those in what one may call “workplace” roles that FM has any relevance – property, design, psychology, project management and communications amongst others. Not just the tired “HR and IT” call.

FM needs to evaluate what it wants from this venture into the world outside itself – the basis on which it holds a dialogue with the CIPD, and the areas it wishes to represent in holding such a dialogue.

FM (done well) brings incredible value to organisations. Perhaps with more self-belief in the contribution at all levels that FM can make, it can be confident enough to propose an external dialogue in which it can generously gift its knowledge and experience, rather than seek validation. This begins with understanding that being operational is not a negative. It doesn’t place FM “below” other professions in importance. Not everyone can be tactical, even fewer can be strategic within large organisations. A seat at the table is not necessary to make a significant contribution. Without effective operational service delivery, flexibility and resilience, organisations cannot function effectively, and some not at all.

FM needs to understand, harness and be visibly proud of the power and value of “operational”.

On this basis, FM is still searching for service excellence, after twenty five years of it being important. Back then we used to talk about the day when hotels and airlines would call practising FM’s or FM providers and ask them how it was done, when FM would be the gold standard. We’re still talking about it. The best hotels and airlines (amongst others) understand that the physical asset is the window on the service experience, the enabler, but not the end in itself. They also see the service experience as a weaving of so many vital threads, rather than a modular construction. FM departments and most of the FM industry remain organised along service lines, rather than on the consumer experience. This is the transition that FM still needs to make.

FM needs to see service excellence as its asset.

This brings us to the commercial reality. While FM may claim to have woken up to the realisation that it’s “all about people”, the commercial model of FM remains all about the asset. In the occupier sector (where we still “occupy” assets), FM still maintains, cleans, secures, landscapes and caters within buildings. While the end product contributes to conditions that enable wellbeing and productivity, services are specified and priced against the asset (with catering being the partial exception). In the institutional sector, it’s entirely and completely about the asset. One only has to look at a typical RFP for services, and the response, for evidence.

FM needs to understand that a people-focussed perspective needs a people-focussed commerciality – and start to think of how it will transform itself accordingly.

Where and how is the cerebral power of those in the industry being deployed to solve the above? It’s unfortunately still the case that FM needs more intellectual rigour. That means more – and more focussed – practical, creative, demystifying thinking, backed with credible data. It needs those interested in pursuing this to be persuaded into a community for the purpose. And it needs to be done for the good of the profession, not personal gain, profile or a consulting appointment – the industry has been at the behest of opportunists in the past, whereas now it’s time for those willing to do so to give something back.

FM needs to gather its thinkers, and appeal to their desire to improve the industry that gave them their careers.

All the while, the attraction of a career in FM is still undersold. While this requires more gusto in itself, the resolution of some of the above would help.  Yet the beauty and wonder of FM is that it is open to all – those with the passion and commitment to make a difference, and common sense to apply themselves to a profession that is always deeply in need of more of it. That means people of all ages, not just those leaving formal education. Invariably those with experience in a different field – usually as a consumer of FM services, and occupant of its assets – make fantastic practitioners, and don’t need to start at the bottom of the (footed) ladder.

FM needs to make a concerted appeal for new talent to people of all ages – which means it needs to understand itself to enable it to do so.

There is much to do – but it’s all within reach.


Vacant possession

You didn’t want to be at the meeting, you weren’t prepared, you didn’t want to be prepared, its beneath you its above you its irrelevent its too long its more of the same its off topic its all testosterone-fuelled posturing and points-scoring its just unequivocally boring. But you’re there, with your nouvelle-dezeen notebook, tablet and phablet. You used to park your ciggies and zippo in front of you like that as an unedrage drinker. You are wearing the same disdained face as then, too. Impress me, do you have anything worthy of my moleskine? If I reach for it, you know you’ve got my attention. Otherwise.

It always happens. You start zoning out. Voices begin to distort, their wavelength ebbs, you catch words lose others string them back together in a diffeernt order and fill the gaps yourself and visibly retreat. You edge your chair away from the table. Your eyes widen, your vision blurs. In the room, only just. Its at this point that you begin to edge back through your mind. You think if only you had time to think but you spend your time thinking about thinking instead of thinking. You crawl on all fours back through a velvet tunnel that swallows the resonance, drawn to the light, hurrying now you need air the soft gloves round your throat tightening.

You break gulping and gasping into the openness leaving a suited husk to appear interested. Unfettered you wander the promenade the high street the lanes the open road the combed hills the opportunities you never pursued the deals you never closed the chances you never took the kiss you avoided the subjects you plitely changed. You change history, you re-write every book you loved with yourself the protagonist the hero the lover the narrator. You untie and re-tie the knots of your life and your imagined life and satisfied you decide to return.

Lungfilled you brush the soft tunnel walls, content. As you skate the final curves you halt abruptly you rattle at the final doors you rattle again you tear at the handles the hinges but they are firm. Residing in the body you left is another. They are in control, speaking with authority gesturing with confidence making notes on the crisp pages of acceptance smiling with ease and for the ease of others. But its not you. Through the portholes in the door you can see your rivals raised eyebrows tilted heads impercetibly slow nods of graceful submission. Whoever is you, is winning. You gouge at the doors once more but to no avail. Whoever is in there isn’t coming out. They draw a curtain across the portholes, and you are in darkness.

You scramble back through the tunnel to the air where you were confident in control of your stories but the colours are washed, drained, and the heroes have changed places. You try to knit them together in familiar ways but the endings have changed, you no longer recognise yourself, the way you look the way you sound the assurance in the things you say. You grasp at what is certain but it slithers through your fingers like silk. You are alone aloof detached.

These are not your stories anymore.


A conversation with Thomas De Quincey about the end of social

There was ritual in my morning cafe visit, in which the need for coffee was rarely tested. Equally ritualistic was checking my phone while waiting, frivolous and oblivious.

While the randomly-gathered levered manhole covers to a deeper world, gazing into the light, flicking through a catalogue of expressions – surprise, concern, disarmed adoration, desire, mostly bemused indifference – the buttoned-down, intense figure at the corner table quietly nursed a china cup, turning it gently in determined hands. Lost with only himself in a distance beyond my suffocated imagination, he didn’t notice me take the seat opposite. I was sure it was him.

“Thomas de Quincey?” He affirmed with a deliberate close of his eyes, and continued on his kaleidoscopic journey. “Is that tea?” I asked, slightly unnerved by his reputation, not quite expecting what answer I may receive. If any.

“Tea will always be the favourite beverage of the intellectual” he offered. He glanced at the phone I had placed on the table, from habit raher than purpose. “Are you going to stare into the inconsequential abyss, too?”

“Its social media – social, something you seem a little unsure about?” I replied with the naive confidence scooped from skipping a stranger across two centuries of social and technological development.

“I’ve seen your social media, compressing your life through the throttle of a profile, the tyranny of the human face. As I can see you have pre-judged me, how does your addiction differ from my own?”

Was he really asking me this? “Addiction? From the stupefication of laudnum? When everyone has access to social, and your habit is a rare and expensive find, notwithstanding a social evil?”

“But imagine, if you are able. Here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered; happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat-pocket; portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint-bottle; and peace of mind could be sent down by the mail.”

“But” I protested “most are usually clear-headed, sober when using social media. We interact in clean light, our minds roll our thoughts before we speak, we decide its the right thing to say before we say it. We discover and culture beneficial relationships….”

“It is most absurdly said” he interrupted, seeming a little uncomfortable “in popular language, of any man, that he is disguised in liquor; for, on the contrary, most men are disguised by sobriety. For this reason, your social media is already aranging its life in order, for its imminent passing. Rest assured it will be expected, but unexpected nevertheless.”

I was confused. “Social is just coming into maturity, inclusive, all encompassing, integrated with our lives. How can you think this?”

“Allow me to offer my congratulations on the truly admirable skill you have shown in keeping clear of the mark” he smirked. “Not to have hit once in so many trials, argues the most splendid talents for missing.”

I didn’t understand where my aim was awry. Noticing my hesitation, he continued. “Your social media has reached its limit by the very nature of its sociality. Every creativity and insight is diluted, every shard of light lost in the daybreak of conversation. What you believe you have discovered, you have in fact already lost.”

I was agitated now. “So we’re better off drinking laudnum unaccompanied in a darkened room, speaking with and knowing no-one, alone with our own weakness and indecision?”

“I don’t say that my dissolution in opium is the answer, no dear boy. But your social media has no response, no outlet. It relies on conscious, waking experience, which is inherently limited. If in this world there is one misery having no relief, it is the pressure on the heart from the incommunicable. The limits of communication will hasten its demise, as our search for more ecstatic pathways continues.”

“So I’ve been – and am – wasting my time? If social media is extinguihsing itself, what follows, surely it is something more intensely social, more genuine still? I need to have some idea, if you’re so sure.”

His gaze wandered, he seemed finished with me, or at least the idea of me. “You are next, just and simply you….your thoughts….your imagination…that only you will know. Social will never be enough. The only pathways worth treading are open to you alone.”

“And what would you have me do?” I asked in frustration. But he had already locked me out, absorbed in his contemplation once more, detached from the physical form in front of me.

“Forget your anger before you lie down to sleep.”

My phone buzzed several times. Having been distracted by the alert, I was alone at the table. There was a little tea left, dark, cold.


Kensal Rise to Borehamwood

The lift call-light flickered, flickered again, and dulled. It was the stairs again for Gavin. He heaved the riveted door and began the four-storey ascent. Those from Fitch would need to sail on past, some another five levels. Every fraction of fate worse for someone else made it a little easier on Gavin.

He was already later than he had intended, having stepped off the bus four stops early to down a potable coffee and use a wifi that didn’t strobe like an eighties disco. It was always best to get some work done before it became near-on impossible to get any work done.

When he made it through Petra’s apologetic smile to his desk, he swapped his trainers for his day shoes and spun his Nikes and rucksack into the abyss beneath, steering them into the corner with his feet. The twin sagas of Kieran’s wedding planning and Sheena’s asthma were rattlesnaking one another as they had been yesterday, and the day before. In blissful ignorance, neither was listening to the other. Gavin eased the papers from both desks back over the crumb-catching cracks and eased on headphones the size of pillows, the smallest space possible between two unfolding tragedies. In defining his estate, his set out its limit. The sound of his own heartbeat was reassuring.

The last shard of morning light between the cabinets dividing Sales from Accounts made its way across his files, thinning to a razorpoint and out. They must have nudged the pillars of Stonehenge around for decades to hit that sweet spot. The fairytale Druid in him muttered a pagan prayer, as he opened his InBox. He wondered for a moment what twentyfirst century work would be without it, as he scanned the bold items for anything from Kelly. Nothing yet. She would be bored soon and the more bored she got the less Gavin could think about anything else.

Alan was wearing a resplendent tie again. It was a form of inner protest only he understood and persisted with. After years of unofficial and demonstrative campaigning for a more relaxed dress code, he had become dispirited by the greige all around him, the variant shades of indescribable drabbery his colleagues managed to source set against a backdrop of uniformly unchallenging drabbery the organisation managed to source. So he spiked the day as only he was able, like dropping a tequila in his own drink.

He could see Christine gesticulating at Frank, the office manager – her plant had been taken away again. It made regular journeys between her desk and the storeroom or the rear yard, depending on how far Frank had managed to get with it before the protest began. It was her own confused and bemused plant, answering only to her, but own plants weren’t allowed. Greenfly. But Christine was hardwired to connect with nature, she pleaded, but Kevin on the other hand was hardwired to the Policy tablets. There was no middle ground.

Gavin’s mobile rang, it was the agency he registered with last week. He slipped out of the cans and spoke very slowly as he edged out toward the lifts, trying to avoid any suspicion. Everyone’s lives were on show, a modern curiosity shop. As he reached the redundant lobby, the signal opted out – hello? Hello? Shit. Wherever there was a fragment of privacy, there was an accompanying curse. The toilet traps were no better, and the damp cold crept into every data packet. You could almost feel the caller’s bone marrow chill.

When Gavin returned to his desk, Simone waved him over. Hacking his way Indiana-Jones-like through sticky notes reminding of calls never returned, was a website and an idea – the “living wage workplace”. Gavin read the post and shrugged, more to himself than to anyone else.

“We could do with some of that, eh Gav..?” she nodded towards the flytipped contents arrayed before them.

Gavin paused and breathed deeply. “What’s in the bloody filing cabinets anyway?”. Everyone in earshot shrugged at Gavin. “Righto. Let’s get them emptied and out of here. This has to start somewhere”.

And in that moment, everything changed.


#workstubs 3

Paths we think are new are often just dust on old footprints

The human brain – the original wearable technology

The art and science of work are married only in common sense

It is said that as leaders we cast a long shadow – if so, how much resentment and power festers in the darkness

Build relationships in an organisation from the ground up, and have a hundred eyes and ears

Its when robots start wearing “business casual” that we really have to worry

If you think your LinkedIn profile needs some work, its probable everyone else will

Careful about the statements you make – you believe you’ve earned the big car, many will think you fluked it

If you manage the company’s money as though it were your own, its doubtful that the project needed that new Prada briefcase

Thankfully, we only talk about Millennials every thousand years

Everything isn’t awesome – thank heavens

At some point we are all judged – all we want is for it to be fair

The courage to fail means having the balls to admit it was your idea

Sport is the ultimate misplaced, short-term metaphor for business, management and leadership success, as anyone associaed with Oxford United can tell you

I don’t have an elevator pitch, I use the lift

In space we wear a suit – in a suit we need to wear space


#wtrends liveblog3: blood, sweat and backache

If its #wtrends, it has to be Mark Catchlove from Herman Miller with an attempt at providing science behind making employees happy. What – you’re not happy? Oh, come on. It’s the first exposition today of the balanced office – between passion and profit, and being alone or in the company of others.

Mark says he has seen a lot of data and asks ‘so what?” which takes us back to the infrared bleepers under the desks.

HM have been working with Paul Zak (“Zakula”), who has been measuring oxytocin which is a mammalian neurohypophysial hormone produced by the hypothalamus and stored and secreted by the posterior pituitary gland. It acts primarily as a neuromodulator in the brain. Right. They are trying to get to the nub of how we feel about space, not just how we claim to think about it. They wired people up, set them to work on individual and group tasks in a plaza, cove and touchdown space, swabbed sweat and drew blood. So nothing unusual there, very Taylorist. Out of the lab came some counter-intuitive results, and a lot more questions than answers.

Mark had an important message – don’t design an office to win an award.Perhaps there should be awards for spaces that actually work well and support people in their work, rather than how it looks. But that wouldn’t make for much of a magazine splash or a chardonnay-fuelled night at the Grosvenor House. The conclusion – space matters. But we trust ourselves to know that, don’t we?

Tony Dickens from Hassell came all the way from Melbourne to speak today. The case study was Medibank so one could have been forgiven for expecting more swabs and syringes. By most standards at 26,000m2 it’s a huge project. As you would hope, the organisation sought a “healthy” workplace as an overriding objective. The space looks beautiful so not sure what Mark would make of it – but we have greenery, we have light, we have a semblance of calm (possibly because the pictures don’t have any people in them other than the photographer’s mates), and a lot of stairs. But with Veldhoen preparing the brief its no surprise to find 22 space types and layers of complexity that add – well, layers of complexity.

All of the people in the video loved it. That always happens, doesn’t it?

The feedback against the health objective is commendable though, which is encouraging. It would have been great to have seen more reference to this – perhaps as the story unfolds.

Tim Hanwell from Officeworks is an osteopath, whose patients have back, neck and musculosketal problems, many resulting from or exacerbated by sedentary office work.
Did he mention his company was Officeworks? Tim uses the marginal gains approach to reducing absenteeism through his top 10 osteo issues (and fixes) – hip flexors and hamstrings (stand up, move around, stretch), thoracic spine stiffness (same again), carpel tunnel syndrome (keyboard and mouse aids), eye strain, so today’s slides wont have helped most (give your eyes a break), disc bulge leading to sciatica (chair with lumbar support, stand up, maintain good core strength), RSI (right mouse size, and mini keyboard), tension headaches – from physical stuff and stress (right chair posture, less noise, keep hydrated), lower back pain (lumbar support, move around, core strength), neck pain (screen position, posture) and[drum roll] No 1 – levator scapulae pain (you saw that coming, didn’t you? – support arms on desk). Good practical stuff, at last. If you remember, its what we were looking for today.

Just in time for me to talk Living Wage Workplace.

My total, unqualified respect for the speakers – and my thanks. Its been fun.


#wtrends liveblog2: distant birdsong

Back in the room and seated, we’re talking sedentary behaviour (great isn’t it?) with Chris Lees of Zurich Insurance and William Fawcett of Cambridge Architectural Research. Hopefully we will avoid the preposterous “seating is the new smoking” suggestion. Refreshingly though, Chris is an occupier – the only one of a kind here today talking about their workplace, but he still brought his own boffin with him. I’m envious, I don’t have one.

Chris’ team at Zurich installed 700 infrared sensors under desks bleeping whether someone was there or not. Interestingly no-one seemed to have minded, or covered their sensor in tin foil. The great thing about academia is the terminology applied to the ordinary – so we have people sitting at desks being an “episode”. Its never going to be the same again.

Amidst the waterfall of graphs, the surging swell of trends and the crash of correlation, what did we learn? People sit at desks for short episodes and long episodes. Chris added some interpretation in that we need to support the provision of a choice of settings with the appropriate technology and complementary management and operational culture – and that combined, this approach is aligned with a wellbeing agenda. I’m still not sure where the sensors contributed, though.

Paige Hodsman of Saint-Gobain Ecophon (a manufacturer of acoustic products) brought us a psychological approach to resolving office noise distraction – psychoacoustics to you and I, of course. “Noise” being unwanted sound. As we evolved outdoors, it’s the outdoors that provides the sound absorption we need – but we built sound-trapping boxes to live in. The hypnotic beauty of birdsong, bubbling brooks and the ocean shore replaced with the irregular disruption of phones, keyboards, copiers,traffic and the generally-less-than-choral human voice, all of which we cannot habituate to. But we all instinctively know how annoying “noise” is – don’t we?

Some useful practical solutions [huzzah!]- dedicated quiet areas for focus, acoustic treatments (*available from Ecophon, probably), meeting tables separated from work areas, visual cues as to how to use space, control density, education through etiquette around courtesy, and taking a weighty mallet to the dreaded squawk box. Actually, I added the last one. Common sense but sadly rarely considered.

Strangely, a mobile phone hasn’t sounded all morning.

Gazing out of the window at the metropolis, we are a long way from birdsong. A post-technological tragedy.


#wtrends liveblog1: dangling carrots

Workplace Trends events always have a slightly academic leaning, and so we come to expect a rational dialectic, supported by credible research. Until my talk at the end of the day, at least. Nothing wrong with that, I hear you say. Today’s line-up promises a lot of data (and talk about data) underpinning our approach to workplace wellbeing such that we are generally happy in our labours and stand a chance of producing something of worth. Excusing organisational and management culture for a moment, which have a weighty say in the matter.

That’s all without me trusting myself to know that it’s probably good to stand up, exercise, eat healthy food most of the time, drink water, find a quiet spot when I need to focus, and get some fresh air during the working day, all for the benefit of my own health, sanity and output. The mind is a wonderful thing for letting you know when something’s right, or something’s wrong. We just have to trust it a little more. Its the original wearable.

So we’re looking for simplicity, clarity, common sense, practical advice, attainable solutions, action-orientation. You know, all the things you would expect from a doctoral thesis.

And we’re in a noisy, stuffy room where we can’t hear much, so living the problem.

Workplace wellbeing? Alexi Marmot urged us to consider the Doha stadium construction for starters, with an average two fatalities a day. Positive mood from the caffeinated networking, crushed. But fifteen minutes in, and we’re into stress and musculoskeletal complaints more familiar to the assembled. Its “health”, Alexi offered, the definition that captures it all – wellbeing is a misnomer, yet one that the workplace community has commandeered. For all those present with the eyesight of a fly, lots of little tables and charts to support this, and references to various reports and studies, and a lot of other peoples’ work. We even had a picture of a man eating a pasty which brought back fond memories of the irony of Ginsters presenting on wellbeing at #wtrends a few years ago. But Alexi, with all that intellectual wealth, we would love to have learned what you think about it – other than “don’t panic”.

Its sometimes tough to separate insight from a pitch, so Bridget Juniper avoided the challenge with an intro to Work and Well-Being Limited. Bridget offered one overriding point – it’s the employee’s interpretation of an event that prevails. Ergo, if I feel stressed, then I am. We may wish to reach for our well-thumbed copy of Bertrand Russell’s “Problems of Philosophy” when pondering the proposition. Refreshingly wellbeing at WWBL is seen as a broad-based issue, but survey results saw the physical workplace and its amenities as a key factor in addressing wellbeing – like putting the vending machines eight floors away for when your people have a ten minute break. So….a better thought-out workplace, focussed on people, makes a positive contribution to wellbeing. If that a surprise to you, it’s a worry – but it needs saying, and needs responding to.

Its data, data, data with Tom Helliwell, revolving around varyingly supersize proportions of people not doing much at all, and lots more slide-based eye muscle training. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, take breaks, see the family = feel better, take less time off, be more productive. The action point – incentivise: rewards for health. The real meaning of dangling a carrot. It’s a sad place to be starting from, but we need to start somewhere, to create a momentum. Tom left us with the killer question – whose responsibility is workplace wellbeing? We’ll come back to that later.

As we break for buns, croissants, biscuits, and cakes – getting the picture? – we’re mulling over the nub of the wellbeing issue. We intuitively know when something’s right, and when something’s wrong, but we justify it away. We need to trust ourselves a little more.



In praise of dumb objectives

After a recent development session that was both inspirational and different, I was rather horrified to be shuffled into a room to prepare an action plan based on SMART objectives. Not only did the idea of an “action plan” seem entirely incongruous with material centred on a raised state of awareness of ourselves and the effects of our behaviour on others, but SMART sounded like fingernails on a blackboard. We don’t use blackboards anymore.

The life of a SMART objective is rather Hobbesian – solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. It doesn’t stand a chance.

It can be as Specific as it is able but in turn will be less able to take into account complex and ever-evolving circumstances that will impact the ability to deliver on the promise. It might be Measurable but without pure data, uncontaminated by others, it is unrecognisable. In a world suffocated by data, there is always a stat to support its success, and a stat for its failure. It might be considered Achievable but in reality it will either have been too easy, or too difficult – as the aim states, by definition it will usually be the former. But then again if the measurement is flawed, how will it prove itself anyway? It may strive to be Realistic but faces a fundamental philosophical challenge over the idea of reality. If “there are no facts, only interpretations” (as Nietzsche might say) it’s in some deep water. And finally it can be Time-bound, but that depends on the unfolding complexity of the journey – our map of the unknown is only good until the first bend.

But this isn’t another hopeless circular punch-up like that over the annual appraisal where no-one seems to like them nor have a workable alternative. Force-feeding an acronym, how about DUMB objectives?

The objective could be Dynamic, embodying change, able to sustain twists and turns, to adapt to the contributions of those we engage with and the effects of other uncontrollable circumstances. Even Chinese butterflies. It could be elastic and nimble, rather than hewn from granite. It might even acknowledge the likely contribution of others rather than being stapled to our forehead. It could be Understandable, stated in simple, human terms, rather than “business” guff – so we are able to relate to it, as can everyone we share it with. The ultimate test – you should be able to show it to a friend in the café, and they get it without the need for a rambling contextual explanation. Imagine if it was Motivating, it made us want to try harder, achieve more, improve ourselves, benefit others rather than sigh under the weight of the expectation, or dread having to do what’s necessary – to make you want to get out of bed, not get back in. And consider if it were Believable, having a direct relationship with us and what we do, capable of an emotional commitment, rather than a quest dreamed up by a corporate gandalf.

We might then be able to look at aims that we think are reasonable, flexible, will stretch us and we’ll enjoy achieving.

Being free of snappy acronyms might be enough to make this possible, but I didn’t start it.

While it might be saying that SMART objectives are dumb its not saying DUMB objectives are smart only that it might be smart to stop thinking SMART is smart and considering that a DUMB approach might not be so dumb and might be smart. Could be a tricky sell, though.


On returning

There were two skies. One crystalline, balanced on a blade, the waterfall of light enveloping Astrid’s gaze; the other bleached, shy and aloof, a pale reflection across the smeared and rain-pocked windows of Worcester House. As her gaze ascended the copycat storeys to her own, Astrid wondered why they ever named such awkward, unhomely beasts a “house”, like calling a pitbull “poppet”. But she was back, standing as she did repetitively, unconsciously, for so many years, taking a final moment before crossing the revolving threshold, a long slow breath to straighten the nerve endings.

Yet this was the first time since the team were sent into the caffeinated wilderness to work, left to their own devices with their own devices to embroider a spirit. Curiosity had snaked her here this morning, the train as cloying as ever, the glazed gaze of sallow faces upon her. Astrid wished she was a mirror. On the street, people walked by Worcester House without so much as a glance, as though it were a collapsed drunk. The revolver was jammed, but trying the fire exit door at the rear corner of the building Astrid was surprised to find it give. She found herself in the unforgiving concrete stairway, moving against the invisible track to the seventh floor, a chill rushing through her like a thousand ghosts in a hurried evacuation.

Having been cast to the fifth wind, it had transpired to be directionless, erratic but weak – it was not so bad. Her team had moulded a routine from the vacuum, given themselves a structure to cling to, and found they had more time and far less intrusion. They spoke, but shared little. They corresponded, but with the unobtrusive warmth of pre-teen penfriends. Yet they realised that they had mostly craved time when there was none, and that in even the earliest stage the glut became a millstone. So Astrid created her own pressure, layer upon layer, until she felt the denial bite. Her gains and losses from the transaction had no exchange rate.

Astrid’s footsteps echoed, reminding her with each of her trespass. She arrived at the oversized plastic “7” with its chipped corners, and pushed against the door to the floor. Again it opened with more than expected ease. The office was a thicket of doors. There was rarely any sense in lowering the outstretched palm. A distant visitor may have wondered if humans defensively flat-handed their way through life. When two palms met, it might have been a kiss.

There, amidst the abandoned skeletal remains of the seventh, were her team, making do. Amidst the trailing workarounds, the home surplus, the trestles, eBay steals and cuddle of the smell of toast, were the easy smiles of delight that said stay. The familiarity was dusty, tardier than she recalled, but the space had been filled. It worked, but it was a different work. Her favourite spot was free, it had been left with the expectation of her return, everyone else had and they weren’t so different. There had been no doubt on anyone’s part that her heart beat as theirs. The agoraphobia had just taken a little longer to percolate.

From the window, there were two skies. One bumbled along the accidental and pockmarked horizon, a hazy and familiar outline. The other, crystalline, balanced on a blade, was where it should have been, outside, beyond. Astrid unpacked. So much to do.