Friday, 9 June 2017

Feng Shui for the Mind

I attended a meeting yesterday, at which my colleague suggested we should clear out all of the piles of dated paperwork and other detritus adorning our staff room. I wondered why she was suggesting this as I could not see the problem.

Yes I do have piles of old no-longer needed handouts left over from months of teaching, and which I have honestly meant to throw out, but basically the area around my desk is fairly tidy. However, as an ex-banker and therefore a thoroughly human and generous person (!) I thought I must give her the benefit of the doubt and I had a look at the area where I work.

I’m ashamed to admit that she was absolutely right! I suddenly saw in a new light the towers of ancient wisdom - which is a nicer way of describing old handouts - piling up on my desk and on my shelves, doing absolutely no good other than to gather dust, and producing an environment which is not exactly calm. So now my colleague has been deservedly given the nickname ‘The Feng Shui Fairy’, or as I prefer to call her, ‘Feng’.

I shall now make a cutting remark! I've been acting like a train travelling through a railway cutting, sure of my forward direction, but not seeing what was around me. I've become so used to the disorganised stationary in my vicinity that it began to be like wallpaper, and disappeared from my list of priorities. What my colleague managed to achieve was to make me look afresh at the situation, such that I could determine for myself that action was necessary.

Such a process is also common to many students, especially those of more mature years and experience. Something happens in their life which results in them re-evaluating themselves and their life progress, and realising that they need to progress their lives through education. This means that even though last year they were not considering further study, this year they are. They are enrolling and commencing on a fresh approach to life.

It is a healthy task to clear out one’s physical environment, but we must never forget the cerebral environment where so much of our life is lived and so many of our dreams are turned in to plans. Yes, this environment needs decluttering and freshening up. I call it ‘Feng Shui for the Mind’.

And the process works! I know this because each year at our ECBM graduation ceremony I see how happy and energized our students are, having completed their study, and now being in a position to take on new challenges and new directions. Education can have such a cleansing effect on the mind, helping us to see things in a fresh light. It can take away the clutter of the past, and replace it with clarity and new horizons. 

Graham Harman-Baker

Friday, 2 June 2017

Never forget the basics of customer service

Scotsman Robert Burns wrote his famous ‘To a Mouse’ poem in 1786. These words – translated from the original scots dialect - are often quoted: “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, and leave us nought but grief and pain for promised joy”. Avoiding any discussion as to whether I am a man or a mouse, I can tell you that things certainly went awry for me this weekend.

What nicer thing to do on a warm summer's day in the beautiful county of Kent than to go into a typically English pub for a pint of beer and a sandwich. I enquired at the bar if sandwiches were available and was told that yes they could provide some, but then on taking my table the waitress said this was wrong and all she could offer me was some courgettes soup.

Oh well, this was not the end of the world, and I do love soup, but unfortunately it seemed that this bowl had not been within a metre of a courgette at any point. What I did taste, in large unappealing quantity, was pepper. The waitress asked if I enjoyed it, I told her no, and she shrugged her shoulders and walked off. I will not be returning.

Later I went to a hotel for an overnight stay with my family, before going to visit my aunt in a care home. On arrival everything was perfect and we drifted off into a peaceful sleep… and then it was at around 3 am when we were awakened by a group of young people out in the corridor who were not aware of their surroundings or the time of day. On check out we reported this to the front desk and there was an apology, and a small refund. I think the refund should have been larger, but at least the gesture was made.  

To complete the trilogy that I'm presenting to you, we then attended a friend’s funeral only to find that our flowers had not been delivered. On telephoning the florist she was horrified that they had made a mistake, and she immediately said, “What can I do to rectify this”? She went on to fully refund our money, and to send a beautiful bunch of flowers to my friend's daughter, and even photographed the flowers and sent the picture to us. This was genuine and exemplary service, the emphasis being on the word ‘genuine’.

We teach marketing and customer service, and cover a whole range of technical aspects. Those aspects are important, yet we must never forget the basics, to remember that the customer will often forgive you your mistakes, and that you will typically retain their business, if you react with a genuine and honest response. That’s our preferred way here at ECBM.

It doesn't have to cost you money, or at least not much, but attending to the basics will save your reputation, and avoid negative word of mouth advertising. “Don’t we all know this already?” I here you say. Well yes we do, but in our busy lives we sometimes forget, or perhaps it is only ‘other people’ who get it wrong?

It is a commercial tragedy if companies pay out thousands of pounds on advertising campaigns, and then forget the basic elements of customer care. It’s all about building relationships and establishing trust with your customer. Likewise in education, relationships and trust are primary determinants of effective learning and growth.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Education opens doors

As a child growing up in the 1960s, one of my favourite games was a driving game where I could manoeuvre vehicles around the town using a joystick. Actually I need to qualify this: it was a cardboard map of a town approximately 30 centimetres by 30 centimetres which sat in a box. Underneath the map was a magnet controlled by the joystick, and this in turn dragged the vehicles through the 2-dimensional town plan. To a modern audience this would seem really primitive, but back then it was for me a wonderful game.

Moving forward to the present day, my daughter plays intricate fast-action computer games with high definition quality graphics. It’s a different world! Recently she let me have a go and almost immediately I ran into difficulty. I wanted to move up to the next level which meant moving through a door, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get it to open. Most frustrating! However when she took over she knew exactly what to do, and very quickly pushed the door open and moved through to the next magical Kingdom.

I then had the realisation that this was similar to what we do at ECBM; we are in the profession of door opening. We provide education for students so the previously locked doors can now be opened, and additionally we provide a map for what to do once you have gone through. We have the key and the map. How you use them is up to you.

Professor Nigel Weatherill, Vice-Chancellor of LJMU,
 handing out certificates at ECBM's graduation last year
One of the institutions we work in co-operation with is Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU).  On the 27th April LJMU won the ‘University of the Year’ award at the Educate North Awards 2017, a most prized and sought after award.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nigel Weatherill accepted the award, saying:

“I am delighted that Liverpool John Moores University has won this prestigious award. This is testament to years of hard work by our staff and shows exactly what we can achieve by working together as a team, which makes LJMU the modern pioneering university in the North.

“It is fitting that this exceptional achievement comes in the 25th anniversary year of LJMU - another landmark in the history and journey of our university.”

The judging panel said: 

“The judges felt that the university demonstrated a clear strategic vision and contributed significantly locally, but also nationally and globally. The academic strength, management and financial stewardship are all contributing factors to their success.”

We at ECBM congratulate LJMU, and are proud to be part of its success story with our MBA and MSc programmes.

Graham Harman-Baker

Friday, 5 May 2017

The world is still a good place

I would like to tell you about one of my business students: city banker Bethany Fortune who is currently doing the Higher National Diploma with ECBM. Bethany ran the London Marathon for Cancer Research and did it in 5hrs 23 mins, an admirable performance!

I was thinking about the time leading up to the race. There is the training, the arrangement of sponsorship, and the knowledge that you are there in the spotlight and so cannot afford to fail. I can only imagine what it all feels like, and then there is the matter of the gruelling race itself!

You have to respect those who enter, and Bethany did it, raising valuable funds for her charity. When you witness such selfless behaviour you realise the world is still a good place. Well done Beth!

People leave us, others remain needing us to care for them, and others give their time and effort to raise money to pay for that care.

When you care you share, and change lives beyond compare. I wonder how many people reading this have their own heart-warming story to tell?

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Ability to Think for Oneself

As I approached the lift which descends from the platform at London Bridge station I saw two ladies look through the glass window, down the lift shaft, and they shook their heads. No lift. Another person leaned over, looked down, looked at the ladies and shrugged his shoulders before following them to the distant escalator. The last man of the group looked down, and walked away too. No lift.

My turn now, and yes I looked down the lift shaft. No lift; but also no call light on the panel beside the lift shaft. I pressed the down arrow, it lit up, and immediately the lift began its graceful ascent to platform level. That’s all that was wrong. The assembled people were so busy looking for the lift that someone had forgotten to call it.

So why did we all exhibit this same behaviour of looking down the lift shaft, and why did all the other people walk away one after the other? Are we really so incapable of thinking for ourselves?

At an American university some years ago the professor sent a student out of the lecture theatre, asking him to retrieve the class register left on his desk. He then told the remaining students he would bang on the table a number of times, and they should add one count to the number they heard. The first student returned and the exercise commenced.

As the mass of students added one extra count the lone student looked confused. However it was only a few minutes later when he started to add one count, all be it falteringly. Within 5 minutes he was adding one extra count without hesitation. Such is our relationship with the people around us.

This is why several people walked away from the lift without noticing the call light unilluminated: they were more concerned with what the other people were doing. I too fell in to the trap, but as an academic I understand the power of thinking for myself, which is why I broke ranks and looked where the others had not and saw the lift had not been called.

The ability to think for oneself is central to the academic mind. If we did not do this then you would be going home tonight on a cart pulled by a donkey. We need to have vision and imagination, and the ability to pursue our ideas with determination.

However before we launch ourselves off in to glory, we must also remember the need to take a measured approach to what we do, otherwise we will separate ourselves from logic and reason, and success would be a chance occurrence and not one of design.

We also need validation. As academics we cite the experts in the field under investigation. We may have expertise but that does not make us experts. We must have confirmation from experts of the rectitude of our decisions and actions; experts who have made it their life’s work to research and study their chosen subject. This gives our work, and ourselves, credibility.

On Friday I will be working with MBA and MSc students in Munich, engaging in deep learning strategies. We will debate subjects of their choice from the field of ethics, and case studies I have provided, and their content will be aligned to the learning outcomes of the module. There is no agenda, other than to think freely and creatively to address management problems in an ethical context. As minds are unlocked, doors will open in to new worlds, and fresh thinking will prevail. The process is energising! 

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

We may not always succeed, but we try our best

Edith Piaf was a celebrated French singer, who lived from 1915 to 1963. She was affectionately known as La Môme Piaf, which loosely translates as ‘The Little Sparrow’. Nearly always dressed in black, this diminutive lady emanated not only a powerful voice, but a powerful presence on stage.

Her early years were very tough, and I won’t go in to details here. Some people are hardened by such experiences, and others become more human, and in the case of Piaf it was definitely the latter. She was a generous lady – some say too generous – but it was in her nature. Life however did pay her back through a successful international career, but sadly also in the tragic death of people she loved.

While performing in New York, she missed her boyfriend Marcel Cerdan, a French boxer. She wanted him there with her so much that she asked him to fly out one day early. After some strings were pulled he obtained a seat on an earlier Air France New York flight. While making an approach in to a stop over it crashed and he was killed.

Not only did she share her money, she also shared something more personal and profound – herself. Many of her songs were autobiographical, and she would sing with her heart reaching out to the audience. People felt they could share their troubles with her, as she was sharing hers and her pain of life with them. It was a genuine experience.

Let’s come back now nearer to home. Some students find studying a pleasant emotional experience, and others struggle against the demands of a busy life. However one of the pleasures of being a tutor is the ability on some occasions to ease the pain to some degree. Although we are here to teach, we are also very experienced in the ways in which a busy person can react to a schedule of teaching and assessment, and we understand their problems.

We cannot wave a magic wand, but usually we can help to re-frame our student’s problems and improve how they feel. We are not trained in counselling, and cannot play games with people’s minds, but often it is enough to be a good listener, and good listeners we are. Good listeners with helpful suggestions. We may not always succeed, but we try our best.

I would say to anyone thinking of starting a programme of study, or going back to study after a long absence, see the problems but focus on the opportunities. Problems can often be overcome, but not so easily a lack of opportunity. You won’t be alone: family, friends, college administrators and tutors can share in the journey with you. Nothing worth achieving is easy, but a challenge is not the same as an impossibility, and the highest hills provide the best of viewpoints.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Data is the Fuel of the New Economy

I’m a man who likes to live on the edge, always bathed in the glow of a powerful adrenaline rush. And so last pay day I went out and brought myself a new piece of extreme kit… a vegetable spiralizer. No more boring sliced carrot for me I say.

I am trying to eat more healthy foods, and so lashed out £29.99 for the machine, and then went to the market with my wife to buy courgettes, beetroot, apples and so forth. Back home I assembled my little machine, placed some vegetables in its jaws of death, turned the handle, and et voila… a range of fascinating shapes appeared thanks to its four blade options.

Green apple, beetroot and carrots curled themselves around each other with colourful crunchy delight, and with the addition of some ham and cheese a really tasty salad was born. It took only a few minutes to wash the blades through and pack them away… money well spent.

There is another market on my mind at the moment, and there’s not a courgette in sight. I refer to the Digital Single European Market (DSM).

The European Commission website states, “The internet and digital technologies are transforming our world. But existing barriers online mean citizens miss out on goods and services, internet companies and start-ups have their horizons limited, and businesses and governments cannot fully benefit from digital tools. It's time to make the EU's single market fit for the digital age – tearing down regulatory walls and moving from 28 national markets to a single one. This could contribute €415 billion per year to our economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs”.

On the 10th January 2017, it was announced from Brussels that The European Commission is proposing new legislation to ensure stronger privacy in electronic communications, while opening up new business opportunities.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner in charge of Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, said: "Data is the fuel of the new economy. To ensure that Europe is successful in the new era of the industrial economy, we need a solid and predictable framework for data flow within the Single Market”.

So how will the UK share in all of this, now that we are intending to leave the EU? The European Commission’s web site states, ‘The Commission will engage proactively in discussions on reaching "adequacy decisions" ….. with key trading partners in East and South-East Asia, starting with Japan and Korea in 2017, but also with interested countries of Latin America and the European Neighbourhood’. What that would mean for the UK is too early to say.

As a Brit I am feeling like someone all dressed up for the party going on next door, but with no invitation in my hand.  All I can do is look over the fence and wish. Prime Minister May is about to trigger the UK’s intention to leave the EU… with so many issues on the table I just hope the significance of the DSM is not overlooked in the maelstrom of negotiations which are destined to follow.

Graham Harman-Baker