Category Archives: Integrity

Never forget this fact: There is no such thing as factual information

hand countThis blog title is provocatively paradoxical. The assumption is that something measured is something proved.

This is not the case.

In practice, when we decide to define a fact, we then define what it is, how it is to be measured, then measure to verify.

In deciding the measurement, we simply place a judgment – our opinion of reality, onto something that isn’t there. For example:

The label on a blanket reads “50 per cent wool” What does this mean? Half wool, on the average, over this blanket, or half wool over a month’s production? What is half wool? Half by weight? If so, at what humidity? By what method of chemical analysis? How many analyses? The bottom half of the blanket is wool and the top half is something else. Is it 50 per cent wool? Does 50 per cent wool mean that there must be some wool in any random cross-section the size of a half dollar? If so, how many cuts shall be tested? How select them? What criterion must the average satisfy? And how much variation between cuts is permissible? Obviously, the meaning of 50 per cent wool can only be stated in statistical terms (Deming 1975).

Is it now becoming clear?

“Without theory (hypothesis), data are meangingless or nonexistent. There is thus no true value of anything: true value is undefinable operationally. There are, however, numerical values that people can use with confidence if they understand their meaning (for the tensile strength of a batch of wire, for example, or for the proportion of the labor force unemployed last month).” (Deming 1967).

The trick is to understand the meaning of numbers.

Not everything that can be counted counts.
Not everything that counts can be counted.

Just because you can measure something it does not mean that you can manage it. Many things are relatively unmeasurable, but important, like staff morale, contentment of customers (or even their excitement!). Mintzberg (2015) suggests that “when we hear the word ‘efficiency’ we zero in―subconsciously―on the most measurable criteria, like speed of service or consumption of energy. Efficiency means measurable efficiency. That’s not neutral at all, since it favors what can best be measured

Deming was very clear on this point: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth.” We can end up spending effort measuring and reporting the wrong things and also losing sight of the ball – forgetting the real purpose of our work.

So the first useful question about an issue of performance is:

“what do we know about this?”, then “what will help us to improve?”

Think about this next time you set a goal, or measure results…


Further Reading:

Deming W.E. (1967) Walter A. Shewhart, 1891-1967. The American Statistician, 21(2): 39-40

Deming (1974) On probability as a basis for action. The American Statistician, 29 (4): 146-152

Fellers G. (1994) Why Things go Wrong: Deming Philosophy in a Dozen Ten-Minute Sessions. Pelican Publishing

Mintzberg, H. (2015) What could possibly be wring with efficiency? Plenty. 9 September 2015.

Let’s focus on ‘what’ and worry less about ‘how’

Right Way and Wrong thingsThe emerging consensus in discussions about leadership and management behaviour in recent decades  has focused on ‘changing the way that you lead’.

Although the ‘how’ you do it and ‘what’ you do both contribute to effective leadership, the research literature is overwhelmingly focused on the how (Kaiser et al, 2012). Hunt (1991) reviewed the body of published scholarly articles on leadership and estimated that 90% of them were focused on interpersonal processes. It is also most likely that the majority of leadership developers and consultants have a ‘how’ bias, which may influence the debate. The focus is on how you go about things.

But do leaders know ‘what’ to do? Should we agree aims, develop a vision, inspire people, create teams, empower, engage, delegate, set targets, punish, reward, restructure, enable, measure results, improve services, prioritise, plan or problem-solve? What do these things mean? Which are helpful and which just cause problems?

Of course, HOW we think about these things is important. What is the logic behind reward, recognition or blame? Is it sound logic, or convenient logic, or unfounded assumption, or testable theory (if you are into that). Do we really know what we are doing and assuming? These things must be tested in our own minds, or else we are doing little more than sleepwalking. But the outcome from this thinking must start with what needs to be done. Otherwise we will focus on the hows e.g. (doing it nicely or respectfully or considerately) and end up doing the “wrong things righter”!

Let’s be clear, of course, there is never any excuse for ‘doing the wrong things wronger’, and little benefit in ‘doing the right things wrong’. So this doesn’t let bad management off the hook. Instead, getting our own thinking right (‘what’) is an important start point because it drives better consideration of ‘how’ to go about our business.

Our own styles and preferences (hows) are different to the preferences of each member of our team. We need to be able to adapt in order to interrelate with others effectively. Whilst positive interactions with people are sometimes the icing on the cake, the cake itself must be always be sound. Remember – if we don’t get the ‘whats’ right we will only be deluding ourselves.

Hunt, J. G. (1991). Leadership: A new synthesis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Kaiser, R. B., McGinnis, J. L., & Overfield, D. V. (2012). The how and the what of leadership. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 64(2), 119.

Seddon, J. (2003). Freedom from Command and Control. Buckingham: Vanguard Press.

Middle managers will copy the boss’s behaviour (if they work in proximity)

Here is an interesting one – Researchers at Erasmus University and Cambridge University  identified that middle managers copy their boss’s behaviour if they are working in close/adjacent proximity to that boss. Conversely, if the boss is not in close proximity (e.g. has an office down the corridor), then the middle manager may behave differently to the boss.This includes good and bad behaviour.

♦Red light warnings♦: an over-bearing, micro-managing and ever-present boss is likely to spawn equally over-bearing middle managers and subsequently a wonderfully consistent but wildly dysfunctional team. On the other hand an over-bearing boss who is remote from the team will get…er… disappointed and will wonder why the team doesn’t do what they expect (perhaps).

♦Amber warning♦: An effective boss who is too distant may not get the cooperation expected – good bosses need to get down to the coalface and see what is happening and whether their middle managers are doing things in the ways that are needed.

♦Green Light♦: An effective boss who is close to the team will have a coherent set of middle managers and a consistent culture across the team.

Dr. Gijs Van Houwelingen who co-wrote the survey says: “It is crucial that organisations understand the threat of overly close and highly interdependent relationships between lower and higher management in the organisation. Managers at all levels in any organisation need to strike a balance between a certain sense of closeness to ensure efficiency, and some sense of distance to ensure that negative top-level behaviour does not spread unhindered through all layers of the organisation.”

Finally the survey identifies two measures of distance: social (the distance you feel from the other person) and physical (i.e. space). Interestingly we have much more choice over social distance – i.e. who we choose to spend time with and be seen with – and how that impacts on the way that we choose to behave. You just need to be conscious of who to associate with and who to avoid.


HR Management (2015) Middle managers copy bosses’ bad behaviour.

van Houwelingen, G., van Dijke, M., & De Cremer, D. (2014). Fairness Enactment as Response to Higher Level Unfairness: The Roles of Self-Construal and Spatial Distance. Journal of Management.

The Integrity Radar: warning to all leaders

bullshit detectorHuman beings have an innate sense of when people are not quite right. This is played with by fraudsters and con-men, but most of us can sniff a ‘bad-un’. This is an evolved capability, reading verbal and non-verbal signals. It is also based upon our previous expereinces of people (either a specific individual or groups of simialr types fo people). This can be conscious or unconscuious. We can make decisions obliquely and irrationally (Jacobs 2009; Peters, 2012).

Whatever it is, if we are given a chink of something to be suspicious about, we will be. In contemporary speech, a ‘bull****’ detector.

So this is the challenge for leaders: if you don’t believe it, don’t say it. Act with integrity. If you don’t, people will see straight through you anyway, most likely as not. So you will not win out in the long term.

Further Reading:

Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science. Penguin Group Portfolio, NY

Peters S. (2012) The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness. Vermillion, London.

Experience versus Vitality and Innovation

Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard & Chris Smalling

‘Experience’ is an often-quoted strength in a job candidate or team member.

If this is relevant to the work that needs to be done, then great. However the term experience is often read as ‘knowledge’ and that is not always the case. An experienced person may refer back to situations that are not relevant to the present. An experienced person may rely on apoproaches which are not the best, but which merely work ‘OK’.

An experienced person’s views may now be out of date. In the 1960s a Japanese delegation visited a British car factory in the midlands and were guided around the operation by a proud production manager. The visitors had many questions about the facility and how it worked but felt they were not being given the answers that they wanted. One of the Japanese vistors asked the manager ‘How long have you worked in this factory?‘ to which the manager answered ‘Over 20 years!‘.

The Japanese visitor was oveheard to mutter ‘more like 20 minutes…

The manager did not know what was really happening in the production facility – they did not have relevant knowledge, nor an understanding of how to improve the work or quality of output.

A valuable, experienced professional is one who has the humility (and experience!) that allows them to ask the right questions and not to be the source of all the answers.


MacDonald, J. (1998) Calling a Halt to Mindless Change, Amacom, UK

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.

You reveal your commitments in what you say and what you do

Deke Slayton
Not a banal team building task…                    Deke Slayton’s CO2 scrubber fix, designed to save Apollo 13 astronauts from asphyxiation.

When it comes down to it, what are we really committed to? How can we test our integrity, our true priorities and principles? How do people judge our choices and interpret our values? How do we show what we think is important? The answer is startlingly simple. In the words of a valued former colleague, Derek Middleton, whom I worked with many years ago,

  You show your commitments by what you say and what you do

Derek implied that he was quoting someone else, but I have yet to find a source in the intervening years, so I will attribute it to him.

 The statement is far from a banal truism. It is a test of character:

  • Do we link what we say with what we do?
  • Do we do the things which we say are important?
  • Do we say the things which we know are important?
  • Do we prioritise  our actions just as we do our words & ideas?

Lets face it – are we really committed? We can apply this to our ethics, our respect of others, our work values, our plans, goals, priorities, sense of self, use of time. It forces us to be honest with ourselves, to reject the  excuse: ‘I haven’t got the time‘. It is about self-management and real priorities.

Analogies from the worlds of sports and entertainment tend to fail in these discussions; dedication tends to be relatively time-bound (to achievement, excellence or skill acquisition) and is a relatively poor relation to true commitment; what we say & what we do.


Coppin, A. and Barratt, J. (2002) Timeless Management, Palgrave MacMillan, NY

Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

Lovell, J. and Kluger J. (1994) Lost Moon – the perilous voyage of Apollo. Houghton Mifflin, NY

The Head, Heart and Guts of Leadership Character

leader babyAre leaders born or made? This question dominated leadership thinking until the 1940s and, despite the growth in leadership development (particularly since the 1960s and 1970s) is a question that is still frequently asked.

The question (or its answer perhaps) is usually framed in terms of ‘personality’ on one hand and ‘skills and abilities’ on the other. The suggestion is that ‘personality’ is what we are born with, whilst many of our ‘skills and abilities’ can be learned. We can achieve this learning to some degree of effectiveness or another. However , as human beings we have enormously elastic capabilities – our learning is often governed by choice, not just genes.

When I discuss practical leadership – working with people to get things done, I use a simple three-part model – Head, Heart and Guts. An imbalance in one of these three dimensions would make us appear cold, or gushing, or irrational, or inconsistent, or unpredictable, or a steamroller,  or someone who bends in every wind (or worse).

Covey talks about balancing ‘consideration’ with ‘courage’ (Heart versus Guts), but we also know we need to balance our ‘rational’ side with ’emotional’ empathy (Head versus Heart), and we also need to balance Guts with Head! If you want to develop as an effective leader, then your skills in planning and decision-making need to be combined with interpersonal skills and the development of sound judgement.


Covey, S. (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Shuster, New York, NY.

Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science. Penguin Group Portfolio, NY

The evolving and multifarious role of the administrative professional

These days, Higher Education clerical and administrative staff are expected to be equipped with multifarious skills and competences and the role of professional administrative staff is seen as pivotal to the success of an organisation.  Many tasks require a high level of professionalism and education, and some require commercial or political acumen.

blog 3

Within universities, secretaries, clerical workers and administrators have had to acquire specialist skills and knowledge.  We have had to learn on the job, using advanced computer systems and communications.  We have taught ourselves to become experts on university funding, teaching and research initiatives.  The corporatisation of universities has had a profound impact on the way HE institutions operate and our roles have been affected. Our roles have changed to those of higher education professionals and we daily respond to changes, pursue complex tasks, deliver innovative solutions, facilitate learning and development, drive the student experience and effect outcomes.

When universities were established in the 60’s, secretarial/clerical workers’ jobs were much more about paper pushing.  Nowadays, we are much more multi-skilled and we do all the functions ourselves.  The expertise of this body of staff is crucial to the core of the university’s structure and I believe that the professional administrative service is integral to the strategic success of the University of Kent.

Talking to colleagues, here are some anecdotes about how work has changed:

“Our work is often project-based, or we work as a team member on other projects”

“On a daily basis, I am asked to think outside the box, solve problems and come up with new solutions

“Nowadays, I’m always thinking about the bigger picture”

“I manage my own work”

“I make autonomous decisions effecting the way things are done within the university”

It is often the female, clerical and administration team who are the experts at the “soft skills” and the “specialist skills” – counselling the students, greeting visitors, doing the ground work for projects, managing student admissions, balancing the finances, writing the press releases, overseeing course administration, brokering student employment initiatives – all skills which can easily go unnoticed.

It begs the question, if one of these skills was performed by a man, would it have a grand title and be better paid?  We often associate the word “manager” with one who controls.  Feminine administrative functions are perceived as nurturing – feeding, nourishing, supporting, and furthering the development of.  Nurturing is usually quietly done, with much of the work invisible – and this clearly aligns with the perception that clerical and administrative functions can easily go unnoticed and be undervalued.

The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Part 2


For generations of women, secretarial, clerical and administrative skills were valued as essential skills that would be advantageous in the job market and help your career.  The major shift has taken place in relation to class and gender.  Originally, and prior to the 1930’s, nearly all secretaries were men and the role of secretary was deemed in high regard as an executive servant of the government. Clerical work was a male dominated field in which males worked closely with their superiors and were often apprenticed to them; their superior’s success was their success, and they could look forward to a position of management in their later years.  After WWII, when the men returned, secretarial and clerical work was seen as “feminized” and clerks were renamed “secretaries” and “typists”.  Both the pay and the prestige for these jobs took a significant hit!

Through the 1980’s/90’s, many secretarial roles were rebranded as administrative assistants and more men started to apply for such jobs, though in tiny numbers.  Technology evolved – word processing made writing and editing documents much simpler and with the arrival of computers, “typing” became “keyboarding”. Fast forward to 2015, and here you will find that most organisations have ditched the term “secretary” in favour of clerical worker, or administrative assistant/officer, or office professional, to encompass a more executive role.

Universities have adopted the term ‘professional services’ to distinguish staff not having direct academic responsibilities, with the term “administrator” being reserved for staff undertaking clerical or secretarial functions. Currently within Higher Education, there is much debate about the value of junior level clerical and administrative staff, who often consider themselves underpaid, overlooked and invisible.

Yet in the digital age, the roles of clerical and junior administrative HE workers have evolved far more than any job title change suggests.  We’ve experienced massive changes (see Part One of my blog),  including the growth of information technology, changes in the delivery of higher education and the development of a commercial and enterprise culture in Higher Education.  Academic staff have begun to delegate more tasks to clerical/administrative staff and such staff are increasingly playing a role in training and teaching students both informally and formally.   Today’s university administrative worker is responsible for a greater array of complex tasks than any predecessor!


The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Part 1

My university is celebrating 50 years in the business (1965 – 2015) and as such, I thought it would be a timely opportunity to showcase just how much the secretarial/clerical and administrative function has changed in the last 5 decades.  During that time, I’ve not only studied here, but through both varied, temporary and permanent posts, I have contributed over 18 years of secretarial, clerical and more latterly, senior administrative expertise to the institution.

The Times They Are A-Changin'

During my tenure, I’ve witnessed massive transformations in Higher Education, including changes to funding, increased student numbers, governance, increased corporatisation and commercialisation and the adoption of managerial models which has affected staff at all layers.

If you look at the workforce that I’m talking about, you will not fail to notice that we are a predominately feminised workforce and this can partly go some way in explaining our lack of visibility and some of the problems encountered along the way by us (e.g. a belief that we are not interested in academic endeavours or systems.  Unfortunately, some outdated stereotypes also exist (see my blog ‘Just an administrator‘)  but at least in the 21st century, we are able to challenge some of the long-held masculine views/behaviours on the definitions of female administration roles (i.e. being administrative and being female – i.e. not male and not academic!)

Many universities in the UK were established in the 1960’s and along with them, the roles of the university secretary and clerical/administrative worker were borne.  Such roles were referred to as “non-academic”, yet the mere use of the word “non” conjures up negative associations and leads to the labelling and definition of a whole section of the work force in describing what we “are not”, rather than what “we are”.   Back then, the university secretary/clerical worker was very much expected to operate in a subservient, supportive role to the academic community.  Role holders were expected to be seen and not heard, much like the women and children from the Victorian era.  Essentially their role was to look after the academic, type correspondence and make the tea.  Secretarial/clerical staff performed tasks such as typing, often supporting just one academic.  There were no student recruitment, marketing or international offices.  Finance and personnel departments were very small and invisible to the academic community.

Indeed, the role of the secretary/administrative assistant has enjoyed something of a renaissance lately in popular culture – take for example the characters of Joan Holloway and Peggy Olsen, the competent secretaries at the fictional advertising agency in Mad Men set in the 1960’s in the States.  Both rise up through the ranks to become meaningful employees – one to become a partner in the agency, one to become an advertising professional (on a perceived equal footing with the male characters).  Likewise, think of the term “Secretary of State” where the word secretary defines a senior official of the federal government of the USA!

Interestingly enough, the word secretary is a unisex word and isn’t defined by gender, although it is stereotyped to be female by association.   The title of secretary was originally used by military leaders, heads of state, and even popes to refer to their most trusted confidants – to the ones they could trust and rely on without reservation.  Secretaries were set apart from others and known to be favoured by their respective leaders. Later, secretaries were used in the same sense by professional and business leaders.

If we look at the history and significance of the word “secretary”, it can be traced to being used in Middle English as early as the sixth century and comes from the ancient Latin word secretumi,  meaning keeper of secrets!

Next month, part 2 of this blog will examine the evolving professional role of secretaries  in the 1930’s, 50’s, 80’s and 90’s through to the digital age.