Equal Opportunities

One of the things I have noticed since I have been involved in business networking is the variety of people I have met who are self-employed or involved in small businesses.  I have noticed a similar spread among those involved in network marketing, especially in the Utility Warehouse, of which I am a distributor.  There are plenty of women and people from ethnic minorities.  I have also noticed a lot of successful young businessmen and women, as well as a number of old ones, like myself, who do not seem to have gone stale or fallen behind modern developments.

 I have not carried out any kind of statistical analysis, but I do not need one to make these observations.

Of course, you might say, “Why not?” given the proportion of women and ethnic minorities in Britain as a whole.  I would be only too happy to agree, were it not for the fact that we hear a lot about discrimination and “glass ceilings” in many areas of our Society, which is borne out by simple observation of the make-up of the workforce and then of the management in a lot of organisations.

What does any of this mean or prove?  Well, if women, young people, old people, Asians, Black people, and all the rest of us, can run our own businesses successfully, any argument that it is lack of ability that keeps us from succeeding in the corporate world looks pretty lame.

It means those responsible for selection, recruitment, and promotion need to have a long hard look at their policies and practices.  If you think it is not your fault, because you just do not get many applications from some particular minority, ask yourself “Why not?” and look at your image.

Finally, while we are waiting for the corporate world to catch up, I strongly recommend the world of self-employment and the world of network-marketing to all those who feel they might be held back in the world of big business or whatever other sector you were concerned about.  In the world of self-employment, the saying is usually true: “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are probably right!”

Good Luck!


Putin and Hitler

Prince Charles has got into a lot of trouble for likening Mr Putin to Adolf Hitler.

Lets be clear.  He did not accuse Putin of genocide or anti-semitism.  It was in the context of someone from Poland talking about Hitler’s attempts at taking over Eastern Europe, which led to the Second World War.  The the Russians took over from them at the end of the War, and the countries of Eastern Europe gained their freedom only in the 1990’s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Charles’ remark was to the effect that what happened in the past is similar to what Mr Putin is trying to do now.  He is probably right.

Of course Mr Putin is upset.  Firstly at anyone pointing out an uncomfortable truth and secondly at being reminded that in Britain people have the freedom to speak their minds.  Unlike Russia!  And I notice that in the Eastern Ukraine those who oppose a Russian takeover are quickly shouted down or intimidated. Like in Nazi Germany.

I am glad the Prince of Wales is allowed to say things that others may not like, as such a freedom is something he and I share. I hope you are with us and not with Mr Putin.

The Fox and the Cat.

It is quite frustrating in Risk Management when you come across businesses where nobody thinks there is a need to review their risks or how they are managed because there are already lots of controls in place.

There is a very old story, I think it is one of Aesop’s Fables, which illustrates my thinking on this, which shows that very little is really new, at least not in Management.

There was a fox who became friends with a cat.  Yes, I know, just bear with me, this is a fable, it makes a point. It is not a Natural History lesson.  Well, one day the fox and the cat were walking together, chatting about… whatever foxes and cats chat about..and suddenly heard a noise in the distance.  The cat said, “That sound like hounds.  I think we had better start running or we’ll be in big trouble!”

“Oh, don’t worry!” said the fox. “I know a hundred tricks for escaping from hounds. Just stick with me!”

The cat said, “I only know one!” So he thought he had better keep close to the fox.

In due course, or possibly sooner, the hounds arrived and started to chase the two friends.  There were some trees nearby and the fox ran in and out among the trees in a hundred different patterns, but the hounds just kept on the scent until in the end they caught him.  Meanwhile the cat had climbed the first tree he came to and stayed there until the hounds had given up, once they realised they could not climb trees.

What controls do you have in your business?  Have you tested them?  Do they really work? 

As Aesop (or whoever) said at the end of the fable:

“One trick that works is worth more than a hundred that don’t!”


Is mediation a threat to claims handlers?

There is an increasing pressure from the Courts and the Ministry of Justice for parties to use Alternative Dispute Resolution, or Mediation rather than taking their disputes to trial. This trend predates the Jackson Report, but was certainly encouraged by it.
Personally, I am studying mediation so as to be able to offer clients a complete service to meet their needs. However, some claims-handlers regard the spread of mediation as a threat to their trade.
I can see that there are advantages, not just in saving costs, which is a desirable aim, but not one that I am convinced will be achieved: I can see mediation becoming more professionalised and more expensive. We can only wait and see.
The other benefit of mediation is that it can lead to a win-win result rather than the win-lose which can be the only outcome of a traditional trial. Indeed the trial process tends to polarise feelings, often leaving the loser feeling cheated, and even the winner less than satisfied if he has not got as much compensation as he had expected, or if his position was not fully vindicated by the judge’s remarks.
It is claimed that mediation is more likely than a trial to lead to a resolution of the underlying conflict, by helping both parties to see different points of view, to acknowledge their own failings, to learn from the experience and to consider the way forward to the future rather than dwelling on the past.
I do not disagree with any of the aims of the mediation approach, nor am I totally pessimistic about its chances of achieving them in some cases. I am, however, concerned that parties, and the Courts, may be tempted to go down this route where it is not truly appropriate.
Mediation is based on the assumption that there is no absolute “Right” and “Wrong” but that both parties need to be prepared to “give” to some extent. This is probably true a lot of the time. There are however many cases where this is not so, as I have seen in many years of handling liability claims.
• There are many claims which are totally fraudulent, and many more where there has been a considerable amount of exaggeration or distortion of the truth. I would not want to reward, even to a limited extent, claimants who practice such deception.
• There are also many cases where, although no fraud is involved, the defendant has done nothing wrong: the claimant simply assumes that whatever misfortune you may encounter, there is always somebody else who will have to compensate you. I do not wish to encourage this attitude, or to penalise innocent employers or other potential compensators.
On the other hand, I am also aware of claims I have dealt with where mediation would have been a far better way than that which was actually chosen at the time.
These come into two categories:
1. Those where the claimant was not primarily seeking compensation, but had found a claim was the only way to be heard or to obtain the fact or a sensible explanation for what had happened. I can think of cases where parents wanted to know how their children had come to be injured in school, and had been met with either silence or unacceptable explanations.
2. Those where there is an ongoing problem which needs to be addresses. This could be anything from flooding, to bullying. Paying the claim might be an incentive for the defendant to prevent a recurrence, but it is uncertain.
I do not feel threatened by mediation, and will welcome the chance to help clients find real and effective solutions to their problems – where this is the appropriate way.
But I hope the concept of Right and Wrong does not disappear from our system of justice altogether.

The Noonday Gun.

I have spent many years in Internal Audit in various organisations, managing some of their financial risks.  I have often studied and tested the controls they had in place, with often worrying results.  This was sometimes wrongly interpreted as overzealousness or even malice, but my concern was to find out how the control measures were supposed to work and whether they actually did.

I often remember a story told to me by an old auditor whose enquiring mind did not shut down when he was away from the office.  It merely found different subjects to enquire into.

He said he had once been on holiday somewhere in the South West of England and noticed that every day at noon they used to fire a cannon, or something similar, from a castle above the harbour.  He was told it was “so reliable you could set your clocks by it!” and apparently people did.  He could not help wondering how it could be so reliable, so when he went on a tour of the castle he asked how they always knew the correct time.  This was before the digital age, although I do not know why they did not use the Talking Clock which was created for that purpose.  Anyway, they said, there was a particular official there whose watch was always right and he supervised the firing of the gun.  My colleague’s curiosity was not quite satisfied.  He was as bad as me, you see. He asked the official in question, how he knew his watch was correct, and was told there was a jeweller’s shop in the town where they always ensured all the clocks and watches in the shop were showing the exact time.  Of course, this inquisitor could not refrain from visiting the shop and asking the, by then, obvious question.  He was told, “That’s easy.  Every day at exactly twelve noon they fire a gun from up at the castle!”

Well, that was just like some of the financial controls I have come across.  Everything relied on everything else.  There was no real independent check on anything.  So if anyone had managed to fiddle one set of figures, all the rest would have ageed with them, by definition.

What are you relying on to check something?  How independently is it verified?  Do you need some real financial advice?


Are These Myths About Data Protection Putting Your Business At Risk? No. 1. It’s an IT matter.

Whenever I speak to people about Risk Management these days, data protection is always one of the risks I mention, and I am increasingly concerned at the number of times one or more of five popular myths pops up. These are leading a lot of otherwise good managers to fail to take some of the necessary steps to managing this risk so as to keep their businesses safe. Today I am going to look at the most popular of all.
It’s an IT matter. This is usually followed by an invitation to speak to their IT manager, whether within their business or an outside contractor.
Obviously it is important to have the right software to protect your data from hackers, viruses and malware, but the Information Commissioner’s Office have reported that in the last two years more than 60% of incidents reported to them did not involve any IT failure. Most breaches were caused by human error. Except for those where “error” would be the wrong word, since deliberate wrongdoing was a significant element in many cases. This means it is a matter for your HR manager rather than your IT manager.
It is also important to recognise that most businesses hold and/or process data on lots of devices other than the traditional mainframe, desktop or even laptop computers. The range of items such as tablets, mobile ‘phones, storage devices and planners is growing in number and variety. Most are outside the control of the head of IT in the business.
Apart from the obvious data processing activities which take place in the course of business, a lot of data is passed a Continue reading Are These Myths About Data Protection Putting Your Business At Risk? No. 1. It’s an IT matter.

More Ways to be Misled by Statistics: Multiple Connections

I want to expand on a point I have made briefly in some of my other articles on statistics, that many things we try to study are more complex than some people would have us believe, especially if the things in question are social phenomena.

The obvious thing that many people seem to overlook is that human behaviour, whether as individuals or groups, is influenced by many factors.  Not only that, but most of the factors affect each other too. So trying to isolate one factor or one relationship takes a lot of skill and effort and the results still need approaching with caution.

Most people are aware that  how we behave and how successful we are in whatever we do is influenced by, among other things, our health, education, wealth, social standing and ethnicity. However, it is all too easy to forget that each of these is affected by the others, and that these things often work in both directions.

It is too simplistic to say, for instance, that unemployment has harmful effects on people’s health, and to try to prove it by showing statistical relationships between areas of high unemployment and areas where certain mental or physical ailments are prevalent.  The complication is that being in poor health makes it harder to get a job.  It also makes you less likely to succeed in work, if you do find any.   In the same way, poor education can be shown to be either a cause or an effect of poverty.  The better off your parents are, the better you are likely to perform in school, but academic success can obviously help you get a job and succeed in your career.

Higher rates of poverty among ethnic minorities can all too easily be used as evidence that they suffer discrimination.  Now, I am not saying that discrimination does not occur, but other factors come into it too.  Language is one factor.  Everyone accepts that the inability to speak English is a barrier to employment in the U.K. but not everyone appreciates the extent to which your career can suffer just because English is your second language even if you are pretty fluent.  I once met a Chinese woman who had lived here a long time and seemed very fluent.  However, one day her boss was reprimanding her for something and ended with the words “and you had better pull your socks up!” to which she replied “but I am not wearing any”  leaving both of them feeling aggrieved: he because he thought she was being cheeky, she because she really did not know that we use the term “pull your socks up” metaphorically.  A few incidents like that would not do your career much good.

Another example of inadvertent misuse of statistics can be found in some of the reactions to a report a few years ago into the increase in cases of rickets.  It was noted that most of the new cases were in black or Asian people in the North of England.  Some commentators tried to make some sort of social comment about poverty and/or the failings of the NHS.  The truth is that rickets is caused by a deficiency in vitamin A and lack of exposure to sunlight is a major factor.  People with dark skin do not process sunlight into vitamin A as well as pale-skinned people.  The NHS is not to blame for the lack of sunlight in the North of England.  One cultural factor which probably adds to the problem, is that many Asians are reluctant to expose their skin to direct sunlight due to their sense of modesty, so they do not make the most of what little sunshine there is around here.

Although we could go into issues of cultural awareness, language teaching, the NHS and a lot more, my main point is that an overly simplistic interpretation of statistics tends to ignore the many complexities of the relationships between various social and economic factors affecting human behaviour and human wellbeing.

Produce statistics, yes. Read them, by all means.  But please ask lots of questions about what lies behind them.

How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics

I have just published a book called “How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics” subtitle “Don’t be one of the 60% who are below average.”

It is published by Creates Space, go to www.createspace.com/4767398 and it is also on sale by Amazon.  It will hopefully be available on Kindle soon. The following is from the introduction and tells you why you should read it.


Three kinds of people ought to read this book.

Firstly there are those who use statistics in their work: accountants, scientists, advertisers, marketers, politicians and journalists.  If you are in one of these categories I would like to help you to maintain, or aspire to, a reasonable standard of honesty and integrity, so that people can trust what you say, and so that you do not even inadvertently mislead yourself as well as others.

Secondly there are cynics who think statistics can never be trusted and are just tools used by liars.  I want to show that they can be used properly, and also that with a little thought, we can all learn to spot the false or exaggerated claims, the non-sequiturs, and the unsubstantiated assumptions.  Then we will be able to see the truth when it appears.

Thirdly, there are the huge number of ordinary people who get totally confused and sometimes, sadly, misled, by statistics.  I want to help you make sense of what you read or hear, and to be able to be confident in sorting the facts from the hype.

It is for this third group that this book is really written.  If the other two groups benefit, I will be glad, but if you are in this third group, please read on.  I hope you will enjoy it, but above all I hope it will empower you.