Monthly Archives: January 2009

When processes need to change

Early yesterday morning, I walked with Lucy (the dog) up to the top of Stagbury Hill in The New Forest. Not a huge feat as Stagbury, despite having a trig point at the top, is not very high! High enough, though, to be able to see the surrounding countryside in all its winter glory. Leafless Oak and Ash trees in one direction, green deciduous Pines in another. Red flowered heather tangled with the dead leaves of last summer’s bracken. New Forest ponies foraging optimistically for food amongst the grass and gorse. Rather a barren landscape and a typical winter scene in this part of the world.

If we came back again in the middle of summer, all would look completely different. What appears brown and barren now will look green and fertile. Butterflies and other insects will join the bees in drawing nectar from the many scented flowers on bushes and plants. Snakes will sunbathe on rocks and birds and frogs will compete to catch the insects. New Forest Pony foals will gambol next to their long-suffering mothers and the resident deer, foxes and badgers will all be defending their offspring against nature’s predators.

Nature’s annual processes will play out here as they have for the past thousand years and will continue to do so, in all probability, for thousands of years to come. But the processes are not ‘set in stone’. They frequently adapt, to meet prevailing conditions. A great example of this happened in the spring of 2006. April of that year was particularly cold with several days of frost. The buds and blossom that would normally appear during April remained dormant, to protect the delicate leaves and flowers against the frost. The plants adapted their usual ‘budding’ process to counter the abnormally cold weather. The result? Blossom appeared on trees and bushes four weeks later than normal. But when they came, the flowers were spectacular! The best display of spring blossom in living memory. This was almost certainly due to more of the plants’ energies going in to forming the blossom, over a longer period, than would normally be the case.

What is the significance of this in business you may be asking?

We always manage projects to deadlines. Usually, these are fixed dates which must be met. Quite often, though, the date is arbitrary – the beginning of the financial year, for example. If your project is behind schedule and you can move the end date, then gain agreement to do that. Don’t assume that the end date is set in stone – it may not be. Ask the question! Rather then rush the project and deliver a sub standard product, move the end date, if you can and deliver a brilliant product!

Take a lesson from nature and complete the task when the time is right. Not always possible to delay the delivery date, of course, but when it is, do it. If you wait until the right time rather than trying to hit an artificially imposed deadline, the final result will be far superior!


An elderly Jewish man lay dying in his bed. While suffering the agonies of impending death, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favourite  matzo balls wafting up the stairs. He gathered his remaining strength, and lifted himself from the bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and with even greater effort, gripping the railing with both hands, he crawled down stairs. With laboured breath, he leaned against the doorframe gazing into the kitchen. Were it not for death’s agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven, for there, spread out upon waxed paper on the kitchen table were literally hundreds of his favourite matzo balls. 

Was it heaven? Or was it one final act of heroic love from his devoted Rivka of sixty years, seeing to it that he left this world a happy man? Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself towards the table, landing on his knees in a rumpled posture. His parched lips parted, the wondrous taste of the matzo balls was already in his mouth, seemingly bringing him back to life. 

The aged and withered hand trembled on its way to a ball at the edge of the table, when suddenly it was smacked with a spatula by his wife…… 

“Get off you old fool” she said, “they’re for the  funeral”. 

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Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes and manage projects. If you would like to find out more about documenting processes or project management, see or email:


Managing the unexpected

As usual on a winter morning, the local goldfinches flutter and squabble around the birdfeeders in our garden, feasting on sunflower hearts and thistle seeds. The scene is repeated several times a day, every day. They seem to have a pecking order (ha!) and the dominant flock members secure the best feeding stations. They all know of the threat posed by Coco the Burmese cat, who sits beneath the bird feeders staring upwards with mouth watering and they take care not to flutter within his jumping distance (during the summer, several young birds failed to live long enough to learn this lesson).

The goldfinches also keep a wary eye skywards, with almost meerkat enthusiasm, in case the kestrel flies over. He too, seeks his breakfast but he doesn’t relish sunflower seeds – plump young goldfinches are more to his taste.

So one of nature’s little tableaux plays out and all of the players know the rules. The goldfinches have assessed the various risks and have decided that the benefits of a healthy breakfast outweigh the potential pitfalls.

All is well until something unexpected comes in from left field – in this case, a nuthatch, looking for more than his share of the bird seeds. Bigger, faster, more aggressive and nimble than the other garden birds, he quickly upsets the settled rhythm. This unexpected and unplanned incursion has an interesting result. The goldfinches react to the intrusion in different ways. Some flee, some fight, some just casually move to a different feeding position. Some are clearly upset and don’t reappear for several hours.

The feeding process that the goldfinches go through every day is fixed in their heads, much as many Marketing processes are fixed in the heads of those who are involved in them. When something comes in unexpectedly to upset the goldfinches, they fall in to disarray but eventually recover. I suspect that many marketing execs would say the same when something unexpectedly happens to them – ‘the POS designs are late’; ‘none of the concepts researched well enough to proceed’; ‘the shoot’s overrun’; ‘a competitor’s launched a new product’; etc, etc. ‘We might go off track but we always recover’. How do you react when something unexpected happens to you? fight? flight? panic? or do you take it in your stride because the interruption wasn’t entirely unexpected?

Having the process in the head might be sustainable for our goldfinches but it really isn’t good enough for serious marketers. Properly documented processes allow everyone involved to know what is expected of them, and when. With several marketing teams, departments, agencies and consultants involved in a typical marketing project it is vital that all concerned are able to understand the implications when something goes wrong (as it inevitably does!) Projects are carried out more cost effectively, more efficiently and with fewer unexpected surprises.

Are your processes documented? Are your marketing projects properly planned, with contingencies built in to allow for those unexpected issues that always seem to arise? Do you assess the risks when planning new work? If yes, that’s great, you’re well prepared. If not, you should think about whether or not properly documented processes would help your marketing efforts.

When a nuthatch flies in to your project, don’t be surprised – something always comes in from left field. It’s only natural!


Misunderstandings: Two guys were discussing popular family trends on sex, marriage, and values. James said, ‘I didn’t sleep with my wife before we got married; did you? ‘David replied, ‘I’m not sure, what was her maiden name?’

========================================================================================================= Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes, manage projects ands improve individual and team working efficiencies. This also includes improving the effectiveness of your emarketing, particularly in the area of turning prospects into customers. If you would like to find out more, see or email:

Why bother to document processes and briefs?

In nature, life carries on ‘by instinct’. Birds and animals migrate vast distances – usually twice a year. Salmon cross the Atlantic Ocean to spawn. House Martins build their nests under the eaves of the same houses in Northern Europe every year, having visited the plains of Africa in the meantime. Spiders spin complex webs. Bats fly ‘blind’ without hitting anything. Foxes try to find a way in to the chicken run … They aren’t shown what to do, they just know how to do it; it’s all in their heads.

The same might be said of many employees who manage pieces of work, or ‘projects’. Not much written down in the way of a process – everything they need to know is in their heads. Which may (or may not) be fine until information is needed by another person (or a system). The other person may want a status update, they may want some guidance on what to do next, they may want to review the plan following changes that they’ve recently been told about. And so on.

Having the detail in your head is great for you but not so convenient for everyone else in the process or working on the project. Sales and Marketing people tend (as a huge generalisation) to work like this. They know what they’re doing, what needs to be done and what’s been completed down to the nth detail. They know the budget status (from the excel spreadsheet on the personal drive of their laptop), they know the project status (because they had a discussion about it with key people earlier in the week) and they know what needs to be done next. But very little is documented in a collaborative environment in which information can be shared, everyone involved can update their own parts of the project for everyone else to see and where the status of Issues and Risks can be easily reviewed by all concerned. And why worry about providing a written brief to the agency when a phone call will do?

Do you recognise this view of life in your office?

If you do, then think about the benefits of better documentation. It may add some time up front to a project but will undoubtedly save more time further down the line. You will always have information in your head which doesn’t need to be shared. You will also have information that should be shared and understanding where the line is drawn is very important. Which information to share, how to share it and where to share it should be considered when reviewing business processes and when setting up a new project.

Your company will have a collaborative working environment. It may be a shared system drive (usually called the ‘J’ drive), it may be Lotus Notes, Microsoft Sharepoint, a company Intranet or other similar environments. If you are not using your collaborative environment to manage your projects, ask your IT team to demonstrate the benefits to you. It will be time well spent and you will spend a lot less of your time answering your colleagues’ questions. Oh, and your projects are more likely to be completed on time and less likely to bust the budget!



  • Two vultures board an airplane, each carrying two dead raccoons. The
    stewardess looks at them and says, “I’m sorry, gentlemen, only one carrion
    item allowed per passenger.”
  • Two boll weevils grew up in South Carolina. One went to Hollywood and
    became a famous actor. The other stayed behind in the cotton fields and
    never amounted to much. The second one, naturally, became known as the
    lesser of two weevils.  
  • Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, but when they lit a fire int he craft, it sank proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it, too.
  • A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West. He slides up to
    the bar and announces: “I’m looking for the man who shot my paw.”

  • ================================================================================================================
      Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes, manage projects ands improve individual and team working efficiencies. This also includes improving the effectiveness of your emarketing, particularly in the area of turning prospects into customers. If you would like to find out more, see or email:

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Communication – the right message at the right time

We assume, rightly or wrongly, that homo sapiens have the best developed communication skills in the natural world because we have an expressive verbal language which is understood by those with whom we are communicating. Other species use different methods to communicate with each other. Most animals and birds (and humans) use body language in one form or another to show feelings and emotions. Birds use song to attract a mate, which is why the level of bird song rises in the Spring. Marine animals use sounds to attract mates, defend territories, maintain coordination in groups, and pass on information. Whales and dolphins are well known for their sounds, but many species of fish and marine invertebrates also use sound. Spiny Lobsters, for example, use sound to ward off predators.

Animals change the rate of sound production and the structure of the sounds to send different messages. Some sounds are used to startle or scare off predators – monkeys are famous for this. Many animal species have a very keen sense of smell, much more specialised than humans and scent marking is a common form of communication in these species. They use scent to mark their territories and ward off interlopers.


In the business world, communication is one of the most important considerations when managing change to the enterprise, such as introducing a new process or implementing a programme of projects. It is also one of the more difficult skills to master and one that often goes horribly wrong!
It sounds simple – Tell the workforce what we’re doing and why and they’ll all understand.
There are a number of considerations before we get to the actual message:

  • Who are we communicating with?
  • What is their interest in the project/process?
  • In what format should we communicate?
  • Should we send the same message to everyone involved?
  • How often should we update the communication?
  • Who should be sending out the message?
  • What is/is not confidential?

In addition to communication out to interested parties, we also need communication from many of these individuals:

  • Identify who has what experience in this area
  • What views do they hold of the existing v the proposed future model?
  • What input can they make to the process?
  • What influence do they have over others who will be affected by the changes?


Construct a matrix which shows different groups of people on one axis and their involvement/information needs on the other. Construct a communication plan which will ensure that everyone has the information that they need in the correct format. Whilst verbal/written communication will be the main format used, don’t forget the other forms. Body language is important, so make personal presentations and meetings when possible. Unless you are involved in food/beverage production, for example, or introducing a new process to get perfume to market more efficiently, the use of smell is probably not recommended. Leave that to the animals!



Rob Horlock specialises in part time project management and in helping the commercial side of businesses to manage projects ands improve individual and team working efficiencies. If you would like to find out more, see or email: 

Beware the cover up

Camouflaged Bird

Camouflaged Bird


Camouflage is one of nature’s basic techniques for ensuring the survival of species. Flatfish have the same colouring as the seabed where they dwell. Females of bird species which nest in vulnerable places tend to have less colourful plumage then their male counterparts, to conceal them from predators while they incubate their eggs. The pheasant is a good example of this. Stick insects resemble the foliage of the plants on which they live. There are hundreds, thousands of similar examples. Some animals and birds actually change colour depending on their surroundings. The Artic Fox is brown in summer and white in winter, to match the snow. The Ptarmigan, a type of grouse that inhabits the snowy arctic tundra, does the same. It is not only the famed Chameleon which changes colour to camouflage itself. To stand a chance of seeing a camouflaged creature, you have to look carefully, in the right places.

How is this reflected in the business world? Who uses camouflage techniques to conceal themselves? Many people at work put on their camouflaged ‘business face’. The face that nods agreement sometimes when they should really be shaking their head to disagree. The face that agrees with you when in the same room, but who spreads discontent, rumour and innuendo amongst friends and colleagues behind your back. The face that tells you what they think you want to hear.

This is especially true in times of change within the company. When processes are reviewed, waste of one form or another is almost always uncovered. This ‘waste’ will be all or part of some people’s daily roles within the company and they will become very uncomfortable if they think that their job is in jeopardy. When told of impending changes in their department they may smile and nod agreement with the proposals. Underneath, they may be very worried and can react in a number of ways:

  • They can decide that it is time they found a new job with a new company and so will start job hunting. The organisation may or may not wish to keep the employee and the follow up action will depend on this position. Ultimately, the employee’s actions will have a fairly ‘passive’ effect on the proposed changes.
  • The employee may seek clarification from their line manager –’how will the changes affect me?’; ‘if my job goes, will I find another position within the company?’; ‘How much redundancy pay can I expect to get if my job goes?’ etc. If there is a likely to be a positive outcome and the employee finds a new position, this too will have a ‘passive’ effect on the proposed changes.
  • Alternatively, the employee may be a ‘blocker’, someone who reacts negatively to any change. They may start off with a camouflaged face but quickly come out in to the open. They may still nod in agreement in public, but will spread negative (and usually exaggerated) rumours about the implications of the changes amongst the other members of staff. These people have very ‘active’ (and negative) effect on the proposed changes and they can change the overall opinion of the workforce unless they are managed correctly and speedily.

The important point is to recognise that some people wear a disguise when at work. Understand this and its implications. Key to this is Communication, the topic covered in the next instalment of ‘Natural Processes’.


A man walks into a bar one day and asks, “Does anyone here own that rottweiler outside?”
“Yeah, I do!” a biker says, standing up. “What about it?”
“Well, I think my Chihuahua just killed him…”
“What are you talkin’ about?!” the biker says, disbelievingly. “How could your little runt kill my rottweiler?”
“Well, it seems he got stuck in your dog’s throat!”

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Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes, manage projects and improve individual and team working efficiencies. If you would like to find out more, see or email: