Ask Bullmore: How can I stop the CEO talking about himself in the third person?

Ask Bullmore: How can I stop the CEO talking about himself in the third person?

Campaign's agony uncle answers your career dilemmas, including the problem of a chief executive who insists in talking about himself in the third person.

Dear Jeremy, Our new chief executive insists on talking about himself in the third person. How do I make him stop?

I expect that he was once sent on a personal development course for aspiring leaders and was reminded by the resident motivational speaker that there was no "I" in team. When he says "Jason’s been doing research into this and he’s come to the conclusion that he’d be better advised to have fixed price points", ask: "Who’s advising Jason these days?"

With any luck, he’ll have to say "I am, as a matter of fact" – which will at least show he hasn’t forgotten the word. But at least (I assume) he uses the third person singular. If he starts using the third person plural, call your personal development advisor immediately.

Dear Jeremy, Our procurement team is almost bigger than my entire marketing team. Is it time for me to leave the business?

It all depends on who they are and whether their minds are closed or open. Most procurement people would like to be better procurement people but nobody shows them how.

You’re in marketing. It’s your job to understand people who are totally different from you and show them why they would be better off if they took a course of action they hadn’t previously contemplated.

Try using this skill on your procurement people. Ask them if they’re confident that they can put an accurate, reliable and actionable measurement on every single aspect of a company’s performance. Some will say yes, and you may safely dismiss them. Others will say "I wish…"

Then take as your opening text the memorandum sent in 2007 by Howard Schultz, now executive chairman of Starbucks, to his top executives. In it, he wrote: "Over the last ten years, in order to achieve the growth, development and scale to go from less than 1,000 stores to 13,000 stores and beyond, we have had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have led to the watering down of the Starbucks experience."

Part of that experience had been witnessing Starbucks’ baristas pulling each espresso shot by hand. In the interests of consistency and speed, both eminently measurable, they switched to automatic espresso machines. "In doing so," Schultz wrote, "we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theatre."

Once, Starbucks had scooped fresh beans from great bins and ground them in front of customers. Instead, to achieve measurable gains in efficiency, they adopted flavour locked portions.

Schultz wrote: "We achieved fresh roasted bagged coffee, but at what cost? The loss of aroma – perhaps the most powerful non-verbal signal we had in our stores."

With hindsight, he said, the outcome of these and many other well intentioned and meticulously measured changes was "stores that no longer have the soul of the past".

Ask your open-minded procurement people whether they can understand why an ability to deliver such amorphous qualities as romance, theatre and soul – by definition impossible to quantify – should count strongly when assessing a company’s ability to be good value for money.

Finally, remind them that any minute now artificial intelligence will be able to do their measurement stuff far more quickly and cheaply than they can; but, in doing so, will remove much of the romance and theatre (and therefore potential value) of human communication.

Perhaps they’d be interested in learning how to become masters of Procurement 2.0, where their personal judgment is as highly respected as their metrics? I’m sure you’d be only too happy to help. 

Dear Jeremy, Sweden is introducing a dreamy six-hour workday. That’s the additional amount of time I work most weekends! Is it possible that I’d get just as much done in fewer hours if I changed the way I worked? Any tips to do so? Would a six-hour day ever work in adland?

Adland isn’t driven by days, it’s driven by projects. Give a project three weeks and it will take 23 days. Give the same project ten days and it will take 12.

As an experiment, give it 45 minutes: you’ll be amazed. This isn’t cussedness or bolshiness or bad manners. We need to feel the breath of failure before risking it.

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