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No Fishing Poles - sign

‘No Polish fishermen’ sign removed after outcry

There has been much ado around Billy Evans, the owner/manager of Field Farm fisheries, who decided to ban Polish “and other Eastern bloc” fisherman from using his farm-stocked recreational fishing ponds near Oxfordshire (UK). After hearing that “there’s Poles or somebody stealing fish,” he erected a sign at the entrance reading: “No vehicle access. No Polish or eastern bloc fishermen allowed. No children or dogs.”

Mr. Evans stated, “I do not tolerate thieves, wherever they come from,” he said. “I will stand up for what I believe in. If they want to call me a racist for stopping thieves coming on to my property then that’s what they’ll do.”

Especially angered has been Radoslaw Papiewski, 35, from Doncaster, who said his fellow anglers had told him about the notice. He said, “This disturbing sign should have never been displayed as it clearly discriminates against people from Poland and other eastern European countries.”

Race-baiting? Or misinformation?

Mr. Papiewski is not your random angry Pole. He is project manager for Building Bridges, a project aimed at integrating fishing communities from mainland Europe – much of which allows anglers to keep their catch – with anglers in the UK, where fish must be returned to the water. He helps educate non-British anglers about the difference between the laws governing angling in mainland Europe and those in the UK, in an effort to ensure they abide by British rules. The purpose of British laws requiring anglers to return their catch is to improve conservation and prevent the depletion of fish stocks.

The upshot of all this is that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has become involved and has threatened legal action unless the sign was removed. A huge public outcry has ensued, and Mr. Evans has been demonized as a racist. “My family has been threatened,” he stated. All around bad feelings, a divided community, and potential bankruptcy, due to legal fees and the closure of the business.

An alternative route

So let’s imagine what might have happened, had Mr. Evans attended a course in intercultural communication from BRIL.Solutions and had been culturally aware. Let’s look at it objectively:


Non-English fisherman, specifically those from Eastern bloc countries, are (allegedly) catching fish and keeping them rather than returning them carefully to the water, as is custom (and law) in the UK.

Let’s now look at two possible decision paths leading to a solution. The path on the left is the one Mr. Evans is now on. The path on the right being after he attended a course from BRIL.Solutions.

No Fishing Poles! (1)

What’s so ‘intercultural’ about all of this?

You might say, this is all well and good, but isn’t this a simple information and communication problem? What does culture have to do with any of this? A fair question, so let’s explore it.

As a fisherman myself, I understand the position of the Polish fishermen. There is something fundamentally satisfying about keeping and eating your own catch. It fulfills a primal instinct in being able to provide for yourself, your family and your community. This may be especially true in Poland, where cultural values around traditional masculine roles are ranked medium-high and, combined with high power distance (see Hofstede cultural dimensions comparing Poland and the US), may lead Polish fisherman to feel that leaving his catch behind is threatening his role in society. A man is the boss of his family, and is expected to provide for his family, while his wife prepares the meals and looks after the children. To come home empty-handed after a day of fishing means failure. He’s not fulfilled his role as head of the family.

In the UK, especially in stocked ponds like Mr. Evans’, fishing is seen as more recreational, more a hobby. Something to do with the kids on the weekend. There are few, if any, societal implications with fishing. It’s fun; a lark. I can imagine that Poles see the British attitude as a colossal waste of time.  

Secondly, you might think, “Reaching out to so many people, organizing meetings – who’s got time for that?” Indeed, the culturally aware path requires a heavy up-front investment. But look at what the alternative course of action results in: an alienated community and a failed business. Either course of action will result in costs of some sort. Why not invest the costs up front and have a positive, value-building outcome?   

The story of Mr. Evans’ fishing hole is but one example of many where there’s lost value due to a lack of awareness of intercultural differences. It pains me to see potential value-building gone to waste. Not to mention the human side of this story, the feelings of exclusion and rejection. The opportunity to build, create, bring together and encourage mutual understanding was squandered, in favor of divisiveness, hard feelings and more misunderstanding. 

I can be a bit of an idealist, but wouldn’t it be wonderful (not to mention more value-building) if we could approach all of our challenges with openness and willingness to learn, especially about others, before we go erecting signs, walls and barriers?


I follow Anthony Iannarino, international speaker, author and sales leader, at his blog The Sales Blog. Every Sunday he sends his loyal followers a newsletter in which he gives tips, advice and encouragement on how to improve one’s sales technique. Often these newsletters are supported by personal anecdotes and insights and, combined with Anthony’s reliable, personal response to inquiries or feedback, I have the feeling of a personal sales coach in my corner.

Anthony’s most recent newsletter was titled, “How to stay productive in a time of crisis.” Having suffercrisis-public-relationsed more than my share of crises, I read this newsletter with particular interest. His tips centered around three points:

  1. Make an exhaustive list of what has your attention.
  2. Determine your longer term goal.
  3. Determine your priorities now.

I missed something crucial in this list: being honest and realistic about your situation. Nobody likes to disappoint, and we all do our best to continue to deliver results despite our circumstances. But there comes a point where we have to be honest, both with others as well as ourselves, about our situation, come to terms with it and, most importantly, communicate it clearly. In small crises (illness) and large, evaluating and communicating honestly keeps expectations realistic.

The challenge for L&D is that most of the corporate control and measuring systems have been set up around the 10%. Extending L&D’s reach to enabling (and evaluating) the 70% requires something that, unfortunately, many learning professionals are just not very good at: knowledge of the business.

Ignorance of how the business works is of course not exclusive to L&D. As Geary Rummler and Alan Brache stated in their opening statement of their watershed “Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart,” “Many managers don’t understand their business.” I would venture to say “most” managers don’t understand how what they do fits into the larger strategic picture of the company and its industry. And since we all know that learning only really occurs when being applied in a relevant environment, that the learners see for themselves how their new knowledge and/or skill makes sense in the larger picture, it’s essential that L&D facilitate this learning in a useful, applicable manner. Too often, the LMSs and other “learning support systems” grossly hinder the relevant learning process rather than assisting.

Your list is a good start, but I always come back to one of the most important principles of being a good facilitator: you’ve got to speak the language of your client. This also means using the tools that they use. Designing their own courseware? Yes, if this is something that fits into their skill sets. Internal social media platforms such as Yammer? Yes, but only if Yammer is already being actively used. Introducing new tools or systems must have a compelling, relevant and clearly demonstrated payoff, otherwise you’re wasting everyone’s time.

Thinking About Learning

Warning: Nothing I’m writing about below is new or disruptive.

In the L&D world in recent years there has been a growing advocacy around changing the way we understand how learning happens at work. There’s a steady movement moving from instructor led and presentation led learning as a default to creating and cultivating more natural ways for people to share information.

With technology now at the forefront of giving people new ways to connect, share information, knowledge and practise we’re seeing a real move to technology becoming an enabler of better working and better learning.

The 70:20:10 model promotes thinking around the efficacy of learning mechanisms. 70% of our learning at work happens through on the job activities. 20% happens through peers and social based activity (also includes coaching and mentoring activity). 10% happens through formal training programmes and courses (including e-learning).

It’s easy for people to get caught up…

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G4S plc, based in London, is the world’s leading international security solutions group, which specializes in outsourced business processes in sectors where security and safety risks are considered a strategic threat. G4S employs over 620,000 people in more than 25 countries and is the world’s second largest private sector employer. Company turnover is roughly divided half and half, with 47% coming from Europe, and the other 53% divided between N. America and developing markets.



In addition to the challenges of managing a large, diverse and globally spread organization, the organization is in a process of change:

  • Locations in NW Europe and S/SE Europe have been brought together only in the last 2 years;
  • Companies located in Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Finland have all had their Cash operations, which constitute roughly half of G4S’s global business, integrated also very recently;
  • The exit of longtime CEO Nick Buckles. Ashley Almanza, a very recent arrival at G4S as CFO, and new to the security industry, was promoted to CEO in his place.

Because of rapid growth and these shifts at the top of the organization, investment in leadership development had been put on the back burner in recent years. An attempt had been made to begin a European Leadership Program a couple of years previously, including selection of many suitable candidates, but was cancelled before it could take place. The current list of candidates was prepared in December, 2012. Because of both internal and external stability and employee satisfaction, it was very important to many stakeholders (candidates, their charges, HR, upper management, among others) that the current program begin as scheduled.

European Leadership Program

In order to design, develop and deliver the program, Regional Human Resources Director – Europe Peter Agergaard was looking for a new external leadership development company to partner with. He wanted something new, creative and different, something other than the standard management development program with its emphasis on cognitive knowledge and skills training. Preferably something with more strategic relevance, personal development and real-world application  Additionally, because of all the recent worldwide acquisitions of smaller security companies, he wanted a program that emphasized the values of G4S, namely an open, creative, proactive organization which a transition from a man-hour provider to a solutions provider. The key of the program should be to transform the leadership of G4S from problem solvers to change agents with a shared vision.

De Baak was present on a list of 10 possible collaboration partners based on its strong reputation in the Netherlands, where many of the top management is located.


After an initial round, De Baak was selected as a short-list candidate and invited to Amsterdam to present ideas for the European Leadership Program. A very productive co-creation session resulted in a program that met the requirements. Some of the unique features of this program were:Image

  • Action Learning: 4 strategically important projects would be defined that would act as a platform for learning, as well as providing business results for the company at completion. The projects would be based on the classic Reg Revans formula for Action Learning: P + Q = L, where P stands for programmed knowledge, Q for the structured questioning process, and L for learning.
  • Online collaboration: given the fact that the course participants in the program, and their repsective Action Learning project teams, were geographically spread across Europe and the Middle East, a method for supporting synchronous project collaboration was needed. The existing tools within G4S (WebEx, the “Hub,” as well as internal knowledge bases) seemed to be adequate for this support.  
  • Upper management support: each of the Action Learning projects would be supported by mentors who would work directly with the team, and a project sponsor from upper management who would be the “owner” of the project, responsible for implementing the end results.
  • Employer branding: part of the success formula for leadership development programs is visibility within the organization. Letting colleagues know that the company is investing in their personal development is a significant motivator. Therefore, giving attention to the program through internal marketing channels was also a feature of the program.
  • Flow from and to existing management/leadership development programs
  • Entrepreneurial methods: by encouraging the participants to seek out resources both within as well as outside the organization, as well as linking the Action Learning project to all levels, the course helps to support the entrepreneurial development of the participants.   

G4S selected De Baak as its leadership development program partner, based on both the strength of the proposal as well as the creativity demonstrated by the co-creation process. The candidates were informed of the selection and all preparations were made to have 18 course participants travel to Amsterdam for the first of three European Leadership Program modules.


One week before the first module was set to take place, G4S instituted a company-wide freeze on all “non-essential expenses,” especially travel and lodging. In practice this meant that the first module of the ELP would not be able to take place as scheduled, as the participants would be traveling from all points of Europe, from as far away as Israel and Kazakhstan. The first module was also planned to consume an entire week in Amsterdam, which meant considerable lodging and per diem expenses for the entire group. It was with great disappointment that Peter Agergaard contacted De Baak with this news.

Considering the importance placed on having this program begin as scheduled, the anticipation that the selected candidates had in beginning the course, as well as the considerable investment made in partner selection, program design and development, cancelling the ELP altogether was not a decision taken lightly. Instead, Peter decided to postpone the program, with the first module taking place well into the first quarter of the following year, which assumed that the freeze on expenses would be lifted by then. The danger of this decision is that it might be met with scepticism from the candidates, especially considering the history of planned programs being cancelled altogether. This scepticism would have exactly the opposite effect on the organization as intended by offering a leadership development program in the first place. Instead of boosting morale and motivation, cancelling the program would most likely lead to demoralization and demotivation, especially among the selected candidates.


De Baak proposed an interim solution to G4S: to begin the Action Learning projects as scheduled, but treat it as a “prelude” to the program actually beginning the following quarter. This solution would:

  • Demonstrate to the participants that, despite this setback, they are valuable to the organization and very much worth the investment in their personal and professional development;  
  • Start making progress on projects that potentially have significant business value to the organization;
  • Demonstrate to G4S at all levels that the HR department is flexible and creative in finding solutions in developing its people, despite setbacks;
  • Take advantage of the blocked agendas of the participants for the coming week they would otherwise have been in Amsterdam;
  • Begin generating returns on the significant investment already made in the development and design process of the program.

The challenges to this proposed solution were two-fold:

1) The Action Learning formula of P + Q = L would not have the attention it would have received during the first face-to-face module. P being programmed knowledge in the form of:

  • Listening, communication and coaching skills;
  • Working collaboratively and team management;
  • Intercultural differences and communication;
  • Developing themselves as leaders;
  • Questioning techniques and feedback methods.

2) Group cohesion and company-wide learning opportunities would be diminished due to a lack of initial face-to-face contact.

All of this would be exacerbated by attempting to run a project without a clear understanding of who your teammates are and what you have to offer each other. Nevertheless, it was decided that the benefits of the clear internal signal beginning the Action Learning projects would send, as well as the potential business-related benefits of successful projects, were strong enough arguments to begin the course in this manner.


This proposed solution, as well as G4S’s willingness to accept it, proves that the collaborative, co-creation relationship that was established early between De Baak and its client G4S has benefits that extend far beyond simple design of the program in the initial stages. This relationship has set the tone for a long-term collaborative relationship that extends into the delivery of the course itself. It is expected that this mutual respect and give-and-take from both sides will continue to benefit both parties long into the future. The projects are currently running and all of them appear to be successfully launched. It is expected that they will mainstream with the programmed knowledge offered when the formal face-to-face portion of the course begins. Not only will the participants have had significant contact with each other in the meantime, they will have built a store of shared experiences that can form the basis for cases over the entire course.  

Don’t tell me how you’re going to do it, just tell me what results I can expect. A good blog from Sukh Pabial on the British Business Blog.

Thinking About Learning

Hello, I’m Sukh and I’m here to find out more about what learning and development happens in your part of organisation.

Sure, we send people on courses.

And what about social learning?

Informal learning?

Experiential learning?

It’s a familiar conversation, right?

You know who cares about these things? Us L&Ders.

You know who doesn’t care about these things? The people we’re working with.

It’s all a lot of good useful academic debate and classification and codifying and intelligent thought. But it doesn’t matter to the people who need to learn. They just want to learn. If that comes through a webinar, a podcast, a flipped classroom, a MOOC, or face to face solution, then that’s what we provide.

There’s been a lot of good discussion in the L&D world about all sorts of fascinating things. How do we get inside the learner’s head? What should we worried…

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A wonderful response to Nicholas Kristol’s op-ed piece in the NY Times:

I am a frequent international traveler.

I take a taxi to JFK on pot-holed roads, arrive at dirty airports, and land in clean European airports. Then I take their clean and convenient trains to their city centers. Then I fly back to the pot-holed highways to New York City, and admire the glittery glass enclosed and marble tiled buildings belonging to private corporations.

This is what is fundamentally different between us and Europe. We admire our ability to amass wealth at the expense of public services, and they provide services to the public at the expense of their (fewer) citizens to amass wealth.

Greater good for the greater number of people is the European motto. Greater good for the fewer at the expense of greater number of people is ours.

I am glad that our president is taking this discussion nationally.

Click here for an outstanding article by a Chinese-American who has an unwelcome “return” to her homeland.

Similar situations exist here in the Netherlands where there are many second- and third-generation immigrant families whose members have never visited “home” before. They are unfortunately not fully accepted into Dutch society, nor are they accepted should they eventually make the trip to their parent’s, or grandparent’s, homeland.

One hopes that with the increase in immigration and globalization that these kinds of dilemmas become an issue of the past. I look forward to the day that people are accepted for their innate and inherent value, and not because of where they were born or the color of their skin.

RT @HarvardBiz: Leadership lessons from Indian companies: good preview of an very good article

The question is: can the rest of us learn from their practices? As Peter Cappelli astutely observes, the lessons are not new, and even though many are based on circumstances found unique to the Indian business environment, there are nevertheless inherent lessons.

Especially: measuring and tracking training and development and creating a real sense of social mission, whereby employees can feel that their work has impact can have clear influence on the culture and success of any company.

An atypically shallow article in NYTimes re: intercultural communication

I was quite disappointed in the article. It touched very lightly on the general status quo without really defining either the problem or the underlying causes. Then leapt immediately to the solutions.

And closing with the most likely apocryphal “When the British company redid the proposal with a positive spin, they got the deal the next day” only reinforces the shallowness of the article’s tone. It implied easy, simple solutions while ignoring the complexities of intercultural decision processes.

Nice article from Neil Payne from Kwintessential: Effective Multi Cultural International Business Meetings

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