Derek Arden chats with Phil Jesson about his Lockdown Book

Phil Jesson wrote the book, “FROM SURVIVE TO THRIVE” in just 8 weeks during lockdown motivated by the actions of Captain Sir Tom Moore.


Hello everybody and welcome to Derek’s afternoon live chat show today.

I’m delighted to have Phil Jesson with me, Phil has just written this book ‘From Survive to Thrive’. And he’s written this book during the lockdown and all the proceeds go to the NHS (the National Health Service) which is absolutely fantastic. I bought five, and the five arrived in a nice envelope and I wondered what the book would be like, but I was blown away with the 365 tips and techniques and I phoned Phil up and I said, “How did you do that, it’s so thick, I would have had no idea how to do it?”
Well, I discovered of course that Phil trained at the British Military Academy at Sandhurst, and was a soldier in the British Army and spent some time on tours abroad, which he’s going to share that with us, and then it became clear how Phil managed to structure it because as a banker I could never really structure anything, we had to just get big things out of the trenches and see what we could find out.

So welcome Phil and, Phil, I’d like to ask you a few questions and I’d like to turn to the book, because I’ve picked out some things that I’d like to quiz you about. But first of all, tell me, as a young boy, what did you learn at Sandhurst?

Leadership at Sandhurst?

Phil – Well the first thing I learned at Sandhurst because of the regime there, was how to cope with 15-hour days, and all of the physical and mental exertion associated with that. So, developing coping strategies, I think, around that sort of pressure, but I think it was a huge insight for me into what leadership and teams are all about. And some of the things that I’ve talked about for many a year go back to that sort of pivotal time in my sort of two-year stint at Sandhurst.  So, for example, when I work with teams talking about leadership, they often find that very, very difficult to define but the definition that I learned many years ago is that leadership is about the ability to inspire willing action.

 And I think the other key element of that if you think about our lives in the commercial world or the not for profit world, is that I think there’s a huge difference between being a boss and being a leader. And over the years, sadly, I’ve worked with many clients, chief executives who were irritating bosses, rather than them being inspirational leaders, so I think the military was a very, very good grounding for me. Learning about all of that stuff and it didn’t sort of stop there. 

I can remember when I got to my first posting which was in Gibraltar. I could remember my boss thumbing through the confidential report from Sandhurst. And to be honest during my two years there, there were times where I’d actually struggled with it so I sort of finished middle of the pack, you might say. So, my boss is sitting in the office in Gibraltar, day one thumbing through my confidential report, turning the page saying things like, “Oh, interesting, Phil.” And then he would turn another page and say, “Really.” And then he would turn another page and say, “Hmm.” So, it was not going too well. And just when I expected him to say, “You need to get yourself sorted out, because we’re heading for Northern Ireland,” He leaned across the table, and in a very calm voice, he said, “Well, I’ve just read this report and I see that I have got some work to do.” 

And I loved him for that. He was a man who recognised that in order to get the best out of me, he had to change first, and yet very often if you think about our commercial lives, it’s very often the other way around. I’ve worked with executives that will say, “Well, I’ll be nice to Fred once Fred sorts himself out.” This was a man who had the COMPLETE REVERSE OF that he believed rather like the Gandhi quote that ‘you have to be the change that you want to see in the world’ and he was very much that way orientated, he knew that he had to change before he expected to see any change for me. So yeah, it was a huge learning environment, Derek.

Leadership lessons in Northern Ireland – response-ability

Derek – Tell me about Northern Ireland or tell me what you can about Northern Ireland, because they were terrible times and with the Troubles and I know the army was put in there and you must have been one of the first people, Phil, how old were you at that time? 

Phil – Yeah, it was muck and bullets it’s to be honest. I was 20 years old at the time with 30 soldiers in Londonderry and Londonderry, as you may know, is famous for the Bogside, which was the scene of the Bloody Sunday business, also the home of Martin McGuinness and co so it was a baptism of fire but one of the things that I learned very quickly in Northern Ireland was that, if you want to develop responsibility in people, you have to give them the responsibility. One will breed the other. And if you think about the very, very tight urban environment of Northern Ireland housing estates, basically, there was a view within the officer ranks that only officers and sergeants would be able to lead patrols through those very, very tight, urban areas, but because of the geography that we had to cover, very often, there were patrols of three and patrols of six going out and the radios and the maps were not in the hands of the officers and the sergeants. 

There was a view that, you know, quote, ‘the lads won’t be able to take the pressure’ unquote, what actually happened was that the lads, given that responsibility, became very response-able. And I’ve always remembered that it’s really just about trust and, where possible, giving people a lot of responsibility in a low-risk environment, and as they become more and more at ease with that, increasing the risk factor as you go along. And of course, what tends to happen is that people time and time again, used to surprise me with the talent and the development, that was going on in front of my eyes.

Derek – And were you able to promote them, the people that took those because they must have just been privates.

Phil – oh yeah, yeah, but they became Lance corporals and corporals and moved through the ranks. And one of the things that I was very proud of in my 18 months out there, is that a lot of people were promoted through my hands, so to speak, and I felt really chuffed with that. I think that was one of the things looking back in time that I’m particularly proud of.

Derek – I’m not sure you’ll want to answer this question, I don’t if you don’t, but what was the scariest moment in Derry as the Irish say, or Londonderry as the British say?

Phil – it’s tempting to say the violence or the blitz; that wasn’t the case. I think the scariest thing was the deep hatred and loathing between two communities that could not get on. And I can remember standing in front of a window at night-time and the lights were turned on inside of the house which meant that I was silhouetted. And of course, if you’re silhouetted in front of a lit window you move very quickly out of the way because you are basically a target. And as I then stood in the doorway, the door opened and somebody looking like my mother, the same age as my mother, looked me in the eye and said, “I hope you die tonight, you limey bastard.” I think that type of deep, deep tribal hatred, was the thing that really shocked and surprised me. 

Interestingly, John Hume, the MP that has died recently over this last week, he’s often attributed with defining what the Irish problem is really about, and one side will say, it’s about a united Ireland, the other side will say it’s about retaining, being part of the UK and John Hume said, “No it’s not, it’s not about those tribal views, it is about the relationship between two different communities, and how we manage the relationship between two different communities, now, it’s not about going back 300 or 400  years and trying to change history and the various constitutions that went with it.”

How did you write such a substantial book in just 8 weeks?

Derek – Wow, wow that’s deep thinking for all of us, isn’t it because those sorts of troubles are going on in lots and lots of places around the world at this very, very moment. Phil, can I change the subject?

So, what motivated you to write this, and come on then, how did you do it in three months?

Phil – Well,  the honest answer to that is I dabbled with it last year in a very half-hearted way and probably wrote about 20 pages of it, but when the lockdown kicked in, that, along with the heroic performance of our NHS and care workers, gave me that sense of purpose that fuelled that journey. So, one little military model that I can share with you, Derek, because you’re obviously interested in that, is there so little mnemonic in the military world called  – 

OPERA. And that stands for objective, plan, execute review and amend. 

So following that objective, plan, execute, review and amend, it wasn’t that difficult to build the sort of project plan around it, and I know you were mentioning Tim earlier, who’s talked about VUCA and all of that volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity stuff that’s going on in the world today. That little OPERA model is quite interesting, because 10 years ago in business, the O and the P were the dominant letters of that mnemonic, having a very, very clear objective, and a very, very clear plan – that is not the case today. 

And as Winston Churchill once said, “No plan survives contact with the enemy,” the two letters that are most important today are the R, and the A. It’s the review and amend and it’s the speed at which organisations can review and amend what’s going on in their world, and come back with an appropriate response. So, it’s a very interesting model in more ways than one.

Three Mountains

Derek – And I’ll be looking at very carefully in the travel industry. I think we’re all interested in, aren’t we, but you know with the level of debt they have, no income, goodness knows what will happen. Okay, turning to the book, there’s some really interesting stories in there, and I love the seminar in a day and the quotes etc. But you told me the mountain story is one of the ones that the leaders you talk to are most interested in.

Phil – Yeah, the three mountains as I call it, and this goes back to a project, I was involved with some years ago, and it sounds rather glamorous took place in Oslo. And it wasn’t my client, but I was bolted on to this team of people that went to Oslo, with the top 100 people from Marks and Spencer who were developing all sorts of problems, and this was at the time where the media were just beginning to have a serious pop at them and saying that they’d lost their way and so on. So if you picture the scene, the hundred people from Marks and Spencer were treated to a whole range of Scandinavian leaders that were talking to them about how you turn the business around and of the dozen or so people that were there. The one I remember is the guy who ran Bang and Olufsen, and you know exactly what Bang Bang and Olufsen are, all about top-end hi-fi, in a very nice piece of furniture. If you’ve got one of those you’re probably earning far too much. And that’s another story.

Derek – I haven’t.

Phil – No okay, I’m getting a few smiles, there’s a few people earning far too much there, Derek. So the guy from Bang and Olufsen stood up and he’s talking to these hundred people from Marks and Spencer and he pointed out that when he was the newly appointed Chief Executive of Bang and Olufsen, he identified three objectives that had to be hit in order to save the business, and he drew them on a flip chart like three mountain peaks. And he labelled them one, two and three, and explained what they were. Then interestingly, he drew the cloud base on the three mountains and shaded it in. So, if you picture the flip chart you’ve got three mountain peaks that are clear at the top. [Derek shows the illustration from the book] Thank you, you’ve got the illustration there.

 Yeah, three mountain peaks that are clear at the top and then they are shaded in as the cloud base, and he said to the group including me, “My job as the chief executive, is to stay on top of those mountains where the air is clean and the visibility is good. My job is not to go into the cloud base to solve other people’s problems. My job is not to go into the cloud base, just to find out how hard my people are working, I know they’re working very hard. My job as the chief executive is about a low number of high priority issues. We have three, we have to hit them. My job is to stay on top of the mountains where the air is clean, and the visibility is good.” 

And I’ve shared that story with many clients, over the years, particularly those organisations that proudly tell me they’ve got 25 strategic objectives. And I then groan and say, “Oh dear!” And they often say, “What do you mean, ‘Oh dear’?” And I have to tell them that story, very often in a workshop. And of course, where we are then headed, not surprisingly, is that by the end of the day, we’re down to three objectives. 

Three mountains, a low number of high priority issues, not a high number of low priority issues. And to me that’s very important because if you think about communicating goals and objectives to the workforce. If people have to go looking for their goals, then management has failed (in my view), people should be able to recall their top three objectives, they ought to be able to recall the team’s top three objectives, and they ought to be able to recall the organization’s top three objectives, without having to look for it. So that’s really where the power of those three mountains comes into it. So at the time that I first heard that story I would describe myself as a co-learner in the room, but I think I’ve since become a disciple of that man, and all of the very simple but highly focused work that he did that Bang and Olufsen to turn it around.

The Power of Three

Derek – Fantastic Phil. Now like me, you talk about the power of three, I’m going to switch to tip 101, I haven’t told you that so far but that is about the power of three.  I’m a great believer in it, we see the politicians doing it all the time, but you are a particularly big believer in it and it works, doesn’t it, it works?

Phil – Yeah, the power of three and in a communication message you mean?

Derek – Yes, I do.

Phil – yeah absolutely right and if you think about the structure that sits behind a lot of advertising slogans or politician sound bites, they revolve around three key points. If you think back to that good old commercial, “A Mars a day helps you work rest and play,” three words that go in, almost rhythmically. And there is some research on this, as you may know, that again says that people will remember three, they won’t necessarily remember five or 10 or 15 or whatever, but they will remember three. So, with that in mind, I often recommend that when you’re doing a presentation, you only have three objectives for that presentation. When you wrap the thing up at the end of the presentation, there are only three summarising points. If you talk to the audience and say well, these are the three things that I hope you do, the chances are they will do those three because they will still remember them outside the meeting room. 

So, yes, I’m a great believer in the power of that well researched, as I mentioned by, spin doctors and advertising agencies alike.

Derek – Would you recommend them also for a business pitch, a report as well, these are the three things we’re going to talk about and at the end summary? These are the three points because I’ve seen so many times, you know, 150 points why we should do this.

Phil – Yeah, absolutely. And if you think about a business pitch, you may well have an opening slide that says well these are the three things that I want to cover today. And there are three bullet points on that slide with a diagram or a cartoon or a graphic, may be of some sort, but people don’t want to see a slide with 12 bullet points on at the start of a presentation they’ll be reaching for a cushion.

Derek – No, absolutely, absolutely. Now…

Phil – if you think about Will’s world, a world for example if you think about the networking world. You know I’m not the first to say that when people are networking, they very often try and leave the other person with three things to remember about them. They don’t try and leave them with 15 things to remember them, but just three. They will remember three.

Getting in The Canoe

Derek – you talk about tip number five is getting in the canoe, which I thought was a very interesting take on, ‘the reason the rear-view mirror is much smaller than the windscreen is that you’re going forward’, You put that early in the book.

Phil – Yeah. And if you haven’t heard the story, it’s not mine, originally, incidentally, but it is a very nice story of the two people that are on the canal. And it’s all … you know. they’re enjoying themselves on a nice weekend away and they come across the canal and think, well, let’s go on that for a couple of hours and one is in the rowing boat, and one is in a canoe. And they are rolling along, and they are paddling along very nicely for half an hour and then the guy in the rowing boat says, “okay, just pulling to the side. I’d like to have a go in that canoe.” And the canoeist he says, “Well, I can’t really see your point because you’re going along at the same speed as me, we’re chatting as we’re going along, you know, get on with it,” and a half an hour later, the guy in the rowing boat gets very, very insistent and says, “No, pull into the side, I really must have that canoe,” and the canoeist said, “Well, what exactly is your problem, why is that so important to you?” And the guy in the rowing boat says, “Well, I’ve been thinking about this for the last hour. I’ve been looking backwards, where I’ve come from. You’re the one that’s looking forwards, where you’re going.” 

The reason why I often tell that story is that a lot of systems in organisations are rowing boats. They tell a lot about yesterday, last week, last month, last quarter. Not enough of the systems and processes are oriented towards the canoe thinking future. I have lost count of the meetings that I’ve gone to where the first hour and a half is about the past. And when you think about the past, there’s not a lot you can do about it because it’s dead. It is gone. It is history. It is a dead body. You can cut it up and try and identify why it died. But, more importantly, it’s about what are people doing this afternoon, tomorrow and the day after, next week, next month next quarter. It’s really about spending time on the future because we’re going to spend the rest of our lives there.

Measuring The Heartcount

Derek – Absolutely. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t forget to put your questions in the chatbox for Phil, which we will go through in a little while. Phil. Number 10 is to measure the heart count. I really like that one that really hit me right here, [tapping his chest over his heart], can you run that past us?

Phil – Yeah again, I think it has its origins from my early time in the, in the forces, where it relies, of course, on a high level of motivation, morale and engagement. The interesting thing is that often when I work with an executive team and say to them, “Give me the numbers that you measure.” All of the predictable numbers are then written on the flip chart by me. I hear things like turnover, profitability, market share, X per cent divided by y per cent, product mix, market mix, ratios on this, ratios on that. Now for me, one of the top three numbers, and I’m not arrogant enough to say it should be the top, but one of the top three numbers, an organisation should measure is the ‘heart count’, and what that means, it’s the heart count as a percentage of the headcount

When you think of a headcount of 60 people, how many of the 60 have got their hearts emotionally aligned with what the organisation is trying to do. If you’ve got a headcount to 60 and a heart count of 10, that is very, very hard work. If you’ve got a headcount of 60 and a heart count of 40, 40 people are on board at an emotional, engaged level, then that is fantastic progress. If you’ve got a heart count of 50, you’re there, because you don’t have to worry about the 10 who are not there, because they’ll very soon realise that the organisation they joined has moved on and all of those things that were important to them 15 years ago, are not there now the organisation has changed and developed and maybe they’re going to be happier elsewhere. 

So there are of course many, many devices that organisations use to measure heart count, everything from Survey Monkey to these company medicals that you see organisations using, very often questions that are designed to get people to comment on their understanding of policy and how well is the communication process working, etc. One of the very good organisations to check out on this topic, as you may know, is the Gallup organisation. They really, I’m seeing a few nods there, I think they dominate the high ground in terms of the organisations in the business world that have really checked out this area of employee engagement. 

And if you go online and just put into Google ‘the Gallup 12’, you’ll find the 12 statements that Gallup uses to measure how engaged a workforce is. I see Duncan’s nodding.  Yeah, but you might want to check out those Gallup 12, because they are very, very significant statements that are worth using in order to try and measure that heart count. So, I think it goes without saying, if you look at the research, that organisations that have got a very high heart count are more profitable than those with a low heart count and the likes of Richard Branson and others, learned that a long, long time ago, making sure that the engagement levels were high. Therefore, the way that they work with customers would be spectacular. Likewise, First Direct and many other examples that you could think of.

Derek – I find it extraordinary that other organisations ones that … one I worked for, Barclays, for example, who was in the press yesterday for measuring the productivity on the telephone of its staff to check up on what they were doing, I find that that sort of behaviour quite extraordinary and people haven’t learned from it.

Phil – You’re talking about ‘snoopervision’. 

Derek – Yes. Is that what it’s called, I hadn’t heard that, ‘snoopervision’! And Phil, you say in your book that the average research that Gallup says, that 32% of people will be engaged, 50% not engaged and 18% actively disengaged, that’s a sort of an average across the UK?

Phil – Yeah that’s their figures. Or to put it another way, if you imagine 10 people in a boat. Two people are rowing frantically, six are idling along, a couple of trying to sink the boat.

Derek – Yeah, that’s a big worry isn’t it?

Phil – The numbers are not good. The numbers are not good. But you can see there’s plenty of scope there for improving those numbers. But one of the things associated with that, is that if you’re a believer in the 80-20 principle. Big time. Very often quoted of course that you know 80% of our business comes from 20% of our customers. Or if you’re an HR manager, 80% of your problems come from 20% of the workforce. But the interesting thing about the 80-20 rule is that 20% of the workforce will have a dramatic impact on the other 80%, and many managers, I think, when they’re running culture change programmes, they’re very, very clever at getting those 20% on board, because of the peer group impact that they have in that culture change programme. So, although the Gallup figures sound quite low, only two people paddling frantically, you might say, if they’re the right two people they can still have a huge impact on their peers as any culture change programme, or project goes to work.

Achieve 100% of Goals in 80% of The Time

Derek – Yeah. Fantastic. I’d like to turn to number 38 now which we talked about yesterday achieve 100% of your goals in 80% of the time, that’s probably the 80-20 rule coming in here as well, isn’t it?

Phil – it is and that’s courtesy of an old boss of mine called Derek. At the time I was running an office in Nottingham, with a team about 30 or 40 people and things were not going well, I have to say, and my boss Derek came up from the Wembley head office, and he was quite critical of me being completely knackered and not achieving a lot. So, he looked me in the eye, and he said, “Phil, you should be achieving 100% of your goals in 80% of the time. And on that one day a week that you’ve got spare. I want you should go to any training course you want; I want you to go and spend time with any of our offices in the UK, or abroad. I don’t even mind, if you go and walk the hills, with that aggressive dog of yours. At least you won’t be at this desk.” 

And just to emphasise the point, Derek, the following week, sent me my new weekly planner. It went Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. There was no Friday. He sent me a diary page. The only four days a week diary page, there was no Friday. Interestingly, of course, and it sounds a little bit theatrical, it then became very difficult to put anything into a Friday that didn’t exist. 

And that’s, of course, going on in my head, of course. Friday did exist, but in a way, Derek had resorted to a little bit of theatre and what have you there just to illustrate the point, but I didn’t achieve that, in the first month, I have to say, but I got the hang of that inside three months, and it’s something that by and large I’ve kept to even to this day, achieving 100% of the goals in 80% of the time. In the worst possible case, then you’ve still got an extra day to mop things up if it’s gone horribly wrong. If it’s gone fantastically right then, ‘Off we go’. We have a spare day for personal development, walking the dog on the hills, or whatever it might be.

Key Questions and Seminars in a Sentence – Buying The Book

Derek – Thanks Phil,  turning to the book, I’ve just picked out one or two key questions and ‘seminars in a sentence’ which I’ll just mention, and then ask you for your one tip going forward but so you don’t need to answer these questions, or probably come up in the, in the talks afterwards.

I love this one, “Who do you give your best hour of the day to? And is it the right person?” 

Number two, “If you met yourself as a 20-year-old, what advice would you give yourself?” 

What could you do today that your future self would thank you for?”

I thought those three were great and I’m going to reflect on those, in fact, we might brainstorm those on a future mastermind group. And then you’ve got the ‘seminars in a sentence’, I think that’s what you call it. 

‘If someone was trying to buy your business, or it might be your house, what would you hope they wouldn’t find out?‘ 

But that amused me, and ‘the positive side to change, you don’t hear a caterpillar complaining about being a butterfly’.

I thought they were great, but they were my take on it as a 365 of them in here Phil, and how do people get hold of it, or how do they buy five of them, as I did? And I promised you, for coming on today that I would match the five-pound profit that goes to the NHS.

Phil – That’s very kind of you – just so everybody knows, I set out to sell 200 of these and I’m now up to 510 I think it is. I decided not to put the book onto Amazon because of the setup costs, so I produced it locally with a very good printer who was happy to take part in this charity project, basically the book is £9.99, three numbers I think that are quite appropriate for the emergency services.

So, the book is £9.99, and literally half of that goes straight into the NHS and care worker charity, so every penny of it basically above production costs, so if anybody would like said book, best done through your good self, Derek, probably, and then just let me know. You can either hook me up with people directly or you could be the focal point, however, you want to do it and off we go from there.

For people that might want the Kindle version, that is on Amazon, so that version is on Amazon, but people prefer the hardcopy version, as indeed you did Derek, because the thing lays flat on the desk and it’s very accessible, spin the page, each day type of format.

Phil’s Top Tip

Derek – Okay, so that’s fantastic. I’d be delighted to do that for you. So, email me because my emails easier but you can also find Phil on LinkedIn and connect with him. Phil that’s been absolutely fantastic one – I’m going to switch the recording off in a minute and then the questions will flow I know, but,  before we finish the recording and put it on YouTube, one last tip for people going forward, thinking about 2021 in these volatile times, what would you say to them?

Phil – Well, the very first thing that I put in the book was half a page on Captain Tom Moore (Honorary Colonel, of course now), complete with a flypast over his house and OBE or knighthood or whatever it was, with the Queen the other day. And one of the things I loved about the interview with Tom Moore, is that he had this lovely one-liner of, “We all have to believe that tomorrow is going to be better than today.” and that was the one-liner I finished that opening paragraph with, because I found that very inspirational and the other thing I would add is that, in terms of going forward. I think there is a lot of value in only focusing on things that we can control.

 One of the sections in that book is titled ‘become a control freak’. And I don’t mean become a control freak. in the conventional sense of that phrase, I’m talking about only focusing on things that you can control, rather than things that you can influence or maybe things that are of concern. It’s very easy to get concerned about COVID-19, Brexit, and all the rest of it, but I think there is some peace of mind that comes from saying, “Well actually, I’m just going to focus on the things I can control,” I would suggest go for three, for reasons we know about, what are the three things I can control and focus on those because it leads to a much happier state of mind, because you set off each day, basically saying, “Well I’ve done everything that I can do. I just need to deal with the day now, as it comes at me.”

Derek – That’s absolutely fantastic. So, and if anybody wants a copy of Phil’s book, please email me

Phil – Okay sure.

Derek – Thanks very much indeed.