Raising the Bar Highlights

Highlights from Rob's presentation at Harrogate International Centre

First Question. Who's playing the music? Who said Style Council? It had to be David Ross, well done David.

I heard that about 3 weeks ago, you know when hear some music and you think to yourself "That reflects my personality" – in my opinion.

Welcome everybody to the Harrogate Conference Centre to "Raising the Bar" and more specifically 2inspire and my name is Rob Northfield, thank you for supporting us today.

I want to ask you a question, are you someone who makes things happen, watches things happen or hasn't got a clue what's happening?

Let's have a show of hands, put your hands up if you make things happen, put your hand up if you watch things happen, put your hand up if you haven't got a clue what's happening.

Leadership is about helping normal people, ordinary people, achieve extraordinary things, would you agree with that?

Can we raise the bar a just little bit? Leadership is about ordinary people, people like ourselves, achieving extraordinary things, would you agree with that? That's better. Could we raise that a little bit more? Would you agree with that?! Excellent, excellent.

Have you ever walked into a lift, now some of you are very confident you're good business people, you're extravert, you've got in a lift, the doors shut and we tend to lose our personality. There's 8 of you standing there like this and nobody says a word. You can sit on an aircraft for 2 or 3 hours alongside someone and not say one word not know who they are, it's not that we don't care, it's that we're not prepared to do something that's extra and out of the ordinary. Are you with me on this?

Right, now. We can walk into an auditorium like this, we can look at someone and say "She looks attractive" or "He looks attractive", we'd like to talk to them but we don't. Are you sitting next to somebody that you think they're attractive and I wouldn't mind talking to them?

So, let me show you how this works, leadership and human behaviour, helping other people achieve extraordinary things and helping yourself. In a moment I'm going to ask you to stand and I'm going to do something and please do this because you'll see exactly how this works. So please just stand everybody.

Now, what I want you to do, whether you know the person next to you or not, or if they are 3 or 4 seats away I want you to move, I want you to say to the person that you meet these words: "I really like you!".

Now we have done something extra, something very small, but it is out of the ordinary.

I was born in a place called Stepney in London, I was born in 1953, it was regarded to be the poorest area in the UK. I lived in a house with 2 families, my mother and her brother, 7 of us in 4 rooms, 2 of those were bedrooms, 2 were living rooms. We never had an inside toilet, we never had a bath and I lived in that house for 15 years. We were not poor, we looked up to the poor.

My secretary looked at this photo I brought into the office a couple of weeks ago and said, "You're not poor, that doesn't look poor." and I said to her, "Look how many photographs did we have in 1957? My Mum dressed me up for the day." It was tough.

Had an East End education, which I had no complaints about, my childhood or my education. I left school at the age of 15 to do something I was good at and that was play football for a living. So I left school at the age of 15 for a team many of you would know and supported for many, many years... Leyton Orient? Anybody know Leyton Orient?

That never worked out, I got injured and I got myself – which my Dad was really pleased about – a proper job, I ended up joining the Beecham Group at the age of 17 and went on to become the youngest Managing Director in the whole of the Group, one of the largest companies in 1979 at the age of just over 25. I never knew how I did that, I didn't go to College, I didn't go to University, I didn't pass any exams but I became the youngest Managing Director at the age of 25.

So what I did was, over the years I've tried to look back at what I did that made me the youngest Managing Director, and I'm going to include some of that today.

The first thing I'm going to tell you about, in terms of what I believe is so, so important is represented by the next slide.

New Zealand had never beaten Australia in their back yard, Sydney as they call it, for 46 years. At half-time Brian McClennan is looking at a defeated team, they are getting beaten by the World Champions and he's got only 10 minutes to lift this team and send them out in front of 100 million people to get them to do something extraordinary. He's looking at the clock and the New Zealand team are looking down at the floor and he's not getting anywhere in motivating them. And he had 15 seconds to go before the bell rings and they go out onto the pitch in Sydney to 100 million people and get white washed.

This is what he did, he started singing: "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands, if you're happy and you know it clap your hands, if you're happy and you know it and you really want to show it, if you're happy and you know it clap your hands!" Then he said: "Now what I want you to do, if you see him make a good pass I want you to clap him like you've never clapped him before. John when Edward does something good, clap him." He did that for about 10 seconds and said: "Right, go!". If you buy the DVD of New Zealand playing Australia in 2005 you can see them clapping, clapping, clapping each other on the pitch, you can see it visually.

What was the result? New Zealand beat the World Champions Australia and it was nothing to do with technical ability. You have to have the technical ability to be on the pitch. You have to have the technical ability to be in the job. But it's all about fun, motivation and encouragement. That's the difference and yet people don't put that much emphasis on fun. Fun is one of my values.

That is the real FA Cup, I touched it, I was photographed with it, the man next to me is Vince Brockey, he was the manager of Harrogate Railway. You've probably never heard of Harrogate Railway, have you? I was the Chairman of Harrogate Railway I took over the club in 2007, in 2006 they had an awful year, they were struggling, demotivated and I took over the club and Vince Brockey played for Leeds United and he's one of the greatest people I've ever met, he's so passionate about the game, I've seen him chase a referree 40 yards across the pitch and his eyes said "I'm gonna kill you!".

The record that we hold is that we are the lowest ranked team in the whole UK and the whole history of the FA Cup to get to the 2nd Round Proper and be on television on Match of the Day for 2 hours. How did we achieve that? Did we change all the players? Not one player. Did we double their salaries? Not at all. Did we bring a striker in that scored 40 goals that season? No. It was the same team but what we brought to the team that year was fun, encouragement, motivation, respect, treating them like Human Beings rather than footballers who don't know what they're doing.

And in fact one of the things that happened at the start of the run was I went into the dressing room and just said a few words to the players and we won the game. Vince said to me "Would you come into the dressing room again just before we kick off." because he was a bit superstitious and I said "Sure I will." and I said another few words and we did that all the way through and I only went into the dressing room out of invitation I would never ever force Vince, so we did that right the way through the run.

We played 8 games to get to the 2nd Round Proper of the FA Cup, the team that wins it this year will only play 6 to win the Trophy. That's the achievement, we played teams 3 leagues above us, that's like Hartlepool beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, that's what we achieved. How did we do that?

One of the talks I gave in the dressing room, in fact it was really surreal because the BBC had 24 cameras in the Ground, we got broadcast to 20 million people world wide and what was really surreal was this, we were on for 2 hours, Sunday 3rd December 2007 and they took Eastenders off the TV to put Harrogate Railway on for 2 hours. I just couldn't get my head around that. There were going to be millions of people switching on the TV to watch Eastenders and think Harrogate Railway? Who are they?

But one of the things I said in the dressing room was this, I said: "Every player that ever walks onto a football pitch wants to win the game. They want to win. But it's the player or team that decide to win the game who win." And I really, really do believe in that and that's what Brian McClennan did. The best example of that I could give you that I've ever seen, whether you like him or not, whether you like Manchester Utd or you don't, was David Beckham when he played for England against Greece and it was the last 20 minutes and you saw that man, according to a Sunday Times pundit, his body defy physics, he did something on that pitch that no other player was prepared to do or could do and it wasn't technical ability it was a decision that he was going to win that game. And I'll tell you something, what he did on that pitch brought £2 billion of revenue into this country when he scored that goal in the last few minutes.

It isn't about technical ability, it's more about motivation and fun and doing extraordinary things.

I started thinking logically for the very first time in 2 hours and my little voice started talking to me again, your thinking "What little voice is he talking about?". That's your little voice and it talks to us all day long. Let me prove it to you, I hope I don't sound disrespectful but there are people losing their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and there are young children working in China to put the clothes on our backs and if we don't believe that then we're mad. But have you ever had a "difficult" day at the office? Really under pressure and you've got in your car and you've driven from work to home, parked your car and said to yourself "How did I get here? Did I go around the Prince of Wales roundabout or did I go across it? Did I stop at any red lights? Did I have an accident? Did I kill anybody?" We honestly don't know, well let me tell you what happened; we did have a difficult day at the office and we are under pressure so we get in the car and we have to look ahead we have to negotiate the roundabout, stop at the red light go through green. And so what happens is our little voice starts talking to us and it enters very easily because we're having to concentrate on something else. However most of the time, not all of the time, but guess what it is. Negative, negative, negative. "I should've sent that email back. That supplier asked me for that time about when he could deliver. My boss put that thing in my pending tray and I promised to do something about it." It's negative and we listen to it, we don't hear it, but we listen to it. So what happens is we park our car, we go through the door and our partner, our loved one says "Hello, did you have a good day at the office?" You say "Did I have a good day at the office?! Get me a glass of wine." Kick the cat etc. And we did it to ourself, it wasn't the Government, it wasn't our Bank Manager, it wasn't our best customer we did it all alone. Now I've said that some of you will be driving home tomorrow and you'll snap out of it, that's the way our subconscious works and you'll think "I'm just dragging myself down." and that's the way it works.

In 1979 on the steps of the Holiday Inn at Langley just outside Heathrow when my voice started talking to me, I was very fortunate, because what my voice said to me was "Rob Northfield, that will never happen to you again." and so I did something about it.

Values, have you ever heard of values? "Yeah my company's got values, I have values." I thought to myself "That's right" but what are our values? Integrity, loyalty, respect and whenever I sit a senior person down say tell me your values they say "Respect, loyalty, integrity" and I say to them "There lies the problem". They say: "What do you mean?", I say "They're gimmes", they say "What do you mean gimmes? What's a gimme?". Any golfers in the audience? What's a gimme? It's a put, you're playing your biggest customer in the world the balls about 2 inches from the hole and you say: "You don't have to put that, that's a gimme. Anybody could get that." I expect loyalty, I expect honesty, I expect understanding they're gimmes. Do you love your family? Do you care about your family? Then why do you have a go at them when you walk through the door most evenings?

So what I did is write down my family values and I decided to hang them on the wall in my house and it was strange because I then said to my family "Measure me by my values". My son a few years ago he comes in when they're hung up, I got home and Judi said to me "Darren came in and said what's that?" Judi said "They're your Dad's family values" and apparently Darren said "Yeah he's good at that one and that one. He's not very good at that one." Which is great isn't it? Absolutely fantastic, that's the way it should work, be measured by who you want to be.

In 1990 I was described by shop steward to a convener "This is Rob Northfield, we call him the Incredible Hulk" I said "What do you mean?" they said "You won't like him when he's angry." That's who I was but it's not who I was, I can get very angry, I can get very determined, I can get driven but that's not who I want to be, and I think if you have values it doesn't take away from your strengths.

Let me show you how these work, this is how it works, these hang on the wall in my house, you can collect these by the way from our exhibition stand. I got home one day from work and I said to Judi "I've got 5 days in my diary, nothing to do, Jet2, Cheap holiday, Spain, let's get a bit of sun." So Judi said to me "I'm having my hair done Monday, my nails Wednesday, we've got to put the dogs in a kennel." I said "Forget about it! It will be easier for me to go to work." and I walked out. I didn't know this but Judi walked into the office, took my values off the wall, walked into the TV room, I was watching the TV, threw them on the sofa, and said to me "What value's that then?!" and walked out. Now let me tell you, I am fairly busy at the moment, and that little voice starts talking to us doesn't it? "You don't understand. I've been busy. There's 5 days in my diary. All you've got to do is get your hair done." That's what starts happening, and that happened to me, the Incredible Hulk. So what I did is, I walked into the kitchen, opened the door, Judi looked me as if to say "What is he going to say?" and I said "Come here, you're absolutely right, that value is not on there and I apologise." I did it sincerely, what did she say? "I can cancel my hair appointment, dogs are not a problem." and we went to Ibiza. Did I do it for that reason? No, because if you do it for that reason people will see through it and it won't make any difference. You have to have your value, this is who I want to be, but it's so difficult. That's the way it works.

Does it work in business? Yes. Who's ever had a boss that gets annoyed every day of the week? Now, let me tell you about these people, because I was this person. They are good people, they don't get up in the morning and say "I just awant to piss everyone off today!" but they do. Because they don't have values. In 2001, just before I retired, I took the Board of British Petroleum through my Leadership Programme and our programmes, like Moores, Harratts and Keycare have experienced are 1 session a week for a number of weeks and what that allows you to do is implement the ideas and put them into practice to find out whether they work or whether they don't work, come back next week and tell us. On the second week of the BP programme John comes into the meeting, sits down, before we start he says these words to me: "Rob, I want to tell you about something I said when I left this meeting last week." we didn't know eaachother very well I said "Sure John, what is it?", John said "I walked out of this room after 4 hours of working with you and I said to my colleague, What a load of rubbish this is!" I said "OK John is there a reason?" he said "Yeah, can I carry on?" I said "Of course you can." he said "Because you were talking about your kids and how they used to run in the house with their boots on and mud on their boots and you shouted GET THOSE BOOTS OFF! And Judi would come out and say What you doing picking on the kids? I'm not picking on the kids, I'm disciplining them just like you should." and he said "What's this got to do with Leadership?" so I said "OK John what's your point?" he said "I want to tell you about something that happened to me this week." Now John was one of the most senior people in BP, under pressure, stressed, you know the type of person I'm talking about. He said "3 weeks ago my wife was taking some photographs and I pride myself in being an amateur photographer. She was standing in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing and I immediately told her. And this week after your talk to us on leadership I'd gone home after a difficult day at the office, and as I walked in the photographs were on the side. I opened them and guess what? Exactly as I said, they are rubbish. Absolute rubbish. What I would normally do after my difficult day at work is walk in and say I told you so! Waste of money, waste of time, you never listen. What I did do is open them, close them and walked into the kitchen and my wife said, Oh John you're home, have you had a difficult day? I said nah it's been fine. We sat down to dinner, the atmosphere was different because I'd made it different. And after 20 minutes my wife turned to me and said: Those photographs arrived today, you were absolutely right they were rubbish. And I said don't worry about it we all make mistakes." So I said "What's you point John?" he said "This isn't about your children is it? And this isn't about my wife. I'm doing this all day long aren't I?" I said "Yes you are." But you have to discover that, you can't have an expert like me tell you that's what you're doing I can only tell you what I do and what I learnt from. They have to discover it themselves, that's the difference between being an expert and a master, the expert will tell you how to do it, the master is the one who says I'm the one who makes mistakes. So the value he adopted was "I respect other people's opinions. I never tell them they are wrong."

That is my story, you have to something extra that is out of the ordinary. And it may be as simple as "You normally make the tea in the office, let me do it for you today." We have to have fun, encouragement and motivation and that may be when you get out of the car in the morning there's a song on that you like, you just go into the office singing it. One of our customers recently said to us "I can't stop singing since you told me that."

Extra, Ordinary, Fun and we have to change our attitude and then adopt values that say this is not the person I am this is the person I want to be. So who are you? Are you somebody that watches things happen, are you somebody that makes things happen or are you somebody who hasn't got a clue what's happening?

Finally I'd like to leave you with this. I've watched Back to the Future III about 10 times, you never take a lot of notice of it, and I watched it 2 weeks ago and at the end the train comes in and it's hovering and it's come from the Old West, he's got Einstein the dog, he's got Clara and Jules and Verne his 2 little kids and there's Marty and Jennifer and they're looking at Doc, they thought he was dead. He said "No I've come back, everything's OK", Jennifer says "I had this paper and now it's erased what does it mean?" Doc says "It doesn't mean anything, your future is unwritten." and that really came home to me. When you leave this auditorium now, no matter what happened this morning with your husband or your kids you can get on the phone and say "Sorry" and write your future. So that's my message to you, whatever is happening in your life right now it has no bearing on what you can do when you leave this meeting today or in the future.

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