Are You Running To Catch Up With Grandma! Sage Lessons for Management, Business and Life! In Pursuit of Effective Management!

Running To Catch Up With Grandma! Sage Lessons for Management, Business and Life!

Recently I rediscovered a copy of this speech which I heard when I was one of the first female Chairmen of a Branch of the British Institute of Management. It was delivered by Kevan Hunt, the then Director of Employee Reations at British Coal, and I remember thinking how many of the qualities of that particular ‘Grandma’ were reflected in my own extremely entrepreneurial ancestor….

Kevan told us:

“We live in a heavily populated country and a heavily populated world and, with many people there are many opinions.  There ARE common reference points but there are many points of difference.  BE it politics, religion, social cultures and behaviour.

You don’t need to look to other continents to see the differences.  They are here and we – Management – contribute to them.  There is, however, one national, international, endurable, constant, common currency and she is called Grandma.

To my mind grandmas everywhere are without doubt and by general consent judged to be totally reliable, highly productive and are seen as having all systems AND processes fully under control.

They are a most excellent role model.  Consequently, the message I have to deliver, especially to my gender, is Gentlemen! – Management everywhere would be much more effective if they only took more notice of Grandma!!

Indeed, those who have a responsibility for any form of management training and development would do well to draw up a checklist of the qualities of Grandma – they should then form the benchmark for assessing the quality of you and your management- let me just identify a few.

Time Management

Time is precious.  Fortunately, grandmas know this.  The workaday pattern of their lives demands a practical understanding of the time the management and critical path analysis.

Between early morning wash day blues and throwing the cat out last thing at night she prioritises activities so that events flow in a seemingly natural way, yet, she can always find time for a cuddle when it is needed.

Moreover, despite all the tasks to be accomplished she almost always does what she says she will do.  To the young and inexperienced she is a rock of reliability in a sea of uncertainties.


She is a guide, she is a mentor.  Greek mythology may not be her strong suit so in the role of mentor she may know little of Odysseus’s wise and trusted Counsellor.  However, mythological she is not!!  She’s real, she has substance.

She knows that as guide, mentor, adviser, she’s helping to establish a framework of knowledge, skills and standards.  She herself deploys a wide range of skills, including the art of persuasion; but in practicing persuasion she understands the dangers!!


Whenever we try to persuade people, we are entering the privacy of their minds.  Therefore, we shouldn’t seek to persuade for personal benefit.  Indeed, persuasion is only justifiable if it is for anybody’s benefit other than the persuader.

Grandma knows that persuasion is not a contest but an information service.  That you don’t try to change people but learn to live with them.

Resource Management

Grandma’s know all about resource management and stock control.  They can compete with any sort of inventory system man cares to devise.  The you know about the problems of scarce capital availability and stretched revenues.

Grant last budget had to live within their means and put a bit to one side to cater for the rainy day that they know always comes along.  Grandma knew had to about D.C.F. before man – or was it a woman who went on to become a Grandma – invented it!!  And they knew where the first to indulge in creative accountancy- but in their case such creativity was not to short change the Stockholders or the Tax Collector.

In my experience, in industry, business and commerce generally there has been and indeed continues to be a woeful lack of understanding of money management.

As I said earlier, despite all the clever accountancy techniques man seeks to employ -we’re still running to catch up with Grandma on purse string management.

Individual Needs/Team Building

Grandma knows about looking after the needs of the individual and about team building.  She knows all the various characteristics and personality traits that make members of the family what they are.

Her assessment centre has a wide range of support systems.  Most importantly, her process of personal assessment begins with a soft lap, a warm heart and an open mind.

Soft lap apart, there is nothing unique in her range of support systems.  Whilst they have a place in the selection process, in my view assessment centres would benefit from a bit more of the Grandma touch alongside the psychological tests.

Grandma knows who works best with whom.  She knows how to blend for different occasions to get the best mix.  She knows when to compromise when to hold out.

She knows absolutely that the collective qualities of the family group can be greater than the sum of the individuals in it.  She constantly works at it to achieve that end.

In the long run the best team will always win.  Grandma asserts that as a fact and it is not open to debate.  Individual skills and talents are important- but team blend and collective performance provide the cohesive strength that almost always secures the goal.

What Grandma already knows, we should ensure management learn!!  That is: that people are not just another resource: they are our greatest asset-management are people-it is management who provide the driving force in any business and on them rests all!!

Total Quality Management

Grandmas practice total quality management.  To them it’s a natural action that, regrettably, we in management have seemingly failed to recognise or indeed appreciate the importance of.

Remember! – Grandmas make sure that their whites are whiter, their apple pie tastier, their bottled preserves in greater demand – that is the pursuit of Total Quality.

Grandma knows it is more important and cost effective to maintain quality and standards than trying to recreate them -why don’t we!!

In the pursuit of our management goals we often lose sight of the basic tenets that so obviously contribute to the wellbeing of family life.  We constantly hear it said that total quality management requires a Cultural change.

I fundamentally disagree!!  What we need to recognise is that the values and personal standards that contribute to the maintenance of normal, happy, family life are readily transferable to the workplace situation.

We don’t need a new culture.  We need to resurrect and reaffirm the intrinsic values of the old!!


Grandmas know great deal about communicating.  They sometimes sit there just saying nothing -they do that because they know that listening is the other half of the conversation-if people stop listening there is no point in going on talking.

As speakers we needed to make ourselves “easy to listen to”, if I am not achieving that end, I should spend more time with Grandma!  And as listeners we need to be more like you are this evening, that is: we need to listen and be seen to be listening.  Moreover, and despite all the distractions, we need to concentrate on what is being said.  Most of us don’t do that, we ponder on what we think ought to be said or more likely, what we are going to say when the speaker stops talking.

So, Grandma says, stop pondering on what you are going to say and hear the speaker out!  Relax!  Try to understand the speaker, not to win the argument.

Similarly, Grandma knows that language, and other systems of symbols, are the somewhat imprecise tools we use to assess our world, to communicate our assessment to others and to discover their assessments.  When we succeed we help each other to control ourselves and our working environment more effectively.  When we fail we can usually measure the cost on the bottom line!

No two people see exactly the same the world and so we can communicate with each other only to the extent that our separate worlds overlap.  Furthermore, no two situations are exactly the same and no one situation ever stays the same.  Therefore, the meaning of our words changes as the situation changes.  Now that can, and often does, create doubts and suspicions.  But Grandma never said that communications were easy!

Consequently, before we can communicate with each other in words we have to be able to agree on what identifiable things, situations or actions we are jointly referring to.  We have to establish and agree on, our “Referents”.  Words are not things.  They are labels for things.  When there is no common referent then the meaning of the speaker cannot pass to the listener.

So, Grandma says ask “What is the referent?” Think and speak in pictures.  She also says “Don’t just listen to what I say – listen to what I mean”


She has empathy -she puts herself in the other person’s place.  She knows that by doing so she’ll better understand the other person’s point of view.

So, what we should be teaching in management is the ability for one to say not:

“Why doesn’t the other person see things my way” but asking instead “Why does the other person think and feel the way they do?”

Grandma does that – why don’t we?!


Grandma is the Chairman of the company called “Family”.  She is also Chief Executive and the principal shareholder of the assets.  She knows that adding value will sustain the strength and cohesiveness of the family.  She knows that short term expediencies seldom benefit the long-term interests of those around her.  As I said earlier, she knows that you conserve resources during the bad times in order to enjoy the fruit of the good.

Grandma has one other essential quality that no member of management should be without. She has sustainable enthusiasm and, moreover, in others she can spot the difference between the enthusiast and the ambitious.

She knows who is willing to draw water from the well and who wants to be first to drink it.  She knows that enthusiasm is there to be nurtured, to be recognized and to be rewarded for jobs will done.  She also knows that ambition has to be guided, occasionally restrained, but never stifled.

Grandma understands that compassion and humility are not weaknesses but strengths.  That wanting to be fair is a greater gain than wanting to be right.  She knows that morality and integrity are not tradeable, that they can be lost but not restored.

I know these things because I’m married to a Grandma.  She runs our family company, she is totally reliable, highly productive and she has all systems and processes fully under control.

Me – I just help to run British Coal – but frankly, I’m like my alternative theme –

“I am running to catch up with Grandma!!”

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