The marvellous concept of ‘give-a-f*ck”

Short post time…

I recently saw a meme that made me smile. In an expanded form, it goes something like this:

People have three resources [e.g. when at work]:

    • Time
    • Energy; and
    • Give-a-fuck

Time is the cheapest of the three resources. It replenishes one hour, every hour.

Energy is more expensive. When you’ve exhausted your supply, you need time off to recharge.

Give-a-fuck is the magic ingredient. If someone has this, then they (and those around them) can achieve amazing things! Conversely, once it’s been destroyed1, it can be very hard to recreate.

Management might have engineered a situation whereby they have lots of people spending lots of time and lots of energy ‘doing stuff’, but do the people ‘give-a-fuck’?

If not, why not?

In the main, it won’t be because of the person. Hint: Look at the nature of the system they are working within.

Conventional management puts a great deal of focus on people’s time and energy:

Re. time: “what time did you get in today? what time did you leave? How long did you take for your break? How much leave are you taking?”…etc

Re. energy: “are you busy? How much have you done today? How quickly are you working?”…etc.

The somewhat obvious point is that, if management2 put THEIR time and energy into creating an appropriate environment3 such that people ‘give-a-fuck’, then they wouldn’t have to be concerned about the time and energy of the people…because this would take care of itself.

So, it begs the question, why would people want to ‘give-a-fuck’? Well, perhaps if they had a meaningful job to do.

Which reminds me of that brilliant quote from Frederick Herzberg:

“Idleness, indifference and irresponsibility are healthy responses to absurd work. If you want someone to do a good job, give them a good job to do.”

Clarification: Most conventional managers won’t be able to tell whether people have ‘a good job to do’. Looking at management reports won’t tell them. Surveying people4 won’t tell them. Doing management roadshows won’t tell them.

To find out, they would have to get out of their offices and meetings, habitually go to where the work is done, respectfully observe it actually taking place, and critically reflect on what happens, with a laser-focus on the outcomes being achieved by/for the customers of their system.

Then, and only then, would they truly understand whether the people have good jobs to do.


1. Technically, being in this state is called ‘don’t-give-a-fuck’. Extreme cases add the ‘flying’ adjective to the lack of giving (as in ‘I-don’t-give-a-flying-fuck’)

2. I’m aware that, by writing ‘management’, it looks like I’m presenting a ‘them’ and ‘us’ situation. However, management is fractal in nature. One person’s ‘manager’ is another person’s ‘worker’…and so the value of the message within this post increases (likely exponentially) the higher up the hierarchy it goes…all the way up to those who are accountable for the system.

3. Appropriate environment: which would include a huge focus on clarity, and constancy, of purpose [ref. customer purpose as the anchor].

4. On surveying people – Two obvious problems with this are that:

a) many people don’t even realise that they ‘don’t-give-a-fuck’ anymore. Sure, they turn up on time and look busy…but have they become institutionalised into a state of being? [ref. turning the handle merely so that the cogs go around]

b) for those that DO realise that they are working within a system such that they no longer ‘give-a-fuck’, don’t expect them to reveal this to Management simply because they were asked to. People are far more astute/ risk averse/ protective to tell those accountable for the current system what they can’t (and/or don’t want to) see.

Running a survey is the ‘easy but wrong’ answer. Those accountable for a system need to  habitually ‘get their hands dirty’ [ref. Gemba walking].

5. Explaining the image for this post: I went with a duck. Just change the ‘d’ for an ‘f’.

Pick me, pick me!

Thierry HenryI have an image in my head: I’m a small school boy on the playing fields at lunchtime. We are going to have a kick-around and, with the two most popular boys self-installed as Captains, me and my mates are all lined up trying to look good, with our eyes desperately pleading ‘pick me, pick me’no one wants to be left till the end, unwanted and discarded.

So, on to the mighty world of organisational strategy. There are two very different end points on the strategy spectrum. These have been labelled as:

  • Strategy as Fit; and
  • Strategy as Stretch.

Here’s a quick explanation:

Strategy as Fit:

  • The idea that an organisation analyses its external environment (including the forces* of Customers, Suppliers, Competitors and Substitutes) and then tailors its strategy to fit into this.
  • This then requires the necessary resources to be identified, obtained (if not already in place) and allocated
  • This (rather traditional) approach to strategy involves:
    • Market segmentation and positioning as against the competition and substitutes;
    • Logical hierarchical control structures, breaking the organisation into component parts of the so-called ‘value chain’;
    • Formal ‘Position Descriptions’ (PDs) in which roles are explicitly specified and then people fitted to them;

and when things change (as they frequently do)

  • Top-down ‘re-fits’, where defunct roles are disestablished and shiny new roles created…with people as pawns in this game (“Quick, everybody line up against the wall to re-apply for one of our shiny new PDs, you lucky things! I’ll be Captain making the picks)

* ‘Strategy as Fit’ harks back to the original strategy work of the highly respected Professor Michael Porter. His ‘Porters 5-forces’ model is ‘page 1 of Strategy 101’.

Strategy as Stretch:

  • The alternative idea that an organisation has a current set of resources and, rather than be dictated to by assumptions about, and posturing within, the external environment, the organisation creates an internal environment in which their people thrive and grow – they voluntarily stretch themselves;
  • The idea here is to leverage existing resources such that they achieve their potential: developing themselves, innovating, experimenting, collaborating…moving the organisation in new and unpredictable ways;
  • It’s not about roles (and PDs), it’s about human beings – who they are and what they can become;
  • The question changes:
    • From: what resources do we need to achieve what we’ve decided
    • To: where can we go with the resources we’ve got…where this will unfold and surprise as time passes

* ‘Strategy as Stretch’ comes from the work of Professors Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad. They wrote a 1994 book called ‘Competing for the Future’ in which they talk of stretch and resource leverage.

You can see that ‘fit’ will be preoccupied with doing things efficiently whereas ‘stretch’ will be constantly focused on being effective. Constraining vs. liberating.

So what about Dave?

Okay, so let’s see if I can make this a little bit more meaningful/ relevant with a hypothetical example. If you have a worker, let’s call him ‘Dave’, with:

  • Capability: He has a high level of skill in his chosen profession and clearly wants to learn more – both deeper and wider;
  • Experience: he has worked for the organisation for many years, knows who’s who, knows how the place works, knows what’s been done in the past, knows what worked, what didn’t and gained some valuable insights in the process;
  • Desire: he clearly wants to deliver value to the customers of the organisation, and is passionate about doing so
  • People-skills: he has natural social skills and can relate to and empathise with people, collaborate and contribute.
  • Professionalism: he is highly respectful of his customer and peers.

...then you’d be delighted!!! Dave is clearly a ‘good guy to have around’ – I’ll have a dozen please 🙂 . You’d be absolutely nuts to actively ‘get rid of him’!

So, let’s see how our two strategic logics deal with ‘Dave’ when the work that he has been doing to date appears to be no longer required.


  • “Sorry Dave, the PD that you were allocated to no longer exists…so we are going to have to ‘disestablish’ that PD…
  • ..but there’s some collateral damage from this ‘allocation issue’ – erm, you’ve no longer got a job. Sorry about that…but good luck though.
  • Now, yep, would love to stop and chat but I’ve got to rush off to interview people to allocate into our brand spanking new PDs – exciting stuff eh!”


  • “Okay Dave, we think your work is just great, but as you know things have moved on…we need to work out how to leverage ‘you’ (who you are and who you can be) and what your next challenge is going to be!
  • …you’ve got some ideas as to how you want to develop? You’ve been thinking about them for a while? Excellent – let’s hear them and work out how we best support you.
  • …great idea. That should be very beneficial for our customers (and therefore our organisation). What do you need to get going?!”

In short: If you’ve got a Dave, you’d be mad to drop him from your team!

Pick Dave every time: always make a position for him so that he can fully and freely express himself for the undoubted and ongoing benefit of the team!

…and look after Dave: Dave is a person, not a ‘PD filler’. Beware Top-down ‘refits’ and their massive long term effects on morale.

In summary:

If management think in terms of ‘fit’, then Daves are regularly shown the door as collateral damage from the resource allocation merry-go-round… not that management would know this: “Dave? Dave who?”

Of course, if management change to thinking ‘stretch’ then they will be astounded as to how many Daves they actually have (but didn’t appreciate because they were lying dormant)…and can leverage them to the delight of every Dave, and for the long term good of the organisation and its customers.

“…the only sustainable competitive advantage available to a firm in a fast-changing world (especially in a service business) lies with its people – especially their creativity, insights, and judgement – a model in vivid contrast to the numbers driven [inhumane ‘fit’] alternative so prevalent elsewhere.” (Source: ‘Beyond Budgeting’ referring to Dr. Jan Wallander of Handelsbanken)

Note: I write this post for all the Daves throughout my career that have been shown/ pushed through the revolving door at ‘re-organisation time’ (wisdom out, ‘fresh meat’ in, yet the system remains the same 😦 ).

Also, I don’t mean to be sexist – I just like the name ‘Dave’. I had a cat called ‘Dave’ for this same reason. I should add that I have seen many a female ‘Dave’ walk out the door too…I shall (from now on) refer to them as ‘Bob’…but then you’d have to be a Blackadder fan to get that 🙂

p.s. The picture is of Thierry Henry – you’d have been mad not to have picked him for your team.