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From Manager To Mentor – Why leadership is all about coaching 

26th October 2023

We often think of sport as a metaphor for business. We love to learn from leaders like Sir Alex Ferguson or Sir Clive Woodward and attempt to create our teams in their image. 

Sport is a fountain of wisdom for creating high-performing cultures, and in fact Sir Clive was my first ever podcast guest. But sometimes we focus on the wrong elements of sporting success when we try to implement these lessons in the business world.  

We often see sport as a world of maintaining performance standards and dealing with pressure rather than one of nurturing and growth.  

Attempting to recreate the single-minded focus of an athlete fixated on victory, for example, is a recipe for disaster in business. Instead, I’m going to focus on the role of coaches and managers – just as important in the world of business as they are in the world of sport. 

Why Managers aren’t always Coaches

Managers, like Ferguson and Woodard are tasked with building teams and ensuring goals are hit. They provide clear direction by setting targets, offering feedback, and making the critical decisions. Their relationship with the team is often hierarchical, with a clear chain of command, and their primary focus is to hold the team accountable for meeting performance objectives. 

But, when it comes to workplace culture, I don’t like my managers to be ‘managers’ in this sense – I always ask them to be ‘coaches’. 

Unlike a manager, a coach is a skillful mentor, dedicated to unlocking the full potential of their team members. Their emphasis lies in guiding individuals towards personal growth by developing new skills and perspectives.  

They don’t need to give direct orders, but they provide direction to help team members uncover their own insights and problem-solving skills. Their relationship with their team members is based on collaboration, trust, and mutual respect. 

Where managers are task-oriented, coaches are people-oriented. Managers prioritise efficient execution of tasks and maintaining productivity, whereas coaches prioritise individual and team development. Managers’ interactions are often directive, ensuring targets are met, whereas coaches foster an environment where team members are encouraged to take ownership of their growth and decisions. 

Put simply, a manager marks your homework, while a coach helps you get the best grade. 

What Ferguson, Woodward and all the great sporting coaches realise is that they aren’t the ones that have to go onto the pitch and perform. They can’t solve all the problems, play every pass, or score every try. They need their team to be able to think on their feet in real time. 

Business leaders need that from their teams too – because no matter how good a CEO you are, you can’t send every email or take every meeting. 

Elite sport is the ultimate pressurised, cut-throat world, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the best managers are snarling disciplinarians who rule with an iron fist. The best teams are nurtured by coaches who help individuals reach their full potential. 

If you want your managers to create winning teams, make sure they act like coaches first. 


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The unsexy brand you need to model your business on 

29th September 2023

“My job is to create a company of learners. I like to ask my people and myself, ‘When’s the last time you did something for the first time?’” 

That’s a quote from a CEO who built one of the most innovative and robust company cultures in the world. 

No, not Google, Tesla or Uber. It’s former WD40 CEO Garry Ridge. 

For 35 years, Ridge worked for the company, and spent 25 years as its CEO before retiring in August 2022. In that time, he ensured the company never rested on its laurels as the ubiquitous oil and lubricant brand and expanded its sales across the world – something that’s incredibly important for a company that sells only one product.  

More importantly, he created a company culture that prioritises innovation, growth and constant learning. 

When he retired – after 25 years as CEO, remember – he did so with his organisation’s employee engagement score at 93%. An almost unheard-of number, especially after such longevity, where you’d normally expect some form of stagnation. 

And they sell oil in a can! 

So what’s the secret? 

The ‘Work Tribe’ philosophy 

WD40’s ‘Work Tribe’ philosophy reinforces the company as a close-knit ‘tribe’ that works towards common goals.  

It creates an inclusive approach that nurtures not only a strong sense of belonging among its employees, but also a shared purpose. 

The ‘Work Tribe’ philosophy also creates a nurturing and trusting environment. Ridge told the Harvard Business Review that employees are encouraged to take chances and try new things, even if it results in failure – or rather ‘learning moments’.  

“Learning moments can be positive or negative,” he said. “But they are never bad, so long as they are shared for the benefit of all.” 

Collaborative culture 

That level of transparency and knowledge-sharing creates a collaborative environment where employees are empowered to work autonomously. When one person or team’s failure is not painted as a bad outcome, but as an opportunity for the whole business to grow, everyone is given licence to try new things. 

As Ridge asks, “when’s the last time you did something for the first time?” 

That mindset allows everyone, from the most junior employee to the team leader with the most responsibility to try something new every day. 

Which is why we shouldn’t be surprised that WD40 has a 93% employee engagement score, or that 98% of its employees said they would recommend their company to a family or friend. 

The point here isn’t that WD40 is a great company doing great things (though it is). The point is that no matter what your business does – and no matter what size it is – you can create that sort of culture with some thought and effort. 

And, if you’re prepared to put in that effort, it can take a lot less time than you think, too. 


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Three tools you need to make your business as innovative as Google

30th August 2023

It’s hard to underestimate the power of human creativity – especially when coupled with a dose of healthy obsession.  

As an entrepreneur I know that there’s no better feeling than waking up in the morning energised to implement my vision and grow my business. 

We now understand that personal fulfilment is key to giving employees that same drive I have. It also ultimately leads to better retention of top talent – something we all know requires so much more than just hybrid working and generous perks. What’s needed is a culture of allowing employees to pursue their own interests within their jobs. 

Take Google’s famous ‘20% rule’, where employees are encouraged to spend what amounts to one full day per week working on side projects – that is, working on the areas of their business that truly interest them. This policy has led directly to the creation of truly game-changing products like Gmail, AdSense and Google News. 

This is what energises me. I love helping my team to innovate and watching them channel their enthusiasm and passion into their work lives. 

What Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, understood was a fundamental part of human nature – and a central tenet of Dan Pink’s book ‘Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us’. Humans desire Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

When these conditions are met, not only will you have a much more engaged team that wouldn’t dream of quitting – never mind ‘quiet quitting’ – but you’ll also get the best out of the enthusiastic and creative people that you hired in the first place.  

Let’s understand them in more detail: 


At its core, Autonomy is the right to have a say in your own destiny. 

Yes, you might have to roll up your sleeves and put in a shift but it’s important to feel as if you’re doing it on your own terms.  

As a leader, however, there are some pitfalls to avoid: 

From a management point of view, Autonomy should never mean ‘set and forget’. It doesn’t mean you ask your team to work without clarity or direction. Nor does it mean employees are left entirely to work on their own visions: goals need to be set for the benefit of the business, but they should be negotiated with employees – not set down from on-high.  

Set goals together, check in frequently, and ensure employees are able to work on their own terms. 


In this context, Mastery is the opportunity to get better at new skills 

No matter how free your team feels they are, human nature remains the same. Not only do we want to feel free, but we also want to get better at our hobbies and interests. 

Do you play golf? How about a musical instrument? Or maybe you like to cook? Either way, that feeling of progress and getting slightly better at something every day is an essential part of human nature – even if you’re not being paid to do it. 

The same thing is true even when we are getting paid to do it. We spend tens of hours a week working on our jobs, and we want to constantly develop skills and progress.  

The key takeaway here is to make sure your employees are continuously given the chance to develop their skills and learn. It’s that – more than salaries and promotions – that keeps talent sticking around longer. 


Purpose feels like a buzzword of the moment, but getting it right is crucial. 

In the context of this blog, it means being given the chance to work on something truly transformational. In a wider context it’s important for a business to have a positive impact on the world – but tackling that is beyond the scope of this blog post! 

For your employees, it doesn’t matter how much freedom they have or how much personal and professional growth they can achieve if they don’t also feel like there’s a broader reason for showing up to do their job they aren’t going to be truly fulfilled. 

Purpose doesn’t mean solving the big social issues of our day single-handedly. But it does mean addressing them in your own way and leaving the world a better place than you found it. We all want to feel like we’re doing that. 

What it looks like in practice 

Let’s go back to Google’s ‘20% rule’ to finish. 

Think about it one last time. Employees are given one full day a week to spend working on a side project related to their job. That includes the Autonomy to decide which project to pick – which in turn leads to Purpose, because you know the problem you’re trying to solve with this project. And that leads to the opportunity for Mastery, the chance to get better at a new skill developed throughout the project. 

The creativity that Google unleashed with this policy has directly led to outcomes which have changed the world. 

In my view, the results speak for themselves! 

Read more about creating a team of superheroes using the Clarity and Freedom matrix


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The Clarity and Freedom Matrix: Why thinking like a conductor will unleash excellence

27th July 2023
The Clarity / Freedom matrix - with high clarity and high freedom, you create engagement

Prioritising employee engagement has never been more important. But making sure your team has clear goals needs to be balanced with giving them the freedom they need to thrive.

When I first started managing teams I understood some of the basic principles: don’t micromanage, be clear in your goals, and trust both your team’s and your own instincts. 

But it wasn’t until I started thinking about how these concepts all fitted together that my business really started to thrive. 

When I started to visualise the ‘Clarity and Freedom Matrix’, it was a transformative moment that has guided me towards a more productive and engaged team. 

Simply put, there is a delicate balance between clarity and freedom and you can’t have one without the other. As a leader, the culture you create and the directions you give will be followed by the business. Like the conductor of an orchestra, everyone playing in harmony. But if you set the wrong tone and you’ll end up listening to a terrible mess! 

Here’s what happens if you get the balance wrong: 

No Clarity, No Freedom: The Zombie Concerto 

This is the worst piece of music you can create. 

There’s nothing worse than the disengagement and indifference created by a group of employees who meander through their work day like lost souls in purgatory: they watch the clock and collect their payslips without any purpose to their work lives. 

Without clarity, employees cannot align their actions with organisational goals; without freedom, they cannot contribute their unique talents; and without a leader willing to give them both, they lack any opportunity to do better. 

As a conductor, try to avoid this off-key result at all costs! 

Clarity without Freedom: The Dance of the Drones 

Congratulations, you’ve managed to set clear goals for your team. You’ve done your job and perfectly orchestrated a great performance… unfortunately it’s a uniquely uninspired one! 

Any leader that offers clarity but restricts freedom will find every note meticulously played, but won’t get any of the passion that leads to a good performance.  

What’s worse is that, over time, your team will become robotic and obedient. This means they’ll never be able to think on their feet or solve problems without you. And this is not the path to employee engagement.  

It also means you and your business fail to gain any of your employees’ unique skills, talent and expertise. Freedom is vital for your team to thrive, but the person who really loses out in this scenario is the leader who doesn’t harness the full power of their team. 

Freedom without Clarity: Chaos in the Choir 

In this movement of the symphony, all sense of purpose is lost in the noise. 

Here, your team is given all the liberty they need to express themselves and pursue their own goals – but no clear path to a defined outcome.  

Every team member does their own thing without any clear expectations or shared purpose, which sees collaboration collapse and productivity peter out – leaving your business bereft. 

Clarity with Freedom: The Superhero Symphony 

This is the land we want to reach, when we’ve given our teams great clarity as well as the freedom to go with it. And here every team is filled with Superheroes. 

Each member harnesses their unique powers and unleashes their true potential towards conquering all of the challenges your business faces. 

They possess a deep understanding of their roles, goals, and expectations and have the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work. 

In this scenario, they become an unstoppable force, driving innovation, creativity, and above all exceptional results – a piece of music you’ll listen to over and over again. 

Grab your baton 

Remember that balancing clarity and freedom is a delicate one and requires copious amounts of trust along the way.  

But, like me, I hope the matrix has shown you how an attentive conductor can bring the best out of their orchestra by creating the conditions for success.

Read more about building a great workplace culture by giving your teams the chance to reflect, reassess and reset.


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Dealing with Imposter Syndrome: Why you should embrace the inner Imposter

13th July 2023
A manager at work talking to his team

We all know that outside of our comfort zone is where the magic happens.

Once we step outside the realm of the comfortable, we reach the land of personal and professional growth. First is the fear zone, then the learning zone and finally the growth zone – where we witness the magic.

But to me, this discussion misses one significant element, and it’s usually known as Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome, they say, is a bad thing – as if you must learn how to overcome imposter syndrome. But to me it’s not a hurdle. It’s a challenging companion on the journey: you don’t get rid of it, you accept it for what it is.

As tennis legend Billie Jean King said: ‘pressure is a privilege’, but so too is Imposter Syndrome. It is a privilege reserved for the brave few who venture outside of their comfort zone in search of self-discovery.

A slide from my keynote address on Imposter Syndrome

The Fear Zone: The journey begins

The first step on the journey to the unknown is into the fear zone. It’s natural to feel fear first when stepping outside of the comfort zone. 

We may feel as if we’ve left The Shire in search of the fires of Mordor, and we can’t turn back now. But it isn’t long before we find ourselves accompanied by an unexpected companion: the persistent feeling of Imposter Syndrome. 

The urge is to try to fight it, to overcome imposter syndrome anxiety, or to tell ourselves that it shouldn’t be there. But you can’t rationalise it away. Instead, accept that your journey will be enriched by your new trusty companion. Allow your Imposter to challenge you and unlock your hidden potential. 

The Learning Zone: Arm yourself with knowledge

Once we’ve accepted our new friend for the journey, we have to understand what it’s challenging us to do.

Imposter Syndrome is a natural reaction to being outside of our comfort zone and it manifests when we feel we aren’t equipped to do the job we’re being asked to do.

It’s a cliche but, under pressure, growth happens in unexpected ways. Like a plant growing around a fence, we find new ways to reach our goals. 

This is where we learn not just about ourselves, but also about the problem we’re trying to face. We don’t suddenly become a new person who isn’t an imposter. We learn that we have tools at our disposal that help us reach our goals if we use them correctly. 

Imposter Syndrome forces us to learn how to use those tools, and to equip ourselves with the ones we need to continue our journey. The better qualified we are to deal with the challenges we’re about to face, the less of an ‘imposter’ we actually are. And the more likely we are to succeed.

The Growth Zone: Harness the power of growth

Finally, we move into the growth zone.

Having finally embraced discomfort and fear, and armed ourselves with the tools we need to succeed, we can now venture forward to unlock our true potential and achieve our goals.

The key now is to understand that – as in any ‘quest’ – there will be challenges, doubts, and unexpected twists. When these happen, our trusty companion will challenge us again, but we are now equipped to deal with it.

When we reach this final zone, instead of agreeing with our Imposter, we accept that it has the right to ask us difficult questions. But we accept too that we are now equipped to answer them. 

Treat your Imposter not as a hurdle, but as the inner voice asking if you’re well enough prepared to achieve your task – and then it’s your job to make sure you have the right tools to hand.

Read more about dealing with adversity and the power of failure.


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‘Return to office’: why collaboration and flexibility aren’t opposites

12th June 2023

Companies around the world are balancing the needs of their employees with the needs of their businesses. They want to offer flexible working, but they also want to foster collaboration – or worse, justify expensive office overheads.

We tell ourselves this is a problem created by Covid, and use phrases like ‘return to the office’.

But the problem is much deeper than that. 

It’s partly about the entry of Gen Z and Millennials into the workforce. Younger people who see the futility of compartmentalising their time between eight hours in the office during the weekdays and then squeezing their lives into the evenings and weekends.

But it’s also about human nature. Humans don’t want to be told what to do – they want to have a say.

What’s the problem?

The phrase ‘work-life balance’ is used a lot in this context. But if you’ve followed my story or read my book, you’ll know that I don’t believe in doing what everyone else does.

And I don’t want that for you either!

So how do you do it differently? It’s about understanding the problem and creating a culture that solves it.

When I see businesses struggle to attract their staff to workplaces, I always see a business that’s trying to answer the wrong question.

There are big businesses out there renaming their offices ‘studios’ or ‘collaboration centres’ in an attempt to effectively rebrand their workspaces. But the issue wasn’t ever the name given to the office! The issues was that the staff wanted a say in their own destiny – to have a say in where, when and how they completed the tasks they’ve been given.

Culture is the silver bullet

The answer lies in culture.

Do your managers command their staff to do their jobs? Or do they negotiate deliverables instead?

Do they set tasks, deadlines and methods from above? Or do they ask their teams how they’d best approach the problem? The key is always to get buy-in from your direct reports. As a CEO I know that starts with me, but if I know that managers all across my business are operating this way, I know that my culture is the right one.

And ultimately if your culture is right, your people will figure out the best way to get the task done.

If that involves office collaboration, they’ll make it happen. 

But if you want to bring people back into the office, just remember what problem you’re trying to solve.


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Reflect, Reassess, Reset – the Three Rs that show businesses must think differently 

13th April 2023

Over the last two years, we’ve experienced an important new phenomenon in the world of business. You might have heard of it – The Great Resignation! 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that people are now looking for something new and different. Employees no longer want to be tied into a job they don’t love. They want to have some say in their own destinies and control their own lives. 

And now they’re willing to do something about it. 

Reflect, Reassess, Reset 

Last week, I was privileged to deliver a masterclass on recruitment and retention to a group of CEOs at Vistage Malta. 

Now, this was my first time in Malta, so I’m no expert on the business landscape across that beautiful island. But I can tell you that they have many of the same problems that the rest of us have. And one of those is the Great Resignation. 

All over the world, Gen Z, Gen Y, and Millennials are showing us something that we should have already known: that using the ‘command and control’ method of running a business is a terrible idea.  

In fact, it always was a terrible idea. 

So why are we seeing this phenomenon today? Why not 10 years ago?  

The cliched answer is the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s actually one very specific thing about the pandemic that I believe has led us here. 

Lockdown didn’t just offer them the opportunity to reflect – it forced them to. 

It required people all over the world to reassess their priorities and values. This in turn led to resignations, job moves, and straight-up career changes. 

No matter which way you spin it, that’s a sad indictment of the status quo: when they finally had the chance to reflect, people chose to do things differently. 

Now we’re faced with a choice, where people don’t want what they had before the pandemic. So do we do what we’ve always done? Or should we business leaders now choose to do things differently, too? 

Space To Think 

The irony is that quiet reflection is actually one of the most valuable tools we have for our own mental wellbeing, especially in a work context. 

During the pandemic, I was lucky enough to be able to watch the sunset every night from my balcony. Over lockdown, it became a non-negotiable part of my day: I’d watch the sun set over the sea and reflect on how to steer my business through the uncertainty of the pandemic. 

It gave me the space to reflect and forced me to tackle the situation head on. And it helped me a great deal. 

Since then, I’ve been a huge advocate not just of giving my team space to think, but actively requiring it from them. 

Recently, I took the Cloudfm senior leadership team to a working strategy retreat in Portugal. It was a hugely productive week, but one of the most important parts was building in space for reflection. 

After a week of intense meetings in the Algarve, I mandated that everyone had to spend two full hours on the final morning sitting on the beach. 

They were fully paid for those hours, and it was compulsory work time. But beyond that there were no rules. The only stipulation was that they sat on the beach, listened to the waves crash into the shore, and reflect. On anything – work, life, what they wanted for lunch… anything! 

Later, when we regrouped and wrapped up our final strategy session, every single person came back with a new perspective on the work we had done. And everyone remarked on how valuable that time had been.  

And I should add, none of them chose to resign! 

Reflection should not be a luxury 

What I’ve learned is that not everyone has the luxury of getting the time to just sit and think now that life has seemingly gone back to normal, and we’ve decided to go back to doing what we’ve always done.  

People might have demanding jobs that require them to spin plates and fight fires all day, then they might have to go home and look after themselves and their family members in the evening.  

As someone who runs a business, I’m all too aware of how this impacts my colleagues. And I know flexibility – especially in terms of working hours – is not just key to dealing with stress in the workplace, but also to growing productivity across the business. 

Just imagine how powerful it can be to give employees one hour a week to reflect, learn, and work out what they want from their lives. People don’t leave jobs that nourish them. They leave their jobs when they realise they’re not being nourished. 

As a business leader, I want to make sure that people are fundamentally happy. It’s human nature to be restless and to strive to be better. But if employees are fundamentally happy they’ll want to achieve their goals with you, not in spite of you. 

Yes, Covid gave people time to reflect, but it didn’t create the bad conditions in the first place.  

If we build cultures that put the human being first, we shouldn’t be afraid of giving people the space to reflect. And as a leader, you might find it becomes one of the most powerful tools in your kit. 

Read more about why your goal shouldn’t be to create the ‘most successful company’, it should be to create the ‘most desirable to work at’.


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Can augmented and virtual reality solve the labour shortage?

27th January 2023

Did you know that in my industry, service demand is currently surpassing resource by 50%? I have a few ideas of how technology can be used to solve the labour shortage, and it’s not replacing humans with robots…

This piece of thought leadership was first published in FM UK Online, read my extended version below.

Labour sourcing and the labour shortage is one of the top obstacles for facilities management professionals. There simply aren’t enough engineers available to be called out for jobs. The end of the free movement following Brexit is just one factor affecting the entire UK labour market, together with the aftershocks of the pandemic and early retirement.

It’s estimated there is a shortfall of over 173,000 workers in the STEM sector: an average of 10 unfilled roles per business in the UK, which is costing the economy a shocking £1.5bn per annum. Additionally, 49% of engineering businesses are experiencing difficulties in the skills available to them when trying to recruit.

In response to the UK labour shortage, it’s become necessary for leaders to offer greater flexibility and to think creatively about their recruitment approach. Also, a lot of companies are simply paying higher wages to attract the talent they want, but this just moves the problem around rather than solving it.

We need to think differently about how to address the problem. Whilst the above factors are important, it’s crucial leaders upskill and reskill existing employees as well, ensuring the expertise is readily available. One way of doing this is through augmented reality (AR), a highly visual and interactive method of presenting digitised information in the context of the physical environment.

AR democratises knowledge and enables connections and information sharing irrespective of physical limitations and distance. The pandemic has catalysed a digital world and the market size worldwide of the AR/VR/MR market is to rise to $300 billion by 2024, so it’s not going anywhere!

What are the benefits of augmented reality?

With AR, the user is totally immersed and has a deep experiential learning experience, meaning they are more likely to recall what to do when a situation or challenge comes up.

Studies have shown that AR and VR can train better than typical classroom learning – this is because practical jobs require fast thinking based on previous experiences, all of which can be gained through simulated learning experiences. This improved learning capability is due to our brain’s ability to build a “memory palace” that organises memories spatially within an environment.

AR is well placed to (re)train engineers in the FM industry and beyond. They can put their learning to the test virtually in the environments where they will be performed. Equally, if an engineer gets called out to do a job they are unsure of, a more skilled engineer can provide live annotations and notes to ensure the job gets done correctly without using more resources and having to call out a different engineer. While initially costly, AR can save training costs and travel expenses as AR sessions can be offered regardless of location, saving both time and money.

AR can train competent people who are able to service the industry

There is a tonne of competent people who have what it takes to fix things. By no means is everyone able to engage in complex jobs but there are a lot of people that can use a screwdriver.

Not every job an engineer gets called up for is complex. Sometimes it only requires a few simple, safe steps that anyone under guidance can do. So that’s where AR and VR can help, to walk everyday people through repairs and maintenance with the help of an engineer virtually or easy to follow videos. This can be done by scanning the environment live through a mobile or tablet to provide real-time assistance. This could save a lot of time and, in turn, alleviate some pressure in the industry by helping reduce the backlog of jobs.

When there’s a shortage of a particular type of expert, technology can help bridge the gap. For instance, a specialist fridge engineer is skilled enough to be able to fix an oven if walked through by another engineer virtually or a video. Two separate specialists on site aren’t necessarily required. It removes all geographical boundaries, talent from another country can help a UK engineer on a job virtually. This not only addresses the issue of engineers not being able to be in two places at once, but it can also reduce their carbon footprint, especially as they can be called to jobs all over the country.

In the midst of FM’s changing work environments, the labour shortage and skills gaps, AR technology could be critical for training and improving operational efficiency and productivity. Not to mention the employee learning experience! AR makes it possible to narrow the knowledge gap, ensuring the workforce of today and future generations have the tools they need to succeed.

Ultimately, AR can be used to upskill and reskill workers to combat the continuing labour shortage.

Read more about how to get the best out of people, and why I give employees 2 hours a week to do nothing.

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