Monthly Archives: March 2007

bee all

Buy Worker Bee at AllPosters.comThelma was the first person who commented to me about it, back before xmas. More recently Gillian said about it too. This year there seems to be fewer honey bees around. Much fewer. In our new place I note there are a few wasps (German, most unwelcome), but I have to agree, not many bees. Initially I put it down to there not being much in the way of flowers, or possibly the non-stop rain from winter into most of summer; but I’m now wondering if there’s something more sinister – perhaps the ravages of the varroa bee mite or some other cause.

There seem to be plenty of bumblebees, including some small bumbles – could they be young, or a different species from the one I’m more used to seeing. I see the smaller versions quite frequently on a shrub down on the waterfront – it has small white flowers and I wouldn’t have thought there was a lot of nectar present. What do I know – the bees have clearly figured out where’s the best place to be. I wonder if the decline in the numbers of honey bees provides opportunities for the increase in numbers of bumblebees.

Hopefully next season will see the honey bees back in full force – the energy of the growing sector of the economy has more to do with the efforts of honey bees than the efforts of the drones in parliament.

A later update: Patrick notes from the USA a possible link between disappearing bees and GM crops. I’m hoping (expecting) that’s very highly unlikely here – GM crops are best kept in the US. According to the BBC, US beekeepers apparently are experiencing ‘colony collapse disorder‘ – good grief, sounds ominous. Not the vanishing bees, that is disturbing. No, the part about Hillary Clinton being interested. On another tangent, it’s funny how events in the US are always an EVENT with a name, frequently involving multiples of words – a nation of poly-verbal disfunction syndrome disorder.


It seems like ages since I’ve written here – I’ve been ‘enjoying’ a week or so of hay fever and this always leaves me feeling numbed out. I’ve had hay fever before, but since arriving in the capital I’ve found it to be particularly bad. I have been wondering if it’s the gorse flowers that give me a bi-annual buzz, but I suspect it’s more likely to be the politicians getting up my nose. The other joy has been – despite propaganda to the contrary – I was able to ring a plumber friday night, have him confirm he would be here on Saturday at 8, he arrives, accurately diagnoses (noses) the situation (the sewer is blocked), tells me who to call H2O Contractors Ltd – the team who cleaned the political grime off Parliament, I call, they arrive, I run around turning compressors on and off with the nice technician guy, it all happens, and before 10 we’re all flowing freely. Smooth movement. Fantastic.

And now I can start to write again.

employee satisfaction / employee loyalty

Following on from writing about happiness at work (or the lack thereof), I was interested in a journal article by Kurt Matzler and Birgit Renzl in Total Quality Management (Vol 17, No. 10, 1261-1271, Dec 2006) entitled ‘The Relationship between Interpersonal Trust, Employee Satisfaction, and Employee Loyalty’.

Matzler and Renzl comment that employee satisfaction is considered to be one of the most important drivers of quality, customer satisfaction and productivity. Seems reasonable – a dissatisfied employee can effortlessly undermine quality, destroy customer satisfaction, and all while causing productivity levels to plummet. Most businesses carefully build an image with substantial investment in advertising and staff training, but few look beyond the superficial in terms of building the staff. No one I asked today had ever been asked by their employers something simple like ‘do you like working here?’ or ‘how can we do this better?’.

Matzler and Renzl argue that interpersonal trust (trust in management and trust in peers) is a strong driver of employee satisfaction, that it influences employee satisfaction, and as a consequence, employee loyalty. Their research confirmed a strong link between trust, employee satisfaction, and employee loyalty.

So, interpersonal trust. But how can it be built? I can recall attending one of those ghastly ‘team building’ weekends where we were supposed to do the fall backwards and trust the team to catch you. The CEO was watching a fly go by and dropped me. Sure, I learned to trust them – as in, I KNOW I can’t trust them…

Matzler and Renzl offer four ‘trust builders’ to promote interpersonal trust. First, trust can be fostered when managers and peers show trustworthy behaviours – they identify acting with discretion, consistency between word and deed, ensuring rich and frequent communication, engaging in collaborative communication, and ensuring decisions are fair and transparent.

Secondly, on an organisational level, hold people accountable for trust, and a shared vision and language.

Thirdly, on a relational level, creating personal connections and giving away something of value – eg willing to offer others one’s own network of contacts when appropriate. And finally, on an individual level, the disclosure of expertise and one’s own limitations increase trust. They also note knowledge sharing is an important driver of workplace trust.

It all seems reasonable. Could we build a team based on mutual trust – and if we did, would our team feel more satisfied? Happier? Be worth a try…

words on lips…

I wrote recently about happiness at work. It’s quite interesting as there seems to be a number of New Zealanders, or at least people using New Zealand based domains coming to these pages to investigate further. Apparently a number of New Zealanders are interested in happiness at work.

We have heard a great deal about skill shortages – ‘desperate’ – is word used, and yet from my observation (as in, no quantifiable research, merely looking through the various sits vac options), skill shortage in the Wellington catchment seems restricted to words like ‘Java Developer’, ‘Test Project Manager’, and ‘Contract’. Sure, these roles are well paid, but they’re often short term contracts – under a year. I do think a way to make a fortune in Wellington is to be able to communicate to both mortals and machines, particularly machines running databases. Most organisations I know or have heard of have dodgy data systems, and databases costing six figures.

But what’s this got to do with happiness? Today as I was taking my daily work I overheard people talking while waiting for the cross lights. They were commenting about how shattering they were finding their jobs. I’m putting words into their mouths, but the dialog went along the lines of ‘I’m a capable, competent, well educated person. I’ve got 15 years experience in the workforce, I’ve got a degree. I’m well organised, I work well with others. I’m a good person. So how come I feel so utterly incompetent and so miserable in my job?’

To which the other person responded, ‘I know how you feel – I’m much the same – I feel completely worthless – at least that’s how my manager makes me feel.’ And the first person agrees.

As I said, I’m putting words in their mouths, but I was surprised – not because they’d said it, everyone has an off day – a gripe between workmates – but because it’s something I seem to hear a lot of lately, reinforced by people find the writing here. What seems to be evident is that if there is a skill shortage it’s not only meaning ‘we’ve got a job vacancy we can’t fill’, but that middle management seems short of skills. I’m sure it’s a complex task – managing your own job and managing people into doing their jobs too. I’m equally sure, however, that it’s learnable, and teachable. I’m confident the military wouldn’t be happy if morale was so low amongst their troops.

I’ve read lately about how New Zealand needs to increase its productivity. Translated from press release talk, this means I need to work harder, more effectively, with less resources. I don’t have any problem with that – if we all had good working tools (see also databases), meaningful and comprehensive manuals, complete training programmes, and effective management I’m sure we’d all be better at what we do. But this still doesn’t address the third corner – the motivation. It’s like the crime scene programmes on tv – you have to have the opportunity, your have to have to tools, and you have to have the motivation. Oh, and then you have to act on it.

I’m unsure why management has to be so demotivating – so negative. Perhaps they also lack the opportunity, the tools, and the motivation – I have no idea. But I do know this is not a good way of doing business – it’s wasteful and it’s stupid, and hardly any way to turn New Zealand into some kind of sustainable powerhouse of productivity into the second decade.

talkin’ ’bout my generation…

Way back when I was at high school (back when time was measured in epochs rather than nanoseconds) my mate Gavin’s brother Gus was a drummer in a band. It would’ve been a garage band had garages been invented back then…

Gus’s band was called ‘Snail’s Embrace’ – I was reminded of this when I noted a Snail’s Eye View of Mucus by Moonlight. Yet another cool thing about Melbourne appears to be leopard slugs. And they, on a warm summer’s evening, like to get it on. Who doesn’t? Anyway, Snail’s called ’em ‘Ralph and Lisa’, and frankly, that refines ‘disturbing’ into a new level.

I’m not sure what Gus went on to do – engineering at a guess. We sure had a great time with music, sending down cool notes, on warm summer nights in suburbia.

where are the birds?

Buy Bird of Happiness print at AllPosters.comOne of the attractions of our new home is that it’s closer to the Karori Reserve and I expected to have a greater number and diversity of birds in our garden. I’ve been surprised, and not a little peeved to find the birds have found other places to be. Not even the sparrows and starlings are here. I have seen two different cats which provoke a – note to self – must get slingshot – response. I bought a Titoki tree (sapling) yesterday ($8 on sale at the Warehouse – 50% off) – I plan to incorporate it into the to-be-created native garden. Hopefully as the Titoki grows the fruit will attract pigeons. There’s an established kowhai – that surely must bring Tui in Spring – I could hear one on Saturday calling through our corner of the valley.

Perhaps the issue with the absence of birds is the absence of food – although I would’ve thought there was at least something for everyone. Meanwhile, there is something for everyone over at the Greenbelt’s Bird and I.

leaves of grass

Buy Albrecht Dürer's Tall Grass at AllPosters.comSaturday. Suburban. Symphony.

The whine of lawn mowers and weed eaters – power tools mulching, chopping, grinding, cutting – the new section of the orchestra. I quite like mowing lawns (so long as the mower starts first time) – it gives me the satisfaction of being able to see where I’ve been, and to strike a blow against the entropy of the gardening universe. I get to see the garden from all angles, and I get a rare chance to reflect on the development of the once and future garden. I never use a catcher, and I like to think that my mowing is gradually building the fertility back into the soil. As usual, that’s an opinion based on no real scientific evidence, but I figure if I don’t remove the nutrients from the source, the combined forces of photosynthesis, earthworms, dust being blown in from elsewhere, and simply fingers crossed, the topsoil just might be reinforced.

I progressed to replanting some roses – having removed them from their temporary pots or their wet newspaper wrapping after the shift a couple of weeks ago. And, because I’m completely lazy, I sorted out the irrigation ‘system’ so that it now worked. It’s not beautiful, but I have managed to deliver water to the rose garden without getting bored – resulting in some roses getting drenched while others are still dry. Roses are still a learning curve to me … plenty of new things to learn in my backyard. I’m getting a feel for it though – where the sun hits and where the wind hits, and what my final garden design will be like.

law of diminishing returns

image from few years ago I was in Italy and was surprised to get lollies instead of change in a supermarket. It happened in Spain too. Today, I offered 50 cents for a standard 45 cent postage stamp, and received no change.

‘There aren’t any more five cent coins.’

So why don’t NZPost hand over 5 cent stamps as change instead? It’d be an ideal way of making money. Me – the customer is happy because I get my 5 cents. They’re happy because the stamp costs an incalculably small amount to make.

Better than printing money or shares in Chris Trotter’s vacuous writing. Apparently when Chris sold out to Fairfax, basic research was not not part of the bargain – and while it’s true a journo should never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, apparently Chris doesn’t feel it should stand in the way of a bad story either…

The PB&J Campaign

Years ago I wrote to the then centre for agricultural wisdom, Massey University and asked for comment/advice/most anything about farming as pollution. At the time I used to walk to work past an open drain. I’d walked passed it through my school years too. In summer the kids would play in the shallow water – it probably wasn’t all that pure, but it wasn’t all that polluted either – ok for kids to be kids – to play in as long as Mother wasn’t going ‘eee-uuuwww’. I never heard of any kid drowning or otherwise being damaged apart from an ear bashing from Mother when their clothes had become muddy. Some of the local gardeners used to tip their lawn clippings and other garden refuse and so the banks had all kinds of diversity growing. Ducks raised successive generations, pukekos strode around selecting choice morsels. Cats and rats would’ve had an uneasy relationship, along with the mice, and dogs running past. There were always sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, thrushes, sea gulls, in autumn goldfinches flashed around the seed heads, in spring nesting magpies would dive bomb the unwary – it was a pretty rich and diverse ecosystem, beautiful in its own way.

On the other side of this wild space, was a sports field. By way of comparison, it was an eco-desert – a monoculture of a few select turf species – perhaps an occasional weed. The council piped the drain, filled it in, bulldozed the ‘weeds’ and in a few days the rich diversity was replaced by dirt and a receding hairline of grass. I guess the sports lovers thought it was an improvement, they could now drive right up to the edge of the field in thier lardassmobiles. The nasty drain was gone and so mothers could be relieved to know their kids wouldn’t respond to the boring sport by checking out the wild things.

I saw this replacement of diversity as being symptomatic of farming in general, and enquiring minds wanted to know. Could farming be pollution? Ah, Massey? Hello? Still waiting for the reply…

…and then the other day I got the reply. Not from Massey, of course. In another form. If keeping the drain was a local area form of environmental enrichment, what other actions could an individual take that might do usefully to protect their local environment. Most things require some sort of save the whales plastic bag dodah thingy. Nothing wrong with that, but what if there was a way that you and I – today – could slow global warming, save 12 to 50 square feet of land from deforestation, over-grazing, and pesticide and fertilizer pollution, reduce your carbon footprint and save the equivalent almost 3.5 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. Sounds incredible, but if it was almost effortless, wouldn’t you want to at least try once? What if in addition to all this it saved you money, and made you feel good as well as feel environmentally noble? Fantastic? Sure!!!

So. What do you have to do? Easy. Have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch today, instead of an average animal-based lunch like a tuna sandwich, grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, a ham sandwich or a hamburger. Personally, that’d be tough for me – I can’t do the jelly thing. But make it peanut butter and mayonnaise, or peanut butter and beetroot with lashings of freshly ground black pepper and I’m your man. Who knew, when I walked passed the drain, with my packed lunch, I was closer to the environment than anything from a university? Change your diet, change the world. While you’re eating your sammie, do some reading on the side – Six Arguments for a Greener Diet.

end of the golden weather…

In the weedy light of the full moon I was cooking for the first time in what seems like ages on our barbeque tonight. It was supposed to be a full and lusty moon – the harvest moon – but the wind has blown clouds in after what was a beautify day. Shame really – we spent most of it experiencing some of the lethagic and lurgus retail opportunities Wellington seems to have assumed. Retailers, please, I know it’s summer outside, but if you don’t want to do business, please just stay home. Simply don’t open your shop. If you don’t have a smiling face to get into retail. Instead, do as we did – kebabs and a beer. Simple, rustic, good.