This week’s guru

They’re playing with your food

Guru was fascinated to hear that managers at Safeway stores in Edinburgh
will be given acting lessons in an effort to improve the way they communicate
with customers.

Front-of-shop staff including pizza-makers, butchers, bakers and fishmongers
at the city’s 11 stores will attend masterclasses in "performing with

If this catches on, Guru is looking forward to a completely new shopping

Imagine standing at the fish counter, being confronted with a bright young
man with stars in his eyes, instead of a spotty, incoherent youth. Each sale
could be a mini performance – "Tiger prawns or whelks? That is the
question". And as the assistant carefully washes his hands between sales,
you might hear him utter, "Out damn spot" before he high-kicks back
to the counter, dazzling smile in place.

Minto’s minority debut at the EEF

HR director at Smiths Group Anne Minto had to face some tough challenges
when she moved to the then-male bastion of the Employers Engineering Federation
in 1993 as deputy director general – its first female director.

It was a huge culture shock for her as well as the EEF, she told delegates
at the conference on Women as Leaders in the 21st Century at a Henley
Management College last week.

Minto recalled the stunned faces when she attended her first meeting. She
had broken her toe so was on crutches, was a woman and Scottish. She felt she
qualified as a minority group on all three counts – disabled, a woman and from
an ethnic minority.

Guru had much the same reaction when he "accidentally" walked into
the ladies toilet on Brighton seafront in October 1997 – but that’s another

Feeling just like a teenager again

Guru applauded a recent initiative designed to encourage creative thinking
among WHSmith staff.

About 30 employees took part in a day in Bristol with the firm’s external
and PR agencies, during which they carried out tasks including travelling
around by a variety of means, finding facts and meeting actors posing as

But Guru did have some reservations about one aspect of the day. The group
had to compose and perform a ballet aboard those annoying, pointless little
scooters used by troubled adolescents.

Guru is sure everybody who took part in the day returned to work in a much
more creative mood, but he is not quite so sure that their self-esteem received
a similar boost.

Unaccustomed as I am…

Southampton Borough Council is investing in special training in public
speaking for its councillors and officers.

The council is holding a one-day pilot session, costing £100 per head, and
hopes to turn poor communicators into confident speakers.

Generally Guru is all in favour of improving communication skills, but he
does have slight reservations in the case of local government.

Guru has sat through many council meetings and never has he met a councillor
who doesn’t enjoy the sound of his or her own voice. The idea of training them
so they are even more verbose is a little worrying.

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