What we've been thinking about and working on lately...

what we've been talking about

The weeks over the school summer holidays are usually a little less hectic for us at Tinder-Box as our clients take their holidays. I find it’s a good time to recharge my batteries, spend time with family and friends and slow down to appreciate the little things in life. It could be taking 5 minutes to enjoy a cuppa in the garden; stopping to breathe in the fresh air in the park; cooking something new for dinner – or even taking 10 minutes just to sit and do nothing without feeling (too) guilty.   

 

But research suggests that this is something we should do all the time – particularly when we have less time and are feeling too busy, overwhelmed or stuck. Writing a gratitude journal or simply taking stock of every little thing we are thankful for  on a regular basis might sound “fluffy”, but there appear to be a number of benefits relating to health, happiness and performance - as outlined in several articles I have been reading, including these two from the Huffington Post and Happier Human

 

Huffington Post

 

Benefits of Gratitude

 

5 minutes a day seems like both a worthwhile and realistic investment - so if you get a bit of time out this Summer why not give it a go and get into the habit before heading back to the usual post-holiday and year end madness. 

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We’ve had our own team changes here in the past month. The very lovely Helen who is the genius behind all the graphic design and art work which goes with our programmes left us at the end of last year to give birth to little Edith. Edith clearly has her Mum’s planning and organisation skills as she made her debut into the world on Julie’s birthday! Helen has decided to move onto pastures new to spend time being a Mum and working with the fabulous charity The Wave Project for which she received a Point of Light award from Downing Street last year. We’ve loved having Helen as part of the team for the past 6 years she worked fiercely hard for clients to bring them the very best creative design across a huge range of projects.

Helen’s shoes are big ones to fill and we think we might just have found someone with big enough feet, a big welcome to Chris. Chris has a huge amount of design experience having worked for both a design agency as well as an in-house senior designer for Gul. He has a unique ability to take an idea and transform it in to a piece of collateral which is fun and fresh whilst maintaining the integrity of the brand. We’re delighted to have him on board and so are our clients. Already in hot demand from clients such as BP and Pladis which can’t wait to see what other beautiful design work he’ll be asked to come up with.

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So none of us really enjoy being the new person – it can be pretty daunting.  However, we don’t often look at it from the other direction. 

 

Having a new person start in your team can also be daunting - will they fit in?  How long will it take to get them up to speed? Will they be as good or better than their predecessor?

 

Recently I’ve been working with several new and different people on various projects.  I guess I’ve been lucky – they are all great!  What has been most amazing is the energy and enthusiasm they have brought to the projects. New ideas, fresh energy, some much needed inspiration.

 

It’s easy to get stuck doing the same things in the same way.  Fresh blood can shake things up a bit, shed some new light and make it exciting for all of us all over again.

 

That’s me – feeling inspired just by having some new friends/colleagues to play with!!

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Any of you who have/care for/know children of exam age will be coming towards the end of a relatively stressful and intense period for the teen and possibly you too. At that age, weeks of revision and exams does seem like an impossible task  (“How will I ever remember all of this?”) and messing up a question in an exam can feel like the end of the world (“There’s no way I’ll be able to do what I wanted now!”).

 

Fortunately we develop coping strategies for difficult situations over our life time by filing and categorising information in our brains so we can respond quickly to a variety of situations. The problem is that these categories are often over simplified and our resulting habits and interpretations can stop us finding new perspectives and ways to respond when we are stuck in a rut.

 

According to Srini Pillay MD - founder and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group and a pioneer in brain-based executive coaching - by giving your brain a break your subconscious will work harder at finding a solution for you. Research also suggests that focusing on the negatives effective frazzles your brain and makes it less effective at doing its job ( a colleague and I call this “whizzy head”) – whereas focusing on positives releases opiates that stimulates your brain to work for you – all while you think about something else!

 

These simple techniques might help you to put things in perspective, see things differently and break out of that rut. At the very least they will improve your mood.

 

  • Park your worries – write down the things that are bothering you and stopping you from finding a solution or taking positive action. Put the paper in a sealed envelope and move on to something else. When you read them at a later date make a note of what actually happened to start storing making new neural connections for future reference
  • Change your physical state– go for a walk, stretch, phone a friend, play a game, listen to music – all these things will positively change your mental state
  • Count your blessings – make a note of anything that you appreciate, makes you happy, is going well in your life – then read it before you go back to tackling the current issue or situation
  • Believe it is possible – even if you don’t know how you will change something, do something, believe something – tell yourself that it is possible and your brain will work to make it so

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How’s your energy management system? No, not the one in your car which figures out how much fuel you’re using depending on the conditions, speed and gear , I’m talking about your own personal energy management system, which does basically the same thing......but for you.

How often do you choose your gear? It’s clearly not practical, sustainable or indeed, safe, to corner in 6th neither is it efficient or good for your car to do 70mph on a motorway in 3rd, but how often do you choose your gear, for you, personally?

Let’s face it there will be periods of high intensity, requiring laser sharp focus and all grey matter to the helm, that’s just life sometimes anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or on drugs. But in those periods when you can change gear, cruise even, catch your breath and recharge, do you allow yourself to do so or do you tell yourself that you have to be seen to be busy....or even like the attention which it brings!

When your energy management system flashes up (you’re tired, you’re fed up and you want to weep into your Starbucks on the tube) and tells you to change gear , do you listen to it or is the seduction of just putting your foot to the floor worth the risk of the engine eventually seizing up?

So, choose your gear wisely it might just mean you have a bit more gas in the tank.

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In all of the coaching we do with our clients, then the trickiest bit for people to make changes is simply the very first step. Reasons that people state for not starting are:

-          “...but what if it doesn’t work?”

-          “.....but what if I don’t like it?”

-          “.....I’m not sure I can.......”

-          Etc.........

 

If you’re not moving, then you are by definition static. And if you are not happy with your current situation , then remaining static will never in a million years result in the change you want. Unless by chance the planets re-shuffle themselves in your favour : possible, but very unlikely, and not a short term success strategy.

 

So if you want to change something, then:

-          Remind yourself of why things will be better. If you aren’t sure, that may be why you haven’t done anything yet.

-          Treat the first steps as an exciting experiment, rather than trying to implement the perfect solution first time

-          Tell someone else and ask them to support you

-          Go!

 

Once you’ve started, then you can always pause and see how things are and what the next step is. You can even go back if you like!

 

So then, momentum is key. Someone once said “If in doubt, take a general step in the right direction”. Great advice – so no need to ever be stuck again.

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In my experience any request to ‘do a psychometric profile’ seems to cause an increase in anxiety levels and a slight feeling of unease. I rarely get people calling me to express their delight at having to complete one.

Part of the nervousness usually stems from some unknowns around ‘what are they looking for?’ and ‘what if it reveals I’m no good’.

Psychometrics can be really useful to give us a perspective and vocabulary around personality, habits, patterns and behaviours. However, what’s really important is to understand what the focus is and what to do with the output. Here’s my attempt to untangle some of the more commonly used types.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests: these measure our ability to learn, not to be confused with the amount of knowledge we have. It’s thought that our IQ is fairly stable in adulthood.

IQ tests tend to be used as part of recruitment processes to get a sense of our ability to process and sort information. There’s a school of thought that says we can increase our IQ by finding mental tricks and tools to sort information.

Trait or Personality tests: these look at how we like to do things and what’s important to us in a situation. Do we focus on people or task first? What does success look like to us; getting the problem completed quickly or coming up with a new way to approach a challenge.

Trait tends to be fairly static, it would, quite frankly, be odd if you suddenly woke up with a new personality! The power of these tests is being able to recognise your own habits and patterns and being aware that we’re not all the same. You don’t need to be fluent in other trait types but being able to speak a few words of your opposites language can be really useful. Commonly used trait tests include Myers-Briggs (MBTI) and Insights Discovery.

Emotional Intelligence (EQi) tests: these look our level of awareness and ability to deal with emotions in ourselves and those around us in a positive way. Essentially ‘do I know what I/others are feeling and how do I feel about that’.

EQi is determined by habituated thought patterns and useful to think of it like a piece of elastic. Left alone it’ll stay as it is, but put some energy and work into forming new patterns and awareness and you’ll change it. Logic will get you so far but if you want to be able to deal with the complexities of situations which are charged with emotion (which, let’s face it, many work situations are) having a high level of emotional intelligence can be extremely powerful.

We’re usually the harshest critics of the results which these tests generate, even when we’ve provided the input ourselves. We encourage clients to look at them as a starter for 10 to help other people understand how to help you be at your best. As one client said to me ‘I’ve just given this to my wife of 2 weeks and told her that this is basically my user manual!’

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Fortunately I was not watching the British middleweight title fight in London at the weekend - but I have been following the debate over when the fight should have stopped. According to Chris Eubank Senior he would have stopped the fight if his son had been in Blackwell’s position even if it would “alienate his son for life”. I imagine that the opponents themselves, their trainers, family, doctors, referee and the audience might all have different views about the right time to stop a fight depending on their own perspective and experience.    

 

Whether you’re cooking, painting, writing, training or leading a team, knowing when to stop can be quite a skill. Effective leaders seem to know when to stop talking, checking in, waiting for more information or working on a particular project and while it’s relatively easy to spot when someone should have stopped doing something, we often don’t notice when someone stops at the right time.

Here are a few suggestions to help experiments with stopping something

  • Have a clear outcome and boundaries in mind. The clearer you are about the end result you want, the easier it is to know when you have achieved it and can stop. It also helps to understand any rules or boundaries relating to this. What don’t you want to happen?

  • Apply the law of diminishing returns. That final 20% effort might not add much value and it could actually diminish the impact /outcome of what you’re doing. Whether it’s too many colours on the paining, too much seasoning in a casserole, diluting a bold statement by restating it in multiple ways or delaying completion with additional analysis. 

  • Ask for feedback. Recognise that you might be too close to the situation to judge. Ask for feedback and give your team and stakeholders different ways of letting you know how you’re doing – is the job complete to your stakeholder’s expectations even if not to your own? is the person you think you are “supporting” feeling micro-managed?

  • Gain perspective. If you can, step away from whatever you’re doing for a while. Take a walk. Go for a run. Work on something else. Sleep on it. Then come back to the task and look at it with fresh eyes. Ask yourself what needs to happen to finish according to your original plan?

  • Practice stopping. If your tendency is to get into too much detail, talk for too long, or over-worry about things - experiment with stopping before you’re comfortable. When in doubt, give yourself a deadline or time limit - and stick to it.


Mine is now.

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I can only start this by saying that I dislike gardening.  Don’t get me wrong I love having a nice garden I just dislike the work that goes with it.

This week I made a start so that when it all starts to grow like crazy in Spring at least it’s starting in a somewhat organised fashion.  And guess what – I found it strangely satisfying.  I still dislike the mud, the weeds, I hate killing things even if they aren’t meant to be there oh and the wasp who had taken up residence in my glove over winter – I don’t like him much either – ouch!!

But now looking out the window at the ordered(ish) beds, weedless(ish) and cut back ready to go in Spring I feel a great sense of satisfaction and I’m looking forward to all those fab flowers and shrubs bursting into life.

I guess it’s like a clear desk policy, a spring clean, a list with everything crossed off – getting rid of the clutter helps give us space to focus on the good stuff, gives us a clearer direction and makes those things easier to get on with without being guilt tripped by the need to do all the annoying things.

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I wouldn’t say the highlight of my year so far has been breaking my leg (Bike + ice = A&E), but I have learned a lot about how to heal quickly and oddly it has been a remarkably positive experience. To the extent that 5 weeks on I am crutch free, swimming and walking for several hours at a time.

 

My first fear of course was how am I going to cope, given that I am very active and the idea of being confined to a sofa for 6 – 8 weeks was my personal idea of hell. However, deciding to be positive and use the time in a different way meant that time flew and I actually quite enjoyed it.

 

And if you are finding it hard to be positive after a setback, then I looked at some research on positivity and well being, and here are some compelling facts. Positive people:

-          live 7.5 years longer than others

-          have a 77% lower risk of heart desease then pessimists

-          experience 50% less symptoms and pain for the same illness

 

In my own experience, what helped me was:

-          Focussing on what you can do, not what you can’t do. As a weird spin-off I now find I own and can play a Ukelele

-          Use the time to re-energise and set future goals for the year

-          Enjoy the “now”. All too ofter I’m looking for the next thing, rather than enjoying what I have right now.

 

I hope you don’t become ill, but if you do, enjoy confounding the experts with your positive mindset...............

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I’m often posed the question ‘ we’re going to invest in some time together as a team, what’s the quickest/easiest/cheapest way to ensure we get some new thinking and everyone feels able to contribute’ at this point I’m meant to come up with a complex framework and some clever words to help pave the way. My answer is usually much more simple ‘go offsite’.

Our habits, patterns and thoughts of behaviour are so associated with our environment that we can inadvertently become fixed in our way of thinking when we’re physically in the same office which we reside in day to day. Find somewhere new; somewhere people can breathe, relax, get some fresh air have space to move, lounge and be themselves. This doesn’t mean a swanky hotel (not everyone’s idea of relaxing!) just somewhere where people can be people.

We recently invited a leadership team to work with us from our offices on Exmoor. They lounged on sofas, took lungfuls of fresh Exmoor air and plotted their strategy for the next 3 years whilst sat watching the river rush by in the warm spring sunshine. They wore jeans and hoodies, ate locally produced food from the pub across the road and pots of coffee from the local roast house. They left happier more relaxed and importantly with clarity; about why they were in it and where they were going. They ran the next day to book in to come back in 6 months time.

So my advice remains the same, go offsite, you might be surprised at the results.

 

At Tinder-box we can run team sessions and away days from our base on Exmoor, please call us for more details.

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I had a conversation with a friend the other day about some career choices
he was facing. He was wondering how to make the right choice to guarantee
his future success. Whether to stick with the type of role he knows and has
been successful in - or to take a risk and try something new. It's bothering
him to the extent that he's not enjoying his current success - or the fact
that he is lucky enough to have choices.

This conversation coincided with the sad news about David Bowie's death. A
man and artist  who tried it all, constantly took risks both professionally
and personally, deliberately stepped away from some of his most successful
creations and constantly experimented with who he was and what he did. Some
experiments were more successful than others - at least from an outsiders
perspective - but I imagine he probably lived by his own set of rules - so
who is to judge?

I always resist making new year's resolutions, but I don't mind a bit of
gentle new year reflection, so both of these things have made me wonder

* Do I stop, enjoy and live in the moment often enough?
* Which of my rules do I need to rethink?
* What would happen if I released my inner "Ziggy"?

I know the answer to the first two questions - but the third is going to
take a bit more thought..........   

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This time last year I took a leaf out of Santa’s book and made a list. It wasn’t a list of big audacious goals or hopes and dreams for the future, it was a list of all the little things. Small simple pleasures which I keep meaning to do but never quite get round to; dinner in a particular restaurant, tickets to a sporting event, swimming at a local beach. I stuck it up on the wall with every good intention of ticking off most of it, and guess what, tick it off I did!

On the occasional blissfully agenda-less weekend I’d glance over my list and go and do something. I’ve had the pleasure of the wonderful West Somerset Railway, seen a cricket match at Somerset cricket ground, spent a fabulous Christmas evening at Dunster by Candlelight, delighted in Marwood Hill gardens and walked some sections of the South West Coast Path amongst many other things.

Curiously, the more I ticked off the more I added, filled with confidence that things on the list will happen I’ve created the magic porridge pot of the list world!

We’re often encouraged to focus on big goals and dreams and forget the small stuff, I beg to differ!

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So I’ve just joined a new team – nothing to do with work – it’s a netball team.  I haven’t played in 25 years but I fancied a new challenge.

It’s very strange being the new girl!

I thought I knew the rules but perhaps unsurprisingly after 25 years a few had slipped my mind which may explain the penalties given away!  I have since googled the rulebook!

Next was my assumption that as a fairly athletic person I’d handle this no problem.  However, watching the other players who’ve been playing for years you see that so much of the game is instinct and an in depth understanding of your team mates – where they are going to be, where they expect you to be.  I was floundering.

So having had my mindset altered somewhat – I’m now loving the training.  Learning new skills is fun, getting to know the team is better.  Not getting told off by the Ref for a whole game is the aim!!

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As coaches we often find ourselves in discussion with clients about why people under perform, or behave in particular ways - and we find ourselves asking questions along the lines of 

  • How many people go to work in the morning with the intention of failing? and
  • When did you last get up in the morning and think “I’m going to do my best to screw up today”?

I have sometimes noticed people rolling their eyes as we share our belief that few people deliberately go out of their way to get things wrong, mess things up, or irritate their colleagues. I can almost hear them thinking “aha – well you’ve not met x”

I’ve had to take some of my own medicine recently. Working on a charity event, I found myself on the receiving end of some behaviour that immediately had my hackles up as I planned my revenge. I was particularly outraged because the offending behaviour was documented in email form – which somehow seemed to make it even more tangible and impossible to ignore.

After wasting a reasonable amount of time discussing and complaining about the situation  with a couple of my colleagues, I suddenly stopped and asked myself how helpful this response was either to me or to getting the job done. Of course the answer was “not at all”. I was wasting time, draining my own energy and increasing my levels of stress.

By this stage I was back in coaching mode and able to respond more rationally. The person in question had given up their own time to help – I really don’t believe that their intention was to upset or anger other people in the process. They were probably in a rush when they wrote the email etc.

So when you find yourself in a similar situation I would encourage you to do two things

1: Ask yourself what you think the other person’s intention is/was

2: And probably even more important – ask yourself whether your own response is helpful

And then decide if and how to respond.

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Bringing very distinct and different companies together to try and agree one set of vision and goals has never been easy. Of course each business has it’s own:

-          Identity

-          Culture

-          Existing goals

And so to try and get something that trumps or builds synergies with all of those is really difficult.

I had the experience last week – I’m thankful to say – of helping a group of 4 different business ‘get it right’. The businesses were all #1 or #2 in their fields, from Turkey, US,  Contintental Europe and UK, and so all had very strong track records and forward plans. So what was the tirck? Simple really – just 3 steps:

1) Build trust amongst the group : understanding of styles, preferences, beliefs and values

2) Find the common ‘Why’: what really is the core purpose of each business, and what therefore is the common thread

3) Agree ‘What’: agree areas of synergy, leverage and quick wins

Sounds very straightforward and it workked because of the time invested in building relationships and developing trust. That allowed a very honest and forthright debate to take place where people really sought to listen and understand, and without that investment in relationships ot would never have happenned.

Many people are cycnical about spending 1 whole day (the first day) out of a 2 day session on relationships, but it does pay out. Otherwise you are trying to build a house on sandy foundations.

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So what do those things have in common? Well it turns out that the people involved in all of those things have a great deal to learn from and develop each other. Let me explain - we've always known that:


a) Charities are full of passionate and capable people who achieve a remarkable amount with very scarce resources

b) Blue chip companies are full of intelligent people who would love to spend some time making a meaningful difference to charities

So I'm very proud this week to have been facilitating a session involving 3 teams of leaders from United Biscuits to work with 3 amazing charities* as part of a programme to challenge how they can apply their expertise and leadership in a totally different environment. And it turns out that when you get Sales, Supply Chain, Projects, Manufacturing, IT, HR and Finance experts together and have them look at a very different business and how it can grow, improve its' efficiency or transform its' culture, then they can have a huge impact.



Clearly charities do need funds to prosper and grow, but they also need expertise to help develop a strategy, create new sources of income and improve the way it operates - and a team of experts can make a big difference in a really short space of time. So next time you are tempted to give up your time to paint a wall at your local charity, then consider how else you could utilise what skills you have to really make a difference. It's very easy to do and the learning works both ways.

I look forward to catching up with all 3 charities in 3-6 months to see what has happened as a result of the session and how the action plans have developed the businesses.

* NOFA / Little Angel Theatre / Aspire

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It’s that ‘back to school’ time of year. Facebook is littered with images of fresh faced children with slightly too big uniforms and brand new school bags and for many people in organisations there’s a sense of a new chapter, post summer holidays.

With only 16 (yes 16!) ‘proper’ working weeks of the year left it’s a great time to take 10 minutes to check in on how you and your team are progressing towards your ambitions and goals for this year. Setting visions and aspirations in January can often seem a bit idealistic, anything can happen in 12 months, but 16 weeks focuses the mind somewhat.

So here’s our suggestion, sit down with your team and ask yourselves the following;

Direction:

How are we doing against our goals?

What adjustments do we need to make and what do we need to change?

Process:

What do we do more efficiently than we did in January?

What inefficiencies have crept in?

Relationships:

Do we have more trust and respect amongst the team than we did 6 months ago?

What culture do we want to have by the end of the year?

Organisation:

How have we grown the talent in the team so far this year?

What gaps in our expertise do we need to focus on closing by the end of the year?

You may not have all the answers but we can guarantee a fruitful conversation. Let us know how you get on!

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About 12 years ago I remember being in my university library waiting impatiently for Google to load.  I remember how digital cameras could only hold a handful of images at a time and the smallest external hard drive was the size of my laptop and cost a fortune!

Technology was advancing but it was at the clunky stage, where it quite often made you more infuriated than helped a situation. 

12 years on in 2015 and the technological landscape is very different, it’s faster, cheaper, more effective and intuitive.  Most of us couldn’t picture life without it and I certainly couldn’t picture my work life without it!

So what will the landscape look like a decade away? As workspaces become more open plan and built around wellbeing as much as the work (Facebook, BBC, Google, Apple, Amazon) and with new forms of interaction, like holograms and displays that offer "high empathy presence", we’re already seeing a huge shift. Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer, Microsoft UK says “In ten years' time, I hope we will have broken free of many of the physical ties of our current working world.”

In a BBC article “Should we fear the future workplace - or embrace change?”  Dave Coplin shares his view of the future saying:

“My hope remains that technology will increasingly afford greater freedom in where, when and how we work.

The success of the future of work will come down to one thing. People.

It will be the extent to which the people are engaged with the "purpose" of their organisation that will dictate the success or failure of that organisation in the future.

Engaged employees embrace change, they look for growth and learning in all they do and best of all they unleash the full potential of new technology.

They do this by using it to find new ways of working rather than simply making the old ways of working happen a bit quicker.”

We know about the pros of technology in the workplace but we must also be aware of the implications and how to use it wisely. Coplin goes on to say “Only failure awaits those who use the technology to replace what we are capable of - ask any driver who has blindly followed GPS directions only to find themselves confronted with too low a bridge or too narrow a street.”

Another thing to consider is that technology can get in the way of work, take a look at this BBC article about how digital distractions are eroding our ability to concentrate.

Many of our clients are now opting for virtual events over face to face, especially when gathering groups of people from across the globe.  They are embracing technology and adapting with it to suit their needs.  Are you?

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Summer is here and isn’t it wonderful.

This year for the first time we are running a triathlon here in our village – a plan hatched over a bottle of wine on a ski trip over winter for a tough, standard distance tri is finally coming to fruition.

One of our greatest challenges has been recruiting enough volunteers marshals.  In the same way that companies cannot be successful without good, well-motivated employees an organisation relying on volunteers also needs good, well-motivated volunteers and it is vital to keep them happy.

Below are some tips we have picked up along the way:

1. Volunteer Welfare

Remember your volunteer is a human being too.  They cannot stand around on a course for hours on end without water, food and the opportunity for a bathroom break. 

2. Respect

Remember, volunteers are participating out of the goodness of their hearts and no amount of respect and admiration is too much.

3. Keep them informed

It is vital that your volunteers feel involved in what is going on and keeping them informed is vital.   Meetings and briefings provide volunteers with a sense of being part of the overall project. Later on, meetings keep them in the loop on the overall progress of a project and allow them an opportunity to provide input.

4. Be available

Make sure you are available to volunteers who may have questions or concerns.  If they are uncomfortable with a situation or don’t feel they are being listened to then they are unlikely to continue to volunteer. 

5. Be accurate and detailed

Provide volunteers with clear, accurate, and concise tasks from the beginning so they have direction and can produce quality results from the start.  Don’t expect them to figure it out for themselves.

6. Say Thank You

Don’t forget to say thank you and to recognise the contribution of volunteers. 

7. Be flexible

Remember to offer flexibility to your volunteers as well. These people are offering up their free time to assist in your project, so understand when they have certain time constraints.

8. Lead by example

Don’t ask your volunteers to do anything that you yourself wouldn’t be willing to do. Don’t sit around giving orders and then plonk yourself in a chair while they work hard. Show them that you are more than willing to work hard too. 

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We had the pleasure of working with leading sport psychologist Bill Beswick this week as he shared some of his stories and tips with a group of young leaders at a leadership development programme we are running. Bill is unique in having England/Great Britain international experience across three major team sports -basketball, football and rugby. He has also worked with the British Swimming team and with English Premier football clubs including Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Derby County FC.

Bill clearly derives a huge amount of satisfaction from helping people manage and change their mind set in order to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Everything he talks about from his experience in elite sports is equally applicable to anyone seeking to be, and perform, at their best in any arena. Amongst other things Bill talked about the importance of...

  • Adopting a positive attitude - demonstrating a “fighter” rather than a “victim” mind set
  • Methodical preparation – exceptional performance rarely happens by accident and preparation is a key factor in building confidence
  • Never giving up – focusing on what you can control i.e. your own performance, because you don’t know (and can’t control) what will happen around you

He also talks about the importance of asking for help from people we trust. He refers to himself as a “thought partner” offering challenge and support to people who need him. Unfortunately only a few people are lucky enough to have Bill as their thought partner – but we all need them. Have you found yours?

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I seem to have found myself talking to teams and also individuals during coaching about how their actions have been misread / misunderstood and caused problems. Recovering from these incidents can be tricky for people as they feel things have ‘got personal’.

So I found the way through was to ask about their intentions. Sometimes people need a while to think about this, but they are always able to articulate what it is they are trying to do / achieve / change in the scenario. And it is always positive and constructive. When I then ask them how the other person (s) would behave towards them if they understood this very positive intention – then again, the answer is virtually always positive (“Oh – they’d be really happy to support me / or debate constructively / or help”).

So what’s the problem? I think it is because we are so busy that we act first and expect others to quickly and easily understand or interpret our intentions. Of course they don’t, and it is even more tricky with e-mail. So the recipe is to ensure that you explain your intentions first, then this becomes the filter for people to respond to your actions. Without this  filter in place, then all they have is one of their own filters – and people have many to choose from based on past experience of you, your reputation, their mood etc etc.

Some of the most successful, constructive and innovative sessions I have seen have been where groups have been really clear about their common intentions and then robustly challenged each other’s views/ideas/perspectives to get an even better collective outcome. Without challenge there is little innovation......

It’s a basic idea – but then when we’re busy we do forget the most basic things. Which reminds me.........better get some lunch (written at 15:33pm!)

 

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Like you, I’ve been pondering who to vote for in this year’s election.  It’s not that I can’t choose between two parties, it’s more of an issue about whether I trust politicians in general.  Since the financial crash, the coalition government, expenses scandal and various other fiascos, I’ve become disillusioned with it all. 

In Gavin Hewitt’s BBC article titled ‘Voters' trust remains elusive’, his opening line is “Rarely has such political energy been expended to such little effect…”. They have lost the public’s trust and this seems to be down to reputation.  

If you saw Question Time last week you would have seen this scepticism in the questions asked, as Gavin Hewitt put it “Written on face after face was: "I don't believe you".” They’ve failed us before so epically, surely it’s going to take some time and some real tangible proof to regain the public’s trust?

This feeling was echoed in those interviewed in last week's Panorama with statistician Nate Silver, who was on a quest to tell us which way the election will go. He compared the voters here to those in the US, it seems as though we are far less predictable here, especially as many will be voting tactically!  

Gavin Hewitt’s BBC article highlighted that David Cameron wants every voter to ask one question in the polling booth: "Who do I trust to run the economy?" and due to a lack of trust “the Tories have vowed to introduce a law guaranteeing no rise in tax rates before 2020 - as if, without legislation, they could not be trusted to carry out their own promises.” If a party doesn’t trust itself, how can we?

At a loss for inspiration in our current leaders, I started thinking about what exactly I'm looking for in our next leader and I stumbled across this (old but great) article.

The hardest thing to fake is trustworthiness and gaining honest trust can’t be built overnight.  Here are 8 key points outlining how you can earn trust over time:

  1. Clarity: People trust the clear and mistrust or distrust the ambiguous.  
  2. Compassion: People put faith in those who care beyond themselves.    
  3. Character: People notice those who do what is right ahead of what is easy.    
  4. Contribution: Few things build trust quicker than actual results.    
  5. Competency: People have confidence in those who stay fresh, relevant, and capable. The humble and teachable person keeps learning new ways of doing things and stays current on ideas and trends.    
  6. Connection: People want to follow, buy from, and be around friends—and having friends is all about building connections. Trust is all about relationships, and relationships are best built by establishing genuine connection. Ask questions, listen, and above all, show gratitude—it’s the primary trait of truly talented connectors. Grateful people are not entitled, they do not complain, and they do not gossip. Develop the trait of gratitude, and you will be a magnet.    
  7. Commitment: People believe in those who stand through adversity. People trusted General Patton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, Jesus, and George Washington because they saw commitment and sacrifice for the greater good. Commitment builds trust.    
  8. Consistency: In every area of life, it’s the little things—done consistently—that make the big difference.

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We’ve been enjoying a spell of early sunshine in the UK which has put a noticeable spring in the nations step. The impact of the environment we’re in at any one time is often hugely overlooked.

We probably get to notice the stark reality of this more than others. The output of a team day to create the future vision in a meeting room in head office is invariably less creative and ambitious than one created in an environment offsite away from all the habits, patterns and anchors of the day to day operation.  A different space generates a level of interest and enthusiasm which kicks in before we even start, people behave differently, engage differently, they even dress differently and as a result you get something different.

Let me just bust a myth for you, different doesn’t mean expensive. People don’t expect to be taken to Claridges for the day, just something which shakes things up a bit will do the job equally well. Below are a few top tips for off-site locations which won’t break the bank:

National Council for Volunteer Organisations – beautiful rooms overlooking the canal at Kings Cross and all the profits go back to supporting voluntary organisations

RADA – all wooden floorboards and Kids from Fame, but your team will be thrilled to tell people they’ve ‘been to RADA’

Airbnb – known for overnight accommodation but there’s a filter which will show you which properties can be used for events. Hire a house for the day, no paying outrageous prices for drinks and get a supermarket delivery in and cook lunch together.

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We usually associate improvisation with our favourite comedy shows or something we might be forced to do when things don’t quite go according to plan. But improvisation techniques are also incredibly powerful when we use them in our day to day lives, when they are more about collaborating and building positive energy and momentum, rather than being funny.

We’ve worked with a number of actors who share these techniques with teams and it is amazing how much impact they have. One of the building blocks of improvisation is known as “Yes, and…” an approach that allows for anything to happen. Very simply, whatever your partner suggests, you resist any urge to disagree with it and regardless of what you were going to say, you accept what is presented to you and add to it, starting with a simple “Yes and …..”

In a work environment, we say no a lot, and have lots of different ways of saying it, one of the most frequent probably being “yes but…” It is often a way of playing safe and maintaining control. By saying “yes and” we accept that there is value in what our colleagues and partners are saying. It can result not only in new ideas but also in more productive and rewarding relationships.  

In Forbes magazine  Ed Herbstman, cofounder of the Magnet Theater says that “yes, and” can be the antidote to workplace negativity. “There is safety in saying no…. What we do is say, ‘Let’s follow that idea for a moment. Let’s ‘yes, and’ just for a moment, to see where it goes…. When you’re the person saying yes to other people, they start to bring you their best ideas,” he says. “When you’re meeting things habitually with ‘yes, and,’ with an energy of agreement, you transform the way people perceive you.”

So how about giving it a go?

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I rarely, if ever, work with people who tell me they’re not working hard. ‘Yep, my days are spent kicking back, mooching around the office and going for lunch’ is not a sentence I hear! We always have more to do than we have time, resource and budget for. A common reaction to this is to spend more of our precious time and energy trying to get our lists done. But how hard do you really work at being your best?

  • Do you work hard at having enough rest and downtime so that when you’re at work you’re fully focussed? 
  • Do you work hard at being fit and healthy so that you can perform to the best of your ability?
  • Do you work hard at doing other things in life which make you whole and complete (playing sport, being with your family, going out with friends)?

If you sat and made a list of all the things which are important, dare I say it vital, for you to do and experience in order to be the best version of you how hard do you really work on all of those things? We often talk about work life balance, I’d argue it’s all just life....work hard at all of it.

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I was recently helping out at the launch of the South West Independent Coffee Guide - a guide to the best cafes and coffee roasters in the South West.  In most cases these are tiny owner-operated businesses each with a truly unique and artisan feel.

What really struck me was the passion, enthusiasm, creativity and energy of these people - which may in part be due to the large amount of coffee flowing at the event and no doubt in their daily lives - but was undoubtedly also because they are quite simply in love with their businesses.

Everyone I spoke to was excited about the business they are in, passionate about their products, incredibly knowledgeable and desperate to share all of this with their customers.

I know we cannot all be small business owners (and wouldn't necessarily want to be) but there are things we can learn from them. 

So let's all have a few espresso shots and fall in love with our businesses!

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Perhaps, like me, you’re not the CEO of a multinational company, but you do have a lot of things to juggle and are constantly trying to improve the way you work to maximise your output. 

Whether you’re managing a small family or a large workforce, I think these tips (featured in the BBC's CEO Guru series) from some of the world's top business leaders can help us improve the way we work and juggle multiple demands.

1. Only hold yourself accountable for the things you can control

“If you bear every burden of the world, you're going to die a young death as a CEO… You just have to hold yourself accountable for those things you personally can have an impact on and leave the rest behind.” Jeff Immelt, chief executive, General Electric

2. Delegate

"I think you can either delegate or you can't, and my whole modus operandi is to get it off my desk as quickly as possible onto someone else's desk.  It's a really good policy. I recommend it to any chief executives. Just get rid of the email onto someone else if you can." Martin Gilbert, chief executive, Aberdeen Asset Management

3. Take care of yourself and pace yourself

"It's managing your time and making sure you have energy left over. It's very hard to travel halfway around the world and land and visit 10 hotels and sit across the table from owners and make sure that you're sharp the whole time. Taking care of yourself and pacing yourself is actually important.  I'm not terribly good at saying no. If someone feels like I can help them somewhere, my first bias is to try to get there to do that, and there are just points where you have to say if I try to do too much, I'm not going to be good at what I need to do." Frits van Paasschen, chief executive, Starwood Hotels

4. Work in short bursts then go renew yourself

"We can only can function at an optimum level for about 90 minutes. In other words we can do intense work for about 90 minutes and then we need to do something else.  And if you try to keep focusing you'll notice there's some long meetings, people begin to wander, their attention can't be focused and you get to this real point of diminishing returns.  You'll find you can do your best work in these sort of short bursts and you have creative 'oh my gosh' epiphanies and things are coming and you get it down. But then you've got to go renew yourself." John Mackey, co-chief executive Whole Foods

5. Keep a decent work-life balance

"The most important thing in life is to have a balance. Just being a CEO and just constantly being under pressure and working and driving yourself, at the end of the day you'll be no good to anyone. You'll burn out and you'll burn out quickly.  The Chinese have a saying. They say 'yin yang'. It's a balance. Everything in life is a balance. So you have to balance your life. It'll make you stronger in the things you do, it'll make you better at what you do.  I've always believed that exercise helps to clear your body, helps to clear your mind. The more you abuse your body, the more stress you put on your body, it will hinder you from doing good business or being a good person. So I try to balance the things I do." Allan Zeman, founder of the Lan Kwai Fong Group

6. Stay focussed and don’t get distracted

"Everybody wants to change your agenda. Everybody wants a piece of your time and to try to persuade you why what they're working on is more important than what you were working on.  And what I think you have to be is incredibly focused. You've got to stay very true to a few core points that you will pursue relentlessly. Now you can't be so strait-jacketed by that to ignore issues that warrant your attention, but nor can you afford to be blown about by trivial items." Paul Walsh, chair of Compass and former chief executive of Diageo

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My niece is 8. In those 8 short years she has developed a voracious reading habit. The upshot of this; she’s found she’s pretty handy at spelling words of the long and complex type, things that most people would leave to those who know about these things.....like spell check.    

Now, her class get a spelling test each week in a bid to encourage this behaviour and after a few weeks she quickly figured out that she was developing a track record for success in this particular pursuit. Step forward her inner Jessica Ennis. Having been given special backstage access to the lady herself and the team around her, this is what I learned about her formula for winning Olympic gold (in spelling):

  1. Set out your ambition and tell others about it: Make it big, challenging and long term; she’s going to get all her spellings right to the end of the school year, all stakeholders have been informed
  2. Work hard: The harder you work, the luckier you get; Sunday nights are set aside for spelling practice. There’s no iPad time until the job is done.
  3. Build your team: Don’t be afraid to enlist the support of experts, your ambition is not a solitary pursuit; her parents have been assigned roles as head of practice testing. They are also not allowed iPad time until the correct level of quality has been reached.  
  4. Communicate: Both your ambition and successes along the way; her teacher has been enrolled in her ambition as have grandparents, aunties, uncles and classmates. Weekly milestones are communicated to all these groups ensuring they are re-enrolled to the long term ambition.
  5. Reward: Ensure there’s tangible reward in achieving the ambition; her teacher has made the promise of a ‘present’ if the ambition is achieved, this has reinforced the ambition in those dark February nights of spelling practice (I hope he’s started saving! Last I heard a MacBook Air was the going rate for a school year worth of correct spelling......just joking

My plan, I’m going to hire her out to the Welsh rugby team to give them a pre-match talk for this afternoon!

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Most team leaders go about recruiting and gathering a talented group of people around them. The benefits are obvious - it’s not only about getting the job done well but also about building the reputation of the team, which of course we hope will reflect well on us. But thrown into situations working on something unfamiliar, or working with peers we perceive to be more talented than us can be more complicated. Our confidence and performance can suffer if we are worried about being overshadowed, overlooked or overwhelmed.

I’ve been reminded of some of these fears since joining our local choir. My singing prowess is best described as having the ability to “hold a tune”, but I love singing and a little flicker of interest has grown in direct correlation with Gareth Malone’s TV career. My first “term” with the choir was spent building up to and perfecting a number of songs to perform to a packed and festive audience at the local Abbey the Saturday before Xmas. As we progressed from truly shambolic to full on performance mode, I re-learnt several principles that also apply to the workplace.

  • Singing alongside people with much better voices than me has actually improved my own voice and built my confidence
  • Making a mistake in a loud voice is embarrassing, but can be quickly corrected before it becomes a habit – and the best singers make mistakes too
  • Practicing techniques and having the discipline to warm up and prepare really does improve performance
  • Approaching a new song in bite size chunks with each section of the choir perfecting their own part may feel disjointed, but delivers results   

Singing also has numerous personal benefits - regardless of how “good” you think your voice is or isn’t. I’ve listed a few from singing coach Sally Garozzo below in the hope that it might inspire you to give it a go. Or to be patient with people who are finding their voice!

Physical Benefits

  • Singing increases the amount of oxygen you take into the body which increases alertness as more oxygen gets to the brain
  • As you sing you improve muscle tone in the face, throat, neck and jaw, thereby promoting a youthful appearance
  • Singing stimulates the thyroid gland, which helps to balance metabolism

Mental benefits

  • Like physical exercise, singing requires a level of focus and bodily activity that shifts our minds away from our usual patterns of thinking, even away from quite pressurized and stressful attitudes and so helps to calm mental “chatter”
  • The process of learning to sing and singing, especially with others, dramatically increases attentive listening
  • Learning to sing moves you out of your comfort zone and daily routine and a sense of achievement provides a huge boost to our self-esteem

Emotional benefits

  • Singing releases natural opiates, endorphins, creating a similar effect as when we exercise
  • Singing can make you cry. Singing can ignite your passions. And singing can make you laugh
  • Singing creates positive energy and a happy mood and that's infectious and transparently good for those involved

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I’m not a fan of starting to change things or add new things without really making the most of what you already have. Many of the Personal or Leadership interventions call for people to change into a certain type of leader, or change their natural style. However often this is done without really exploring who people are and what they already have that could be harnessed to help them be an authentic and natural leader.  People are surrounded by others who think they are brilliant, creative, kind, respected, genuine and they love them for it. So the job is just to allow those qualities to shine though and to have the confidence to be the best version of yourself you can possible be.    

So the call this year is a simple one: focus not on trying to be something / someone else, but on being the best of you. Remove anything that gets in the way of this being possible, and if in doubt then here’s a few starter questions to help.

  • What values do I have that I care deeply and passionately about? How can I use these to guide my decisions and actions and make sure people know that these matter to me?
  • What qualities do my friends, family and colleagues see in me that causes them to like / respect / admire / love me? How can I make sure that I allow those qualities to be present in all interactions this year?
  • When I have successfully overcome some difficulties in the past, what strengths did I rely on? How can I continue to make sure I don’t neglect these strengths day-to-day?

So I’ll try this on myself and report back later in the year...

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Diversity and inclusivity are topics that many teams or organisations find challenging. Despite a lot of effort and goodwill creating a team performance that allows everyone to be themselves and add their piece, the overall performance is elusive and hard to achieve. The end result is sometimes frustratingly a sum less than the parts.

Last night I witnessed a remarkable performance which was better because of the diverse range of participants - ability, background, age, plus any of the other usual criteria that are typically used - who were truly and inherently part of the performance. Not simply tagged on or given a small part, but given the freedom to express themselves vs meet expected norms.

By the way, it was Peter Pan at Chicken Shed's theatre in Southgate. I honestly wasn't expecting it to be quite so brilliant and moving. It was stunning.

The work that Chicken Shed do is stunning and I'm so happy that I'm going to be working with them over the next few months. Their ethos of welcoming anyone to develop and participate really shows in their work and really challenges perceptions of what is possible.

A tiny example is how Peter Pan's shadow was the one who did the sign language through the show, and hence was an integral part of the show vs a clumsy add on. Absolute genius!

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This week I have been sourcing venues for a series of Leadership programmes coming up over the next 12 months. 

It’s easy to underestimate the importance of the venue for a training programme.  Much easier to inspire if you’re in an inspirational place.  Much easier to be creative if you’re surrounded by creativity.

So whilst we are obviously aware of the basics:

  • Location
  • Size
  • Technical Requirements
  • Catering

We also look for something a bit special:

  • Spaces to inspire – either architecturally, through their history or their purpose
  • Unusual spaces – creates anticipation in your delegates not just for the course but for the location.  Glam Portacabin or a Yurt anyone?
  • Spaces which help – there are a number of conference/training facilities run by Social Enterprises.  Proceeds from the venues are used to help people and places and often many of the beneficiaries are involved in the running of the space.

We have found some terrific options this week, some we’ve used before, others which are new to us.  I’m really excited about getting the programme up and running and introducing our clients to some seriously good venues – and some awesome coaching of course!

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We’re at the end of what has on the whole been a rather wonderfully sunny and warm half term week. Rather than following my normal plan of trying to combine work with family, I took some time out to spend with the kids and to tackle some of the jobs that have been on my personal to do list (and nagging at the back of my mind) for several months.     

Of course I’ve not achieved as much as I hoped. But we have put up the mirrors and pictures that have been leaning against various walls since we finished building work 6 months ago, have had our collective eyes and teeth checked out and I’ve ordered new filing cabinets to sort out the paperwork that hasn’t been culled. Nothing of major significance really, but it’s amazing what a sense of achievement all of these things have given me.

I admit to being one of those people who writes a list of things to do just for the satisfaction of ticking things off the list. But even if you’re not, the satisfaction you will feel on taking 30 minutes or an hour here and there to fix something small (or bigger but not essential) will be much more than you think. So don’t wait until New Year - why not start now before Christmas madness adds to your to do list?          

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Throughout this summer I’ve been helping run sessions to encourage women to participate in sports in the sea – board paddling, open water swimming etc.

Living by the sea I tend to take it for granted and forget that for some it can be a scary place, especially when there’s a big swell and the sun isn’t shining.

It’s been a real pleasure to push people outside their comfort zone, to safely allow them to explore their own limits and to let them realise they can achieve way more than they perhaps thought possible.  The smiles on their faces when we made it “out back” swimming through some large swell, or when they caught their first wave on a board gave me a real buzz.

I guess it has reminded me that things I consider fairly easy can be a real challenge for others, that there is a real joy in sharing your skills and seeing others experience the same enjoyment you do, and that there are perhaps things that I fear that I could actually overcome with the right encouragement.

Anyone know a good rock climbing coach….?

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We’ve all done it; we diligently set our team some goals, get everyone fired up and then get our heads down and crack on like Arctic explorers walking into a headwind. By December we’re on our last packet on pemmican and a few people who flagged in July they were a ‘bit cold’ now have frost bite! When we get there we’re utterly exhausted and, quite frankly, glad it’s done.    

Yes, there’s a end result but what about the interim goals along the way? The temptation is often to break these into logical achievements in a rather robotic, linear fashion. Setting your goals a ‘leg’ at a time give you permission to collectively decide what you’re up for, what’s achievable given the skills, prevailing conditions, energy and mood. Hitting a stretch target one month can often set a team up for failure the next month as they try to replicate it again. Regrouping and saying ‘OK, given what it took for us to do that last month and what we know the competition is launching this month, what do we think is an achievable target for our next leg?’ Flexing bite-sized goals enables teams to recommit to targets and, much more importantly, enables you to know when you’ve actually achieved something.......even in the Arctic there are moments for the odd champagne ice lolly.

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A sports psychologist (Bill) recently shared with us some great insights into winning sportsmen/women, and how their mindset affects their performance. Now we all know this right? But what I found really refreshing were the simple ‘How to’s.......’, so I thought I’d share 2 very practical ideas that I have successfully applied during a painful bike ride (!).

1. “If you don’t like the current story, then change it”. There are always many ways to look at any situation eg) from a point of view of confidence, or defeatism, or uncertainty, or annoyance etc. When you change your own story, then you change what becomes possible. So my story of “I’ve still got 25 miles to go, into a headwind, and my legs aren’t feeling good, so I can stop” became, instead, “I’ll make it back, it’ll just take longer than you thought and won’t be as easy as you planned. But then what is! And this extra work will really pay off on your next ride” So my 2nd version of the story really perked me up. Bill shared many examples of where people refused to accept the role of being a loser in the race, and instead changed the story to being a winner and not knowing how to lose.

2. “Whichever dog you feed will win the fight” So it turns out we all have 2 dogs : our fighter dog and our victim dog. We feed them both from time to time : the victim dog loving a bit of self pity, or doubt, or annoyance, whereas the fight dog loves a morsel or two of belief, confidence, ownership, acceptance and determination. So in any given challenge, pay attention to which ‘dog’ you are feeding because the biggest and well-fed one will win. So on my bike ride I realised I was feeding tasty scraps to the victim dog (“well, I’ve gone a long way already....”, “it doesn’t matter if I stop”) and so I started to feed the fighter dog (“you’ve done much harder things than this before”.......”imagine how you’ll feel if you do stop”). It works!

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This week I happened upon an old programme about the sinking of the Costa Concordia, an Italian Cruise Ship.  This minute-by-minute anatomy of the disaster where Thirty-two people died, made almost entirely from passengers' mobile phone and video camera footage provided great insight into the captains leadership mentality. 

The thing that has stayed with me all week is that the captain left the ship before ensuring the safety of his team and passengers who were in his care (earning him the title "Captain Coward" in the Italian media).  As the boat slowly turned on it’s side, leaving 100’s of passengers stranded and terrified on its hull, the Coastguard Captain flew over to assess the situation and was in disbelief that the captain was not with them.  In the recordings we hear him repeatedly ordering him to get back on board the ship. 

This got me thinking about the link between Leadership and Selflessness and just how crucial it is.

I found these two related articles that are worth a read:

The Four Keys to Being a Trusted Leader (Harvard Business Review)

“Real leadership – the kind that inspires people to pull together and collectively achieve something great – can only be exercised when an executive is trusted. And trust arises when someone is seen acting selflessly.” 

“People in an organization perceive selflessness when a leader concerns him or herself with their safety; performs valuable service for them; and makes personal sacrifice for their benefit.”

9 Differences Between Selfish and Selfless Leaders (Huffington Post)

SELFLESS LEADERS:

  1. We love selfless leaders
  2. We are dependent on them to start, however become independent over time
  3. Constant improvement of IP
  4. Abundance mentality
  5. Helping others
  6. Selfless leader is trusted, we know they have our best interests in mind
  7. Resilient relationships: they are helping others achieve confidence and independence
  8. Positive fear, we are scared of disappointing them, afraid of hurting them
  9. Huge ROI long-term

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As I write, it is the last day of the Scottish referendum and campaigners for both sides of the argument are using every means possible to convert undecided voters. There have been a variety of approaches to this – from the BP CEO’s statement that “long-term investments require fiscal stability and certainty,” to David Cameron’s emotional admission that he would be “heartbroken” if there is a vote for independence. 

Part of the decision making process usually involves applying “rational” methods such as rankings and mathematical tools to assess the value of different options based on specific criteria. In my experience this is often a second step and means of validating or backing up an emotional choice because we are afraid to trust (or admit we are basing the decision on) our emotions. 

I was once advised to make a decision and then live with it for a while to see how it feels before making a firm commitment - in case the emotional impact of the decision outweighed the logical arguments. It is something I still do – spend time imagining the potential impact of a decision and I find that this simple tool/diagram on the right really helps.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s states that “emotions play a critical role in the ability to make fast, rational decisions in complex and uncertain situations”. When he studied people who had received brain injuries to the part of the brain where emotions are generated, he found that they had difficulty making decisions because of an inability to use emotions to help guide future behavior based on past experiences. 

So logic (head) and emotion (heart) both play a part in effective decision making. But there is another important dimension - and that is intuition, or your gut instinct. Have you ever had a “spec” for your perfect house and then fallen in love with something completely different because it just felt right? Or interviewed someone who is the perfect candidate on paper but you just “know” that they won’t fit in? Sometimes there is no single “right” decision, but it is likely that the people who make the best decisions take into account the head, heart and gut – using intellect, emotions and intuition to find a solution that not only works, but they can commit to, stick at and live with.

  

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These are the people who don’t get a medal, grab the headlines or set a new PB. These people are by the athlete’s side at every step towards success. Every early morning and every late night. Every training camp and every competition. These are the coaches of Britain’s most promising athletes.

At UK Sport, our aim is to support British Olympic and Paralympic sports coaches to achieve their potential, whatever their current position on the elite coach development pathway. We work with ex-athletes helping them transition into coaches, apprentice coaches, and the elite, multi-medal winning coaches. Each have a part to play in creating so many memorable moments as you will undoubtedly recall from Great Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic remarkable success in London 2012, Sochi 2014 and Glasgow 2014.

But what is a world leading coach? What are we trying to develop? What do coaches across all sports have in common and where do they differ?

Of course, every coach operates in a different environment, with different responsibilities and different athletes, but they all have shared experiences; from challenges and opportunities to success and failure, each coach goes through a series of highs and lows before reaching the elite level. But is it possible to really unpick what those elements are?

UK Sport are trying to do just that. We are developing a framework of skills and expertise – the Coaching Principles - that to varying degrees, all elite coaches will require regardless of their sport. We aim to develop transferable skills in coaches that work across all sports. If you know what the ultimate coach looks like for your sport, you can plot which elements are relevant for each individual and put appropriate development in place. We use world leading expertise to help develop coaches on our centrally run programmes, but the Coaching Principles have a big part to play out in the field with the sports themselves. What is ‘world leading’ in your field?

We do not proclaim to understand the intricacies of every sport, this is an evolving process where we allow coaches to interpret our Coaching Principles themselves, so they can refine particular aspects and skills which they find most relevant. What is crucial in one sport, may not be in another.

Our UK Sport programmes are mapped against this aspirational barometer of success, allowing coaches to see the development areas that need addressing and hone in on them. A key element of measuring development of the individual is to also take into account their strengths, to see if they can be leveraged to ‘super strengths’.

Of course arguably you can never reach the end goal of the ultimate coach. The barometer is always evolving and the learning never stops, but by having a yardstick to aim for, those with their sights set on reaching there have a little more direction. They’ll know what to put in their toolbag to help them reach their potential, become world leading coaches, produce athletes to win medals on the world stage and inspire others to join them on their journey.

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Over the summer I had the pleasure of the company of my nephew. My nephew is 3 years old, has the energy of an industrial sized coiled spring, refuelling needs to rival a jumbo jet and the determination of an Everest climber. His current battle cry is ‘Look what I can do!’. The conversation generally went something along the lines of.....

‘Please finish that bowl of cereal’

‘Look what I can do’ (wedges himself in the splits between the door frame a la Louis Smith styleee)

'Are you ready to go out’

‘Look what I can do’ (launches himself over the side of the stairs)

‘When I let go, hang onto the surfboard’

‘Look what I can do’ (somehow he’s up on his knees)

Contrast this with my week spent with clients looking at psychometrics and 360s; the prevailing battle cry seems to be ‘Look what I can’t do’.

When did we have the joyful indulgence of revelling in sharing the things we’re good at and we can do beaten out of us?  Indulge yourself with a 3 year old moment now and again. Tell, show and shout about what you CAN do........you might be surprised just how talented you are.

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Chances are you have had at least one point in life where you feel like you have reached your peak, or surpassed what feels like your learning ability (e.g. you have ‘been over your head’ in a work project or situation that has completely drained you and/or questioned your ability to deliver). It is not an easy place to be, nor is it much fun. The good news is that even in the midst of moments like these, we have an incredible capacity to continue learning and the ability to apply these learnings to different situations. 

Essentially, this is a bit of what learning agility is about – continuously learning new skills; being open to new ways of thinking and applying these to new situations. It is sparked by curiosity and the desire to challenge the status quo; putting ourselves out there to try new things where success is not guaranteed. In doing this, our focus shifts from curiosity to overcoming an unfamiliar challenge. This requires us to be fully engaged and adapt quickly to changing circumstances in order to deliver. And after delivery, we need to reflect and understand what/how/why we did what we did to deliver. Questions like: what are our takeaways, what would we do differently, what worked well & why, allow us to apply our learnings in different ways. This, along with some humility, allows us to continuously learn, develop and adapt to the ever-changing circumstances that surround us.

As a learning development professional who started out as an engineer, the essence and approach of development through learning agility really resonates. Not only have I had my fair share of ‘being over my head’ in work projects, I have also had numerous moments where I have thoroughly questioned my ability to deliver. There is a fear of failure that I need to push out of my way in order to welcome the unfamiliar challenges. Every time I do so I am reminded of the quote: ‘Nothing exciting ever happens in your comfort zone.’ Let’s face it – most development happens outside of our comfort zone. My question for you is, are you willing to go there?

by Nicole Mills

For more information on Learning Agility, I found these resources quite helpful:

White Paper: Learning About Learning Agility by Adam Mitchinson and Robert Morris

The Five Dimensions Of Learning-Agile Leaders by Kevin Cashman

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®)

www.tc.columbia.edu

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Last year I began volunteering with the Wave Project, an award-winning community surf project that helps young people improve health and education outcomes through surfing.  We work with young people from ages 8 up to 21 who are facing a variety of different challenges. 

They run a network of surf clubs around the UK designed to help young people develop both their surfing and life skills. It’s a simple concept, we surf, we encourage, we listen, and have loads of fun!  I’ve seen first hand how going surfing once a week has transformed lives, helping clients feel more confident and improving their outlook.  

TES, the world’s largest online network of teachers, published an article recently about the link between well-being and learning - it made me realise how much impact the Wave Project must have with young people, not just in their personal lives but in their education.  The article discusses a point of view that schools appear to think that making students happy is neither their business nor their responsibility and that this should be part of their core function. Author Clare Jarmy says ‘So students’ happiness is our business and our responsibility, because happy children are effective learners and teaching them is our job…Academic progress is not separate from well-being; it is part of it.  As teachers, we are not simply preparing students for the workplace, we are also playing a part in their flourishing.’

The official definition of ‘Well-being’ is ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’. We don’t function or perform well if we’re uncomfortable, unhealthy, or unhappy. Well-being is pretty much the root to a fulfilled life, so why isn’t this core to everything we do?   

Well-being is the primary focus at the Wave Project because we know that when young people are healthy and happy, they do better in life.  We have the results to prove it! We’ve seen dramatic transformations in young people that are isolated, perhaps struggling at school or are labelled with a mental health problem, where after surfing regularly with us, their confidence has grown and they’ve found a new passion and excitement for life. And because they are happier and healthier this impacts on their education… 

Well-being in the work-place has been discussed a lot recently but I think we still have some way to go so I hope you, like I, will take some inspiration from the Wave Project. Our development and performance as adults is no less linked to well being than when we're at school age, so as schools have to recognise, so do businesses, that well-being needs to be addressed.

This recent HR Magazine article discusses the link between leadership, promotability and health & wellbeing. Hellen Davis says “…helping employees take responsibility for their health and wellbeing is good – but the direct link between career advancement and health and wellbeing is rarely discussed.”  Here are some tips on how to create a happier and healthier workforce from HR Magazine.

We all want to be happy and healthy, but what conscious steps do we make to get there? This week, do something different, perhaps an outdoor activity with a group of friends that will fill your lungs with fresh air, get your heart pumping and wash away the cobwebs!

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In my last blog post I talked about how I applied Kotter’s 8 step change model to prepare for the Yorkshire 3 Peaks walk. Having completed it this weekend, I thought I’d give you an update.  11 of us participated in the challenge of walking 24 miles (it seemed much longer!) and climbing 6000ft (I’m sure it was much higher) over 3 peaks in around 12 hours. All of the preparation proved essential and we also had a bit of luck with the weather. But in spite of that and the stunning scenery, there were still times when we wondered if we could face the final climb. But we did – and here’s why I think we did:

  • Preparation -in fact we were not quite prepared enough - but on the day this was compensated for by other factors including
  • The guiding team - advice and encouragement from the group, who ranged from marathon runners to dog walkers, and all faced demons from twisted knees, blisters, fear of heights, dehydration to general fatigue
  • Creation of short term goals - stopping for a break, a snack and to pat ourselves on the back at specific landmarks and milestones 
  • Visualisation – looking forward to the breeze and view from the top and imagining the taste of a cold beer back at the hotel  

But most importantly for me, the whole experience was a very real lesson in what we can achieve by taking one small step at a time. This is something we often explore with people through coaching. Thinking about how to break a problem or challenge down into manageable chunks. Identifying what you do know (rather than don’t know) and what can you do (rather than can’t do) that will take you a step closer towards your goal. And the importance of just making a start.    

That first step can be hard, but on Saturday as I looked up at a steep climb with literally no end in sight and not much energy left in my tank, the most important thing I did was to take a few steps and start nibbling away at the challenge. Each time I stopped I felt a sense of progress and literally created a new perspective. And what a perspective it was!

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‘Yes’ opens up new possibilities, builds on ideas and drives a conversation forward to new horizons. When we hear ‘yes’ we engage, we commit, we see new opportunities. When we hear ‘no’ we disconnect, we shut down, we comply. 

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about ceding to another person’s needs, wants and ideas this is about that spark that ignites new ideas and the human energy and commitment to make it happen.    

It goes like this; 

  • “Let’s write a blog every week for our website”
  • “Yes, and we could take it in turns” 
  • “Yes, and we could have a rota so we can be thinking about it in advance” 
  • “Yes, and we could invite other people to be guest bloggers” 
  • “Yes, and we could also send the links out on twitter” 
  • “Yes, and we could put it on our other social media platforms like facebook and linkedin”    

Another version of the conversation could have been; 

  • “Let’s write a blog every week for our website”
  • “We’re all really busy and I’m not sure anyone would read it. I’m not sure it’s worth the effort” (essentially ‘no’).    

And because we write a blog every week we have all sorts of interesting people contact us via various social media platforms, none of that would have happened without our ‘yes’ a few years ago.    

So, on this bright sunny June day, if you’re looking for something new and exciting, I implore you to say ‘yes’.  

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What does your corporate presentation have in common with War and Peace?

Plenty, actually. The goal of any storyteller is to grab the audience’s attention and maintain it from beginning to end. Your techniques will be different from Tolstoy’s (1,225 pages might be a little on the long side, for example), but there’s plenty you can learn from the world of fiction. 

Here are five lessons from fiction writing that you can use to tell better stories in your work life.

1. Nobody cares about your story

It sounds harsh, but it’s the first key to telling a good story. Assume that nobody cares about what you have to say, and find out what you can do to make them care. Get inside the head of a typical member of your audience, and brainstorm about what would make that person sit up and pay attention. Then give it to them, from the first sentence to the last, remembering you could lose them at any moment.

2. Story-telling is a process of subtraction, not addition

If your story doesn’t feel clear, the impulse is always to add something, some extra nugget of information or explanation.

Resist that impulse.

The best way to make your story clearer is almost always to remove something. As an expert in your subject, you’ll naturally put in far more information than your audience can absorb. So slash and burn. Maybe you won’t make as many points, but your audience will pay attention to the points you do make.

3. Good stories have a strong plot with a human dimension

Think of a novel, any novel. 

Chances are, it involves human beings overcoming challenges. We’re hard-wired to pay attention to that stuff. We’ve been doing it since the days of sitting around the cave-fire talking about killing woolly mammoths.

And yet most business documents do their very best to erase any trace of this. We can’t admit that we faced challenges, because that might mean acknowledging that we did something wrong in the first place. 

Take a chance, expose your weaknesses and your humanity, and your story will instantly be ten times more compelling.

4. Good stories are specific, not general

As we’re listening to a story, we try to paint pictures in our minds. We instinctively latch onto specific details, and don’t pay attention to abstractions.

Journalists know this. They spice up dull stories about government budgets with quotes and stories from the people affected by the politicians’ decisions. 

Novelists know it too. Tolstoy began War and Peace with a sharply observed scene in a drawing room, not with abstractions about the nature of war. 

Most business presenters don’t know this. You can use that to your advantage.

5. Good story-tellers use clear language

There’s a common misconception that, in order to sound more business-like, you have to change plain English words into long, formal words. 

That’s utter nonsense. It’s a remnant of a more formal age. Remember when people had a special voice for speaking on the telephone? Nobody does that any more. And nobody should use stuffy, formal expressions in their writing either.

Write a presentation as if you’re explaining something to your best friend, and watch your audience’s eyes light up in sudden comprehension, relief, and gratitude.

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So it goes like this: we are ALL known for something. In fact, you can’t NOT be known for something. Ask anyone you work with and they will tell you what you are known for...........(a little bit scary I know).

In work this matters a great deal, and the team I was with last week realised that they needed to understand what they were known for with their stakeholders as this would affect how people engage with them going forward. So I shared this simple framework with them and they developed their simple ‘story’ to be able to influence those people that matter to get this major transformation project underway.

It also matters an enormous amount when it comes to your own career development. Ask yourself this: you have to take a risk on someone i.e. a large project, bigger role etc. You have narrowed it down to 2 people both of whom have good positive open communication styles:

  1. Person A  seems to be part of successful projects, but it’s not clear exactly what they did and certainly they aren’t labelled with any unsuccessful projects.
  2. Person B has a very clear list of what they have done, and are currently doing, and could talk clearly and humbly about things they have done in the past that didn’t  go so well but that they have learned from and grown as a result.

This is where you can get clear on your own story and tell it openly and concisely to people. It’s also a chance to correct any old opinions people may have or refresh their stories of you. So give it a try and start testing it with people...

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I am a member of our local surf lifesaving club – a club dedicated to training adults and children to be safe in the sea, to teaching lifesaving skills and to developing sport skills to enable members to compete on a local, national and international level. 

As a committee we are often looking at ways to raise funds, increase membership, improve facilities and generally make the club operate more effectively. 

It’s tough to operate a club with so many diverse members with differing agendas and which relies entirely on volunteers.  People come and go and over the years leaving rituals and beliefs which become engrained in day-to-day activities. 

So we’ve decided it’s time to stop and rethink our agenda – our mission, purpose and values.  We have a new committee following our latest AGM so now is a great time to really think about what we are doing and how best to do it.  Not that everything is wrong at the moment – there are many great things going on but as in any organisation it’s good to stop now and again and assess where you are at and where you are going. 

And so steps in Tinder-Box – well if you can’t make the best of those you know!  Jason and Carole (club members themselves) have kindly offered to run a strategy session with us.  I for one am looking forward to spending some time really focussing on who, as a club, we want to be and where we are going.  Time out from the regular sessions we run to really think clearly about the future of the club will be really valuable and with some pros to guide us anything is possible - so watch this space…

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John Kotter’s 8 step model is one of the best known, used and adapted change models. We regularly use this or similar models with our clients. It is a very versatile tool, so I decided to apply it to my own challenge – which involves taking thousands and thousands of steps up and around the Yorkshire 3 peaks in a few weeks time. Given the fact that I’ve been walking for decades, it’s amazing how challenging it is to train for this. My head and heart are engaged, but my body is proving more difficult to convince! So here’s how applying Kotter’s 8 steps to change is helping me.

  1. Increase urgency: I’m doing the walk because I want to get fitter and hate going to the gym. Walking with 13 friends is more appealing but still challenging. What is at stake is my pride and knowing I am part of a team that I don’t want to let down. And knowing how good I’ll feel mentally and physically at the end of it.
  2. Build the guiding team: The group I’m walking with are part of this team. They are a mixture of expert walkers and marathon runners who push and encourage the rest of us and others who are great at organizing, planning and providing moral support. Also part of the team are our families who put up with us disappearing for hours at a weekend and drive to meet us in way out places (often involving a nice pub – but still!)
  3. Get the vision right:  I’m thinking about the beautiful views, companionship, laughter at our celebratory meal in the evening and sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.       
  4. Communicate for buy-in: This has been about engaging my family and agreeing roles in group. I’m pleased to say that I am chief list maker! It’s also been about setting expectations that we will need to walk in a faster and slower party so no one feels rushed or slowed down. 
  5. Empower action: There were a number of barriers to address, including equipment (I now have new and worn in walking boots, walking poles, waterproofs etc) and the fact that I have never done a 24 mile walk over 3 peaks in 12 hours. Training and a realistic training plan are essential.
  6. Create short term wins: We have planned for and completed several walks of around 15 miles on different terrain and in different weather conditions. Our time and distance goals have been challenging but doable, so we have felt a sense of achievement and progress.
  7. Don’t let up: We keep adding new milestones to our training plan. I now know my strengths and weak spots and am planning to address these by adding some specific exercises and stretches into my routine. And of course we have some “planning” evenings to look forward to.
  8. Make change stick: How will I build on my increased fitness levels and enjoyment of the challenge?  What will be next? I haven’t got as far as this yet – but will let you know!

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London 2012 was the breakthrough games for the summer Paralympics.  The recent winter games in Sochi arguably proved to be an even greater breakthrough. The majority of people didn’t even know there was a winter Paralympics.  After all, how much of Vancouver 2010 did you watch on TV?

Sporting competition is possible in Paralympic sport because of classification, the system that creates the framework for athletes to compete against one another.  On first glance it appears labyrinthine and indecipherable but it works in the same way that classification works in Boxing.  You can have a featherweight champion of the world and a heavyweight one.  Both are equally good but are not going to be seen in the ring together. 

The difference is that classification of disabilities and impairments is not intuitive.  Bundle that in with peoples’ perceived insecurities in discussing disability and its easier not to bother talking about it at all and that was exactly the approach of broadcasters prior to the London 2012 Paralympics.

In place of this knowledge was an underlying tone in broadcast presentation that glossed over this series of rules maintaining the long held idea that the audience couldn’t possibly understand it.  So they should just accept that they were there and that someone much wiser had thought it all through.  So relax, sit back and appreciate the heroes that we are about to place before you.  What?!!?

Why is football so popular?  Is it because everyone watching is wondering what’s going on, or is it because everyone understands every last second, therefore feeling they can express and opinion? (for better or worse)

As for heroes, who are yours?  I bet you can say why you hold each one in such high esteem.  Each one the result of series of conscious decisions defined by parameters that enabled you to gauge what each hero/heroine had achieved, empowering you to choose which ones were special to you.

In using explanatory innovations like the LEXI graphics system, Channel 4’s coverage of London 2012 was the first time that disability classification in sport was just treated as an extension of the rules.  The risks were huge.  Would the audience find it offensive, too unpalatable or just plain boring?  Would they desert for other channels leaving a tiny audience of die-hards behind?

London 2012 turned out the highest audience figures that Channel 4 had seen in ten years.  Sochi followed in the same vain building on the new fans of Paralympic sport.

  1. Engage with your audience/customers by telling them fully about what you are doing.
  2. Make the explanation itself engaging.  Good enough to be a product in itself.
  3. Allow people to generate an emotional engagement with what you are doing on their terms and they will be more numerous and faithful than ever.
  4. Have a cup of tea and a cheeky smile at having done something new.

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How often have you heard yourself say ‘Just have one spoonful, you might like it. If you don’t you can just leave it’? It’s usually a phrase reserved for the younger members of our families. Our intention is usually to broaden horizons, enable them to try something new and different and explore what they really like and don’t like. How often do we say it to ourselves, our teams and our bosses when it comes to exploring something new? 

It’s a carefully chosen phrase. It sets the scene for experimentation, it gives the receiver choice (want to know the difference between compliance and commitment? Usually choice!).    

We’ve tried to mix our blog up this year by inviting some guest bloggers to do just that, provide a spoonful of something different (by the way we have a cracker coming next week...watch this space).    

So, as we head into the depths of the second quarter of 2014, give yourself and your team permission to have just one spoonful, if you don’t like it you can leave it, I promise!

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In July I will be presenting a session at the Institute of Fundraising National Convention entitled ‘Punch above your weight’. 

The session is designed to show how small charities can compete with the big brands in the sector. Having made the transition from a large national charity to a senior leadership role at a small NGO, Magic Bus UK, a former colleague and I will discuss how a diversified strategy and other practical considerations have enabled our respective organisations to ‘punch above their weight’. 

But what does this actually mean? Since joining Magic Bus in 2012 I have experienced a major shift in mind set about the opportunities and challenges of working at a large vs small organisation. Sure, larger organisations have bigger brands, bigger budgets and bigger infrastructure whereas smaller charities can struggle to secure unrestricted funding and brand awareness and may lack systems and processes. 

But, for me, the beauty of working for a small charity far outstrips the benefit of working for a large organisation.  At Magic Bus I have diversified my skill set, assumed greater responsibility, had the autonomy to make decisions, taken risks and made my budget stretch as far as it possibly can for maximum benefit. I have learnt to be bolder, more ambitious, tenacious and agile and I truly believe that my team and I punch above our weight and we aspire to improve every day. 

I have been lucky enough to recruit and develop my own team. They are a flexible, roll your sleeves up, proactive bunch who share my passion for Magic Bus and the children and young people living in poverty in India whom we support. Some of the team have also made the transition from larger charities and what they enjoy most about being an integral part of a team of five is that they have closer internal and external relationships and a greater connection with our grassroots work.

Starting a new job requires the ability to come out of the comfort zone and challenge and stretch oneself. I spent 15 years at large charities and I do not under-estimate the invaluable experience I gained during this time, there were highs and lows and I learnt a lot along the way. Having now experienced working for a small charity, and as a trustee of another small charity and a mentor to several individuals who work for larger charities, I have become a champion for small charities. 

Despite Magic Bus being based in India, I feel far closer to, and more passionate about the cause than I did at any other charity. This is what drives and motivates the Magic Bus UK team every day. We have all taken a leap of faith, come out of the comfort zone and we are on an incredible journey. I remind myself every day personally and professionally that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and that the comfort zone is a dangerous place.

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So MasterChef is back and I for one am delighted.  Strange to love a show where you watch people cook impossibly difficult dishes and don’t even get to taste them but there is something about it that engages me.

I think it’s watching contestants with an obvious talent, really pushed and challenged to become the best they can be.  Plus of course the drama of a complete disaster, aka chocolate fondant all over the floor.  The creativity (or not) of the ingredients test – curried pasta anyone (that’s one of my own – it’s not good!).  And perhaps my favourite part - the characters that excel – not always the polished individuals who perform well on camera and have all the right words.  Sometimes the old school granny or as in last years winner the young DJ from East London who was so engaging, passionate and down to earth she was a true foodie hero in my eyes.

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I read a fascinating BBC article last week titled ‘Big Data: Would number geeks make better football managers?’, a look at how crucial data is to maximising potential income by getting the most from football's prized investments - the players.    

I was educated on how sophisticated technology is behind the scenes in football & rugby these days. When I think of these sports, I think of noisy stadiums, stressed managers pacing on the sidelines, player disputes and a very macho atmosphere…not a scene I’d expect to be managed by data geeks…  

The article pointed out the difference in the two worlds, with Football managers leaning more on their instinct, not geeky data to gets results. Whilst a rugby manager would more likely be in the stand for a whole game  - surrounded by data  and video analysis.  "Compare that with football and the manager is still very much in the dugout, trying to affect the players personally, in terms of instructions and shouting - and very much being part of the sometimes chaotic nature of football."  (Dr Paul Neilson from football technology specialists Prozone)

Leading the “Big data” revolution in football is TSG Hoffenheim. The German club has incorporated real-time data measurements into its training schedule, data can be analysed in real-time by experts - and training schedules can be adapted… "The entire training area becomes accessible virtually by putting trackers on everything that's important - on the goals, on the posts.”  (Stefan Lacher, head of technology at SAP). SAP's software is able to crunch that data, and suggest tweaks that each player can make...amazing! 

"It's about better understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the players," Mr Lacher says, "and spending more time working on the weaknesses and making better use of the strengths....It's moving from gut feeling to facts and figures." 

"One of the most important things within elite sport is making sure your players are available for training and matches as much as possible, and that is about mitigating injury risks...if you're doing that you should be able to reduce the risk of physical overload, and reduce the risk of injury." (Dr Paul Neilson from football technology specialists Prozone)

The BBC article begins by describing how the football industry first rejected the idea of putting so much emphasis on data/statistics and did not embrace or initially want to take advantage of technology at hand.  

So the question is, do we want to be like the manager at the sideline pacing up and down getting frustrated at the team or are we embracing the technology that’s at our finger tips and using it to its full potential?  Sometimes due to the speed at which technology advances, it can seem alien to us, but we must be willing to work with it, be flexible and embrace change.  Personally I think there’s room for both – geeky computer data and a human heart though!

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Last week I was running an event and we had a great speaker providing some inspiring input about ‘How neuroscience will change the way you think about learning’. Amongst the gems involving stories about baby monkeys and brain scans, then we heard about the ‘Pomodoro’ technique. This was first pioneered by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980's, but there has been a resurgence in this idea due to some recent neuroscience work. Those of you lucky culinary fans who have one of the iconic ‘tomato timers’ in your kitchen (popular in the 80’s) will be in a good position to take advantage of this recommendation in how to learn more effectively and enhance your productivity...

So in essence it goes like this:

  • The brain works best in 20 – 25 minute chunks
  • It then needs physical activity to ‘digest’ the input or refresh itself for the next batch of output. 3 - 5 minutes is all

Brain scans clearly show the enhanced level of brain activity during an ‘active’ phase compared to a ‘passive’ phase (i.e. sitting at a computer).

So all you need to do is:

  1. Set your pomodoro timer for 20 minutes
  2. Start working
  3. When it ‘rings’ then go for a 5 minute walk or get a cup of tea
  4. Reset the timer for another 20 minutes
  5. After 4 ‘sets’, then take a longer break of 20 minutes.

We’ve long ‘sort of known’ that sitting too long at a desk is bad for concentration, posture etc etc, and now we have some ‘proper’ neuroscience to back it up. 

And in homage to this - I then tried it with this blog. I had a think, had some lunch, wrote it out, now I’m off for a cup of tea. Excellent.

So....give it a try for yourself. I’d be keen to hear from anyone who resets their calendar to have 20 minute meetings spaced 3-5 minutes walk apart, rather than 1 hour meetings........sounds very tempting doesn’t it!

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Just look down the aisle of any commuter train at the moment and I can guarantee you’ll see several well heeled ladies and gentlemen with a laser like focus and a furrowed brow working on iPads. Closer inspection will reveal that a number of them are playing Candy Crush. I’m on a train now, I can see at least 2 people from where I’m sat. Last night I went to bed leaving my Mum and her friend trying to conquer level 142, apparently another friend of theirs is on level 300. I attempted to have a phone conversation with my 8 year old niece last week, the various monosyllabic answers led me to ask ‘are you on your iPad?’, the reply ‘yep, Candy Crush’. At this point I knew I couldn’t compete with ‘Lemonade Lake’ for her affections and left her to it.

People volunteering dozens of hours of their time to improve performance, sharing how to get better and just getting on with it, isn’t this what any organisation dreams of?  

So what can we learn from Candy Crush?

  1. Make it bite sized: The makers ‘King’ describe it as ‘bite sized entertainment’. You can do a bit at a time, it’s not something you’re required to clear half a day in your diary for.
  2. Instant feedback: You instantly know whether you’ve achieved the goal. There’s no beating around the bush, it even has the cheek to say ‘you’ve failed’ when you don’t deliver. At any given point we know how we’re doing.
  3. Clear milestones: There’s no complex explanation of the milestone at each level and how it fits into the bigger agenda. The CEO doesn’t rock up and talk me through the RACI for the decisions making process. I know what I need to do and I can get on with it.
  4. Have lots of go’s: No big post mortem when it doesn’t go to plan, just have another go, try something different.
  5. Know when you’re full: 5 go’s and unless you’re prepared to spend money you’ve got to wait for your lives to recharge before you can have another try. It forces us to go and recharge, turn our attention to something else and come back at it fresh.

So, I encourage you to ‘Candy Crush’ your next strategy planning session, project launch or team away day. You never know what new worlds you might open up.

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Cornwall is now very much open for business and we are well on the way to a gorgeous spring but we famously came in for a severe lashing over the last couple of months as storm after storm lifted surging tides to record highs, battering our beautiful coast.  Perched above the beach at Watergate Bay,  Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall is something of a top spot for watching waves and weather, and it was great to see our restaurant team managing so well with the stresses and strains some of our customers had to endure with the floods, power cuts and storm damage caused across the country.  Resilience is the buzz word of the moment, and having seen it in practice recently in some quite severe consequences, I’ve been reflecting on what makes a resilient team.

Our ethos at Fifteen is the development of the whole person.  The restaurant exists to deliver the highest standards of professional training while coaching individual trainees to overcome their personal development challenges and life-blighting circumstances.  It makes no sense to us to train a top-flight chef without helping them be the best person they can be too.  Our daily practice therefore is geared both to professional and personal development, and this helps breed a culture of aspiration and development across the whole workforce. 

My preferred definition of resilience is ‘the capacity of an individual, community or system to adapt in order to sustain an acceptable level of function, structure, and identity’, from Charlie Edwards 2009 Demos pamphlet Resilient Nation.  I like it because it is more about people, less about structures than other definitions.  This reflects the way we try to work at Fifteen – organically rather than mechanically.  Starting from where people are, helping them develop a vision of where they want to be, working with them every step of the way sharing regular authentic feedback and coaching them over inevitable obstacles.  Focusing on developing the whole person is good for business, and that’s what I enjoy so much about Fifteen – a very social enterprise.

The ironic sting in the tail is that the only building that was affected by the storms was ‘Matt’s Hut’ where our resident coach and welfare manager took apprentices down to the sea wall for their intensive one to one sessions.  Fortunately he is resilient enough to be able to run those sessions in our private dining room for now.  Anyone want to help us rebuild Matt’s Hut?!

Image: Roger Sharp/SWNS

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I am a fair weather skier. When the sun is shining and the snow is squeaky you’ll find me swooping around the mountain with the wind whistling past my ears (safely encased in my helmet of course). But put me on a run with poor visibility, big bumps or deep fresh snow - and I go completely to pieces. Instead of the wind whistling you’ll hear me squealing as I lurch from one turn to another.        

Last week we were lucky enough to be skiing.  In spite of the heavy snow and poor visibility on several days, I found the lure of the mountains and fresh air overcame my dislike (and slight fear) of skiing in a white out. I chose to step outside my comfort zone, give it a go and increase the level of risk and stress - within limits. When my legs were getting tired and I really thought I might hurt myself, I stopped. After 3 days I had learnt to relax into the bumps and how to avoid getting stuck in snow drifts. Then the sun came out - and it was suddenly all so effortless by comparison.   

The idea of the comfort zone has been around since the early 20th century, when psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort creates a steady level of performance. But in order to maximise performance, we need a state of relative anxiety - a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called "Optimal Anxiety," and is just outside our comfort zone. Too much anxiety and we're too stressed to be productive, and our performance drops off sharply. 

An article in Future Science Leaders suggests that any goal or challenge could fall into either our comfort zone, growth zone or panic zone. A goal in your panic zone would be too frightening to do now, but if you try similar challenges in your growth zone, your comfort zone expands so that things that would have been unthinkable at one point become challenging but doable. 

Choosing to step outside your comfort zone in a controlled way helps to build the flexibility and resilience to deal with unexpected changes. This could be something as simple as trying a new dish in your favourite restaurant or assigning a regular activity to a different member of the team. Wherever you start remember that small incremental changes are just as beneficial as big steps - and the important thing is to start.

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So we’re 6 weeks or so into the new year – how are those resolutions going?  For many they will have already fallen by the wayside, for others they will still seem a long way off.  

Now is the time to dig in and set some milestones on the road to achieving your goal.  Recognising and rewarding those milestones along the way can play a huge role in helping you achieve the final result which can sometimes seem so distant. 

By celebrating milestones we shift focus from what we have not yet achieved to what we have.  It’s like having your own spin doctor to boost your confidence and give you some much needed motivation. 

Take a moment to remember why you wanted to achieve your goal in the first place, give yourself a pat on the back for how far you have come and then get your head down and get on with it! 

Off for a run then……

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Perhaps you are like me and have never paid much attention to the Winter Olympics, until this year and have been pleasantly surprised… If you’re a regular, then you’ve probably seen a lot of stuff you were expecting to see… snow, people in tight lycra outfits, records broken, bones broken…along with jumps, twists and turns that seem totally impossible.  But I imagine you’ve also been met with the unexpected too…like a Russian police force pop choir, Rock bagpipers, a medal-less Shaun White and a #slopestyle GB medal (well done Jenny Jones!!).

UK Sport director of performance Simon Timson believes Britain's Winter Olympians are now shedding a "plucky losers" mentality and starting to expect to win medals.

"British Olympic winter sport is definitely having higher and higher expectations of itself," he told BBC Sport.  "We're seeing that change in the athletes' mind-set where they're no longer happy to just make a final; they want to be on the podium and they're genuinely disappointed and gutted [if they're not]."

So where did this change of mind-set come from? Perhaps many, like Yarnold, are inspired by Williams’ skeleton win in 2010. Maybe this and now Jones’ Bronze are sparking something in the team, a symbol of hope and proof ‘it can be done’!  It must be hard being the underdogs, motivating a team to win when you start from such a disadvantage - lack of snow conditions, training grounds and medal history or sporting icons/legends to be inspired by. This disadvantage may have held us back in the past, but not anymore.  These inspiring women have focused on what they wanted to achieve, were dedicated, prepared, believed they could reach their goal and have proven that against all odds - you can still reach for gold…

So when it comes to setting goals, are you happy to just make a final or do you want to be on the podium?

Timson’s quote reminded me of a blog Carole Miller wrote about Managing Peak Performance last year, where she discusses her time with the team psychologists from various elite sporting organisations and clubs.  David Priestley from Saracens shared his mantra of ‘comfort the challenged and challenge the comfortable’ and Tom Bates from West Brom FC talked about the importance of supporting people to stretch beyond their comfort zones. 

“It got me thinking about who the Team Psychologists are for teams in business? I’ve yet to come across a team in an organisation who has a dedicated resource who is solely there to support the psychology of the team, I wonder what would happen if there was one..........” Carole Miller

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It always amazes me the reactions that ‘change’ can provoke in a business environment.  So where do you start?  If you are a business leader looking for inspiration from Google, the word change will present you with a list of 173 Songs titles and 38 Album titles that are simply called ‘Change’.  A word that has the power to inspire recording artists to sing deep passionate and moving classic songs, but disappointingly a word that doesn’t hold the same inspirational value when mentioned in organisations.  If anything when the word change is used, the most likely response is the non-verbal communication of raised eyebrows, deep signs and teeth sucking, actions closely followed by a mumbled ‘here we go again’ under the breath - and that is usually from the leaders!!

As my role dictates, I am a ‘change agent’ drafted into the manufacturing world of biscuit making, helping Leaders, Managers and Employees come to terms with the changing demands placed on their day-to-day activities. 

I was recently asked to attend a meeting of Senior Managers with a team of leaders responsible for the production of some of our iconic brands and products.  The subject was on the process of SMART objective setting and how to use coaching questions designed against our behavioural model to challenge individuals on their personal performance, with the intention of getting a balance between what is achieved and also how it is achieved.  To support this process we also have a simple ‘app’, which allows these objectives to be recorded and monitored.  As I finish my last input with the phase “any questions?”, the first question that is asked almost knocks me speechless – “when will we design an IT system that will motivate my team to want to deliver?”  Now, I was always taught that you must never answer a question with a question, however on this occasion I couldn’t resist!  So I responded with “Do you seriously expect an app to provide this?” Leader’s response “yes”.

Like Tom Hanks in the film Big, I would have had more respect if the response had been “I don’t get it” following my session - that would have been the honest response.  What this particular Leader had failed to recognise as so many others do, the process of change is more successfully achieved through addressing the behaviours that need to change to implement the change, and the first person to start with is you as a Leader.  The process of motivating people to change to deliver their best personal performance does not come from an IT application or from a Northern chick such as myself telling you how – it comes from the Leader showing their people how to achieve this change by demonstrating it through their own behaviour.  Like all learning experiences, I walked away from this session reflecting on my own performance and kicking myself saying when will I learn, never make the assumption that ‘they get it’ just because they have the words ‘Manager’ or ‘Leader’ in their job titles!

by Lisa McCandless, L&D Business Partner, Centre of Excellence at United Biscuits @g8lmc

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Most leaders are familiar with and understand the concept of change management and the stages people go through when adapting to change, but find it difficult to manage their teams when faced with the realities of incomplete information and prolonged uncertainty. These are a few of the tips that have helped us survive along the way:  

Communication 

  • Cascaded formal communications early and consistently.
  • Repeat the same messages, using as many different media as possible, far more often and for much longer than will seem necessary.
  • Assume that the audience will all interpret the message differently. Ask them to tell you what they heard and what they think it means.       
  • Don’t wait until you have new information to communicate. Schedule regular updates and if there is no new information, repeat what you know, clarify what is still unclear and give milestones by when information will be available.

Engagement

  • Use team meetings to discuss the changes and implications – this gives you a chance to hear and act on what is being discussed informally around the office. 
  • Discuss what is changing for the team and their hopes and concerns.
  • Ask questions to encourage people to express opinions and emotions.  
  • Help the team identify what they can influence and where they can take back some control. 

Individual Attention

  • Schedule regular short meetings with each team member to discuss the changes (10 minutes of individual attention is better than none). 
  • Do not reassure anyone that things will be OK. Focus on listening to what the person has to say and helping them articulate any concerns.
  • Notice how each individual reacts (language, body language etc) and recognise that it might not be the most “obvious” person who is most affected by the change.
  • If you are concerned about any individual in your team, follow up with HR to get additional support sooner rather than later.

Put your own oxygen mask on first

  • While it is tempting to focus on managing and supporting the team, remember that teams take a lead from their manager’s action, behaviour and even body language, so leaders need to secure the information and support they need in order to support their teams. So, as the airlines will tell you, this is a time to be little bit selfish and look after yourself first.

 

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Back in June last year Jason wrote a blog about setting up an internal coaching pool. It was a blog which had over 1,000 reads and so in the spirit of listening to your audience I thought it was time to share the next chapter. 

So, you’ve recruited your internal coaches and they’ve completed their training, you have a group of coachees who can’t wait to get started, what could possibly go wrong? Our top tips for maintaining momentum.......  

  1. Local not global: It’s tempting to match coaches with coachees who are from different sites. It’s a double whammy in terms of payback, right? They both go to each other’s sites, expand their networks, broaden their horizons etc etc. Hmm...maybe not. In our experience the most successful matches are those where it’s as easy as possible for people to work together and that includes considering the practicalities and logistics. Having to make a trip to a site where you otherwise don’t need to be is a massive time sink and quite often results in either coaching sessions not happening or turning into a check in by phone. Think local when you’re matching coaches with coachees.

  1. Candy Crush not Chess: Even with all the training in the world, you never quite know what you’re going to get when you turn up for a coaching session. Regular short sessions are a great way of supporting new coaches with bite-sized learning. As is often the way in life the reality is very different from the theory so having a series of session which encompass a combination of sharing, new skills and supervision is a great way of enabling your internal coaches to grow. Think short bite-sized and gradually build in difficulty rather than highly strategic, complex and a lot to take in, in one go.
  2. Jamie not Heston: Use existing coaching competency frameworks and make it your own. The ICF, AC and EMCC all have robust and well thought through competencies frameworks, don’t kid yourself that your organisation is so unique that you need to create something new and different! It may not exactly match the L&D competencies but hey, life’s not perfect. There are the obvious pay-offs in terms of efficiency however, it also means you have ready supply of well regarded coaching texts (for instance ICF Core Competencies and The Coaching Bible) which support your coaching approach and coaches can see exactly what they need to do to work towards a formal coaching qualification. Think take what’s there and give it your own sparkle rather than spend hours in the lab coming up with something new.

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So I found myself working with a group in Birmingham last week. Part of what they are doing is creating business plans for 2020, and so I was helping them consider 4 different perspectives: People, Technology, Innovation and Customers. Aside from some of the interesting trends in each of those 4 areas (see previous blog post), what I especially enjoyed was the venue.

Now when I first heard ‘Birmingham Library’ as the venue, I was imagining some dusty facility with people tiptoeing around and ‘sshhhh-ing’ anyone with the gall to raise their voice. However, I was delighted to discover a fabulous new facility which has been recently opened and has been thoughtfully designed to ‘facilitate learning’ rather than ‘provide information’. I couldn’t help myself but grab a member of staff and quiz them about the layout and the operation and the intention. It is the largest library in the UK, the largest public cultural space in Europe and services 5,000 people a day.    

At the back end of last year, we designed an event around ‘The Future of Learning’ and this facility is a wonderful example of how to embrace peoples’ changing needs and leverage technology and design to inspire people to learn. If you haven’t been – make a side trip next time you’re in the area.    

As we start to plan our client work this year, it’s given me a timely reminder about ensuring the environment / location is carefully selected or modified to make it engaging for the team to learn. This can be an afterthought for many team events, but we have learned it can be critical – and so the search for interesting venues in 2014 commences.....

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As I write, it’s the anniversary of Benedict XVI becoming the first Pope to tweet. (In the unlikely event that you’ve forgotten, it read: "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.") There were plenty of other unanticipated events over the past twelve months – scientists 3D printing a living ear in a lab using collagen, the cloning of human embryonic stem cells, Iran agreeing to limit its nuclear programme – and, um, Benedict XVI becoming the first Pope since Gregory XII in 1415 to resign from the position.  

Similarly, most of what will happen in 2014 is unpredictable. But I’ll stick my neck out and make a prognostication: Moore’s Law will continue to apply. In case you’ve not come across it, Moore’s Law is a widely accepted notion of advancement made by the Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the processing power and storage capacity of computer chips doubles, or their prices halve roughly every 18 months. To offer some perspective on this, if you own an iPhone you have more processing power in your pocket than NASA had in 1969 when it landed a man on the moon.

Moore’s law can be seen clearly in the rapid advances in mobile technology that we’ve seen in the past five years and its principles apply to the technology in use in some of the three key trends of the coming year.

1) Wearable technology

In May 2012, the Pebble watch became the most backed project ever on Kickstarter. The smartwatch with an open API is one of a number of products, including Google Glass, that herald a new era in which we augment our bodies with technology. We’re moving from an era of devices to that we can turn off, put down and forget to a third wave of computing of always-on, always present devices that will be attached to our bodies and constantly connected to the internet.

2) The internet of things

You will, of course, be familiar with the internet of things via the example that’s most often cited at conferences: the internet connected fridge that will fill your online shopping basket when it notices you’ve run out of milk. The truth is that the growing number of smart objects in our lives – from devices that measure our health to the sensors in our home heating systems that allow us to monitor our energy consumption and carbon footprint – are at the very beginning of creating a vast web of data that goes way beyond ordering a pint of semi-skilled. Objects will communicate with each other and with us and allow users to tailor individual objects to their own requirements. This change will mean that each of us will have to start thinking about everything we see around us as an interconnected information generation system. In terms of data generation, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

3) Real-time data

I gave a talk at the Marketing Society recently about the power of real-time data. The tools we now have at our disposal mean that, for instance, a teenager in Chile can hack a domestic tremor detector and connect it to a server so that it can tweet warnings about imminent earthquakes – simple tool combined with innovative thinking means that thousands of people now have access to powerful information. We can analyse real-time data streams from the web so that we understand contextual data – for instance, by applying semantic analysis to social media we can understand the connections between people, topics, location and products. We can launch online products and split test them so that our customer becomes part of the design process and promotes deeper engagement. Real-time means that consumers can create their own meaning and transform their own passions into loyalty. To facilitate this we have to create the knowledge flows to tap into this value.

Greg Williams is the Executive Editor of WIRED. His novel, The Nero Decree, is a number one bestseller on Kindle. @GWillia66

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Eros on Piccadilly has been cleverly turned into a snow dome, Mr Jones up the road, in a stunning feat of engineering, has decided to project a smiling face of Santa onto the side of his house (why not if that’s what floats your boat) and we’ve been looking for the end of the sellotape since July!

As it’s my last blog before Christmas I thought I’d take a look through the last 12 months of the Tinder-blog. The snippets which we’ve shared made me smile; Jason, Lyn and I swam 10k down the River Dart, Julie used every trick in the (Leadership) book to get her family to align on the house renovation project they’re undertaking and Helen had a frustrating first hand experience of managing self when an injury kept her out of the water for a few weeks.

So my counsel to you is to take some time to look back and smile. Whatever 2013 has thrown at you find the good in it -  it’s time which you’ll never get to experience again. Find some memories which make you laugh, cry and anything in between.....and then decide to make 2014 even better!

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A friend of mine attended a training course last week and came back with this gem of advice that really resonated with me.  

Always make sure you try and do new things; don't always go to the same restaurant or bar, don’t go to the same place on holiday time and time again, don’t always do the same run or exercise class.  Instead, learn a new skill, language or sport, eat new and different foods, speak to people you wouldn't normally speak to, visit somewhere new etc... 

When we are young time goes so slowly because we are constantly experiencing and learning about new things, as we get older time starts to fly by because we have learnt and processed so much information.  By doing, learning and seeing new things life will start to slow down – take the example of a weekend away to somewhere you’ve never been – when you arrive home you can’t believe it was only 2 days ago you left, it feels like a week because those 2 days have been filled with new experiences.   

Routine blends each day into the next so to live a longer life ditch the routine and try something new.

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I’ve been following Gareth Malone’s workplace choir series on the BBC and I’m finding it a fascinating insight into some of the UK’s largest organisations, especially how it highlights the necessity of unity in a team environment… 

Firstly Gareth sets out to find candidates for the choir with the aim to represent the whole company, across all areas, from the warehouse or kitchen, to the top executives. 

A common issue among the choirs has been a lack of unity. As these organisations are so large, the members from different departments often don’t know each other and this has a direct affect on their performance as a choir. 

Members were practicing alone and then and singing at rehearsal as if they were soloists, unaware of other sounds around them.  To solve this discord, Gareth used a few exercises to encourage the choir to listen to one another, become aware of their surroundings and start working together. In one case, he had the choir lie on their backs on the floor, in a circle with their heads together singing unaccompanied and quietly. They quickly became very aware of each other due to the proximity, they listened to each other and in turn start to perform with unity – as a choir. 

Gareth also found divides between the office and customer-facing sides, so with the aim to unite them, he took them out of the workplace to socialise and bond in a neutral setting. With a little encouragement on his part this really worked, they ate, drank, laughed and sang together. As a result they became closer and eventually a team that encouraged, supported and cared for one another. Only when they found this unity could they perform as a choir and sing in harmony! 

The choir was a great example of what can happen to a team, if all members have their own individual agendas, unaware of their surroundings or other members.  A choir cannot perform well in this state, sounding out of tune, with everyone shouting and no one listening. 

This doesn’t just apply to the environment within individual teams in a business, this applies to how all the teams within a business work with one another.  We have different sections of a choir: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. These sections sound pretty boring and flat if you hear them separately, but if you hear them together in harmony, that’s when the magic happens and you get goose bumps from the beautiful sound… So we must ensure that the teams within our business are interacting harmoniously to produce results that rival a majestic choral sound. 

Gareth said that ‘singing brings people together spiritually, socially... it’s vital!’. So perhaps we should all have a workplace choir, given the results already produced in this series...

  • Do you know your team? Are you a team that encourages, supports and cares for one another?
  • Are you all working on the same song or do you each have different tunes that you’re all singing at a different pace in a different key?
  • Are your team all shouting over the top of one another as soloists or are they listening to each other and sounding harmonious?
  • If there is discord in your team what can you do to rectify this and bring them together?  

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I’ve recently been tempted to make a leadership intervention at home to help decision making as we progress through a rather painful and prolonged home renovation. The current sticking point is paint colour. My husband has a relatively short attention span for what he considers to be a “detail” - so unless he has a very strong view for or against a particular colour it can be very difficult to judge whether a decision I make could come back to bite me.

I’ve seen the following “7 levels of agreement” (sometimes reduced to 5 or 3 levels) framework used very successfully with different teams. The facilitator or proposer asks each individual with a stake in the decision the questions explicitly, even when everyone appears to be aligned, in order to flush out any differences of opinion during the discussion rather than afterwards. When used on a regular basis team members start to use the levels fluently in discussions to assess alignment and to explore different perspectives as part of the decision making process.

Of course, whoever is facilitating the discussion needs to be clear which level of agreement constitutes a “go”. With regard to my current challenge, I know I’m unlikely to get a 1 and will go ahead at level 4 in the interests time and with the knowledge that the a couple of hours with a paintbrush can put things right if necessary. Although I might need to use the same process to agree who wields the paintbrush!  

  1. I totally agree - best idea since sliced bread
  2. Good idea/decision - I can see how this can work
  3. Not the idea/decision I would've made - but OK
  4. I don't really agree, but I can and will support it
  5. I don't think this will work and can't agree to go forward without modification
  6. This idea/decision will be detrimental; I can't agree at all
  7. No way. You'll have to kill me first.

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So people say that the universe has a way of sending you messages. As I was unexpectedly laying on the patio looking at the sky, I wondered what the message was that I was being given..........and then I realised. I’d been meaning to jet wash the patio for a few weeks now, especially given how slippery it had become, and despite a few near misses, I’d been putting it off. So ironically, I was on the way to the shed to get the jet washer when I finally slipped and enjoyed my moment of reflection.........

So it made me think about ‘those things’ that we all have to do – that we know we should do – but keep putting off. So what’s the key to dealing with stuff that you keep putting off? I think it goes like this:

  • Trust your instincts. If you’ve decided something needs doing, then back yourself and get it done. Don’t allow yourself to make excuses.
  • Make sure you WANT to do it vs think you should / need / ought to. Your motivation is seriously impacted if you don’t want to do (Rule #1 of coaching). So remind yourself why this is a good thing to do and what the positive benefits are to you and others.
  • Set a date. Any date. Then stick to it. An item on the ‘to do’ list without a deadline is just a wish. Give yourself a day, a week, 2 weeks, whatever, but when that time comes deal with it. Holding yourself accountable is the most powerful way to ensure you do something you have committed to.
  • Be kind to yourself and reward yourself afterwards. You deserve it.

So anyway, the patio is nice and clean and slip free. I was also inspired to dash (gingerly) into the office and deal with a couple of other work related issues that I had been putting off. I’m also full of reward-cake. So happy days!

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How many times have we heard this before?  I spend a lot of time planning events for our clients, making sure we get the details right.  We plan our working week, create budgets for the year, we hopefully have a career plan.  But, how many of us have a life plan?  A plan that includes when you would like to retire, the next amazing holiday you would like to go on, a plan to achieve a better work/life balance, to build your own dream home, or to simply spend more time with your children. 

It’s easy to adopt the mind set “get your head down and work hard”, thinking of these goals as being far off in the future but with your goal in mind and a plan as to how to achieve that goal they can be much closer than you imagine.

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The Pearson Teaching Awards were announced last week, celebrating the impact that teachers have on the young people they work with. These are considered the teaching ‘Oscars’ and you might have caught the teachers being treated to the full red carpet experience on BBC Two on Sunday, 27 October at 17:30 in Britain's Classroom Heroes.

Programmes such as Educating Yorkshire and Harrow: A Very British School have recently given us an insight into the vast array of approaches which teachers employ to enable children and teenagers to learn and be inspired whatever their background, environment, social group and aspirations. At the end of, what could be up to 7 years, with a class they then leave and I wonder if they ever get to find out their impact? The little things they did or said which sparked some thinking which ultimately shaped their future.

For me, it was Graham Bryant at Caldicot School who taught me Maths. When Fourier Transforms made my brain explode he gave up his breaks and lunch to help me unravel it. Interestingly it wasn’t what he did, it was how he did it – I never felt stupid or patronised, it was just something to figure out. He also let me play in the boys badminton team (there wasn’t a girls team!), to earn a place I just needed to be in the top 4 players whatever my gender. I was! I played...it taught me to concentrate on being as good as I can be and not worry about the rules too much.

The point is, we just don’t know how we impact people. The smallest comment of encouragement, the lightest reassurance and actions which demonstrate unerring belief – I encourage you to think about who you can be Teacher of the Year to.

And who from your school days would you, on reflection, award a teaching Oscar to and why............comments please!

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Julie Williams

John Lazarus my English teacher because he was so passionate about the subject and took us all over the country to see amazing theatre productions which really brought the books we were reading to life. Although I didn't know it at the time he was a great example of being an authentic leader in that he didn't conform to any stereotype. He was extremely eccentric and as a result his lessons were lively, fun and unpredictable - so kept everyone interested and on their toes. His approach might not have worked for everyone, but it did for me.

Helen Blackman

I really appreciated my design teachers at Ilfracombe College. Looking back, I can see how they nurtured my talent for design. They saw I was passionate about it and gave me their time when I had questions or wanted to put more hours in during the breaks or after school. They also had to put up with my giggling and cheeky, chatty behaviour! Thank you Mr Rinvolucri, Mr Overall and Mr Backhouse for your kindness, generosity, encouragement and inspiring me to pursue a career in design.

This weekend we attended our son’s school quiz night. We went along to support the school, have a bit of fun and enjoy a fish and chip supper with no expectations of winning (good job) but keen to avoid the wooden spoon and not live up to our team name “An embarrassment to our children”.  I’m pleased to report that the company was great, the supper was good and we didn’t come last (although it was close).

During the course of the evening I was reminded of some points I’ve been discussing with clients recently – and these are the resulting lessons and tips:

  • It’s harder to answer questions about our “specialist” subject under pressure than it is to make an educated guess about a topic we know very little about. So remember to relax, breathe, take your time and trust your instinct – the answer that pops into your head first is often the right one
  • When we get the answer to an educated guess wrong we groan and laugh it off – but when it’s our “specialist” subject we are gutted (even without heckling from team mates!) – so we need to let it go, remember the answer for next time and move onto the next item before we miss it    
  • The three teams in the tie break were all regular quiz goers – so it seems that practice really does make perfect 
  • We couldn’t decide when to play our joker and waited until the end along with half the teams, but the top 5 teams all played their joker early – so be bold, be decisive and stand out from the crowd  
  • And finally, the teams who won really knew their stuff. So if you want to win – do your homework!

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I was meandering my way through Shoreditch the other morning to go and talk to some prospective clients. Knowing I had a train to catch after the meeting I knew I was going to need to get something to eat before I returned to try and navigate my way through the rabbit warren which is Old Street tube station. A simple enough task but two pieces of context are important here;

  1. I swim.......lots. Therefore I am ALWAYS hungry, which generally means I home in on well known brands of eateries where I am guaranteed a triple-double-decker Scooby snack style sandwich
  2. I usually have a suitcase and various bags with me, which prevents much in the way of casual browsing

Whilst focussing my well trained food radar for any of the usual grab and go food outlets an A-frame sign outside a small independent cafe caught my eye which stated in large letters ‘We want you to try us: Sandwich and Soup £4.50’.

No we’re better/cheaper/faster than the next person, no gimmicks, no funky branding.......just a simple straightforward request. I did...it was great!

Sometimes the way to get results is to cut to the chase and state exactly, specifically, precisely what you’re after!

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It’s easy in sport because there’s usually a massive board with numbers on. I’m also a fan of Strava (please don’t judge me too harshly from my stats – I also have a full time job!) – which is for cyclists and runners.  

It’s a free app that tracks your run or ride, your performance data and enables you to see how you performed vs your targets, your last performance, and even compared to others on the same route / hill or course (this is the bit we all sneakily like).  

But when it comes to measuring the impact of ‘people programmes’ it can be a bit harder – even though it is critical to understand how the initiative has performed and whether it justified the funding or not. 

We wouldn’t accept lack of data or measurement on a capital project – and many of these programmes cost the same as capital projects – so we are strong advocates of measurement. This includes our own performance of course and we hold ourselves accountable – and sometimes our fees – in delivering these metrics.

There are of course some well established long term metrics such as ‘absenteeism’ or ‘employee engagement’ – but whilst they should point to improved performance, they are not short term enough or directly linked to the programme.  

So here are some examples that we have come across that might give you a steer on the right things to measure...

High Performing Teams

We have a diagnostic tool focused on four areas (Direction/Organisation /Relationships/Processes) that we use in our team and leadership programmes. The team complete the survey and then can reinforce what is working, and close gaps with specific tools that we provide. 

An FMCG Director recently got in touch after 12 months: “After moving roles to a new team, I decided to run the HPT survey and develop an action plan to get the team working better. 

This was about 12 months ago and the team have been very focused on delivering the action plan and the benefits of the actions played out in day-to-day business. We repeated the survey last week and we have gone from 53% positive responses in 2012 to 88% positive responses last week."

What delights me, as much as the positive change and impact on performance, is the fact that he took a tool and approach we had previously introduced and implemented it with a new team in a new part of the business. This shows us the ‘stickability’ of our material.

People Recruitment and Development Performance

We’re proud to work with Jamie Oliver’s inspired Fifteen Cornwall and work with the apprentices to help them understand personal preferences and how to work together to engage with others who have a different outlook on life. The team at Fifteen have done an amazing job and we had the great fortune recently to spend the day with Matthew Thompson the CEO. 

He was able to share the success of the programme over the last six years: 86/129 apprentices have graduated the programme (65%) and 90% are still in work. The cost of the programme is half of the cost of prison and 50% cheaper than being on benefits. Given that these are the common alternatives for many of the apprentices then this truly is a tremendous success.

High Potential Programme Performance

I’m proud to have recently delivered the week-long induction session for the High Potential programme for a FTSE Top 10 organisation. This is a programme I partnered with them to design and launch, and the successful 28 candidates this year came from 5,000 applications from 26 countries. 

This makes the entire programme 60-strong, with a male/female diversity ratio of 60/40. To attest to the quality of the programme, the retention rate after 12 months is 96% - and only 12% of employers have a 91%-100% retention rate after year 1 (by the way, this falls to 54% by the end of the programme!). 

They will also be tracking change in 360 leadership scores, the impact of international rotations and graduation into senior roles.

Leadership Programme Performance

We wrote about the Penguin Random House Leadership programme on our blog in June and having just completed the first cadre of leaders (20 people), we will shortly be analysing the results. We will be measuring 5 things:

  • The change in their leadership behaviour 360 pre- and post-programme. We expect a 20% change in specific areas
  • The change in the HPT (High Performing Teams) scores pre- and post-programme
  • The impact of delivering specific stretch business initiatives identified at the start of the programme measured for example in £’s, the time saved and any new revenue streams
  • Their level of confidence in being able to maintain and create new momentum 
  • The performance of the internal coaches who support the programme vs the ICF competencies

Talk to us about what you need to measure in your business.

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So, 18 months ago I couldn’t swim 2 lengths of a swimming pool without having a coronary, I thought front crawl was something babies did across the carpet and the thought of swimming in open water utterly terrified me – you can’t touch the bottom, there are waves trying to drown you and there are other living creatures that can move a whole lot faster than you can! 

Yet last Saturday I swam 10k down a river and into an estuary (the Dart 10k) – and I loved it! 

It started with actually learning how to swim properly – I could stay afloat but had no clue beyond that.  A winter spent training and some serious coaching sessions turned me into a swimmer.  Suddenly I was passing people in the pool.  My times were dropping dramatically.  I even looked like I knew what I was doing. 

Then this summer with my technique looking better and my swim fitness good it was time to tackle the fear element.  My challenge to myself was to tackle a swim local to me – it is 2k and goes from one beach to another round a headland.  Terrifying in that once you start you can’t get out unless you want to scramble up a cliff.  Truth is it was a piece of cake – it was beautiful to be out in the open, to feel the sun and to see the cliffs and seagulls bobbing about every time I took a breath. 

A greater challenge was required – which was good as after a bottle of wine over winter I’d signed up for the Dart 10k!  It wasn’t so easy – 10k is a long way, but it was great fun, a real challenge and what a sense of achievement as I crossed the line. 

So old dogs can learn new tricks – if they put their minds to it, get some good coaching and have people to push you out of your comfort zone.

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I recently went on an outdoor adventure holiday where we planned to climb, swim, snorkel and surf.  In the run up to the holiday I was excited to explore new places and get an adrenaline rush with extreme sports!  Unfortunately on the first day of the holiday I injured myself to the point where I couldn’t walk and was told ‘No sports’ for the next month….   
 
I’m a very active person and had a big national competition the following week, so when I realised I couldn’t compete I was upset, annoyed and frustrated with the situation (I’m only human!). But after that was quickly out of my system I made a conscious decision to accept the situation and move on with a positive attitude.   
 
I really didn’t want to spend a week on holiday wallowing in my own self-pity, so I decided to make the most of my situation.  I didn’t focus on what I couldn’t do (climb, swim, snorkel and surf), I choose to focus on what I could do... I enjoyed a week of reading, drawing, listening to music, taking photos, admiring the scenery and relaxing!  I learnt that if you have a positive outlook in tough situations you can turn them around to your advantage and find opportunity lurking. In my case, I would never have given so much time to my art if it hadn’t been for my injury, I’ve never had such a creative flow before, so I found it to be a bit of a blessing in disguise!  I also really enjoyed how relaxed the week was, we weren’t rushing anywhere, it was so peaceful, I suppose that's normally what you want from a holiday! 
 
Our lives are the result of our choices. We’re all faced with problems or things that happen beyond our control and we can choose to let a problem bring us down, or we can choose to look for opportunities… Think about the last time you faced a problem and how you dealt with it.  Did you stay positive, find opportunity and learn from it?  

“There is little difference in people but that little difference makes big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.”W. Clement Stone

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Would you be more inclined to go for a traditional Bloody Mary, a recently fashionable Mohito, or the rather more challenging sounding Squid Ink Sour?  How often do you step out of your comfort zone and mix things up? Which is something we asked a group of (apprehensive!) participants on the leadership development programme we are running for Penguin Random House to do last week.      

For the final module of the programme, two groups were set the challenge of working with either a Community Interest Company (Ladder to the Moon, whose ambition is to transform care services into happy, vibrant and flourishing communities) or charity (Magic Bus who enable some of the world's poorest families to move out of poverty) to help them address specific business challenges. In just under two days the groups had to understand their chosen organisation and provide recommendations and support to implement sustainable processes and activities to address their challenges.

The stakes were high for everyone involved. The organizations who were trusting enough to lay bare their operations (thank you!). The participants who wanted to deliver something of real value - while putting into practice the skills and approaches they had learnt over the last 6 months at the same time as working under strict time pressure with a group of people they don’t normally work with.

One person commented that it was a lot like learning to drive – trying to do lots of different things at once in the car, without taking your eyes off the road! And if the journey was a little bumpy at times, it was also exciting and both groups stayed on the road without any casualties. The benefits for the participants for putting themselves outside their comfort zones was a tremendous sense of achievement, a huge amount of personal learning and the cementing of a new and trusted network across the organisation. Not bad for a couple of days of mixing things up.  

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For the last 5 years we’ve been lucky enough to be invited to run a development day with the apprentice chef’s at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall. With the lovely weather this year we got to work on the beach. Note; the next client who uses the Insights mat with us might end up with sand in their conference room!

Read their blog about it here

Insights generously donate Discovery profiles to the group every year and we pitch up and help them unravel what it means for them. Don’t under-estimate a group of young people from Cornwall in their ability to pick up the concepts and run with them, they’ve just had a baptism of fire doing NVQ 1 & 2 at college and are then thrust into the kitchen of a busy restaurant to produce top quality restaurant food. They’re GREAT at learning! Combine this with the fact that every apprentice receives a scored and written appraisal against the core competencies every shift and you have a recipe for exponential learning.

Watch out for some fantastic new talent emerging in the world of cooking!

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So given a choice, would you rather win, or compete with great character? Of course the ideal situation is both i.e. win with great character. This was a question that came to mind as I listened to the IAAF president deliver the opening speech for the 2012 Olympics (it was replayed last week and I found myself watching it again and wishing it was all still to come!)    

My conclusion is that winning doesn’t inspire people, but competing with great character does. It also inspires greater performance and raises the bar for everyone.

Two recent examples seem to bear this out: 

  • Jonny Peacock (the 100m Para Olympic Gold medallist) who inspired many through his performances, ran his personal best in the London 2013 games last weekend – and finished 3rd. What is notable here is that through his performances he had inspired the two others who beat him to train and compete harder.
  • Ryan Lochte – a terrifically talented American swimmer (11 times Olympic medallist, named World swimmer of the year in 2010 & 2011, and with over 1 million twitter followers) was beaten into 4th place at the World Swimming Championship this week. Again, the 3 that beat him had been inspired by his approach, training regime (which he shares openly) and attitude. One is even his training partner.    

So, winning is a great outcome but competing with character is the real game changer. So next time you win, also take a look around and see who you inspired................

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This was a Momentous Monday. Following the arrival of Prince X, third in line to the throne just after 4pm in the afternoon, Kate and William honoured the tradition of posting the birth announcement outside Buckingham Palace. However, they also brought a flavor of their own generation by allowing themselves a few hours of privacy with the baby before making the announcement – initially by email and twitter.    

This is a reminder of how things change from generation to generation. We now have four monarchs/future monarchs living alongside each other. They and the royal institution will need to compromise, adapt and learn from each other in the same way that organisations are having to rethink their recruitment and retention policies to appeal across the generations from Baby Boomers to Millennials.

Relating to and motivating individuals and teams is a regular topic in our coaching and leadership programmes and an understanding of what motivates different generations can be as useful and insightful as understanding personality based working preferences. There has been a lot of interesting research on the topic and you can read some of our thoughts in this article on How to Manage Different Generations in the July edition of the Edge magazine.    

Back to the new parents. We know they are keen to bring a modern twist to tradition, but I think the bookies will be the winners on any bets placed on “Prince Rylan” at 500 to 1! 

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Wow what a game and what a champion.  I have to admit to being in the “Murray Doubters” camp for sometime – after all, we all prefer a champion with a smile and an easy interview style.  However, after the tears last year and a wonderful Olympics performance who could not have been rooting for him.  Such determination, hunger, work ethic and of course talent has to respected and admired and is something we can all learn from.  I for one was pretty inspired by the Murray performance and hope to look at set backs and challenges in a more positive light and with a more determined mind-set in the future.

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This weekend, in their 50th Anniversary year, the Rolling Stones triumphantly headlined Glastonbury for the first time since the event started 43 years ago. The Stones are not short of greatest hits and chose to open a 2 hour long set with Jumping Jack Flash. The band wore suitably flamboyant outfits, easily matched by their energy and obvious enjoyment in the occasion. When asked what had made the performance so enjoyable, one member of the audience replied that it was Mick Jagger’s swagger!

We all perform to a greater or lesser extent at work or in other roles, from chairing meetings to leading teams, but don’t always think of ourselves as the headline act. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and to take our experience, expertise and talent for granted – or even to take our audience/customers for granted. No one can maintain the energy and focus needed to be in the spotlight on a permanent basis, but if we want to make a difference and perform to the best of our ability, it can be useful to take stock, imagine you are the star of the show and answer a few simple questions:

  • Who are your audience and what do they expect / need from you?
  • What are your greatest hits and have you practised them recently?
  • What  do you want people to remember about your performance?
  • What do you need to do to maintain an appropriate level of energy over repeat performances?

And if you’re Mick Jagger you might have one final question. Does this occasion call for my green spangled jacket?

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With a group this week, the issue of ‘time’ kept cropping up. This is a commodity in short supply given the demands of people’s roles and more importantly, home lives. So how do we find the time to develop ourselves and more importantly, ensure that we are in the right ‘state of mind’ to continue to deliver our best performance day-in and day-out?

There are many ‘apps’ on the market and many are aimed at self improvement – whether it is 5 minute-a-day sit-up routines, or 10 ‘meditation’ apps. This is such a small amount of time that it makes it manageable and therefore more likely that we will do this (the 6 pack is coming along nicely!)

So why not try creating your own 5 minute a day routine aimed at developing yourself. And here’s some great ones for starters:

  1. Take a break and go and give a member of your team some feedback. Don’t wait for appraisal time. Little and often is the key.
  2. Do a random act of kindness. This is proven to make you feel great and what comes around goes around. 
  3. Do something that makes you happy - whether it is listening to your favourite song, looking at your favourite holiday snaps, or phoning a friend. There is a direct correlation between great performance and a positive mindset and it only takes minutes to change. 
  4. Catch someone doing something right and thank them for it. A lot of what makes organisations; successful is the ‘silent running’ and acknowledging that will reinforce both the actions but also create loyalty. 
  5. Be kind to yourself. Go home 5 minutes early and play with the kids or brush the cat. Interacting with others that you care about will give you that chemical feel good factor, but more importantly, show that you do care.  

So make your own list. After all, 5 minutes a day isn’t much to ask...........especially when on average it takes 7 minutes to go to the loo!

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If you are considering setting up an internal coaching pool, you need to give serious consideration to three specific challenges.

  • Firstly, how do you maintain quality and continually upskill your coaches?
  • Secondly, how do you use your internal coaching pool more strategically to deliver more ambitious and effective programmes?
  • Finally, how do you make sure that your coaches remain motivated, active and engaged in the coaching?

We have just embarked on a leadership development programme involving one of our client’s internal coaching pool that we believe delivers on all three of these challenges.

The Random House Group is one of the largest general book publishing companies in the UK. Comprising five publishing companies - Cornerstone Publishing, Vintage Publishing, Ebury Publishing, Random House Children's Publishers UK and Transworld Publishers, the Group boasts more than 40 diverse and highly respected imprints. At the moment, the publishing environment is changing at a rapid rate of knots, transformed by the advent of online and digital.

As a major player in the publishing world, The Random House Group is at the forefront of this huge change in its marketplace. A burning question for them is how to continue to innovate and drive efficiency against a backdrop of what is, at heart, a very traditional business, undergoing momentous change?


Doing things differently

Random House wants to empower its leaders to take them through this transformational period and seize this opportunity, rather than be sidelined by the change. Two years ago, as a key step in offering more strategic support to senior managers, the company established a pool of internal coaches. The 25 people who were selected all had the desire and aptitude to take on this coaching role, well aware that it would require time, commitment and motivation.

At the end of last year, Tinder-Box was invited to tender for a leadership programme of Random House’s top 150 senior managers. Having won the pitch, we have devised a leadership programme designed to develop the confidence and skill of these leaders, focusing especially on leading teams through change and driving innovation.

The programme consists of four modules:

  1. Self-leadership
  2. Leading Teams
  3. Leading Change/ Driving Innovation
  4. A pioneering Enterprise module (which will bring the previous three modules together by working with the leaders from a social enterprise to make real and sustainable changes).

The plan is that coaching will be a key support mechanism for people on the programme to create real change back in the business after each module and the coaching will be carried out by the internal coaching pool.

How it works

The group of 150 programme attendees has been divided into cadres of 20-25 and each cadre will undertake all four modules over a six to eight month period, with a break between each one where they will be able to apply what they have learned to their work – which is where the coaching support comes in.

Each internal coach will be assigned one or two programme members to coach and will spend in the region of ten hours with each person across the programme. The programme has been devised in this very structured way to ensure that the coaches have the capacity to carry out their coaching role effectively alongside their regular day job and also to allow for ongoing quality control.

Why in-house?

Normally Tinder-Box would undertake all the coaching on a programme such as this and Random House is being ambitious to take on so much of it ‘in-house’ on such a grand scale. There are many benefits to this approach; the programme will provide the opportunity to deepen the impact and enhance the experience of the coaches, as well as clearly making economic sense for Random House as they are using all the resources available to them.

Taking it forward

Part of the challenge is how to ensure the coaches are ready to meet this ambition i.e. that the internal coaches have the confidence, skills and experience to support the leaders on this strategic programme.

The role of the Tinder-Box team (who are all Professional Certified Coaches (PCC) level credentialed with the International Coach Federation (ICF)), therefore also becomes one of support of the development and execution of the coaching by the internal coaching on the programme.

In terms of the first step, Tinder-Box will hold a short refresher course and explain the rules of engagement for the programme, as well as some of the key tools that will be used throughout, such as EQi psychometric reports and 360 feedback reports.

Each module will also be followed by a debrief for the internal coaches to review their experience, share lessons, learn new skills and go forward knowing what they need to do.

Finally, some of the internal coaches may also wish to pursue some sort of externally recognised coaching credentials – and this opportunity to gain professional recognition can be a powerful motivator for internal coaches. For those who are keen to progress via this route, we will be supervising these coaches as part of the formal accreditation process.

It’s live. Now what?

The programme went ‘live’ at the end of March and there is a real buzz of excitement, not only amongst the programme participants but also with the internal coaches. It is already becoming apparent that some people taking part in the leadership programme are also going to want to become internal coaches themselves – so this again is a fabulous way of developing the internal coaching pool further.

Tinder-Box will be tracking the success of the programme via a range of metrics around the impact of the programme and also the coaches, so we look forward to the opportunity to share these results at the right time.

In their own words...

Transworld’s Marketing Director, Janine Giovanni, explains why she was keen to become an internal coach:

“I had personally experienced the benefits of coaching and wanted to help others have the same positive experience. It‘s hard to learn new skills, such as coaching ‘on the job’ alongside a demanding full time role, so to have the opportunity to do that and add real value to the business is REALLY SMART!”

The Marketing Director for Ebury, Diana Riley:

“This is a terrific opportunity to embed a coaching culture in the business. We also find it incredibly motivating that the organisation has the confidence in us - and is willing to invest in our continued development as coaches - as part of this programme.”

 

Article reproduced with kind permission from ‘Coaching at Work

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Last week I spent a considerable amount of time talking with the team psychologists from various elite sporting organisations and clubs. These are people for whom their remit is to support the athletes and team to be at their best and manage their mental mindset and that of the collective team to deliver the best performance they can. David Priestley from Saracens told me about his mantra of ‘comfort the challenged and challenge the comfortable’ which he’s used to great effect, Dave Readle from British Cycling shared with me how humour is a vital resource for him (check him out on Twitter @DaveReadle) and Tom Bates from West Brom FC (@TomBatesCoachng) talked about the importance of supporting people to stretch beyond their comfort zones.

It got me thinking about who the Team Psychologists are for teams in business? I’ve yet to come across a team in an organisation who has a dedicated resource who is solely there to support the psychology of the team, I wonder what would happen if there was one..........

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If you’ve ever seen Tom Hanks in Big or Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday you might have thought that getting to be a child again would be fun. And it’s quite likely that you do sometimes revert to “childish” ways, often without realizing, when you revisit your childhood home and/or spend time with family and childhood friends. It might not take the form of playing air guitar or getting back on your BMX, but could show up as expecting to be fed and watered by parents, or playing the practical joker with old friends. It happens because the family “system” is stronger than the individuals within it - and can last for decades with only periodic nurturing.      

One of the topics we explored at the ICF conference last week was Relationship Systems i.e. a group of people with a common goal or purpose in which the system has its own needs and identity, independent of the people within in. Along with workload, one of the biggest challenges for people who are being trained or coached is how to maintain their renewed energy and intentions when they return to their own work or social system. And how to ensure that they don’t unconsciously use their new knowledge and skills in a way that evokes bad feeling and even retaliation from their peers and colleagues.    

As coaches, having an awareness of the wider system is critical if we want to enable individuals or teams to implement the changes they want to make. On a personal level paying attention to any system we are a part of and depersonalizing individual roles within it takes a surprisingly liberating shift of perspective. And is much more achievable than undergoing a full body swap.

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There are some great old myths that people still believe: ‘cracking your knuckles gives you arthritis’, ‘toads give you warts’ and ‘going outside with wet hair will give you a cold’. I’m sure you know others.

‘Feedback is a gift’ might also land in that camp. I’m not cynical, rather I think that feedback is critical but framing it as a gift is a bit of a misconception. We were lucky enough to spend the day with Matthew Thompson, CEO of Fifteen Cornwall and he was explaining that apprentice chefs receive feedback every single shift. Not just ‘well done’ or ‘could do better’ – but against a specific set of behaviours. And all in less than 5 minutes. This is impressive and is critical to the success of the apprentices as they learn and develop.

I’m confident if you asked any of the apprentices: “would you like a gift?” then I think they would reply “Yes please, a new set of kitchen knives would be great”. I think if you offered ‘feedback’ as a suitable alternative then they would give you a funny look..............

Feedback is healthy and critical to helping people develop. So – along with the group of leaders we were with last week – try and consider how you make this as part of your staple diet? 5 minutes a day? And this good news is that you can save the gifts for really good stuff!

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I love watching business makeover programmes and there’s certainly been no shortage of them in recent years! From Ruth Watson’s ‘Country House Rescue’ to Alex Polizzi’s ‘Hotel Inspector’, or her latest BBC offering ‘The Fixer’ where she helps family run businesses get back on track… 

One of my favourite people in this arena has returned this month with a new programme, ‘Mary Queen of the High Street’ on Channel 4 has arrived to revive Britain's failing high streets.  

The first episode introduced us to some wonderful characters at Roman Road in London's East End.  Mary described how the area used to be a thriving commercial hub in the 60’s and how currently it was struggling to survive.  We saw how it was stuck in the past, neglected and hadn’t adapted to the changing times…Mary wanted to inject some new life into the area and as usual, her energy and positive attitude prevailed! She saw how the area had recently changed, with an influx of new money moving in and the Olympic park close by, so she set about to take advantage of this, working with locals to adapt the offerings to suit a new audience… 

In the most recent episode, Mary said “If I haven’t got the team wanting to really make change, then this will be an uphill struggle”. Something I’ve observed in all of these programmes is that the biggest barrier to change is often a person/teams attitude and willingness to adapt.  The experts are often met with resistance at every corner because naturally people want to stay in their comfort zone and big change can be uncomfortable, unknown and scary.  

Another thing that these programmes had in common was a strong leader (Alex, Ruth, Mary), experts in their field, confident, unafraid of change or risk, ready to lead their team into the unknown and fight hard for what they believe. Although sometimes it took more than a little gentle persuasion….Once they got the team onside, fired up and understanding the mission it’s all systems go and that’s when you see the big change, when everyone is working together with the same goal. 

If your business is going through change we can help you on this journey. Give us a call to chat about how we can help.

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One of the best known brands of the last couple of decades has to be NIKE along with the associated “JUST DO IT” slogan invented at an ad agency meeting in 1988. The slogan contributed to Nike increasing its share of the domestic sport-shoe business from 18% to 43% between 1988 and 1998 and it is often used in any situation where people want to demonstrate a sense of urgency, commitment and action.

Based on work I’ve been doing recently, there seems to be a strong case for reminding people that it’s not always wise or helpful to “just do it” and that in order to get back control over their time at work, they need to do more planning. There are various statistics relating to how people spend their time at work, for example...

  • 60% or less work time is spent productively
  • The average employee checks their email 36 times an hour and faces 56 interruptions a day
  • The average employee spends 3 minutes on a task before switching to something else
  • We spend two hours recovering from these and other distractions during the day

Whether or not these statistics are true for you, people do seem to agree that they don’t have enough time to focus on getting “real” work done, which results in frustration, stress and a general feeling of dissatisfaction – even before the difficult conversation with the boss happens. There are many ways to take back control and differentiate between the activities that really do need to be done now as well as those that should be stopped or delegated so you can work on the important activities i.e. the ones that pave the way for future success (see Stephen Covey’s work on Urgent v Important). Quite often it’s just a case of taking time out to refocus with the help of someone who can challenge and support you. These tips might also help:

  • Set up a weekly review with yourself. A good time to do this is on a Friday when you can review what you finished in the week, and what you want to get done the following week. If you need to, book a conference room for your meeting and treat the time booked with the same respect that you would for an external visitor or your boss.
  • Keep a to-do list. This needs to be written in one visible and accessible place at the beginning of each day or week. When you have a moment look at your list and work on an item rather than checking email.
  • Take control of your in box. Switch off instant alerts if necessary and allocate a time when you will check your email. When you work on one of your important tasks, try to give yourself an hour at least of uninterrupted time to complete it.  

By the way, I’m pleased to say that “write blog” was on my list of 3 things to do today, so I am on track for the week so far! 

   

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So it’s hard to coach yourself. It’s even harder to coach someone else. And harder still, coaching someone else...to coach someone else! But that’s the latest challenge which we have written about in the Coaching at Work Article with our client Random House

Specifically, how do you achieve the following:     

  1. How to maintain the quality and continually up skill your internal coaches beyond the initial training?    
  2. How do you use your internal coaching pool more strategically to deliver more ambitious programmes?   
  3. How do you ensure that your coaches remain motivated, active and engaged in coaching? 

So here we talk about how to solve all three of those challenges by integrating the internal coaches into a leadership programme. 

I’d fib if I said it wasn’t challenging, but also very rewarding. It is also really great to have an open minded client who trusts us to take this on – and rest assured, we shall not let them down!  

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We were lucky enough to be invited to the Eden Project this week by Fifteen Cornwall to witness the graduation of the 7th cohort of apprentice chefs. Each year we have the privilege of doing some coaching work with each cohort a few weeks after they’ve arrived in the kitchen. They’re always lively, full of energy, hope and possibility. We use the same tools and ideas with them which we use with their corporate clients and I sometimes wish I could bottle their capacity to step outside their comfort zones to try something new and their ability to explore and challenge their own beliefs and perceptions.

Make no mistake the programme’s tough. Jamie Oliver doesn’t turn up to tuck them into bed every night, they work hard, they have to engage with learning; about themselves, each other, cooking and life at large.....and not everyone makes it through.

Graduation is a proud moment for all involved; the staff at Fifteen, the ‘Black Hats’ (chefs who teach them), the parents who have witnessed a transformation in their sons and daughter and organisations such as ourselves who play some small role in helping them to reset their compasses for the better.

And in all the tears and cheers last night the parting piece of advice to them was ‘do your best but above all, be kind and be generous’. An organisation which develops fine chefs but even more importantly kind and generous young people...now that’s impressive, we take our hats off to you Fifteen Cornwall – keep up the good work.

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Well is it? Work that is, is it good for you? Do you spend your days doing something which at the end each day leaves you nourished and healthier than you started the day.......as well as delivering an awesome performance hitting all the usual targets that are expected of you?

Just to make the rest of the team jealous I’m currently sat in ‘Leon’ in Canary Wharf – it’s a favourite haunt of ours and boasts the strap line ‘Fast food that does you good’. Their promise is that they deliver nourishing, wholesome food but do it FAST, making it a viable alternative to various other lunch time city eateries.

They’ve challenged a common belief that fast food needs to be compromised in terms of price, service, speed or quality to compete. And by the way it’s heaving in here.

I spoke with a client this week who commented that ‘at least it’s Wednesday tomorrow which means I’ve broken the back of the week’.

So  I invite you to consider.......work, is it good for you? And if it isn’t how what could you do to make it so?

And as an aside I felt the need to explain my reasons for taking a picture of my lunch to a gentleman sporting a look of bemused curiosity as he picked up his lunch. His comment as he left ‘I hope you’ve been inspired’.......I certainly have!

 

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Even though, according to the BBC, we have just endured the coldest March for over 50 years, I have  noticed a few brave daffodils and snowdrops shunning the frost to cheer up our gardens over the last couple of weeks. Dorothy Wordsworth recorded the following description after the walk that inspired one of Wordsworth’s most famous poems: “daffodils ….. grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed and reeled and danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake”.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s eve and have never made, or been tempted to make, New Year’s resolutions - but the extra hour of sunlight in the evening and the sighting of the first flowers really do feel like the promise of something new and exciting. It’s prompted me to think about what I want to do more of and less of over the coming year. It’s also reminded me how rarely I do stop,  appreciate and enjoy the moment.

So my Summertime Resolution is to take inspiration from the daffodil and to plant the seeds now for what I want to stop and appreciate in 6 months time – and not to be deterred by the frosts, winds and rocky ground that might try to get in my way.

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We’re delighted to have just been put on the approved supplier list for the UK Sport World Class Coaching Elite Programme. This means we could end up coaching one of the elite coaches for the GB Olympics team for Rio 2016. ‘Wow’ was our initial thought. Swiftly followed by ‘Gulp’. The thought of having to coach some of the best coaches in the business is a daunting, but then on reflection – and based on our own experience – coaches are probably the group who adapt most readily to coaching, and also whom get the least opportunity to actually have coaching.

I know from my own experience that taking time out to have coaching is incredibly beneficial, and takes a lot of discipline and planning to make it happen. Whilst the idea – and ultimate ambition - of self coaching is powerful and fulfilling, I find there is nothing like the external perspective, challenge and support that an external person can bring. It is difficult to break away from our own mental models and patterns, despite understanding all of the theory and having had thousands of hours of practice!

So, with those words of reassurance in mind, I look forward to the next chapter. And if you are in doubt as to whether to have a coach – even if you are a fabulous coach yourself – then that doubt could be a sure sign that a coach would be very helpful indeed. It reminds me of Daniel Kahneman’s book:  Thinking, Fast and Slow (Doubleday Canada, 2011) where he separates ‘fast thinking’ from ‘slow thinking’. Coaching is about slowing down and carefully examining your thoughts, patterns and assumptions. Worth a dose in a busy world...............................

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There’s been a lot of emphasis on giving to charity in the last month, with Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day – a time where we focus on those struggling with tough situations and look at how we can play our own small part to help.  

Red Nose Day got me thinking about the various ways of giving and how we connect to and interact with Charities & Social Enterprises when we give.  RND is great fun and it certainly helps bring important issues to the nations attention. Each year we see a variety of methods of fundraising, from marathon runners dressed as darth vader, sponsored silences, people bathing in baked beans and an abundance of red hair dye...

Sponsoring someone to do a crazy activity is great and donating money to a worthy cause is important. But, in my experience, this kind of giving can feel quite disconnected and unmeaningful. Perhaps because I’ve felt obliged to sponsor someone, I’m sure that I’ve sponsored people in the past and not even known what charity it’s for…sorry…


When I’ve been more connected in my giving, I became invested and my contribution was more valuable. I did a stint a few years back in a soup kitchen, just a few hours a week, cooking, serving etc… as a team, we grew to understand the mission of the charity, became passionate for the cause, got to know the diners and some of their situations. Because of this deeper connection in our giving, not only were we more beneficial to the charity but we took away valuable lessons that remain with us today.

With changing attitudes towards CSR, an increasing amount of corporations are now seeking this more connected level of interaction with charities and Social Enterprises, a shift driven not just by consumers expectations but also by employees desires to do some good.

At Tinder-Box we’ve seen first hand the rewards when teams from corporate organisations have connected and interacted on a more meaningful level with charities and Social Enterprises. Our Enterprise programme in Carole Miller’s words “involves a charity or social enterprise working with a team from a corporate organisation to get down and dirty with a pressing business issue which the charity or social enterprise needs to solve.”.  This Lloyds Banking Group case study provides a great example of how genuine partnerships can create a powerful experience for both parties.

Are you ready?
This programme isn’t for the faint hearted, it requires guts and determination, but you really do get out what you put in. Already this year we are creating new programmes for clients like John Lewis, Waitrose and Random House. There's plenty to consider before signing up to this kind of project, which is why we’ve put this short guide together.

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We’ve had a great response to the message we’ve put out into the ether to connect with social enterprises and charities to apply to be part of our Enterprise Programme. In case you’ve missed it, Enterprise is a programme which involves a charity or social enterprise working with a team from a corporate organisation to get down and dirty with a pressing business issue which the charity or social enterprise needs to solve.

Clearly the charity or social enterprise gets some ‘money couldn’t buy’ business support but what’s in it for the corporate team? An experience of working in an environment where there’s no hierarchy, they’re not the expert, issues can be life or death and there’s an unprecedented level of passion for the cause. It’s collaboration and learning in its finest form. Blagging, posturing and entitlement are quickly weeded out and emotional intelligence and leading from the heart wins out. These are not insignificant lessons for any of us.

I ran a programme recently where the social enterprise CEO reflections back to the group were ‘the first hour felt like I’d wandered onto Exmoor in rutting season, the focus seemed to be on who could get the upper hand to lead rather than the problem at large’. Make no mistake this wasn’t a telling off, it was an astute observation which had complete resonance with the group which raised knowing smiles of recognition.......more importantly it was a piece of feedback that they probably wouldn’t have got from their own organisation, and if they did it would be straight jacketed in digital language.

I’m looking forward to this years programmes, we’ve already been talking with theatre groups who work with offenders, community recycling programmes and mental health organisations all of whom have a pressing business issue to solve, a passion for what they do and are excited about what new possibilities the programme can ignite.

With the growing appetite for organisations to grow their talent AND have social impact we’re always delighted to hear from social enterprises and charities who are interested in participating, if you think it might be for you drop us a line we’d love to hear from you.

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I was speaking at an event last week about “Developing Talent” – and my slot was about “Making it real”. So in setting this up, I did some research about – “Why have senior people succeeded?” – there is no shortage of material on this subject as you can imagine...........Anyway, to save you a lot of reading, it turns out that 4 things have commonly happened to successful senior people:

  1. Someone senior – at a pivotal point in their career – sponsored them and took a risk on them
  2. They took on a stretching role outside their comfort zone, and were successful
  3. They were at some point part of a high performing team (and now they won’t settle for anything less)
  4. They have developed excellent networks and use them well

It’s an interesting exercise if you apply this to your own career and see what has been helpful – or even what would be helpful going forward.

We do think this makes a lot of sense and so validates our approach in designing and executing high potential programmes, and also delivering team programmes with our ‘High Performing Team’ model.

Finally, in discussion with the group, they certainly agreed with this but found that the lack of willingness to ‘take risks on people’ was probably the one most difficult to carry out. We even had a debate about ‘are women or men more or less inclined to take risks?’. So I’ll let you make up your own mind but I did come across this recent article @HarvardBiz 'Do Women Take as Many Risks as Men?'.

So enjoy helping people blossom and let us know your own views @tinder_box_ltd

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I’ve just returned from an extremely enjoyable and memorable skiing trip to the Alps. In fact one of the most enjoyable and memorable for as long as I can remember. Of course a whole host of factors contributed to this and while some of them were in our control, a number were not.  

Not in our control: snow depth and quality (exceptional), amount of sun (constant) and temperature (low enough to maintain the snow in spite of long sunny days).

In our control: fitness (no comment), energy levels (porridge and Berocca for breakfast did the trick), knowledge of the area (third trip to this resort), wearing the right clothes (with back pack for contingencies); good company and many more. In this instance some very basic contingency plans saved the day when our 10 year old was temporarily lost on the mountain as the lifts were closing. He remembered to stay where he was and stopped a ski guide who phoned us - with the result that both his Dad and instructor found him within 10 minutes.


Whether preparing for an enjoyable and memorable skiing holiday, or one of the many business tasks and challenges we face on a day to day basis, there are actually more factors within our control than not. If we research and know our subject, plan diligently and expect the unexpected (with contingency plans in place), we are more likely to get a successful result, which is memorable for the right reasons.

This is also true of making a speech, so if you have an important presentation (or Oscar acceptance!) coming up, you might find our top ten tips on making memorable speeches, recently published in Management Today, useful. By the time you read this we will no doubt have many more examples of memorable Oscar speeches – for both the right and wrong reasons!   

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So, the skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park was indeed that of King Richard III. Of course we all have our own skeletons hidden away, but rather than inviting people to look at them and openly publicizing them, they are usually kept unseen, unspoken and unthought-of.

We are often so successful at burying our skeletons that we forget they are there - until we stumble across them when we come across a particular person or situation. The result can be anything from a sudden loss of confidence to triggering a fundamental fight or flight response. The result can be exhausting, time consuming and it can send us off track temporarily, or for some time.


How much more helpful would it be to take a peek at our skeletons every now and again so they can't surprise us and even find ways to live amicably with them - or turn them to dust. As coaches we work with our clients to explore what motivates them but also to unearth and manage any skeletons that get in their way.

If you'd like to unearth your own skeletons from time to time, follow the example of the scientists and lay out all the bones in order (whatever seems appropriate and not forgetting the smallest); check which ones are the strongest and which have deteriorated and then work out how they are all connected. Finally do something the scientists would never do and rearrange them so they lose their old impact and take on a new shape and meaning.

And you know where to come if you need help.

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In the past 12 months we’ve seen some very public and high profile instances whereby the current culture of some major institutions have had some unsavoury consequences. The Press, the Church, the BBC and in recent days the NHS.

It’s been something we’ve been deeply immersed in over the last year as part of the culture change project which Julie has been running, so here’s my attempt to sweep aside the digital language and share with you some cultural straight talk.

So, what is this thing which we refer to as culture?

Culture is the way that people do things, in its basic form it’s ‘how stuff gets done around here’. Think your organisation doesn’t have a culture, think again. I work with dozens of big organisations and they all have their own unwritten formula as to how they behave, interact with people and make decisions. Still, can’t get your head around it? Think about your own family, you probably don’t agreed ways of working, regulation, guidelines but you will have a particular way of behaving with each other which is probably different from the family next door. You have your own cultures!

When is a culture ‘bad’?

Primarily when it doesn’t fit with the underlying purpose of the organisation and increasingly with the morals and values of society at large. Think about what the NHS stands for and how mismatched it seems the behaviours have been. The two just don’t add up. The outcome is that we decide it’s wrong and it makes us very cross!

So who decides on the culture?

We all do – leaders, employees, joe blogs in the street. Certainly there’s an argument that leaders have a central role to play in setting the tone of an organisation. In Daniel Kahneman’s book ‘Thinking Fast Thinking Slow’ he talks about the influencing power the first person to speak in a group has......it essentially sets the tone for our own opinion and how we do things. But largely, we’ll fall into line with the norm, if everyone else is doing it, it much just be how we do things round here, right? This is the bit where we all join in.

Is it possible to change the culture?

Of course, the world continually changes doesn’t it? For example, think about how many people now take bags to the supermarket instead of relying on carrier bags. Carrier bags aren’t illegal, there have been some incentives to nudge us in that direction but ultimately we have choice and in a relatively short amount of time we’ve all organised ourselves to make this possible.

Do what does it take?

Lots of things and probably nothing you haven’t heard before. Trust, listening, humility, education, regulation and incentive. But ultimately you need to want the new culture and want it enough that you’re prepared to undergo inconvenience, tough conversations deal with any attention you draw to yourself. It starts with you.

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........first person whose mobile rings gets to buy the cakes/make a donation to charity/sing a song. For years I’ve sat in meetings and team sessions where organisations have tried every trick in the book to surgically remove people from their technology, the basic belief being that it’s you’re engaging with the wider world at large then you’re not present to what’s going on in the room. Have any of these worked – not really. People still open their laptops, phones ring, text messages get exchanged. As smart phones become smarter the fundamental belief which underpins the ‘if you’re playing with your phone you’re not learning’ is being challenged more and more.

We recently ran a big event which started like this “Please make sure your phones and tablets are on, connected to the wifi and fully charged, the twitter back channel will be running throughout all presentations so please participate in contributing and sharing information and thoughts in relation to the subjects being presented.” ...........a hushed response of disbelief ensued!! However, with some further explanation and reassurance that they weren’t going to be stung for a round of cakes at the break we had an active and interesting back channel running throughout presentations which was easily set up with Twitter Fall and a hashtag. People chose how they engaged with the presentation, some listened and made notes, some researched topics which were discussed and shared wider context via Twitter and some asked questions, both verbally and via social media.

My point is, they engaged in their own way and surely the point is to enable people to engage not dictate the means by which they engage.

I was recently speaking with social media consultant Crystal Washington who told me that there are now more mobile phones in the world than toothbrushes.....hard to believe, but if that’s true then maybe it’s also true that you can be using your phone in a meeting or event and be engaged with what’s going on in the room.

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Well let's start the new year with the holy grail : how to get really high impact development at very little price? If we can solve this one in January then the rest of the year will be a piece of cake (no more cake just yet!).

I wrote about this along with a few others in the recent article published below:

Managing the middle, askGrapvine, Jan 2013 (p44-47)

In essence it is about why the middle managers don't seem to get enough development and how to solve that. My own view is that a lot of the development $'s are aimed at people in transition to senior roles, senior executives, or the precious pipeline of emerging talent. All of these are highly valuable and worthwhile investments - but it doesn't leave much change to spend on the 70% of managers who are performing solidly and making a valuable contribution.

So I believe the answer is to make it personal. By that I mean have meaningful individual development discussions, and figure out between you what a critical development experience would look like for that person. This sounds:

  1. Obvious
  2. Time consuming

However a lot of what people articulate will really help them are budget friendly solutions such as:

  • Mentoring from a senior colleague
  • Timely, honest and constructive 360 feedback
  • Having the opportunity to get engaged in important projects with exposure to senior leadership
  • The opportunity to engage with 3rd parties and develop their influencing end networking skills

The last one in particular is a definite and emerging trend and in the last 2 months alone we have agreed with John Lewis and Random House to create ways for their managers to engage with social enterprises in a win-win solution. We'll be writing more about this Enterprise programme in the future - but it doesn't necessarily need a complex programme to set these wheels in motion.

So, make this the year of meaningful 1:1s and see how much further you can make the developmental budget stretch.

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For the last 6 months we’ve been working on a project to support a client with an event to explore what the ‘Future of Learning’ might look like. This culminated in a 2 day event last week which involved about 80 learning, development and talent professionals coming together – both in the flesh and virtually – to share, be inspired and get curious about what will be important about enabling learning in organisations going forward.    

It’s a complex topic; the rate of change of technology is getting faster, we expect our learning to be personally tailored to meet our individual needs, we take it for granted that we can personalise the content on our computer or iPad, but we still have a primal desire to meet people face to face.

There’s a raft of technology out there (NeuroSky have a developed a sensor which reads brain waves enabling you to control your computer by thought!) and a whole heap of social media platforms which enable us to share information. Greg Williams from Wired Magazine had some interesting insights on how our thinking is evolving:

Credit ratings being superseded by ‘trust’ ratings - how often do you make purchasing decisions based on feedback on Tripadvisor, eBay, TopTable etc?

Speed cameras in Sweden which reward ‘good’ behaviour – everyone who is caught on camera keeping to the speed limit is entered into a lottery and the prize is the fines of those who have exceeded the speed limit!!

It’s easy to be seduced by the technology, it makes lots possible, however, for organisations there ultimately needs to be a return on investment. When we researched this very topic last year with our report on ‘Turning Learning into Performance’. The headlines were that if you want to make learning count, make sure you have:

  1. Active line manager engagement; make sure that people know why they’re engaged in the learning
  2. A focus on both hearts and minds; information and a tangible need
  3. A measurement system; how will you know it makes a difference
  4. A culture ownership and self service of learning; enable people to identify what they need and how they’re going to get it

Maybe we need to look more broadly to understand what of the above technology can help us with, as well as the content?

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I’ve had one of those weeks when I really wish I had been able to delegate. Multiple deadlines are looming and as usual many legitimate but unforeseen requests have pushed my well planned schedule off course. However, unfortunately for me, the people I might have chosen to delegate to are out of the country, well out of my clutches. Having said that, the delegation I would have engaged in this week would have been of the short term, selfish variety in order to help me keep my head above the water. And while that is probably necessary for all of us every now and again, I’m not sure it meets all the criteria for effective delegation that I outlined in my recent article Management Today.

On this occasion I can at least report that it wasn’t lack of time or perfectionism on my side that stopped me – it was a very real lack of warm available bodies! I would certainly have been prepared to hand over some of the workload in spite of the fact that one of the activities was something I enjoy doing and would have been replaced by a lot of necessary but less sociable and immediately rewarding data crunching. I know exactly who I would have delegated to and that this would be something within their capability, although not really a stretch or development opportunity. As a one off, short term act of delegation I wouldn’t have needed to set much context, review support required or agree and stick to regular check points and it is unlikely that we would have made many mistakes that we needed to learn from (although one of the pitfalls of delegation is making too many assumptions!). And I certainly would have cashed in on my delegation investment by buying back some family evening and weekend time.

When you can, delegation is a great investment. So what’s stopping you?

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