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

what we've been talking about

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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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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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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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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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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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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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 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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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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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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