Archives for 2019

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Executive Coaching

toptem-coachingFar from a nice chat, coaching can be extremely valuable to business.

But how do we measure this? How can you know you are getting value for money?  Quite simply, the value is in the time and space to think, facilitated to ensure clear progress is made. We rarely take time to step back, stop and think. We face a challenge, we find a solution and we run with it.

It’s no wonder with this pattern of working that we often end up realising months have gone by and we have not thought about overall performance, strategic direction, personal goals etc.

By taking that time to think with a facilitator, we become more effective, find ways around our fears and areas where we might lack confidence. It’s a difficult one to quantify – but think of a manager suddenly having the confidence to manage a poor performing team. Imagine you, at your best, performing with greater efficiency and focus. It’s all extremely valuable.

Jelly Bean Diversity

How can we measure the value of coaching?

As with any activity where it is difficult to quantify impact or benefit, the key is in the original objectives. It is only when we know what impact we are aiming for that we can measure whether any activity has been successful. It is for this reason that coaching objectives need to be aligned to business needs.

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Consider exactly what you want to see happen and how you would know if it had happened.

Let’s take an example of a senior executive who is performing well in many areas, but struggling to build relationships with key players and influence change. This scenario is a perfect opportunity for coaching. Training in this instance would provide knowledge about what the executive should do, but coaching will more rapidly get to the heart of existing barriers and how to move past these.

To measure whether coaching has been effective in this scenario, we could define some clear objectives. For example, “by the end of a six month coaching programme, this executive will have:

  • Built positive relationships with departments X and Y, demonstrated by a 10% increase in the number of projects they are working on together
  • Influenced change in at least two areas where they were previously frustrated with a lack of progress
  • Created an action plan to move the department toward their vision over the next 3 months”

Maximising your coaching session

So as long as you set clear objectives and measure the business benefit of these throughout your coaching programme, you can be clear on the ROI of the coach.

To maximise the value you gain:

  • Define your objectives, being really clear about what would be different if the coaching was effective
  • Start with an open mind, then give your coach prompts on what is working well for you
  • Keep evaluating what you are gaining from the time and money invested
  • Calculate the financial impact of the changes you have made since meeting with coach – whether that is time saved, more productive meetings etc, you should be able to estimate an amount
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Mindfulness Download

Businessman - head in the black cloudsWhat does mindfulness really mean and how can we use it to our advantage?

We never or very rarely have completely empty moments – our brains are almost always full of ideas, thoughts, criticisms, judgements and concerns.

Mindfulness is a state of awareness, of focusing and being able to return to that focus.  Meditation is a practice that helps train the brain to be more mindful.  We’ve put together this awesome little download as an introduction to mindfulness and its benefits.

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Our leadership team are currently practising mindfulness with this amazing app if you’d like to learn about how we’re finding it useful follow me!

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How to Encourage Learning

Bicycle-Training-Wheels 400x265Exploring Activities that Encourage Learning

We’ve been having a lot of fun exploring the in’s and out’s of Learning Organisations recently, you can find a couple of additional resources by following me or following me.

We’ve talked a lot about the benefits of a learning organisation and some of the key characteristics or behaviours you may want to encourage in your employees to develop a learning culture.  But what else can we do?  Is there a tick list for successfully embedding learning into your culture?

Well not quite, but there are a few key components to a continuous learning culture.  So let’s explore a few of the methods.  First off we have the traditional methods for individual learning including classroom training; online learning; mentoring; and participation in conferences, workshops, and seminars that can support you.

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Let’s begin with individual learning, which is the ability of individuals in your organisation to pursue self development. It requires individuals to take personal responsibility for their own learning and development through a process of assessment, reflection, and action – ideally supported by that individual’s line manager.  Individual learning helps the employee and the organisation continually update skills and remain competitive in the market place.

You might want to consider individual development plans, special projects or specifically created learning groups to support individuals in the acquisition or translation of new skills.

Another way to support individuals with their learning is through online learning or in modern vernacular Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  To find out more on MOOCs you can click me.  In summary MOOCs are a great way of using modern technology to deliver consistent, coordinated and measurable learning directly into the needs of your employees.

Mentoring is a great way to hold learners to account, and to ensure that the new skills an individual is acquiring are actually relevant to the broader business goals.  Quite often a mentor holds a higher position and is usually outside the employee’s chain of supervision.  Mentoring has the side benefit of fostering the talent in your business who show high potential for management or leadership responsibilities.

That’s the usual list of things a firm might do to encourage individual learning, so let’s now look at what a business can do to encourage a learning environment – using organisational learning.

Totem Gummi Bears

Organisational learning occurs when the entire organisation addresses and solves problems, builds repositories of lessons learned, and creates core competencies that represent the collective learning of employees, past and present.

Organisational learning not only contributes to resolving organisational issues, but it also promotes individual development of knowledge and skills.  It’s a win win!  So let’s start with action learning.

Action learning is a great process for bringing together a group of people with varied levels of skills and experience to analyse and address an actual work problem.  It’s important that the group continues to meet as actions are implemented, learning from the implementation and making mid-course corrections. It’s a powerful tool for addressing problems and issues that are complex and not easily resolved.

Cross-functional teams are the natural evolution of action learning groups and are composed of people with varied levels of skills and experience, brought together to accomplish a task. These teams may use action learning as a process to solve problems, but the key here is that cross-functional team members come from different areas of the business and so pool a much broader range of skills and experiences.

Finally, parallel learning structures.  These structures refer to groups who represent various levels and functions working to open new channels of communication outside but parallel to the normal hierarchical structure.

Parallel learning structures promote innovation and change in large organisations while retaining the advantage of bureaucratic design.  They take individuals from each level within an organisation, upskill them in a specific way and send them back into their original level of the organisation – often as change agents or ‘champions’ of a particular innovation or business agenda.

For the eagle eyed among you, what key theme links the steps that an organisation can take to foster a learning culture?

It’s the removal of traditional hierarchical barriers to communication and cooperation – even if temporary, between all employees across your organisation that will drive a culture of continuous learning and growth.  And whilst nothing beats doing this face-to-face, the wide range of social platforms now available for business mean that people can connect, share and learn across the globe.

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Cultures of Continuous Learning

stepping-stonesContinuous Learning is Continuous Improvement

At a personal level, continuous learning is about constantly expanding your skills through focused and specifically chosen learning activities. We touch on the advantages that continuous learning can bring at a leadership level here.

But what about at an organisational level?

We briefly explored what a Learning Organisation is in a recent article, but lets dig a little deeper and walk you through some of the steps that you can actually take to develop a culture within your business that embraces learning.





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Learning Organisations

DNA-Totem 400x265Is learning in their DNA?

Simply put, a learning organisation is one that is able to change its behaviours and mind-sets as a result of its experiences.  Such organisations are found to actively promote learning in individuals and in some key instances, they promote leadership at all levels.

As a side point but one worth making, this promotion of learning and leadership has the knock on effect of improving accountability across an organisation – individuals tend to accept more readily responsibility for their actions…

Learning organisations or LO’s achieve this through encouraging a strong network of relationships and peer support from individual to individual across the organisation.  They see learning, or rather something that has been learnt as something that is transferrable from one person to another, regardless of the department or project that those individuals are working on.

And it’s this shared ‘learning’ mentality that distributes intelligence throughout the organisation.

It’s an incredibly effective culture for fully engaging internal and external stakeholders with the goals of the business.  This is achieved by what becomes in effect, the entire organisation responding to issues identified by stakeholders.  A challenge or problem shared at one end of the business, may find a solution in a traditionally unlikely area of the business.

But an LO is more than a group of individuals learning or those individuals sharing that learning with his or her network or peers.  What we find fascinating is that what an organisation learns and how it applies that learning isn’t always predictable.

It has a something to do with The Principles of Complex Systems (Mitleton-Kelly 2003) which in summary describes the emergent and unexpected results of organisation wide collaboration.

Jelly Bean Diversity

The recipe for a complex system is at face value quite simple.  Take a broad, self – reflective environment, made up of many individuals and add this key cultural ingredient:

There is a difference between a ‘mistake’ and a ‘failure’.

Such an environment makes a distinction between ‘mistakes’ that are the result of irresponsibility and lack of forethought and failures, those that are genuine explorations of a new idea or a new way of working.

One is acceptable (even encouraged) and one is not.  How many iterations of the iPod did Apple go through before it was finally released to the general public?  Was each prototype a mistake or a failure?

If you want to find out more about how to start your own learning culture, we highly recommend our fabulous downloadable guide on the subject.

So back to the individual, it’s crucial to recognise that individuals in an organisation influence one another.  Particularly during the learning process, their ideas will co-evolve.  Meaning that those ideas must have a great deal of innate flexibility – and flexible thinking is the pre curser to learning agility.

If you have an organisation full of flexible thinkers, you have the foundations to an agile workforce.

The true strength of an agile organisation lies in this concept of co-evolution.  Particularly in relation to a changing business environment – external or internal.  As the broader environment changes, so to will the organisation but once changed, the organisation, in turn, will influence that broader environment.

When the influence and change are mutual and cyclical, then we have co-evolution.  The learning environment fostered in the organisation is having a direct impact on the business environment outside of the organisation.

And we’d encourage you to take a moment to think this final point through.  It’s only through influencing its external business environment, that an organisation can move from an ‘also ran’ to market leader.

Can you name a current market leader, that hasn’t innovated or applied new learning to the industry it’s operating in?

We can’t.

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Managing and Influencing Download

BarMagnet1 400x265How to successfully manage and influence others – without reading the book! 

Over the years we’ve heard all sorts of concerns and fears come up that new managers and indeed those who have managed people for decades hold onto.

Things like:

  • I can’t tell people off
  • I can’t tell my boss what to do
  • How do I tell someone they’re not performing well?

We’ve addressed some of these concerns and others in this downloadable guide.


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Years of advising, coaching and facilitating the development of change agents in businesses has shown us that success in this area boils down to some simple concepts – if you’d like to find out more follow me

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The Six Capabilities of Effective Leaders

Leadership 400x265Shouldn’t that be seven, habits and people?  Er, different book.

As globalisation has taken a hold of business, it’s become increasingly important for leaders to understand their role and capabilities within this new global view.  It’s now essential that leaders are adaptive to the changing marketplace and recognise the commercial value inherent in that change.

You can no longer ignore the potential gain to be derived from a single tweet any less than the potential loss from an incoherent strategic vision.

This is forcing leaders to step forward into the limelight, and those that are commercially thriving under this scrutiny have done so by introducing a transparency to their interactions with the world.

This transparency is essential because they depend upon people they will never meet, suppliers or partners in different businesses and they will have an increasing reliance on their peer network, both within their existing business and their competitors.

In a recent book, The Elastic Enterprise by  Nick Vitalari & Haydn Shaughnessy


they highlighted six capabilities that these successful leaders exhibit:

  • Invention
  • Re-framing
  • Attraction & Orchestration
  • Influence
  • Drawing the Line
  • De-Risking

What we’ve found fascinating is how tightly their research has overlapped with our understanding of entrepreneurship, and what makes entrepreneurs so commercially astute.  Increasingly we are being asked to identify people with entrepreneurial flair, to lead large businesses to success – hence the growing popularity of the term intrepreneur.

A brilliant demonstration of why the intreprenurial spirit is key to success in modern business has recently been shared by Miranda Birch, a previous guest blogger with us and someone we highly recommend you check out here.

We’ve defined a number of commercial capabilities that are present in the top performing managers, leaders and entrepreneurs, irrespective of geography and business type.  These commercial capabilities, rolled into one and known to us as Commercial Brilliance are a granular understanding of the behaviours and characteristics of an individual who is nothing short of a commercial genius.

Vitalari and Shaughnessy’s research is a great starting point to understanding these brilliance behaviours and characteristics – so we’ve summarised their findings for you below.

Totem Gummi Bears

Invention – All of the leaders they studied were quite capable of generating fresh and innovative ideas.  Leaders need to be comfortable tinkering with systems and knowing something new can come of it. They have to be driven by novelty.

Re-framing – Or changing your perspective is a critical capability in our emerging leaders.  They have the ability re-interpret the vision, mission and values of an organisation – and most importantly, engage all of those around them with that new interpretation.

Attraction & Orchestration – As a leader in an evolving organisation, they have to attract and coordinate a remarkable number of business elements.  But the leader needs to do this very much as a conductor coordinates his orchestra, with passion, flair and complete mastery.

Influence  – Leaders need to master the organisations internal and external information architecture, using it to promote the their wider vision whilst including everyone from the little guy, to the hugely influential collectives that sweep through social media platforms.  That means cultivating a habit of appearing both wise and flexible, being vocal but attentive.

Drawing the Lines – The commercial capabilities of these leaders require them to push the boundaries, product innovation, market placement and team performance to name but three.  But in pushing those boundaries they will need to draw the line between consultation and instruction.

Key stakeholders will always want to have their opinions heard, but also need to be lead.

De-Risking – The new global economy requires a new approach to risk, it’s become a hyper-competitive environment, with threats and opportunities in the most unlikely of places.  Leaders are demonstrating this with radical sideways moves into markets where they have no core competency.

Leaders must now possess the skill of developing and maintaining a portfolio of strategic options. The strategic options portfolio is a constant search for new options, new alternatives, and new markets.

Watching the world and seeing new opportunities is now a critical capability for our leaders.

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More Than The Sum

Sum-Of 400x265Aren’t we doing ourselves out of job?!

It’s been a fascinating year for us so far, the greatest demand from our clients has been the desire to enable their own people to become more than the sum of their parts.  This has meant taking what we do and training HR teams to deliver the same skills and approach in-house.

This has grown so much this year it is now a core part of what we do, distilling consultancy, coaching, facilitation and behavioural change into skills development for our peers.

So what have we learned about what works?  And aren’t we doing our selves out of a job!

  • Ask more questions
  • Build a solution together
  • Ask even more questions

That might sound just too simple, but we’ve seen it work time and time again.

Here’s how…

Asking more questions is about building rapport with the business and demonstrating commercial understanding. Often we are not recognised as commercial for the answers we give but for the quality of questions that we ask.

If I tell a business manager how much I understand the importance of delivering sales but that it is also important that people go on training courses, I am not seen as really getting the business needs.  If I ask instead “what are your sales targets?  How are you doing against them?  What might help you get closer to / exceed that target?  How could this development we offer help you do that?”  I’m showing my interest in your business and then demonstrating how my offering helps you hit the targets you’re working to.

The building solutions together part is then about being adaptable and showing that we’ve listened to the business needs.  Following the example above, we might say “it sounds like you’re looking for X and the development programme we have delivers Y.  How could we adapt that to make it more relevant for what you need?”  Or it could be that we’re shaping something from scratch so the question could be, “what could we develop to help you meet those targets?”  Mixing questions here with the HR / Learning professional’s own expertise is how the solution is built together.

Aside from the learning-based examples above, this works equally well for a more traditional HR query. When a business manager wants to recruit someone or fire someone, asking questions to understand the real business issue then build a solution together means both parties end up with a better outcome.

And finally – ask even more questions.  What follow up has there been?  After we agreed that solution, what happened?  How have we measured the success of what we did?  What could we learn from that for next time?  What are the business problems now?  What do we need to do next?

This moves the HR team away from being purely reactive and introduces a more commercial edge to the service offered internally.

If you’re thinking about developing your HR and Learning team capability for in-house consulting and commercial business partnering, we’d love to chat with you.  Drop us a line and tell us about the business issues you’re facing – then we’ll see what we can do to help.

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HR and BIG Data

Big-Data2-400x265We get that it’s Data, but why is it BIG?

There’s a lot of talk about big data, and some have talked about the opportunity for HR to make use of greater analytics for workforce data, but we believe there is also more HR teams can do to support the pace of change business is facing.

In case you’ve not come across the term, “big data” is the title given to the simply jaw-dropping amount of information that is being generated, stored and could be analysed across all the systems out there.

From a customer perspective, you’ve got all the data on how someone moves around your website, how they got there, what other sites they browsed, what they buy, how they talk about you on social media, what feedback they then give on your service feedback capture – and the list goes on.

There’s no doubt there’s an opportunity for HR teams to take a good look at the big data available on the workforce.  What questions do we have about our employees, their behaviour, performance, activities etc?  What data is available or could we be capturing to answer those questions?

Beyond HR analytics

Aside from following the trend of analysing data, we see the role of HR – or specifically Talent and OD as one of building up the organisation to be ready for this seismic shift in how business works.  What are we doing in the Talent and OD space to make sure we are attracting and retaining the kind of talent that can take our businesses to the forefront of these changes?  What are we doing to build awareness and develop skills across all departments, so that people can make their own intelligent decisions on what to do with all this change and data?

Building awareness of what big data is and how it is changing the nature of business, could mean an unlocking of new opportunities: To have more people thinking of how to analyse the data available – and use those insights to make informed decisions.

Totem Gummi Bears

As the inspiration for this came from Sir Ian Cheshire’s Retail Lecture, let’s look at particularly what this could mean for HR teams in retail.  What do people across departments and out in stores know about the digitalisation and mobile shift in retail – and the big data that comes with that?  What does that mean to us in our jobs in retail?  How do we need to adapt?  Imagine roadshows where with this knowledge and understanding, your entire workforce can suggest ideas on how the company better respond and lead the way.

Although we’re all customers, shopping online and getting frustrated when the experience is not smooth – or when the app on my phone says something’s in-stock and we get into store and it’s not – that has not meant we have quickly grasped what this means to our work and businesses.  Big changes in the world are communicated throughout businesses to enable people to make choices and decisions – and this is one thing they definitely need to know about.

What could you do?

It’s easy to hold our heads in the sand when the world is changing and we’re not sure what that means or how to keep up.  We recommend exploring with your team – what do we know about shifts in our customer and employee digital behaviour, what big data that may be providing, and what that might all mean to our jobs and business?

Realising you don’t know the answers to these questions can be a great starting point to finding out, challenging the rest of the business to do the same, and seeing where you can go from there.

Happy exploring!

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