, , ,

Gravitas: How to Prepare

How do you engage and influence people?

Creating great first impressions, using charisma, holding a client’s attention and delivering clear messages are fundamental elements of gravitas. But did you know that this is a skill you can develop?

In this video, we’ll look at three key elements you’ll need to consider when developing Gravitas: Passion, Purpose and Story.

These three things are the foundation to developing a broader range of micro-behaviours that develop ‘gravity’ or authority, through calm confidence, keeping it together under pressure, being personable and having credibility.

Read More

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.

Interested in Personal Masterclasses?


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
Read More
, ,


neuroplasticity 400x265Easier to spell than you might think!

Whilst this one’s not too difficult to say, it does involve a fair bit of science, so thinking caps on everyone!  In summary, neuroplasticity is a general term that is applied to changes in neural pathways, synaptic plasticity and non-synaptic plasticity.  Or for a more practically applied summary – this is about learning, change and our ability to flex.

Various parts of our brains such as synapses (the minute gaps between our brain cells, where information is communicated), respond to changes in the environment, thinking, behaviour and emotions.  So why is this relevant to businesses?

Well imagine a large organisation that once made desktop PC’s, who boldly declared to the world that the tablet was a passing phase.  They’ve now had to significantly change their business model and thus behaviour and thinking to accommodate the new environment they find themselves in.  That change required a fair amount plasticity, adaptability and flex.

Jelly Bean Diversity

From the shop floor right to the boardroom, an understanding of neuroplasticity can give us some valuable insights in supporting organisations with many kinds of change.

But back to the brain.  The brain works the same way as other muscles; to strengthen it, it requires exercise and regular work outs.  Unfortunately the brain has a ‘use it or lose it’ approach; by adulthood we have already lost approximately 50% of our synapses due to inactivity.  However, this doesn’t mean we can’t learn new skills as an adult.

An adult brain is still capable of making new connections from learning new skills.  In fact the more it is used, the more connections are made in the brain.

So what does this mean for learning new skills or behaviours in the workplace?

We can work with our existing capabilities but importantly, those skills and strengths can also be increased.  The brain works best when it is building on existing connections rather than starting from scratch, so it makes sense to build on what you already know or are already good at.

In Development Centres or learning programmes for example, people need to be able to identify relationships in the material or make it relevant to something they already know.

Totem Lollipops

This will strengthen the existing neural pathways which makes learning much more likely.  Similarly, repetition will reinforce the neural connections so delegates should repeat the skills or actions until these synaptic connections are solidly reinforced.

Employers can take note of these principles of plasticity, but taking advantage of these in the workplace remains a slightly grey area.  We can take a broad brush and apply some of the learning from neuroplasticity to everyone – that’s fine.  But what if employers could somehow identify employees who already had a large number of connections, in theory these people could be taught new skills – and quickly.

Could we one day look at measuring learning agility and potential through brain scans?  Then what about those employees who don’t already have high plasticity levels?  Isn’t that a form a discrimination?  That might be a debate for a future generation.

Whilst the area of neuroplasticity in employment is still an emerging field, there are some far reaching implications not just on the horizon, but in the here and now.  And we can’t put it any better than this article by not one, but three super smart people, Jeffrey Schwartz, Pablo Gaito, and Doug Lennick:

“When corporate leaders talk about change, they usually have a desired result in mind . . .. They know that if they are to achieve this result, people throughout the company need to change their behavior and practices, and that can’t happen by simple decree. How, then, does it happen? In the last few years, insights from neuroscience have begun to answer that question.

New behaviors can be put in place, but only by reframing attitudes that are so entrenched that they are almost literally embedded in the physical pathways of employees’ neurons.”

And so in the here and now, we can consider the implications of neuroplasticity for our hopes of behavioural change.  If we want managers, leaders, customer service colleagues and all to do something differently – we’ll need to build on what they know, use their strengths and challenge the attitudes and ways of doing things that are deep set in the organisational culture.

Read More

The Personal MBA

mba2The Idea: Educate yourself…

An MBA at a top school is an enormous investment in time, effort and cold, hard cash. And if you don’t want to work for a consulting firm or an investment bank, the chances are it simply isn’t worth it.

Josh Kaufman is the rogue professor of modern business education. Feted by everyone from the business media to Seth Godin and David Allen, he’s torn up the rulebook and given thousands of people worldwide the tools to teach themselves everything they need to know.

Instead of spending thousands of pounds and a lot of time completing an MBA, which may be run by academics and be frankly out of touch with what really works in business – read books and articles which give you the insights you need to actually be successful.

This book summarises the critical things you need to know to start, lead and grow a successful business – in easy to understand language.

The Action

Demystify business strategy and expertise so that everyone can understand what we’re talking about. It needn’t be complex to talk about why we do what we do as a business, what we sell, to whom, why they buy it and how we make money.

From there you can explore ways to improve things, choose where to focus your attention and clarify what that means you need to stop doing as well. Read this book for a clear outline of the critical things you need to know about business.

Read More
, ,

The Power of Story Telling

Teddy 400x265Why telling stories is no longer something to be ashamed of.

The world of business has arrived at a place where telling stories is no longer something naughty, but rather a skill that should be developed.  What we need to understand is where and how it is a useful skill to have, and how to leverage it most effectively.

What is particularly important to recognise, is that every challenge we face as a business has at its heart a communication conundrum.  Story telling is already having an impact on our business whether we like or not.

Customers are sharing stories to the wider world about their experiences of our business.  Employees are sharing stories about their work to friends and family.  Our leaders are sharing stories with wider stakeholders on their vision for the business.  And those stories can have an impact on motivation, morale and our share price.

By identifying the stories that are already influencing your business, you may be amazed at what you’ll discover.  If these narratives are enhancing the business then build upon them, create more of them and share them widely.

Totem Lollipops

However they may not be the stories that you want to tell!  The good news is that these stories can be changed, new narratives can be created that are more focused and empowering and once they are communicated, these stories can herald a new wave of business success.

Well used storytelling can be an incredible way to bring clarity to every area of our business, whether they are customer-facing or internal such as in leadership or cultural change.  There are several places where storytelling fits into business and here are some of the key areas where it can work well to enhance the success of your business communications:

Effective teams are built on shared stories

Every team is made up of a unique set of individuals, with unique stories.  There is often a blend between those who have business focused stories, and those whose stories reflect a preference for developing relationships. The art of storytelling can be used to identify where these personal stories might clash, then to create a new empowering story for the team as a whole. That in turn builds the energy, motivation and determination that ultimately fuels success.

Totem Gummi Bears

Story telling can define your business culture

In any organisation there are as many unique stories as there are people.  But when there is an alignment within the organisation, between the stories that people inside the organisation believe and tell, a consistent message begins to appear running through the organisation.  This in turn becomes your culture.

The key is in engaging people and understanding their stories – recognising that these stories reflect their beliefs and values.  Setting the stage for developing a new integrated story that brings the different strands of the business together, creating a new cultural story that propels the company forward with hearts and minds aligned.

Storytelling engages more than the mind

Studies have shown that a well-told story, takes people on a journey, stimulates their emotions, causes the release of neurotransmitters in their brain and makes it more likely that they will take action.  Great stories usually tap into fundamental life themes such as overcoming fear through courage, trusting your intuition, learning from mistakes.  So while you might balk at the idea of sharing a story from your personal life it may enable you to connect with your audience and communicate in a deep and memorable way.

And the benefits don’t stop there.  Research by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services has shown that there are benefits for the teller of the story as it can empower, encourage personal growth and build resilience too!

Read More

Introduction to Mentoring

mentor-totemWhat is the difference between coaching and mentoring? Is one better than the other?

We tend to find a combination of the two has the greatest impact.  Coaching and mentoring could be at either end of a wide scale. In pure terms:

Coaching would be empowering someone to find their own solutions – consisting of largely asking questions and listening.

Mentoring would be giving advice – consisting of mostly telling, less listening.

In reality though, these two extremes rarely have the positive impact of combining both techniques.

If we just ask questions, we do not give others the benefit of our own experience, learning and expertise.

If we just give advice, we do not give others the chance to reflect on how they could make that advice truly relevant to their situation and take action that is authentically theirs, rather than just trying to repeat what we did.

And so the recommendation is to take the best of both: Coaching with suggestions added in, and mentoring with questions and listening.

What does that look like?

Have you ever had someone give you advice, where you just nodded and smiled, thinking you’ll never do anything with it? This is what we want to avoid.

Great mentoring can be spotted by the interaction between mentor and mentee. The mentee looks engaged and beyond that is talking about how they can apply the mentor’s advice in their personal work situation.

How could you and your business benefit?

Research has revealed that mentoring is one of the most important ingredients to career progression. Hearing about another’s experience, how they have got around challenges in your business, your context, your structure, is the critical learning that enables us to navigate political pathways early on.

Rather than waiting for a new recruit or recently promoted manager to work out for themselves the ways in which things really work – you can use mentoring to show them quickly. That means reduced time to reaching optimum performance levels.

How can I apply this?

When you’re mentoring, consider using the following structure as a rough outline for a session:

  • Spend a few minutes at the start of each session building the relationship, getting to know the individual and letting them build trust with you
  • Ask them: What do you want to achieve in this session? Or, what’s on your mind at the moment?
  • Make sure you get a clear focus for the session, as this will ensure you have more than just a nice chat
  • Offer your advice, what’s worked well for you in that scenario, what hasn’t worked etc
  • Ask them what they think about that, how they could apply it to their situation, and what they will do before you meet again – commit to action


Read More
, , ,

Dropping the Performance Ratings

ratingsWhy the world is falling out of love with the Annual Performance Review and its ratings.

Ahh.  The Annual Performance Review.  We’ve all had one and all left one feeling vaguely worse about ourselves and probably demotivated as a result.  It’s also quite likely you’ve been on the other side of the table too – having had similar feelings.  In many ways, Annual Performance Reviews make sense.

In business we crave the ability to quantify everything, from our sales targets to the number of toner cartridges we use.  Why shouldn’t our people be the same?  The ability to rank our employees in a given context and to assign performance-related perks (or not) has been the bread and butter of the average HR department for decades.  Where would General Electric and Jack Welch be without them?

So why are a growing number of high profile, global organisations including Amazon, Microsoft, Accenture and even General Electric themselves, moving away from the fixed rating, yearly performance review?

To begin with, the world doesn’t work to yearly cycles anymore, it may well do for senior managers, investors and your finance department – but for those of us on the frontline we have daily, weekly and monthly goals to achieve – things we quite often receive instant feedback on.  We inherently know (or at least we should do!) what our performance has been over any short time period, so why wrap it up once a year and look backwards?

Totem Lollipops

When Deloitte analysed their performance processes, they found employees and managers spent around two million hours a year on performance reviews (take the average hourly wage at Deloitte and times it by 2 Million – that’s a big number).  Do we know we’re getting good value out of this time?

Initially designed to help managers coach people to better performance, most appraisal meetings fall into a rut of ‘what you did well over the past 12 months and what you didn’t do well’.  In today’s corporate environment, assessing, addressing and rewarding performance once a year is simply too slow – both for the business and for the employee.

Which leads us to the second part of the answer: millennials.  David Rock and Beth Jones, writing for the Harvard Business Review about their research on this move to abolish ratings, comment that:

“Millennials in particular crave learning and career growth.  Of the 30 companies we studied, one preliminary finding that jumped out was that after a company removed ratings, managers talked to their teams significantly more often about performance – three or four times a year instead of only once.”

A growing number of your workforce will have grown up with the ability to give and receive feedback instantly, frequently and whilst mobile.

Jelly Bean Diversity

The nature of that feedback has changed too – the problem with many appraisal meetings is that much of the time is spent talking about the ratings themselves, not the underlying performance.  Millennials are far more comfortable asking the question why.  They don’t simply want a star or a thumbs up on their rating form, they want to see constructive feedback.

If a manager is unable to give them this guidance and coaching – in real time remember – then the manager is no better than a troll on YouTube.

It’s also the case that the familiar incentives don’t always encourage the best employees anymore, so we’re required to offer more tailored feedback and customized work arrangements for our top performers.  Companies that are removing ratings are seeing the conversations with their employees move from justification of past performance to conversations about growth, development and by extension – engagement.

All of us as managers need to stop getting stuck in processes and reviewing what is in this day and age, the ancient history of work performance 12 months ago.  We need to instead focus on instant, specific feedback so that everyone knows when they’re on the right path – and how to make positive change when they’re not.

Totem Gummi Bears

But does it work?  The CEB and the NLI have been researching companies who have made the move already and there are mixed results. CEB claims that most experiences are negative after the removal of ratings, whereas the NLI describes very positive outcomes. 

In the conversations we are having with clients taking the option to say goodbye to the rating system, there is a constant theme of concern over the organisation’s readiness.  Are managers aware of what they will be doing instead of discussing ratings?  Are they ready for that?  If this means more frequent and specific feedback, do managers have the skills and confidence to do that well?

The NLI have found that the most successful transitions have been where the business has lead strong change management communication on why this is happening, what it means for everyone involved and how people will be supported through it.  These businesses have also focused on increasing the frequency of performance conversations and moving the discussion from looking at the past to looking at the future.

It’s not a big stretch to see how the neuroscience literature supports this – as any change brings uncertainty unless there is an increase in strong communication focused on the why question.

In our next article we explore how you can do this well too…

Read More
, ,

Energy Injection

How to inject energy into your events…

Recently we were asked what tools we could use when facilitating a behavioural and cultural change event, in order to inject energy and help creativity.

It’s funny how when you get asked these questions the mind often goes blank: the tools that are second-nature to us have become so ingrained in our work that we don’t really think about them anymore.

Yet when we started sharing these tools with the client and discussing as colleagues the different tools we used, we all benefited and all picked up new ideas too!

So here is that insight shared with you too: ideas for injecting energy into a group, breaking people out of ‘stuck’ thinking and getting more creative….

Visualisation – this is about painting the picture of what it would feel and look like to have something change. We ask the question, “if some miracle happened overnight and you came to work tomorrow and this had already changed, what would be the first sign to you that things were different? What would you see / hear / feel? What else?”

What will it not be? With our naturally critical brains, we often find it easier to say what we do not want than to talk about what we do want.

Even in a personal example of preparing for a difficult conversation or presentation, we might think to ourselves, “I don’t want to come across like a nasty person,” or “I don’t want them to think I’m not an expert.” Getting people to say out loud what they do not want can be a great starting point for then switching things around and asking, “if that’s what you want to avoid, what would you want instead?” or “what would help you avoid that outcome you do not want?”

Improvisation – to break people out of logical and analytical problem-solving mode and move them into a more creative space, improvisation is a great tool. Using the “yes, and” game means taking something simple like, “what could we do for our next team social?” and asking people to apply “yes, and…” to every idea.

Someone might start with, “we could have it at the pub,” and the next person could say, “yes, and we could invite Beyonce to sing there,” on to, “yes, and we could have a space for people who don’t like loud music to sit and relax,” followed by, “yes, and we could put the pub on a space rocket and fly to the moon…”

Once we’ve played with that, we can then apply the same concept to ideas raised for the specific issue at hand, encouraging more building on ideas than critiquing.

List 50 ideas – when we are asked to come up with 5 ideas, we often get stuck at 3.

When we are asked to come up with 50 ideas, we might get stuck at 20 or 30, so this is a simple tool to get people thinking fast and throwing out as many ideas as possible. In an attempt to get more ideas out, people come up with more and more crazy ideas, which may not be practical at all, but they might spark inspiration for something that is practical.

Getting a high volume of ideas out without judgement can lead to us spotting the potential in a whacky idea and seeing how that might work.

Switch seats – just getting people up and moving often provides a different perspective, so give yourself permission to make people that little bit uncomfortable and move them around. You could also add in a specific perspective for this by say having an empty chair in the room that is the “customer’s chair” – or key stakeholder, shareholder etc.

Ask someone to sit in that chair and share their perspective, as this can drastically change the direction of the conversation.

Get outside – if it’s feasible in your venue and given the weather, ask people to discuss the idea / issue in pairs on a walk outside. The fresh air, exercise and different perspective will often raise very different ideas that can be brought back into the room and shared for consideration.

Read More
, ,

Don’t Shoot The Manager

gun-range-target 400x265In a recent article on the principles of 70:20:10 we could be accused of beating up a lot of managers. 

Commenting that the majority of managers are not developing the good stuff’ sounds rather harsh.  So where are we coming from – and is it really all the manager’s fault?

The short answer is we’re coming from the many years of experience that tell us that the majority of managers are not doing a great job.  Is that the manager’s fault?  Well who trained the manager?  Who gave them the support to develop great management skills?  Who recruited them into a management position?  For what reason?  Because they were good at sales / production / engineering / delivering?

The majority of managers are under performing in their people management duties – but this is not a criticism of those managers.  It is a recognition of where companies have failed these managers in organisational systems, processes and support networks.

Managers not managing well is a finding supported by Gallup’s research, suggesting that only 1 in 10 managers have what it takes to be great .  And the fact that employee engagement is very low across industries and countries is a reflection of poor management.  Speak to managers and many immediately raise their concerns and requests for guidance.  For example we will often hear statements or questions like:

  • I’m not sure how to have difficult conversations
  • Should I be friends with the team or separate myself?
  • How do I balance managing the team with the personal responsibilities I have to deliver work as well?
  • I’ve got loads of paperwork I’m supposed to cover with the team, but how do I have a really useful conversation?
  • How do I manage underperformers?
  • What can I do for the high performers and the high potentials?

So this article is our way of saying we don’t want to shoot the manager – we want to help.  If every manager – even those who don’t fall into the magic 1 in 10 Gallup claim are naturals – had more support, what more could we achieve?

Read More