Helen Frewin


Before Performance Management

Totem-Challenge 400x265How to get the most out of your team.

When you think about performance management, it’s likely that appraisals, objectives, reviews and even disciplinary meetings come to mind. There is a lot that comes before all of that which can greatly help in getting the most out of people.

Work out what you want

What do you want to gain personally from working at the practice – financial security? The knowledge that you have provided a great service to the community? What’s in it for you? Why is that important to you? Being clear on all of these things is a critical starting point because it means you have something to fall back on.

Totem Lollipops

On the days when it all gets too much, at the times when you can’t remember why you do this, you’ll have this reflection to recall and know why you’re there. Plus it means you now have something meaningful to share with your team. If it’s meaningful to you, you can make it meaningful to others.

Tell others what you want & make it personal

So once you know what you want, you’ll want your people on board to help you get there. And the best news is, your team will have a lot in common with you in terms of goals. There may be differences, and as we tend to emphasise differences, it’s easy to only recognise these. Give this a go:

  • Explain to someone what you want, your goals for the practice and your life
  • Ask them what they want, their goals for work and life
  • Look for the similarities and ask them what commonalities they can see too
  • Ask them how working towards your goals will also help them achieve their goals

Agree the way forward

What’s the plan? How are you and your team going to achieve what you have agreed you want from work and life? Now you’re clearer on what each person wants, work together to agree how you can get there.

Only now can you really even consider what we would usually call performance management – review meetings / appraisals / progress against objectives etc. You have just agreed what you will all be measured against, so you can have relevant and valid review meetings that everyone has signed up for.

You’ve just created an approach to reviewing performance, without all the usual heavy paperwork.

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25 Strategy Tools

25-strategy-tools-totemThe Idea: Business strategy is not complicated.

We love this book, but it doesn’t sugar coat it’s feelings about consultancies!

Management consultants make it sound complicated to justify their fees, but in fact the process of exploring what to focus your attention on, how to manage risk and grow your company sustainably – all comes down to a series of relatively simple steps in thinking and analysis. Use the tools in this book to help you plan your strategy.

On occasion you will simply have some good questions to reflect on, but often you will also need some analysis of your market data, sales, profitability and carefully considering how you break all of that down into suitable chunks.

The Action

If you have a fear or dread of the term business strategy, your action is to face that fear. If you just read “market data” and “profitability” and could feel the blood draining from your face, then be aware that it is probably your fear of these words that is stopping you from being successful.

What if you believed that profitability was simply a concept you could learn, understand and use to make decisions? What if you translated terms like ‘market analysis’ into things that are more meaningful for you, like ‘looking at who buys our stuff and finding out more about them.’

If you don’t fear these words, but you’re not sure what you should be doing, then pick up a copy of this book to help you go through, step-by-step, analysing your business and choosing how to run it more effectively.

You can pick up a copy by following the below image.

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Behavioural Change

change-management totemIf we want people to be doing something different, shouldn’t we just train them?

Quite often organisations go through a shift in focus or strategy, legislation changes, the introduction of new technology or some other need to do things differently. When this happens, depending on the nature of the change, there may be a need for three or 300,000 people to change the way they do things.

Where does training fit in?

Training can be both fantastic and useless. Training, “the teaching of a skill or behaviour” is great at showing me how to do something, for example how to use a new piece of equipment. But training does not guarantee that when the time comes to use the equipment, I make any of the critical choices that make the difference. Choices like:

  • Using the new equipment over what I usually do
  • Following my training to use the equipment properly
  • When I hit an obstacle, choosing not to give up
  • Choosing to encourage others to use this equipment and be positive about trying something new

All of these steps require a positive attitude to change and a subsequent change in behaviour – which training alone can only slightly influence.

Line of isolated jelly bean figures with shadows

The challenge is not that learning how to do something is useless; it’s that it’s just not enough. We need to know why we should bother doing something different, what the obstacles might be, how we can avoid them and how we stay positive through that learning curve.

So how do we change behaviour?

Whether you want people to use new equipment, try a new approach to performance management, be more innovative or deliver a specific objective – the same rules apply. To change individual behaviour, you need to:

  • Find out what motivates your people
  • Identify the potential barriers and obstacles to your specific change
  • Identify the benefits to each individual of the change you want to embed, and align these to individual motives
  • Communicate the change, the benefits, the obstacles and what you’re doing about them, then provide training where required
  • Demonstrate that senior leaders are really behind this (usually by doing it themselves)
  • Engage each individual to consider their attitude to the change, their motives, their barriers to change and what they will do about them

All of the above works most effectively when you have a project manager leading champions around the business to engage individuals, knock down barriers and take the whole organisation through the change. And once this initial engagement has occurred, you will need to maintain momentum by measuring the change activity, communicating progress and celebrating success.

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Engage for Sustainability

Sustainability-TotemIntroducing the triple bottom line.

With increasing pressure from government targets, a growing sustainability agenda and many businesses just keen to survive, what do we need to know about sustainability and engaging our people to deliver it?

What are sustainable businesses?

Quite simply: Businesses that last and can do so without damaging others, the environment or their profits. Great businesses achieve this by focusing on the triple bottom line or three P’s – people, planet, profit.

Where does engagement come in?

The common assumption is that engagement fits in the people section. But to be successful in all three P’s businesses need engagement in all areas – so that people through every level of the organisation are driving success for the triple bottom line.

People – Successful organisations work to engage people, respect, reward and develop them to deliver high performance. But what is often missed is that every individual needs to take accountability for this. Engagement doesn’t just happen through some kind of event or initiative run by HR or senior management – it is the outcome of people offering respect, reward and development to each other.

Planet – Sustainable businesses endeavour to reduce their impact upon the natural world. They consider ways of reducing waste or even better, using waste as a resource to boost profits. Whether you believe climate change is an issue or not, it’s a no-brainer to make more profit rather than more waste. And as the consumer increasingly chooses more environmentally-friendly suppliers, we need to keep up, or lose out.

Far from just asking people to save electricity which is often the extent of a business’ sustainability campaign, this is about having your people so engaged that they are creatively finding ways to better use resources

Profit – In an age where costs are constantly rising, we have to be pretty creative to grow profits. Whether the focus is on increasing the profit margin or increasing sales to boost overall revenue, we constantly need more ideas on how to attract buyers, increase their average spend and keep them coming back. Once again it is your people who know how to do this. They see the new customers, they see the wasted products, they see the marketing material that does and does not work. Engage your people to come up with the ideas that will sustainably grow profit.

How can we engage our people?

Here are some top tips from the companies that are doing this well:

  • Find out what motivates your people – at an individual level, why do they come to work?
  • Have a senior leader explain the corporate vision and how it splits into objectives for the three P’s – linking this in to what motivates your audience.
  • Find out who the trend-setters are in each location or department. Not eco-warriers but influencers, the ones people listen to.
  • Ask each trend-setter to lead a group on a specific objective, linking your request to their motives.
  • Communicate plans to generate ideas for success – linking the goals to individual motives.
  • Set up events at each location, lead by the trend-setters, to get people involved and generate ideas.
  • Deliver the good ideas, measure the effects, celebrate success and keep going!
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Personality Profiling & Gaining Buy-In

Jelly Beans TotemWhen you recognise the value personality profiling can add, how do you sell it in?

At first glance, you’re trying to offer a process that adds time and money to recruitment. How could you possibly sell that idea?  Unless you are talking to someone who has previously used and found great value from personality profiles, these tools are at best a mystery, at worst, a waste of time.

Most people will at some point in their career have had contact with a personality questionnaire. To know what you are dealing with, it is therefore useful to ask the individual what experience they have had of these tools before.

The difficulty here is not that the tool is no good: It is all in the execution. Personality profiles are extremely useful when applied correctly, but through lack of time or experience, this is often not the case.

Make sure you are clear about the profiling service you are offering, how it adds value, how it works and what each party will receive. Then you can sell the benefits.

Benefits to the business

  • Find out information about candidates’ working preferences quicker and more efficiently than through hours of interviewing
  • The candidate receives feedback, providing a positive image of the business
  • Receive a report about candidates’ likely areas of fit to the role and tips on areas to question further at interview
  • Feedback from a business psychologist can reveal factors about the candidate that an interview wouldn’t necessarily provide. For example, their anxiety levels, social confidence, team approach and leadership style

Benefits to the candidate

  • Complete an online questionnaire and receive feedback on working preferences, providing useful insight into personal fit with the company and role
  • The feedback is a real two-way process and provides an opportunity to add “flesh on the bones” of the profile and explain responses
  • As the feedback is with an external business psychologist, there is the added benefit of gaining their insights based on a range of organisations and industries
  • As the recruiting manager is looking for someone that really fits with the company, the successful candidate will therefore be much more likely to enjoy the work and environment

Starting a conversation about profiling

This may be a helpful start…

“We now offer a personality profiling service, which allows you to learn more about a candidate in less time.”

If you would like more guidance on asking the right interview questions to really get under the skin of the candidate, we provide a service that can help with that.


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Coaching – An Introduction

What is coaching and how do we approach it at Totem?

There are so many different definitions of coaching, and it varies according to the coach, the business need and the “coachee” or client. The Totem approach to coaching could best be described as the challenging yet supportive facilitation of progress.

A coach facilitates you finding your own answers to challenges, with the belief that you have all the answers you need. The reason the definition varies so greatly is essentially to make coaching fit for purpose. In the same way that different people prefer different approaches to training, so each client and business will have specific needs of a coach.

The coach may at times need to be more challenging, share more observations and give more suggestions – whereas in other scenarios the need is for a more supportive questioning style.

How does a coaching session work?

Far from a nice chat or advice-giving session, coaching starts with the individual thinking carefully about what they want to gain. The coach will then question, challenge and reflect what they hear to support the achievement of objectives. Some sample questions you might hear in a coaching session are:

  • What do you want to achieve in this session?
  • How will this support you in meeting your business objectives?
  • Where are you now?
  • What assumptions or beliefs do you have about this?
  • What are your options?
  • What will help you achieve your objectives?

Jelly Bean Diversity

How could you and your business benefit?

Coaching clients often bring a specific challenge such as, “I need to more effectively manage a difficult team member” or a personal direction question, “I want to focus on how to develop my career in this business.” For more executive level coaching, the challenges may be more strategic to the business for example, “I want to clarify where I want to take this business in the next five years.”

Consider what challenges you and your business have right now. If you could make some progress, move past fear into considered risk, make decisions and boost performance – you would clearly see benefits.

The benefits to the individual are increased confidence, performance, satisfaction and drive. The consequence of that to the business is pretty self explanatory. Again, as long as you are clear on the objectives from the outset, you can then measure the success and benefits of the coaching.

How do I get the most from coaching?

Follow these tips to ensure you get what you and your business need from coaching:

  • Find out about the coach’s style – does that meet with your needs in terms of support and challenge?
  • Meet with the coach first – check you have good chemistry and will work well together
  • Set and review clear objectives for every session
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Situational Judgement Tests

“Organisation can never replace good judgement” – Louis D. Brandeis

What is managerial judgement? Is there really a right answer to the question of how to deal with critical incidents at work such as an underperforming team?

What are Situational Judgement Tests?

Known as SJTs, these tests measure managerial judgement, looking at how individuals would respond to certain scenarios. This can be further broken down to: Managing objectives, people management and reputation or corporate management.

You can buy off-the-shelf SJTs that will measure candidates’ responses against a set of pre-determined ‘best practice’ answers. Quite often though, companies require something more specifically designed to their own context and ways of working.

What value do they add?

Management of budgets, people and performance is a challenge to all new managers. We know that five years’ management experience does not necessarily make a good manager. SJTs allow you to test how someone would deal with the kind of issues common to business management. Or if you create a bespoke test, you can measure directly how someone would deal with your specific issues.

As with all psychometric tests, the value-add is in saving time. By using an off-the-shelf or investing in a bespoke SJT, you find out quickly how someone would deal with issues, rather than having to go through lengthy interviews. It is how we deal with these critical incidents that defines our success as managers, so you could do with knowing how well a candidate will match your needs – before it’s too late.

It’s not the only thing that matters, but most businesses face those times when management judgement makes all the difference. Are you recruiting people that shine at those critical moments?

What’s the downside?

SJTs can be expensive to design for an organisation, as they need to be tested for psychometric fairness with a pilot group – involving time and money. If you are therefore more likely to use an off-the-shelf SJT, it is wise for you to check that the scenarios used in the test are relevant for the role you are recruiting for. Make sure you get the right test to measure the right thing.

As with all psychometric tests, the main risk involved is that recruiting managers focus only on one aspect of success. Every psychometric test should be used as part of a wider process to ensure all priority aspects of a role are tested in recruitment.

How to gain maximum value

  • Analyse the needs of the role to fully understand what needs to be measured
  • If judgement and decision-making are key to success in the role, gather information on the kinds of decisions that make a difference and the contexts and scenarios managers deal with
  • Based on this information, review the off-the-shelf SJTs available for suitability – and if nothing is right, speak to a business psychologist about having a test designed for you (and if this turns out to be too costly, ask their advice on how else you might measure what you need)
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Understanding Great Feedback

Totem-FeedbackAnd no, great feedback doesn’t come in a sandwich

Most of us have heard the classic idea of the feedback sandwich: Wedging what you really need to say between two compliments.  But why isn’t that helpful?

Is there anything else out there that can show us how to not only give great feedback but also to receive it well too?  Well this little download aims to do just that, we’ve collected an overview of some of the more interesting theories and models on giving and receiving feedback – specifically ones that you can apply in your day-to-day job with your direct reports and as a learning professional.

Click the image below and the magic will happen.


And if you fancy having a little bit of fun with this, we’ve created a little quiz for you to take that will show you your preferred feedback style here.

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Stand Out

standout1Why doesn’t it work when we copy what another great leader does? 

In his new book Standout, Marcus Buckingham introduces how we can more effectively innovate and spread great ideas that land and work.

When we see a part of our business performing well or one manager doing a great job, we tend to say, what can we learn from that?  How can we repeat it?  The problem is, we’re not taking into account that the idea may be specific to that individual’s strengths.

A better way of spreading great ideas, is to match the ideas to individual strengths.  If your strength is in focusing on learning, you might get great mileage out of this idea to encourage and share learning.  If you’re a great energiser, you may get more from this idea to introduce wild and whacky fun into the workplace.

Let’s stop forcing an idea onto people who don’t get it, and focus on finding the right ideas for each individual’s strengths.


Marcus’ work to date on strengths has argued these points, but now we have a more specific focus  on growing commercial performance, through the spread of ideas that work – to people who make them work.

What can we do to apply that right now?  What ideas have you heard recently that you thought sounded ok but not quite “you”?  How could you make those ideas more “you”?  Make them your own and watch them work far more effectively.


  • When we focus on the concept of an idea (e.g. to understand individual strengths), we can do more with it than if we just take the tactic (e.g. to make everyone fill out Strengthsfinder!)
  • If we take ideas and make them our own, we are far more likely to succeed – therefore corporate programmes to implement ideas across the board are to some extent doomed to fail
  • As Marcus put it, “true diversity is in strengths”– what mix of strengths do we have in our teams and how are we maximising them?

Marcus Buckingham’s book Standout focuses on using your strengths to gain competitive advantage.

A great summary of the tool, the nine strength roles and how this can help innovation can be found on Kenexa’s website.

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