Real Life Learning

Category: Communication Skills (page 1 of 2)

Mentoring a Win Win

Four months ago in the middle of a really full intense period of work I was asked by another member of Otley Cycle Club  to be her mentor to support her to develop her own training business.  I wondered how I would find the time and agreed to do in exchange for tea and cake and on an informal basis because I really liked her and wanted to help. At the time my main focus was about what I could offer as a mentor and whether I would have the time and relevant insights to support someone else. I did not really see it as something that would benefit me.

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Mentoring Session One

After just two mentoring sessions I have realised that this is far from another burden.  A’s business is only a year old, mine is 10 years old. A is excited by all the diversity of the freelance role, she is enjoying the breadth of experience she is getting. I see her getting inspired by seeing one of my tweets from my work in Vienna to go and chase opportunities to deliver her training abroad via the UK Trades and Investment team (UKTI). She has all this energy and passion to just have a go, explore opportunities and find ways of marketing her products to others. It makes me realise how much I too still value these aspects of running my own business. Inevitably after 10 years you become a lot more ground down by the realities of navigating a business through the recession into recovery, you start to take for granted some of the aspects of owning a business that are so great. I sometimes take for granted all the learning I get from my international assignments and focus instead of how tiring it can be to manage the logistics of working abroad including missing luggage, cancelled flights and airport foods. Another insight has been comparing our home offices, this has made me realise that 10 years on mine is due for a makeover .  I could use that as a metaphor to describe the whole impact on me of mentoring someone who is a very different stage of their business development. You become immune to your surroundings and situation and hearing another perspective is such a valuable learning tool. When I have developed mentoring programmes I have often said “of course you as a mentor get benefits from this too”  as this great video which A was involved in but I am not sure I really understood what those benefits are. What I am learning is if you want to get something from being a mentor:

  1. Choose who you work with – I genuinely enjoy spending time with A so when the mentoring appointment pops up on my diary reminder I find myself looking forward to the appointment. Liking the person you are mentoring just makes the whole thing so much easier.
  2. Focus on Listening First – this is so easy with A, she talks me through all the latest projects she is involved in and I find it is so much better for me to pick out the themes at the end and not to force an agenda on the conversation.
  3. Share Experiences not Solutions – I avoid telling A what she should do but I do share my experiences of similar concerns and how I have dealt with this. One experience was about planning work and holidays into the diary so that you take time away from the business. I shared an experience of my worst holiday/work conflict  and my learning from this. A took that away and develop a solution that she felt would help her avoid the same problem.
  4.  Make Your Own Action Plans – usually the focus is on what actions the person who is being mentored will take but as a change why not think about what you are going to do. I have made a note of a number of actions I intend to take, including to stop moaning about the demands of international work and embrace the experience again!

So if someone asks you to consider mentoring them and you like them, say yes. The time you invest will be returned to you with profit!

Bradley Wiggins and the Power of the Why Question

Over the Christmas break I have been reading the autobiography of Bradley Wiggins “My Time” which charts his year of winning the Tour de France and the Olympic Time Trial. This has been a brilliant read for me as I love following road and track cycling but I as I reflect on the book I realise there are some great insights for my organisation work.

One of the powerful influences within British Cycling has been the sports scientist Tim Kerrison. He joined the cycling team from a background in performance swimming and had “revolutionised training in Australian swimming” (p.35) As a newcomer to the sport Tim spent a year just observing the cyclists as they went about their training and their racing. Only at the end of the year did he start to set out his training programmes. To create these programmes he asked a lot of Why questions. A big question was why road cyclists do not “cool down” at the end of their races, like other professional sports people would normally do. What became apparent is that there was no real reason apart from no one did it! The Sky team started to introduce “cool downs” and the other professional racing teams have started to follow their lead.

A Year to Observe

What got me thinking was how in organisations I have never known someone to have a year to observe, see the patterns and trends, and ask questions before they start to be expected to deliver the goods. When I have worked with some organisations on developing their induction and have explored how to support senior managers joining I have often shared the useful “Your First 90 Days”  http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1591391105 with senior teams and the reaction is often that 90 days of observation is too long! So imagine how a year of observation would go down! Yet without that year some of his observations would not be rooted in discernible patterns and trends, it could just be randomly observed events.

Asking Why

It was by asking why that Tim Kerrison was able to find out which of the observations he had made had a valid reason that perhaps he had not fully grasped and which observations were just because “that’s how we have always done it”. How often do we sit back in organisations and observe our normal processes and rituals and ask why we do that particular task in that particular way? I often use the 5 Why’s Technique http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_5W.htm when I facilitate team events on innovation. It is a technique that people really seem to struggle with and can often get really frustrated about the process. This tells me that we are not that experienced in asking why enough. If only we did what might we uncover.

Being Open to Change

The final aspect that needed to happen was that Bradley Wiggins himself needed to be open to change. He was candid enough to acknowledge that in the past when given a training programme he would adapt it to his own needs based on the belief that he knew better than others what would work. This time he said to Shane Sutton and Tim Kerrison that he would trust them to get his body ready for the challenge ahead “get this machine working for next July”. Often when I work with managers they get frustrated because their efforts to support an employee to improve their performance does not result in the desired end point. This insight shows us that without both parties actively engaged change is not going to happen because individuals can so easily sabotage their own chances of success, often without even realising what they doing. The critical change was that there was trust between both partners and this made it possible to make the type of incremental small changes which are the critical path to the overall success of the British cycling team.

So my learning to take into 2013 for my next management development sessions is:

  • Take Time to Observe
  • Ask Why and challenge the “way we always do things round here” attitude
  • Create a climate of trust so that your employees know that you are acting in their best interests and work with you in partnership.

How to Engage your team without footballing millions!

I am a fan of Guiseley AFC a team that plays in the UniBond First Division. The players turn up for traning and to play games for an amazing sum of £100 a week! Their manager is not able to engage by huge bonus payments or by a complicated internal promotion system. What seems to engage the players is the quality of the manager and the team environment which is created.

At a club like Guiseley it is going to be the little things that will make a difference and sometimes this gets lost in some of the work on engaging employees. What interests me is not big bold employee engagement programmes produced by an organisational development consultant but the tiny things that managers do day to day with their teams to create an environment which is engaging and supportive.

This quote always focuses the mind of managers I work with:
“Over 70% of people leave their jobs because of the way they are led.” Norman Drummond, Motivational Speaker

So what can managers do to create a work place that encourages engagement. Recent research by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer collected diary entries of employees in a variety of companies. The diary enteries were used to map the relationship between the individual’s mood and the activities at work. The conclusions were that little things made a big and lasting difference. The small wins were important, these are some small wins that I have observed making a difference in workplaces I have been involved in as an employee or as a freelance trainer.

3 Small Wins for Engagement

Listening to complaints and responding

People moan all the time and as a manager it is easy to dismiss this as “just moaning” but if you really listen you will start to pick up themes about what really irritates people. Right now a big issue is the difference between words and actions. A lot of companies are focusing on keep costs down and have not been doing any wage rises. People get it, but what does not make sense is when they see money being wasted by the top managers on a bonding event at an expensive hotel.

Easter Eggs and Ice-Creams

I can remember being thrilled to find an Easter Egg on my desk from my boss one morning when I got to work. It wasn’t the value of the gift but just the unexpected nature of it. Likewise the ice-creams one of the managers popped out to get one really hot day (and they do happen sometimes in Leeds)

Training, Coaching and Investment

Giving people the chance to develop their skills, and I don’t mean just running a lot of generic training courses. It is about really taking time to find out what people need to learn and finding interesting ways to help them learn it. One of the best customer service training I delivered involved sending people round the shops and services of Leeds for 2 hours and then asking them to present their findings about what they had learnt about customer service to our management team. This bit of training costs nothing, just a bit of imagination from your training team, and the willingness to trust that your employees will use the opportunity wisely.

Banish Boring Training

Banish Boring Training Sessions

One of the areas of my work that I love the most is when I meet a trainer who says that they have a programme to design that is on a really challenging topic which they are finding hard to bring to life. A recent example I am working on is Assessing Credit Risk in Professional Practice. I can tell that you are already looking excited about this topic! You probably want to sign up now for me to run the session for your team. But just in case this topic doesn’t fill you with heart felt joy then read on and see how you might approach a seemingly dull subject like this.

If you are already excited and want to book a place check out my clients website!

http://www.cmlawltd.com/contact-us.php

The main challenge that the trainer faces is resisting the feeling that face to face sessions must be used to explain the legislation and guidance. Face to face time is too precious to waste by verbalising what would work as a set of hand-outs or a self-explanatory slide show. We have to move away from the idea that we have to verbalise stuff for it to be learning. I can read a lot quicker than you can talk so just let me get on with the reading or give me an audio podcast to listen to. Please don’t just stand there talking at me!

There are ways you can use the time with people in a room so much more effectively than talking at them..

Tip 1: Separate background knowledge from discussion and stimulation

  • Provide in advance a set of self- explanatory Powerpoint slides to work as a slide show. Avoid using lots of bullets, try using different visuals to bring this material to life.
  • Create an attractive detailed written guide to the legislation and guidance.
  • Create on line learning questionnaires to check knowledge before or after.

Tip 2: Engage people with the topic

  • Its about hearts and minds so find reasons for people to listen. I once used real press releases about breaches in data protection to get people to realise how serious it can be when it all goes wrong.
  • Run a face to face group session which encourages participants to discuss a range of different scenarios and to explore the consequences of breaches in the legislation.
  • Work with the group to generate some tips to create a check list to use when assessing risk
  • Create some fact cards using the information in your hand-out pack and get participants to use these cards to assess typical situations they may face. An example I created for the credit management course was selecting the best search to do when your organisation has no budget for credit checking.

Tip 3: Brief Everyone about the Training

  • Make sure everyone in the organisation knows about the training and what you are planning to cover. This will help to ensure that the right people attend and that they know why they are attending the training.
  • In your publicity talk about the benefits of attending the training, in the case of credit management it will save your organisation taking on a client who never pays their bill!

The most important thing is about the commitment of the leadership to the training, leaders can have a big influence on training being seen as more than just a “one hit, big tick” event. Effective leaders will make sure that the training becomes part of the way that things are done and provides a safe place for practice and follow up to happen. The trainer can do wonderful tricks to make most topics come alive but if the training is not taken seriously in the organisation then there is no return on the investment and this must be the most boring message for organisations to get!

If having read this you want to attend a programme on Credit Risk Assessment for Chambers and Law Firms then you can book a place at

http://www.cmlawltd.com/contact-us.php

www.bellthompson.co.uk

Can we learn leadership lessons from the Tour de France

Four  Leadership Lessons from the Tour

When the Tour de France came to London I caught the pro-cycling bug and started to grasp the fundamentals of pro-cycling which until that point I had not fully understood. Like all trainers I use stories and anecdotes to explain my learning points. These stories have to be real and have to come from your own passion so it is only natural that the Tour starts to seep into my leadership and trainer development programmes.

Lesson One: It’s All About the Team

Road racing is a great example of team work. Way better than the examples of football we used to wheel out when I worked in the law sector. In a cycling team you have clearly defined roles both on and off the road. One of the fascinating aspects is each team has a team leader and the job of the rest of the team is to protect and support that person so that they can get a win for the rest of the team. This means a real sacrifice of personal ego and also means “burying yourself” in pure physical effort to get your team leader to the front. Listen to Mark Renshaw talking about his role in supporting Mark Cavendish to get to the front. Mark Renshaw could win a sprint but he clearly defines his job is to support Cavendish and Mark Cavendish will always talk about how the team made it possible for him to achieve his win. This article from the sports Guardian outlines these roles

Tour de France 2011: Inside the Team HTC-Highroad engine room  http://bit.ly/q8QarF

Lesson Two: Support Staff are Essential

The domestiques are a bit like our admin teams in business. They do the jobs which are essential for the smooth running of the operation. They work incredibly hard to provide water and supplies at the right time and place. The difference is that in Pro-Cycling there are no plans to cut the domestiques! The admin team in cycling is not seen as a soft cut option as it is in business. They recognise that without the support of the domestiques the team leaders would not be able to achieve their race wins because they rely on this backroom support to do their job effectively.

Lesson Three: Observational Coaching and Feedback is Key

During the race the riders are given constant observation about performance of their team members and other teams. They agree a strategy at the beginning of the day and then update the strategy as the race develops. The coaching and management team see what is happening and adjust the strategy minute by minute. There is constant follow-up on the plans and how these were implemented by  the riders.

Lesson Four: Set and Monitor your Ethical Standards

Pro-cycling has had a dubious ethical background with high levels of cheating by doping and other methods. This caused challenges for teams finding sponsorship. Now many of the teams such as Garmin, HTC High Road and Sky have established a clear team ethical code which defines expectations of the team members and creates a culture where a cyclist knows that any attempts to use any drugs is just not acceptable. The equivalent of a phone hacking scandal is unlikely to happen in contemporary cycling because the team managers have set a clear code, monitor the team against the code and make the consequences of code violation really clear. Team managers do not write an ethical code and then ignore it.

So 4 lessons, can we learn something from the model? Is sport ever relevant to the organisational world?

Customer Journey Mapping: a large group intervention

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping is a method of identifying the main processes that a customer meets when they have an interaction with an organisation. By spending time mapping the journey a customer actually takes organisations can make changes to their processes which are based on real customer requirements.

Completed map

Customer Journey Map Sample

There has been a lot of work done in the UK about mapping customer journeys and the Cabinet Office website is a great place to explore different types of journey from the physical journey of customers using Eurostar through to the virtual journey of someone apply to enter the UK as a worker from outside the EU. http://www.cse.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/getDynamicContentAreaSection.do?id=9

My project involved the careers team from a large University in the UK who wanted to know more about what customer journey mapping was about before they could decide whether to use it in practice or not.

The activity I designed was based on some fictional student profiles. These were designed so that the team could explore the journeys of those students who were not current users of the careers service so that they could identify if there were opportunities that were being missed by the service.

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Steps in Facilitation 2 – Images and Metaphors

Preeti distributing image cardsFor the second of my mentoring sessions with Preeti I decided to keep with the subject of data collection and explore a more sophisticated technique to the standard Post It sort we had used in the previous session.

The brain dump onto Post It notes works really well when everyone can easily articulate their thoughts but sometimes you want something deeper to be explored and the conventional brain dump can end up being a mass of slightly meaningless unconnected words.

We explored using visual imagery as a trigger to an initial dialogue and looked at how you might use this in different settings. I used a set of visual cards from St Lukes Resources. http://tiny.cc/stlukescards

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Steps in Facilitation – Collecting Data

I am mentoring a graduate from the Leeds MBA course who wants to learn about facilitation before she returns to India, so I have 2 months to guide her the skills and tactics of facilitation.
 
 

Brainstorming Facilitation

Our initial thoughts

Our first session was about how to use Post It® notes to generate a range individual responses to a question concerning a team/organisation for example: What causes our meetings to overrun? What is helping employees to feel engaged with the business? What do consumers want from our business?

 

 

Once the answers have been recorded and grouped into categories the next task is to clarify the meaning of each item and ensure that they are in the right category. If the meanings of each note is clarified it then become possible to remove any items which are clear duplicates. This discussion is really important because it will start to define what the key priorities are for the group.Having agreed the categories it is often useful to have a reflective dialogue. A dialogue is a listening space where each individual can choose to share their insights so far and any themes that are starting to emerge from the conversations so far. Inexperienced facilitators often miss this stage and move straight onto voting on the issues and this can mean that some of the more complex grey areas remain unexplored.

The next option might be to prioritise the issues and one very simple way of identifying which are the most important issues for the group is by using a technique called Multi Voting. I have tended to use multi coloured dots so that each person can record their vote on each item at the same time and not have to see their score recorded on a chart.

The number of dots can be allocated by taking the total number of categories eg 6 and allocating 6 points to the top choice, 5 to the next point…., this requires 16 dots per person. However if there are more categories than this and lots of people, then this can become very messy in which case it is often recommended that the number of items are divided by 3 and then dots allocated so there is enough to put one dot on 2/3rds of the items. I often propose that a maximum of 3 dots can be placed on each item.

 

Using multi voting and coloured dots

Our attempt at multi voting

I wondered what other facilitators were doing on the topic and I discovered lots of different methods. One other method I liked was from an organisation called Dotmocracy and they have printed sheets you could use. I can see how these could be combined with the post it notes to really gain some insights from larger groups on the issues: http://www.dotmocracy.org/sheets

 

Then I came across this blog discussion on the use of dots and I realised that this was a really big area of debate amongst facilitators. http://www.albany.edu/cpr/gf/resources/Voting_with_dots.html

My conclusions are to stick with a process that makes pragmatic sense at the time and the facilitator will need to make a judgement call. All the attempts to make a science out of the number of dots looked flawed in practice and I am drawn back to the title of Tony Mann’s book: “Facilitation: an art, a science or skill or all three” and would conclude that this is a great example of “all three”

Facilitation Book

Facilitation – an Art, Science, Skill – or all three? Build your expertise in facilitation


Linked In Learning

Using Linked In for Learning

 I joined Linked In about four years ago and have found it a helpful way of developing my social network in the business world. I have also found it a really valuable learning tool and I am often surprised how under used it is by the managers I work with as a way of increasing their knowledge and skills.

The most obvious learning from Linked In is how it can work as a social networking tool. It is not as “in your face” personal as Facebook and the connections that you generate will be work orientated connections and you are unlikely to be updating with information about professional contacts’ drinking habits!  For people who are nervous about on line communities I think it is a good entry point application.

I have blogged previously about using group forums for questions http://bellthompson.wordpress.com/2009/05/21/the-power-of-learning-in-on-line-communities/.

The Linked In Questions element is worth emphasising. The great thing about Linked In is that you can ask a question to any of the groups you are a member of, you can ask a question just to your own network or you can broadcast a question to the whole of the Linked In membership. It is this variety of options which I think makes Linked In such a valuable tool for learning. If you want to get replies which are more personal in nature then sending a question to your own network will often generate some really insightful comments. You can choose whether you want to send it to all of your connections or just choose the connections you think may be able to contribute some useful information.

The benefits of asking a question to everyone on Linked In will be the range of responses you will get . I find these responses help me to think about the question in a wider manner and can help prevent “silo thinking” that can so easily happen when we get locked into our own little world of reference points. The insights which others may share can challenge the thinking you originally had on the topic. This happened to me when I was asking some questions about customer service with non native speaking customers.

Joining groups in Linked In can also be a good way about learning about current themes within your professional and interest groups. There are thousand of groups and one way of finding relevant groups is to explore the groups that your connections are already members of; this may also help you to find areas in common.

The other areas where Linked In can help individual learning is through the recommended book link. You can sign up for this free application and it means that you can recommend books you are reading to others and can get the insight of others on books you are interested in reading.

I would be interested in hearing from others about how you use Linked In to help  your own learning?

The Power of Learning in On Line Communities.

 In a traditional training situation there is a knowledge exchange between the participants and the trainer. It is often expected that the trainer will give their expert input and this will be discussed by the participants. This approach can create a spoon feeding type of dependency from the learners who expect the trainer to have the answers. It also puts the trainer in a dangerous position of being an expert in subjects which they may not have sufficiently researched. I have seen a number of trainers use the same old material which they reshape into the different topics they are training. A typical example is the “fact” about the proportion of communication that is due to body language, tone and words. This is a distorted modern myth based on some context specific research done in the 1960s and yet in the past year I have seen it used by 5 different trainers without referencing the research but just giving out the information as a fact. http://tinyurl.com/Myths-in-training

 I think we need to be more honest about the extent of our knowledge in the training and learning field. We are not usually in-depth subject specialists; our skills are about taking some concepts and making them meaningful so that individuals can apply the learning into their work. We are experts in the process of getting groups to communicate with each other and in facilitating problem solving activities. We cannot keep up to date with everything we need to so this is where the on line communities can help us and help our groups.

I was facilitating a group who wanted to look at how to reduce the number of complaints they were getting from their customers. We had a half day session and then a follow up session three weeks later. One of the questions they ask was about how to handle calls where English wasn’t the first language of the caller. The suggestions I had on this topic felt insufficient and so I used the time between the two sessions to pose this question on the Linked In Answers Forum. http://www.linkedin.com/

The answers I got were fascinating. I shared my findings with the group who were amazed that people from Canada, America, Brazil and Netherlands had listened to their concern and given feedback. For a group of workers in a city council this made them feel really important and valued. We reviewed the answers provided, along with my input and the group were able to identify some possible options to take their service forward.

The second way of using the communities is to ask the group to generate a question they might ask about the topic we are focusing on. This activity can not only highlight their knowledge needs but can also highlights interesting issues about how to ask a good question! I then set participants the challenge of finding a suitable forum to place their question and to come to the next session with an analysis of their results. By doing this the group are developing some life long learning skills about the value of on line communities. It is also a way of assessing the advice given.

Another approach I used was with a group of law lecturers.  We were exploring some employment law questions on a forum and designed an activity for students which would require them to analyse the advice given and compare this with the advice they might give based on their understanding of employment law.

 The forums I like to use are the CIPD, Linked In, TrainingZone and Training Journal.

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