Real Life Learning

Category: Leadership Skills

When do we know it is time to learn new tricks?

In some of the recent commentary about the sacking of Martin O’Neil from Sunderland Football Club a theme seemed to be that the methods he had always successfully used were no longer working and did not have the same impact.

This has made me reflect on how easy it is as we get older and more experienced in our careers to continue using the skills that worked before. Most professionals will find a method that works in most situations and we are employed for our experience in the past of successfully using that method.

But what happens when it no longer works as well? Do we notice the change? Do we blame circumstances in our context for the lack of result or do we take a big step back and review whether we need to completely overhaul our approach?

This weekend I was at the MOL CIPD tutor conference and another tutor asked me what I thought about Smart Boards. I was fairly negative about their usefulness but the real answer is that I don’t know much about them!  I have never needed to get to grips with them. My old and familiar methods work well, and most of my corporate clients do not have rooms equipped with anything smarter than a projector and a flip-chart. This is a classic example where we can deny that we might need to learn new tricks!

Tips for Refreshing Your Skills

  1.  Be honest about your own evaluation of your practice. Ask yourself if you are getting the same good results as you got a year/a decade ago and be open to exploring the answer.
  2. Do a review of other people in your profession and find out what they are doing and identify any tips from this.
  3. Watch out for all those things you automatically dismiss and revisit those reactions with an open mind. I did a course on Twitter two years ago after dismissing Twitter as unnecessary to my profession, it was a revelation to me. I can see I am going to need to do a similar U Turn on Whiteboards!
  4. Try to make small differences in your existing practices, they might not work but you will find the experience of designing, implementing and reflecting on these changes will make you more consciously competent.
  5. Spend time with children. My nephew is 9 and provides me with valuable insights on the future generation of learners.

What other tips can you add to the top five? How do you keep on top of your skills and keep learning new tricks to future proof your career?

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.

Making and Influencing Change: Beyond the Shiny Things Approach

One of the disappointing aspects of my profession as a trainer is how so many in our profession (and I include myself at times) get excited by new shiny techniques that promise us to fix one of the big problems in organisations…how do you get people to change behaviour? We seek out techniques that will work quickly and fix the problem so that our organisations can run more smoothly. From an initial pilot study a project can quickly be picked up and implemented across a whole organisation and then a few years later it is forgotten about as the desired change in behaviour has not happened.

It was in this context that I picked up Timothy Wilson’s book “Redirect. The surprising new science of psychological change” http://www.amazon.co.uk/Redirect-Surprising-Science-Psychological-Change/dp/1846142296

The book is a really detailed but readable overview of some of the latest research on various group and individual interventions designed to create positive change. Wilson outlines why many of these interventions have failed, even though they seem at first to make perfect sense.

An example which stood out for me was the “Free Book” project. The idea is that children get rewarded for reading by having a prize that they will get once they have read a certain number of books. For children who were not keen on reading this had a desired effect. Whilst the reward was in place they did read more. But once the reward system stopped their reading went back down to previous levels. The really scary thing was that for children who already did plenty of reading the scheme did not increase their rate of reading but when the scheme was over their level of reading dropped right off! By putting a reward system in place the children had started seeing reading as something that they had to be motivated to do by external rewards and no longer something that they valued themselves.

I reflected on this in terms of the myriad of performance bonus systems that I have seen implemented in the various organisations I have worked in. Many managers I work with love these incentive schemes as they feel that they are able to reward good behaviour with a positive outcome. If you scratch the surface then you quickly realise that all these schemes are doing is introducing a mechanical way of getting us to “do the right thing”. Once the reward changes (and how many incentive schemes are ever that good in a recession?) then the motivation to do the right thing is no longer there.

The key solution that was recommended from the research was something that individuals could easily implement themselves – the story editing techniques. These are defined by Wilson as “a set of techniques designed to redirect people’s narrative about themselves and the social world in a way that leads to lasting changes in behaviour” (p.11, 2011).

You can read more about the story editing technique in this interview with Timothy Wilson

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-to-improve-your-life-with-story-editing

If you are a trainer or change consultant who is bored of the shiny things you might find the book as useful as I did in promoting a more reflective and research based approach to intervening to influence change in organisations.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Redirect-Surprising-Science-Psychological-Change/dp/1846142296

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

The Only Way is Ethics

*thanks to Bill Moody for this great title!

I have been working a module on business ethics for a client and have been researching materials on business ethics. I have a copy of the “Good Business- Ethics at work” which is produced by the Quakers and Business Group.  I confess to not having studied this with as much vigour as I should, especially as I am actually a Quaker! I have found it to a very challenging guide and am finding lots of gems to help with the leadership module.

The first section is about honesty and integrity and this seems so relevant today as organisations attempt to shore up practices to ensure that a HackGate incident doesn’t happen to them.

The section begins with advice and then queries which are designed to encourage individuals to reflect and review their own practice.

Honesty and Integrity

Advice

The most important word to remember in all business dealings is ‘integrity’. Integrity is essential to developing trust; we know that a person is acting with integrity when he is not moved by opportunist or self-seeking impulses and we can trust his response to a total situation. Integrity involves being open honest, truthful and consistent with your beliefs in all your business dealings.

The whole of business requires trust, faith and goodwill. In the emerging digital economy, establishing trust is a critical factor for success.

Queries                                      

  • Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do?
  • If pressure is brought upon you to lower your standard of integrity are you prepared to resist it?
  • Do you do what you promise, even if it just to return a phone call?

One of the pressures on my integrity is that I am successful at running training workshops but I know that the return on investment on these is poor unless the organisation really embed the learning. Do I refuse to take on training projects unless there is embedding included or do I leave that to my clients to wake up to the waste of learning that goes on? What about you, what do you say about the dilemmas you face and the pressures on your integrity in your world?

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?

Copyright © 2017 Real Life Learning

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑