Goals: 10 principles of effective goal setting

I’ve previously summarised the research into goal setting. This post serves as a reminder and pulls out the key elements of that research into a bullet-point list.

I hope it serves as a useful prompt in your busy lives.

Here goes:

1. Develop a can-do attitude

2. Set specific goals, aligned to your values and beliefs (not what others expect of you)

3. Set stretching goals

4. Ensure you have the skills and knowledge to achieve your goals (if you don’t, set a goal to develop them, but be realistic: are they within your natural abilities?)

5. Break the goal into bite-sized chunks

6. Conscientiously attack your plan!

7. Gather feedback on your progress

8. Set milestones, reward yourself each time you reach one, and celebrate achieving your ultimate goal.

9. Work with a trusted buddy or coach

10. Learn from your failures

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What we think about most of the time, really does become our reality

I keep a reminder of my goals next to my computer. It’s a collection of images that represent my personal and professional desired outcomes; how I want to be seen and what I want to be doing.

My friend and associate Rachael Beesley helped me compile the ‘vision board’. Some months ago we had a conversation about what direction our lives might take following a change in our work and personal lives.

Whilst I’ve kept the vision board in plain site and referred to it occasionally in conversation with others, I have not done any formal planning or tracking of activities around the goals it represents. What I have done, is committed these goals to my unconscious mind and in the absence of much conscious thought, I’ve achieved each one of them.

It wasn’t until I received some feedback from a client recently that I realised this to be the case. I arrived home, took the vision board off the wall and was able to declare all the goals as my current reality.

I’d highly recommend this, almost subliminal, goal setting technique. The vision board can be created electronically (like mine) or physically from magazine cuttings or by your own artistic hand. Crayons, felt-tips or mud will do the job as well as any other medium.

You might need some help though. Working with a coach who can ask probing questions and help you discover what might actually already be your reality can help the process. It can also help you avoid setting goals that might not be what you really want or need, or who you really are.

And remember, this goal setting process is happening all the time, as a perfectly natural process. What you think about most of the time, does indeed become your reality. So why not think about what you want to be and what you want to achieve for the good of yourself and others? Negative thoughts and negative deeds, are likely to lead to negative outcomes. Positive thoughts (conscious or unconscious) and positive deeds, are likely to lead to positive outcomes.

It certainly works for me.

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Mind The Gap Voiceover Re-Instated

A human interest story caught my eye recently and reminded me of one of my favourite pieces of wisdom.

Oswald Laurence, who died over a decade ago, had his recording of “Mind The Gap” removed from the London Underground Embankment station to be replaced by a new recording. His widow, who traveled on the tube simply to hear her husband’s voice, campaigned for its reinstatement and the tube company agreed.

I often use “Mind The Gap” as a reminder to create a gap between stimulus and response in order to provide a more measured reaction to challenging situations. Being a frequent train and tube traveler, I am reminded most days of this useful piece of advice.

See my original post here.

Glad to see the press can report something positive and meaningful instead of always focusing on the negative aspects of the news.


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The Science of Well-Being – Happiness Research Updated

In a previous post I wrote about Martin Seligman’s work on positive psychology and his book on Authentic Happiness (Seligman, 2003).

Seligman has written a new book, updating his theory and adding a wealth of research data to back it up (Seligman, 2011). The main thrust of this book is to move away from the vague notion of happiness, to the more precise notion of well-being. In so doing, he has added aspects to his previous model that make for a more complete list of activities that, if pursued, can support a more fulfilling life.

The theory outlined in Seligman’s first book was that “Authentic Happiness” was made up of three elements: positive emotion, engagement and meaning. Seligman described three “lives” that might be “chosen”, in parallel, in the pursuit of authentic happiness. These were the “pleasant life” (a life led in pursuit of positive emotion), the “engaged life” (a life led with significant amounts of time in ‘flow’) and the “meaningful life” (a life with higher purpose).

Seligman’s revised theory has well-being, rather than happiness, as the primary aim and distills this into 5 elements, the first three being the same as for happiness: positive emotion, engagement and meaning. He then adds accomplishment (the achievement of things, particularly when it is “just for the sake of it”) and relationship (particularly in the form of “doing a kindness”, again “just for the sake of it”).

Seligman explains that happiness is “one dimensional” in that it is simply about feeling happy and notes the subjective measure in its assessment. On the other hand, well-being is about both subjective and objective measures, the latter being particularly evident in the assessment of relationship and achievement. He goes on to state that “well-being cannot exist just in your head: well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships, and accomplishment. The way we choose our course of life is to maximize all five of these.”

Not only does well-being theory have more elements than happiness theory, it also has a more robust underpinning of the 24 strengths and virtues highlighted in Seligman’s original work. In happiness theory, these strengths and virtues contribute only to engagement. In well-being theory, they underpin all five elements.

This update by Seligman is profound in its potential for understanding human well-being, or “flourishing” as he calls it. It is also simple to understand. Of course, in real life application, like any personal development, effort is needed to learn and apply the skills that support well-being. Seligman writes at length about determination, persistence and even “grit”. He isn’t saying the search for well-being is easy, but he is saying it is possible, we know what it looks like, and that it can make a significantly positive impact on our lives.

Seligman’s new book is definitely worth reading. It is also worth taking a look at the Authentic Happiness website where you can access the questionnaires covered in both of his books.

I look forward to following Martin Seligman’s ongoing work and to building his theories and practical applications into my consulting portfolio. I also feel motivated to continue to utilise this thinking and research in my own, ongoing personal development journey.

Seligman (2003) Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment. Nicholas Brealey, London.
Seligman (2011) Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being – and How to Achieve Them. Nicholas Brealey, London.
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Appraisals: 10 tips for making the most of yours

If you are reading this in December or January, chances are you are in the middle of the dreaded cycle of annual performance appraisals.

I say dreaded because that is what the majority of people feel about this process. I’ve also heard the words “fear”, “apathy”, “loathing” and “chore”. Rarely do I come across someone who relishes the process. Ultimately, the biggest issue we all have with them is the feeling of being judged. As human beings, we don’t like that, not one bit!

Like or loath them, one thing we can say about appraisals is that they are here to stay for the foreseeable future. My research into the literature on performance management practices in 2008 revealed there are no viable alternatives on the horizon.

Given their prevalence, what can individuals do to get the most out of their appraisals?

Here’s my top 10 things to think about and do:

1. Take ownership

This is the most important on the list. This is your appraisal, your development, your performance rating, and ultimately your rewards and career progression. Take the process seriously and allow enough time and energy for it.

2. Understand the process, know the detail

Most processes are overly complicated. Don’t let this put you off reading and getting to understand all of the related materials and expectations placed upon you. Of course, you should have done this at the beginning of the review period so that you knew what you were aiming for. Either way, look at them now and make sure you know how you have performed against the benchmarks. In most organisations these days, that means both the “what” and the “how”.

3. Be realistic

In any group above about 50 people, there will be a normal distribution of performance ratings. This means there will be a block of people hovering around the mid-point, or average performance level. Not everyone can be a high performer. Be realistic about what you have achieved. Who, amongst your peers, is the top, all-round performer? Compare yourself to them. How do you measure up? Maybe that top performer is you. That’s great, but by the law of averages, most people reading this wont be a top performer. I say again, be realistic.

4. Take a balanced view of your strengths and development needs

It is a strength to seek support in developing your skills. This first requires an understanding of current strengths and skills gaps. No one is the finished article, no matter what they have achieved or at what level they operate. If you are genuinely performing at the top of your game in your current role, fantastic. However, assuming you want to move onwards and upwards, look to the next level for the gaps you need to start filling now. Also, look for how your current strengths might become weaknesses in different roles or environments. As we move through the levels in an organisation we need to take on new perspectives, develop new skills and let go of some old habits.

5. No surprises

Your ultimate aim should be to have no surprises during the appraisal process. During the preceding review period you should have been having regular performance reviews with your manager and speaking to other stakeholders about their experiences. Your manager should have called out any discrepancies and said “well done” for success, as they happened.

If this hasn’t happened, the best you can do is speak to our manager and other stakeholders before the actual appraisal and ask for feedback. Your aim is to get pointers for what the actual appraisal conversation should focus on. This should be a mixture of things that have gone well and things that should improve.

Even with this preparation, you may still be faced with a surprise during the appraisal meeting. Whether this surprise is positive or negative, politely and firmly suggest to your manager that, going forward, you would like this feedback in the moment.

6. Gather evidence and prepare

Gather feedback from stakeholders and have your key performance stats to hand. Fill in all the required paperwork, no matter how repetitive or tedious it might be. Ask trusted peers or more senior colleagues to read it and offer feedback.

Get it to your manager in plenty of time and ask that (s)he read it before the meeting. Go through what you want to say and how you might respond to questions, especially the potentially sticky issues and development areas. Be prepared to challenge any lack of insight the manager might have into your performance. Suggest they speak to stakeholders to gain a more balanced view of your performance if this is lacking.

7. Focus on the conversation, not the paperwork

When in the meeting, assuming your manager has taken the time to read the document, you should be able to focus on the conversation. Remember, this is your appraisal, so make sure you cover all the points you had in mind. Your manager may have an agenda or an habitual way of holding the meetings. That’s fine. Just make sure you have a list of points you wish to make and questions you want to ask and tick them off as you go. Make sure you finish the list before you close the conversation.

The conversation should be more of a dialogue than a debate. If you find yourself debating a particular issue, point this out to your manager. Ask if their is a different way you can both frame the issue to help you come to an agreed perspective on the situation. If not, discuss whether it is important enough to continue the conversation later or whether it is ok to agree to disagree. Remember point 3, be realistic in your expectations.

8. Volunteer to do the write up

This might seem an odd one, but I got all my direct reports to complete all the paperwork for their appraisals, even if the “instructions” said otherwise. It certainly helped them take ownership of the process. I could also see whether their understanding of the conversation was the same as mine.

It’s also much more efficient. 10 people doing 1 write-up each, as opposed to 1 person doing 10 write-ups is a better use of everyone’s time and makes sure they are done in a timely fashion.

9. If necessary, agree to disagree, but if you can’t…take action

As mentioned in 7, agree to disagree on minor points. However, if the disagreement isn’t so minor, then consider the following options:

  • Accept it and move on. Don’t let it fester. Ask how this might be avoided in the future and work to these new goals (assuming they are reasonable). Remember, your aim for the next appraisal will be “no surprises”!
  • Speak to two or three people who have a close enough view of your performance and ask their opinion. Don’t ask the moaners or those that will agree with you for the sake of it. Ask someone who will give you a straight opinion.
  • Ask yourself the question (again) whether you are being realistic in your expectations and assessment of your own performance.
  • Put in an appeal. Most appraisal processes have this built in. If not, consider invoking your company’s grievance procedure.

10. Always keep one eye on your next appraisal

Before, during and after this year’s appraisal, always have in mind the next one. Listen for clues as to what your manager will be expecting from you. Take note of where you disagreed and think about how that might be avoided next time. Think stretch: how might I do more, with less next year.

In summary

At the risk of sounding like a bore: aim for no surprises, be realistic and above all else, take ownership. This is your career, your development. Don’t be a passenger. Take the wheel and drive.

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My tribute to Susan Jeffers

This is my Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway story.

I had just been appointed to my first management position. My appointment was something of a risk and many eyebrows were raised, but my new line manager wanted to change the make up of the team and to bring in fresh perspectives.

Whilst I reported to a line manager based in the South of England, my work base and my internal clients were based in the North West. It felt an isolated position to be in at first, but I felt confident in my capabilities and I had many friends in the organisation.

Given the importance of the role to me, the questions being asked and my sense of isolation, I was understandably nervous. My nervousness then increased as I prepared to meet one of my key clients. The man in question was a Regional Sales Director.

My line manager had briefed me on his eccentric character, so I prepared myself for an interesting encounter, thinking it would be friendly and perhaps a little fun. How wrong I was.

What I didn’t know was that the Regional Director felt I had been forced on him as his support manager. He also had a personal favourite in his current administrative team to whom he had promised the role.

My very first meeting with this man was not friendly, nor was it fun. I was ambushed on his own turf, in his office. He attacked me from the moment I walked through the door. Standing by the window, staring across the city landscape like an emperor surveying his kingdom, he immediately told me how he felt about my appointment.

To add to my discomfort, his favourite administrator, who was now one of my direct reports, was in the room. He said he didn’t want me in the role and would rather I ask for a transfer. His tone was threatening and he was a well-built man who utilised his physical presence to intimidate.

When I responded to his comments with measured and calm responses he turned and gave me a piercing stare, his face crimson and his voice now quivering with rage. I stood my ground and responded to every one of his points. On the outside I was calm and polite. On the inside I was screaming with fear and rage.

After the ambush, I phoned my manager. She was supportive, reassuring and pragmatic. Her pragmatism was based on the fact that this man was a top performer for the company and unlikely to be tackled about his behaviour in the immediate future.

Her advice was to stick with the job, see it through and start to prove myself through my actions and results. She would provide support through her connections at head-office and make sure that his behaviours were known to his management team. She was chipping away behind the scenes to change the organisation culture.

I also had another source of support at this time. My job involved a lot of driving so I was always listening to audio tapes in my car (my “university on wheels”) and one came in very useful. This was an audio tape of Susan Jeffers narrating Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. Her calm disposition and soothing voice worked wonders on my drive home that day.

The positive affirmations Susan described were to prove vital over the coming months. One, in particular, sticks with me to this day.

You see, this man’s office was on the 8th floor.  As I traveled from the lobby to the 8th floor, I would repeat the following (out loud if I was alone):

  • I am powerful and I am loving!
  • I am powerful and I am loved!
  • I am powerful and I love it!

Entering this man’s ‘empire’ was a tough ask day-in, day-out. Repeating these affirmations (literally “my elevator script”) allowed me to exit the elevator with a smile on face, a spring in my stride and confidence in my voice.

It took months of hard work and unflinching determination to get to a point where this man, his management team and his administrators,  accepted I was there to stay and that I could actually help them achieve their goals.

Twelve months on, his team won Region of the Year for sales performance and the Regional Director put on a celebratory dinner. The same man who 12 months ago wanted me to quit, stood up in front of 150 people and apologised for his actions and thanked me for my support in helping the region achieve success.

I have dipped into Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway many times since that challenging day. I have also pointed many people towards its wisdom as a coach and facilitator. No doubt I always will, given its timeless principles and accessible text.

Thank you Susan, you were there just when I needed you.


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Mind The Gap – Consider your levels of presence and improve your levels of performance.

I often find myself on platforms waiting for trains. I see the warnings to “Mind The Gap” between the train and the platform edge.

Apart from the immediate dangers of falling betwixt locomotive and platform, these words also remind me of the importance of creating gaps in my mind between stimulus and response.

We are inundated with stimuli all day, everyday, and they come in many forms. A stimulus can come from another person, our environment or from our incessant inner voice.

Creating a gap in the mind is simply to become aware of our emotional state and inner voice such that we can be better aware of our environment and then respond in a way that helps achieve our goals.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in need of a little help getting focused or responding to someone or something in an appropriate way. Situations in which I sometimes feel the need to Mind The Gap are when:

  • someone has just said something that requires a considered response (not a knee-jerk, metaphorical punch on the nose)
  • I need some creative insight or innovative ideas
  • I’m feeling stressed or emotionally challenged
  • responding to a critically important question or statement
  • listening (truly listening) to someone
  • I want to relax and my inner voice is chatting away
  • I want to practice “being” and not “doing”.

When I feel the need to to Mind the Gap, I do so by consciously recognising the stream of thoughts running through my mind, the rhythm and position of my breath (centred or high in my chest), and the emotional state underpinning my current mood. With practice, this can be done very quickly. If you are with someone, to them, this should seem no more than the moment in which you are considering your response.

During this gap, I quieten my stream of consciousness, slow my breathing and create a more appropriate mood. I become more present. In this state of increased presence, I am able to find a state of mind that is more conducive to the situation.

Of course, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes the metaphorical punch on the nose is delivered or the stress levels remain obstinately high. That’s when I know it is time to take some time out.

For me, Mind The Gap serves as a very useful prompt to consider my levels of presence and thus improve my levels of performance.

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10 tips for developing a great people management practice

During my research into management and leadership development in the UK, I came across statistics that are, quite frankly, embarrassing.

One statistic is particularly alarming, and is the start of a string of woefully inadequate numbers from pre-management to senior leadership development. This statistic is that a staggering 82%¹ of organisations do nothing to identify and develop potential people managers. This essentially means that the vast majority of first line managers receive no preparation for what is arguably one of the most important roles in any business: the motivation, development and performance management of customer facing employees.

Granted, development for first line managers, once in post, then sees some improvement, but not much. Taking all the levels of management into consideration, 72%² of organisations say they are struggling to find managers internally that have the necessary skills to perform well in role. This is seriously holding back UK Plc’s performance, according to a recent paper published by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills³.

Assuming you are working for an organisation that doesn’t provide adequate management development, what can you do to kick-start your own management journey?

1. Read, lots.

A core element of your ongoing professional development has got to be reading academic and practitioner books, papers and articles. It is amazing how many managers have never read a management book, or if they have, its because their manager has asked them to, or it was a requirement for a training course.

Read from a critical viewpoint. Understand that “best practice” is only a perspective, not the proven, one and only way to approach something. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

Create both breadth and depth in your reading. Don’t just read the popular management “how to” books. Branch out into anything that takes your interest and that might hold insights into how human beings tick, how they work together and what motivates them. From How to Win Friends and Influence People (published in 1936) to What Makes a High Performance Organization (published in September 2012), read, read and read some more.

2. Look for role models.

Who in your organisation is already doing what you want to do? Who is getting the recognition you want? Assuming the recognition is for the right reasons (often it isn’t), observe this person closely. What do they do? How do they do it? How do they behave? How do they “show up for work”, both physically and mentally?

Ask to shadow this person. Look, listen and make notes. Don’t mimic too much though. Be your own person, borrowing those traits and techniques that suit your personal style and character. No one wants to see a copy-cat. They want to see someone who knows their own mind and who demonstrates the desired behaviours and abilities. Above all else, be authentic.

3. Know your strengths.

Knowing what you are good at and in what circumstances those strengths can be used to great effect, is perhaps one of the most important insights to develop. It is an ongoing journey of discovery as you age, gain experience and your strengths evolve over time.

Ask for feedback from colleagues and your line manager. Look outside of work to where some strengths might be evident and that you might want to put to use at work. There are plenty of capability and character “tests” available. Your organisation may provide some of these for free. Check out the L&D or HR section of your intranet. Take a look at Now, Discover your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham. Buy the book and you gain free access to an online Strengths Finder assessment.

On the point of strengths, keep focused on these whilst mitigating your weaknesses. Don’t become obsessed with developing weaknesses into strengths. You can’t be great at everything. Look for your signature strengths and make sure that your weaknesses are developed to the point that they are not fatal to your progress. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is always the starting point. As I stated earlier, it is also an ongoing journey of discovery.

A critical point to note here is whether you have what it takes to be an effective people manager. Not everyone does. If you don’t, accept it and look to develop your technical specialism. Many organisations are now seeing the need to create career paths for their non-people managers. Take advantage of this new insight and don’t subject yourself and those you might lead to sub-standard management. Not only is it a painful experience for all involved, it will be perpetuating the viscous cycle of poor management that is damaging UK Plc’s performance.

4. Develop a professional people management practice.

Understand that people management is a professional practice as much as the technical specialism you have developed as a non-people manager. This is the fundamental mindset shift that needs to take root in most of our organisations in order for people manager development to be taken more seriously. Once you become a people manager, you have two professional practices to develop and nurture.

Once you see yourself as a professional, with a living, breathing people management practice, you start to see the need for a healthy focus on its development. The people you lead are not resources to be managed, they are clients looking to you for development, direction, meaning and motivation.

Grab opportunities to attend training events, workshops, seminars and conferences. If your organisation doesn’t fund these development opportunities, find ways to attend within your means. Many are free and those that require a payment can repay you many times over during your career. Think investment for the long term.

5. Develop a reflective practice.

Once you see the professional nature of your people management practice, you can understand the need for continuous professional development (CPD). At its core, this CPD is about learning how to reflect on one’s own thinking, behaviours and impact in the world. It is never taking anything for granted and always being curious as to the nature of your relationships and the “what” and the “how” of your successes and failures.

A reflective practice is NOT about attending workshops, reading articles and ticking boxes to show someone you have spent a minimum number of hours gathering new knowledge.  The value in this knowledge is only released in the activity of putting it into practice. A reflective practitioner spends time, every day, reflecting on their impact, reframing their thinking and refocussing their subsequent activities. Attending workshops and reading are important, but only if your living, breathing, evolving practice is developed as a result.

You might want to take a look at a previous post on the reflect, reframe and refocus framework.

6. Have a go

You don’t have to wait to be promoted to have a go at people management, or to take your people management practice to the next level. Volunteer to lead projects or teams. Deputise for your line manager. Use out-of-work activities to try out your people management and leadership skills.

Remember that you do not need to be in a formally recognised people management role in order to manage or lead people. You might be a call handler in a contact centre. What opportunities arise to manage and lead? What about organising the office party, acting as a subject matter expert for a new product launch or coaching and mentoring others?

7. Find a mentor.

A mentor is someone who has been there and has the t-shirt to prove it. Find someone who you respect and is respected by your organisation. The relationship doesn’t have to be formal, with regular meetings. It can be adhoc, as and when you need advice. Either way, the value to be derived from the mentoring will be based on the strength of relationship and trust between both parties.

8. Use a coach.

A coach is able to help you find answers and plan activities to achieve your goals. They don’t have to be a specialist in your line of work, but this can help.

If your organisation doesn’t provide coaching support, ask a colleague or your line manager. Make sure they know how to coach. They don’t need formal qualifications but they do need at least a basic knowledge of coaching processes and an empathy for others’ emotional journeys. Coaching is as much an art as it is a science. You will know when it feels right and when it is time to move on to a new relationship. Trust your instincts.

9. Network, network, network.

Never stop networking. It is the life blood of any professional practice. It brings fresh opportunities to help others and in return seek help. If you are nervous about networking then go to a workshop to learn the techniques and build confidence. There are plenty of these events all year round organised by various bodies. Take advantage of them to give networking a go and not only will you be learning new skills, you’ll be networking whilst you learn.

Get some business cards printed. These can cost as little a £20.00 and only need to have your name and contact details on them. If your organisation provides them, all the better. It’s staggering how many networking events I’ve been to where people don’t have business cards. I know that contact details can be exchanged with a simple text these days, but that doesn’t seem to be the norm just yet. There seems to be something satisfying and ritualistic about the exchange of “gifts” when two people say hello and exchange business cards. Don’t leave home without them.

9. Join professional bodies and specialist interest groups

A great way to network and keep up to date with the latest thinking and trends in your professions (technical and people management) is to join professional bodies or specialist interest groups.

For people management in the UK, the professional bodies that stand out are the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the Chartered Management Institute and the Institute of Leadership and Management. If you are reading widely, as recommended in point 1. above, you may want to look wider than these to institutions such as the British Psychological Society. If you run your own business, or are in a senior employed position, there is the Institute of Directors.

LinkedIn provides plenty of forums and discussion groups, as do many personal or business blogs.

10. Teach others

It is often said that if you want to know your subject well, you should teach it to others. I agree. I have practiced this often and always gain a deeper understanding of both my knowledge and also where the gaps are. It is this wish to teach others, combined with the success I was having in my people management practice, that first got me interested in the wider field of people and organisation development.

There is much you can do to develop your professional practice as a people manager, whether you are looking for your first supervisory role or looking to climb further up the ladder. Grasp every opportunity to learn new skills, listen to new ideas and challenge your current thinking. UK Plc is not yet geared up to offer this support to you as a matter of course, so, unless you’re lucky, you’ll have to be a self-starter. Develop a hunger for knowledge and challenge. Remember, there is always someone out there who has been there and got the scars to prove it. Seek support, ask questions and be forever curious.

¹Institute of Leadership and Management: The Leadership and Talent Pipeline 2012
²Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development: Learning & Talent Development 2012
³Department for Business Innovation & Skills: Leadership & Management in the UK – The key to sustainable growth

How To Win Friends And Influence People

What Makes A High Performance Organization: Five Validated Factors of Competitive Advantage That Apply Worldwide

Now, Discover Your Strengths: How to Develop Your Talents and Those of the People You Manage

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Changing cultures in our unethical banks and businesses

One doesn’t have to look far to see examples of unethical behaviour in our corporations. The sale of unwanted and inappropriate products and anti-competitive collusion. They all add up to give the false impression that all is bad in corporate UK.

Whilst many of these actions result in nothing less than defrauding millions out of their hard earned cash, the people committing these acts are not professional criminals. They aren’t even petty criminals. They are, in fact, just like you and me: ordinary people, carrying out ordinary jobs, serving ordinary customers.

What makes these ordinary people act in a way that is, at times, so unethical? I would suggest the answer is encapsulated in culture and courage. These people are in the wrong culture and they lack courage. I am not saying they lack integrity. Some may lack this quality, but I don’t believe the majority do. I believe they simply lack the courage to not do what their culture is expecting of them. The culture surrounding them sanctions unethical behaviour as “the way we do things around here…just turn a blind eye to the consequences and hit your targets.”

So, if the wrong culture and a lack of courage are what stand in the way of good people doing the right thing, what can our CEO’s do to bring about the changes in behaviour so desperately needed?

New regulation won’t solve the problem by itself. Neither will new CEO’s parachuted in on their own. What is needed is culture change brought about through pressures from both the outside, working inwards and from the inside, working outwards. In my last post I shared Schein’s definition of culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration.”

Loss of customers as they vote with their feet, new regulatory powers and competitors who are getting it right, are the pressures needing “external adaptation”. I’ve always said the first of these is the most powerful. We, as customers, must take our monies elsewhere when companies let us down. Saying it is too much hassle doesn’t wash. Businesses adapt or die when faced with customer revolt.

Within the business, a brave few, with the support of the (possibly new) CEO can create the changes that then demand the internal integration highlighted by Schein. A group of well chosen “volunteers” who are given the spotlight, power and a real voice, can make the majority feel more courageous to step up to the plate, challenging others who persist in the old ways. Those who do persist need to be moved on.

What won’t work is re-writing the vision and values statements and putting them up on the walls. These things will help, but it takes real people, doing things differently, to lead real and lasting change.

It will take a long time to bring about cultural change and for the majority to develop the courage to align themselves to the new way “we do things around here”. The stimulus for change has got to be us, the customer, encouraging the courageous few within these banks and businesses that we want to see survive and flourish over the long haul.

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World-class individual and team performance – lessons from England Rugby Union

What does it take for a team to create a world-class performance and what personal traits need to be evident within the individual team members?

This question popped into my mind after reading an article written soon after Stuart Lancaster became acting head coach for England’s Rugby Union team. He has since been confirmed in role and at the time of writing is showing signs of putting a team together that could go on to win the world cup in 2015.

In business, world-class performance is about being competitive, or on a par with, the best in the world, not necessarily being the best. On this basis, I would argue that even in their current form, England are demonstrating world-class performance.

Stuart was asked about the types of players he wanted to include in his squad. He responded by stating “I’m confident that we have great players and strong characters who can do us all proud wearing the white shirt. Talent gets you there, but it’s character that keeps you grounded and makes sure you retain the right values.”

I believe Stuart was, in part, referring to the lack of character displayed at the last world cup by some in the outgoing squad, both on and off the field. England were knocked out at the semi-final stage, well below par for a team with the talents at its disposal.

How often do we see teams perform below par, below world-class, despite their obvious collective talents? I refer here to a failure to achieve success and demonstrate integrity. We see it in all walks of life. It could be argued that the critical failure of many sports, professional, industry and political teams at this stage in our history is the failure to  demonstrate character (integrity) and apply their talents to the “right thing.”

At a time when the world is calling for greater levels of integrity and success that is more equitable in its focus, Stuart’s message resonates for me.

Stuart speaks of talent and character. I would add to this. If we think of “talent” as capability, then we can think of four ‘c’s’ needed for world class performance: capability, character, collaboration and culture. I could add a fifth, courage, but I think this a trait within character. You might think of others?

The personal traits of capability and character, are brought to life in a team environment through collaboration and culture.

Collaboration is needed to achieve what the sum of the parts (the individuals) cannot achieve by simply focusing on their strengths in isolation from those around them. In rugby, this is typified in the positions each player adopts, the accountabilities that fall to each position and the way in which the ball is passed from player to player as they advance towards the try line.

Collaboration also includes a diminishing of ego or self-interest for the sake of achieving the collective goal. For the England rugby team, this has recently been evident in a lack of show-boating and an increase in selfless play. I’ve seen individual players forego an outside chance of crossing the try line and taking the glory, instead passing the ball to a team mate who has a greater chance of scoring.

The fourth ‘c’, culture, is the climate within which this collaboration is encouraged, individual character is given permission to be expressed and capability is focused on the right objectives.

A definition offered for culture by Schein is “a pattern of shared basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration.”

For the England rugby team this “external adaptation” is needed to achieve what is demanded of them (to win games) under the varying pressures exerted by their bosses, the Rugby Football Union, their fans and their opponents. The internal integration refers to the way in which the individual players find ways to “get on”, understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and, ultimately, perform at their best.

Note that Schein refers to assumptions (in other words, rules and guidelines) that are “invented, discovered, or developed.” This means that culture is not simply brought about naturally or by accident. It can also be a deliberate act. Given the right purpose, built around ethical and professional behaviours, this can create a culture that supports the right kind of collaboration, permission to display the right kind of character and ultimately an environment where capability is successfully applied in the pursuit of the right goals.

Do you know what your signature capabilities are? Do you have a character that is focused on ethical and professional behaviours? Is the environment you find yourself in collaborative in nature? Do you operate within a culture that supports this collaboration, allows character to shine and ultimately capability to be applied? If so, you have the ingredients for world-class performance. If not, maybe you have some questions to ask of yourself and your team mates?


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