Archive for the ‘Topic – Performance Improvement’ Category

Contractual Outcomes

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

I travelled down to London from Yorkshire by train last Sunday as I often do. It’s usually an uneventful trip, however, it was different this time. Overhead power cables at Retford weren’t working so Virgin East Coast Trains had to take a detour generally used by freight traffic which wasn’t an ‘electrified’ route. This meant they had to borrow non-electric trains from other rail companies. So I boarded my East Midlands train an hour late and ended up in London about two and a half hours late – and after the tube trains and other lines had closed for the night.

In fairness to Virgin Trains, they handled the situation as efficiently as possible and sorted out taxis for everyone for their onward journeys.

Their staff were also keen to make sure travellers knew about their Delay Repay scheme, which, as the name suggests, means that travellers get a percentage of their fare returned where they have arrived at their destination over half an hour late. This is a good scheme, and I’m sure it acts as a financial motivator to train companies – having been stopped in a field in North Dakota, USA on an Amtrak train for 9 hours recently, such a scheme would possibly change Amtrak’s mindset, or put them out of business within 3 months.

Earlier this month the UK Government announced that it would be reducing this half hour to fifteen minutes – so any delays over a quarter of an hour will mean the train companies having to compensate passengers.

Which? Magazine has been campaigning heavily on another aspect of this too – their view is that as only an estimated 20% of people claim their Delay Repay compensation, the train companies need to raise awareness of its existence and make it easier for people to claim.  That may be the case, and it is great that the time at which compensation kicks in is being reduced, but I think this issue needs to be approached from a different angle.

The contract with the traveller needs to be fairer.

What happens if I get stuck in traffic and cannot make the specific train I am booked on to due to arriving at the station 10 minutes late? I have to buy a completely new full-fare ticket – as you can only amend tickets for specific trains prior to the departure time.

What Which? should be pushing for, and the Government should be introducing, is a scheme whereby if such a situation arises, I don’t have to buy a whole new ticket, but have to pay an administrative fee or additional percentage due to being late – which could be linked to how late I was getting to the station. A scheme that echoes Delay Repay, for when the customer is later rather than the train. This could have been complicated a few years ago, but a software solution to calculate such penalties would now be straight forward to create.

And this isn’t just the case for trains – it happens in other situations.

If I return a hire car more than an hour late, I have to pay a fee. If it breaks down for part of my hire period I get no compensation.

The unfairness of contracts isn’t the only issue though – and in the situations already described we, the consumers, have to accept the offer that the Goliath has put on the table.  We have more influence in smaller scale situations. How do we create more meaningful contracts in the first place? How do we contract for business focused outcomes rather than simplistic outputs?

If I want to employ someone to cut my lawn, he or she may offer to cut it once a fortnight, however, I might want the contract to be that they cut it every time it gets above a certain height – the latter being a more effective approach for me but a potentially more difficult contract to manage for the provider.

It has been interesting reading the debates about contracts to run private sector prisons. The move towards payments for how a company reduces repeat offending as opposed to just running a prison are very positive. The Government is encouraging this more widely through Social Impact Bonds. Again, more difficult contractually, but focused on the required outcome rather than a more simplistic output or activity.

Which brings me to my primary line of work – training. I struggle to understand why companies almost all the time contract for courses to be delivered. If a provider is offering training, it should be to up-skill people, improve performance, change behaviours, etc. So why don’t organisations push for the contracts to be about up-skilling people, improving performance or changing behaviours – and pay providers for that, as opposed to just delivering training.  Focus on the required outcomes, not the simplistic outputs.

Harder to contract for, but ultimately more business focused – and it drives up performance within the training sector, and the really poor performers (of which there are too many) either improve or are consigned to history.

Contractually, industry shouldn’t give training providers such an easy ride, in the same way that the Government shouldn’t be giving rail companies such an easy ride.

Paul

 

Fifty Shades of Red

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

During my rafting trip along the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon we covered 225 miles. Along the way, there were many things that I expected – and there were things that were an absolute revelation to me.

The first revelation was the importance of the Canyon’s geology together with the mesmerising beauty of its different coloured layers, complicated by the constant zigzag of equally evocative fault lines.

The whole of the journey was through Arizona, which I already knew came from the Spanish “Arid zona” – what I didn’t know was that the name Colorado comes from the Spanish for “Colour red”.  And the River was red – in places. It was also many shades of red and many other colours besides. Every morning when I awoke, being only a few yards away, it was both easy and fascinating to check on what nature’s paint palette had created overnight – as its colour often changed from how it was the previous evening.

Its colour depended on the part of the river we were on, the amount of rain that had fallen, the waterfalls, side canyons, washes and creeks that were feeding into it, and the speed of the river (the CFS – Cubic Feet per Second) to name four. Look at these pictures of its different colours.

The very bright blue water is the Little Colorado River – a counterpoint to the usually murky waters of the Colorado.

I also came to appreciate that the colour was one of the aspects of the river that the guides used in assessing how it would be for our rafting that day. It helped them to decide how they were going to work with it.

As I lay be the river one morning, mesmerised by its beauty and power, I started to think about how the Colorado was very like a team.

On the face of it, the same river passes through the same route every day.  A traveller would think like that at their peril. A good river guide treats it as a different river every day, and recognises its changes during the day. And this is what a great manager does with their team.

A poor manager sees the same team coming to work every day, whilst a great manager doesn’t have the same team coming to work every day. A great manager has individuals coming to work who will be different every day – and so the team will be too. The great manager notices those differences and manages accordingly – like a great river guide.

In the Harvard Business Review, Marcus Buckingham highlights his findings from research that started with a survey of 80,000 managers conducted through the Gallup Organization and then continued for two years with in-depth studies of a few top performers.  Buckingham found, “… that while there are as many styles of management as there are managers, there is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest: They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it. Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess. The difference? In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable. … In chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves. More important, you won’t win if you don’t think carefully about how you move the pieces. Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack.”

Generally, people leave managers, not organisations.

In “The Value of a Good Manager”, Peter Drucker itemises the four foundations that employees look for in managers. They are:

  • Managers who show care, interest and concern for their staff
  • To know what is expected of them
  • A role which fits their abilities
  • Positive feedback and recognition regularly for work well done.

The first foundation is all about managers recognising the fifty thousand shades of their teams. And in terms of the Colorado, where the likes of the Little Colorado meet the Colorado (picture on the left), that could be seen as a new member of staff joining the team.

What can you do next? Think about yourself, your skills, your interventions with your staff. Drucker suggests five questions to help you:

  • Do I demonstrate care, concern and interest?
  • Am I clear in talking through what’s expected of my staff?
  • Are people working to their strengths? Do I provide support where staff are stretched? Am I proactive in this?
  • How often do I provide positive feedback and encouragement? It’s far too easy to notice the negative and feedback on this.
  • Am I creating the conditions where people want to work with me?

What colour is your river today, and why?

Paul

Rapid Lava Learning

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Mile 180. Lava Falls Rapid, Grand Canyon. One of the most notorious, if not the most notorious, rapid on the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon.  A snarling, noisy cauldron of churning waters intent on devouring anything or anyone who doesn’t show any respect – and some who do.

For those people like me rafting the 225 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon this is one of the white water highlights. For the guides taking us down the river, this is also a highlight – but even more so a challenge. They know the risk of the boats capsizing, together with the risk of serious injury (or worse) for themselves or their charges if the relevant respect is not shown. They also know that reputations are won and lost on the few seconds taken to navigate Lava Falls. YouTube logs many guides’ attempts to negotiate the rapids – often the ones that didn’t go according to plan.

I had already witnessed our guides ‘scouting’ (this is where the guides leave the boats and walk ahead an up so that they can look down on the rapids to check the prevailing conditions) previous challenging rapids and seen indications of the seriousness and perhaps mild apprehension with which they approached them – tones of voices became more serious, then, as they stood over the rapids the tightening of already recently tightened life-vest straps.

Different guides displayed different signs, and I was particularly impressed by one of the guides in terms of her skills in these situations. Kiki is a woman in her mid-twenties who has guided many parties and regards the Grand Canyon – and in particular the Colorado River – as her home.  She has also never capsized a boat on the river – although she has taken quite a few unintentional swims through rapids – but is aware that capsizing is likely to happen at some point.

I was interested in her approach to navigating Lava Falls and she was kind enough to spend some time discussing it with me the evening before we “ran Lava”.

There were several points of particular note.

Kiki said that Lava Falls enters her consciousness early on in the trip (although the Falls are not negotiated until around Day 12), and often prior to the start of the trip. She described experiencing short “adrenalin bursts” on these occasions in anticipation of the Falls. When I asked how she reacted to these, she explained that whenever she experienced this, she would visualise the Falls and her anticipated route through the Falls (the preferred route can alter depending on a number of factors, but mainly on the water level of the River). Kiki found this a useful process in both making use of the adrenalin burst and in meaningful preparation for the rapids.

She then described how the guides would discuss the Falls the evening prior to running them, and how on the actual day of the event as she approached the Falls she would start to experience some nervousness and anticipation. She recognised that whilst these emotions were understandable, they were also potentially unhelpful, so she recognised and dealt with them.  She achieved this by discussing information and factual aspects about the Falls with her passengers. She explained that this helped expel the unhelpful emotions and focussed her on the cognitive task in hand in a helpful manner.

Having scouted the Falls and returned to her boat to run the Rapids, Kiki described how she monitored her breathing. She recounted how if she then felt apprehensive at all, she would take deep breaths – for two reasons. Firstly because it helped her to refocus her energy and ensure she was in the best physiological state to negotiate Lava, and secondly for a very practical reason – if she did capsize or go for an unintentional swim she would have plenty of breath! The importance of this last point was illustrated by one of the other guides who explained how they were thrown out of their boat, spent 38 seconds underwater in the clutches of the Colorado and were then spat out 25 yards from where they went under.

Finally, Kiki explained how she reflected on her approach, line and skills after the event – considering what went well and what, if anything she could have done differently – thus maximising her learning for the next time.

The majority of people reading this will not be river guides, but the approaches, behaviours, processes and practices that Kiki so effectively uses are instantly transferable to other situations – she demonstrates a use of Emotional Intelligence beyond her years in recognising and managing her emotions, she understands and applies the principles of being focused and managing her breathing, and she makes the most of every experience by implementing the Experiential Learning Cycle.

Whilst I have written about them before, I think this is a really helpful and practical application of these theories, and it demonstrates how versatile and effective they can be in supporting effective performance – whatever the context.

If I had been training as a river guide, the discussion we had would also have been a good illustration of NLP Modelling. If you want to identify and fully reproduce the detailed skills of a successful person, it is insufficient purely to watch their behaviours – you need to fully explore and comprehend their thoughts, mind-set and emotions in order to achieve their level of excellence. Due to the breadth, depth and quality of information gleaned, the process also accelerates a person’s learning.

And how did we get on? All the oared boats made it through, but the lighter (and more likely to capsize) paddle boat didn’t make it. It capsized, throwing out all seven occupants, however, four climbed on top of the overturned raft to row it through “Son of Lava Falls”, and the three others swam it – with one of the occupants receiving a minor head injury which looked a lot worse than it was due to the amount of blood he lost. A reminder of the power of Lava Falls and the need for the preparation and skills Kiki displayed.

Paul

 

Toxicity of Trying

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Are these really Andy Murray’s motivational notes? I really do hope they are not – but there has been no denial and they appear to have been written on the back of a letter to him.

Why do I hope they are not? Well, to me they appear toxic. Toxic to a top sports person seeking to be the best they can be (in other words winning every match).

As with all top sports people, I’m sure that Andy and his team pore over huge amounts of performance data to analyse what he is doing, how he is doing it, when he is doing it, etc.  So let’s undertake a little analyse of these motivational notes:

  • There are 61 words on the page
  • These are divided into 10 points
  • There are 4 words – which are either verbs or words with 3 or more letters – that appear three or more times – ‘be’ (4), ‘your’ (4), ‘the’ (3) and ‘try’ (3).

Of that analysis, the last point is the most striking and concerning for me.

Murray is going to ‘try’ to do something.

And almost of a third of the 10 points he is going to ‘try’ to achieve.

The word ‘try’ is one of the most unhelpful – perhaps even toxic – words that can be used in relation to performance management and improvement.

How many organisations publish goals that say they are going to ‘try’ to do something?

In your personal or professional life, what do you mean when you say you are going to ‘try’ to do something? Just say it to yourself now …

It usually means one of two things. Firstly, it could mean that you might have a go, but you’re not convinced that you will be able to achieve it – because of your personal abilities, your belief or your other time constraints. Secondly, it could mean that you have no intention of doing or will to do it, but you add the word ‘try’ in to avoid the discussion around the fact you will not be doing it.

It isn’t even a word that needs replacing – it just needs taking out.

“Try to be the one dictating”, becomes “Be the one dictating”.

“Try to keep him at the baseline make him move”, becomes “Keep him at the baseline make him move”.

How different do those sentences sound and feel without the word ‘try’?

I have worked with a number of people who have struggled to pass exams – I work with them on their personal approach and exam techniques. I am proud of my success in that every person who I have worked with – all who have previously failed the nominated exam – have all passed (or even gained Distinctions) with the work we have undertaken together.

One of the foundations of this approach is that I will not permit the use of the word ‘try’. As I have mentioned previously in one of my blogs, Yoda understand this.

In the Star Wars film, “The Empire Strikes Back”. Yoda, the small and strange looking Jedi Master is training Luke Skywalker. Yoda sets him numerous challenges and tests to help mould the youth into a Jedi. When Luke is given one particularly challenging task, he responds to Yoda that he will ‘try’.  “No,” Yoda retorts, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

As Murray’s team continues to mould him into the best tennis player he can be, they need to address the ‘try’ – “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Incidentally, Murray lost the match.

You might not be a tennis player, or taking an exam – but the principle is the same – so when do you use the word ‘try’ and what impact can it have for you if you were to drop it?

Paul

Manage your performance – then manage others’

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

In my last post I explored the concept of the importance of managing ourselves when managing a potentially challenging performance conversation.

Here are the tips I promised to help if you are one of those people who think they could do with a little more positive belief!

Breathe – “take a deep breath”, people sometimes say when about to undertake a new or challenging situation … this is because breathing is at the core of effective performance. As soon as we lose our usual breathing pattern, it has a negative influence on our physiology, our posture, our feelings, our ability to perform. If you feel you are losing it, take a deep breath!

Count to 10 – And then they say, “Count to 10”. This can help if you are experiencing unhelpful emotions – anger or frustration for example. Concentrating on a cognitive task can help re-focus your thoughts and regain composure.

Smile more – when I coach people for job interviews, one of the behaviours I ask them to experiment with is smiling – from an hour before the interview. Smiling activates different emotions to frowning, and so will make a person feel more positive. Do you have a (clean!) pen or pencil nearby? If so, put it horizontally between your lips. Now do the same with it between your teeth. What is the difference? French researchers found that when people watched comedies with pencils between their teeth they found them funnier than when people watched them with pencils between their lips – the former making them smile, the latter giving them a sadder expression. Simple facial movements, but they can have a huge effect on the rest of you.

Take control of your self-talk – don’t tell yourself something is going to go wrong – tell yourself it will go right!.  And do you use the word “try” when you tell yourself you are about to do something? If so, you are possibly going to stop yourself before you start.  When Yoda, the small and strange Jedi Master in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, is training the young Luke Skywalker, he sets Luke numerous challenges and tests to help build the boy into a Jedi. When Luke is given one particularly challenging task, he responds to Yoda that he will ‘try’.  ”No,” Yoda retorts, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Tell yourself you will do it – as opposed to telling yourself you will try to do it. Create your own history with positive self-fulfilling prophecies, and in order to do this …

Visualise yourself succeeding – you need more than talk. Picture yourself and hear yourself performing well in the situation you face. Experience the positive feelings this generates. Practice this and relatively quickly a person can turn a situation they are concerned about into a situation where they see themselves performing exceptionally well – and then they stay synchronised and carry it through on the day. If you would like more details on this technique, please let me know.

But a word of warning – these techniques take a little time to perfect. Don’t practice them for the first time at the workshop, practice them beforehand. Find out what works for you. Develop them to meet your own needs.

Manage your own performance – and then manage the performance of the other person.

Do you have any other techniques that work? If so, please let me know.

Paul

 

Managing your Performance – what do you believe?

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

I have recently been delivering some Performance Management Workshops. They have been designed to help managers address difficult conversations more effectively, and to equip managers with more skills to improve staff performance.

Delegates have been directed to some excellent models, theories and reading materials prior to attending the workshops.

What I have noticed, however, is that the majority of such theories and models address how to deal with the other person – and pay little or no attention to how the manager manages their own needs. From my experience, managers often know these theories, but are not as effective as they could be in implementing them due to their own levels of confidence.

This happens to a lot of people in such situations – and in similar ones such as job interviews and presenting to audiences. But it doesn’t need to be like that. If you are such a person, these two posts will help you.

Take yourself back to the last time you dealt with a potentially challenging performance management issue (or job interview, or presentation, etc), what were you thinking to yourself immediately beforehand? Perhaps it was one of the following:

  • I have to do this
  • I think this isn’t going to go well
  • I need to do this
  • I want to have a go at doing this
  • I will try and do this
  • I am going to do this effectively

Often our beliefs will become ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’ – we talk ourselves into a belief and that’s what happens … and then we say to ourselves, “there, see, I knew that is how it would turn out”. You need to approach such situations truly believing the last statement – you are going to deal with the situation effectively.

This is what top sports people do – they visualise themselves winning, or scoring the penalty; they convince themselves they will achieve what they need to.

What they say to themselves immediately before performing will relate to the final one of the six statements. And this is where you need to be.

The boxer Muhammed Ali was one of the greatest exponents of this. He would undertake research on his opponents, discuss the information with his team, plan how he wanted the boxing match to go, and ultimately predict his winning round. Not only did he convince himself of this, he would also tell the press and his opponents what round he would win in. He would put his predictions into poems, which made them more memorable – for both him and his opponents – and more newsworthy for the journalists. Many of his opponents were unable to disregard this information – the result being that more often than not Ali won in the round he predicted.  He wrote his own script. And you can write your own scripts.

What Ali did was to gather information, analyse it and make predictions based on this (using his IQ) and then make those predictions a reality using his Emotional Intelligence (EI) or Emotional Quota (EQ). Effective managers understand the need for and ability to use their Emotional Intelligence.

Ali was also obviously attempting to negatively influence his opponents – you will not have opponents in your situation, so it may be that a Winston Churchill quote works for you – “Do something about the things you can do something about – and then go to sleep”. What that quote does is capture where your energies should be when addressing what could be a challenging situation with a work colleague. Too many people think (and worry) about what the person we are due to meet may say, think or do. This is often unhelpful as all they end up doing is thinking about the worst case scenarios – and in turn work themselves up even more! Concentrate on what you can do something about.

There are 4 key aspects of Emotional Intelligence:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management

– and whilst all are important, the key requirement for many people when dealing with a challenging situation is the aspect of Self-management.

Within the Emotional Intelligence Quick Book by Bradberry and Greaves, Self-management is summarised as:

  • The ability to use your awareness of your emotions to stay flexible, and direct your behaviour positively
  • The ability to tolerate an exploration of your emotions, understand the breadth of your feelings and allow the best course of action to show itself

Without effective Self-management, a person is unlikely to function effectively – and this will impact on all the other aspects of EI.

How do you manage yourself in such situations? What techniques do you use?

In my next post, I will give you some tips on how you can be more positive in such situations – and so improve your performance and effectiveness.

Paul

 

Metro and Mail

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

In the early 1970’s at the age of 13, I went on my first international holiday. It was a school trip to Paris. I still remember aspects of it with great fondness – I say ‘aspects of it’ because I have forgotten a lot of what we did. The most memorable part, without a doubt, was going off and playing on the Metro one afternoon. We had been due to go to some pre-arranged activity, but a friend and I didn’t want to go – we wanted to see how many Metro stations we could visit in one afternoon (although I think our story was that we wanted to go to Pere Lachaise Cemetery as my Grandma had asked me to get some post cards of it).

Looking back on it now, I am a little surprised that the teachers allowed us to disappear off around Paris for half a day, not knowing where we were going (and obviously pre-mobile phones!) – but we were young, excited and gave no thought to whatever dangers a 1970s Paris may hold for two 13 year old lads …

Anyway, we had a great time – but we were doing it on a budget. A budget that required us to buy as few Metro tickets as possible.  We soon discovered that it was possible to insert the same small yellow Metro ticket into the entry machines more than once and still gain access. The machine punched a small round hole in the ticket to show that it had been used, but it was apparent that the machine was unable to detect whether or not a ticket already had a hole in it.

We got to the point where we were playing with the machines to see how many holes we could get in a ticket before it rejected the ticket. I recall that I got to 26 holes … I still have the ticket somewhere, but not sure exactly where.

I have been back to Paris since then and, as you may be aware, the ticket machines are far more sophisticated now. Whilst there may well be some very elaborate frauds available to those keen enough to spend a lot of time on such matters, a couple of 13 year old boys are unlikely to be able to use a ticket more than once.

It is understandable why they sorted it out – in terms of funding operations, tube fares really are the Metro’s lifeline. Whilst the Metro will have other revenue streams such as refreshment kiosks and advertising, their primary funding stream is the passenger. All fairly straight forward?

I would say so, but it appears not to be for the UK’s Post Office and Royal Mail.

The Post Office’s ‘raison d’etre’ is to deliver letters. Selling cards, holiday insurance and travel money must surely be ‘add-ons’ – particularly when there are apparently around 60 million letters posted each day (based on a six day week).

So if this is the main funding stream, it needs to be managed effectively – but it is not. I never cease to be amazed at the number of letters that I receive where the stamps have not been franked (i.e. had an ink date stamped across the stamps). The picture at the top of the page are ones I have received in the past month where the stamps are as fresh and clean as they day they were bought. The total value of those stamps is £5.98.

At the risk of appearing very sad, for the past three year I have monitored this issue around Christmas time and have found that around 15% of letters I receive with stamps on are not franked. What does this add up to in financial terms?

Let’s say the average cost to send a letter is 65 pence. If half of these use stamps (as opposed to other forms of paying postage) this equates to 180 million being sent a week at a cost of £117m per week (180m letters x 65p).

Over the year, this equates to £6.1b. A significant sum. 15% of this figure is £912m – that’s the value of stamps that are not being marked as ‘used’. If customers were to re-use 50% of those stamps (which I am not advocating) it equates to an annual loss of around £456m. A significant loss.

How can a company afford to lose that amount of money on something which is their core business? Machines that frank letters effectively can’t be too difficult to create, can they?  And even if they are, a quick memo along the following lines from employer to employee could start to eradicate the problem:

Dear postal worker, when delivering letters where the stamps have not been franked, please put a pen stroke across the stamps. Thank you.

Potential saving – almost £0.5b.

If the Post Office is so inefficient, no wonder it is being sold off. Did it lose its focus? Did it take its eye off the ball.

Whatever the size of your business or operation, it is always worth taking some time out every now and then to check you have your priorities right. As Richard Branson said, “To me, business isn’t about wearing suits or pleasing stockholders. It’s about being true to yourself and focusing on the essentials”.

Paul

A New Year State of Mind

Monday, December 31st, 2012

As we head towards the start of another year, many of us will make resolutions as to what we will do differently over the coming months or year, or what we will seek to achieve. I wondered how many people who set themselves New Year’s Resolutions actually achieve them?

American research from the University of Scranton found that 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions, 17% make them infrequently and 38% never make them at all. 8% of this total population group said that they were successful in achieving their Resolutions.

As an aside, I found these statistics interesting in relation to Shelle Rose Charvet’s Motivational Traits theory. One of the Traits – Direction – relates to whether people are motivated by having an objective or avoiding problems – whether they are ‘Toward’ or ‘Away From’. In other words, are they motivated by a carrot or a stick. Her research found that approximately 40% of the population are ‘Toward’, and approximately 40% are ‘Away from’ with the remaining 20% being a mixture of the two – these figures have some resonance with the findings of the University of Scranton.

Returning to Resolutions, according to Wikipedia, “a 2007 study by Richard Wisemen from the University of Bath involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year’s Resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying ‘lose weight’), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends”.

So, if setting goals only makes a difference for 8 – 12% of the population (based on these studies), what might be a more universally productive approach?

As I was contemplating this, I recalled some statistics I use when delivering sessions on Emotional Intelligence (EI). According to Travis Bradberry, we experience 27 emotions an hour, 456 each day and so over 3,000 a week. How much notice do we take of this information?

A four year old child laughs 300 times a day, yet a forty year old laughs only 4 times a day according to this blog. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but there are other similar such statistics available – and you only have to spend some time with people of those ages to know that children laugh and smile more than adults.

Perhaps New Year could be about re-connecting with fundamental skills – skills that perhaps we think we use but which really we have let slip. Skills we used far more effectively as children.

And then I saw this book that our son bought for Peta this Christmas – “How to be an Explorer of the World” by Keri Smith.  What a great book.

Early in the book the writer provides a list of ideas for the exploration of our world:

  1. Always be looking (notice the ground beneath your feet).
  2. Consider everything alive and animate.
  3. Everything is interesting. Look closer.
  4. Alter your course often.
  5. Observe for long durations (and short ones).
  6. Notice the stories going on around you.
  7. Notice patterns, make connections.
  8. Document your findings (field notes) in a
    variety of ways.
  9. Incorporate indeterminacy.
  10. Observe movement.
  11. Create a personal dialogue with your
    environment. Talk to it.
  12. Trace things back to their origins.
  13. Use all of the senses in your investigations.

If you are one of the 90% who doesn’t use New Year’s Resolutions, or who sets them and doesn’t follow through, perhaps using this template could be an alternative approach to being more effective in the New Year?

Happy New Year!

Paul

Management Gone Missing?

Monday, September 10th, 2012

I saw this comment on a learning and development forum recently – “I recently ran a management course for new and existing managers at similar levels, it is a course which all managers new to the organisation are told about and attend with agreement from their line manager. I had a number of managers who were negative and felt they shouldn’t have attended as they had a number of years’ experience as managers already. The other delegates were newer and did want to be there. I found I really struggled to turnaround / manage the really negative individual and the other few who weren’t happy to be there. Due to this I really feel I didn’t deliver the best course I could have done as, whilst I have experienced the odd 1 or 2 negative delegates in the past on various courses, I’ve never experienced such constant negativity which I didn’t seem to be able to have any influence over.”

Following the post were a number of suggestions from respondents, including:

  • Having individual discussions with delegates prior to their arrival
  • Encourage delegates to explain their concerns
  • If people don’t want to stay, don’t make them
  • Tailor the course more to their particular needs
  • Ask them what they want to get out of the course
  • Meet with their managers post-course

What surprised me, though, were that all the responses focused on what to do in the classroom environment, or post-course. In order to implement a long term solution, there needs to be wider and more systematic activity.

What can be done to ensure that such instances are minimised in the first place? What appear to be missing are effective learning and development management interventions.

For learning in the workplace to be effective, there needs to be a tripartite approach comprising the delegate, the delegate’s line management and the learning provider. And in terms of the learning provider, this means both the trainer and – importantly – their management.

Within the post there is no mention of 3 key activities or processes that I would expect to see.

1. Why is each delegate attending the course? They have been nominated by their manager – what are the reasons for the manager requiring them to attend? Managers having pre and post-course meetings with their attending delegates is one of the areas often examined during an Investor in People (IiP) assessment – because it makes a difference.

If this process doesn’t happen, it should. If it does happen, it should be recorded – and most     importantly be available to the trainer. This not only helps in terms of dealing with the issues    in the person’s post – by being able to explain to or remind them of why they are there – but it helps in terms of planning a more meaningful event for the delegates – and will generally mean an increased return on investment (ROI).

2. How might the use of a Student Charter or Learning Agreement help this situation? If such a process is in place, it means that the internal customer (the delegate and their line management) knows what to expect from the internal provider (the learning and development function). It should also include what the internal provider requires from its delegates – in terms of participation, input and behaviours – together with the consequences for a delegate who chooses not to meet this level of expectation.

Such an agreement should have been agreed across the business at senior management level – and so it is then easy for a trainer to use and implement without fear of having overstepped the mark. Transparency for all concerned.

And as a consequence, those who want to be there and want to learn can do so.

3. Finally, the person’s post on the forum indicates that this course has been delivered previously. What evaluation data has been generated?  And I don’t mean end of course or Level 1 data – I mean Level 3 or above, good quality data.  How is it improving the performance of those who are attending? How have previous delegates been able to use what they have learned? How is the course improving organisational performance?  What is the organisation’s return on its investment?

This information should be gathered from the delegates between 2 and 4 months after the completion of the programme. Both the quantitative and qualitative information can then be used by the trainer to illustrate what delegates can gain from attending – thus also demonstrating the overall value of the internal learning and development function to the business.

I have to say, I really feel for the trainer. I’ve been in that position and it’s not a lot of fun. Here is a trainer wanting to deliver a quality product, but some of the delegates are apparently thwarting his or her efforts.

And I get the impression that perhaps in this situation they are not been sufficiently supported by their learning and development management. The activities I have outlined above would both assist the trainer and probably make their role more enjoyable – and, above all, benefit the business.

Paul

 

Take Part, Win or Win at all Costs?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

I have loved watching the London Olympics – both at the Olympic Stadium itself and in front of my TV. There have been numerous remarkable human achievements which will inspire and motivate others both in sport and other endeavours. I have found the joy of watching people achieve lifelong ambitions very emotional, as have been the reactions of some of those who have not achieved what they wanted to.

There is a lot of pressure to win – the amount of time the athletes have invested in preparation, justification for the funding received and to be seen as ‘the best’ being just three. But how far should an athlete go to win?

Picture a continuum – a straight line with ‘fair play’ at one end and ‘unfair play’ at the opposite end.

At one end of the continuum, we have Timo Boll the German table tennis player who was awarded a point because his opponent’s return supposedly missed the table – but Timo saw that it had shaved the side. He calmly explained this to the umpire and asked for the point to be awarded to his opponent. Apparently, he received the loudest applause of the day for this gesture – but he lost the match and his Olympics were over.

At the other end of the spectrum we have people taking performance enhancing drugs which are outlawed, which is clearly wrong.

Moving along my continuum and slightly further towards the middle we have the badminton pairs who were playing each other and both teams attempted to lose the match – and this happened in two matches.   They were disqualified by their Federation for “not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.” And so their Olympics were over.  Not as clear cut as drugs cheats, perhaps, but clearly against the rules within their sport.

But now to the grey area – and let’s look at ‘Team GB’. I was watching the rowing final for the Lightweight Double Skulls when one of the rower’s seats broke soon after the start. He waved the seat in the air to alert the umpire because there is a rule which states that if there is a breakage within the first 100 metres, the race can be restarted with the breakage having been rectified.  The rule is a bit of an anachronism as it was apparently introduced to deal with wooden rows that sometimes broke early in the race due to the force of the early strokes – they don’t use wooden rows any longer, but the rule is still in place.

Sir Steve Redgrave was commentating and as soon as it happened, he said that the rower needed to show the broken seat to the Umpire and, “… if it wasn’t broken then make sure it is broken …” by the time the Umpire got to their boat.  John Inverdale, the co-commentator, tried to retrieve the situation by subtly suggesting to him that he might have been trying to say something slightly different, but Sir Steve’s statement had been very clear. The pair went on to claim the Silver Medal.

Moving to the Velodrome, the British team got themselves in a bit of hot water – or lukewarm water at the very least – with one of their tactics.  In the a Men’s Team Sprint heat Philip Hindes wobbled as he set off against France, so didn’t get a very good start. His response was to deliberately crash his bike to get a restart.

Hindes told reporters that team tactic was, “… if we have a bad start we need to crash to get a restart.” He added, “I just crashed, I did it on purpose to get a restart, just to have the fastest ride. I did it. So it was all planned, really,” By the time of the Press Conference, the official line was that he had lost control of his bike.  The team won the restarted heat and went on to win the Gold Medal.

The points made by the individuals in both cases are interesting as they were said in the ‘heat of the moment’ – at points when both were emotionally involved in what was happening, and so likely to be less guarded, but perhaps giving a more honest insight into how these teams operate.

The ethos in these examples appears to be to use the rules, but not in ways in which they were intended. Where does this sit on the Continuum of Fair Play?

Cycling and Rowing were our most successful sports in terms of medal returns. Is it partly because these participants and coaches adopt this ‘aggressive’ use of the rules? And if they are awarded additional funding because of these successes, is it ‘right’, and will it encourage other athletes and sportspersons to adopt a similar approach? Is this an example of winning at all costs – apart from doping – and in doing so creating a less than level playing field?

As the Olympics came to a conclusion, Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England talked about what the banking sector could learn from Team GB.  During his lesson on morality, he said, “As recent scandals have shown, banks could learn a thing or two about fair play from the Olympic movement. Again the financial sector has done us all a disservice in promoting the belief that massive financial compensation is necessary to motivate individuals.” Perhaps he’s right. But, on our continuum, how far are the previously mentioned examples of the uses of the rules in the rowing and cycling events from how some of our bankers have interpreted rules?

Or is all this inherent in any system where reward – financial, medals or otherwise – is present? And should it be accepted as night follows day?  Is there an opportunity for learning and development providers to offer an event on Profitable Rule Interpretation?

Perhaps we like to think of society as being made up of lots of Timo’s, but in reality the ethos is more about being less open and more manipulative than we want to admit to being?  Or perhaps the manipulative ones become winners, and that shapes society?

Or it could be that the comments I have quoted were, in fact, meant in a different way and have been misinterpreted.

In short, do we ‘play fair’ as much as we like to think and make out we do?

I’m reasonably clear on where I stand, but I would be interested in your views. I may change my mind having heard from others.

Paul