Archive for Thought leadership

Learning from the doctor

doctorOver the last couple of years there have a been a number of instances with members of my family who have needed to make use of doctors in the NHS. One case recently prompts this  post. In my experience doctors are  good at giving feedback.This is my observation about their approach.



Step 1 – Get the difficult news out at the start of the conversation in a constructive and evidenced way.
Step 2 – Ask questions to confirm understanding.
Step 3 – Talk options about what could be done to improve the situation.
Step 4 – Ask questions to confirm understanding.
Step 5 – Agree next steps.

What could we learn from this approach in the workplace?

Point 1.  Don’t dance around a difficult subject with the fear that you’ll upset the person you’re talking to. Talking  vague business speak is something that’s seen in many a workplace conversation I’ve witnessed over the years. People are smart enough to see through small talk and find it frustrating to navigate between the lines to work out the meaning of hinted feedback. This isn’t an excuse for a clumsy or at worst bullying conversation. I love British Cycling’s Dave Brailsford expression ‘compassionately ruthless’. The combination of these two words captures the spirt of what I’m talking about here.

Point 2. Using powerful questions to confirm understanding is key. It’s all to easy to fall into the trap of using closed questions. This can allow the person receiving the feedback to interpret what’s been said and come up with a very different meaning . More powerful questions can really help illuminate understanding, ownership and promote an open dialogue.

Point 3. Leading on from the powerful questions – working together on what could be done to improve a situation is key. Getting buy-in and promoting the need for responsibility is essential to increase the percentage chance of sustained performance improvement. Simply providing ‘solutions’ for the job holder to implement may get a near term lift. If you just rely on this approach, the chances are you’ll be back to square one in the medium-term.

Point 4. See point 2!

Point 5.  Agreeing on the next steps is essential. Establishing real clarity over what is going to happen and who has responsibility for what. Obvious but so often missing or unclear. Allowing enough time for this part of the conversation is also advisable.

So why not adopt this approach the next time you want to conduct a performance feedback session? You might just find you end up with a healthier relationship.

What’s your role in helping others get out of their comfort zone?

comfort zone As a line manager it can be very easy to talk  about a member of your team needing to “get  out of their comfort zone”. I believe this  phrase is overused as it doesn’t suggest what  really needs to happen. It can also put people  into a defensive frame of mind and come  across as patronising. Here are 3 questions  you can use to help set up the situation to  achieve success.


1) Is there clarity on the thing you’re looking to achieve?

A lack of clarity on what is expected can cause an individual to procrastinate. Determining the next physical action becomes a whole lot easier when you know what you are looking to ultimately achieve. Don’t underestimate this, as investing time here will pay dividends.  It’s an obvious component that’s missing from many of the development plans I see.

2) What specific development support is required?

If a person understands the goal they need to achieve, determining the development actions becomes more straightforward. A recent example of someone wanting to improve their influence in difficult conversations resulted in 3 clear actions in a 30 day plan:  1) have coffee with three senior managers to understand their handling approach, 2) get and read the book Crucial Conversations and 3) develop a meeting approach and talk it through with a trusted third-party for a particular meeting the person needed to attend.  Of course the actions will relate to the goal. The point here is they are very tangible. Previously the person had relied purely on putting themselves into situations to ‘develop’. With mediocre results. That could be akin to a non-swimmer jumping in a pool and hoping for the best. Your role as the manager is to ask the thought provoking questions that establish the actions.

3) How will I manage myself if things do not work out?

This is a fairly critical point and is backed up by neuro-science. If people feel threatened by the consequences of failing, they will stand a good chance of not realising their full potential. As the line manager you’ll have a big part to play in setting the tone and response when things do not go as we would hope. This takes increased effort as we manage our own emotions. Get it right and you genuinely create a learning environment. The results of that will be significant.

So the next time you find yourself talking about someone needing to “get out of their comfort zone”. Stop and consider your part in making that a real success.

7 Ways to Bring a Better Balance


More and more challenges come our way competing for the precious 168 hours we have each week. It’s important that we take responsibility and work at striking a balance to achieve more of the right things. Here’s 7 things to get you stated.



1. Get a longer-term vision

Having a view on where you’re heading will help bring objectivity and perspective. You are much more likely to make different choices if you can see whether you are moving towards or away from where you want to be. It’s in those choices that balance exists.

2. Get comfortable with seeing day-to-day decisions in the bigger picture context

Armed with your vision you need to use it regularly when making decisions. It’s easier to say “yes” or “no” to an opportunity or task if you can assess its overall impact. This can be as small as do you go for drinks after work…?

3. Get a view of all the areas in your life and asses how you’re doing in them regularly

The wheel of life tool is a simple yet highly effective way to assess where you are in each key area of your life. Some examples: Health, Family, Friends, money and career. Subjectively rating yourself on a scale of 1 -10 will help you understand if there are any areas that are falling behind or way ahead at the expense of others. If you don’t like what you see take action to address this. It’s perfectly normal to have areas that get out of kilter from time to time. This approach will help you manage that.

4. Get creative

This is where you can have fun. Thinking about how you can be creative to get balance and ultimately achieve more is very rewarding. Here’s an example. Say your wheel of life tells you that your health and friends could do with a little attention. Rather than tackle these things separately why not get creative and find a way to achieve both at the same time. One client I worked with started playing tennis with a friend after work. Simple, yet effective.

5. Establish a weekly Review & Plan routine

Establishing a personalised weekly R&P routine will help bring some of the above ideas together. Done well, you get to objectively ‘check in’ with what’s going on in your world every seven days. This helps tidy up outstanding actions and commitments and look forward to help you prepare for what’s coming. At least as important is taking a few minutes to reflect on what went well and what you’d like to improve on. Over a period of time this will put you in a strong position to achieve balance.

6. Start with making sure you’re looking after you

The foundation for balance is making sure you are functioning well. Without that, all areas will suffer. I love the PRIME for Success approach that looks at your Physical activity, your Rest, your Intake, your Mind and your Energy. Read more about that here.

7. Get feedback

It’s easy to kid ourselves that we are more balanced than we imagine. Key to helping this is feedback. This can come in multiple forms from asking people to developing your own personalised dashboard, to track how you’re doing. The dashboard can include whatever you feel is important. I’ve worked with people who wanted to include health information, where they are financially or even how often they got home from work to read bedtime stories to the kids! The impact can be amazing when you see that you haven’t done the latter for two weeks, when you tell yourself being a Mum is so important. The feedback is only part of the story. You then need to make a choice. If you’re truly content with what you’re being told then fine. If not, what adjustments do you need to make?

If you do just one or two of the above I believe you’ll start to get a better balance in your life. I’d love to hear your stories of things you’ve done as a result.

So what is the Effective Challenge?

cropped-Effective-Challenge-banner.jpgA number of people have enquired what is the Effective Challenge? It’s something that’s not been covered in the blog. It’s about time that changed.

Like developing fitness at a gym, success requires sustained effort. We term that effort as the Effective Challenge.

When working with individuals it’s very clear that if people are able to strike the right balance across the different areas of their life they will increase the percentage chance of happiness and success. This point can equally apply to a team or organisation. This balance is one definition of being effective. Striking that balance doesn’t come without effort. Particularly when it comes to creating enough space and objectivity in the choices we make.

Putting in place the right approach with supporting strategies and tools is a big part of achieving sustained performance. The level and complexity of those strategies and tools will depend on what you want to achieve.  In our experience, as a minimum you’ll want to understand where you’re heading (a vision), in the context of that vision, you’ll  want to understand what you need to do in the different areas of your life (a plan)  and some mechanism to monitor, review and update things regularly (a success routine). This last point is critical as things will change. At the very least you’ll want to ensure you are clear on your priorities at any given time.

What support could you need to help your own effective challenge? Take the first step towards success and make contact with Effective Challenge:

Learning from the Tour de France

christ and bertieSo I wonder what Chris Froome was talking about with Alberto Contador at last weeks 2014 Tour De France unveiling? The worlds elite cyclists, teams and cycling media descended on Paris last week to find out what the 101st edition of the Tour de France will entail next July. It’s a big day in the cycling calendar, as the prized jewel in the sport is such a big focus of the coming season.

The pack that gets presented covers lots of detail.  The challenges that will play out on the roads of the UK and France next year are a big part. The riders and teams will spend sometime working out their approach to those challenges and put in place plans, which they hope, will allow them to achieve their goals and dreams. There is only one rider who gets to wear the final yellow jersey on the Champs-Élysées at the end of the three-week race. There are however multiple winners as each rider, team, mechanic, support staff will have their own specific goals that they will work towards over the next nine months.

So what can we take from this to our own worlds be it business or personal. Here’s my take:

  1. Start with a very clear objective e.g. for the Tour de France: 21stages, five hill top finishes, distance and terrain of each stage, etc..
  2. Analyse the demands of the event and put effort into setting your own goals.
  3. Assess where you are today and what type of plan you’ll need to help you realise those goals.
  4. Set interim steps for you to achieve along the way to measure progress and keep motivation when things get tough.
  5. Keep a sense of perspective and adjust things where necessary (particularly if you suffer a setback).
  6. Surround yourself with the right support: people, equipment, facilities etc
  7. Last but not least TAKE ACTION

Go on take some action in the next seven days to really understand an objective. What could you achieve by next July?

Learning from Monsters Inc.

sully mikeExcited at a trip to see the latest Disney Pixar movie Monsters University, my daughter wanted to rewatch the first film in the series, Monsters Inc. I took three things away from the movie that I wasn’t expecting. And more importantly they could readily be applied to everyday life.

  1. In the movie all the monsters ‘believe’ that children are toxic and if you get touched by a child your life is under threat. Of course that’s not the case. It took some time for Sully (the movies star) to realise that was just a false perception. What have you been told by others and have just accepted?
  2. The Monsters spend their days trying to extract screams from children. The screams are then converted into energy. Almost by accident Sully realises that laughter is much more powerful than screams. This ended up being a complete shift in the way the company was run. How open are you to new ways of working?
  3. And finally, the slogan of the company ‘working today for a brighter future’. I don’t think this needs any explanation. What are you currently working on that will improve your future?

Why don’t you look to learn from alternative places over the next week?