How do you use on line forums?

It’s been a while since I engaged with my own blog!  Why?  Mainly because I’ve been undertaking 2 quite intensive interim assignments and also tutoring 2 Open University Business School Programmes.  Business aside, I’ve decided its not good enough and am now beginning the process of re-engagement – so look out for new postings shortly.  Both my assignments have been successfully delivered and I’m back in thoughtful mode 🙂

My time away made me think about how we engage with these sorts of forums though: if you were an animal, which would you be, given your online forum engagement?

Adapted from: G. Salmon (2002) E tivities: the key to active online learning. Kogan Page, p171


It might, of course, depend upon which online forum you are thinking about.  Think of your most used forum and let me know how your behaviour categorises you in the comments below in terms of what works well and what works less well for you because of it (unless you are a “mouse” of course!).  Given my OU activities, I’m a bit of an “elephant” 🙂

Management -v- Leadership

LeadershipHow many times have you heard people speak about leadership and what they are clearly talking about is management? It happens all the time – I think I could spot an instance of it every single day if I’m honest. It’s a pet hate of mine and I have been known to get quite passionate about any responses I give.

So it was great to come across this article, by the great John Kotter, and realise I am not alone 🙂

Can you recall some examples of this? What do you think of the state of leadership around you?

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – What makes you happy and why?

New-Intl-Day-HappinessMarch 20th is designated as the United Nations International Day of Happiness, so lets reclaim as many happy moments as possible and discuss/share what makes us happy.  This is fundamental to both our professional success AND maintaining a healthy work/life balance and it is based on interaction and feeling. Basic and real connection. That’s magnificent engagement – a thing most organisations strive to obtain.

In fact, according to a recent survey by the charity Action for Happiness, 87% of people would pick being happy over money, and the chief reason for happiness was their relationships with their friends and family. In other words: not money or what it can buy.

The charity’s Director of Action for Happiness Mark Williamson said: “The UN Day of Happiness is about the fact that happiness really matters. It matters for us and our loved ones – and it matters for our countries and leaders too. All around the world, people are recognising that real progress is about more than just growing the economy – it’s about increasing human happiness and wellbeing”.

Join the movement raising awareness of what makes people happy, and don’t forget to SHARE the pic that makes you happy more than anything else.  So lets try and bottle it, if only for a day and say why it makes you happy. Here are the pictures that always make me smile, I shared them on Facebook and Twitter earlier this morning:

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 09.46.37


Why do they make me happy?  Its about people, time and place.  The combination of all three makes me very happy indeed.  The first pic is one of only two occasions I’ve managed to get the most special people in my life in the place that means the most to me = happiness overload!!  The second is a wonderful consequence of the first!  The next time I get to update the first picture is on 9th August this year, when we are all in this special same place yet again, at the marriage of our second son.

So, this is about right people, in the right place, at the right time.  A level of engagement organisations strive to achieve and pay many £££££ for.  If each of us was to take just ONE lesson from our happiness pictures, and translate that lesson into the workplace, it would be a much happier place for everyone.  My lesson, for many years now, involves: patience/tolerance/acceptance/making the most of our differences/enjoying what we are all striving for at the time/finding the positive excitement in our goals/building better relationships.  I’ve tried to live these values at home, and in work.  Only those I’ve lived and worked with can say if I’ve achieved it.

Someone provided me with some formal 360 feedback once that said (and I quote): “Sharon does everything possible to build happy, harmonious and productive teams”.  I guess I succeeded a bit 🙂

What would your lesson be?

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – Look up, not down!

How often do you look up to people? Do you endeavour to seek and find the good in everyone you meet, or do you make judgement calls based on first sight. What do you think of this?

Now look at yourself and answer this question honestly!

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – World Book Day – what are you reading?

darwinThis was a question asked by the Chartered Management Institute last month, of future leaders.  The CMI launched an essay competition for those under 30, focussing specifically on this question.  For any future young leaders amongst our readers, the competition can be found HERE.  The deadline for submissions is 15th March 2014.

Management and leadership competence and development has been a long-time interest of mine.  Keeping up to date with current thinking is hugely important to Aresko generally is I am to be able to add value to any client situation.

So, given its World Book Day today, I thought it would be timely to share what we are currently reading to enhance our thinking AND declare what our favourite management text is, and why.

I am currently reading: “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook (previously Google and the US Treasury Department).  It’s about her story of women, work and the will to lead.  It starts with her experiences as a senior executive at Google in her first pregnancy and outlines (now) obvious workplace modifications to enable organisations to keep the skills and experience of pregnant female employees – of whatever level.  It continues in this vein, outlining why some and not others “lean in” and tackle issues in the workplace which make things better for bigger numbers of people, i.e. leadership examples.  It’s a marvellous account of  the value of women vis a vie the context of the workplace being male oriented.  I like the book a lot and it never ceases to amaze me why many women shy away from leadership roles in the way that men never would.  I’ve always been a bit of a “I-feel-so-strongly-about-that,-I’m-going-to-do-anything-I-can-to-make-it-better” kind of woman.  Many moons ago, my dear Dad called me “goal orientated” and it was the first time that phrase had ever touched my young years.  Little did I know it would form the majority of my professional life experiences in the future!

Again, many moons ago (2001 to be precise as I rediscovered the book today and when opening it found I had written my name and the date on the inside cover.  This is a habit I have with books, it plants them firmly in a specific time of my life), I read a tiny little book called:  “Who Moved My Cheese” by Dr Spencer Johnson.  I read it just because I was told to read it.  It was on my reading list for my MBA which I was undertaking at the time.  I opened it with trepidation and discovered a fabulous little story of how to cope and deal with change.  Cheese being a metaphore for whatever the big thing is in your life that you desperately want and need to happen at the time.

It is 73 pages of big writing which had a profound inspiration on my future career pathway.  You can read it easily in an hour or two and I will promise you, you will read it many times thereafter.  Personally, I’ve probably read this about a dozen times now.  I’ve moved house 3 times since I first read it and its always been in the “must not lose” box when packing.

It’s the story of some mice in a maze trying to find the cheese.  It explains why some are more successful than others at the task and the wider application of the messages it contains is never-ending!  I would love you to read it too and let me know what you think.

What are you currently reading and influenced by?  What would be your pivotal framework for that essay we talked about at the beginning of this post, if you were (or indeed you are) entering that competition?

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – World’s most trusted leader, or ostrich or bull?

LeadershipThis is a graphic explanation of leadership.  The theory on the left looks nice and neat, whereas the practice on the right looks like chaos.  It looks like chaos because many a person who now considers themselves to be “a leader” feels like that when they are expected to step up to the mark and demonstrate leadership traits.

The theory on the left is what managers learn about leadership from books or business schools: that leadership is the pinnacle of a pyramid of management and promotional circumstances.

The practice on the right is their experience of that pinnacle, on a daily basis!

Leadership is easy until you factor in people.  Unfortunately, leadership is very much all about people, leading them, their competences, their time along paths they might not wish to travel.  At this point, the “leader”, i.e. you, particularly if it’s left unchecked in your early leadership career, either becomes an ostrich or a bull, because this is all about successfully dealing with tensions and resistances.

The key issue at this point is to determine commitment.  Your own as well as your team’s.  Because those who are not committed, merely find fault and blame.  Those who are committed, find a way!

I have witnessed many an encounter where someone has spent a significant amount of time telling me why something can’t happen, or why they can’t do something, or even why its all going to go so terribly wrong.  You know the conversations.  No alternatives are provided, or means of overcoming sought.  It’s just gloom and doom all the way.  To illustrate a point of a previous Thursday Thoughts!, they are the folk who provide little or no discretionary effort, if left to their own devices.  These are the folk who should bring out the best of your management and leadership traits, as they are the ones who provide most challenge to you.

So, whats your reaction to this?  Do you assume ostrich tendencies, and bury your head, perhaps turning to others to support you and dismissing them as “obstructive”?  This suggests neither of you are truly committed, to the task or to the relationship.

Do you become a bull, and force your ideas and thoughts through despite all their reservations?  You give the appearance of listening to them, but at the end of the day,  you are going to do this “thing” whether they like it or not! This suggests you are committed to the “thing” but not committed to them!  They will see through this bull-behaviour, they always do, and beware what they are saying outside the team.  Your reputation is growing by the minute.  As a bull that is!

Or do you listen, process what they are saying, walk a moment in their shoes, rationalise their concerns and either drop the issue if, on reflection they are (shock horror) right, or find ways to make something, not necessarily the original idea, happen and produce a win-win scenario related to the issue at hand?  This demonstrates a committed leader.  Committed to the task, AND committed to the people they rely on to deliver for them.  This tendency will certainly motivate teams to listen back in the future and new ideas will always be given due consideration, not dismissed out of hand.

I don’t think any successful leader has always got it right – they are only human after all.  But the most successful ones take their coaching seriously in order to find these pathways more of the time.

Leave the ostrich and the bull tendencies behind, take the first step in building that reputation for being one of the “most trusted” leaders, today!

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – Do you definitely, probably or possibly need it?

special_offerIf you are reading this, please do SHARE with your network widely. You might just inspire someone to take that important first step.

This is what Wikipedia says about “coaching”

“Coaching is a training or development process via which an individual is supported whilst achieving a specific personal or professional competence result or goal.”

The structures, models and methodologies available to help in a coaching relationship are numerous, and may be designed to facilitate thinking, or learning a new behaviour  for personal growth or professional advancement. There are also many forms of coaching that help improve a physical or managerial skill, like managing your in box, or managing your staff.

But the basic process is one of questioning the individual deeply, so that they discover things they didn’t know about themselves, knew but had been conveniently ignoring, or things that others clearly see but which are invisible to the person being coached (for a multitude of reasons).  It’s about seeking and discovering but more importantly, it’s about acknowledging and owning an appropriate plan of remedy or improvement.

Aresko undertakes business coaching which provides positive support, feedback and advice to any individual or group wishing to improve their personal effectiveness in the organisational setting. Business coaching includes executive coaching, corporate coaching and leadership coaching.

If you don’t think you need it – you most definitely do!

If you think you need it – you probably do!

If you are currently having it – are you doing things noticeably differently on a weekly basis?  If not, then you possibly need a different coach!

 This is a very special relationship indeed – it’s driven by you, so if you are merely turning up now and again, expecting your coach to wave that magic wand and expecting everyone around you to go, “Wow, you’ve changed, and for the better too!”  then you are sadly disillusioned. FACT.

Here are a clutch of coaching questions which I want you to answer honestly.  You don’t have to tell anyone, its not a test.  If you lie, then you only fool yourself.  But if you struggle to answer ANY of these – having to sit back and really think about your answers, then you definitely need a coach!!!  The costs involved are easily recovered as a result of resolving the issue you are grappling with.  The knock on effects are unbounded if and when you find the coach you have a spark with.  So here you go, can you answer these without thinking too hard?

  • How would things change if you knew you had always done your best , completely and absolutely, with no redeeming consequences?
  • What are you willing to let go of to make room for what you really want?
  • What are the 3 things you would change immediately if you could?
  • What are you waiting for?
  • What will you do next?

How easy or difficult was that?  From as little as £75 per session (one-to-one) you can take the first steps to making tangible and real changes, or obtain total clarity over what you want to achieve in the next 12 months.  Book 8 sessions via the offer below, and get a one-off double session free (limited period only).

This is a perfect opportunity to turn desire into action via one quick click. Just do it!


THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – Is it time for an intervention with your team?

Teamwork-quotes-1A Training and Development Society survey received responses from 230 HRD executives about the results of teamwork. The survey found that as a result of introducing team working:

  • Productivity improved in 77% of organisations
  • Quality improvements due to teamwork were reported in 72%
  • Waste was reduced in 55%
  • Job satisfaction improved in 65%
  • Customer satisfaction improved in 55%

Tom Peters, in one of my favourite books, “Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution” said:

“I observe the power of the team is so great that it is often wise to violate common sense and force a team structure on almost anything.”

However, if we look at the reverse side of the research findings quoted:

  • 23% of organisations saw no increase in productivity
  • 28% did not enjoy quality improvements
  • 45% did not reduce waste
  • 35% did not experience improved job satisfaction
  • 45% saw no increase in customer satisfaction
The more that teams remain immature groups, the less the benefit 
derived from a team approach.

So what are they NOT doing which the others are?  What this says to me is that simply putting groups of individuals together does not guarantee that they will work as a team, it is merely the start of something!  Meredith Belbin, the great master of analysing the elements necessary for great teams, said:

“A team is not a bunch of people with job titles, but a congregation of individuals, each of whom has a role which is understood by other members. Members of a team seek out certain roles and they perform most effectively in the ones that are most natural to them.”

The process of moving from a group to a team can be complicated and takes time. Many a naive Director has thought that throwing a bit of the budget at an away-day once or twice a year will do it.  IT WON’T!  It takes a great deal more effort than that, and much activity between away-days to build a “team”.

The “more effort” I refer to above are called “interventions” and these are deliberate specialist activities or processes which introduce change into peoples’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The overall objective of an intervention is to identify, illustrate and then treat progress-destructive behaviour.  It does this by analysing how that behaviour affects individuals, groups, issues and progress and co-produces ways to overcome it. Monitor and measure these interventional activities and you will see what is currently happening (reality check), then be part of creating your own imaginative ways to change or eliminate those weaknesses.

And guess what?  Aresko specialises in these interventions 🙂  Contact us for a discussion about how you want to go about strengthening your team in 2014.

THURSDAY THOUGHTS: How do you best learn?

vakEveryone learns best in their own way, and as time becomes more and more scarce, knowing your preferred learning style is vital if you are to make the most of that scarce time.  Do you like to listen to lectures or “how to” explanations; do you prefer to watch someone else do something first and learn from others experiences; do you like to read lots of books or papers and absorb the theory before trying to put it into practice; or do you like to get on with it and learn from how it evolves in real time?

My preferred analytic for determining learning styles is the Honey and Mumford Learning Style Inventory, combined with a  360 exercise. And if you have a team that needs to learn and develop as a group, these ingredients are excellent for illustrating scorings across a diversity of styles, and then designing high impact and longer lasting learning opportunities for everyone.

Individuals who have experienced a varied/generalist career pathway might if continual professional development has been a feature of their careers and subsequently embedded in their workplace, display very narrow but strong groupings (scores) for three out of the 4 recognised learning styles.  Some call this general roundedness in managerial learning terms and/or easy adaptability to new situations.  Pressure is usually welcomed by these individuals and they thrive on it.

Big swings and/or large discrepancies between strong preference and low or very low preferences show a developmental learning need if stress from vastly competing environments is to be avoided.

Therefore, one strong preference and 3 neatly grouped lesser preferences, ideally around the 10 or more mark indicates a highly adaptable individual.  Adaptable individuals are fairly mobile and very definitely sought after in the modern workplace.

However, a score below 10 could be considered a blind spot and blind spots are very much developmental areas if identified.

To find out your individual preferred learning style, or to book a team exercise in order to get the most out of future learning initiatives, get in touch here.  There is no need to waste money any longer on ill-fitting learning which produces no lasting value.  Let us do this analysis for you and maximise future value for money and development.

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – What is “discretionary effort?”

keep-calm-and-go-the-extra-mile-6The final aspect of enhancing staff engagement brings us to the point of extracting maximum discretionary effort out of our staff.  We might personally be of the mindset that we truly believe all employees will always give their all due to a commitment to the organisation or similar (usually we will believe this given our own motivation and values in the workplace), but the reality is often very different! So what is “discretionary effort” and how do we go about motivating it?

Discretionary effort is the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, over and above what is absolutely required.  It’s what performance appraisals are all about – identifying where more of this can be found and utilised from each and every individual.  It’s probably why performance appraisals are universally loathed by all – when it’s performed badly with those who already feel like they are giving the organisation everything they have to offer, and they are asked for more, or left feeling unappreciated or unvalued for their contributions to date.  There is definitely a knack to extracting discretionary effort!

Some organisations achieve this (thought to be approximately c30%) through headhunting and luring the best employees away with offers of a stake in the organisation.  This is typical if such employees are motivated by that very commitment mentioned earlier.  John Lewis for example gives all permanent, full time employees shares in the company so they have instant ownership over maximising sales figures and other bottom line activities.

During performance appraisals, our managers are likely to see any one (or more!) of five faces from us.  We’ve all seen these faces on others, but how many of us are aware enough to recognise when we are displaying them ourselves?  Which one are you currently wearing?

  1. The Diva: thinks they are a world class performer and has a great deal of opinion about how others should do their jobs!  They are usually high performers in at least one aspect of their role, which has given them plenty of indication that everything they do is a right judgement.  The problem is, they have plenty of development needs in other areas of their roles but they have vastly under-developed self awareness skills and this produces real blind spots.  They are often specialists. In any self assessment exercise, they will rate themselves highly.  They can often be disruptive to any team scenario.  This face produces difficult conversations and requires strong management.  Motivation and incentivisation of this face, to produce high commitment and engagement levels is difficult but essential. Consider the questions people ask and answer during any engagement survey because if left unchecked, this face will produce disproportionate influence on the rest of the team.
  2. The Deflector: lots of excuses and explanations about why they CAN’T do something or why something CAN’T happen, in their experience. These reasons are always outside their span of control and their entire behaviour is governed by this concept of fate and luck.  They will believe you as their manager are part of the overall problem.  This is the most problematic face to motivate and incentivise to engage.  They can be decent performers but the more bureaucratic your organisation becomes, the more evidence of Deflectors you will find.  Left unchecked, discretionary effort will be extinct!
  3. The 9 to 5er: Classic face.  They have very set schedules and cut off easily at certain times.  Often a steady performer but does only that which is required and absolutely no more.  Discretionary effort can often be “bought” with this face through offering added flexibility, particularly if it is involuntary, as a result of caring needs etc.  Incentivisation and motivation is often through time segmentation so its important to understand what makes your people tick.
  4. The Upwardly Mobile: This is the fun face!  These folk seek to excel but often can’t see what their next career step might be.  This face is great to have around and incentivisation and motivation is often through giving recognition and regular feedback.  But they crave your interest in them and beware if you leave them alone for too long without stroking.  Don’t let the deflector anywhere near them!  They need intensive coaching but discretionary effort can be achieved if stroked regularly. They like to describe, in detail, how they will or are going about things and will be seeking reinforcement regularly.  However, because they are so unsure of their own abilities, they are unlikely to be seen as influencers for, or by, others. They can be engaged through involvement in activity, but are rarely leaders of others due to their insecurity in their own competence.
  5. The Star: The best face of the bunch.  They are in control of their area of responsibility and you need to keep them!  High confidence and a magnet for others to seek guidance from.  They are influential throughout the organisation, and  usually profoundly self-aware.  They are often autonomous and will act without you even having to steer. Incentivising and motivating your Stars is usually achieved from giving them room to act independently on occasions, re-engaging them with exciting initiatives etc.  Once they are excited about something, you automatically have a highly engaged individual who will engage others infectiously.

So this series has looked at producing highly engaged individuals, with the potential for high discretionary effort. If only a third of the workforce are engaged, then only a third are currently providing that vital discretionary effort all organisations are seeking for improvement and success.   And if discretionary effort can be up to 30%, then this third of the workforce are clearly carrying the rest.

Now isn’t that a profound thought for all managers wishing to improve their managerial skills!

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