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: 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!

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – Are you listening with all 6 ears?


The Chinese character for the verb “to listen” tells us something significant about this skill.  It identifies 6 active elements of listening:

  • You – in your entirety or maximum attention
  • Eyes – as many as possible
  • One or a single undivided attention
  • the heart
  • the ear
  • thinking like a king

To listen actively will mean employing all 6 elements in equal measure – not merely one as we traditionally think, our ears.  This clearly distinguishes the difference between listening and just hearing and it sums up the problems I experience in the workplace on a regular basis.

To move from hearing to active listening, we need to overcome 12 blockages. You are bound to have noticed one or two of them in your everyday professional lives, if not more.  Are you guilty of any yourself?  These can be overcome.  Are you:

  1. COMPARING: do you instantly retort with “mine is better/worse/the same as yours”  This sort of retort puts a stop to compassion and empathy – it’s a competitive situation and it instantly stops real listening, ie getting to the root of what they are trying to tell you.  You are not employing your heart in the listening process;
  2. MIND READING: if you constantly draw conclusions based on vague misgivings, hunches, or projections, before someone has finished relating their story. You will be more concerned about your own feelings than theirs.  This again stops empathy and true understanding.  You are not giving your undivided attention;
  3. REHEARSING: Are they looking interested whilst you are busy rehearsing your responses to their words.  They have a point to make, a story to tell, or an objection to make clear, yet they are having to spend their time preparing to rebut, defend or manoeuvre your ideas instead.  You are not employing your eyes;
  4. FILTERING: the object here is to avoid problems.  If you avoid anger or are afraid of it, you will particularly pick up on “angry” signs. If you perceive none, then your mind might wander.  You will find yourself listening enough to see if a particular problem is coming and if it isn’t, then you fog out.  You are not thinking like a king;
  5. JUDGING: Almost everyone’s favourite this one!  Quick judgements based on prejudices or opinion allow us to write someone or something off as stupid, uninformed, or whatever.  Judgment is best done after knowing all the facts or knowing the background.  You are not employing your ears properly;
  6. DREAMING: Words trigger own private thoughts and associations and sometimes you or another find themselves floating off into that associated world.  By the time another trigger brings you back to the present, everyone is talking about something else You are not giving your full and undivided attention;
  7. IDENTIFYING: things others are saying triggers your own experience about a similar incident and if unrestrained, you launch happily into your own story about you (or you find yourself in the company of someone else who does this regularly). You are not employing your heart properly towards their issues;
  8. ADVISING: Whilst you are busy giving great advice about this or that, you are missing their points and don’t acknowledge the full situation. You are alone in your joy or pain of the advice at that point. You are not employing your eyes to focus on their issues;
  9. SPARRING: this often starts with looking for things to disagree with.  It continues with put-downs and discounts, e.g. “are you still doing that?” “you don’t know what you are talking about” or more subtle versions and it always ends badly. You are not employing your heart and neither are you thinking like a king;
  10. BEING RIGHT: low self esteem can often mean you or someone else has trouble with criticism or corrections so you or they go to great lengths in order to be “right”. It can manifest with over-riding others with a loud voice, insults, twisting facts, or with rigidity with other tactics. You are not employing your undivided attention;
  11. DERAILING: two fast ways to derail someone include: an abrupt change of subject when you or another is getting uncomfortable or bored; or joking it off – nothing is serious about the issue. You are not employing your heart to their issues;
  12. PLACATING: of course; yes really; terrific; incredible; right; wow.  This shows you or another wants to be liked in this relationship and agrees with almost everything.  Test it by feeding them mush and see what happens! You are neither employing your ears nor thinking like a king!

If you reframe your understanding of listening along the lines of the 6 core elements which the Chinese consider profound, then it all becomes crystal clear when you, or others are really listening doesn’t it? Test it out for yourself and let me know if or how it changes your thinking.

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – How do you demonstrate your personal qualities?

We’ve often talked about leadership qualities through this blog and this week we do so again, with  no apologies.  This blog is about improving your personal contribution in the workplace and leadership is just one domain of that menu.

Effective leadership requires individuals to draw upon their values, strengths and abilities to deliver high standards of service. To do so, they must demonstrate effectiveness in:

  • Developing self awareness by being aware of their own values, principles, and assumptions, and by being able to learn from experiences
  • Managing yourself by organising and managing themselves while taking account of the needs and priorities of others
  • Continuing personal development by learning through participating in continuing professional development and from experience and feedback
  • Acting with integrity by behaving in an open, honest and ethical manner.

Look at statements below:

On the scale next to each statement, choose a rating that reflects how frequently it applies to you then total your scores after each domain and reflect on how you have scored yourself.

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This interesting exercise will stand you in good stead for the first part of any future leadership assessment programme.

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – Are you a problem child or a superstar?

Get 360Spotting potential and developing yourself or those in your teams take a certain degree of judgment and a whole lot of effort! To avoid developmental activity is to contribute to raising problem children.  There is absolutely no reason why everyone, with developmental help and an atuned sense of professional self awareness, cannot all be rising stars for the organisation’s they work for.  Aresko can help, in all sorts of ways.  The first step is usually a vitally important 360° feedback exercise.  This exercise can help to spot where on the matrix below you might be now, and it can give us some developmental ideas on the way to affect the shift into “Superstar” status.  So what are you waiting for?

Here are a few tips for managing your team now:


High performance, low potential. Give recognition for good work, use to coach others, do they really have no potential? (Use Aresko for development purposes)


Low performance, low potential. Could contain potential stars and backbones.  Counsel, establish trust, agree aims, and take action to help, including outplacement if best. (Contact Aresko for strategies to improvement)


High performance, high potential. Agree challenging work to stretch them.  Coach and mentor (Aresko supplies both services!).  Agree projects and career development.


Low performance, high potential.  Counsel (boredom or low challenge?)  Inspire, motivate, encourage and reach potential. (Contact Aresko for improvement strategies and assistance).

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So were are YOU on this grid?  Where would you put your TEAM MEMBERS?  Is it where they see themselves?

The gap that this final question will inevitably reveal is where a 360 exercise can really help. The result will be inevitable improvement – for both of you 🙂

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – Do you keep a reflection diary?

Self-improvement is grounded in honest reflection.  Unless you can be honest with yourself, about your own performance/behaviour/attitude/actions, then you will always be fighting a losing battle on achieving the sort of professional self-improvement, which others will see and be appreciative of.

Try this snakes and ladder approach to keeping a reflection diary.  Keep it simple, don’t overdo the compilation or you will avoid doing it again, and then print them out and store them for future review.  What gets written down,  will maintain your future attention, and this way you will have a true portfolio for all your appraisal conversations in the future.

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  • Each stage is optional – seek feedback as often as possible
  • Write only what you want, and when you want
  • Date each entry – you will need to review over time
  • Use this “root” template for each issue/event – it should become routine
  • Keep in a ring binder for ease of review, and revisit it at least twice a year

If, like many, you prefer a spreadsheet workbook approach to this, I’ve put together a template for you here:  THURSDAY THOUGHTS! (3) WORKBOOK.  Whatever floats your boat is useful, but most of all, do compile one and let me know how useful you found this simple technique.

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – Are you an equal with your male peers?

WomenomicsAfter a lovely Easter week off, it’s time to get back in the swing of things with our weekly look at a poignant self-development topic.  This week has proven easy to pick a topic, with the news full of the fact that the only woman Prime Minister the UK has ever had, has died.  Love her or hate her – and passions are high on both those axis – the fact remains that she made it to the top in what was, and still is, considered very much a man’s world. A product of her time, or have times changed in terms of female leadership?  Womenomics: say the Hot Chilli company, is very much alive and well.

Margaret Thatcher was one of the toughest leaders of her time – but a leader she definitely was. So today, are women held back by factors like unequal pay and workplace sexism? Or are we opting out because we don’t apply, think we aren’t qualified, fear rejection, or concern for our family?

That’s the debate we are having this week. The current picture shows that the few who manage to penetrate the higher corporate levels must still be as hard as nails, sometimes even outdoing our male peers when it comes to aggressiveness. Do we really have to be more masculine than a man to make it to the top of our respective trees?

When the message conveyed to women is that to succeed in our careers we must adopt characteristics perceived as male and marked by men as “good”, while shedding characteristics identified as female and perceived as “not good” – do we internalise the idea that our psychological structure is less suitable for leadership and management?  Feelings of inferiority can be very heavy weights to bear when climbing upward.

As long as this is the situation, the distance to true equality between men and women will still remain great.

Where do you see yourself in this debate?  Do you consciously suppress female strengths to succeed or do you make a feature of them in the workplace?  What results are you achieving by doing so?

Mentorship & Me – Part 6 – Alison Crawford – Success!

Coaching and MentoringSometimes life can get in the way of career aspirations, but with a Mentor on board I felt that I had a little extra support to get back into the swing of things.  Having applied for a couple of jobs and not heard anything for a long time I assumed that I hadn’t been shortlisted, but then out of the blue two interviews appeared.  Time to put my game face on and get ready.  Mentor session booked, job specs circulated.  I arranged for a colleague to do a mock interview and my (very supportive) boss gave me the inside skinny on the interview structure this organisation was using.

My mentor session wasn’t quite what I expected.  Expecting lots of tips on delivering a good interview, instead I was told to ‘knock ‘em dead’ and asked how I will be choosing which job to accept.  Reflecting, this was just what I needed.  I knew how to do a good interview, the reminder of this was timely, but at this point in time I needed confidence more than anything else, and this is precisely what I got from my session. We talked about my favourite of the two possible roles and how this matched my career aspirations more fully, and we explored my passion for this potential line of work.

The moral of the story (if such a thing exists) is that the external perspective can be very useful.  I thought I needed more knowledge or strategies to succeed at interview and would have spent evenings and weekends researching endlessly.  In reality, I had this already, I just needed to be reminded of that and then to sell it, and to believe in myself that I was up to the jobs on offer.

And my mentor was right.  I was offered both jobs.

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! – What does the workplace of the future look like?

The Future is Now - Ornate ClockWe are working in testing times.  The pace is fast, the expectations are high and change is all around us like never before.  Many are struggling to keep up.

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A recent study, researching this question amongst 1130 leaders, produced the following:  The workplace of the future will, at its core, be described as owning and displaying the following characteristics:

  • Hungry for change;
  • Innovative beyond belief;
  • Connected;
  • Disruptive by nature; and
  • Genuine, not generous.

Do these characteristics apply to your organisation now – or perhaps just one or two do at this present time?  Score yourself, your manager and then your organisation on a scale of 1-5 below, with one being weak (others wouldn’t automatically see this characteristic) to 5 (this characteristic is embedded and commonly recognised as “the way we do things around here”), to see if you are part of the gap mentioned above, or whether you are really doing everything to try and narrow it.



Your Manager

Your Organisation

Hungry for change      

Conclusion: are you adding to your organisation’s resistance to change?

To be part of a high performing organisation, which is agile, nimble and ready for the demands of the future, you need to analyse your own state of readiness to help it be so, first. Any organisation is merely a collection of individuals, but it’s how those individuals act, react, behave and respond that gives any organisation its buzz.

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