Thursday Thoughts!

How do you best learn?

Coming 16/1/14


What is Discretionary Effort?

The 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!


Blankets of Positivity

When an entire organisation is encouraged to recognise one another’s achievements, this kind of organisational atmosphere produces tremendous positivity throughout the workplace. Colleagues actively looking out for one another, and more than that, actually seeking out ways to help and give recognition to one another.

Research has shown (Grant) that where and when this does exist, there is also faster problem-solving, more efficient co-ordination and less variability in work simply because people are willing to step up and cover for one another when the need arises.   Continuity is established and purpose is preserved.  Commitment is demonstrated.

So, according to a 2013 workforce mood tracker survey, of those who have openly and positively recognised a colleague in the last month, 62% described themselves as “highly engaged” and of those who admitted to never having done so towards any  colleague, only 27% said they would describe themselves as highly engaged.

But to find this degree of mutual support and open recognition as the norm is often thought of as the holy grail, it’s so rare!  In my whole career, I’ve only experienced it twice. So why is this?  Why don’t we go about our days anymore, seeking ways to help each other?  Why have we become so insular and self-preserving?  Only we can answer this for ourselves, and its well worth reflecting upon due to it’s propensity to spread.

So it seems sensible, that if the leadership of any team or organisation can invest in creating an environment, climate and culture that promotes positive feedback AND reinforces the organisation’s core values, then it can only be a positive and powerful force for engagement.

All this starts with us, as individuals, each and every one of us.  No, not waiting to see it first from someone else, but taking responsibility to find ways to support and recognise colleagues in the first instance.

Have you ever experienced this before?  If so, how did it feel and what was your role in making it happen?


Do You Have Good Manager Hygiene?

Henley Business School’s Professor Bones says: “The line manager is the lens through which I see the organisation, and how the organisations sees me.”  This makes interesting interrogation.  It is no secret that management is one of the most important components of any persons job satisfaction and ultimately, their engagement with their role and tasks.

Individuals don’t leave bad companies, in many an exit interview, it is clearly understood that people tend to leave bad management.  Alternatively, great managers produce high engagement levels, motivation and loyalty to the cause.

At the heart of this dimension is that staff want  managers to care about them as professionals in their role and what they have to offer.  They require a belief that their manager wants them to succeed, and appreciates all the effort they expend in attempting to do so.  This is what is commonly known as management hygiene: the ability and competence of managers to know what motivates individuals; know how to create clarity and transparency; and know how to recognise and reward a diverse range of contributions.

So there are 5 key components to good manager hygiene:

  1. a habit of amplifying accomplishments;
  2. a natural tendency to thank people for their efforts and contributions;
  3. a bias towards positive feedback;
  4. ensuring people are put in a position to succeed; and
  5. strong communication skills.

In a recent survey, the question:

“My immediate line manager recognises and appreciates good work”

33% of respondents replied that they only received weak recognition and appreciation and only half were more positive about it!

The question:

“What has a greater impact on performance – negative or positive feedback?”

was a bit of a no-brainer to OD-types like myself!  Not surprisingly 94% of respondents replied, positive feedback.

So if you would be so kind as to complete the below poll, I would like to take the temperature of what’s going on in the Aresko audience workplace.  I will keep all responses anonymous, its the results I am interested in.  If you will answer this simple question then press “VOTE”, then most importantly, if you could share this article with your respective networks for additional voting, I would be eternally grateful!



Engagement: More Than Just Words On A Page!

Employee engagement used to be considered the soft skills of management.  Now it’s considered imperative and all “good” organisations will have a Staff Engagement Strategy of some sorts, in place.  The leadership makes a lot of resources available to produce strategies and they know how important staff engagement is. But how useful are these strategies to the day job, and is implementation of them under-resourced?  Basically, how well does that strategy work in your workplace?  It’s a telling sign of how well any organisation “lives the values it says it has adopted” to ask any member of staff what is the organisation value they are mostly driven by.

A recent Gallup pole suggested that, in 47% of organisations surveyed, staff engagement was the most important HR challenge.  That is an amazing statistic!  Particularly when you look at the results, which are pretty dismal: only 30% of staff were engaged; 18% were actively disengaged; with the remaining 52% not engaged. This means MERELY A THIRD OF THE GIVEN WORKFORCE ARE CONVINCED OF THE VISION, MISSION, VALUES AND OBJECTIVES OF THIER ORGANISATION.  This is a truly disgraceful situation.  Organisations should be ashamed of their organisation development initiatives as a result of this survey!

So for the next 5 weeks, we are going to address 5 simple steps to getting out of this dismal rut.  It’s not rocket science but it takes courage and a dedicated management team to turn such a situation around. Most of all, it takes consistent effort and commitment on a daily basis.

Whilst every organisation is different and will require it’s own engagement approach, there are key areas every one of them should focus on to get out, and stay out, of this engagement abyss:

Step 1: Create clear and credible values that are KNOWN and UNDERSTOOD;

Step 2: Build a healthy culture INTENTIONALLY;

Step 3: Insist on good MANAGER HYGIENE;

Step 4: Create platforms for POSITIVITY; and

Step 5: Understand what MOTIVATES your workforce and RECOGNISE and REWARD it.

So this week, we have a few hints and tips centred around clear and credible values.

“Those who say they “know and understand” the values of their organisation are 30x more likely to be fully engaged”

The absence of any recognition of the values which bind the organisation as one collective force, guarantees that staff will be disengaged.  Below are some practical tips on ensuring values are truly embedded in your organisation:

  • Have senior managers talk about them regularly. The values should be part of the daily vernacular;
  • Make them part of your corporate communications strategy. Internal and external communications should not only contain references to the core values, but translate them into the “way we do things around here”;
  • Link daily, weekly, monthly accomplishments to the values.  NEVER miss an opportunity to reference the role of values in any individual, team or directorate accomplishment.  They need to be seen and felt to be DRIVERS of effort.

Can you recognise any systematic way your organisation connects staff behaviour and work effort to the core values?  What happens in your workplace that enables the values to come to life on a daily basis?

If you are struggling to answer those two questions, then you are certainly not alone.  I recently facilitated a workshop of 30+ staff and not one person there could recount an organisation value to me.  How could engagement become infectious in that organisation if nobody knew what glue was supposedly holding them together?

A healthy organisation culture is the easiest way to avoid the engagement abyss – but engagement and culture are the chicken and egg equivalent in organisational life.  More about culture at another time, the foreseeable future focusses on engagement hints and tips.

If you have any tips to share about how to make organisation values known, please do so.  Easy to say, difficult to embed, so how have you gone about it in the past?


Do You Know Your Management Style?

If you’ve been in work for even a nanosecond, you will have noticed that there are various styles that different managers display, sometimes depending upon the situation.  Sometimes, individuals have a strong preference for one particular style, and it is when the context or the circumstance dictates that an alternative style is called for, that you being to see whether you have a strong or a weak manager in your midsts!

There are 6 commonly recognised management styles. They are:


This is a rather coercive style which seeks instant compliance and appears quite bossy.  You will notice it from a style and tone of voice which dictates “do as I say or beware” and you hear it from those who are high on the control spectrum.  They seem to think folk are motivated by orders or even threats and their whole turn of conversation, features these sorts of overtones.

This is REALLY EFFECTIVE in time of crisis or when its very risky not to follow orders, so it definitely has its place. Unfortunately, its REALLY INEFFECTIVE when the workforce is skilled or used to acting on their own initiative, as they soon become resentful and very frustrated with what they see, as micromanagement.



This is a visionary style and usually provides more of a long-term direction for the workforce. It’s characterised by being firm but fair and provides motivation through clear standards, credibility and integrity.  These managers earn respect and apply fairness at every point.  They are highly knowledgeable and often have specialist authority in any workplace.

This is REALLY INEFFECTIVE when staff need development, or the vision is vague as people won’t follow it if they don’t believe in it, no matter how much the manager knows about it.


This manager primarily creates harmony in the workplace, horizontally and vertically.  They are very people oriented and always put people before task.  They have a tendency to avoid conflict but are excellent motivational managers and they can often pick a project up off its knees when its stalled.  This style is HIGHLY EFFECTIVE when combined with other styles and is the one most often matched with others.  They are born counsellors or mediators. LESS EFFECTIVE in times of crisis or when performance needs tackling.

PARTICIPATIVE participative

The Democrat builds commitment and consensus with the workforce.  They are the manager that most seeks out and uses diversity in the team and always values everyone’s voice and input. They are very good indeed at motivating by rewarding individual and team efforts.  They are great team builders and VERY EFFECTIVE in steady work environments. If close supervision is required, or a crisis appears, these make for pretty poor leaders in these circumstances.

Screenshot 2013-11-14 17.14.57PACE SETTERS

Got to love these ones! They are profoundly driven, wanting to be first, fastest, highest, best achievers.  Exhausting usually! They very often resort to doing things themselves, in the vein hope that others will follow.  Highly motivated themselves, expects very high standards of everyone around them. Great when they are managing experts or highly competent teams who desire and require very little direction indeed.  HOPELESS when the goal or workload is dependent on the efforts of others who require direction, coercion, or explanation.


This manager loves long-term development of others. They  make it their mission in life! A very developmental manager, they help and encourage others to develop their strengths and weaknesses in order to reach personal potential.  Always seeking and providing developmental opportunities and recognises when others are motivated by improvement and recognition of all kinds.  They are less effective if the manager themselves are inexperienced and this type of manager grows from experience and self development.  They love translating their experience into the benefit of others.

Of course, you can now see how circumstances and/or context will best require different styles in any one manager.  The best managers can see what is required of any situation and adapt accordingly.  Sounds simple, but it takes years of practice to flip between styles and deliver it effectively.

Have you seen style-flipping or have you seen when others have struggled to suit the style to the situation?  How has these styles made you feel when you’ve been in particular team situations?  Please do let me know.


Do You Have Three Wishes?

What is it that, if someone could grant you three wishes, you would wish to change in work tomorrow?  What are the issues which would make your professional life more enjoyable, productive or satisfying?

Would it surprise you to know that, without even knowing what they are, you are the author of making them happen?  There is absolutely no use worrying over things outside of your control, so act on those things that are within your control instead and I assure you that you will feel better about it.  Having  a good problem solving strategy in your pocket has been proven to underpin better health and enhanced self-esteem. So its win-win whichever way you look at it.

Coping mechanisms come in all shapes and sizes but roughly fall into three main groups:

  • Appraisal-focused strategies occur when the person modifies the way they think, for example: employing denial or distancing oneself from the problem. People may alter the way they think about a problem by altering their goals and values, such as by seeing the humour in a situation: some have suggested that humour may play a greater role as a stress moderator among women than men.  It’s a well known point that if you change the way you look at things, then the things you look at will change too;
  • People using problem-focused strategies try to deal with the cause of their problem. They do this by finding out information on the problem and learning new skills to manage the problem. Problem-focused coping is aimed at changing or eliminating the source of the stress. They ask loads of questions in any conversation to try and extract as much detail as they can.  They are born investigators and the very best problem-focussed folk follow a recognisable pattern of:
  1. define the problem
  2. gather relevant information
  3. identify possible causes
  4. identify possible solution
  5. test possible solution
  6. would out solution
  7. make a decision
  8. monitor results
  • Emotion-focused strategies involve releasing pent-up emotions, distracting oneself, managing hostile feelings, meditating or using systematic relaxation procedures. Emotion-focused coping is oriented toward managing the emotions that accompany the perception of stress.  For those choosing these kinds of strategy, a good grasp of emotional intelligence is required. You will  need to know and understand the 5 elements of EI:
  1. self awareness – understand yourself, your strengths and weaknesses and how you appear to others
  2. self regulation – master the ability to control yourself and think before you act
  3. motivation – know what your drive to succeed is grounded in
  4. empathy – master understanding other peoples’ viewpoints, whether or not you agree with them, appreciate where they are coming from and understand how they reach their conclusions
  5. social skills – develop your interpersonal and communication skills towards others.

Typically, people use a mixture of all three types of coping strategies, and coping skills will usually change over time. All these methods can prove useful, but some claim that those using problem-focused coping strategies will adjust better to the challenges they will inevitably face over time, particularly when promoted and issues become more complex and often multi-faceted.  Problem-focused coping mechanisms may allow an individual greater perceived control over their problem, whereas emotion-focused coping may sometimes lead to a reduction in perceived control.

It’s useful to master them all in due course.  A great coach can help of course 🙂


We’ve All Been There Haven’t We?

Barry Oshry has spent many years theorising, analysing, describing and helping those who find themselves “managing from the middle”.  He says that the same scenarios exist in every organisation in all contexts; that those at the top of the office are at odds with those who do the work; and those in the middle are torn in two because of this and suffer stress as they perpetually spiral downwards trying to please everyone, taking ownership of   everyone else’s problems.

This is a scenario I have observed in every organisation I’ve ever worked for, and in some, I’ve been that “Middling” person sinking under the weight of being Mrs Fix-It for all and sundry.  It’s not a great place to be, physically, mentally or emotionally.

So what is this middling thing?  At it’s worst, it can be crippling to the individual concerned. I know because I’ve been there – thinking I was completely losing my mind and drowning under the never-ending receipt of actions which always came my way.  Some of the warning signals are as follows:

  • I’m a mess, weak, and nothing I do is ever good enough!
  • I’m letting everyone down
  • I can’t cope anymore
  • I’ll see what I can do (in response on the phone more than 3 times a day)
  • I’m running from one to the other all the time
  • I seem to have to make more and more excuses for everyone around me
  • I fee burnt out
  • I can’t work any harder, but it’s not enough
  • I never have the time to switch off
  • I’ve lost my voice, my independence – I used to have a mind of my own

Would you recognise what Oshry calls “the middle slide” if you saw it?  Do you even know you are doing it yourself?  Did you know that “middles” are absolutely critical in assuring that the goals of the organisation are realised.  So they are worth looking after and allowing them to rediscover their own independent judgement and voice again.

Watch Barry Oshry himself explain his theory and analysis here:

The way of addressing this involves all levels of management, not just the Middling.  It’s everyone’s responsibility to create a more  healthy leadership environment.  It’s an interesting theory and one that should be aired and tackled more overtly than I currently see it being.

If you believe you are a Middling – you are not alone – and ITS NOT YOUR FAULT!


Do You Make The Most Of Social Media?

Everyone, so it seems, is now using social media for one reason or another.  Whether you tweet for business or pleasure, have a Facebook page you particularly like, or just couldn’t keep up with developments on what you consider important without it. Social media is now a “must have” tool for all sorts of communication.

Aresko works with The Social Shark.  He has done great work for us on many projects – one way and another; and was recently featured in The Internet Marketing Mag (pages 3 and 32).  Great article on maximising reach and recognition for your particular issues; and also on saving time.  Who doesn’t want to save time?

The important thing is: if you have  page you like, do like whatever it posts or draws attention to, and comment whenever you can, it only takes a nano second to make a contribution and, for bloggers or FB-ers like us, it means the world.

Behind all this great social media interaction is a need to develop various skills.  Aresko can help with:

I won’t keep you any longer, as I would love you comment on the article I’ve featured, and even pop over to our FB page so see whats going on there.  See you in the ether 🙂


Could You Benefit From Short Term Coaching?

I am very proud of a recent client whom I’d worked with to produce a short/medium and long-term career plan.  All her goals have now been achieved from that plan: a big professional one and an equally big vocational one.  It’s taken focus and dedication from her and just a little assistance from me to achieve clarity over what those goals actually were, and equally important, why and what motivated her towards them.

As a result, I’m delighted to say that I’ve been given permission to quote her as follows:

Screenshot 2013-09-05 12.56.52

Read all about other successful aspects of Alison’s mentoring journey HERE

If you want to create a similar degree of clarity and purpose, I’m just a click away.  I promise you it will be painless 🙂

How do you go about planning your pathways and do they fall into disrepute quickly?  I really can help you set a plan, keep to that plan, and ultimately make it  happen.  Time in the year is running out so act today.

Finally, a massive congratulations to Alison for getting that promotion and making her vocation a reality!


This Is Me And This Is What I Do

Here’s something to think about as we reach the annual mid-year point.  Have you actually delivered what you set out to deliver by now or have you allowed external pressures, flow and alternative focus to take over?  Is what you originally set out to deliver still relevant, and if not, have you identified why so you don’t waste time doing the same thing next year?  Are you really operating at your full potential, be that on an individual or organisational level?

Strategic organisational development is about having the tools and techniques to make good decisions, and more importantly, following through on them in a sustained and noticeable way. Having a great OD practitioner check in from time to time is vital to driving and maximising that potential for success.  Have a look at this and see if you can afford NOT to invest in this support – remember …. make good decisions!


Do You Value Monitor Evaluators Appropriately?

Belbin Team Roles are based on observed behaviour and interpersonal styles and this is somewhat dependent upon the situation you are in.  It relates not only to your own natural working style, but also to your interrelationships with others, and the work being done.  This is why the Observer Assessments should be situation specific.  So if you are completing a profile analysis for work, you should ask work colleagues to be your observers.  It just makes sense because you, and the people you work with, may well behave and interact quite differently in different teams or when the membership or work of the team changes. It is about contributing to an effective team rather than a non-proctive one after all.

So Dr Meredith Belbin identified 9 team roles and each one is associated with a typical behavioural and interpersonal strength. Each role will also have a “weakness” so there is no right or wrong in this context.

Monitor Evaluators are those amongst us who are most logical, discriminating and always make the right, very considered decisions!  When presented with 2 options, they are the ones who will weigh up all the pros and cons, apply analytical thinking to their conclusions, and they are usually high performers on the Watson-Galsner Critical Thinking Appraisal.  These folk will take all the actions and details from a Shaper and subject them to the most intense scrutiny in a very unemotional manner.  They are one of the “Thought Oriented” roles, so if you find yourself to be one of the “Action Oriented” roles, like a Shaper/Implementer/Completer-Finisher, then you will find yourself having to deal with one very shrewd cookie!

A good Monitor Evaluator knows when criticism is appropriate and a Plant will welcome this criticism in order to modify or rein in their most ridiculous ideas.  But they can clash too – sparks are inevitable when the Plant’s unique originality meets what they perceive as the inalienable logic of the Monitor Evaluator.  Then mediation is highly likely (call on one of your “People Oriented” roles – probably a Co-ordinator or Teamworker). In fact, the Plant, Monitor Evaluator and Co-ordinator could happily work together in harmony as a small, constructive and co-operative unit – but beware if they need to be productive as they are missing an Implementer to actually do anything.

Famous Monitor Evaluators include:

  • Margaret Thatcher (secondary role – in her desire for hearty debates); and
  • Gordon Brown.

Do you know your own team behaviour strength?  If not, give us a call (01550 720902 / 07932 641313) or contact me via to find out more.


Love Or Loathe Resource Investigators?

With the opening of the Llandovery Hub (see last blog post), brings a great opportunity to get together with other small local business folk.  It provides a place to meet and mingle and secure a professional working environment with all modern office conveniences.  This pitches very well to the Belbin Team Role called Resource Investigator, of which I am one 🙂  So when I was contacted about it, it immediately sparked my imagination as to what was possible and I’m all over it like a rash!

So what are my RESOURCE INVESTIGATOR characteristics then?  We are relaxed, sociable and gregarious, with an interest that is easily aroused (one phone call got me hooked on the concept). We are good at communicating with people both inside and outside the organisation. We are natural negotiators and are adept at exploring new opportunities and developing contacts. Our responses tend to be positive and enthusiastic, though we are prone to put things down as quickly as we pick them up.

The RESOURCE INVESTIGATORS are usually the team members who go out of the group and bring ideas, information and developments back to it from all over the place. We have an ability to think on our feet and to probe others for information. We make friends easily because of our own outgoing and very amiable nature. We are rarely in our offices, and when we are we are probably on the telephone. I have numerous examples of this when I was corporate office bound!  Always popping to see someone and check something out.  In fact, the receptionist once made me a sign for my door for when I was on the phone which said: “don’t even think about knocking” which was a joke, as my door was always open and I would often flag folk to come in whilst talking to someone else!  We are the teams’ salesmen, diplomats and liaison-officers; always exploring new possibilities in the wider world outside. Our ability to stimulate ideas and encourage innovation by this activity would lead most people to mistake us for ideas people, but we rarely have the radical originality that distinguishes the PLANT. Interestingly, my other team role is indeed Plant, so I often have whacky ideas too.  Just how difficult could I have seemed so some others in the office who craved peace and quiet?

Without the stimulus of others, for example in solitary jobs, RESOURCE INVESTIGATORS can become easily bored, demoralised and ineffective.  This is precisely why the Llandovery Hub is, in my mind, a fine asset to our community.  But I would say that wouldn’t I, being a resource investigator! So I love the idea and will definitely use the facility as I need to be around others and others instil the necessary discipline in me to focus and produce, otherwise I will float all over the place having a lovely time talking to loads of folk, but I will lack productivity.

Conversely, I’m hearing that the organiser of this fine facility is experiencing some criticism from others in the local community (are they Monitor Evaluators who can be characterised as overly critical and slow moving?) who merely see this as another office and are asking why people need an office if they have one at home etc?

I suspect a local initiative has suffered from a little lack of concept selling as its much, much more than merely “another office”. Have you come across an annoying resource investigator in your time and which characteristics have particularly challenged you in your day-to-day work? Could your team have succeeded (in your view) without one and if so, why do you think this?


Is It The Era Of The Teamworker?

Abdication is currently fashionable – so it seems.  In Belbin terms, is it the era of Teamworkers?  Lets look at each Belbin role, one a week for the time being, and interpret it in the context of whatever is happening this week.

There have been some notable abdicators in the past.  But they aren’t all Teamworkers! Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has done it; the Pope did it for the first time in Vatican history; even Alex Ferguson recently handed over his long-held crown.  Last night The Apprentice adopted the trait, and we saw the sacking of Jason Leech who abdicated his Project Manager role for the “good of the team’s success” but in the face of a clear case of extreme-Shaper-bullying.  Teamworkers are diplomatic, popular and routinely avert friction. They are sensers and always try to please other people’s needs. That was certainly Jason’s motivation for his abdication last night.

Teamworkers will make other colleagues feel better about being dumped on or being hurt by something another has said.  We saw this in action last night as Jason articulated why he was buckling to Luisa’s (Shaper?) techniques.  Every team needs a Teamworker, but are they exploited and can they reach the leadership heights of being the Number One?

Do you see abdication as a noble gesture in certain circumstances, or do you see it as the easy way out of an uncomfortable scenario?  However you see it, will say something about your preferred Belbin Team Role, how you fit into any team and what your preference for the role you play within it, is.

In a professional world, this is closely related in my view, to how people are valued for what they are doing.  I’ve seen it many times: extroverts who require fast and timely feedback as to how they are doing will, under severe stress, pick up their teddies and walk if they feel unrecognised and undervalued for their personal contributions.  Feeling valued is a KEY INDICATOR of job performance after all.

Teamworkers are people oriented, so they feel valued when they receive recognition for looking after things: feelings; people; tasks etc. They are popular folk, very capable in their own right but tend to prioritise team cohesion and helping people get along over anything else.  They have tendencies of being indecisive, and are often uncommitted during discussions and decision making.  Sounds like a Jason description doesn’t it?  They are NOT weak people, never make that misinterpretation.

Shapers are action oriented people who feel frustrated in the absence of action.  They are hugely challenging individuals, extroverted, and constantly question the norm, often highly argumentative and they see themselves as courageous in pushing forward in circumstances where others feel like stopping – we certainly saw this last night.  They often offend others feelings yet fail to see it happening in a haze of their own red mist.  Very much Luisa – professional maturity and lifelong learning can (and will) temper this.  It’s usually called “experience”.

Upon his sacking, Jason quoted Nietzsche by saying: “when you’re battling with monsters, be sure you don’t become a monster yourself.”  I loved this because it says much for his Teamworker traits in how he sees Shapers.  There is no room for monsters in the workplace – Shapers need to learn self awareness and more than anything else, value team diversity and what others bring, but most of all be able to be adaptive to situations in order to bring the best out in others, not to walk all over them.

If you want to learn how to construct  and then manage a high performing team, recognising all the value the core but different role traits play in producing high performing teams, give us a call for a full Belbin analysis of your current team – and lets start turning that into a high performing team sooner rather than later: 01550 720902 / 07932 641313 will start that process today.


Can Resilience Be Developed?

Interesting question this week.  Building more resilient individuals and teams rests at the heart of an organisation development programme so it seemed timely to look at it in more detail.  The paradox of resilience is that at our worst times we can become our very best.  It is forged through adversity and not despite it.

So investing in the ability to overcome setbacks and absorbing any learning offered by those setbacks quickly, and with minimum personal cost is of vital importance. We need to develop an inner state of readiness, the capacity to bend and absorb shocks and stresses, to counter those stresses by transitioning back and then to reform our new state of readiness which has absorbed the learning from that shock.

It therefore follows that there are increasing levels of resilience from that which offers a change of approach or working, to that where a person transforms an extreme challenge into an opportunity and thereby achieves good outcomes from the setback even in the face of extreme loss.

So whether we know it or not, rest assured that we all possess an internal resilience engine.  The challenge is to keep it healthy AND to learn from it’s various deployments into one or another setback.  Our very own engines all have a simple 2+7+1 menu of:

  • 2 beliefs:  a belief in our purpose in life at that given time, plus a belief in our own judgement;
  • 7 attitudes: the combination of these is critical for the highest level of resilience;
  1. takes full responsibility for self, own actions and reactions;
  2. doesn’t dwell, forgives when necessary, moves on;
  3. doesn’t take oneself too seriously.  Humanity and self deprecating humour;
  4. Is optimistic;
  5. Is grounded and pragmatic;
  6. Has high levels of independence and independent judgement;
  7. values others and their opinions.
  • 1 element of self acceptance: we need to know ourselves deeply, and accept our strengths, gremlins and blind spots.

Self development is possible across all these components and any great OD Plan will incorporate them in one way or another.  We can help of course, so if you are interested, ring us on 01550 720902 or 07932 641313 to discuss further.

In the meantime, as a leader, consider this: How can you build strong relationships that forge resilient organisations?


Stephen M.R. Covey, says, “Relationship trust is all about behaviour … consistent behaviour.” (From: “The Speed of Trust.” Today, seven years after publishing, it’s still #2 in Business-Life, Ethics, on Amazon.)

Covey explains 13 behaviors common to high-trust leaders:

  1. Talk straight. Let people know where you stand. Use simple language.
  2. Demonstrate respect. Genuinely care and show it.
  3. Create transparency. Tell the truth in a way that can be verified. Err on the side of disclosure.
  4. Right Wrongs. Apologise quickly. Make restitution where possible.
  5. Show loyalty. Give credit freely. Speak about people as if they were present.
  6. Deliver results. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Don’t make excuses.
  7. Get better. Thank and act on feedback.
  8. Confront reality. Take issues head on, even the “undiscussibles.”
  9. Clarify expectations. Disclose, reveal, discuss, validate, renegotiate if needed, don’t violate, expectations.
  10. Practice accountability. Take responsibility for results. Be clear on how you’ll communicate.
  11. Listen first. Don’t assume you know what matters most to others.
  12. Keep commitments. Make commitments carefully. Don’t break confidences.
  13. Extend trust. Extend trust abundantly to those who have earned it. Extend trust conditionally to those who are earning it.

How many of these would someone else put your name against right now?  Collectively, these behaviours will help your organisation absorb shocks, bounce back and be stronger and more resilient in the future.  These behaviours should be the cornerstones of your management team.  They take time to develop so take the first step in helping them become “the way you do things” by ringing us on 01550 720902 or 07932 641313


Do You Stand Out For The Right Reasons?

Spotting potential and developing yourself or those in your teams take a certain degree of judgment and a whole lot of effort! Incompetent leaders have teams who turn on each other and fight in a non-productive manner.  There is absolutely no reason why everyone, with developmental help and an attuned sense of professional self-awareness, cannot all be rising stars and creative and productive team members.  Aresko can help, in all sorts of ways.  With a small bundle of tools and techniques (360° feedback/Belbin team role analysis)  we can help to spot where on the matrix below your team members might be now, and we can give developmental support on how to affect a shift into “high performing team” status.  So what are you waiting for?

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High performance, low potential. Every team needs some so give recognition for good work, use to coach others in getting done what matters. Then consider whether they really have no potential, which will be highly unlikely.  Everyone has potential, it just needs spotting and developing.  We can help you spot and develop!


Low performance, low potential. This crew could contain potential stars and backbones, they just might not be being motivated in the best way.  We ca help you counsel, establish trust, agree aims, and take action to help, including outplacement if best. It is vital you understand what makes your icebergs tick.


High performance, high potential group. They will need challenging work to stretch them.  We can help you coach and mentor them to agree stretching projects and produce satisfying career development.


Low performance, high potential individuals who are often bored from low challenge on a daily basis. They will need to be inspired, motivated, encouraged and managed very carefully indeed or else they can often be the instigators of nasty fighting.  We can help you determine whether there is any personal agenda in play.  Those who care more about their own, rather than the teams success, hunger after control or credit.  When this is evident, they are the ones who will fight for it but who will refuse to give it to others. It’s time for a tough conversation at this point and we can help you prepare to deliver it in a constructive, non-damaging way.

So to help create productive teams, approach Aresko at the earliest opportunity and avoid the naughty fighting culture which focusses on people.  Instead, let us help you focus on nice fighting which focusses on issues.

Productive Fit:

Those who don’t fit, fight. Team formation establishes team potential.

Icebergs and Problem Children, who don’t fit for one reason or another, ruin teams and do nothing but stop high performance. Let us help you create a more productive fit:

  1. Identify purpose. Why are we here? Know who you are before identifying those who fit or need a bit more help.
  2. Establish your code of conduct. How will you treat each other?

Will you interrupt each other during discussions correctly or incorrectly? 
What happens if someone is late or doesn’t follow through?
 Will you have fun or be serious? 
How will you solve disagreements?
 What does candor look like in your team?

All these are vitally important in building an effective and productive team culture and working environment.  Where are you and your team right now? Do you know for sure or is your wet finger in the air on this?


What Gets You Really Worked Up?

Ms Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! has been ruffling feathers yet again.  She did it a few months ago about home working, so we featured a poll here in this blog about whether you supported her view.  It couldn’t have got a lot of people energised (my poll that is) as I got nothing back – seems it was one of those “if it doesn’t affect me, what’s the point in contributing” issues.

Anyway, onwards and upwards, this week she’s done it again, so she might well be worth keeping an eye on!  Notoriety is not altogether a good thing.  I like quirky a lot, but there is only so much silly things someone in a VERY high position can say, before their reputation does down the pan and nobody listens anymore.  Particularly if you are a woman. So … consider this recent missive of hers:

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Photography is one of my true loves.  In fact Aresko Photography has a blog of it’s own HERE.  And a comment like this is sure to get me REALLY worked up.  I’m still in awe of many professional photographers who are able to produce sheer works of art by standing on the same spot as me.  The great Ansel Adams said:

Ansel Adams

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” ― Ansel Adams

However, according to Ms Mayer, this professional skill does not exist anymore.  Poppycock!

Here is a link to a rant, from a now extinct professional photographer on how it made her (yes it was a woman, get over it) feel.

This has been this week’s issue that has managed to ignite the fury in me.  Because I care about the issue.  What issues do you get passionate and energised about?


Are You Listening With All Six 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.


How Do You Demonstrate 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.


Are You A Problem Child or Superstar?

Spotting 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 🙂


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.


Are You Equal With Your Male Peers?

After 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?


What Does The Workplace Of The Future Look Like?

We 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.


What’s Your Favourite App?

Everyone seems to be working, or at least, accessing data, on the move nowadays.  Whatever your mobile device of choice, there are apps for them all.  They are snazzy little things!  Some more helpful than others and lots are actually free.

So, you have a mobile device, you’ve downloaded a shed load of apps, and now’s the time to actually start using them.

“Which apps couldn’t you possibly live without on a daily basis?”

 I will be generous and allow you a top 6 list, given that some are for accessing information, some are for interactivity, and some others will be about production of new information.

Here’s my top 6, and my reasons why:

  1. Dropbox – because I need access to my files from various different devices and this gives me instant version control!
  2. Twitter – because it allows me to get a feel for the news mood of the day and helps my ears  stay well tuned for trends and feedback.  Short and sweet – not too heavy on the reading!
  3. I-books – because I read every single day (personal and for reference) and I also find it very useful as a library for pdf’s needed for various meetings (less paper!!)
  4. Facetime or Skype for i-pad – because at any time I can be in touch, in a face to face way, with colleagues or clients. It’s important to keep what I do as personal as possible.
  5. iThoughtsHD – because the way I take notes is by mind mapping. I don’t care how many colleagues stare when I take notes using this – I will continue 🙂
  6. CloudOn – because its free and it allows me to  amend documents just like any desktop would.  Great for amendments on the go, particularly if you also have an i-pad keyboard for longer pieces of activity.

What are your favourite half dozen and why?


Do You NYFO?

With thanks to Peggy Edwards for spotting an article about this on LinkedIn recently.  It’s about networking and the application of something Dr. Marla Gottschalk calls the 70:20:10 rule.

So then, are you a natural networker?  Most people aren’t – it’s a learnt behaviour – so there is no shame in answering “no” to that one.  Even I, being an “off the scale E in MBTI terms” find networking almost boring at times.  So when Harvard tells everyone to NYFO (network your face off), I laugh and look for a  purpose in every single networking contact I make.

Dr Gottschalk talks of the 70:20:20 rule.  What is that I hear you ask?  Well, you control the invited guests you network with rather than being flung into a context where you know nobody and feel like you know nothing. That’s a scenario which many find paralysing to be in.

This is a simple guide to networking, for those less keen to be as overt or exhibitionist as us extroverts:

The ‘Given” 70% Group – Create this group from those you already know, those who work within your core context, or those whom you know have a similar role your yourself.  Chose those you feel confident to talk to and ask about their  roles, organisations or issues in the first instance.  The best opener is to ask about the particular challenges they are currently facing – this will give you a whole new perspective, which is always worthwhile.

The Chosen 20% – The “jewel” group.  These folk work in areas adjacent to yours.  Those you need to build a relationship with.  They may be customers, stakeholders, suppliers, contractors etc.  This will widen your reach and provide a go-to network for speed of feedback, strength of relationship and an even wider perspective on a users or stakeholders view of your area. These folk are absolutely invaluable to you.  Spending time talking to them is never ever wasted.

The Bonkers 10% : The Outrageous Gang.  Reach out, unpredictably, to those operating in areas that just interest you.  Just feed your passion for learning.  This is not as bonkers as it sounds .  Take Steve Jobs of Apple for example.  He reached out and showed an interest in Hewlett Packard’s mouse and windows operating system when the Hewlett Packard New York Board failed to see the relevancy and future opportunity it presented.  Jobs made the approach and was given permission by the Board to take the technology, ideas and information.  From this, he reverse engineered, as a basis for Apple computers.  His for free!!!  He didn’t do too bad out of that networking episode did he?   I bet the Hewlett Packard New York Board are kicking themselves all the way to mediocrity.

Networking is very much about expanding horizons.  If you aren’t doing this, you might as well be professionally dead!


How Would You Describe Leadership In One Word?

If nothing else, leadership is about taking others with you, willingly.  But that is easier said than done!  It sounds like blindingly obvious common sense, but the jewel in the crown is to have a personal mental model for HOW to do that.  Leadership is very different to management, its sophisticated and tacit, so I’ve found this helpful (thanks to Dan Rockwell for the insight) throughout my own personal journey.


   S See the future: envision and communicate a compelling picture of a preferred future.1. What do I want to be true of the future?2. Why should anyone care?

3. How will progress be measured?

   E Engage and develop others: recruit and align people for the right job. Create environments where people bring vision to life.1. What invited my engagement in the past?2. Which of these factors are missing in those I lead?

3. How can I help teams and individuals grow?

   R Reinvent continuously: continuously focus on improvement.1. How do I need to change?2. Where do I want different outcomes?

3. What organisational changes will accelerate progress?

   V Value results and relationships: generate measurable results and cultivate great relationships.1. Which is my personal bias as a leader – results or relationships?2. How can I compensate for the area that’s not my personal strength?

3. What happens if I don’t broaden my definition of success?

   E Embody values: behave in a way, which is fully aligned with stated values.1. What values do I want to drive behaviors in my organisation?2. How can I communicate these values?

3.What are my actions and behaviour communicating?

So the ultimate question is:

“Am I a serving leader or a self-serving leader?”

Application of this insight is all about self reflection and being honest with yourself.  Dissatisfaction with others is really easy, but dissatisfaction with oneself, it really stings!  So, ask yourself: “How do I need to change?”  Leadership is all about YOU!  Look deep inside and be honest with yourself.  The chances are, everyone else has already seen it anyway!

 Organisations can only grow when their leaders grow : It’s probably time to take some personal action.


What Drives Leadership Success?

I’ve had the great privilege of being able to spend 2 days away with a leadership team this week.  The body is brand new and this is the very first opportunity they have created to get together and learn more about each other in their most important task of delivering great things for their local community.

Individually, each were leaders in their field, but the past couple of days required a shared vision and agreement on what were their 5 most pressing priorities, from a very complex and crowded landscape.  They are doing things which have never been asked of them before – truly scary territory!

It was a big ask.  Only those who have ever been involved in similar levels of federations could possibly understand the gravity of what we were asking.  But they did it!  A combination of remarkable thinking, sharing, compromising and open mindedness created new sorts of leaders from them all this week.  Leaders with a clear focus, renewed energy, and tapped enthusiasm for making things better for their local population.

It has left me feeling humble to have been part of helping create this fine body of folk, and as ever, reflective as to how we got to this position.  I think we have taken 5 key steps in the past 2 years:

1.         Learn from mistakes:

There were many years of experience in the room this week and the brain power being brought to the fore, to make more complex calculations and conclusions than any calculator or computer could muster, displayed the many journeys of personal development undertaken to date.  Some had come a long way, others had just begun (whether they knew it or not!)

To be a good leader, you have to take calculated risks, and you will most certainly make mistakes along the way.  But can you admit to them and learn from them, and most importantly, not repeat them?

“Success comes from good decisions.  Good decisions come from experience.  Experience comes from making bad decisions”

2.         Lead by example:

The old adage of “do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut the mustard in today’s fast moving business world.   You have to hold yourself accountable before holding others to account.  If you want to be a leader, people notice what you do, what you say, how you behave and someone will want to aspire to be you – so it matters!

“Do what has to be done. Do it when it has to be done.  Do it as well as you can.  Do it this way all of the time.”

3.         Put others needs first:

Compassion and empathy are extremely important to quality leadership.  It is absolutely impossible to be selfish and be an effective leader at the same time.  If it doesn’t come naturally, then practice and practice and practice until it becomes learned behaviour.

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care!”

 4.         Have confidence:

Confidence comes from a simple ABC.  A for attitude; B for behaviour; C for competence.  The magic mix of all three produces a simple scenario of others having confidence in you.  You have complete control over all three, and all three are visible to everyone around you.  So beware!

Given that a simple ABC is all anyone asks of you, why do so many think they know it already?  A true leader ALWAYS invests time and effort in sharpening their own ABC.  It is easy to spot those who do not: there is usually a degree of arrogance, cockiness and above all, a distinct lack of insight in how others are seeing them.  Perfect specimen of rose tinted spectacle wearer.

“Don’t ever take a shot you aren’t totally confident you are going to make.”

5.         Set a high standard:

If you truly do everything to the best of your ability, then you can expect it from those you lead.  If you are always on time, always work hard, and always put your heart and soul into what’s necessary, then you can expect colleagues to do the same.  A good leader will motivate those around them, without even knowing it.  It will be second nature to them because they actually see it as their day job!   So set the bar high and lead them to it.

“It is a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you often get it!”

 These are just some of the reflections I’ve had about this particular group.  The future is looking rosy for them.  Continuing to display these traits will dictate their ongoing success.



When Did You Last Lose Your Voice?

Have you lost your voice recently and if so, what did you learn from the experience?  Strange question? Well, it probably forced a luxury called listening into your day if nothing else.

The fact of the matter is, today, the normal business meeting seems to be a place where there is a constant race taking place to say something.  It’s the short period of time to get all your points over before anyone else does, there are instances of people trampling over each other and rushing to cover as many points as they can before the next loudest voice hogs valuable vocal space.  We’ve all been in meetings where there have been constant interruptions before one or another colleague can finish their piece.

So you see, losing your voice can be an absolute blessing in disguise, as you are forced to listen instead of speaking.  Listening is an absolute art and all the greatest leaders are masters of it. Bernie Ferrari, Dean of the John Hopkins Business School has gone on the record in saying:

“The difference between great and mediocre leaders is the ability to listen.”

So, when did you last give your own “inner voice” an airing?  Steve Jobs, of Apple, often talked of the power of your “inner voice.”  He warned against being drowned out by the results of other peoples thinking, having the courage to not let the noise of others opinions drown out your own intuition.

Effective communication requires lots of focus and its been proven that better decisions are taken when you are truly listening.  It’s a matter of perfecting the 80/20 rule  and it  has very little to do with what you have to say and EVERYTHING to do with what people say about you following various interactions.  So, the sooner you lose your voice the better and grasp the opportunity to become the talking point of the next meeting for the right reasons – for being the listener in the room.  Listening has been proven to:

  • capture and maintain attention;
  • be more engaging;
  • demonstrate high degrees of psychological value; and
  • create meaningful interactions as a result.

Therefore, a period of planned loss-of-your-voice could be well overdue.  Do some active listening soon and let me know how it went.  Without the pressure of always thinking about the next witty interjection, or spotting the next goal scoring opportunity, you’d be surprised how much more you will bring away from your meeting.


Are You A Productive Leader?

Do you hold some colleagues in awe simply because they always seem to have the time to do things you want to do, but never get around to doing yourself? Do you wonder how they find the time?  Are you spending a lot of time apologising for not having done something you promised you would?

The simple fact is, the total amount of time available in the workplace is the same for us all. Some people just use it more effectively and productively thats all.  If you are one of those who always seem to be chasing their tail, then a good starting point is to analyse the amount of time you spend in meetings, what you do in those meetings, and who you are having those meetings with.  So,

“Are you a productive leader?”

Start off by reviewing your diary.  I used to call my diary my jail until I mastered how to manage my meeting commitment.  If you feel as if you don’t have enough time to do the things you really feel you should be doing, you can bet your bottom dollar that your staff feel that you don’t spend enough time with them, or your stakeholders feel you are remote, or your membership feel talked at rather than involved.  So now’s the time to put that right.

What would you do with 5 hours extra a week?  Does that sound like a huge amount?  It’s only a redistribution of one hour per day in fact and Are You A Productive Leader will help you find that time – so whats stopping you?  Get stuck in and do it the easy way, a tried and tested way.  You owe it to yourself and to those you work with to become better at that which you are employed to do.

As ever, try it and share your experience, your time is as valuable as everyone else’s so get a grip of it sooner rather than later.


Do You Find Saying No Easy?

Without the ability to say “No” occasionally, you will inevitably become stressed through being overstretched.  If you find this difficult, then you won’t be alone.  There will be various reasons for why you find this difficult: they could include an inner guilt, inner conflict or a misguided perception that you can do it all.  At various times in our respective careers, we’ve all been there!

However, learning to say “No” can be one of the biggest favours you do for yourself, and for those you love – remember or revisit our first Thursday Thoughts! of 2013 here so perfecting this approach will go a long way to reducing stress and creating more time for whats really important to you – again, revisit this post.

But the big question is “How?”, because the manner in which you say no sends a strong message to the recipient.  Delivered well, it says you value your own time, that you have the same time as everyone else in the team, that you have priorities and that you respect the relationship you have with the person you are saying  no. to.

If you are competent at your job, then the number of worthy requests will not diminish, and you certainly can’t add more hours to a day – it is what it is!

“Power in Delivering a Positive No!” is actually a Harvard Business School course.  Toddlers learn this skill very early on, but we seem to forget how to do it, or more to the like, we recognise the risk we take in exerting it as we get older.  On the basis that we cannot all be fortunate enough to go off to Harvard, in the meantime, here are just a few hints and tips on doing it in such a way that doesn’t offend, destroy, or be harmful in any other way:


  • Tone is everything!  Just try “I’m sorry, I can’t do this for you right now” in a variety of tones and ask a good friend to tell you which one they found hit the mark
  • Try: “let me think about it and I will let you know when I can do this for you” – This is commonly known as uncovering your deeper YES, when you buy some time for something that really hits a core interest or need/value.
  • Negotiate to a healthy YES: Deliver a respectful NO. Don’t reject but offer respect and keep a neutral, matter of fact tone.  Try: “I can’t do this precisely, but I can do this towards it”.  This is commonly known as empowering your NO with a Plan B. In effect you follow up with a positive counterproposal and facilitate a wise agreement, ie a win/win strategy which we’ve previously covered in this series too.

Please do let me know your own experiences on saying no – I’m sure we all have a story to tell on this one.


Are You A Flashlight In The Fog?

We’ve previously covered Fog Factors within this weekly series of questions, to help us write more clearly and accessibly to our intended audiences.  However, as leaders, we should also be doing our bit on the organisational conditions which help drive and sustain progress.  So what are they?  Three simple things leads to progress.  They are:

  • avoid complexity;
  • enable confidence; and
  • be guided by purpose.

We have all been in the situation when complexity has been overbearing and just created fog for us.  The causes of complexity include:

  • a fuzzy purpose;
  • option overload; or
  • perception of obstacles.

As leaders we can exert great influence on all three of these ingredients for complexity.  Reducing complexity creates simplicity.

Simplicity leads to clarity.  There is no shame in admitting you don’t know all the answers.  One of the Habits of Highly Effective People we are currently practicing is “Seek first to understand” – this is vital in creating clarity to move forward and avoid stalling. Anger and frustration is often what becomes vocal during times of complexity.  Hear it, because it will indicate what is important to clarify and the process of clarification is that flashlight in the fog for folk.  Anger means people care about the issue that angers them, redirect that caring into productive activities,  not disruptive ones. Be that flashlight and see how that newfound clarity produces confidence.

Confidence then fuels progress.  The clarity will have highlighted purpose and that newfound purpose will easily answer the omnipresent question when folk are frustrated, that being:  “Whats the big deal anyway”.  This purpose is what you really want to be known and remembered for after all, isn’t it?

What more could a leader ask for anyway?

Click this link to access a short slide deck of this weeks question Flashlight in the Fog.


What are your career issues?

Why should you be concerned about planning your career? Well, it is YOUR career and if YOU don’t take responsibility for the success of it, then who will?  Besides, you spend a lot of hours in work each day so it’s definitely worth your while to make sure you get the most satisfaction from it that you possibly can.

The workplace has been affected by three key ramifications lately:

  1. Less job security: gone are the times of jobs for life with high degrees of security.  You will need to be more mobile and flexible than ever before.
  2. Up is not the only way: there are trends towards more flat organisations and traditional linear career paths are getting more rare, so diversify!
  3. Speedy obsolescence of technical know-how: rapid advancements in technology will require you to up skill and re-tool frequently.

Therefore, its worth putting in some extra time and effort to career planning, and that means making your PdP (personal development planning) much, MUCH more than an annual exercise merely to be tolerated and completed as fast as possible.

Developing a PdP that really works is a 5-part process which involves:

  • Reflecting: prioritise your self awareness and synthesise your thoughts about it;
  • Gain self-awareness: a sustainable PdP emphasises gathering input from many sources;
  • Seek outside input: work hard at gaining information from others to have a rounded picture of  your competences.
  • Develop action steps: how can you get from where you are now to where you’d like to be? What were the  core areas of satisfaction in your career that you identified last week and what steps do you need to take to improve each area?
  • Set longer term goals: cover the bigger picture of achieving the balance you identified last week.  All too often I see goals which are very short term and which are unlikely to do anything for this bigger balanced picture in the long term.

Here is a little 5-minute technique to help you with this task this week.  It’s called a “Career Issues Worksheet” and it was compiled with the help of NASA’s Financial and Resources Management Individual Development Plan Advisor.

What are your career issues?


Resolutions – How do you achieve balance?

A very Happy New Year to you all and I hope 2013 is both kind and advancing for you.

We’ve had a week off from our usual Thursday Thoughts! series and I’m wondering how many of you spent it either reflecting on 2012 or pondering about 2013 resolutions.  So this week I aim to try and find out 🙂

“How can we achieve some much needed balance in our lives?”

When we lead busy lives, its all too easy to find ourselves “off balance” and not paying sufficient attention to very important areas of our lives.  Whilst drive and ambition are indeed, necessary factors for successful careers, taking it too far can lead to frustration and intense stress.  That’s when its important to go into “helicopter view”, assess whats out of balance, and bring things back into focus.  This helps you, as well as everyone around you!

So this seems an appropriate time of year to do just that.  Let’s formally review each areas of our lives in turn and assess what’s off balance.  This will tell us what areas need more of our attention right now.  Here’s a simple method to do this exercise:

1.  write down the dimensions of your life that are important to you. For example: wife, mother, leader, family, friends, physical challenge, mental stimulation etc etc.  These could well be different for everyone but you get the gist of it

2. This approach assumes you will be happy and fulfilled if you can find the right balance of attention for each of these dimensions.  So consider each dimension in turn and assess the amount of attention you are currently devoting to each. On the scale of 0 (low) to 5 (high), score the amount of attention you are devoting to that area of your life.

3.  If you like excel, produce a nice spider diagram by joining up the scores around a circle and look at the shape it produces.  Does it look nice and rounded?  Or do you have horrible spikes poking out of different dimensions?

4.  It’s now time to consider your ideal level in each area.  A balanced life does not mean getting 5 in all areas!  At different times, some areas will need more attention than others and of course you will need to make choices and compromises as your time and energy is not unlimited!

5.  Plot the “ideal” scores around your wheel too and look at the gaps.  These gaps are the areas of your life which need  your urgent attention.  Also, remember that gaps go both ways!  Inevitably, you are expending some energy and enthusiasm which should be directed elsewhere, depending upon what your goals are.

Once you’ve done all this, its time to plan the actions needed to work on regaining that all important balance.

Achieving Balance

This is a great method for improving balance and it helps with the visualisation technique we were previously practicing in our “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” series recently.

The challenge is now to transform this newfound knowledge and desire for a more balanced life into a positive programme of action throughout 2013.  Good luck with it, and as ever, do let us know how you use and feel about this method.


What are the inseparable elements of change management?

Change, it seems, is all around us.  Many organisations I come into contact with are experiencing unprecedented change at this present time with progress being patchy and personal reaction to the required change being highly variable.  So the leadership of those changes is of vital importance – perhaps like never before.

There are three essential competencies a leader of change needs to have. First off, leaders of change need to be competent in:

Systems thinking:

  • Who/what/how dimensions of change;
  • Cognisant of the fact that the weakest link in the overall change required, will limit operational performance in order to take people with you; and
  • Ability to put into place the 5 essential elements of successful change, being:
  • vision/skills/incentives/resources/action plans, because
  • without all 5 elements, successful change won’t happen.
Employee engagement
  • EQ – higher discretionary effort is required in the area of emotional intelligence;
  • Some managers are good technically but not with people.  It then falls on the leader to bridge that gap; and
  • Use hard evidence with those that think OD is fluffy!  A leader who can influence the environment to instigate all 5 elements mentioned above will generate true benefits to the change process and reduce their managers time in having to deal with missing links.
Change management
  • Either bringing in or developing the skills and competencies to effect change is absolutely vital.  Without it, a leader will produce anxiety;
  • Developing and embedding the vision and relevant resources for the future organisation design are essential elements a leader can drive.  Without them the change process will produce nothing more than confusion and frustration;
  • Without a leader delivering clear and regular internal communication to staff, bringing the workforce with the changes and putting in place resources for them to deliver the required changes, then there will be only slow, gradual change, even falling into false starts time and time again;
  • Action planning is essential, and staff need to be involved in this not merely informed.  Realistic action planning is a skilled function, the absence of which will result in anxiety and repeated false starts.  In turn this will result in a total lack of leadership credibility and a universal response of “so this is the next fad” attitude from the workforce.

Are you a leader with these three core competencies and if so, do you always ensure the 5 essential elements of change are in place for successful change to take place?  You would be surprised how many people answer yes to the former and are completely in the dark over the latter!


How do you win people over?

We’ve spent a couple of weeks now thinking about how to give and receive feedback.  There are a few things you can do to improve both and this week, we look at 10 simple ways to build effective working relationships with your manager, or indeed any stakeholder you are working closely with.  The essence is, of course, achieving clarity of role and purpose, with a view to keeping a keen eye on that all important “Habit 5 – Seek first to understand then to be understood.”

“So what are the 10 Simple Questions That Will Win Over Your Manager/Key Stakeholder?”

  1. Ask what he thinks you can do to be more effective.
  2. Ask what her top three priorities or goals are.
  3. Ask what you can do to make him more effective.
  4. Ask what you can do to make the team more effective.
  5. Ask if he’s interested in knowing what will make your job easier.
  6. Ask what her take is on the organisation’s top priorities and goals.
  7. Ask what he thinks you should do differently or improve upon to be more effective.
  8. Ask if she’d like to meet periodically, one-on-one, and if so, how frequently and what format would she like the meeting to take. Then set it up.
  9. Ask what his philosophy is on your shared functional responsibility, whatever that is, i.e. marketing, HR, IT, engineering, finance.

And, if the meeting’s open-form and you feel it’s appropriate, ask about his/her background. Most people like to talk about themselves and how they got there, as long as they don’t feel like they’re being grilled, pumped for information, or played in some way.

So get practicing these basics of building a great relationship – and let me know how it goes.


Giving and Receiving Feedback – Part 2

Last week, we started looking at simple steps to perfect the art of both giving and receiving feedback.  Getting it wrong, either way, is not worth thinking about. So this week we put ourselves in the shoes of being the receiver and we discuss:

“How will we respond to feedback in the future? 

First and foremost, feedback is NOT disapproval, criticism or a personal attack.  It should be given for improvement purposes.  It should be both constructive and consistent, offered by someone in an informed position, and then it can be useful.  Therefore, it should be focussed on those things that you do which impact on others and goes to the route of your personal effectiveness in this respect.

I don’t know one single soul who wouldn’t find critical feedback difficult to receive.  It’s hard to maintain a non-defensive and open attitude, as the implication is that we are flawed or wrong.  So there are various things you can do with feedback, however it is delivered:

  1. accept it, and act upon it;
  2. refuse to accept it and bin it; or
  3. hear it and file it for a later date.

Have you got examples of when you’ve utilised all three strategies?  Lets focus on the positive ways of receiving feedback this week, and these include:

  • Open: Listen without frequent interruption or objections
  • Responsive: Willing to hear what’s being said without turning the table.
  • Accepting: Accept the feedback, without denial.
  • Respectful: Recognise the value of what is being said and the speaker’s right to say it.
  • Engaged: Interact appropriately with the speaker, asking for clarification when needed.
  • Active listening: Listen carefully and tries to understand the meaning of the feedback.
  • Thoughtful: Try to understand the personal behaviour that has led to the feedback.
  • Interested: Be genuinely interested in getting feedback.
  • Sincere: Genuinely want to make personal changes if appropriate.

Clearly this suggests that Option 1 is the most effective.  However, that only applies if it is delivered in the way we discussed last week.  Some folk can’t help being judgemental – it’s in their genes, and either they have not undertaken sufficient personal development to overcome that trait, or they themselves have chosen not to absorb and utilise that development to good effect.  Hence, Options 2 and 3 also exist, IT IS YOUR CHOICE in how you allow that feedback experience to impact upon you.

Historically, the gravity I’ve attached to it depends upon the rapport I have established with the person giving it.  It’s built on trust and respect so never neglect that aspect of building workplace relationships.

We shall look at the notion of trust as the founding principle in dysfunctional teams in weeks to come, so merely trailing it her.  This week, reflect upon examples of both good and poor reactions you’ve had wen receiving feedback in the past.  Analyse your reactions given what you have learned over the past 2 weeks and let me know what conclusions you come to.


Giving and Receiving Feedback – Part 1

There is an art to both giving and receiving feedback.  Get it wrong, either way, and you are left with a problem one way or the other.  Take care and do it right and it can be an enriching experience for both parties.  So how come so many folk are poor at both?  How difficult can it be?  What does it involve? This week we look at:

“How can you improve the way you give feedback?”

First and foremost, feedback is NOT disapproval, criticism or a personal attack.  It should be given for improvement purposes.  It should be both constructive and consistent, offered by someone in an informed position, and then it can be useful.  Therefore, it should be focussed on those things that you do which impact on others and goes to the route of your personal effectiveness in this respect. I don’t know one single soul who wouldn’t find critical feedback difficult to receive.  It’s hard to maintain a non-defensive and open attitude, as the implication is that we are flawed or wrong.  So there are various things you can do with feedback, however it is delivered:

  1. accept it, and act upon it;
  2. refuse to accept it and bin it; or
  3. hear it and file it for a later date.

Whatever we choose to do with it, we all have the right to expect it to be given in a respectful and supportive manner.  So lets look at a very quick check list to remind us what Giving Feedback should look like in an ideal world.

The more immediate the feedback, the more helpful it will be

  • Be descriptive rather than judgemental: accurate, simple, clear, vivid and specific
  • Direct praise or criticism towards performance in behavioural terms i.e. to what the person did rather than who they are
  • Be supportive, not authoritarian or dogmatic – encourage the receiver to contribute their view from their perspective
  • Be fair and reasonable, supporting judgements with evidence from observations
  • Be positive as well as negative – create balance
  • Offer constructive criticism only for actions which can be changed, and are related to well understood and accepted criteria
  • Don’t compare the person’s behaviour with that of others – ever!</li> <li>Restrict feedback to what can be absorbed and understood at one time
  • Do not apologise for giving it when it is made in good faith and supported by evidence.

This checklist is much more helpful and effective in situations characterised by rapport between the parties involved.  It is underpinned by a skill in selecting and phrasing appropriate statements and questions.  So using the right kind of questions is vitally important in making this a successful experience for both parties.  Those questions shouldn’t make the recipient feel under pressure so open questions are the best.  For example:

  • To what extent does this …. ?
  • Explain to me how …. ?
  • Tell me about …. ?
  • Describe to me how … ?
  • Can you tell me why … ?
  • To what do you attribute …. ?
  • What importance does this have in relation to … ?

So from this, we can easily determine what a GOOD example of giving feedback would look like.  It would look a little like this:

  • Attuned : contextualised, non-aggressive, focusing on improvement of action not personality
  • Insightful  : focussed on behaviour rather than personality – unemotional
  • Investment  : meets the growth needs of the other person – don’t overload
  • Direct : clearly stated with no ambiguity
  • Well Judged : delivered with sensitivity and empathy, avoiding insult or being demeaning
  • Grounded : Based on examples and supported by listening
  • Well timed : Given quickly after the prompting event, or at the best possible next opportunity
  • Feeling : Given thoughtfully, with total regard for positive consequences. Delivered in a non-threatening and encouraging manner.

I have an easy way to remember this, it being my responsibility at the end of the day, by the saying:

All I Invest Does Jolly Good Things Forever.    Let me know how you get on practicing this, I’m all ears – good and bad!


Covey’s Habits – Part 7

The final part of our review of Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People brings us to Habit 7:

“Sharpen the Saw”

This means that its critical that you take time, every now and again but definitely on a regular basis, to sharpen your physical, spiritual, mental, social and emotional dimensions.  It’s about refreshing these skills, spending time on yourself to focus on what’s important to you and your professional endeavours to become a better and more effective professional person.


It’s well known that a healthy body means a healthy attitude and mind.  Spending just 30 minutes a day exercising, getting off that bus a stop or two early, will preserve and enhance your capacity to work and adapt.  Equally, it will give you that precious time to practice Habit 6 perhaps – synergising knotty issues of the day/week before, or even Habit 3 – Putting First things First (Prioritising).


A spiritual dimension rests at the very route of your core values system.  It is very related to Habit 2 – Beginning with the end in mind.  Keeping focus on dreams, doing something every single week towards that end goal will inspire and uplift you.  The key in this respect is to make sure it is being refreshed frequently.  Immersion in something highly creative is my own method – off I toddle with my camera around my neck and I achieve all sorts of clarity in things I’ve struggled with for some time!


Formal education teaches the process of  mental development.  Learn something new, create a personal discipline in something which will stimulate the mind.  It’s well knows that learning something new can allow you to think differently about something you’ve been struggling with for a while.

Social & Emotional

This is centred in the principles discussed during Habits 4, 5 and 6.  The skills required to renew the social and the emotional dimensions of our lives require communication and creative co-operation.  Refresh those networking skills, whether that be via LinkedIn or the more traditional route in face to face business events.  Reconnect with those you haven’t spoken to for far too long, purposefully refresh those connections and in the process, make new ones.  Expand your network in a purposeful manner and welcome the new opportunities and views that process will produce.

Everything you do to “sharpen your saw” will have a positive impact in all other dimensions, they are highly interrelated.   A daily habit of spending one hour on yourself – whenever suits you – is the key to the development of the 7 Habits.  Learn it, commit to it and then do it!  Gandhi once said:

they cannot take away our self respect if we do not give it to them”  so reclaim what is yours and invest in it – because you are worth it!


Covey’s Habits – Part 6

“Habit 6 – Asks us to synergise!”

Meaning what, I hear you say.  Well, it asks us to appreciate and seek out the fact that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and to actively play a personal part in creating this scenario.  In other words, parts can combine to create new and excitingly unexpected discoveries that would not have been possible on their own.  Call it creative co-operation, call it whatever you like, but the principle is that, as effective leaders, we should be the one looked to in order to spot those parts, and actively pull them together in order to make unique and marvelous circumstances.  It is the very manifestation of all the other habits, combined.

Would an example help?  Thought it might!

Yesterday, I ran a session which was the very process of discovery.  A very special team I work with were struggling to find their own path through a difficult problem they were grappling with.  The solution was blindingly obvious to me (Habit 2 if you remember was “Begin with the end in sight”), but not to them, and they were the ones who had to present and lead a session which would do just this: ie bring together a diverse group of individuals and produce a commonly agreed way forward.

They were very focussed on the differences between everyones agendas and couldn’t see the wood for the trees given these very real and omnipresent differences.

I listened intently to someone drafting these differences out, painstakingly, on a very large white board.  (Habit 5 if you remeber was “Seek first to understand, then to be undersood”).   I tried to understand the problem from their perspective and came to the conclusion that they lived and breathed this problem every day, and in their day jobs they were too close to it.  So I deployed my favourite: Habit 3, Putting first things first and tried to do a gentle bit of prioritisation, what is both important AND urgent? So I I suggested we think about a “win win” approach given the event is less than 2 weeks away, focussing them on what they needed to get out of the session, that would also help (if not in the totality, but in some simple way) the diverse group that would be in the room: ie find the common ground (Habit 4 if you remember was think win/win – everyone always needs mutually beneficial solutions).  So we spent some time instead of thinking about the differences, thinking about the similarities, and before long, we had a couple of things that were suitable to be the focus of the session.

They loved the session and actually said it was the best one they had had in ages.  Last night I reflected upon why they should say that and came to the conclusion that the PROCESS I led was one of SYNERGISING (Habit 6!) but most importantly, they felt they had been hugely involved and that the solutions had come from them. This is the very essence of team spirit, when you work along synergistic lines you can never be sure what the final result will be.  The only thing you can be certain of is that the end result of applying method will truly justify the means.

You literally can achieve more as a combined group than you ever could alone.  Another examples which spring to mind of this sort of process include: working on developing a mission statement.

BUT BEWARE: I would say that this sort of process requires very high levels of mutual trust.  Trust then brings mutual co-operation.  If trust is low, participants will eternally protect their own interests.  If trust only reaches a medium level, you get respectful communication with polite intellectual compromise.

I have a relationship of very high trust with the team I worked with yesterday.  It worked!  As Edwin Markham once said:

We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; now let us commit it to life


Covey’s Habits – Part 5

“Habit 5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood”

This is an interesting week, and focusses on the key starting point of influence – to understand the person you are trying to influence first, then to convince from an alternative point of view.

Everyone has a natural tendency to rush in and try to give advice or try to fix thinbgs before taking the time to diagnose or try to understand why the other person feels the way they do.  The trick however, is to seek first to understand the other person, then to try and be understood yourself.

Effective listening is the key, and few have training in this field compared with the number of years we spend learning how to read and write. We see this skill in may professions:

  • lawyers gather facts to understand situations;
  • engineers will understand forces and stresses to design a structure;

The key to good judgement must be preceded by sound understanding.  Getting the order of this wrong will cost you!

Last week we discussed win/win strategies: these require high degrees of both consideration and courage and the recipe is as follows:

  • seek first to understand; (to understand requires consideration)
  • then try to be understood yourself; (to be understood requires courage)
  • maturity is the balance of courage and consideration;

The Greeks cracked this early on via thier philosophy of : Ethos, Pathos and Logos.

  • Wthos is your credibility, integrity and competency;
  • Pathos is the feeling – being in emotional alignment with the other person, ie: empathetic listening; and
  • Logos is the logic, the reasoning element.

The order is important, judge lastly!  Seeking first to understand is well within your personal control, you can do it right now, today!  So go on, start this one immediately and see how it goes.


Covey’s Habits – Part 4

“Habit 4 – Think win/win”

Refining this habit is the most effective way of working with other people.  It’s focussed on results not methods.

There are 6 basic paradigms of human interactions:

1. win/win: this is a mindset which constantly seeks mutual benefit with all parties feeling good about decisions and committed.

2. win/lose: authoritarian approach which uses a personal power base

3. lose/win: one party rolls over and allows the other to do whatever it likes.

4. lose/lose: bitter and so centred on the “enemy” you are willing to hurt your own interests if it also means they lose too.

5. win: self interested, leaving other party to look out for themselves.

6. win/win or no deal: general agreement to disagree if mutually agreeable deal cannot be reached.

In developing (1) or (6), you will need to harmonise 5 dimensions, being:

a. Character: this requires integrity, maturity and mentality (on both parts).  Both need to realise the plethora of opportunities available.

b. Relationships: This is your Emotional Bank Account.  Make deposits often, build up credit with those you need to negotiate with over a period of time.  It brings credibility and trust.  this sort of relationship is absolutely key to any successful negotiation.

c. Agreements: Give definition and direction. Effective negotiations focus on desired results rather than methods to be followed.

d. Systems: The organisations both parties operate within need to support a win/win mindset.  This includes all things like: training/planning/budgeting/communication/information and compensation, all having to support a win/win mindset.

e. Processes: Ability to separate the person from the problem.  Focus on interests and outcomes rather than on positions.  All options should result in positive mutual gain.  These processes are more fully discussed in Parts 5 and 6 of this series, so keep coming back!


Covey’s Habits – Part 3

How did the visualisation go?  Did you discover you were predominantly left brained and therefore, right brain visualisation took a bit of getting used to?  You wouldn’t be alone so don’t panic, but its a key habit to embed so do practice it as often as you can.

“Habit 3 – Put first things first”

We’ve covered this before, but it’s worth repeating again.  The heart of effective personal time management is to spend the maximum time possible doing important jobs in a non-urgent atmosphere that increases your efficiency (so says Mr Stephen Covey in his book we are reviewing).

Here are the four basis types of activities:

The goal is to maximise your time in Quadrant 2 – the Important and non-urgent activities.  This is the heart of effective personal management.  By increasing the amount of tasks carried out in Quadrant 2, the likelihood of tasks cropping up in Quadrant 1 are minimised.

Effective people are not problem minded – they are opportunity minded.  They think preventatively.  To create the habit of Quadrant 2 working, say no to quadrant 3 and 4 activities.  This will take tact and diplomacy of course, but it will be worth it.

The way you spend your time is a direct result of the way you really see your own personal priorities (Habit 2 – start with the end in sight).

There are 6 criteria for helping you spend more time in Quadrant 2, as follows:

1. Coherence: harmony between your personal mission statement and both short and long-term activities (Habit 2)

2. Balance: identify your various roles and keep them focused so that important areas are not inadvertently ignored

3. Quadrant 2 Focus: deal with prevention and anticipation rather than crisis control.  Don’t prioritise your schedule, instead schedule time to achieve your priorities.

4. People dimension: planning needs to reflect dealing with other people, as they can influence your time schedule.

5. Flexibility: tailor time management  to exactly the way you need it to work for your life

6. Portability: time management is on the go and with you at all times, not just in the office.

Interesting week don’t you think?  I thought it was worth finishing with this quote from Goethe:

” Things which matter the most must never be at the mercy of things which matter the least.”


Covey’s Habits – Part 2

So just how successful were you last week with Part 1 – How proactive were you on your one issue and was it comfortable or successful for you?  It’s important that you adopt the easy habits before they become more challenging so please let me know how it went.  Habits are created through repetition, so do it, as often as you can!

This week, we focus on

” Habit 2 – Begin with the end in mind”

This means using an image or paradigm of where you want to ultimately be as a frame of reference by which you examine everything you do in the meantime.  For example:  let’s use an Olympic athlete as a reference point here, as the huge success of London 2012 is still fresh in everyone’s  minds.

There is plenty of research around which illustrates that Olympic athletes  (or any world-class athlete or peak performer for that matter) are visualisers.  They see their end goal, they feel it, and they experience it in their mind before they actually do it.  They begin with the end in sight (in their mind).  We have seen 100m sprinters focussing and going through their motions mentally before going into their blocks.  Hurdlers are seen to play out going over those hurdles and we see their arms and legs actively going through those motions before they’ve even fired the gun.  They lock into the right side of their brain which deals with pictures and relationships, the more intuitive and creative side.  They are seeing their end point, they are making their bodies feel their end point in this way.  They actively leave their left hand brain (which is logical, dealing with words and specifics) to one side at poignant moments in their training and competitive activities.

There is no reason why we can’t do that for professional success too.  We need a professional mission statement (the left hand side of my brains says logical here, the right hand side of my brain says boring!), but its true.  To do this, we need to catapult ourselves decades into the future – visualise where we want to be, what kind of relationships we want to be part of and what do we want people saying about us at that point?  For example:

  • Visualise being at your own funeral!  Write an eulogy.  What sort of things would you like to be said about you?
  • Visualise being at your 50th wedding anniversary, or a grandchild’s wedding or graduation.  What kind of family relationships do you have at that time?
  • Visualise your retirement day.  What do people in your profession have to say about you?

Any of these examples will help you visualise and “begin with the end in sight“.

Personal leadership is not a single experience, so once you have this end in sight, you can’t let it sleep! You have to keep this vision and values alive by aligning your professional activities to it as often as possible.  Once the left hand brain kicks in, and you encapsulate your visualisation into your professional mission statement, through words and logic etc, your own personal guiding principles will be your basic signposts from which to set your long-term goals.  Your principles do not change and do not react to any outside influence.  They are deep, fundamental truths that are consistent, timeless, exacting and emotional to you, and you alone.

Good luck on visualisation.  I can heartily recommend it from years of personal experience.  I lead with my right hand brain and drag my left hand brain along, sometimes kicking and screaming, but it comes eventually 🙂


Covey’s 7 Habits – Part 1

The above book has been highly popular.  Stephen Covey will still be laughing all the way to the bank.  In my commuting days, I saw it in the hands of many other commuters!  So this is a series dedicated to those habits as they are well worth returning to from time to time.  Something that effective does not become ineffective overnight of course. So lets learn some good professional habits over the next few weeks.

“Habit 1 – Be Proactive”

Covey says:

“we can choose our own response to any signal or information we receive.  We have the ability to influence our own actions.  Therefore, being proactive means to actively choose what our response will be in any situation rather than to react blindly”.

Powerful words indeed.  This choice distinguishes man (or woman) from every other creature on our planet.  This is why we can learn new practices and evaluate our experiences.  It is the core principle of self awareness – vital for any leader to be successful.  Choosing how to respond to situations requires a combination of:

  • self awareness – the ability to control thoughts
  • imagination – the ability to mentally create a new reality
  • conscience – an inner awareness of right and wrong
  • independent will – the ability to act on thoughts

So animals can’t, but humans can, write their own directions and either chose to be reactive or proactive, as a result.  This is the true meaning of RESPONSE-ABILITY, the ability to choose our own responses.

Proactive people are  highly responsible and driven by values that are well thought out and internalised.  They do not get swept away by the heat of the  moment.  It does not mean being pushy, aggressive or insensitive.  No doubt many of us have seen that badged as proactivity in the past.  It’s not!  Rather, it means to control a situation from the inside out, affecting positive change.  If you can stop focussing on the immediate circumstances and rather, turn to considering your own response to the conditions that exist, then you will have removed the power of anything external, to affect you.

People who know me are familiar with my mantra: “Actions have consequences”. Actions we can choose, consequences we cannot, which is why the former is so important.

So it is in ordinary, everyday events, that we can develop proactive skills.  In these ordinary, small events, we show our true character and given that our response to irritations can determine our responses to disasters, we should practice this on the little things first don’t you think?!

Homework this week:  pick one small event that you will practice this technique on and reflect how it was different to your usual response.  Then let us know about it!


How Can You Spot A Future Leader?

I’ve often been asked this question.  It’s linked to spotting potential and it seems that others think I have a knack for tapping into strengths and helping them to bloom.  Who am I to disagree?  So other than the obvious list of skills and competencies leaders have to have, ie talent, education, presence, I also list character and humility.  This has produced several raised eyebrows in the past but I hold firm to my list – it hasn’t let me down yet!  I am a firm believer that leadership is first about character, THEN about skills.  The former is something deep inside us, the latter is something you can acquire along the way.  Equally, you can’t talk your way into humility, it’s only ever practiced.    Humility demonstrates real strength (in my eyes).  Arrogant leaders might well succeed, but they will never be successful because humility is much more about the “how” of doing things.  Its “how” you go about things that makes you memorable, makes others want to follow and aspire to you, and which leaves a lasting impression on them.

So, this week, think hard about:

“How would you spot a future leader?”

This simple, yet instantly recognisable list, will help you spot them 🙂

It’s not exhaustive of course and the skills element is very important indeed.  But humility is essential because it allows leaders to ask, “How can I help?”  C. S. Lewis once said:  “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

What strengths do you see in humility and how does arrogance hinder or destroy leadership?  Looking forward to the answers on this one as everyone I’ve met has a view and opinion on leadership, good and bad.


How do you handle tough questions?

Everyone, at one time or another, finds themselves in situations where they have to handle tough questioning.  Are you a waffler or someone who freezes when this happens?  Is your coping strategy one of telling the questioner everything you possibly know about the subject or do you actively slow things down to give yourself time to think and calmly answer the question with  something featured on our picture this week?

“How do you handle tough questions?”

There are real strategies available to you if you find yourself going scarlet and freezing.  Some successful ones I’ve used in the past include:

  • ask for clarification if the question is unclear to you (“is your main concern about …?”
  • share and stop – state your message and supporting points, check whether the questioner is satisfied, then stop as decisively as you started (don’t just tail off!
  • focus on what you know and what you believe is relevant, then ask for clarification
  • hypothesise (“I haven’t looked at that yet, but my hypothesis would be …”)
  • Tell the truth!  “I’m sorry, I haven’t looked into that yet.  Does anyone else have ideas?  If not I’ll look into it”
  • Boomerang!  Redirect the question back to the person who asked it or to a group (“interesting point – what are other people’s views?”)
  • Problem solve – think aloud – involve others if possible (“Suppose we tried x – could that work?”)

I’m sure there are plenty of others too.  What are yours?  I’d love to hear about what worked well for you in these situations.  Please share!


How do you handle the “Fog Factor?”

Have you ever had to read the same paragraph more than once – sometimes maybe even over and over again?  If you have, several things could be happening, not least the author might be writing for someone other than you.  By this I mean that you could be a practitioner reading an academic journal; a member of the public trying to get their heads around a highly technical business document; or even a University Professor trying to de-cypher a young persons text speak.  Perhaps you spend hours on end writing a beautifully crafted committee report which doesn’t receive the level of engagement you expected or needed?

The thing is – not everyone who reads your work or listens to your words, lives in your world.  By that I mean they don’t eat, sleep and breathe the language, jargon, terminology etc which occupies over 90% of your day.  If you have to present to public audiences, this is especially true with much more care needed in these forums, or else your audience will noticeably doze off!

Been there, seen that happening?  Well, it could be because you (or someone you are watching) don’t understand how the Gunning-Meuller Fog Index works.  Robert Gunning worked with the most popular newspapers and magazines.  His mission? To improve readability (and therefore circulation!). The result was the Fog Index.  So I will give a brief explanation of it but first, please do this:

  • select a random sample of your writing that consists of 100 words
  • work out the average sentence length, i.e. divide the number of word in the sample by the number of sentences
  • count the number of long words in your sample.  A long word has three or more syllables
  • Add the average sentence length (from step 2) and the number of long words (from step 3)
  • Multiply the sum by 0.4 to find your fog index

If, instead of the paragraph above, I had just presented the formula for doing this, I know instantly that many of my readers would now start flicking over to other blogs, because many of them might find formulas an instant barrier, turn off, etc.  But it looks like this for those who particularly like formulas 🙂

0.4* ((words/sentence) +100 (complex words/words))

But we don’t need to know the formula, or get frightened by the sight of it, we just need to do the 5 simple steps above or even visit and it will do it for you via a cut and paste!

So lets assume you now have your results from the above …. You need to know what it’s telling you.

The index represents the number of years of education needed to understand your writing easily.  An index of 13, for example, would mean that the writing is appropriate for a reader with 13 years of school (i.e. an 18 year old = “A” level standard).

Most newspapers are written at a reading level for 13-17 year olds, which is a fog index of 8-12.  That’s generally a safe index as its accessible to a wide range of audience. Less than 8 gives you near universal readability. If you write too high, or too low, your readers may find your writing either difficult to understand (have to re-read several times), or even insulting (and stop reading completely).  Same goes for listening to presentations for that matter – a lesson which isn’t nice to learn in front of the public or your colleagues.

The best way to reduce your Fog Factor is to use simple words when simple words will do!  Easily said, hard to do on a daily basis!

So …. “whats your fog factor and what are you doing to reduce it?”


What Did You Teach Somebody This Week?

I am a firm believer in the fact that people learn more from listening to others and observing and admiring behaviour before them, than from any classroom environment.  I regularly ask the question of those I coach and mentor “who is your hero or to whom do you aspire?”.  I never fail to learn something deep and meaningful about the person from every single reply I have ever received.  I instantly get a feel for what sort of value base they have, what motivates them, what sort of reading they undertake, and even what they see in others that perhaps some others still, are blind to.  So this week, I’m asking the question:

“What did you teach someone this week?”

I have had two significant episodes of this, this week alone.  Both instances have been as a result of instant decision-making (not mine) and have come about through just gently reliving both scenarios with the decision taker of each and suggesting or probing for alternative “third ways”.  Black and white thinkers are prone to hasty decision taking – they are blind to shades of grey, which I live my life managing (or so it seems).  There’s a great analogy here with my other love, photography.  Every year, I point out the many shades of green in every landscape I see and I can’t believe I’m the only person who can distinguish between the 100’s of greens on display, particularly at this time of the year!  Equally, photography deals with the black/white dimension, which is why so many people take pictures of snow or bridal gowns which look grey!  There is a reason for this happening and not to stray too much into my other blog ( its about managing white balance in the camera 🙂

So the managerial equivalent of “managing the white balance” is active and timely reflection.  I constantly bang on about the value of reflection to those I coach, this will not be news to them, and this week, just 5 short minutes of instant reflection would  have averted much managerial angst, not to mention wasted time and effort. So, I’m challenging you this week …..  tell me what you taught someone this week (and reflect upon just how good it made you feel!)


Week 8: Filter Low Priority Messages

The final week of our “Managing e-mail” series is an important week as not only does it finally keep unimportant messaging out of your in-box, but it celebrates Aresko’s First Birthday 🙂  This week we look at:

Empty your in box – everything should have its own place, and the inbox is not it!

Decreasing  your response time – The One Minute Rule

Crafting effective messages

Highlight Messages sent directly to you

Using disposable e-mail addresses

Consolidate multiple e-mail addresses

Script and automate repetitive replies

  • Filter low priority messages

Previous weeks have looked at rules to filter messaging so this shouldn’t be too much of a tough ask this week.  What I will ask you to do is review ALL lessons so far, engage with the ones you have resisted most (!) and celebrate both our first birthday AND the fact that by now, you should have significantly reduced the time you are having to spend ploughing through an overfull in box.

What we’ve been doing so far is reducing noise and focussing more rigorously on the professional messaging you REALLY have to deal with.  Do you get messages from Great Aunty Dorris which are full of cute kitten photos?  Or do you get a lot of CC messages from happy co-workers who perhaps spend rather more time on circulating jokes than you have the time to read?  If yes, then this week is for you ….

Step one : turn off FB friend notifications/google alerts and any other mailing list messages you’ve previously set up.  It’s good to “unsubscribe” to as many as you can THIS WEEK!

Step two : revise those “rules” you set up in week 4 and make new ones like:

  • delete any messages annoying.person@so and so .com
  • delete any message that don’t contain any one of the following e-mail addresses in the TO field (or redirect them to your not important folder)

One of the most common misuses of e-mail is the over-use of the CC box.  So think about a new CC folder and create a rule to directly send to that folder for sifting at your leisure.

But most importantly:  refresh your personal behaviour by reviewing ALL these lessons as a whole to the end of this week and over the weekend.  Then celebrate your new found precious resource of the time it has rediscovered for you and have a think about how ARESKO could help you in the future – then give us a call 🙂


Week 7: Script and Automate Repetitive Replies

Your time is precious and this series of lessons is about minimising wasted time so you can spend it doing higher value activities.  Therefore, I bet you anything that there are messages in your sent items box that look remarkably similar.  You are the centre of many people’s universe and they all want to pick your brains, so I’m betting you have answered the same question from multiple people many times!  Right?  Well, now’s the time to tackle that problem once and for all … This week we look at:

Empty your in box – everything should have its own place, and the inbox is not it!

Decreasing  your response time – The One Minute Rule

Crafting effective messages

Highlight Messages sent directly to you

Using disposable e-mail addresses

Consolidate multiple e-mail addresses

  • Script and automate repetitive replies
  • Filter low priority messages

Build a set of scripted e-mail responses that you can drop into e-mails quickly. You will probably be familiar with out of office replies – which are set up via rules – but this is just one step removed from that, standard replies you can drop in wherever and whenever you need.  Personalise them if necessary and then you can reply speedily without spending valuable time composing the same information over and over again.  You maintain the control over the use and reduce your time in doing so all in one sweep.  Here’s some links to finding out how ……

This is also useful if you are one of the lucky few to have the resource of a P.A at your disposal.  A little effort from you in scripting the standard replies will make his or her life much easier too.  So go on, see this as a random act of kindness either to yourself or to your P.A and make someone smile for the right reasons.


Week 6: Consolidating Multiple e-mail addresses

You would be pretty unusual if you operated on the basis of owning just one e-mail address.  Therefore, an element of these lessons must address the real benefits of consolidating multiple addresses into one e-mail  in-box.  This week we look at:

This week we look at:

Empty your in box – everything should have its own place, and the inbox is not it!

Decreasing  your response time – The One Minute Rule

Crafting effective messages

Highlight Messages sent directly to you

Using disposable e-mail addresses

  • Consolidating multiple e-mail addresses
  • Script and automate repetitive replies
  • Filter low priority messages

If you are a Mac user, then this is very simple indeed, in Mail, select the option to “add e-mail account” at bottom left of folder column and insert the relevant passwords and hey presto, you collect more than one set of e-mails conveniently in one place.

The benefit of this is that you can easily see a partition because, by now, you are using different addresses for different purposes aren’t you?  Then you don’t have to tell all your contacts of any change of e-mail address if you don’t want to, and  you don’t miss a single message. It’s great segmentation!  Personally I have this set up for two accounts – my company one and my personal one, which instantly tells me what sort of message I’m dealing with.

Many folk also use G-mail and for this sort of mail client, there are two ways of achieving this:

  • either use Gmail’s “fetcher” feature; or
  • forward your other addresses’ mail to Gmail automatically.

If you wish to utilise the Gmail fetcher facility (and you can do this for up to 5 accounts in Gmail), here’s how to do it:

  • your old e-mail must offer POP (post office protocol) and most nowadays do;
  • from the top of the page within Gmail, click settings;
  • click accounts and imports;
  • in the “check mail using POP3 section, click add POP3 e-mail account;
  • enter the full e-mail address of the account you want to access, and click Next Step;
  • Gmail fills in the username, POP servier, and port fields when possible, based o the e-mail address, then enter your password.

I hope week 6 is useful to you if you are one of the millions of  multiple e-mail users.  These latter lessons are fairly pick-and-mix if you have been disciplined enough to make the first 4 routine by now 🙂


Week 5: Using Disposable E-mail Addresses

How’s it all  hanging together so far then?  This week is easy peasy and designed to reduce the amount of junk and spam (and therefore the time it takes to deal with it).  Probably  more attuned to your personal e-mail than a work one, particularly if you have aggressive spam filters in any case (but not exclusively).  But an easy week is always worth fitting in, particularly as you are now handling 4 lessons simultaneously in any case.  So, we now turn to:

Empty your in box – everything should have its own place, and the inbox is not it!

Decreasing  your response time – The One Minute Rule

Crafting effective messages

Highlight Messages sent directly to you

  • Using disposable e-mail addresses
  • Consolidate multiple e-mail addresses
  • Script and automate repetitive replies
  • Filter low priority messages

Never heard of disposable mail addresses before?  You are in for a treat! is one such service (but there are others too).  What makes these different from gmail or yahoo is that you can only receive mail into them, you can’t send anything from them.  Here’s a link to Mailinator FAQs to find out more.  Make sure nothing too personal ends up in there and it will fast become the big black hole you’ve been needing for quarantining all that junk mail and spam!!

Most registration websites require that you use a legitimate mail address and its usual that you have to retrieve an activation message from that mail account to proceed.  This is where disposable mail addresses really come into their own, particularly if you use them for the sole purpose of registering on different sites and never intend to use them to handle any other sort of information thereafter. Registering on sites is the most frequently targeted mechanism for future junk and spam mail.  Some companies sell the registration details, others are merely trawled for that data.  In any case, that’s the foundation of much of the junk cluttering up your in box right now!  So adopt a barrier nursing approach to it and create a physical barrier between it and your much more interesting mail.  It will be soooo worth it 🙂


Week 4 : How to highlight messages sent directly to you

So this week we look at “how do you filter and highlight messages sent directly to you?”

We get CC’d into a whole host of things and when you are pressed for time, those messages are perfect candidates for parking and reading later.  So those messages sent direct to you, and you alone are clearly more important than the rest of the world stuff right?  They are more likely to have been sent because they directly relate to your area of responsibility; they are more likely to require action/response; and if you don’t reply then nobody else can!  Here follows two fantastic filter methods to set this up:

Outlook 2010:

1. Click view/view settings/condiational formatting

2. Click add/name it Messages to Me/condition

3. tick check box next to “where am I” and select The Only Person on the To Line from the drop down menu/then ok

4. click Font button set Outlook to highlight e-mails sent only to you using whatever formatting you prefer

Tra-la!  Now only messages sent to you will be a different colour than all the others.  During your e-mail processing periods you’ll do well to deal with these ones first.  Of course you can use the same method to filter messages sent from people as well as to you so if you have key stakeholders you want to respond more promptly to, use a different colour for them.

Other e-mail programmes:

Most other mail programmes have similar rules you can set up and apply:

  • G-mail can indicate messages sent only to your address with the right angle quotation mark >> which points to the message subject
  • mac accounts use a similar colour coding system so check it out if you are a mac user fast.


Set up one rule (more if you want but at least one rule) by the end of this weekend and see the instant difference it makes to your sorting and sifting time!!!


Week 3 : How do you craft effective messages?

This week we look at clarity, and its true to say that the clearer your e-mail messages are, the more likely it is that you will get the result you want, and more quickly too.  Making things easy to read and understand is a simple exam technique.  We’ve all been there.  The easier it is for the marker to find what they are after, the easier it is for them to give you the marks you crave.  So, its easy to illustrate the opposite, ie what an INEFFECTIVE, e-mail message looks like.  We’ve all had them and groaned.  They usually don’t illustrate what the senders expectations are, they hide the most important information, and the body of the message is far too long and difficult to read.  Sound familiar?

I have a habit of opening long e-mails, reading the first 2 and last 2 sentences and if I have no idea what its about – it goes to the bottom of my list immediately.  I don’t let the sender transfer their muddled thoughts to become my instant problem.

Here’s a simple 10-step strategy to help you craft effective messages :

1. Purpose – every single mail should have a specific purpose.  Either to convey information or requesting action.  So know what you expect to get out of it.  If you are the sort who needs to flesh out your thinking by writing, then send the e-mail to yourself!  If you don’t have a clear purpose, don’t write it and definitely don’t send it!

2. Subject Line – This is a critical element.  Its the first thing the recipient sees.  It needs to have impact and grip. The use of prefixes help.  If you require action capitalise FOR ACTION. If its merely for information, capitalise FOR INFORMATION. Then follow it with a very specific title.  For example:

FOR ACTION: Friday’s Presentation

This tells the receiver they have to act on the content before Friday – pretty gripping (also see 6 below)!

3. Be Succinct – e-mails are not about hearing yourself think, they are about producing the desired response from the recipient.  The shorter it is, the more likely it is to be read and fulfilled.  They are electronic sticky notes to colleagues after all!  You wouldn’t leave a 5 page letter on someones desk if they weren’t there when you popped by would you? (please say no!!)  So respect the recipient’s time, it is as precious as your own.

4. Place your messages on a diet – external e-mailing shouldn’t assume every organisation uses the same platforms.  Not everyone has HTML activated (can cut down on marketing info and long messaging downloading); your message might look a bit different when it is received (avoid activating stationery); and use shortened URL links if you can (use services like TinyURL or

5. Enable a complete response – use line breaks or bullet points to make your message easy to read and respond to. Delineate questions if you can and this will attract specific answers in return.

6. TO and CC – Make it crystal clear why others have been included and/or copied in.  Otherwise accountability will be spread too thinly.  AVOID AT ALL COSTs any opportunity for recipients to transfer the responsibility to act to anyone else – or nobody will do whatever it is you are requiring!  If more than one person is involved, it should be because they each have an action to undertake and this should be clearly referred to, e.g.:


Title: FOR ACTION: Friday’s Presentation

Message:  I have reserved a room for the above on Friday and attach the draft presentation.  AA: could you please review slides 1-3 and see if I’ve reflected what we discussed?  BB: could you please insert the graphic we discussed last week on slide 5?  CC: could you please attend on Friday and take a formal note of proceedings?

7. Attachments – Attach it first, not last.  This will save your bacon in having to send an inevitable follow up message saying “this time with attachment” and it will also relieve your in-box of the inevitable 3 messages from AA, BB, and CC saying “nothing attached”.  This is fat, and remember, your e-mail is on a diet!

8. Replying – there is nothing worse than sending an e-mail containing 3 questions, and receiving a reply with only one answer.  This will inflate yours and others in-boxes, so avoid at all costs. Commit to answering all e-mail with as thorough a response as possible. Maintain that respect for colleagues time and in-box management in the way you respect your own.

For those e-mails that have followed this strategy and have delineated questions, reply in the main body of the message below each questions.  Keep it tidy and easy to read for the recipient. Use a different colour so they can spot answers quickly.

9. Task Requests – Don’t delay a response until you have completed any request – if you have questions of clarification, pick up the phone, then schedule time to the task in your diary.  We too often treble account for our time and a response is important to the person who sent it.  Respect their needs and schedule time to do what they need.  If not, your in-box will explode again with unnecessary chasing mails!

10. Lead by Example – c’mon, we are on week 3 now, you are becoming a dab hand at putting these lessons together so:

  • edit mail titles in responses if they were unclear to you;
  • break up long paragraphs of noisy ramble and highlight the core of the request and reply to it immediately beneath it in a different colour – help to refocus the senders eye on what you believe to be the core point;
  • if you continue to get long rambling streams of thoughts, reply very succinctly and get out of the inbox by following up with a phone call saying ” we clearly need a conversation on this complex issue”.  This gets you out of stone-deafness and into a situation of being able to read facial expressions and tone of voice.  Communication is primarily non-verbal!
  • Finally, know when to say nothing at all!  NEVER write an e-mail if you are angry, upset, tired, stressed, or worse, drunk. These sorts of responses should go straight into your draft box.  Never say anything in an e-mail that you aren’t comfortable with people overhearing on a bus!


These strategies will help to train others not to expect long responses in real time.  E-mail is an a-synchronous medium but too many folk try to use it for synchronous conversational issues.  So don’t reply in real time, remember, we’ve invoked a diet to your e-mail.  It is not a pavlov’s response!  If someone needs a real time response, they will ring (and you should do same).  If necessary, put a trailer on your e-mail signature saying: “I may not respond immediately to e-mail. If your message is urgent, please ring

Good luck and this will be so worth it!


Week 2 : How do you decrease your response time?

How did you do with the Week 1 approach?  I do hope you used it and kept practicing it throughout the week.  Now we shall look at:

We don’t emerge from the womb with any natural talent for handling hundreds of e-mails.  We have to pick it up along the way, so, at the start of this series, the aim was to get fiddling around with e-mails down to about 30 minutes a day.  Anything more than that is usually waste activity.  To do that will require a menu of handling approaches – there is no magic wand to the problem that is e-mail volume!

” How do you decrease your response time?”

The One Minute Rule features heavily this week. If a message takes less than one minute to process, do it on the spot.

That doesn’t sound like much time so it is perfect for batch processing.  Whats batch processing?  Well, we do it in other areas all the time.  Think about Facebook, Twitter and RSS feeds.  We keep an eye on the flow in those channels easily, so lets use that technique for our e-mail in box too.  The One Minute Rule is perfect for processing all those “Thankyou”, ‘Lets discuss”, “sounds good’ kinda messages.  You’d be amazed how many messages you can delete or file in the “hold” file you set up last week in a batch of, say, 10 minutes.  Schedule 2 or 3 batches of 10 minutes with your in box each day – don’t be a slave to the ping every time a new mail arrives – in fact, turn it off!

Touch a message once and commit to taking action there and then. There and then action is:

  • delete it
  • respond immediately
  • file in either the “hold” for response in next day (urgent) or in “follow-up” for response in next few days (Important)
  • archive it and make a phone call by way of action – this is usually if it’s too large a job to do there and then.  The phone call sets up the boundaries of the task with a who, what, where, when, how conversation with the sender. Handling e-mail efficiently means you really do have to talk to colleagues much more than you do now!!!

Good luck with this week’s technique and as always, let us know  how it goes.  But above all, do it as well as Week 1′s approach which should, by now, be second nature :-)


Week 1 : How do you control your e-mail?

The last few weeks we’ve been looking at personal behaviour change in relation to working differently.  Clearly the desire is there to do things differently so is it the environment or “the system” that is stopping us ultimately?

I thought we should focus on the beast that affects us all nowadays – email.  Love its simplicity but hate its ability to multiply before your very eyes?  Well you won’t be alone!

Recently, a recommendation in the comments section of  a blog referred to a book called: Lifehacker

Coincidentally, I actually had that book on my i-pad having liked its general approach to working smarter, faster and better, for a while.  It has simple, straightforward approaches, nothing is unattainable and some things are more suitable to individuals in the day job than others, so it offers choice in what you run with.  So it seems timely to look at a problem we will all have had at one time or another:

“How do you control your e-mail?”

Lifehacker outlines 10 ways to get on top of an overfull in-box.  We will look at them separately, and I ask you to choose carefully the ones you want to try, but above all, stick with it and be disciplined in your adoption of your chosen approaches.  The 10 approaches are as follows:

  • Empty your in box – everything should have its own place, and the inbox is not it!
  • Decrease  your response time
  • Craft effective messages
  • Highlight Messages sent directly to you
  • Use disposable e-mail addresses
  • Master message search
  • Future-proof your e-mail address
  • Consolidate multiple e-mail addresses
  • Script and automate repetitive replies
  • Filter low priority messages

The beast called e-mail is so important, I think we will focus on an element a week.  If you have any top tips to add, please, please do so in the comments section.   The chapter on e-mail management suggests you can reduce the amount of time you spend fiddling with e-mail to less than 30-minutes per day.  That alone has to be worth the time it takes to read the chapter don’t you think?  So here we go with week 1, tackling the mammoth task of emptying that obese in box!!!

I personally love the three folder approach of:

  • archive – longer term reference library – no subfolders, thats cheating!
  • follow up – things that must be completed – if you use the Important/Urgent matrix, this folder is for things which are important
  • hold – temporary holding pen for things you’ll need quick access to within the next day or so – again, if you use the matrix, then these are your Urgent things.  Although the chapter says review this folder weekly, I review mine daily, at the beginning of the day.

Top tips I use daily include:

  • opening oldest messages first and delete irrelevances immediately
  • if the action required will take more than one minute to do, move it to the follow up folder (end of the day review)
  • I colour code with a rule, those messages from people who are my key customers or stakeholders, so I can be drawn to them instantly
  • make a decision about the fate of every message you read at the time you read it.No excuses!

So, here endeth week 1 of “Managing E-mail”.  Whats your top tip?


How easy do you find it to work on the go?

As I sat on a train to Bristol, looking around me, I see many folk starting their working day, with the use of mobile devices. Equally, with the imminent arrival of the London 2012 Olympics, more and more of us are being encouraged to work from home. But how easy do you find working, often alone, either at home or on the move?

“How easy have you adapted to working on the go?”

Behaviour Change:

This week, I have a fantastic insight from a mentee to focus our Thursday Thought! for the week.  The question, deeply rooted in any professional improvement programme, is:

“Behaviour change – How easy do you find it?”

What follows is a personal insight from someone who has the courage to share it and the determination to make it happen.  My thanks to Peggy for sharing.  Behaviour change is not easy. Our personal habits and patterns have usually evolved over many years, as coping strategies to get through the day the best way we can.  But when you are truly committed to lifelong learning, behaviour change has to feature in that programme.  We live in fast moving professional contexts and being open-minded to different ways of doing things is a core competence of remaining successful in this sort of environment.  So, with that in mind:

“How easy do you find it to change your routine behaviour?”

“My name is Peggy, and it has been three days since I had a ‘to do’ list. It has been hard, at first it was liberating getting rid of the shackles of that list, written in red, staring at me and making me feel guilty that it never seems to go down. I nearly fell off the wagon last night as I remembered three things I needed to do, I did manage to resist it, although I did debate whether sending myself an email would be cheating.

I have also been liberated from my in box. A colleague sent me an article on how to manage your emails, and I scanned it and it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, so I just got on with it and sorted it out, filed away stuff I was never going to get to and sorted out the important / action ones and the less important ones. I now have one email in my in box – the one about the article to remind me what I should be doing. The weight was lifted off my shoulders I suddenly I felt free.

These two significant events for me have reinforced a message my mentor keeps telling me, changing my behaviour is within my gift. Only I can do it, she can give me all the tools and techniques, all the proven processes and models (as she knows I love these) but knowing it and doing it are two different things. I will need support to keep this going and moving me along the journey I am taking to the ‘better me’ so mentoring will have to continue. The next battle is sustaining that behaviour; I have created myself a trigger word to remind me of what I need to do, I am not going to tell you what it is as it is only relevant to me and probably won’t help anyone else. I will let you know whether it works……”


Binge Thinking:

With thanks to Peggy this week for an interesting article about personal focus and our eternal attempts to try, and be, too much.  The article discussed the frenetic pace of our professional lives and the notion that we have an eternally full in box of worries which we can never clear.  We’ve touched on time management tips in the past, but we haven’t, until now, explored the degree to which we are driven by intuition or by external influences.  So this weeks question is:

“Are you a binge thinker?”

The article suggests that if you answer yes to three or more of the statements below, you could be well overdue a mind-detox.  How do you fair?

  • do you wake at 3am worrying about unfinished tasks and how you’ll never clear your to do list?
  • in a work meeting, does your mind drift to fretting about what so-and-so really meant by that e-mail?
  • do you obsess about previous arguments?
  • is your commute to work consumed by worrying about the day ahead?
  • do you deliberately drink caffeine to cope when you feel tired but then feel increasingly jittery?
  • do you look at Facebook, Twitter and your e-mail the moment you wake up and feel the need to respond at once?

The article suggests potential solutions around doing one thing at a time, diet and exercise but I’m sure many of us have had particularly stressful times in work in the past, and we have these (and other) ways of coping and producing our own mind detox.

My own coping strategy involves turning my blackberry off when I’m at home and having a “one in one out” approach to saying yes to more work, on the basis that I can do it if something else stops.  I’m not saying its been a complete success all of the time, but it is something I’ve used.  So, do you consider that you have suffered from binge thinking and if so, how have you coped?


Whats your allergy?

I’m back from holiday and it’s time to get right back to business.  Short interlude last week due to the lack of broadband service at Aresko HQ.  So here we go with some deeper thinking this week ……..

“Can you spot your allergies and what are you going to do about treating them?”

It is commonly recognised that five fundamentals matter in becoming a High Performance Organisation: quality of management, openness, readiness to take action, long-term focus and continuous improvement of employees. All that sounds great, but real life organisations often look a lot different to that don’t they?  Why?  Well, a big part of becoming a high performance organisation is about developing new behaviours, and that is neither easy, nor a very quick task.

The majority of organisations have managers and leaders who display two strong competencies and have 2 allergies.  Yes you heard me correctly, 2 competencies which they find challenging to themselves or when they see them in others.  So what are these 4 competencies:

  • Business and goal oriented competencies (wanting to win. Market culture);
  • Planning and procedure competencies (wanting security. Hierarchy culture);
  • Self organising and creative competencies (wanting to learn by trial and error and improvising. Adhocracy culture); and
  • People and motivation competencies (wanting to relate. Clan culture)

One or two of these will be present by nature in most senior managers. These are their comfort zones – everyone has one!

The other two are developmental – this is the hard work!  For many, they feel like an allergy, you may well want to overcome them but the process of doing so won’t feel natural.  You might even need a bit of medication (training and development) to unlock them a bit.

High performing individuals are those folk who can switch between the four, almost seamlessly, in any given situation and they are known as the “four of a kind” folk.  It therefore follows that highly performing organisations have developed all four of these cultures and competences in their staff.

Now you know a little bit about Mssrs Cameron and Quinn’s theory of diagnosing and changing organisational culture …

“Can you spot your allergies and what are you going to do about treating them?”

We’ve had a week off so no excuses for not contributing this week :-)


Personal Qualities:

Yesterday, it was my 30th Wedding Anniversary.  I spent it on a tour of Santiago de Cuba with the man I married all those years ago when he was just a boy.  We have travelled an awful long way since 5th June 1982, but I would definitely recommend having a soul mate if you can possibly find one!

So this week’s question looks at personal qualities:

“What personal qualities do you look for in people for them to stand your test of time?”

I hope you join in on this one and I look forward to seeing if we are, really, searching for different things.


Places Spaces and Bases:

I scheduled this post last week, knowing I’d be away for the next 2 weeks feeding my creative hunger – but it made me think.  Everyone has places, spaces or bases where they do their most creative thinking.  Do you have your best ideas whilst ironing, or whilst you are soaking in the bath maybe, or when you are otherwise inspired by your surroundings in some way or doing something you know makes you look at things from a different perspective?

So this week’s question attempts to find out where those places, spaces or bases are, for you:

“Where do you have your best ideas, and why?”

This week I am mostly in Havana!  I know, I’m very lucky and privileged to be able to say that!  This will definitely be creative and inspirational for me as I’ll be wandering around with my beloved camera very firmly in my hands – and I always do my best free thinking when I’m in a photography scenario when I can bring filters and lenses to process :-)

I’m very much looking forward to finding out about your places and why – yes I can (and will) check what’s coming through from afar – but forgive me for having a daiquiri in my hand when I do so !!!


Time Management Tips:

Time management is the ever-present challenge in our lives today.  Too much to do, too little time to do it.  So at some stage, we’ve all spotted and used time management tips which work for us.  We are all, in one way or another, a great resource for finding out new tips!

So this week’s question asks just that:

“What is your best time management tip?”

Here’s mine for starters :-)


Influential Films You’d like Others to Learn From:

I’ve been at home more than usual of late – mainly due to a bout of illness so I’ve not been in the thick of the workplace momentum and general frantic-ness for a little while.  It’s been perfect for reflection and a process of spotting lessons embedded in unusual places.  Which has prompted this week’s area for us to ponder further …..

“Which movie would you like to give to your boss (or significant other) that has powerful messages they would do well to see, hear and learn from?”

This is an interesting area.  In the workplace, I’ve previously undertaken management training which has relied heavily on the medium of the classics, Shakespear’s Julius Caesar and Henry V spring to mind with huge messages on how to influence effectively.  It’s not to everyone’s taste, but I loved it and learnt from it and have implemented what I learnt to good effect.

So this week, something more accessible to everyone, films.  Which ones have contained stories and lessons which have resonated with you personally, and ……

“Which ones would you like to share with your boss and why?”

Share your insights, for bosses or just people who have significant influence in your life, via comments please.  If you know of anyone with a similar story to tell, encourage them to contribute too if you would?



Does Behaviour Matter?

I’ve spent some time lately analysing workplace behaviour and how it impacts on people.  Part of this process discussed:

“If behaviour is not observed, does it matter?”

Interesting question don’t you think?  It reminded me of the “scream in a vacuum” concept.

Personally, I think behaviour, observed or not DOES matter.  Being a great believer in self reflection, I strongly believe that we can observe ourselves and observation does not need to be by another party.  Often I have caught myself doing something and its instantly reminded me of my mother, or someone I admired or occasionally, someone I didn’t!  It’s prompted me to reflect why I did something, or said something in that way and a mental note has been added to the bank to do something differently (or not) in the future.

Language plays a great part in this.  How often have you heard:

  • I need that by close of play
  • On balance I’ve made this decision and you may not like it
  • I’ve had a great idea on how to do that differently, hear me out
  • How do you feel about the way that went?

Do you react or behave differently depending upon the way something is said rather than the actual words?  Does the tone affect you?  How do different styles of questions affect you?  Do you brace yourself with one particular person and not others?

All these things depict behaviour, so this week, I’m interested in:

“Does behaviour matter?”

Thanks for visiting this week’s topic.  Feel free to comment (every one gets answered) but please, do always want to return often!


“Feedback, do with it whatever you want”

One of the best proven ways to learn and develop is by hearing others’ reflections on our own actions.

“When was the last time you heard and acted upon, feedback?”

Since feedback is simply any kind of response to the work you do you receive feedback all the time, in many different forms, probably every single day. For example:

  • an academic reacts to a question you raise in class;
  • a colleague disagrees with you about an issue in a team meeting;
  • someone praises you for getting something completed much earlier than them;
  • the comments section on any blog, or Facebook status, or response to a tweet; or
  • your annual appraisal.

You’ll notice that many of these instances of feedback occur regularly in your day-to-day activities, and it’s important to recognise that you have a personal choice to make in what you do with this feedback.  You could:

  • ignore it;
  • file it for future attention;
  • disagree with it; or
  • Reflect upon it, accept it, and act upon it.  This is the most powerful developmental choice you can make in this set.

Formalised feedback is a communication you can potentially learn from, just like all the others, and it is like any genuine communication: it requires a response in order to add value. You will only make the most of feedback by working to turn it into ideas for future action. You can reflect upon what the feedback you receive tells you, whether you’ve learned the right things in the right way, and how you could better have gone about this learning. So this weeks reflection is to think about:

When was the last time you heard and acted upon, feedback?”

Aresko can now offer junior, middle and senior management 360 degree feedback exercises for individuals or whole teams.  Give us a call if you want to find out more about undertaking this for your own developmental purposes (o7932 641313).


Advice to your younger self:

Travelling home from work last night, listening to the radio in the car, I heard a feature about the youth job market in the UK.  Three young people, who were unemployed but had been job seeking for a year ,were tasked with contacting friends of theirs who had either left the UK to work elsewhere, or whom had returned to their native country to work.  The conversation with said friend was recorded for the radio and covered one in Holland (more incentive to stay in education and lots of health service opportunities), one in Germany (tax issues appeared preferential plus paid internships) and one in Hong Kong (growth high).  They discussed what each respective country’s efforts were around youth employment and the relative opportunities available.  All three came to the conclusion that if they had not secured paid employment by the end of this year, they would go international with their job searching and move.  But it made me think:

“Knowing what you know now, what would you advise your younger self to do when starting out?”

How would you adapt your approach given the wisdom you now possess – if at all?  And more importantly …. give some reasons.

Hope you enjoy this week’s question – it certainly made me think!


Turning Dreams into Reality:

Whilst on holiday this week, it has made me think, for a very long time I feel like I’ve been on a professional treadmill and my big dream in life has been to make a move to the country and to live a better quality of life. It’s beginning to feel like this might become a reality, as we’ve been walking in Wales with the family and have a whole bunch of property details to digest. So, with a long held dream in mind:

“How do you go about making things happen, or does it feel like what you really want most is still a mountain too big to climb?”

Do you like process, getting various building blocks in place?
Are you more of a project manager with a comprehensive breakdown of stages?
Do you break things down into bite-size chunks as the whole task is too big to contemplate?
Do you ever complete at all?

No right or wrong on this, just interesting ways to go about making things happen.

My whole family is off for a 7 mile walk today in the glorious Brecon Beacons – TTFN :-)


Team Roles:

I’m heavily involved in the Belbin accreditation process at present so I’m interested in knowing if anyone has already obtained their Belbin Team Role and if so, does it help you understand the team role you play more fully?

“What team role do you provide?”

Perween Warsi recently used the language of team roles in management on The Apprentice: You’re Fired.  I’ve linked to Meredith Belbin’s observation of it and it makes interesting reading.

So what role do you provide?  Is your own self perception consistent with how others see you operating within a team context?  Do you actually know what your role is in self-perception inventory terms and if not, would you like an individual or team review undertaken this summer?  07932 641313 will give you access to this on a personal or team level.  Why wait to improve team working?  From the summer, with this help, you could be seen as a high performing team with this help, so ring for information and booking 🙂


Building Effective Relationships:
With thanks to Maggie this week for a topic centred around the relationship that is the closest friendships we have.  I’ve certainly experienced this sort of scenario with those I consider to be my closest friends. So the question posed for us this week is
“What have we invested in personal everlasting relationships, that we might replicate with colleagues and/or key stakeholders in the workplace, to build effective professional relationships?”
This is what I’m thinking about to think my way around the question posed:
  • What is it about the relationships we hold dear that allows us to span time effortlessly?
  • How do we achieve these positions of unquestionable trust with some but not all friends?
  • If we were writing a recipe for effective relationships, what would we put into the mix?

Nice suggestion for this week Maggie.  Thankyou!  Anyone got others they’d like to hear peoples views on in the future?


Innovation Style:

For innovation to happen, various conditions have to be in place culturally.  So,

“What type of innovator are you?”

I’ll leave it to you to decide which one fits you best .You may even see a little of yourself in more than one group.  But remember, none of these are bad!  Quite the opposite actually,  all play crucial roles in developing an idea, pushing it up the corporate channels, developing a strategy and overseeing execution and implementation. These are all pieces of a puzzle, arteries leading to the beating heart of corporate innovation. Wow – can I make that sound any more dramatic? A quick reference guide to these innovative personality types follow, just to get you thinking:

Movers and Shakers. With a strong personal drive, these are leaders. Targets and rewards motivate them strongly, but a major incentive for this group is the idea of creating a legacy and wielding influence over others. These are the ones who like being in the front, driving projects forward (and maybe promoting themselves in the process), but at the end of the day, they provide the push to get things done. On the flip side, they can be a bit arrogant, and impatient with teamwork.  Movers and Shakers tend to cluster in risk and corporate strategy, in the private equity and media industries, at mid-size companies; they comprise 22% of total executives.

Experimenters. Persistent and open to all new things, experimenters are perhaps the perfect combination for bringing a new idea through the various phases of development and execution. “Where there is a will, there is a way,” is perhaps the best way to describe them. They’re perfectionists and tend to be workaholics, most likely because it takes an incredible amount of dedication, time and hard work to push through an idea or initiative that hasn’t yet caught on. They take deep pride in their achievements, but they also enjoy sharing their expertise with others; they’re that intense colleague who feels passionately about what they do and makes everyone else feel guilty for daydreaming during the meeting about what they plan on making for dinner that night. Because they’re so persistent, even in the face of sometimes considerable pushback, they’re crucial to the innovation cycle. They tend to be risk-takers.

Star Pupils. Do you remember those kids in school who sat in the front, whose hands were the first in the air anytime the teacher asked a question? Maybe they even shouted out “Ooh! Ooh!” too just to get the teacher to notice them first? This is the segment of the executive population those kids grew into. They’re good at…well, they’re good at everything, really: developing their personal brand, seeking out and cultivating the right mentors, identifying colleagues’ best talents and putting them to their best use. Somehow, they seem to be able to rise through the ranks and make things happen, even when corporate culture seems stacked against them. They’re the stem cells of the business world.

Controllers. Uncomfortable with risk, Controllers thrive on structure and shy away from more nebulous projects. Above all, they prefer to be in control of their domain and like to have everything in its place. As colleagues, they’re not exactly the team players and networkers; Controllers are more insular and like to focus on concrete, clear-cut objectives where they know exactly where they stand and can better control everything around them.

Hangers-On. Forget the less-than-flattering name; these executives exist to bring everyone back down to earth and tether them to reality. On a dinner plate, Hangers-On would be the spinach: few people’s favorite, but extremely important in rounding out the completeness of the meal. Like Controllers, they don’t embrace unstructured environments, and they tend to take things one step further, hewing to conventional wisdom and tried-and-true processes over the new and untested. When asked to pick a side, Hangers-On will most likely pick the middle.

No one group can be considered the purest “entrepreneurial group,” but Movers and Shakers and Experimenters may be the closest. They have the strongest tendency to be internally driven, in control and bridle the most at others telling them what to do.

As we’ve seen time and again, unbridled innovation is a wonderful thing. But it’s what comes next that’s arguably more important. To get an innovative idea off the ground, it’s crucial to have a cast of characters who can keep that tension between risk-taking and reality at a healthy balance midway between the sky and the ground — where innovation can thrive.  So what do you think your natural place is in the innovation team?  How would others see you in this team?

“What type of innovator are  you?”



“Ethical and moral issues – what’s your deal-breaking point?”

Last nights London Evening Standard had a story on page 1 about “toxic and destructive” management culture.  The story (accessed here: goes on to describe a 30-something who had quit his job with Goldman Sachs because of a collapse of its “moral fibre”.  He said it, “veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer, in good conscience, say that I identify with what it stands for”.

This week, I too had a similar conscience gripper!  I had occasion to interact with a new organisation (to me) over this past 10 days or so. It all started well enough, I saw an offering I liked, read the fine detail very carefully indeed, spoke to the key decision-maker, submitted relevant paperwork …. and waited.  I thought it very strange when I heard nothing in return, so I followed up with a quick e-mail, only to be told:   “sorry, we’ve decided that’s now restricted.”

Some might say it’s a sad indictment of organisational values and ethics, two areas I’ve spent my whole professional life championing because they are so dear to my heart in organisational terms!

Bluntly, these two episodes, although different in substance, are what give management a bad  name and it is inexcusable.  Organisation development should, if nothing else, root that out of the system once and for all.  It’s a philosophy that Aresko is founded upon.

Both were examples of unethical behaviour and one, particularly, produced a profound moment for me personally when I thought: “that sort of management is a deal breaker for me actually.”

So what have you encountered in your professional life that has so starkly produced a deal breaking moment for you and was it a moral or ethical management issue?  Did you feel strongly enough about it to vote with your heart or your head and let’s discuss:

“Ethical and moral issues – what’s your deal-breaking point?”


Do you have what it takes in others eyes?

Indepted to Peggy Edwards, one of my mentees, for this weeks Thursday Thoughts!  This week we are discussing:   


Peggy discovered the following article recently (by Jeff Haden), and it makes interesting reading. Great employees are reliable, dependable, proactive, diligent, great leaders and great followers… they possess a wide range of easily-defined—but increasingly hard to find—qualities.  However, a few colleagues hit the next level in being remarkable, possessing qualities that may not appear on performance appraisals but nonetheless make a major impact on performance.

Below are eight qualities of remarkable employees.  Are there others?  Do you see any of these in yourself?  Should every organisation have one or more of these?

1. They ignore job descriptions. The smaller the company, the more important it is that employees can think on their feet, adapt quickly to shifting priorities, and do whatever it takes, regardless of role or position, to get things done.  When a key customer’s project is in jeopardy, remarkable employees know without being told there’s a problem and jump in without being asked—even if it’s not their job.

2. They’re eccentric… The best employees are often a little different: quirky, sometimes irreverent, even delighted to be unusual. They seem slightly odd, but in a really good way. Unusual personalities shake things up, make work more fun, and transform a plain-vanilla group into a team with flair and flavour.  People who aren’t afraid to be different naturally stretch boundaries and challenge the status quo, and they often come up with the best ideas.

3. But they know when to dial it back. An unusual personality is a lot of fun… until it isn’t. When a major challenge pops up, the best employees stop expressing their individuality and fit seamlessly into the team. Remarkable employees know when to play and when to be serious; and when to be irreverent and when to conform. It’s a tough balance to strike, but a rare few can walk that fine line with ease.

4. They publicly praise… Praise from a boss feels good. Praise from a peer feels awesome, especially when you look up to that person. Remarkable employees recognize the contributions of others, especially in group settings where the impact of their words is even greater.

5. And they privately complain. We all want employees to bring issues forward, but some problems are better handled in private. Great employees often get more latitude to bring up controversial subjects in a group setting because their performance allows greater freedom. Remarkable employees come to you before or after a meeting to discuss a sensitive issue, knowing that bringing it up in a group setting could set off a firestorm.

6. They speak when others won’t. Some employees are hesitant to speak up in meetings. Some are even hesitant to speak up privately. Remarkable employees have an innate feel for the issues and concerns of those around them, and step up to ask questions or raise important issues when others hesitate.

7. They like to prove others wrong. Self-motivation often springs from a desire to show that doubters are wrong. Education, intelligence, talent, and skill are important, but drive is critical. Remarkable employees are driven by something deeper and more personal than just the desire to do a good job.

8. They’re always fiddling. Some people are rarely satisfied (I mean that in a good way) and are constantly tinkering with something: Reworking a timeline, adjusting a process, tweaking a workflow. Great employees follow processes. Remarkable employees find ways to make those processes even better, not only because they are expected to… but because they just can’t help it.

“So what’s happened to lead you to believe you are either a great or remarkable employee? 


Leadership and Management – Two different issues:

The organisation I eternally maintain my membership of (Chartered Management Institute (CMI)) has, today, asked a question which is very close to my heart:

“Do you need to be a good leader to be a good manager?”

This made me think.  Leadership and management are two completely different skills, and I have, in my time, seen those I consider highly competent in each.  But do you need BOTH in today’s 21st Century workplace, and is it possible to hone skills in both or should they eternally remain as fighting siblings?

What do you think?  Those you admire and aspire to in the workplace, do they have one or both of these skills?  And if so, what was the moment (if ever) you thought of them in this way?  So please do discuss:

“whether the best leaders have strong management skills, and do you consider managers as natural leaders?”

As always, please share widely.


Staff Engagement:

We’ve all got experience of this one so here’s a thought to ponder as we go into another weekend:

“As a member of staff, what’s your biggest irritant in understanding whats going on in your workplace?”

There is an awful lot written about staff engagement generally: the good, the bad and the downright ugly demonstration of it.  But when it comes down to it, how effective exactly are the type of staff engagement initiatives you’ve experienced?  Have they worked well or not so well?

There are always things in organisational life that many don’t really want to be bothered with.  But more importantly, there are things that we definitely DO want a much closer knowledge of.  Solutions often come in many shapes and sizes and from multiple directions, so share both the worst and the best of how you have been involved in the past, and share:

“your biggest irritant in understanding what’s going on in your workplace”.

Looking forward to the responses on this one – PLEASE share widely with your networks so we get a wider contribution to this important question.


De Bono:

Righty-ho!  I’ve asked questions from the perspective of every coloured hat in De Bono terms now.  Mixed response which has tailed off the last week so time for synthesis as we’ve been involved in analysis for the last 7 weeks (albeit virtually).

I always think its important to describe what something IS NOT from the outset, so this technique is NOT a category of person in any way whatsoever.  We have not been trying to “label” or “box” people from illustrating the perspective they have been using in response to the questions posed.  But we have been trying to illustrate the plethora of approaches amongst us and its been hugely illustrative to see that everyone who has been kind enough to join in, has shown a preference for one, but an aptitude for many, different thinking styles.  There is no doubt that we would make a great team :-)

Below, I outline the process itself, the benefits you could accrue from its use, as well as the ways you could apply this technique.


It’s a technique for a process which is very useful indeed if facilitated in a circle so that everyone has a chance to “wear” and answer a question from the perspective of one hat, all at the same time.  The question allows everyone to look in the same direction at the same time, and in no way is it a competition (which usually infuriates the more competitive members somewhat!)  For example: the facilitator asks a question and everyone in the circle is asked to answer/discuss it from one thinking perspective for a specific period of time, then there is rotation around all the hats.

This process then uses all the experience of everyone in the circle at any given time.  We’ve tried to do it virtually via this little series of questions but it really comes alive in real time and place.  There is an absolute need to separate out the modes of thinking and to focus on one at a time only, for a given period, say 10 mins each (less will work too, depends how many you have in your circle).

The analogy that best describes this process is one of driving and gears: think of the question/issue as the car and the answers (colours) as gears.  You will need to utilise all the gears just not at the same time!  All journeys require you to go through the gearbox to get from A to B to avoid avoidable damage to the car. So see this as a journey everyone is on and if necessary, go through the gears more than once.


This technique is simple, portable, practical and embeds tried and tested learning which has been used by NASA and 5 yr olds alike.  It is swift compared to alternatives for osmosis, or for better learning from mistakes.  It has been proven to produce 5x the improvements on any issue than that of other approaches as it shifts individuals from ego (competitive types!) to the true performance of deeper thinking.


In parallel, face to face, real time and place, it produces the best results.

If used occasionally, it can “teach” people to make the fast switch into different hat thinking when needed and the use of a single hat process can also prompt very sharp changes of team thinking indeed.  When you can switch between thinking with ease and in an almost automated manner, you may consider that you’ve passed your driving test :-)

Systematic application is useful in setting the agenda for the session.  There is a programme of hats to go through sequentially and the sequence can either be chosen as an evolving process, i.e. choose the next hat when finishing with the preceding one (takes skilled and familiar facilitation to manage the flow as there is no right sequence and this is more open and difficult to control); or  a preset sequence can be adopted, identified beforehand.  This is easier to manage if you are less familiar with the technique.

THURSDAY THOUGHTS! continues as a theme, so stay tuned to my weekly question.  Please keep checking back and join in as often as you can.  It’s good to talk!


Working Differently:

Week 7 is a fairly quick one 🙂  We are living and working in very fast changing times.  Our leaders talk very much about “working differently” and in essence, this is very much required with diminishing resources and an agenda that never appears to get any smaller.  However,

Working differently – is this the great urban myth of our time?

What do you think about “working differently”?  Have you experienced truly different ways of working?  Have you had to champion working differently?  Just how difficult or easy have you found it to change the way you and/or your teams do things and make the new way stick?  In many ways, its the holy grail of nimble professional working, but just how real is it in our day-to-day working lives?


 Defining Moments:

Week 6 of an interesting series of questions, which aim to explore preferences for our own thinking perspectives and explores where others might be coming from.  The best use of this technique is for achieving a clear understanding of why mixed teams with common skills levels are usually the most productive and successful.  Successful teamwork is primarily about trust, diversity and bringing a breadth of skills to the table – managing that spread of diversity around  a common theme is often challenging.  So this series aims to raise awareness of the principle, and give diversity a prominent place in our work lives.  I hope you are enjoying it as much as we are now we’re in the penultimate week of (hopefully) provocative questions.  We’ll analyse it all at the end so keep tuning in and try to recruit other contributors if you can.  We’re a friendly bunch, don’t bite, and usually have a great banter along the way 🙂  Here’s the week 6 question then:

What do you consider to have been your defining moment(s) so far

Interesting question don’t you think?  Having occupied life on this planet for half a century now, when I’m reflecting, I can spot several moments in my life, be they personal or professional, that I can pinpoint and say, “yes, that was a defining moment for me in what came next and a direction I took in life generally.”

The question demonstrates a lot of white characteristics, being it:

  • calls for information known or needed;
  • looks for thinking that includes who, what, where, when, why and how; and
  • will force thinking back to objectives, dates, facts, opinions etc.

If we link to last week’s question, we might say this one is rooted in soul type music with lyrics that lean toward soul-searching and bearing grievances.  Its a pretty soul searching kind of question don’t you think?

So, be brave, think honestly and let me know “What you consider to have been your defining moment(s) so far?”


Music analogies:

Week 5 should be a corker!  It should (fingers crossed) insert another sense (sound) into the mix and I’m really looking forward to hearing peoples passion for answering this question.  Here goes.  As always, join in for fun:

What music do you listen to out of choice?

Opera, Soul, Gospel, Punk, Disco or Blues? 

Each of these music genres has it’s own feel and flow.  All have stood the test of time and continues to thrive.  So it shouldn’t be too surprising to make the connection with thinking processes, and as we all have a preferred thinking process style, it also shouldn’t be too difficult to spot the clues in what each of our styles might be.

I’ve picked 6 examples, but of course there are others.  If you favour one outside of the 6 listed, then please throw it into the pot – everything counts and they all have something significant to discover!

So here we go for week 5 , discover something new today and share what your musical “go to” is.  You will undoubtedly have a favourite song in your chosen genre too so if you have the time or inclination – include a You Tube (or similar) link in with your comments this week and we can all experience the sound of your soul (no pun intended!)


How does life fascinate you?

Week 4 – Just in the nick of time this Thursday evening – I triumph in task completion for me today!

In what way does life fascinate you?

Well its been a very busy week at Aresko HQ but we’ve managed to pull a Thursday Thoughts! out of the bag at the last moment today :-)  So here’s a nice yellow mellow sort of question to end a Thursday evening and start your thinking towards the weekend:

In what way does life fascinate you?

Its yellow because its assuming a glass half full scenario – its proposing that life fascinates everyone!  It symbolises brightness and optimism and is a very positive statement.  In asking “in what way” it suggests logic is the obvious route to benefits and it probes for statements of harmony and values.  But it can be answered in any manner of ways.

So, share your colourful answers to this one and why not ask others to join in?  I know there are one or two lurkers out there who follow and read but don’t yet contribute to comments.  Make January your brave month and put a toe onto the comments section this week.  Everyone is more than welcome.


Field of View:

Week 3 – we’re on a roll now!  Have a think about this one …..

Room, desk and car – which do you clean first?

It’s Thursday again folks and here we go again.  Keep the answers coming and spread the word to friends and colleagues to come and  join in if you/they can.  This Thursday, lets consider a wide open, unexplained, red question:

Room, desk and car – which do you clean first?

This was a real interview question asked in a company called Pinkberry, for the role of “shift leader”.  We’ve all been in situations where we’ve been asked a question, whether at interview or otherwise, which has completely surprised us.  I suspect this particular question produced one of those situations!

I will share some of the actual answers offered during this recruitment process later, but lets see what we can add to the mix in the first instance.  As always, answers by way of comments below, always feel free to submit future questions for Thursday Thoughts!,  and lets have some fun with this one!


Why Plans Fail:

Ok, well Thursday Thoughts! is proving to be a very popular topic so far – thanks to everyone who’s contributed and I hope you continue to do so :-)  By all means, if you have a burning question yourself, submit it and I’ll use for future Thursday Thoughts! topics.

So this week, lets have a very Black Hat sort of question:

Plans – why do they fail?

In our professional lives, we’ve all be subject to an array of plans.  Some we’ve thought were good, some we’ve thought were downright bonkers! But nevertheless, we’ve all been in positions of having to “sell” and “deliver” such plans.  Using the most powerful available to us – hindsight – why do you think some plans you’ve been involved in, have failed?

Answers, as always, via comments below please.  Happy reflections, I can’t wait to hear what you think.


Who is your hero and why?

This feature will be a series of questions for you to ponder, just one every Thursday.  Join in and play along, you will discover things about yourself every time you take part.

I shall loosely base this series on the 6 thinking processes from De Bono, in that each week I will pose a question from a different thinking perspective. I promise you, you will be able to answer some questions much more easily and speedily than others and there are definitely no right or wrong answers.  Its not a test!

Because we all have a preference for one thinking process (perspective) within which our thinking is grounded, pushing yourself to think of answers posed from a different perspective is fantastic exercise for the psychological mind!  The more fluent you become in it, the more rounded, prepared, and effective a team member you become 🙂

This week, we begin with a Green Hat type of question.  This is because it’s my own preferred thinking process. So here goes:

Who is your hero and why?

Take part by returning a comment below and I will discuss the technique as we go along via comments.

Enjoy and remember, this is about practicing seeing things from different perspectives.

Leave a comment


  1. Georgie Agass

     /  January 1, 2012

    Maya Angelou. So articulate, talented, passionate, and committed. Plus a saucy mind, saying things you don’t expect from a lady in her 80s.

    Sounds like a preference for Red Hat thinking processes from our FB contact here. Red Hats think in terms of fire and warmth. They have instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling (but sometimes lacks strong justification). Red Hats signify feelings, hunches, and intuition and are often quiet but deeply principled and passionate team members who hold strong values on certain issues, and thats what I’m seeing in this hero particular statement 🙂

  2. Mine is Rosa Parks: plucky, brave, quiet, high impact, did the right thing for the right reasons which I always admire over going with the popular voice, going against the rub of the time, a leader not a follower, a believer, never gave up, small but hugely significant. Sadly missed!

    So as I said, my preference is for Green Hat thinking and this is predominantly about creative thinking. It leads on expressing expressions of growth and focusses on possibilities, alternatives and new ideas. It’s a lateral thinking process and likes provocation, hypotheses and the vision in things. Greens like the opportunity to express new concepts, new perceptions and new ideas and are often linked to teaching in some way or form.

    Hypotheses are about the way we see things and being influential in expressing them and are often accompanied by statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where that particular thought goes.

    What about your hero statement? Share away!


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