Talking Cricket and Difficult Conversations – If Only I’d Said…

Having recently spent a fun and rewarding week training in Saudi Arabia, ISaudi PS2 01awas again reminded how different people respond to similar situations and how often their response is programmed or influenced by their experiences, upbringing and the environment or culture they live in.

I was further pondering this yesterday while watching a cricket match. A batsman played a poor stroke and missed the ball, but did not lose his wicket. He proceeded to play a number of “air strokes,” practicing a better shot. The commentators gently ridiculed this as being wishful and too late. Air ShotBut it reminded me of something I had read about reinforcing good or desired behaviours over less effective ones. The brain, or unconscious mind would process and memorise those practice shots in exactly the same way as the one made in actual play. So, in fact, the “air strokes” are a good technique for eliminating the bad habit or behaviour and replacing it with a better one.

So, applying this to ourselves, such as after a difficult conversation, reflect on what you learned.

Imagine you’ve made it through a tough conversation. Perhaps you askedTough Conversation your boss for a raise, gave tough feedback to a colleague or managed a customer complaint. Now what? You may just be happy to have the conversation over with. But before you move on, take time to think through how it went.

Ask yourself:
 Do you feel proud of how you managed the conversation?
 Or do you feel embarrassed or let down?
 Did you meet the goals you set out for the discussion? (Did you define these beforehand?)
 Do you feel differently now about the person or the problem?
 What do you wish you had said or done differently, and how?
 Now rehearse this better option in your head to add it to your “memory,” just as those top sportspeople and other performers do.

This reflection will give you a sense of what you should do next (perhaps you need to go back to the person for a follow-up conversation) and will help you better prepare for future discussions.

Join our workshop on 4th July for more insights into Dealing with Difficult Behaviours.

Pschometrics: Panacea or Mumbo-Jumbo?

Does psychometric testing represent a viable proposition?

I wrote this article a few years ago and have been reminded of it by and updated it in light of recent conversations which are reminiscent of those that prompted it then. The range of options continues to grow and while this adds to choice, it also adds to complexity and confusion – there are, for example over a dozen that use colours to differentiate people, which sounds simple and easy to understand. However, they don’t use the same colour for the same trait!Pschobabble

I was horrified at the time, if secretly a little pleased, to hear a psychologist condemn all psychometric tests as a waste of time. His ensuing argument was a fair one, although I believe somewhat flawed, more of which later.
Most of us have some experience of psychometric tests; we will probably have completed one even if we haven’t administered any. My first exposure to them was during recruitment selection for the forces. I passed . . . well got in any way! Later I found myself required to administer tests with no training at all, an experience which could have put me off for good, but rather encouraged me to learn more. Even poorly administered the results were too insightful and useful to be ignored. I resolved to continue using them, but to learn how to do it properly.

The psychometric test or instrument is a varied species. Some are cobbled together in a back bedroom for a one-off use, while others are the result of years, even decades of research, validation and evaluation. They claim to measure everything from your sex drive to your suitability as the next company chairman. They have an equally mixed reputation and justifiably so, often compared to star signs and other folklore.

The value of any test, its credibility, validity and benefit to the user owes much to the administrator. Tests that are poorly presented or explained are liable to be less accurate, possibly worthless, or at worst false and potentially damaging. Just as the conditions and briefing for an academic examination should be the same for all participants, so should it be for anyone completing a psychometric test. My early concerns were aroused when I heard the different briefings given by fellow trainers from the same organisation administering the same test:

“Write down the first answer that comes to mind.”
“Consider each question carefully.”
“You have 20 minutes.”
“Take as long as you like.”
“Answer as quickly as you can.”
“You have 40 minutes.”

When delegates compare notes and discover such anomalies not only is the reliability of the test called into question, but also the ability and trustworthiness of the trainers.
There are other ethical considerations. How confidential will the results be? Have you told the delegates? Have you told their superiors? Doubts in this area will cause concerns and can affect the results.

Notwithstanding these potential problems the psychometric test does have its uses and I believe the better tests, the well-researched and validated ones, are worth more than the paper they are printed on. They can be a useful aid to the trainer, the consultant, the personnel officer and, most importantly, the trainee. It can provide data for training needs analysis, particularly using group results which are less sensitive. They can be an aid in team building, where I have found they can help delegates to understand differences and how to manage them.

The psychologist mentioned at the beginning claimed that the test can tell you nothing about someone that you can’t find out by talking to them. Sound and admirable sentiments, but not always practical. Some people don’t come over well in interviews, many others don’t conduct them very well! The test can give an alternative viewpoint, identify new facts, or reinforce interview impressions. I have found delegates grateful for a label to identify ideas or problems, and appreciative of a framework to help them understand the different ways some colleagues operate.

Dilbert MBTI

Interviews and tests are both valuable and fallible. They are best used to complement each other, and better still if used in conjunction with other data, such as past performance or assessment exercises. After testing, every participant should have a personal de-briefing of their results and be given the chance to comment.
One of the most sensible comments I have heard about any psychometric instrument was, in fact, about one of the most respected, but holds true for all: “Remember, the instrument does not tell you what you are like; you tell the instrument.” And, “Tests are like computers, only as accurate as the information fed to them. ‘Rubbish in, rubbish out’.

So, don’t condemn testing out of hand, but use it sensibly and professionally. Take particular care in the selection of tests and ensure you use them properly or find ‘someone who can’. It can be expensive to become a qualified practitioner or to hire one, but the cost of misuse is greater.

Commonwealth Communication – Who Deserve the Medals?

TdF Having seen the Tour de France start here in Yorkshire, and race through my village a couple of weeks ago, I spent this weekend in Glasgow watching the Commonwealth Games Rugby Sevens tournament at Ibrox stadium. I enjoyed the occasion and witnessed some great rugby. The South Africans were particularly impressive and worthy champions. I equally appreciated the efforts of some of the lesser known nations, such as my old friends from Trinidad and Tobago, who went on to win the non-medal Shield trophy.
A great sporting occasion which was slightly marred by the continuous, contrived jolliness of the stadium compere at every break in play, seemingly unaware that some people were there to watch the sport, not to make fools of themselves. Curmudgeonly perhaps, but it did seem overdone.

I was struck by the usual plaudits and platitudes one hears from organisations about how the event or business would not succeed without its people. The Tour de France recruited 10,000 volunteer “Tour Makers” and the Games recruited 15,000 “Clydesiders” to make the events a success – all unpaid and often too little appreciated. “People make Glasgow” was a logo plastered on many billboards in the city. How many posters have you seen claiming that people are our greatest asset? It was certainly true of the Commonwealth Games – I was a volunteer at the Manchester games in 2002 – and the volunteers I encountered in Glasgow were almost universally smiling, welcoming and helpful, refusing to be embarrassed by having to point the way with giant green fingers! However, they were often hampered by poor information.
CW LogoThere was an excellent free bus shuttle service from the city centre to the stadium, which worked brilliantly on the way there, but was a little less well organised on the way back as 40,000 people swarmed out of Ibrox and were herded into queues for the subway, the shuttle or the park and ride. People were asked to walk ½ mile or more down streets to join the back of queues coming back up the same streets. The highlight was a policewoman exhorting one section of the crowd, queueing four or five abreast to “fill the road” just yards before that road was narrowed into a funnel by steel barriers. Even the horse she was riding looked bemused and even embarrassed as the crowd in front of her just smiled and ignored her. Memories of the article I posted last week about ambulatory anarchists!
The following day, the shuttle to Ibrox was as efficient as before, but this time on leaving, the stadium announcer told us there was a problem with the shuttle buses and to follow directions outside. Once outside the shouted advice was to take the subway or walk to the city centre – three miles away. The volunteers were excellent at shepherding us in the right direction, but none of them knew what had happened to the buses. We later heard that “our” buses had been diverted to help the congestion at Hampden Park, home of the athletics competition. The crowd stoically walked into the city centre with much good humour in evidence, but frustrated because they had no information. I smiled at the huge cheer when a Porsche was stopped by the police motorcyclist for ignoring the road closed signs.

CW Volunteers 2What are the lessons for our business leaders? Yes, of course the people are the most important element of any organisation, but the fuel they need is accurate, timely information. Too many managers keep things to them-selves, worried that the information they hold is incomplete, time sensitive or just plain wrong. They should share it anyway, with caveats if necessary, but tell the people on the front line and then they can look after your customers, who are the ones we need to look after if we are to run a successful sporting event, a public service or a business.

Driven by Greed, Ego or Expectation?

A theme I have mentioned before is the ability to identify and learn from the experience of others. Obvious enough you may think, but we often listen too much to our heroes and not enough to those we cast as villains.
shontayne_hape1_250 Two recent articles highlighted this for me. On the one hand, I read the story of international rugby star, Shontayne Hape and how he battled concussion. It is easy to admire, and even attempt to emulate, his determination to carry on regardless. Indeed, as he intimates it is almost expected in rugby circles. However, less admirable were his attempts to beat the system, to ignore advice and refuse help. What lessons are there for us in a business context? It may be as simple as my daughter refusing to take time off work while battling a chest infection or expecting our people to bend the rules in a good cause.
Wolf Wall StreetOn the other hand, Jordan Belfort, the self styled Wolf of Wall Street, who swindled people out of millions of dollars in the 90s and for which he served a mere 22 months in prison is inspiring a lot of comment in the press and the blogosphere.
He has now re-invented himself as a motivational speaker and sales coach (at a claimed rate of $1 million per annum). His seminars are selling out to hundreds despite the price tag of £100-200 a seat with people keen to hear his money making secrets. He liberally peppers his talks with reminders to apply his techniques ethically, but this does ring rather hollow.
If you can endure the Anthony Robbins-esque hype, ignore the All American “Yee-Hah,” and resist the teasers demanding that you shell out even more money for the full three day boot camp, there are many useful ideas and techniques in what he says.
A colleague who attended his recent London seminar identified over 50 useful tips, about managing your emotional state, self belief, clear vision and good sales practice. That doesn’t mean he bought into all that the Wolf proposed, far from it, but it does show how he listened, filtered and identified the nuggets in all the rhetoric.
Ask yourself how often have you admired someone so much that they can do no wrong or, conversely reviled someone so that they can do nothing right?

Lost Aircraft, Lost Baggage, Lost Reputation.

Look at the Big Picture.Indian Ocean

 During our sessions we often discuss the importance of leadership at all levels in an organisation and about being pro-active. The reputation and credibility of your organisation is critical to success. This reputation is fragile, can take years to establish, but only moments to destroy. As leaders we are all aware of our role as standard bearers for our organisation and take pride in the image we present. As such, we should also take responsibility for ensuring others do the same. Recent press coverage of mistakes by British Airways and American Airlines provide ample evidence of this. One would appear to be a mistake at quite a high level in marketing, the other “just” one lowly person in baggage handling. Both examples demonstrate how we need to be constantly vigilant and everyone needs to be on message.

It seems incomprehensible that someone did not realise the potential damage that could be caused by BA’s ill timed advert, even if this had been planned for some time. I would be asking stern questions of the agency involved, too as they could have prevented the embarrassment.

Equally, someone other than the author of the inappropriate note could have recognised the insensitivity and done something about it.

It would be easy to blame others, and take no responsibility, but the real lessons are about awareness, accountability and assertiveness. We need to recognise the potential and do something about it; start by looking in the mirror and asking what we could do to prevent similar mishaps in our own organisation.

See: BA Advert and AA Bagtag.

 

 

Blending Youth and Experience – What’s Your Style?

There has been much coverage in the press recently of sporting awards, with rugby and football players being named player and young player of the year. Christian Wade and Gareth Bale took both awards this year in their respective sports, and I would not deny them their accolades as both have been outstanding. I do wonder though, why is there no award for old player of the year? Sometimes the feats of the older players are more impressive. Some have been recognised with James Hook  voted Perpignan’s player of the year at 27, Michael Carrick Players’ Player of the year at Champions Manchester United and Jonny Wilkinson named European Player of the Year at the ripe old age of 33, ten years since he was the last player to win both rugby awards. However, even Jonny’s success is overshadowed by Easton  Roy of Stirling County RFC, who has pledged to keep on playing – just days after scoring a try on his  ninetieth birthday.

Further afield, I read of 80-year old Japanese mountaineer, Yuichiro Miurahas reaching the summit  of Mount Everest, making him the oldest man to scale the world’s highest peak. Another Japanese man, Jiroemon Kimura, who holds the distinction of being the world’s  oldest living person, celebrated his 116th birthday on Friday.
 

Not to be outdone by the Japanese, British great-great grandmother, Doris Long fearlessly abseiled down a  110ft building to mark her 99th birthday and raise money for The Rowans Hospice. I am still proud of my Mother, who shyly announced on her 80th birthday that she had taken up a new hobby of archery and earlier this year achieved the rare feat, sometimes referred to as a Robin Hood, of splitting one arrow with another, not once, but twice!
Age is seemingly not a barrier to sporting success and even less so to management success. Whatever your allegiance, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the amazing career of Alex Ferguson, retiring from football management at 71. Several CEOs in the U.S.A. are in their 70s, 80s and even one in his 90s. Jack Welch continues to write and consult on all aspects of management at 77 and in the UK, John Timpson is still chief executive of his family business at 72 and writes regularly on management in the Daily Telegraph.
Of course, it is not only sports people who vie for awards. The National Business Awards are about to be announced and are partnering with Cranfield School of Management this year, who are calling for business leaders, particularly young entrepreneurs to think more strategically. Apparently younger managers are more likely to adopt a style as the Meddler, the Hero, or the Artisan and while all of these have great strengths, they advocate the Strategist style to grow and develop the business.
An understanding of management style is a topic that many of the delegates on our Stepping in to Management courses find helpful as they seek to be more effective and advance their careers. Flexibility of style is a great asset in managing people and strategy is more about the language we use and the way we work with others than it is about gazing into crystal balls. We have been partnering with Nottingham Business School to explore these concepts and are developing a programme to share them with our clients. Contact me for more information. Strong leadership style and coherent strategy are not the preserve of the old, nor even necessarily the product of experience, but both can be learned.
I talk a lot about experience and learning from it – some say “there is no substitute for experience.” and while this may be true, I believe it is more important that we learn from that experience. How many of you have felt or been told that you do not have enough experience? Does someone who has been in the same job for 15 years have 15 years experience or one year’s experience repeated 15 times – it, of course depends on a number of factors. One of these is attitude – the young players who have won awards and the older players and managers mentioned above all have a positive attitude. Do you always act your age or can you still act your shoe size? While our bodies may tell us we are past it, mind set and self belief can play a big part in how we make the most of our advancing years. Start on that bucket list now!

The Real Tweet and More Pythons.

On the day that many of us will go to the polls to elect local leaders, it may be appropriate to remember that politicians are supposed to be the great communicators, although from the press coverage of this election you would not think so, with Ed Miliband saying no to his own question which clearly required a yes answer and Cameron resorting to name calling.
It is not just in politics that communication is poor, with reports from the civil service and the BBC of staff being bullied, threatened and consequently fearful of speaking up or challenging their bosses and thus becoming less productive and more resistant to change – surely not what we need in these difficult times.
Another survey highlights the widespread dislike of jargon with phrases such as “Thinking outside the box” being rated particularly irksome. Some of these phrases are, of course entirely appropriate in the right situation or context and if they are understood by all involved. The real problem is their over-use or when they are used to obfuscate or confuse.
The key to good communication is still simplicity (KISS), but we also need to be more careful and conscious of not only what we say, but how we say it. I still remember texting my teenager daughter on her first mobile, announcing that I was “home now”, admittedly all in capital letters through laziness or incompetence, which she interpreted as me demanding she come home now. (HOME, NOW!) With more ways to communicate in ever quicker ways, the lesson is surely to take more time and more care to be understood. Don’t blame the receiver when it is misinterpreted, ensure you get the right message across.
It is so important to read things more than once, before we send them or react to them – my eye was caught by a job advert recently for Python

trainers, not sadly intended for charmers, but for geeks, sorry IT experts. In response to a clever and amusingly intentional twist, I have set my alarm early from next week to catch David Attenborough’s Tweet of the Day– not that the great man has just embraced the latest in social media, but he will be presenting a different bird song each morning for our education and enjoyment. There is a man who can communicate.

For a vivid example of what not to do, look no further than the way Citigroup announced that it was cutting 4% of its workforce in December:
“Citigroup today announced a series of repositioning actions that will further reduce expenses and improve efficiency across the company while maintaining Citi’s unique capabilities to serve clients, especially in the emerging markets. These actions will result in increased business efficiency, streamlined operations and an optimized consumer footprint across geographies.”
In other words:
“Citigroup today announced [lay offs]. These actions will [save money].”
 

Rome wasn’t Built in a Day – Andrew Marr meets Monty Python.

 BBC journalist and presenter, Andrew Marr has been reported as blaming an intense workout for his recent stroke. In almost the same breath, he stated that he had been heavily overworking for a year before this workout and the stroke. While the workout may have triggered the attack, I suspect the 12 months overworking was probably more to blame. Too often, it seems to me people want the quick fix and are ready to blame something else when it goes wrong. Gym membership will not make you fitter, unless you make regular, and initially supervised, use of it. In the same way, crash diets rarely work or at least any weight loss is temporary – don’t go on a diet, change your diet.
Stephen Covey talks at length in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People of the law of the farm. This, simply put says that you will sow what you reap, but have to wait for the harvest –you cannot plant in March and harvest in April – and tend the crop in the meantime. You don’t start training for a marathon the week before the event, there is no such thing as a credible MBA in a week.
Margaret Thatcher once famously said, to massive outrage, that there was no such thing as society. Unfortunately, the message was totally misinterpreted as an attack on society rather than the intended appeal for individuals to recognise that they make up society and need to take personal responsibility.
Or as Monty Python put it in the dead bishop’s sketch:
  • Man: “All right, it’s a fair cop, but society’s to blame.
  • Church Policeman: “Right, we’ll be charging them as well.”
  • — Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “Church Police”
Don’t look for someone or something to blame for your problems, look to what you can do about them. Don’t look for the quick fix, find a way that fits with your values and is sustainable. That is the real art of being proactive, effective and successful. Anything worth working for will take time and effort, in life, sport or work.
For details of workshops on personal effectiveness, contact Steve.
 
The full context of Thatcher’s remark was as follows:
 
I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it: ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society.
 
There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.
 

Do Manners Matter? Class, Brogues and Bad Role Models.

Will putting on airs and graces help you to climb the career ladder, or is that all out of date nonsense and is it more important to speak your mind with confidence. Should women be more like men if they want to get on in business?

There have been a number of articles in the press recently about class

and etiquette. If you haven’t yet seen the article about the new British class system, it is well worth a read. You can take a questionnaire to determine where you fit, and with a little tinkering work out what you need to do to move up the scale, or down or across! Many claim not to like stereotyping or being typed, but few can resist trying it out, if only to ridicule the results. It certainly seems to be more representative of our current society than the simple three class system, so delightfully sent up in “The Frost Report

There have also been articles about what is acceptable behaviour when cold calling, how to deal with those who seem to abuse this and tips on how to be a ladyin the modern business world, and even why a gentleman’s brogues are so important to his well being and self esteem.
The cold calling dilemma certainly struck a chord with me, finding so many of them to be intrusive and unprofessional, and assuming it is OK to use my first name as though we are well acquainted. I try to fend them off, while remaining firm, but polite, although I suspect I often stray into rude. I have not got the time or patience to “get my own back” as some claim to do by stringing them along, let alone claiming to be a detective at a murder scene and that they are now a viable suspect!
In terms of self improvement and career management, I would agree with all of the more moderate recommendations in these articles – being rude back to someone is rarely going to improve the relationship and you never know when these things will return to haunt you. I am about to interview someone for a coaching position at my rugby club, who was a much vaunted star in his playing days, but rather offhand when I asked him for some help.

To summarise the articles on etiquette, being a lady to is about treating people with respect, having self respect (so not being drunk and disorderly) and having your own personality – but not being abrupt with people (as people so often are today). And all of these traits are to be taken into the workplace, instead of the home– which is where the majority of women spend the bulk of their time.

You may well think, as I do that all of those expectations are just common sense and behaviour that should be expected from both genders? “Manners are all about putting other people at ease and thinking about others,” which is surely the best way to get on and get the best from others.

For the gents, apparently cheap shoes look slobbish and make men shuffle. Quality footwear endows a man with authority, poise and an air of reliability – not to mention desirability! If only I’d known.