Tuesday 9 November 2010

Bored at Work - How Can Coaching Help?

Hello Carrie,

So you're a bored solicitor, looking for more interest at work. You say you're not sure how coaching could help, so I thought I'd take a couple of minutes to give you my thoughts on that. Even if you decide not to pursue this further, these ideas may help you to help yourself.

The first step is always to turn the problem statement into a goal statement - which you've done to some extent. So "I'm bored" becomes "I want a more interesting environment". The next step is to "polish" that goal. What would that more interesting environment look like? Go nuts - and don't be limited by any notions or "being realistic". This is the usual first step I take with clients.

Often, they find that first step difficult, because they are trapped in current reality, and unable to conceive of radically different ones. They may also have limiting beliefs which are hidden from them - they don't know they have them. I bring an external perspective to that, and a lot of experience, so together, we can push past "normal" into "life changing" territory.

Another obstacle is often that people "just don't know" what they want - all they know is what they don't want. In these cases, we often look for core values, and then work back out from those to find new ways to think about being happy in life. You might think that just introspecting on your own core values would tell you what they are, but depressingly, this is very seldom productive; over the years I have developed and refined a set of "low tricks" to flush out core values, so this works pretty well nowadays.

Having found the new vision for your life, it's time to assess how to get there. Sometimes, that means surprisingly small but creative changes, and we work together to experiment with making those happen. Other times radical re-alignment is called for, and then it's about managing fear, developing a transition strategy which keeps you solvent and sane.

Throughout all of this, I'm usually helping my client to fight their pessimism and maintain their stamina. It's seldom a straight-line process.

EXACTLY how this all works is always unique to the client and their circumstances, but these broad brush strokes are generally in play, and when this is done, clients find themselves in working lives which nurture and grow them; where work complements private life.

I hope that makes sense.

Friday 29 October 2010

Hello Ron

So you struggle with managing people who resent being managed.

I see this one quite a bit in my client base. In my experience, there are only a few reasons:
1. The manager is younger than the staff member, or in some way is perceived as being "lesser"

2. More generally, the staff member's world view has them in the role of high capability contributor who should be given a free hand

3. Even more generally, the staff member harbours resentments against their employer in the broader sense

In any case, to dissolve this situation, it will be necessary to explore it openly with the staff member. You should see what their view is, tell them how you see things, and what's wrong with their view, try to find common goals about your shared future, and agree some rules moving forward.

If this proves impossible, then the staff member should be made aware that your world-view is the one supported by the company (make sure it is, before you even think of treading this path), and that you're not willing to tolerate obstructive or otherwise difficult working staff members, and that there is a procedure leading to eventual dismissal which you are prepared to walk for the benefit of the team, the company, and actually - for the staff member themselves.

Much of this requires the existence of a management chain and an ethical, professional framework which would support you in these actions. Often, that's simply missing - especially in the public sector (and I note you work in the NHS where I have a lot of experience), in which cased, you'll be needing some more innovative strategies :o)

Friday 22 October 2010

Hello Sam,

So you're organising your day but being unable to stick to your plan because of distractions.
Here are some thoughts on that which you may find helpful.
Firstly, I recommend you keep a work diary for a week or so. Remind yourself to keep it by setting an alarm on your computer of mobile phone to go off 30 minutes after you start work. When it goes off, write as little as you can, to capture what you've done for the last half hour - maybe just one, two or three words - then snooze the alarm for 30 minutes. When it goes off again, keep doing this throughout the day. Our memories are notoriously unreliable, but this technique will give you a high quality record of your real day, and that's an invaluable resource for improving your effectiveness.

Next, be totally honest about how much you like certain tasks. You may find you hate some things and love others. Now look at the things you hate and ask yourself why. Often you don't really hate the task intrinsically, but you hate some aspect of it - for example, at school many people say they hate maths, but what they really mean is they hate being bad at maths. Another example - many people say they hate writing weekly reports, but perhaps they hate it because they don't keep a diary to remind them of what they did, or that can't use Word properly. When you have this second level insight you can often see ways to remove the problem at source. For example, get yourself on a Word course. So this tactic can improve your enjoyment of the tasks you tend to avoid.

Next about distractions. You might switch some completely off (personal email access at work, for example). Others you might silence (don't have it ping at you when mail comes in). Remove yourself to quiet places, or away from tempting distractions to complete critical work. If distractions are other people, learn to say "no". Say it nicely, but say it. People will learn. You can sometimes put up a sign to head them off at the door.

You can also support task-focus by using the alarm technique above to remind you what you should be doing. I use this myself, and often my alarm snatches me back from somehow becoming immersed in the fascinating world of Japanese Nose Flutes or Tibetan knit wear.

Next think about your sweet spots. Are you a morning person or an afternoon person? When are you most hard-working, most creative etc. Try to match these zones with the tasks you place in them.

Next take regular short breaks - probably hourly. Five minutes should do, but get up, walk away, maybe get a drink and come back. Do your diary entry before you go.

Next, don't put too much in your day. If you schedule more than 70% of your time formally, you can expect to crash and burn.

Next, learn from your mistakes. Which tasks keep getting not done? Which failure mechanisms are common - and what can you do to stop them? Treat all of this positively - think of it as a great opportunity.

Next, how can you make work go away entirely - your three options are decimate (make it go away - things like newsletter subscriptions, meetings which serve no purpose, etc.) delegate (give it to someone else - are you really the person who SHOULD be doing all that you do?) or automate (lots of opportunities as the web blossoms).
If you can do some of these, your working day will be less busy and your stress levels will fall. You'll enjoy work more and when you get home, you'll be ready to enjoy that more too. Oh, and you'll be recognised for your cheerful efficiency, and that could mean more money or a promotion.

Monday 20 September 2010

What Can Coaching Do for Me and My Business?

 Hello Richard,

You asked how exactly, coaching can help you. I'm happy to clarify that for you.

You say you're not making progress, you're stressed, your work/life balance is bent, and you want a change. The driving issue is your strategic direction.

You don't rate yourself as being busy, but you want more time for yourself, so, if we worked together I'd clarify that with you. You say you want to change your job, but you need to continue to service financial commitments - very normal. I'm not sure if you want to fix your strategic direction with your business - of if you want to ditch the whole thing. Perhaps you're not sure either - maybe you have no faith in the former and are afraid of the latter.

This is the kind of mess we often find ourselves in, and, by asking simple questions, coaches can really help clients sort out what's in their own heads. WORRY is a poor background to thinking clearly, so I often work on that with the client too, freeing up energy and creativity to apply it to the problem at hand.

So, being as concrete as I can without knowing more about your situation, the steps are:
  1. Clarify and improve understanding of your problem space. In your case, this is likely the business and your future. There are usually secondary issues which are affecting this - and you may not even be consciously aware of some of them. Almost universally, aspects of your own mind live in here - perhaps fear, ambivalence, conflict, hidden faulty beliefs and so on.
  2. Clarifying what you want. Again - sounds simple, but I'm betting it isn't. You're probably in conflict here too. Usually people bend what they really want into what they think they can really have - and in that process, they lose the spark that would drive them to win. So we would find clear, crisp, inspiring but entirely achievable goals.
  3. We would look at how to accomplish them. In reality, these steps are not usually linear - we move between them, horse-trading what you're prepared to swallow as being realistic with what you're prepared to work for, and often integrating effects come into play - a small win builds confidence, and so goals change, and that becomes more inspirational.
It's often intrinsically messy, but that's OK if we emerge with a clear understanding of your situation and a direction to move in which inspires you, and some tools to begin the journey.

Sometimes clients stay with me all the way, other times, they set out on their own once they have their new direction.

Thursday 16 September 2010

New Managers - Baptism by Fire

Sometimes smart people make silly assumptions. If you can DO a thing really well, for example, it doesn’t mean to can teach it really well (my Maths lecturer at Uni springs to mind - brilliant, arrogant, and a monstrous teacher - a real destroyer of young souls). Similarly, if you can do a thing really well, it doesn't mean you can manage others who are doing it, really well.

If you're a fantastic phone support person, and you are suddenly made manager, you may well be in for a nasty shock. Management is a totally job, with totally different expectations and it requires a shift in attitude, the suppression of old behaviours, the emergence of new behaviours and the development of new skills.

This is where "Laura" found herself. I did an initial consultation for Laura yesterday. These 20-minute phone sessions are a way for people to try phone coaching cheaply. They can sound me out, see how it feels, and get some real help for £10.

Laura is a fantastic customer support agent but when she called me she was very tearful. Having been in her new managerial post for just a short time, she was already sinking in a sea of stuff that needed doing. She was not managing her 20 staff well; compliance with mandatory procedures was slipping, and there had been a complaint. She was working 12+ hour days, had no family life, and was massively stressed and miserable.

Firstly, I sympathised with Laura. What her company had inflicted on her was unreasonable, but I know from my work that it's very common. The "sink or swim" school of personal development may well allow a few type-A dictators to shine, but it's not fair on the rest, and in fact, it's not the smart way to get the best from your people - not to mention it's cruel. Anyway, having supported her emotionally in her plight, we looked as specifics.

The three issues which follow are very common and their solutions are, generically, widely applicable, so I thought I'd share them with you.

Paradigm Shift

For this exercise, think of any work situation as a machine, where the people in your team are components - cogs. I don't mean to de-personalise or cookie-cut people - but this view is useful. So, each cog must dovetail to another cog, so that they can turn eachother. All cogs must know what they're there to do, and be able and willing to do it. If two cogs are doing the same thing, then maybe one needs re-assigning. If there is a cog missing, well, then you'll need one. Sticky cogs need oiling or replacing. If a cog isn't doing anything, maybe it needs removing or re-engaging. This is the "company machine". You might think about your own organisation in this light. I bet you know a few sticky cogs.

Now, as an individual contributor, you're a cog in this machine, but as a manager you are OUTSIDE THIS MACHINE. You are not a cog within it. You walk around it, you watch the cogs, speak to them, keep them oiled and happy. You see where cogs are jammed and you fix them. You make sure you have enough cogs of the right kind for the whole machine to work well. This is the role of a manager - to build, evolve, and maintain the corporate machine. Good managers are smart, inspirational, people, creative, adaptable, honourable, approachable, hard-working, and more.

So the paradigm shift for new managers is to understand that they have a fundamentally new and different job to do. They must stop being a cog (or dramatically reduce their cog-work) in order to make space to start doing a whole slew of things they never used to do - most cogs don't just sit there turning - they need help.

Time Management

New managers must look very carefully at what they do with their time. As a cog, often time management is less necessary when the job is one dimensional and demand-driven. But as a manager there are more choices about what's the best thing to do, so time management becomes a critical factor for success.


Managers can only succeed through the work of others. This means they must clearly communicate the tasks to be done, get buy-in, allocate appropriate resources, check compliance and deal with issues arising. Effective delegation is a massively important skill for any manager, and one I'll probably write a book on at some point, but in the time I had with Laura yesterday, I had time to give her this one really powerful delegation technique.

If you delegate a task and it comes back not done, or done badly, do not ever, ever EVER top it up or do it yourself. If you do this, you are teaching people that commitments are not important, and that their poor performance will be rewarded by you making their work look great. Don't do it. Instead, almost regardless of the consequences, return the work to them, and have them try harder. You don't need to shout, to argue, to name-call, or to display anger - but be clear that compliance has not been obtained, and invite them to fix up their work. In this way, over time, you'll grow a professional workplace culture in which people behave like respectable adults. In this world, the management task is much better for you because you can leave the stick and the carrot in the cupboard, and work with great people doing great things in a great organisation - and loving it. Not a bad way to earn a crust, huh?

On the strength of her £10 initial consultaion, Laura's booked a 4-pack of coaching sessions with me, and I'm confident she'll come out of it a far happier manager with a wonderful team around her.

If you think an initial consultation like this one might help you you can book one here


Monday 6 September 2010

My Arrogant, Ignorant, Insensitive Boss


Many leaders got there by force of will, stomping on others, and so on. Your description of yours is not unusual. They generate misery, stress a loathing, none of which serve them, nor their company, nor the working environment.

The question is, what can be done about it?

Their position of power makes things difficult, and their arrogance means some tools, like reasoning, are not going to work as well. But there are things you can do. Because I don't know your details, I can't give specifics, but here are some ideas I've found to be very effective with other clients in similar situations to yours.

  • Goal Congruence. Fully understand what your leaders goals are and align what you do with them. In your discussions with them, speak in terms of their goals and how what you're contributing furthers those goals. This should get through the thickest of skins and tell them you're an asset they'll want to treat well.
  • Ask Questions - don't defend. Arrogant leaders often like to give orders, to be on the attack. If you can find thinking space (more on that next) break their pattern by asking relevant questions, especially in response to criticism. If they tell you you've done poorly, you might ask them which element of your performance doesn't suit them, or how specifically, you should have been different. Be ready to hear a genuine reason and to learn that you have room to improve, but if you hear different, ask more questions.
  • Reduce Stress by stating healthy (exercise, diet and meditation) and by using a part of yourself to step outside and observe the unfolding scene from above. You might narrate "he's doing this, and I'm feeling that". This distancing has a miraculous effect on staying calm and effective under fire. There's always the old "imagine them naked" trick, too.
  • Use Body Language to encourage the best behaviour from them. Maintain eye contact during attack; looking down and away is a subordinate gesture. Face them directly. Don't fold your arms or cross your legs. Use pauses with eye contact.
  • Use voice tone to manage anger. Don't escalate in pitch or volume or speed, but stay low and slow.
There's a lot more we could look at. Building alliances, using the company structures like the performance review cycle, private meetings, other ways to break patterns, and of course - leaving, but there are a few ideas to think about. If you feel they're not applicable in your situation, then that's somehing we'll need to explore in a coaching session together.

Monday 23 August 2010

Is Low Confidence Holding you Back at Work?

Hello Tracy,

Here are my thoughts  around your comment about wanting more confidence to achieve your work goals.

One technique I use to help clients, which is almost always useful, is to encourage them to be as specific as possible. This thwarts a tendency all of us have to over-generalise. In that generalisation process, we lose important information which can help us to solve our problems.

So, in your case, you might ask yourself these questions:

  1. Which work goals are affected by confidence? You could write them all down as specifically as you can. Ask yourself WHAT IS MY FEAR, HERE? And push it to conclusion.
  2. What role does confidence play for each of these? Write down the answers as though you need to make some alien understand.
  3. If there is self-talk happening, write down the script.
What patterns do you see?

One possible analysis might tell you that confidence affects your goals which involve presenting to others, and that the issue here is that you feel you can't compete with those around you because you're not a graduate. Specifically, you feel like they'll expose you as being dim in some embarrassing way, and I'll be an outcast and will eventually have to leave, meaning I'll become destitute and die on the street.

Now that you have the beast fully exposed, the last two steps ask how to slay it.

4. What does an intellectual analysis of the fear tell you about the real concerns which remain?

5. What can you do to minimise, remove or step around those?

There are also techniques I use to silence the negative self-talk, replacing it with good stuff, and the chances are that this would be of most value to you. Self esteem issues are very common in our culture and quite challenging to shift, but it starts with those practical steps outlined above.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Patience & Courage

Hello Karen,

I noticed your comment about time & money not permitting you to hire a coach, and with that in mind, you might want to see the video here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqdmaBIcfAQ.

Your other common is also very interesting to read. I agree that our lives tend to be too busy. I have an allotment to tackle that one, I limit TV, I don't read newspapers, and I reserve my mornings for solitude, and I abhor almost all TV advertising.

Sometimes, making big spaces and getting good exercise are all it takes to heal a mind and a life. But sometimes, different tools are required. "The way of the world" is an interesting concept, because no two people will agree on what that way is. I think the NATURAL WORLD has its own way, and pace and truths, and they are elemental. My allotment teaches me that I'm not in control, that I will have to wait, that I must work hard, and I really value all of that (and the raspberries). Acceptance of what is  because it is - is a very valuable skill to learn, but - as the old saying has it:

"Grant me the grace to accept what I must,
the courage to change what I can,
and the wisdom to tell the difference"

. (or something similar). Most of us lack the wisdom and the courage and the tools.

In your case, your survey scores tell me you're too busy, not making progress your work/life balance is way off, you're bored, low-paid, stressed and you want to change your job. That's almost a full set Karen!

Now - do you need the grace to accept what you cannot change, or the courage to make the changes? If you're looking for the latter then I can help you.

Monday 9 August 2010

Poor Staff Performance & Motivation

Hello Richard,

I see you scored 94% so clearly you know a lot about management, but you reported poor performance and motivation by some team members, and so here are some thoughts you may find helpful.

Motivation and performance go hand-in-hand, so I'll focus on motivation.

Most people work to live, not the other way around. In fact research suggests that 60% of us HATE out jobs. So how do you build a happy, motivated team? It's all about setting the right environment. Here's my list:
  • Show consistently high standards of personal integrity In all things, show by example what kind of behaviour you expect from your team. Tell the truth, do your best, be open to feedback. Treat people consistently and fairly.
  • Run a well-organised operation in which stress is minimized It's your job to MANAGE the team. That means designing a corporate machine which works really well, in which each component (person) has a defined role which they understand and can perform well. If things are chaotic, deadlines are always pushed, the team is under-manned, poorly trained or under-equipped - that's your job to fix. Easier said than done, of course, but - that's why you're there.
  • Operate an efficient meritocracy .. in which people understand their roles, and are rewarded for their contributions. In which slackers and disruptive elements are dealt with promptly and fairly. In which age, years of service or qualifications are not the dominant factors, but contribution is. If people cannot be inspired to contribute adequately, remove them.
  • Manage through empowerment As far as sensible, delegate responsibilities downwards, but be available to support wherever necessary. Allow people to be the architects of their own destinies. Inspire them to make things better. Support a questioning, creative environment.
  • Grow the team Make structured opportunities for people to work together, to help and inspire eachother, to like eachother, to have fun together.

I can virtually guarantee that the poor motivation and performance you report is down to some failures in this list. (but I'd be interested to know if you disagree!).

Good luck with it, Richard, 

Best Wishes,

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Ring Fence The Magic

Hello Iris,

You say you struggle to take consistent action to evolve your business. You're not alone.

Running your own business can be very challenging in ways people don't understand until they try it.

The reality of being your own boss is nothing like the dream. When you're self employed you have to constantly make things happen. It's hard enough keeping it turning over, but making it grow is even harder.

One idea I use a lot with my business clients is the concept of taking time out, from working IN your business to work ON your business. So rather than running on the treadmill, get off it - walk around it, oil it, and find a way to make it run slower.

Easier said than done, and it takes what I call a structural change - so don't just say you'll try to do that, but ring-fence some time each week to do it. That's the structural change.

So - book it in your diary - a meeting with yourself - and then honour that appointment (show up for it) and treat it like a real meeting. When you're in a meeting, you don't answer the phone or the door or the email. You don't check Facebook or surf the web.

If you would find that a challenge, then you might take yourself to a different physical location. Not only is that separating you from the distractions (another structural change), it also offers you the possibility of a different mindset - less stress, the excitement of new business possibilities and a great new future.

That new creative, fun space - visited once a week - is your  engine for business growth. Do the strategic things you always lament in the rest of the week. If this new creative work needs wider actions in the rest of the week, then stitch those in around existing commitments so that they get as much YOU as the other things that you do.

There's so much more I could talk about in here, like the holy trinity - DECIMATE, DELEGATE, AUTOMATE, and building powerful strategies, and climbing out of the crud, differentiating yourself, and so on - but without knowing more about your circumstances, I'd miss the mark.

The Big Idea here today, is to ring-fence some time each week, to get out of your business and to work on it. If you can do that, your stress will go down, your work/life balance will get better, and your business will finally start to get traction and move in the directions you want it to. In other words, you'll be a successful and happy business owner.

Monday 26 July 2010


Hello Charmian,

I see you're unhappy with your job in a call centre and the lifestyle it imposes. Work takes up nearly half our waking lives and so being in a job you aren't passionate about is a waste of life, and the bleed-over affects of being unhappy at work often pollute your personal life when you get home. But most jobs feel like a trap - you need the money, you don't know what else you'd do and perhaps there's fear of change - better the devil you know - in there, too.

You've already spelled out that you hate about the job; in coaching, we take a step which most people don't bother with - we ask what you WOULD like. You might try asking yourself that now. An easy way to start is to invert your hates - so, for example, you say you feel isolated because you're older than other workers. So, presumably, you'd like to feel an integrated member of a team - you could write that down. Now - a team of what? Of people your age - or a team of all ages who respect eachother? Or what? Then you can move out - what is the team doing? How do they work? Where are they? How much are you earning? Which part of the world are you in? What are you wearing? What are you doing? And so on. Go nuts!

Most people aren't ready to take this seriously. I like a quote form the film actor Will Smith - he said:

"Being realistic is at the heart of most mediocre lives"

I love it.

So - if you can answer what you really want, you're ready for the next step - which is asking how you can get it. Again - sounds so simple it must be a pointless pie-in-the-sky trick, but it's really another essential step on the road to change. These things are not easy to do because our human minds are cluttered up with emotions like fear of change, with hidden beliefs like "I could never do any nice job", "people like me just have to graft until we retire" and so on. Then there's wavering motivation, and the busy-ness of life to distract you from your project of life change. Oh, and most people around you will be amused that you seriously think you can make a change - that doesn't help either.

So, I help my clients by addressing their concerns, supplementing their motivations, providing missing tools and skills and more. The combination of all those things makes life change happen.

That's where the real progress happens.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

No Structure in a Small Office

Hello Yvonne,

So you work in a small office and it lacks structure. I imagine things are done inefficiently and imperfectly, and repeating mistakes just add to an already unmanageable workload. It's also likely that no-one seems to care nor want to make things better. Or perhaps they're all too busy to invest in those changes. People may even see your efforts to try to drive a stake into the ground and get a handle on making things better as busy-bodying interference.

Work takes up nearly half our waking lives and so being in a job you aren't enjoying is a waste of life, and the bleed-over affects of being unhappy at work often pollute your personal life when you get home. And of course, you'll never find, let alone reach your full potential in a job you don't like. The question is - what now?

I used to turn around organisations like this for a living and I loved it, but I had positional power and that makes things easier. If you don't have power, then you must work through influence. Without knowing more about your situation and yourself it's not possible for me to give high-probability-of-success strategies, but here are some ideas for you:
  • Become popular - befriend people
  • Understand who the decision makes and influencers are
  • Understand what challenges and what goals these people have - accept them as true - however grim they may seem
  • Think about your own goals in this - what is it that you want? Be honest and be selfish
  • See how you can align your wishes with those of the key players
  • Present all of your proposals in that light - show them how it gives them more of what they want
  • Sow seeds to grow their understanding of the failure mechanisms in play
If you're not up for that, then you may be ripe for a new job - which carries it's own set of horrors, of course.

I can help with all of this.  It's what I do. But I know that many people who have not had coaching are a little sceptical about coaching. Can it work? Is it a waste of money? Will it be comfortable? And so on. If you're in that group, please use my website to explore your concerns.

Good Luck!

Tuesday 20 July 2010

God Save Us All From Corporate Jargon!

Crikey, I've been sitting here trying to re-write a jobspec from Corporate Claptrap into English.

I'm alternating between trying hard to do it, and rebelling and throwing my toys out of the pram. Why do people find the need to hide meaning in pointless wording? Well, it's to try to look smart or to fit in, I guess and frankly - I despise it. Anyone playing this game does not have the confidence to speak clearly, and that's concerning.

Check this out:
Lead on development of Personalisation agenda within the above and ensure effective skill training programme introduced for all operational staff across services.
Grammatical errors aside, I think - AND I HONESTY CAN'T BE SURE - it means that this (management) person should:
distribute elements of the corporate agenda to the team members, making sure they also get trained as needed.

So why not say so?!

Here's another chunk of guff:
Support the continuous development of quality monitoring and effective outcomes in conjunction with the management team to provide effective reporting and income generating tools.

I think, but again, I'm not completely sure, that it means:
With the management team, measure, report and improve the quality of what we do.

Jesus H. Carrumba, get me some Earl Grey Tea, and don't spare the lemon!

Thursday 15 July 2010

Trying Harder Just Doesn't Work - Try Different!

When people complete my online surveys, I often review their scores and comments and send what I hope are helpful suggestions. Since they're sufficiently annonymous, I'll start posting those here where they could help others.

Hello Martin,
You visited my website  and I see you completed a survey and I hope you found your report helpful.
I noticed your ONE THING - doing paperwork, and I have a few comments which I hope you'll find helpful.

Most of us think trying harder is a good thing to try, but in my experience it's doomed long-term. Trying harder only works as long as you're - well - trying harder. Which is to say - trying harder than you usually do, or trying harder than you find natural.
But if nothing else changes, it won't last.

In my extensive experience, it's far better to find a "structural change" to put into your life which will alter the balance of forces in which you currently settle at a place where paperwork doesn't get done.
Film stars don't generally get great bodies by promising themselves they'll workout more often, they hire a personal trainer - they put a structural change into their lives to upset the current balance. That change will knock on their door at some un-Godly hour and drag them to the gym. It will chivvy them on through those last agonising sit-ups, it'll praise them when they're low, push a little when they need it and so on.
So - back to paperwork. Paperwork and Martin. Can you see a way to alter the structural of your working life?
I often talk about the Big Three techniques:

  • Decimate 
  • Delegate
  • Automate

Decimation means destroying. Are you sure the paperwork really needs doing at all? All of it? All of it - in that way? Can you do some things to make some of it disappear forever from your life? In this computer age, can you use computers and the way you organise your work to stop doing some steps in the paperwork?
If you're finding that some of the paperwork is transferring information from one document to another, then that's certainly ripe for automation, and if you don't have those skills, you can delegate.
Delegation in these days of globalisation has never been easier. You can hire people on the other side of the world to do the paperwork you hate., or to autoate it for you. Virtual assistants are becoming commonplace - they work from home for you, via the Internet.
Making changes like these would remove the problem without the need for you to somehow find a way to motivate yourself against your nature for as long as you need it done.
The cost? It's both low and high - logically it's low, but emotionally - it's likely to be high. Resistance to change, pessimism about change, and fear of change are endemic in most of us, and they will fight to keep you in your present reality - a kind of trap.
If you can find a way to suppress those tendencies, you'll be walking out of your trap some time soon.
Oh, and coaching can help!

Many people who have not had coaching are a little sceptical about coaching. Can it work? Is it a waste of money? Will it be comfortable? And so on.

If you're in that group, please use these links to explore your concerns:

RISK There is none. You have a money-back guarantee. If you're not happy, you don't pay.
SHOW ME I have a series of videos on coaching here. You can hear my BBC Radio interviews here.
PROVE IT I have a large number of testimonials from satisfied clients.
TELL ME There are all kinds of ways to give me feedback or to talk to me here.
TRUST I have trained coaches for Europe's largest training body - the coaching academy.
I'm a magistrate on the Bedford bench. More about me here.
F.A.Q. Lot's of answers to frequently-asked questions here.

Monday 12 July 2010

Executive Coaching - Real Management

My Executive Coaching drive for 2010 has kept me very busy and I've been neglecting my readers, so I thought I'd share some of the insights we're finding with you. I hope you can find useful applications for them in your own life at work.

Executive coaching, you may recall, is for those who are building their own business and for those who manage the work of others.

With a £2m asset to manage, "Peter" came to me struggling to keep his head above water. After a chat, it became clear that one of his issues was his image of what being "in charge" ought to be. He felt that he needed his finger in every pie. If he wasn't personally involved in all that happened, how could he manage it? Since he was personally responsible for the hugely valuable asset - how could he leave anything to anyone else?

I see this a lot in my executive coaching. People get to be in charge by contributing as individuals well. When they get promoted they often don't fully grasp that they now have a new job which is entirely different in nature to their old one. They need to stop doing the old job and learn how to do the new one - those two ingredients are both key.

Let me explain.

You can manage a few people by adopting the "help me out" school of management. In this model, you're busy doing the stuff, and they stand around waiting for you to say "can you pass me that spanner?" or "how about you do this one while I do that?". If they don't do it quite right, it doesn't matter, because they're just helping out, and you can finish up for them. In this world, you get to feel better than them because you're the expert. You get frequent affirmations of your value and your superiority because you're surrounded by people who aren't as good as you. Job security and minions - life is sweet!

Then things get busier, and you're stretched a bit thinner. Now you're feeling less good about those around you who "can't get anything right", and you may struggle to keep them busy in the face of your own crushing workload. You may come to hate them for their "incompetence" and so now you're dealing with overt or suppressed aggression, and you may be stinking up the workplace with your increasing attitude problem. You may work longer to cope - evenings and weekends. You may take stuff home - but eventually, you'll crash and burn.

Fundamentally, organisations run on the "help me out" model of management are limited in the size they can grow to. The limiting factor is the manager's capacity to work extremely hard despite their staff.

Enter real management.

In this model, the manager's role is to build and maintain a machine whose components are people. These managers are not IN the machine - one of its cogs, they are OUTSIDE the machine - watching it carefully, adding cogs, moving cogs, oiling cogs, measuring how well the cogs are working together. If a good manager fell down and died, the machine would continue to run smoothly, because it is a well-designed, well-built machine. Organisations run on this management principle are infinitely scalable through a hierarchy of such managers.

That's a goal of course. Real managers in the real world are busy dedicated people. They'll usually have skills around what the machine does, but their key skills and contributions are:

* Understanding what the machine is there to do - clear thinking, open-minded
* Designing a machine which does that efficiently - creative, inventive, flexible
* Maintaining that machine and its performance in the face of possibly changing demands

Because the machine is made of people, a good manager will also be a first rate people person, which means they are:

* Someone with first class personal integrity, who can be trusted and respected
* Able to motivate people to bring their own gifts into the service of the machine
* Able to deal with conflict comfortably and efficiently

These management skills are always beneficial - whether the machine (organisation) you're managing is the staff canteen or a secret research establishment.

In Peter's case, we worked firstly, on embedding this new management model. That meant re-assigning his personal responsibilities to others, leaving him free to be a manager. Of course, telling someone they have a new task and making it a real-world fact can be a long journey or even a distant dream, so we also worked on Peter's delegation skills. There's a whole book to be written on how to delegate properly. Finally (so far) we looked at Peter's assertiveness. Many managers are conflict-averse, and this paralyses them in the face of un-cooperative staff. Organisations then crumble. An important thin g to learn is that you can be assertive without being aggressive. Shouting and swearing are not in any good manager's toolbox, but meetings, deadlines, job specs, honest discussions, and friendship are.

It's a journey. Rome wasn't built in a day, and Peter is re-building parts of himself as well as his organisation, and seems to be enjoying the process.

Are you a help me out manager? Are you struggling to delegate effectively? If so, I can help you turn your workplace into an exciting, growing, happy exploration for you and your team, and your boss will really notice the difference (he might even pay for your coaching).

Thursday 6 May 2010

Process Engineering - The Rarest Kind of Common Sense

Process Engineering is one of those management phrases which can make the eyes glaze over and your thoughts turn to chocolate - or murder.

But really, the concept is nothing more than common sense (you know - that stuff you seldom see). At its heart, process engineering is these three steps:
  1. Why are we here? What is our purpose?
  2. How do we currently do that?
  3. Can we do it better?
- and that is at the heart of all good management.

But in my experience as a business consultant, it's rare. Why? Well it's not too hard to understand:
  • People are on the treadmill, fighting to keep their heads above water, they're in fire-fighting mode, running on alligator heads. Choose your own metaphor - but they're just too busy doing what they must - to step back and look at how they do what they do.
  • People are oddly ACCEPTING of the status quo. They may not even SEE IT. I don't know why, but I've never been this way. The inefficiencies endemic in the world have always jumped up and waved at me. And I've always had a burning urge to wade in and fix stuff. Seldom a route to popularity in the queue for coffee at Starbucks. When I worked at Texas Instruments I was so fed up with how poor their IT support people were that I was a regular complainer. My boss - smart man - put me in charge of it! We turned it around. We did so well in the UK, that we took the formula to America and India and fixed those too. The failure mechanisms and their solutions - were all the same, despite massive cultural differences. But enough about me. Most folks just accept that "we do it this way because this is the way that we do it".
  • People are PROTECTIVE of the status quo. When you point out that the way things are done may not be the best way, people become defensive. They see a threat. This is about fear of change, fear of invasion and protection of ego. Even if you show them a better way, they'll resist - often in a hostile way, and if you have positional power and try to enforce the changes, these same people will find a way to make your changes fail and then they'll say they told you so.
In the face of these pressures, many managers back out pretty quickly, and in this world, new ideas come and go as flavour of the month, but real permanent change for the better never happens. These organisations are brittle and over time the changing world around them will leave them for dead.

The UK's industrial history is littered with the relics of exactly this failure mechanism. With increasing globalisation, it becomes important to compete on a global scale. Maybe you can make a good living if you're the best bread maker in Rochdale, but being the best search engine in Rochdale will get  you laughed at - you'll need to beat Google to survive.

So what do you do then? The pressures are not going to go away. If you're charged with making things better in an organisation, how do you make it happen without causing injury or mass resignations, destroying morale and burning yourself out?

That's one of the big things I can help you with in your business. Every business is different and so is every solution, but there are many common themes. It has to be a journey, but in some cases, it might take just an hour if you do it right. IN other cases, it'll be months.

If you wonder if your organisation is as lean, as efficient, as profitable, as happy, as GOOD as it can be, then you're already thinking along the right lines.

I can help you and your company with process engineering. Why not book an initial 20-minute session to explore your options with me? It's only a tenner!

Oh, and this is why working with me is so much better than conventional training.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

The Marshmallow Challenge

Almost invariably, the world of work is a world where people must work with other people.
Team colleagues, customers, bosses, and subordinates must all interact to get things done.

But human beings are complex animals. They are not pure intellects with limbs, but people - with distorted beliefs, personal agendas, fears, skills and skills gaps, grievances and more. So it's not really surprising that things don't always go well. Squabbles, rivalries, obstruction, resentments and prejudice often coalesce to form stable company cultures, and those get in the way. In the way of happiness at work, in the way of corporate growth and profitability.

Almost invariably, in my corporate work, I find two problems. One is the presenting problem and the other is the reason why the obvious solution can't easily be had. And that one's about people interacting. I often think that solving the presenting problem is 10% of the final solution, the other 90% is about stitching that solution into a world of people.

Welcome to management!

Of course, we're talking about teams here, and the photo is from a TED talk which you can find here. It describes a team building exercise in which the task is to construct the tallest tower you can in 18 minutes. You have to build it with dry spaghetti and it must support a marshmallow on top. Great fun, and - if you watch the video, you'll learn more. But if you want an organisation in which works well, you'll need more than team building exercises. You'll need to build a healthy company culture. Here's how:
  • Hire the right people. Don't hire skills, hire people. You can always add skills, but it's a tough challenge to add decency or a work ethic or to excise bitterness or a bullying mentality.Don't run an operation whose policies stink. Every single policy should be justifiable to anyone with a combination of logic and sound ethics. Any policy that can't stand up to that deserves to fall down.
  • Treat people with respect. Don't abuse people, whatever their level of contribution and whatever yours. Recognise that they're people with lives which don't necessarily revolve around the company. Listen to them.
  • Operate an open, effective meritocracy. Publicly reward high contributors and act on low contributors, which means acting in a way which is respectful whilst also addressing honestly, the issues in hand. Escalate gradually and predictably through concern and discussion through to training, re-assignment and eventual removal. The only two acceptable outcomes are (1) it's fixed or (2) they're gone - and the time span should not be more than a year and ideally far far less.
  • Make the working environment light, fun and creative. Most of that will flow naturally from the other items, but always be on the lookout for opportunities to help it along - and ask people how you can do more. Lead from the front in this.
If you get these right, you're well on the way and everything well naturally get much easier. Your company will self-organise and self-solve around your agenda and your objectives. But if you have an unhealthy corporate culture, then you can expect to need to drive like a slave, to churn staff expensively and disruptively, and to hate the process. Oh, and you won't make nearly as much money.

I can help. Feel free to contact me.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Sinking or Swimming?

One of the most common things I hear from corporate clients is that they are swamped at work. The email never stops (and most of it's crud), the interruptions never cease, there are so many things wrong that everything's inefficient.

If this is you, you're in fire fighting mode. Low efficiency, high stress, high misery. And it's a trap because you're too busy fighting fires to install sprinklers. Chances are it bleeds out into your home life too - because you'll come home stressed miserable and exhausted with no energy to enjoy what little time you have.

If you haven't already done it, it's well worth completing my online Happy At Work? Survey. The report you'll get contains a lot of useful ideas.

But today I wanted to give you some of the biggies; the ones that help almost every corporate coaching client I have to such an extent that there lives really do change. I've seen them work for people in very diverse situations - including form my recent client list: a consultant surgeon, a school head master, a teacher, a nurse and a builder.

There is a catch. They are SIMPLE (easily described) but not easy (difficult to accomplish). That's why the coaching component is often essential, but if you're not ready for the investment, then by all means try them on your own.


Improve your awareness of what you do by keeping a diary for a week. Arrange for something to go BEEP ay you every 30 minutes and when it does, record what you have done since the last beep. Perhaps you can use your computer alarms and your keyboard. Maybe it's your mobile phone and its voice recorder. Could even be a little book. People often sigh when I propose this because (a) they think it's a lot of work and (b) they feel it's pointless because they already know where their time goes. But this is not a deep reflective diary, it's a bare-bones record of activities. Entries might be a single word ("audit" or "Monday meeting"). And I guarantee you that your diary will surprise you - because your perception of how you spend your time will be horribly mistaken. At the end of your week, take a look at the facts you collected. When you really know what you really do - it's time for step 2.

Simple, huh? Ahh, I love this job. £80 please. But seriously, this IS the next step. If you're going to be less busy you have to do less stuff. The trick, of course, is to do that without getting fired. There are usually three options - think of them as your three magic wishes: Decimate, Automate and Delegate.

Decimate (strictly "divide into ten parts") means, for our purposes - to destroy. To somehow remove the need for that task to ever be done again. If any task has too little benefit to justify the cost of doing it, then switch it off. Make it go away. Forever. For example - if you keep getting email which you then have to delete - arrange to stop receiving it. Un-subscribe. If necessary, desert your email account and make a new one. If you keep going to regular meetings which serve no purpose, see if you can stop going. Go through your diary and for each task, ask if it really needs doing. If it doesn't, decimate it - if it does, move to automation.

Automation has characterised the growth of humankind for the last thousand years or so. We've developed increasingly sophisticated ways to get the job done with less personal doing. Machines do that for us - whether they are cars (get there without doing the walking thing) or computers (general purpose doers of things). You probably have a computer - what can you arrange for it to do for you? Other ways to automate include paying for everything by credit card so that your monthly spending is captured for you, paying everything by direct debit - no more cheque writing/posting queuing etc. Sometimes automation is not easy, but if it removes a task from your life permanently - then it has a lot to offer which may justify a huge investment. But if you can't automate it, you've got one of you three wishes left. Delegation.

Delegation just means give it to someone else to do. Often the tasks we find allocated to us at work are ours for very poor reasons. Perhaps the bloke who should do it is an idiot or lazy. Perhaps you got it because at the time you were new and defenceless. Re-assess. Ask yourself if you're the right person for the job - and if you're not - give it to its rightful (though doubtless ungrateful) owner. Fraught with difficulties, I'm sure - but you must expect it to get worse before it gets better. Embrace the challenge.

Well, those are the magic three. The magic is really in the doing, and that's where most people get defeated. Why not leave a comment or question and I'll address it here for you.

Kicking Things Off

Corporate Coaching

One of my 2010 goals is to increase the proportion of corporate coaching I do. As part of that effort, I'll be writing more Working World newsletters for you, with lots of free content, but I'm interested in your ideas. So - straight off the bat - thinking about your life at work - what help would you like? Just reply to this email, and jot down your thoughts - I'd love to hear from you, and I promise you a personal reply. Here's what's already available and free at my website:

The general purpose phone coaching sessions - suitable for corporate or private clients. Book an exploratory initial sessionhere.

I'll be publishing lots of free useful stuff in the newsletters to come, but first I'd like to understand what you want to see. So, find a bit more about corporate coaching below, then I very much welcome your feedback.

What Would You Change at Work?

My corporate clients use their coaching in various ways.

Improve personal skills around conflict, bullying, shyness, career progression: promotion and pay rises, confidence, nervousness, presenting, report writing, strategic thinking, metrics.Improve Management skills to facilitate happier, more productive staff, fairer meritocracies, deal with difficult people, improve motivation, delegate more effectively.

My clients' coaching is paid for in either of two ways. Some clients pay for their corporate coaching themselves, because they see the value of that investment in their working lives, which occupies half their waking lives and determines their financial and other aspects of their well-being. In these cases, the employer has no relationship with me.

For other clients the coaching is paid for by their employer, who recognises that their people are their biggest asset and their largest opportunity to make their business better in every way. In these cases, our relationship a bit more complicated. The brief may come from the employer and they may want to monitor progress closely to retain control and to assess value for money. In other cases, they may prefer a hands-off approach. As long as all parties understand and agree to the arrangement, I'm happy.

Corporate Coaching versus Training

It's easy to see why corporate coaching is so much more effective than training:



Minimal Disruption

Coaching usually takes place by phone. It's a 45-minute call once a week, and that's exactly the size of hole it punches in your working week. There is no time away from work or from home. You can be coached at your desk. Training usually requires at least half a day out of work. It may involve being offsite the whole day or longer. It may disrupt your personal as well as your work life.

No Travel Expenses

Self-evident - no travel - no travel delays or costs. Green! Variable, but if not in-house, often considerable.

Focused on Your Agenda

Coaching is one-on-one, and bespoke. I will work specifically to your brief and with you, personally - in mind. Trainers bring a prepared agenda, and they plough through it. There is often consideration given to the specifics of your company culture, your specific circumstances and personal needs.

Highly Interactive

It's more of a conversation than a lecture. We can spend much of our time exploring your thinking and reservations around what we're trying to accomplish for you. Skepticism, confusion, fears - are all addressed openly and completely. There is limited scope for question and answer, and usually, things have to be kept
at a high, non-specific level in order to retain the engagement of the audience.


Sometimes there are delicate issues to address, and these can be dealt with thoroughly and with respect and sensitivity in the coaching session. Difficult inter-personal issues can be fully explored and custom solutions developed. In a classroom setting, delegates will find it impossible to surface sensitive issues with the trainer. At the very least, this is a huge lost opportunity; it may also lose delegate buy-in and commitment.

Minimal, Controllable Commitment

Your commitment to your coaching arrangement is ONE SESSION, and in fact, my money-back guarantee means that you can claim a refund if you didn't find it useful. So, you can maintain a suck-it-and-see approach for as long as you like. You can stop it, go it alone for a time, start it again, and keep going like that - totally controllable. Getting a trainer in is usually expensive, and it's a fixed commitment. You get on,
it travels its course - you get off. You get what they sell - take it or leave it, but you will be paying for it, and when it's over,
it's over.

For all these reasons, corporate coaching offers a superior solution to making people happier and more successful at work

Frequent Questions

    How much does it cost? The price is £80 per 45-minute session plus the cost of the land line call, but for March only, to kick-start this new drive, I'm discounting £20 - to just £60 a session 
    What qualifies you to offer this service? I spent 17 years as a manager in the blue-chip multi-nationals Texas Instruments and EDS so I know a lot about how things and people work, and why they sometimes don'tI have started three successful businesses of my ownI have been a freelance lecturer and a private tutorI am a professionally life coach, and have taught leadership coaching for Europe's largest coach training organisation. I've been in coaching practice since 2003, and I've just published my first book.I have about 190 testimonials form very satisfied customers which you can review here.
    Why should I risk trying this? Firstly, there's no risk. You pay in advance, but my money-back guarantee says that if you're not happy with any session, you may claim a refund. Secondly, you're welcome to an initial chat with me so you can assess me and these services further. So - there really is no risk, and a great deal to gain.
    What about confidentiality? I am accountable to the fee-payer and (if different) you. If required I will keep both abreast of progress and issues arising. However, I must also build a personal relationship with my clients, and understand the issues they are facing, so I need to promise them confidentiality too, and I may not share all of the insights I gain from them with you if, for example, it might threaten their relationship with the fee payer. In all cases, the work I do is confidential to your organisation - I won't share that with anyone. If you have special accountability criteria, then I am happy to follow them if both you and your staff are also happy.
    Why can't I do this for myself? Well, if you are doing it, and it's working, and you're happy with it, then you don't need me. But my training, experience and external perspective will often make me someone who can take you to places you cannot get to as quickly or at all on your own.
    How long would I need you for? Some clients' projects are completed in as few as four sessions; others take far longer. You're always in charge, and of course, you can end our arrangement whenever you like.
    Do You Coach Face-to-face? Yes, but it's far more expensive. Please contact me to discuss options.

What Now?

If you are someone who wants to be happier and/or more successful at work, then you could take this further by:

Ask questions or give me feedback here or book an initial consultation with me. Or forward this to your boss to see if they might want to finance your corporate coaching If you are a business owner or supervisor and you can take this further by:

Deciding which staff you want me to help then exploring that optionwith me by replying to this emailIf you would like help managing your business or your staff, you might book an initial consultation with me.