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.