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  1. If you are certain age, you may well remember Cathy Dennis. She had short but credible pop career in the 1980s, and then she disappeared.

    But she only disappeared from public view. She still has a thriving career in the music industry as a song writer. She has written songs for a host of highly successful pop artists over the years including Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, The Spice Girls, Little Mix, Katy Perry, S Club 7, Will Young, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and makes her living that way.

    She was a good performer, but maybe it didn’t satisfy her as much as writing. Maybe the touring just wasn’t for her. So she’s decided to support other performers by giving them decent songs to showcase their talents. Maybe these other performers write songs – but perhaps they aren’t GREAT songs. By taking a song written by Cathy, they can still have an involvement in the writing process by adapting it and making it their own, and making sure it plays to their personal strengths.

    little mix

    And that’s what I do. I am a credible ‘performer’ (trainer) but I would rather support other trainers who have the potential to be great if they have the right material to work with. Our Power Hour materials act as the raw song – the person who will perform it can edit it and adapt it to make it their own – add those little flourishes that they know will work well with their audience.

    So why not cut down your writing time? Take something good that’s already been written and make it your own. If it’s good enough for Kylie Minogue, The Spice Girls and Little Mix, surely you can do the same?

    And at the moment, theres an opportunity to get ANY of our standard sessions completely free - simply enter the draw here

  2. So, you want to lose weight, get fitter?

    Do you have a whole day of mad exercise and salad, and then consider your work is done for the year? I doubt it. You know that one intense day may have benefits, but on its own, it will do nothing apart from leave you exhausted (and hungry!).

    exercise

    So why do people think this approach will work when they want to develop their staff? Is it REALLY going to be beneficial sending them on a one or two day course that overloads them with information and ideas? No matter how useful it is, they will come away exhausted and overwhelmed.

    Surely, in both cases, a ‘little and often’ approach will bring better results in the long term? A little exercise a few days a week combined with healthy eating is proven to be the best way to lose weight and get fitter. Similarly, short, regular ’just-in-time’ training interventions help people to absorb learning and develop their skills and knowledge over time.

    A monthly formal bite-size training session (like our Power Hour sessions), combined with self-directed learning, coaching conversations and feedback all add up to increase competence and confidence in a workforce. Crucially, they don’t overwhelm or exhaust the employee.

    Over the year, it probably takes no longer that an intensive 2-day course, but the results will be far better.

  3. I'm pretty good at managing my time, but like many things, I've only truly gotten the hang of it when I hit my 30s and had kids. My husband and I parent without a safety net (AKA extended family) so we are superb at planning and scheduling: Some days it can quite literally be one in one out, but our ability to organise things has always served us well. Of course, it's one thing planning, organising and scheduling, but the REAL trick to making it all work is to be reliable. We have to totally trust each other to do what we say we will, when we say we will.

    This is kind of background to the point I want to make.

    When I run Time Management workshops, the recurring problem is how to fit more in to an already overstuffed diary. People feel stressed and never seem to finish their to-do lists. I am not stressed and I always complete what I need to complete (barring illness or natural disaster). That's because I'm realistic.

    • I'm realistic about how long things take
    • I'm realistic about my abilities
    • I'm realistic when setting goals and agreeing outcomes with clients.

    I'm lucky I know. I work for myself so it's easier for me to take control of my workload than those who get work allocated from someone else and that undoubtedly helps.

    But my work is largely creative, and creativity doesn't tend to stick to schedules (Which can very difficult to explain to the highly qualified PRINCE2 project manager you are liasing with). Just yesterday my brain didn't properly switch on until 4pm, and then it was pretty much time to fetch the kids and go into 'mum' mode. I'd faffed around for 6 hours yet had little to show for it. 

    Today I've been a lot more focussed. I've cracked on, and if tomorrow is the same I'll have totally caught up with where I expected to be at the end of Wednesday.

    So you are probably thinking that if I can do 3 day's work in 2, I'm under-utilised. Surely I could do more work? Aren't I taking the mickey and slacking off?

    My feeling is 'NO'.

    I've been in this game long enough to know that I have brain dead days, and computer-problem days, and days when clients don't get back to me and days when I need to tend to some domestic emergency. So I factor it in. No point in pretending that it isn't going to happen, it is, so I plan for it.

    That's why I always build in the 'buggeration factor' and never allocate more than 80% of my time. If I've got 4 days work planned in a week, my diary is full. Because something will cause a set back during the week. We don't live in an ideal world, we live in a real world, and real world planning takes imperfect things into account.

    So, my top 3 tips for stree-free time management are:

    1. Be realistic about how long you have and how long things actually take (not ought to take)
    2. Set realistic goals - ones that you are 99% sure you can achieve
    3. Build in the buggeration factor

    And if you want to run an interactive bite-size training session to help people plan their time better, we have everything you need!

  4. I’ve been struggling to write a bite-size training module on Resilience for over a year because resilience is natural to me. It’s like asking Adele how to sing, or David Beckham how to play football. They just do it.

    In trying to pin point why I’m so resilient, a number of factors come to mind:

    1. I have to be. I left home for university at 18, and (initially at least) being surrounded by strangers, I had to look after myself. There was no-one to come to my rescue if things went badly. This has continued. Though married to a massively supportive husband, it’s just us two. We don’t live close to family and we’ve moved around a bit meaning we don’t have long-standing close friends. It’s just us. We have to just deal with whatever life throws at us in the best way we can. There really is no point crying when things go wrong and waiting for someone to come to my rescue. No-one (other than my husband) will, and he can’t always do that. I must be able to get myself out of my own holes.

    2. I’m quite unemotional. Not to Mr Spock levels; I do experience happiness, sadness, frustration etc, but I’m not one of these people who experiences massive highs and lows (sometimes many times in a day – how do people cope with constant emotional rollercoaster?). I struggle to understand why people go into mourning all over again every anniversary of a loved one’s death. I mourn when the people I love die, but then it’s in the past. Likewise, I find it odd when people seem ecstatic over minor good news. Recently my car was broken into, and although I knew I should be angry or upset, but I wasn’t. I was annoyed though… my first thought was “Darn – now I can’t go to the cheese shop as planned” followed by “who do I need to tell about this to sort it out?”, which leads me to the third point…

    3. I’m practical. As is my husband. When I discovered Stephen Covey’s Circle of Concern I identified with it immediately: When faced with the unexpected, my reaction is always “what can I do about this?”. Eighteen months ago I had two large projects lined up for two different clients: One of the clients called me to apologise that it was going to have to be cancelled due to a budget review. The very next day the other client called cancelled due to major re-organisation and the fact that she was being made redundant. My reaction was to make a cup of tea, take a moment and then contact a consultancy I have a relationship with to ask if there was any associate work going. There was a little, and I was grateful for it. I can only do what I can do. These contracts were gone and I needed to find alternative work, so I did.

    4. I accept change quickly. This is related to the first 3 points. I was a bit concerned about my lack of emotion, but then realised very recently that I simply move through the ‘change curve’ very quickly – sometimes in a matter of minutes. So yes, I DO experience anger, depression etc. but they are fleeting: My (logical and practical) brain is able to quickly get to the ‘testing/bargaining’ phase and work with the new reality.

    I’m still not sure how to put this into a bite-size training module, but later in the year when I have less commissioned work, I will try.

  5. Firstly, I'm not going to use this blog as a way to express my own political views or feelings about the decision of the UK to leave Europe, so you can all relax.

    Instead, I'm going to focus on the reactions to that decision: Within households, workplaces, social media sites, more traditional media and thoughout government, the Reaction to Change (Grief) curve could not be clearly illustrated. Those who wanted to remin feel angry. Those who voted to leave feel shock. These are strong emotions and whilst these emotions are so raw, we can't act rationally. We need time to process what's happened, and to work out what that means for us (not what politicians or biased press will have us believe it will mean for us). When we've processed that, we can start to THINK about what the change means as opposed to FEELING it.

    Once we've thought about it, properly, we can start to think about behaviours, and what we can do now to make things better for ourselves, and make this decision work.

    This is one of the biggest and most fundamental changes I've ever experienced. Other big changes in my life - having children, setting up a business, moving across the country have all had a lot of preparation time and that makes things easier. Big changes without proper preparation are always going to be harder.

    Within organisations, there are rarely changes on this scale, and when there are, they are usually planned, controlled and managed with one message being clear, as opposed to multiple conflicting ones flying around. But people still feel shock, anger, depression and confusion, as well as maybe a little excitement, curiosity and hope. During this emotive phase, there will be conflict: It's normal and can be healthy as long as it's managed and doesn't become personal or damaging. With time and support, people adapt. Without either, the change will be destructive. Therefore, managers need to understand what happens to people as they experience change, and be able to provide the right sort of support at the right time.

    As this topic is so 'hot' right now, if you buy both Change training modules; Manage The Impact of Change and Handle Resistance to Change in the next 4 weeks, we will send you our Module on Managing Conflict free of charge. (Offer ends 22nd July 2016, Manage conflict sent via email once payment for Change Modules is made).

  6. Anyone who knows me personally, or has read a number of my blogs, will know that I LOVE Zumba.

    Last year when my then Zumba Instructor decided to stop teaching it in favour of a form of glow-in-the-dark 'rave' aerobics, I found another Zumba class...and I was very happy doing what I loved doing twice a week.

    However, times change. New things come along and some people get bored easily. Now my new instructor decided to drop one of the Zumba classes in favour of Clubbercise. Devastated may be strong word, but I was really saddened by this. Afterall, I'd been here before. I'd tried the alternative and I didn't like it. 

    I realised that I was going through the classic reaction to change (grief) curve which is covered in our 'Manage the Impact of Change' Power Hour.

     change curve

    At first, I tried to ignore the facebook messages that cubbercise was coming soon (immobilisation). Even when the instructor went on her course, I convinced myself that she would do classes on a different day. This new-fangled nonsense wouldn't affect me (sounds like denial doesn't it?). Then she announced that my class was being replaced. Anger! My immediate reaction was "Well, I'll find another class", "I won't go on principle, then she'll HAVE to switch it back to Zumba". I'd tried this sort of thing before and didn't like it. However, I soon found that alternative classes were either on at times I couldn't get to them, or were run by instructors that simply aren't energetic enough for me. So...that helped me towards 'bargaining'. Maybe this class would be different to the one I'd tried before. It was being run by a different person afterall. So I convinced myself that I would attend 2 classes, just to support the instructor, and find out if it was going to be as bad as I expected.

    So I went. Trying to keep an open mind, but struggling. BUT because I knew I was going through the change curve I was able to keep my feelings in perspective.

    The class was OK. Better than I expected. So, I find myself hitting 'depression' - that Zumba is unlikely to be reinstated, at the same time as 'testing' - I'm genuinely giving Clubbercise a go.

    So why is it so hard to adapt to change?

    dancing-273875_1280

    In our 'Handle Resistance to Change' Power Hour we explore how resistance to change is often due to us experiencing a loss of some sort. We explore 5 typical losses that are often the underlying the reason for resistance. I took a look at them. Maybe my resistance was due to a loss of security (familiarity) or status (I'm good at it) - but whilst these may be a factor, they aren't the main reason. The main reason is that I really REALLY enjoy Zumba. I love the variety of music, I love the routines. So maybe this should also be taken into account when we meet resistance to change: Enjoyment. Enjoyment is something we feel - It can't be rationalised, reasoned with, or explained away. So maybe when managers need to introduce change that takes away people's enjoyment, they perhaps need to consider this in their approach. Accept how people feel, be empathetic, give them time, find similarities between what is new and what is old (even though the music is different, around half the moves are the same in Clubbercise, which helps a bit), be supportive but accept that sometimes people won't be willing to make the chance and they will look for satisfaction elsewhere.

  7. painting

    I was fortunate to spend the afternoon with an artist last week. We talked about much including taste, preferences and inspiration. We discussed how (although we operate in different worlds) we both experience the joy of creative flow and the pain of the dreaded 'block'.

    We also discussed the concept of effort and how time spent creating something is somehow interpretted as it's worth. A painting that took weeks to create (because of the numerous re-starts) seems to be valued more by her customers than one she manages to paint in a single day.

    Of course, she only has the talent to paint a picture in a day because of her skill, experience and years of practice and learning what works and what doesn't. 

    As a potential customer, I will choose to buy a painting (or not) based on whether I like it enough to pay the price attached. The process to get to the end result is pretty much irrelevant.

    I have similar challenges as a training designer: Some people seem to think they should only be paying for the amount of time I spend typing out the materials, as if this is all that's involved in creating them. Sometimes I CAN create training materials quickly: when the desired outcomes are clear, when I've got years of experience and material to draw on, when I'm in the 'zone', and my brain is firing on all cylinders. Other times I have to do lots of new research, can go round in circles scoping out the session, and have multiple re-writes before I'm happy. The process shouldn't affect the value of the end result. Does it really matter if I did it in a day or a week?

    What SHOULD matter is the value placed on the end result. Which is why, when writing bespoke material, I tend to charge an 'average' price (typically 3 days design for a 1 day session) knowing that sometimes I will get it done in 2 days and other times it will take at least 5. The value is on the outputs, not the input.

    The fact is, lots of people can write a good training session if they have the time and inclination. Most of my clients certainly could. The question is, can they write it for better value? With Power Hour material, the answer is 'No': Each session takes 1-3 days to write, and I doubt that anyone could argue that it was more cost effective to spend an average of 2 days creating material when you can buy it for just £30.

  8. As my kids get older, I’ve noticed that the Hawthorne effect (first cited in 1958, but relating to studies conducted in the 1920’s & 30’s) is very much alive and well.

    Both of them have participated in sport of some kind or another since they started school. They do it mostly for fun, but there is also a small part of them that wants to be really good (especially in my son’s case). My son has both tennis and badminton lessons; my daughter, trampolining. They are both good (but not outstanding) in their chosen sports.

    In both the tennis and trampolining, the club is happy to take the money and they go through the motions of coaching them. The kids enjoy their time, but they aren’t passionate and although they do improve, its only slowly. The coaches spend more time with the kids (or parents) who demand their attention or have extra (private) lessons.

    In badminton, my son has been given lots of attention and praise by his coach. We get regular feedback on his progress too. He has been actively encouraged, challenged and supported from the beginning. As a result, his performance has improved at a much greater rate than in other sports, and his motivation and commitment to badminton has also increased. This of course, brings more attention from the coach, which means his performance improves, and encourages us to let him have more lessons. It’s a virtuous circle.

    virtuous circle

    Maybe managers should treat all their team members as potential champions, even when their performance is nothing special. Maybe the attention, support and challenge will motivate someone to try just a little bit harder and perform just that little bit better, just as it did in the original Hawthorne study. We all need to feel that someone is rooting for us; that we want to make someone proud.I’m not sure if my son has more natural talent for badminton than tennis, but his performance is certainly better. I don’t know if his performance led to the extra coaching support, or if the extra coaching support led to his improved performance: All I know is that the two are clearly linked and that this 'virtuous cycle' runs both ways.

    Setting goals, giving regular feedback, coaching, and motivating people are fundamental responsibilities of a coach…and of a manager. They are the things that result in high performance. If your managers need help getting into these habits, our bite-size training modules can help. Little, frequent boosts can make a huge difference to everyone's performance.

  9. The latest views doing the rounds in enlightened HR circles is that we should scrap the annual performance appraisal. It’s not for me to say whether we should or shouldn’t, but I’m always very wary of sweeping statements like this, and how the headlines can be misleading. At the CIPD conference yesterday I was debating the issue with people more ‘HR’ than me, and we quickly agreed that performance management in any organisation has a lifecycle: Some organisations perhaps don't need a formal appraisal process...but some do.

    Small organisations tend not to have anything formal in place at all. That’s fine.

    Then as the business grows, it’s decided that for consistency, performance reviews should take place. Great! So, a simple process and structure is put in place. Some people embrace it, and some people ignore it.

    At this point, someone high up tends to decide that the procedure needs to be more robust and enforced. So the process become more complex and completing a performance review/appraisal becomes mandatory. This is when performance review is at its most painful and adds the least value as people progress through what is essentially a paper exercise.

    However, we agreed that this stage is pretty much necessary. People have to get into the habit of having these meetings. In our experience it takes 3-5 years of ‘forcing’ people to have conversations (even stilted ones) before they accept that performance review is a normal part of management.

    When you get to THIS stage, you can start to dispense with the rigidity and formality. Now you can start to concentrate on giving managers the skills to have high quality coaching conversations, and the managers will be more receptive: if they have to have these discussions anyway, they might as well get value from them.

    When the quality (and complexity) is in the conversation, the process can be simplified until eventually, there’s no ‘formal’ process in place at all, just a culture of having meaningful feedback and coaching conversations as part of everyday work.

    That middle stage is difficult, frustrating and of limited value, but it is necessary in most organisations. It can be made a little easier if managers are trained in theskills of performance review rather than the process. Focussing on skills will also help to shorten the time it takes to get managers ready for the next stage.

    And you’ll be pleased to know that we can help with this via our performance management training bundle: Bite-size sessions that you can download and run yourself covering all of the basic skills required.

  10. In September and October I've had the pleasure of running Train the Trainer workshops again. The bonus with these is that a third day was added (a few weeks after the the initial 2 days) so delegates could design and deliver their own short training session. I learned loads...incuding how using bowls of crisps can bring statistical principles to life!

    crisps in training

    I'm pleased to report that everyone found the sessions worthwhile and got something out of them.

    The most glaring learning point (even for me as an experienced trainer) was how much learning takes place when people actively get involved in exercises.

    I summarised it by comparing this to the TV work of the wonderful Professor Brian Cox. I understand what he explains on his TV science shows. I really do. That is I can follow it and it all makes sense at the time. BUT:

    • Could I explain it to someone else so that they would understand?
    • Can I use this understanding in a real life situation?
    • Would I remember it in a month's time?

    The answer to all of these questions is "no"... yet I 'understand' it at the time.

    Of course, this also relates to having behavioural objectives attached to training. The company I was working with has a lot of professional services within in. They use 'understand' as a learning objective a lot. They are often pushed for time in training sessions and have a lot of content to get through. As a result, their 'training' sessions are typically briefing sessions with the opportunity to ask questions. It was pleasing to see them realise that this isn't enough. It doesn't mean people have learned, so a different, more active approach is needed to really switch on those lightbulbs and achieve REAL understanding.

    Activities aren't fluffly, childish or a 'nice to have' - they are fundamental to the learning process. That's why every single Power Hour Training session includes at least 2 of them to help bring the learning to life.