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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Last weekend, we went to the Circus. It was a great afternoon's entertainment and no animals were harmed in the making of the show (it was an animal-free zone!)... but a couple of the people almost were!

    The skill of the performers is amazing. They make everything look so easy. The whip-cracking guy did quite a few tricks including tying a knot in his whip with a simple flick of his wrist. It looked so easy (and just a little unimpressive) that no-one clapped. So he did it again, and again and again. Clearly it isn't easy at all, but we didn't realise that.

    The high wire act was very impressive - two of the guys actually did a backwards roll on the perfect synchronisation! But although we were impressed, I'm not sure we truly understood how difficult this act was. When one of the performers fell whilst skipping on the wire, it became very evident how close to edge these performers are every single time they perform their act. Don't worry - he caught the wire, hoisted himself back up and did the trick again to a thunderous round of applause.

     high wire

    It made me realise that being brilliant (or even good) at things isn't always fully appreciated. As managers, it's easy to take good performers for granted. (In the same was as schools seem to heap praise on more difficult/less able students and just leave those who consistently perform and behave well to their own devices). It's only when those top performers don't perform that we truly appreciate what they do day in, day out. After the high-wire man fell, I bet there was a heated debrief after the show to discuss went wrong. I wonder if they have similar debriefs on the majority of days when everything goes well?

    It takes effort, commitment and continuous development to do things well all the time. Because some people (whether in a circus or a more usual work environment) make it look easy, it often goes un-noticed. A once a year 'pat on the back' at the annual appraisal isn't enough. Good performers need to be appreciated, encouraged and thanked on a regular basis. Giving (positive) feedback , having regular one-to-ones, and celebrating success is just as important in performance management as the annual appraisal, giving negative/constructive feedback and creating performance development/improvement plans. A 'little and often' approach to performance management is far more effective than more traditional approaches.

    If your managers need help we have a wide range of bite-size training sessions on performance management that may just help get you started.

  6. I noticed a tweet last week that suggested that people don't buy training... they buy aspiration. Because I was delivering that day, I didn't get chance to investigate further. However, I understand that training may sometimes be a 'reluctant' a maintenance contract on your PC: We want what it will do for us, not what it actually is. We train people so that bad things don't happen or to improve the current situation.

    In the same way, people don't like buying training materials (even when they are great value). Maybe they see it as a failure on their part. Maybe the feel they ought to be doing it themselves. Maybe the topic is genuinely very specific to them and off the shelf materials are just too generic. maybe they can't justify the expenditure. Maybe they are worried about losing control. I get it. I really do.

    However, designing great training (and associated detailed training materials) is time consuming. If you earn £30k per year, your salary alone is around £15 per hour (and then there are all the other benefits to consider), so a conservative estimate is £20 per hour. You spend 3 days (24 hours) designing a piece of training (which is again, conservative). The direct cost is £480. But what about indirect costs? What about all the other things that aren't getting done whilst you are engaged in design?

    Sometimes it makes more sense to buy in training materials and spend far fewer hours tailoring it to your organisation... especially when you can buy licence free editable materials from just £50. Doesn't it?

    Training materials

  7. It's a tough one isn't it?

    Of course, there are certain aspects of everyones job where training IS (and should be) compulsory. Anything that covers working safely or is critical to core processes is quite rightly considered non negotiable.

    But what about other skills, like communication, managing people and personal effectiveness?

    Over the years, as a society, we've become more choice driven. Overall this is a great thing. We are all adults and most of us are capable of making good choices for ourselves. Sometimes we don't. Maybe this is because we don't like some of the options, we don't see the value or it's simply not a priority. How many times have we seen the senior manager opt of out performance management training because they 'know how to do it'? But they don't know how to do it well, and this has ramifications across the organisation.

    Maybe it's just because we are comfortable where we are. It's nice in our comfort zone isn't it?

    Over the school holidays my kids were more than happy to stay at home all day playing Minecraft, watching Horrible Histories and jumping on the trampoline. It was nice and comfortable for them. Familiar. It took no effort. When I suggested doing something different they were often reluctant (unless it was expensive and involved the chance of ice-cream of course!).

    Increasingly bored and frustrated, I took a more assertive approach. I took away their choice. "This afternoon we're going orienteering" I declared one day last week.

    "But WHY???"

    "It's boring"

    "I don't want to go orienteering"

    "Why can't we just stay here?"

    But go we did, and by the time we were hunting for our third marker, Minecraft, TV and boredom were forgotten. They were racing around, smiling and laughing, fighting over who got to read the map to find the next marker, and when we had finished they were surprised that it was over so quickly. They didn't want to go home, so we extended the visit to include half an hour on the playground (also deemed 'boring' eariler in the day).

    As with many things, it was the getting started that was hard. Once they HAD started, they created their own momentum.


    Isn't that often the way with training too? People find any and every excuse not to go unless their job literally depends on it. But when they do (reluctantly) attend, the vast majority of people find it useful and enjoyable.

    So whilst the adult in me says that people should be free to choose whether to attend training and which training they want, another part of me knows that often people don't know what's good for them until they have the benefit of hindsight.

    So how do we get the balance right? Answers on a postcard (or orienteering post) please!


  8. I've just returned from a PGL holiday. For those unfamiliar with PGL the basic idea is that it's an outdoor activity camp for kids: Abseiling, Kayaking, Climbing etc. Most of their 'business' is school groups throughout term time, but in the summer they open the centres up to families...who get exactly the same programme delivered in exactly the same way!

    There were about 120 people in the 'families' group, and we were split into groups of 12. We were so lucky to have 6 adults and 6 kids in our group and we all got on (always a bonus!). We did all our activities together. As the week went on, our knowledge of each other, friendship and trust grew. We manhadled each other over obstacles, gave each other tips and advice, cheered when people succeeded, 'pushed' each other when we felt hesitant and commiserated when we failed. As a result, we got tiny people to the top of 'Jacobs Ladder', got people scared of heights abseiling, and even the more reticent actively involved in every activity in some way or another. That's what doing things together, with support, challenge, peer pressure and encouragement does for you. I would have happily passed up the opportunity to do the 'Trapese' if it had been offered as an individual activity. Another lady would not have abseiled if she hadn't learned to trust us, and feel happy that we wouldn't judge her if she changed her mind. Another only went on the 'giant swing' so she didn't let her daughter down.

    That's also why, in this wonderous technological age when so much learning can accessed anytime anywhere, I still believe in getting people together in a group for training. When we learn together we share ideas, we build friendships and support networks, we encourage each other, we feel the 'peer pressure' and so have a go at things that we might not if we were alone as we don't want to let the group down. We push ourselves and IF we fail, we are commiserated with, and when we succeed we celebrate success together. Of course, learning together is also more FUN and ultimately more memorable because we remember the 'non-learning' stuff too, and this creates more pathways in our brains to retain and retrieve what we HAVE we learned.

    Time and organisation is always a factor with group training, but you don't need to go on a 5-day residential. You don't even need a full day. Getting people together for a short 1-2 hour session that is interactive, challenging and practical will almost always leave more of an impression that 2 hours of solo learning. Also, people are far more likely to have 'had a go'. This means the learning is more likely to retained, and therefore more likely to be applied. Isn't that what training is all about?


  9. Like many busy working parents I juggle things. A lot. Thankfully, I'm not a perfectionist or I think I'd be permanently stressed. Instead, I do 'enough' of the the things that matter to keep things working properly. For example:

    • I get my car serviced and periodically check that oil, water and typre pressures are OK... though I don't keep it partcularly clean or tend to minor scratches.
    • I take around 2.5 hours exercise a week, generally eat balanced meals and keep my weight in the healthy range...though I do eat too many crisps and cheese and am a bit wobbly in places.
    • I pull out the big weeds, chop the ivy down (often!) and make sure the lawn is mowed....though our borders are wonky, the paving stones dirty, and there are ALWAYS small weeds popping up.


    I do enough to keep things working as they should: My car, my body, my garden. They aren't perfect: I could hoover and polish my car from time to time; I could stop eating unhealthy snacks; I could weed more often; but I look after them enough. If I don't, I'm going to get problems.

    The same is true with teams. 

    Managers often feel under enourmous pressure to build and maintain a perfect team, and whilst this is a great aim, you don't need to be Mr Motivator or Miss Inspirational to build a GOOD team i.e. one that works. 

    Like my car and my body, it's about making the sure that the team has everything it needs to function well. Things such as:

    • Clarity of purpose
    • Good communication
    • Clear roles and expectations
    • Good working relationships
    • A common way of working


    If you concentrate on giving your team what they NEED, you give them the possibility of developing into something more. Without the basics in place, you are likely to run into problems sooner or later.

    We have 2 packages aimed at Building Teams: Practical Team Building and High Performing Teams - Buy both together and get both for £60 (PDF versions) or £100 (Editable versions). Simply follow these links:


  10. I'm writing this on my iPad NOT because I'm showcasing how mobile I am, but because I've infected my office PC, and it's currently in its 5th hour of surgery :-/
    I'd been having problems with my internet explorer, so I decided to download it again. By mistake I downloaded a chameleon programme which caused chaos. Luckily, I realised I had made a mistake quite quickly. Even more luckily, I have insurance and support, which meant that one call to the PC Support Group, complete with a full confession of what I'd done, has allowed them to set to work putting things right before the virus spreads.
    We all make bad decisions and do the wrong thing from time to time. If you are new in a role, you will almost certainly make mistakes. It's normal. However, to stop a mistake turning into a disaster, we need to recognise it, stop making things worse, and ask for help.
    For some reason, many people (particularly people promoted internally to a management position) feel that asking for help is a sign of failure or weakness. It isn't. It's a sign of maturity. To recognise that you have made a mistake in the first place takes a level of self-awareness. To decide to NOT to try and solve it yourself (unless of course you know the solution) shows rational thinking. To ask for help shows a willingness to learn and collaborate.
    I work with many first line managers and their line managers. I can't bring to mind a single Area Manager or Department Head who would rather deal with a problem that's got out of hand and escalated, than a mistake that's just occurred. Of course, they would all prefer not to deal with any mistakes at all, so taking time to ask advice and develop our skills is the best option. But second best is owning up when we've made a mistake and asking for help as soon as possible: Damage limitation and a learning opportunity all rolled into one.