Saturday, 21 February 2015

Road Signs: an important lesson for businesses!

If you're anything like me as a driver; you'll have 3 points on your license (for speeding), you'll have attended 2 speed awareness courses in the last 5 years, and yet, you'll still have the audacity to complain about the speeding idiots who race down your road! To be fair, I'm much better now that I used to be and the speed awareness courses were more interesting than I expected ... and at least I'm open about my motoring-related hypocrisy!

Recently, I've noticed that somewhere in the Highways Agency, there's a creative genius who could teach many businesses a thing or two about marketing.

Do you experience those moments when you're coasting along the motorway; you've made good progress, you're keeping an even speed of 80mph, you're already tasting the cold beer waiting for you in the fridge and you're seriously keen to get home from the long day you just had?

But then, out of nowhere, the dreaded signs appear and your imaginary cold beer is replaced with real cold sweat. It's bad news, there's roadworks ahead and for 3 whole junctions, it's a 50 mph limit because where there's roadworks, there's workman/people: not gremlins in yellow coats who delight in your inconvenience, just decent, honest and hard working folk who wish they were on their way home too!

You groan, you curse your luck and depending on how much of a rush you're in, you keep to 55mph, maybe 60mph, pushing the boundaries as far as possible without risking a fine. Whichever way you look at it, those red signs are just so unfair and given the barriers between you and the workmen anyway, what does it matter if you're going at 60mph or 65mph rather than 50mph?

Now, imagine the same situation but instead of a number circled in red, you see this on the motorway instead:

If you're anything like me, your heart skips a beat and instantly you kill the speed. In fact there's no question of you pushing the boundaries and in spite of the rush you're in, it seems fair enough: after all, who wants to risk taking out Alex's daddy?

The difference between the road signs is simply this:  
  • One is just a boring statement on a placard with limited impact.
  • The other conveys a deeply emotional message which stirs our hearts and compels us to take action.  

When you think about the message you convey to your customers and prospects (which includes the people you meet at your networking breakfasts, your Linkedin connections, your Facebook likers, twitter followers and circled folk on Google+) do you convey the equivalent of a boring statement on a placard? Or an imaginative message which stirs hearts and inspires action?


When you think about your marketing message, whether you intend to convey it digitally or in person, rather than think about your business function and the features you offer, ask yourself two key questions:

1) What would happen to my customers if my business and industry did not exist?

2) What becomes possible for my customers because I exist?

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Thursday, 19 February 2015

A recipe for disaster or a blue-print for success? How 1 team defied the odds!

As part of my work, I deliver the HR and people development support to a brilliant charity in Bromsgrove. One of their key services is the recycling and resale of unwanted furniture and in January 2014, I was tasked with developing a team of volunteers, to work in the woodwork workshop, a well-stocked space, specifically designed to accommodate a team of up to 5-6 carpenters/workers.

The team now has 8-9 people and continues to face some significant challenges:
  • As volunteers, they're of mixed ability and volunteer with different agendas. Some are retired and just want to contribute to society, some have mental health challenges and regard woodwork as part of their therapy, others are encouraged to be there by the job centre (ie - "if you don't volunteer, you'll lose your benefits ... you decide!") 
  • Of those seeking jobs, the best will only be with us for a short period of time for the simple reason that they find jobs relatively quickly. Therefore, there's a high turnover of volunteers, and it's usually the best performing job-seekers who we lose. This presents a merry-go-round of new faces for the core members of the team as well as challenges to the quality of service we're trying to offer.
  • There's currently no funds to pay for a manager/leader/team leader/supervisor. Essentially, they see me as their manager and physically speaking, I'm remote, because I don't specifically work in the woodwork team and I'm only present on site for a short period of time each week. Thus there is a low level of accountability or any sense of central leadership.
  • The team is fragmented because the volunteers all attend on different days. Whilst there is a core team of 8, those volunteers who attend only on Mondays will never meet those who attend on Thursdays and Fridays. How do you create unity in such a team? How do you set inspirational team goals which draw in the team? How do you create a smooth hand-over of work between volunteers? The problem is exacerbated by the fact that as volunteers, whilst they favour a set pattern of days, sometimes, they simply show up and leave whenever they want, something which can lead to a 'chaotic' atmosphere.

In spite of these challenges, a vibrant and united team has emerged, producing a superb quality of work within a positive and harmonious working culture. When issues do arise, they generally sort them out with the minimum of fuss. They're the perfect example of a successful 'agile' team although if you asked them what an agile team was, they wouldn't have a clue what you were talking about!

There are some specific reasons why this team is so successful and these reasons provide some useful insights for leadership in general:

Lesson 1) Cautious and Comprehensive Recruitment Process

Part of our mission as a charity is to assist those furthest from the job market, (ie, we'll use just about anyone as a volunteer - whoever you are and whatever's gone wrong for you!) but the woodwork team is different. It's the one team where I'm fussy as to who I recruit because they're the only team without a designated leader.

For the woodwork team, I'll only recruit people with strong technical skills otherwise I'm putting undue pressure on my team and any new volunteer MUST have a 'coachable' mindset: essentially, a blend of humility, general positivity, a desire to get on with people and a good working attitude. There's no room for slackers in the woodwork team. In other parts of the project, I'm more patient in working to develop slackers, but not woodwork. 

Once they've been accepted into the team, I'm clear about what I want and how the team functions so there's no misunderstanding as to what it means to volunteer in the woodwork team. 

Lesson 2) Servant Leadership 

If you'd have told me I'd be leading a woodwork team at some stage in my life, I'd have wondered which illegal substances you were taking! I failed my GCSE in Craft and Design at the age of 16 and I've not improved much since. So rather than point out where people are going wrong (I wouldn't know even if they were), I bring them cups of tea, chat to them about their lives, admire their work and check what they need from me. Such informal chats have led to improvements in Health and Safety and general working practice and this has required them to change how they work. However, the change process has been painless because they've driven it, spurred on by my non-threatening questions and genuine concern for their well-being. 

They recognise that I exist to serve them and I deliver on my promises (big and small). It's no surprise that in seeing how their leader treats them, they pass on the same behaviour to each other. 

Lesson 3) Positive coaching environment  

They work autonomously and are allowed to experiment with techniques and ideas (so long as it doesn't endanger their safety). If their experiment goes wrong, we look at what we can learn and move on. As a result, they don't stop chatting (about their work) and there's a constant flow of education among the team, something which underpins a great pride in what they produce. They don't need to be told to work hard or be more focused because the pride in their work takes care of this. 

Lesson 4) Humble team spirit  

There's some serious skills in that team, but it's fascinating to see that no one brags about what they do. They encourage each other, recognise that each has more to learn and are very welcoming to new volunteers. It's wonderful to see their obvious delight when a colleague has produced yet another brilliant piece of work, whether it's restoring a rocking chair or bringing a wardrobe back to life and saving it from landfill. This culture characterises the team but I believe it's been born out of lessons 2 and 3. 

Lesson 5) Systems (simple, safe and sensible)

Given the chaotic nature of attendance, the high turnover of quality team members, the tight working space, the range of hazardous power tools and overwhelming workload, the role of effective systems is vital. We regularly review our processes so the chaos is minimised and does not evolve into foggy confusion.  Our systems and procedures must be simple, safe and sensible, yet also have the potential to be easily re-shaped so that as the team grows, changes are gradual and constant rather than infrequent and catastrophic! It's one of my tasks as the leader to stay on top of the systems and help the team develop them in line with their own evolution. 

Lesson 6) Clear sense of why they're individually & collectively priceless!

Some volunteers in the team will never meet each other, but they all understand the crucial purpose of why their team exists. It's made clear to them at the beginning of the recruitment process and is constantly re-enforced by me, the rest of the leadership team at the charity and by the other woodwork volunteers. Because of the volunteers, the charity saves on landfill and after restoring the furniture back to it's original state, it's sold at very low-cost to financially disadvantaged people and in many cases, it's given away for free to people in critical need. The volunteers understand this - it will never stop being re-enforced and they'll never stop hearing the moving stories about the customers/clients who benefit from their skills.

... a wonderful team; diverse, rich, thriving, engaged and beset with challenges - it's a privilege to watch it unfold!  

Available now on iTunes & Amazon: The Impact Code - Unlocking Resilience, Productivity & Influence

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Monday, 15 December 2014

Leadership/Parenting Tip: Getting the best out of those we lead

Most of us are guilty of it at some point or another ...

"I've told you not to put it there a thousand times."

"How many times have I said not to eat on the sofa?

"I told you again and again that you'd struggle to pass your exams if you didn't revise."

We badly want our children/team members to succeed and on the surface, we understand that the more patient our approach when things go wrong, the better our level of rapport with those we lead, but:

Surely there are times when 'saying it how it is' is not only acceptable, but advisable? I'm afraid not! 

Whether we like it or not, people largely behave according to the identity they hold for themselves and that identity is greatly influenced by who they perceive as their leaders. If you encourage your children/team members to believe that they always forget what you say and/or they never listen to you, they're more likely to live up to that behaviour rather than avoid it, regardless of the punishments waiting for them. But if you encourage them to believe that they're better than the behaviour they exhibit and that you're actually surprised by it (whether it's truly what you believe or not), you subtly influence their subconciousness to want to achieve better and to also believe that it's possible.  

"I've told you not to put it there a thousand times."
"I'm surprised you've put it there because I've mentioned it a few times now and you're a good listener."

"How many times have I said not to eat on the sofa?"
"Considering that you're so switched on as a person, I'm both annoyed and surprised that you're eating on the sofa when I've asked you not to."

"I told you again and again that you'd struggle to pass your exams if you didn't revise."

"At the moment, I'm gutted for you that you didn't pass. I know you're better than the mark you achieved and I've no doubt that you'd have secured a much better mark had you revised more than you did."

Final Thought: 

If you pride yourself on being a straight-talking leader, think before you talk and ask yourself:

1) Is my straight-talking linked to my need for an ego boost?

2) How do others feel when I 'say it how it is'?

3)  Is my straight-talking the wisest psychological response to this issue? Or a knee-jerk reaction born out of my annoyance?

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Saturday, 13 December 2014

What's The Impact Code about?

The Impact Code is not a book about goal-setting, being passionate and living the dream. You can already find lots of those.
The Impact Code isn't a long and wordy book, which takes you a month to read but six months later you can only remember one or two of its key points. You can find lots of those too.
The Impact Code is a book which gives 24 memorable insights to develop your resilience, productivity and influence, so you're equipped to make a lasting impact on the world around you. Whether you're a business leader, a team manager, an entrepreneur, a parent, an aspiring professional or young person, your ability to make an impact will define how successful you become and how happy you feel. Imagine how your life would be if you could:
  • Attract more people to follow you - out of choice not obligation
  • Bounce back quickly from your disappointments & set-backs
  • Overcome your fears and live beyond your current horizons
  • Achieve more without adding to your overstretched 'to-do' list
Choose to make an awesome impact in your world or don't - it's up to you!
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Cracking The Impact Code - It's easier than you think

Some people do it on their deathbeds, others as they see in the New Year or relax on holiday but all of us do it at some point. We ask ourselves:

Is my life a success?

Am I happy with how things have turned out?

Am I doing well in spite of the challenges I face?

Our answers will depend on one vital piece of information: the extent of our impact on the people and experiences of our lives.

We can't all be the next Steve Jobs but we all want to make our mark and leave a legacy that's valued by our loved ones, work place and community, and our need to make an impact runs deep. When you believe you contributed to the development of someone or something (however small or big), you feel inspired and alive. But when you feel your impact is lacking, the road to self-doubt can be surprisingly quick, even for positive people, and before we know it, we can see ourselves as ineffective victims living in an unfair world.

'The Impact Code - Unlocking Resilience, Productivity and Influence' gives 24 powerful insights to develop your resilience, productivity and influence, so you're equipped to make your mark. Each one is written in a style, which is easy to access and apply so whether it's New Year's Eve, a summer holiday or just another day, choose to make an awesome impact in your world and grab your copy of The Impact Code.

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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

How to create maximum influence - 2 tips

We've all been there and we've all done it:

"Don't eat too many sweets, they're bad for your teeth"

"Don't step in the road, you could get hurt." 

"Don't play on the fence, it might break."

"Don't send it like that, she's our best customer."

Whether it's business or home, most of us at some stage in our lives will fulfill roles, which require our positive influence. It might be eating too much sugar, walking in the road, playing on a flimsy fence or sending a sub-standard piece of work to our best customer, but regardless of the scenario, we want the other person to obey our command in the here-and-now and also to remember for next time.

But more often than not, the more we repeat the same old negative commands, the less effective we become because the person on the receiving end sees us as an old nag. When this happens, delivering any sense of meaningful influence becomes a major struggle.

If you want other people to respect your authority, whether you're leading a team at work, or leading your family unit, I suggest you ditch the word "don't" from your vocabulary. It doesn't matter how many times you issue a command, if it begins with the word "don't", the brain of the person on the receiving end will fixate on what follows this word rather than not doing the thing you want them to avoid.


Imagine it's a hot day and you've had nothing to drink for a few hours. The sweat's pouring down your brow and I say, "don't think about a cold, lemonade ice lolly, the sharp, sweetness of the lemons, the ice cold lolly in your mouth, just don't think about it". Of course, your brain will think about the lolly and will conveniently bypass the word "don't". It's the same for adults and for children and happens regardless of the situation.

Tip 1) Issue positive commands and be specific about what you want to happen. Practise your new style of command so it becomes a habit. I can personally vouch for the fact that getting rid of "don't" can take some getting used to:

"Don't eat too many sweets, they're bad for your teeth
"You need to eat less sweets in order to take care of your teeth."

"Don't step in the road, you could get hurt"
"Walk on the pavement because it's safer."

"Don't play on the fence, it might break"
"Get off the fence and leave it alone, it's flimsy and might break."

"Don't send it like that, she's our best customer"
"This document needs more work on it, it looks messy and I've already spotted a few typos in the text."

Tip 2) Coach rather than command, particularly in situations where there's no immediate danger. Ask questions which encourages the other person to think about the situation so that they engage and come up with their own answers.

Whilst it may feel easier to issue commands, easy is not necessary effective and people on the end of constant commands become passive spectators and immune to your authority. They may appear to listen to you but their minds will usually be elsewhere and they'll forget what you said ... that's if they ever heard you in the first place!

"How is eating too many sweets a problem for you?"

"Why is the pavement a better place to walk than the road?"

"What could happen if you keep playing on the fence?"

"If you send the document like this, what do you think our client will think?"

Now available on iTunes and Amazon: The Impact Code - Unlocking Resilience, Productivity & Influence

Thanks for reading - I help people achieve more in their lives by developing their resilience, influence and productivity. 

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Thursday, 27 March 2014

Be more productive at home ... without doing more! (3 great tips)

Do you ever wish there were more hours in the day?
Do you write 'to-do' lists, which you rarely complete? 

If you're anything like me, you'll have answered yes to both these questions!

After a bruising day at work, whether it's toiling on a building site, battling office politics or dealing with troublesome customers, the simple task of getting home and putting a meal on the table before clearing it up can feel like a major achievement, but:

What about the peeling paint in the bathroom? You said you'd get it done last week!

Did you remember you need to pick Katie up from her friend's house tonight?

You'll need to get some fresh milk for breakfast tomorrow! 

It's easy to become overwhelmed by the demands of every-day life before losing sight of what we really want to achieve. It's easy to put things off which we know we should do, whilst pouring our energies into dealing with smaller and less significant things. But amidst the chaos and conflicting priorities, is it possible to be more productive at home without actually becoming any busier than we already are?

I suggest 3 tips to help:

1) Take action on the truly important things:

Of course, I want to live in a neat and tidy house, perfectly decorated, with stunning features and accompanied by a lush garden, which oozes class. Of course I want to make stacks of money whilst working minimal hours so I can spend my best time with my wife, children and on my hobbies ... who wouldn't want that? But that's not real life for most people and when we try to achieve it, we generally  cause untold stress on ourselves and on those around us.

If you want to be more productive at home, identify the things which are truly important to you, the things which if you were not able to achieve, your entire being would be damaged. Normally, what comes at the top of most people's wish-lists are high quality relationships with our loved ones rather than a lush garden or a tidy house.

Once you've identified the important things, take action to make them happen. The less important things can wait and if you ever get round to achieving them, it's a bonus and if you don't achieve them, it's not a big deal.

2) Lower your standards on trivial things

This is obviously linked to the first tip. Time is both infinite and constant and it's impossible to make more time. Therefore, if you want to be more productive at home with the important things, you may have to lower your standards on the trivial things.

For example, whilst my kitchen is spotless and like something out of an ideal show-home, the rest of my house is generally a bit dusty, I only iron what is absolutely crucial and whilst our meals are home-cooked, we try to keep them simple during the week ... just a few small sacrifices we make because our top priority is spending quality time together.

"Take pleasure in what you do achieve rather than beating yourself up about what you don't achieve." 

So many of us fall into the trap of looking at our neighbours and thinking they have it easier than we do, that they're doing a better job at juggling work and home life or have the garden we'd love, or the car we wish we could afford.  The funny thing is, quite often, they're looking at us wishing that they had something that we take for granted.

Delight in the things you do achieve, and make peace with the things you don't achieve ... remember … there's something ironic about the fact that the things you don't achieve, are not achieved only because you put your energies into the good things which you have achieved!

3) Kill two birds with one stone wherever possible

I massively value my time with my children and wife. That said, there are jobs which still need doing around the house and which could eat into that quality time. Talking of eating, we value eating home-cooked food, we value eating around a table together and as I already mentioned, we value eating in our spotless kitchen. So in order to achieve quality time and a spotless kitchen, the kids help us to keep it looking good.

After a meal, they get to choose what chores they do out of the dishwasher, clearing the table, wiping the table, sweeping the floor, putting away and whatever else needs doing ... and they also get to choose which radio station we have on in the background. We then clear up together. Family time becomes chore time, which becomes family time, it's all the same thing.

When you have many things, which you want to achieve, consider how you can 'kill two birds with one stone', take aim and throw that one stone!

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