Setting Goals – Determination and Tenacity

I have been watching TV and musing about setting goals, success and what this means at work, in life and for everything!

How many of us set long term goals that we keep our focus on despite all the distractions that we encounter on a daily basis? In the workplace we may create a “to do” list of tasks but so often the ones that are really the MOST important end up staying on the list whilst we instead choose to do things that are either easy to cross off, or allow less significant yet more pressing tasks to take up our time and energy? Many of us even go through a day with our e-mail constantly “on” and every time we see something new come in, stop what we are doing and instead have a look at it.

I have just finished viewing the C4 series “Walking the Nile” – an incredible travel documentary about a young man called Levison Wood (“Lev”) and his attempt to become the first person to walk the entire distance of the Nile from its source in deepest Africa all the way to where it joins the Mediterranean Sea – 4250 miles across various Africa countries and through some of the world’s harshest terrain. The aim of the walk was for personal achievement and through the publicity and media rights generating large sums of money for a variety of charities.

Some of the hurdles Lev faced included:-

  • Crossing the Sahara in the middle of summer
  • Negotiating his way through war torn territories
  • Frequent danger of being kidnapped/robbed/shot by gangs
  • Endless bureaucracy
  • Personal pain levels
  • Lack of water
  • Lack of sleep
  • Personal loss (one of his colleagues actually died from dehydration)

Every episode featured yet more challenges yet Lev kept up superhuman levels of faith and determination to succeed in what he truly wanted to achieve. His amazing levels of self-motivation were incredible and a lifelong lesson in what you can really achieve if you truly want something and focus on it.

I’ve met people in the workplace down the years who have certainly attained things they want, but often it is at the expense of others. With Lev however, I noticed the following were critical to his success:-

  • Never lose sight of your overall goal but accept that you will encounter problems and blockers
  • Be courteous and considerate to those you meet along your journey, both those that help and those that don’t – take time to understand their motives
  • You can quite legitimately change your plan of how to get from A to B – but don’t weaken the vision (it would have been very easy for Lev to have skipped parts of the journey, taking lifts by car/boat etc………..yet WALKING the journey was part of the goal)
  • Never be afraid of understanding and admitting your own limitations – he got help from some of the most unlikely of places and inspiration from people and cultures that he knew little of.
  • Take in the view – one of the keys to his success was allowing himself moments to take joy from the scenery, the people and indeed from mini-achievements along the way

For me it was a programme that made me think a lot about what I’m trying to achieve, both at work and with my family. It has helped re-affirm to me what’s really important for me but what it has also highlighted is just how easily I am diverted from those important things and that I need to change that.

If you haven’t seen the programme catch up with it “on demand” or online (c4 website) – its worth having a ponder about how clear your own vision of success is, and moreover the time that is consumed in your life from allowing distractions to take over.

You Made Me Feel ……….

Consider the statements “you made me angry”,“you made me upset”.

In my last tip I suggested that we shouldn’t put off sharing difficult feedback on the grounds that it might upset or anger the recipient. I have had a number of emails asking if I can explain a little bit more about this. One writer was concerned that I was advocating a manager becoming a robot and losing sight of the potential human and emotional impact.

Let me try and explain with a story. One day quite a few years ago I was walking my two small children to primary school. It had been raining heavily overnight and the roads and pavements were very wet. A Tesco van drove through a large puddle and soaked the three of us on the pavement. My response was to get very angry, wave my fist at the departing van and shout some colourful language. My daughter’s response was to burst into tears and lament her wet shoes and summer dress. My son on the other hand chose to laugh his head off and jump up and down in the nearest puddle.

My point is that we all chose our responses; to shout angrily, to cry and to laugh. The driver did not ‘make us’ do this. In fact he was probably completely unaware of our existence or our predicament. The drenching was certainly his fault (he caused the event) but having the ability to control our emotions is not in his power. On another day I might have laughed or cried or even better chose to control my anger and focus more on my children’s welfare.

Let’s come back to any difficult conversation. Once you recognise that actually you can’t ‘make’ someone angry or upset then there goes one big reason to avoid giving the feedback. You can now concentrate on delivering the message as best you can.

Any what if the person still cries or gets angry?

Well that might be the focus of my next tip.

Difficult Conversations at Christmas

A delegate on a ‘difficult conversations’ workshop recently asked me a question. They said they had a performance issue with one of their team members who was still in their probation period. The probation was due for review in February and it was touch and go whether a permanent offer would be made. The delegate wanted to know whether they should have the conversation now, just before Christmas, and potentially ruin that person’s festive season or leave it until the New Year.

Now being a trainer with a predominantly coaching style I of course answered with a question or two:

Question 1
Is this conversation and the feedback you need to give intended to help this person?

They said “Yes, because I want them to know what they are doing wrong and give them the chance to improve”.

Question 2
What makes you think you could ruin the person’s Christmas by trying to help them?

They said “Because they may get upset and then worry about their job and future security at a time when nobody needs that”.

Question 3
Seeing as you cannot know nor decide for them how they will feel is this maybe more about how you will feel if indeed they respond to the feedback badly?

They said “I see, well I hadn’t thought of it like that!”

In summary all the normal rules of giving feedback apply (please refer to earlier top tips). Just because it’s Christmas this alone should not be a excuse to delay a couple of weeks and potentially create additional problems for them and for you.
From Steve and Tim at The Reality Business may I take this opportunity to wish all of you a very merry Christmas / Holiday season and a happy New Year.

Community Project kicks off Management Development Programme

A DANGEROUSLY overgrown patch of land has been turned into an attractive part of a school – thanks to an amazing nine-hour effort by a nearby company.

Twelve staff from the Ringwood-based Raymond Brown Group took on a charity challenge at Emmanuel Middle School in Verwood.

They assembled at 7am at the school, where they had been left a video from the headmaster and a drawing by a student.

The team then swung into action to transform the unsafe ‘out of bounds’ area, with no money or resources – just their knowhow and contacts in the industry.

Within nine hours they had:

  • Cleared the entire overgrown area;
  • Demolished an old building;
  • Removed a shed;
  • Built a nature garden;
  • Put in a herb garden; and
  • Renovated a seating and play area.


By 4.30pm, the mayor of Verwood, Cllr Pat Morrow, was cutting the ribbon to declare the area open for students. The scheme’s design was created by pupils James and Matthew Gosden, aged nine and 10.

Emmanuel Middle head teacher Jill Watson said: “I can’t believe the group has managed to achieve so much in one day.

“It’s an absolutely amazing transformation which the children will be able to benefit from greatly. I would like to thank the Raymond Brown Group and in particular the 12 people who took part on the day.”

The project formed part of Raymond Brown’s management development programme, which is run in conjunction with training company The Reality Business to nurture the next generation of senior managers.

Raymond Brown group chief executive Kelvin White said of his team: “They were absolutely brilliant. I am so proud. “I would like to thank them for their amazing efforts in delivering this project. It was inspiring to see what can be achieved when a group of people work together as a team.”

Valentina Biles, who was project manager on the day, said: “The Raymond Brown Group and Emmanuel Middle School would like to thank everyone within the local community and the industry for donating so generously. It was remarkable to see how generous everyone was.”

Please Refrain From…

Do you recognise this poster?

poolsignIt was common in municipal swimming pools for many many years but has sadly been replaced with more modern, but less amusing, messages. I thought it might be nice to resurrect it but instead of a warning to swimmers to turn it into a warning for managers about to embark upon a difficult conversation.

Running = Charging headlong into a potentially difficult conversation without any thought or planning.
Pushing = Simply imposing your view and not listening to the other person or giving them the opportunity to talk.
Acrobatics & Gymnastics = Being unbalanced in your feedback and only ever focussing on the negatives.
Shouting = Losing control and allowing a conversation to descend into an argument or slagging match.
Ducking = Skirting around the issue and having a conversation about anything and everything apart from the performance issue.
Petting = Sugar coating or minimising the performance issue with phrases such as “it’s just a small thing but ….. “ or “its nothing to worry about but…”.
Bombing = Making yourself feel better by berating, bullying and venting spleen under the guise of giving employees some feedback.
Swimming in the Diving Area = Getting out of your depth by giving feedback without the facts or letting too much time elapse before giving the feedback.
Smoking = Fuming about a performance issue but never actually having the conversation and hoping that it will just sort itself out or go away.

I hope you like these and that they make you think.


Individual Performance within Teams

So the new football season is in full swing and after mass expenditure of way over £100m, Manchester United have made an even poorer start to 2014 than they did in 2013.

I’m sure there is (and many tabloids have filled many pages with supposed “expert” opinions) a whole raft of analysis that could be conducted on why their performance has been so poor under their new manager and with new “world class” players. I’m equally sure that such analysis can be easily translated away from the world of football and into the world where “teams” exist in businesses.

I have watched a number of their recent games on TV and would like to focus on one particular aspect that I’ve noticed.

To my mind I would expect any player in any team to have some “performance standards” made clear to them – I’m not singling out football here – it’s equally applicable in business. Let’s say you are a Finance team – as the manager of that team it would be completely reasonable to set some minimum standards on such things for example as numeracy, customer service, helping your team mates, accuracy, standard of English, timeliness of reporting and so on. When your team “players” fail to reach that standard there should be some consequence for them and remedies put in place. And when “players” consistently fail to reach required standard the consequences should be significant.

Even the lowest paid first team player at Manchester United will be on a £100K a week as their salary. It would seem not unreasonable therefore to impose some “standards” which you’d expect the players to meet consistently.  So maybe it would be reasonable to expect that players playing at this level could do things like “trap and control a football”, “pass a football 10 yards to a member of your own team, preferably in front of them not behind them”, “use your eyes to see where you opponents are”, “don’t give up if someone tackles you” and so on.  Interestingly I’d suggest these are standards more becoming of an junior school team…………….yet watching the recent games I have lost count of how many times certain players seem unable to do such basics.

It’s interesting that I have not read a single piece of analysis by the so called football expert pundits who have even mentioned such things. Instead they’ve been wittering on about an imbalance of where the transfer money has been spent, players not playing in their best positions and so on. These things may well also be true……………….but surely something far more fundamental needs fixing first?

All of which leads me to think that it’s unlikely that football alone has this malaise of missing something fundamental when it comes to looking at team performance.

Are your individuals doing the basics right?

Are they utterly clear on what those basics are?

Thanks for reading. Tim Fuller.

Beware Excuses

In my most recent top tip I talked about using AID as a framework to deliver feedback or difficult message. One thing you will need to watch out for are excuses masquerading as justifiable reasons.

Let’s say we have made that bold step to intervene. We have sat down with the under or poor performing individual and outlined the performance issue.  The next step from this point is absolutely crucial.  It would be very common for the subject of the conversation to justify how they are performing by placing the blame on a number of external factors that are “out of their control”.  Here’s a typical exchange to illustrate this:-

“John, I have noticed that you are arriving for work anytime between 0915 and 0930 on a regular basis. Our business start time is 0845 and you arriving late sets a bad example to other staff members. What is happening because I need you to be arriving in good time.”

“Well it’s not my intention to be late but they’ve recently commenced major road works between my house and work and every day these cause huge traffic jams which make me late”

It’s a very normal response to criticism to take a defensive stance or “victim” type role. You only have to think about home life conversations that take place between partners or between parents and children. I’d suggest for many (and of course it couldn’t possibly be ourselves could it!) these are all too common.

We need to find a way to switch this around. Individuals need to take ownership for their own actions (or inactions!). Whilst uncontrollable external factors can of course have an impact on performance. However there are still controllable choices that can be made to remove or mitigate such impact.

A top tip is to use the “choose” word within the AID framework. In the above example the Manager could reinforce the I and D of AID by responding:-

“John, its unacceptable (to the organisation/to me) for you to be late to work. I appreciate that you cannot control the traffic but you can choose to change some things that are in your control such that you arrive on time. I would like you to think about what you can do to ensure you arrive on time from now on”.

Notice that the responsibility for identifying the options and then making a better choice remains with John. As the manager you can offer support and guidance but don’t lose sight of who it is who has ‘chosen’ not to perform to the required standard.

Use A.I.D. for better feedback

In my most recent top tip I talked about using different types of questions to ‘funnel’ the conversation and how to ensure the manager does less of the talking and more of the listening. I also mentioned a great tool that makes the actual delivery of the feedback (the difficult bit) so much easier. It is called AID and it works like this.

A = Action.

Describe the action that you have observed.

I = Impact.

Explain the impact that the above action has had.

D = Do.

Suggest what the person should do differently in future.

Simple Elements

The beauty of AID is that the A element keeps the feedback factual and specific as opposed to personal. There is a world of difference between “I noticed this morning that you interrupted Mr Jones twice” and “You were rude to Mr Jones”. The I element is important as it focuses on outcomes. For example “Mr Jones is a key customer and we cannot afford to lose his business”. Finally the D element is the bit that makes the feedback positive as it demonstrates that you are trying to help the individual improve.

Next time you have a difficult conversation try the AID approach. I think it will help.

Using Questioning Skills to Gain Commitment

I recently had a difficult conversation with myself and it went something like this.

Me: Steve, come on in and grab yourself a seat. How are you today?
Myself: Not at all bad thanks ………….. weekend ………. i-pad problem …….. possible new client ….
Me: Can I get you a coffee?
Myself: Just a glass of water thanks. I am trying to cut back on caffeine and to hydrate better.
Me: Good for you. You don’t mind if I tuck into this double espresso latte macchiato do you?

Me: Steve I have noticed that you have not published a top tip for difficult conversations for over a month now. As a result the website is looking a bit stale plus some subscribers to your tips are starting to grumble. So what’s the story?
Myself: The truth is I have just been so busy ………. demanding clients ………other priorities ………… holiday ………… travelling to Derby, Swindon and Hong Kong …….. its just been so hectic. It’s not that I don’t want to write it you know. I know it’s important.

Me: You say it’s important. How do you see that?
Myself: Oh there are a hundred good reasons ………..

Me: You make a strong case for getting this done. So how hectic does the rest of this week look?
Myself: A little better actually as I am in the office for 3 days and have cleared most of the urgent stuff already. I reckon with a fair wind and a bit of luck it could be done this week or next.

Me: I would really like to see you get it published by this Friday lunchtime. We know from the newsletter data that a lot of people do click on the top tips Friday afternoon and Monday morning. Can you commit to that for me?
Myself: Well I will certainly try. I have an idea for the content so I suppose if I sketched that out once we’ve finished I could do the first draft Wednesday and then polish up and publish on Friday morning.

Me: So, can I take that as a yes?
Myself: Yes, I suppose so.
Me: You don’t sound sure. If you want to run the draft past me on Wednesday I am around most of the day.
Myself: That’s good to know. Yes, see you on Wednesday.
Me: Great.

So what was going on there?

1. The manager (me) used a simple acronym called AID to deliver the message. More about that in the next top tip.
2. The manager also used a range of questions and a funnelling approach to work towards a commitment.

Different Types of Questions

“How are you today”.
An open question designed to create rapport and start a conversation.
“Can I get you a coffee?”.
A closed question with limited answers designed to create a bridge to the subject matter.
“You don’t mind …….. do you?”
A rhetorical question where no answer is required or expected.
“So what’s the story?”
An open question to get the conversation moving towards the 30/ 70 desired ratio.
“You say it’s important. How do you see that?”
A probing question picking up on a key word or phrase. The purpose is to find out more.
“How hectic does the rest of the week look?”
Further probing through a less open question designed to focus in on a specific area.
“Can you commit to that for me?”
A closed question with the purpose of gaining commitment on a specific point.
“So can I take that for a yes?” and “You don’t sound sure”.
A mixture of probing/closed as good listening skills identified some possible doubts.

The idea of moving from open to probing to closed questions is to ‘funnel’ the conversation. At the top are potentially wide-ranging and varied topics (the rapport stage) then to lots of data about a more focussed area and finally very focussed and very specific (commitment).  Developing your questioning skills can be a very useful tool for both your personal and professional leadership.

I hope you find this useful as I can report that Steve actually completed his top tip ahead of time!!!!

Talking v. Listening

There is a perception that in a difficult conversation it should be the manager who does virtually all of the talking. After all they have probably called the meeting, they should have a clear purpose and outcome in mind and of course should be prepared with some key questions and relevant data.

My experience shows that this one-way type conversation will quickly cease being a conversation and turn into something more akin to a moan, rant, tirade, monologue and general telling off. The other person will either pay minimal lip service or simply go silent and nothing of any value will have been achieved.

I am going to suggest that there is a different way

I am on fairly safe ground to suggest that the normal ratio of talking and listening for any conversation between two people should be about 50 / 50.

Conversations by definition must be two-way and a just because a conversation is difficult that should not radically change that natural dynamic.

However, I would suggest that 50% talking for a manager should be the maximum. Ideally aim to create an environment where you mostly listen and occasionally talk – let’s put the figure at 70 / 30.

How do I get to 70/ 30?

1. Avoid having a script
2. Outline your purpose and share your feedback
3. Ask a good question

4. Listen and ask more questions prompted by what your have heard
5. Listen and ask more questions to confirm and get commitment

In the next newsletter I will provide some top tips around the different sorts of questions that you can ask and where these are best placed to help achieve the 70 /30 ratio.