Monthly Archives: June 2013

Don’t judge, improve


As a leader you need to know how your staff perform. You can benchmark them against each other picking out your top performers and those that need to shape up. You judge them based on productivity reports but also on what you have seen in the day to day runnings. You can comfortably gauge your employees so there will be no surprises in planning.

Of course, your employees completely agree with your viewpoint, right?

This all comes down to the self-fulfilling prophecy. However much you want a staff member to improve their performance, if you believe they are an under-performer, it will show through in your actions. On the other hand, you may have full confidence in someone you think is a high performer. They may actually be struggling.

Stop judging your employees!

While this works for an individual who you judge worthy it has the completely opposite effect on everyone else. It can be a real disengager. To balance out the issue of “favourites” don’t focus on performance but focus on improvement. If you think everyone can perform and then focus on their improvement your actions toward them will be completely different. It will allow you to continually challenge each of your team to outperform without the pressure of a target. It will build sustainable performance. It will build engagement. It will build trust and loyalty. Used correctly it will build a learning organisation/team.

So rather than wanting your team to perform at a certain level, just want them to improve. No matter how they are performing only focus your actions on improvement. Your mindset will control your actions. And that will speak volumes.

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Grow yourself – the basics

cultivatePersonal development is key to a successful career. No one is ready to be a CEO from birth so these skills take time to grow. Below are some basics to help on your development path.

1. Don’t pigeon hole yourself. There are so many tools to help understand yourself better like MBTI, Honey and Mumford learning styles, Belbin team roles etc. These can help but don’t give you the full picture. In fact most of these tools focus on your preferences. Sometimes the more powerful development happens when you challenge your fears or weaknesses. Always play to your strengths but understand your weaknesses.

2. Carpe diem. I mean this in two ways. First off be pro-active in your development path. Find every opportunity to develop yourself and schedule it into your time. Secondly take development from the every day. You may have behaviours or habits that you want to change, or you may even want to understand why something works. In your day to day work take a second to think about the mechanics of each task.

3. Learn from the good and the bad. Don’t just learn from your mistakes. As long as you practice number 2, you can understand why you are successful and apply that in other parts of your work. Also take time over your mistakes. You should only make a mistake once. And don’t beat yourself up when you do. Yes acknowledge it, but don’t let it stop you going further.

4. Ask. Looking in a mirror will only show you one side of yourself. Find a mentor or manager who you know will offer a balanced viewpoint. All bad or all good is no reflection of anyone. The more perceptions you can get the more you can see the full picture. This can be tough to hear sometimes. Tough doesn’t always mean bad.

5. Document the wins. Remember where you came from and how far you have gone. It can keep you motivated to reach where you want to go to.

Whatever you want to achieve you will have to grow to get there. This takes time and effort. Keep it up and everyone can get there.

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Get rid of paradise – culture and productivity.



Have you ever watched a nature documentary on birds of paradise and their mating rituals? Every time I sit in a meeting people start to look like birds of paradise. There are expected intricate behaviours unique to each environment and each individual. I have always found the pleasantries and rituals of business culture odd. It is like learning a second language of buzzwords, behaviours and pecking orders. But it works and gets people doing jobs in an organised way.

Have you ever felt that it gets in the way sometimes?

Indulge me in a personal story here from my days as a composer. I studied composition with orchestral musicians so getting them to try new things with their instruments took a lot of persuasion. Many ego’s were patted and a lot of support was provided. It took time. I was shortlisted for a prize in the Netherlands (seen by many as the hub of leading contemporary music) and got to work with a great quartet. They were rising stars in contemporary performance. I went along to a rehearsal. 

It felt like I had walked into a family domestic, cursing accusations were flying. At first I thought this was extremely unprofessional. So I sat quietly at the rehearsal. The four players spoke their mind openly to each other venomously exclaiming when someone played wrong. Then it hit me.

There was no room for error.

All four players knew each other’s part intimately and how they should work together. On top of that any mistake was dealt with immediately. There was no fudging of notes. They repeated each section until they could play through the entire work. Then the magic happened. They refined each section arguing how it relates to the intention of the music. These four players had achieved more in an hour than most players achieve in a week.

I’ve never worked with anyone quite like it again, in music or in business. In fact I think business worries more about being “professional”. It’s engrained right down to email signatures and sentence structure, our words are expected to dance in a certain way.

At the end of the day those four players were all working towards a great performance. They had achieved a singularity of vision and the most effective communication I have ever seen. Relate that to how your teams work together and see if they are as productive. Would some honesty helps things move quicker? Take away the pomp and circumstance and leave them with the goal. Just the goal. They will discover the best fit communication for them.

And if the air turns blue you know people are passionate about it. They are also comfortable enough with their colleagues to stray from the polite. Everyone is searching for high performance teams. Maybe if we stop thinking about what they need to perform and think about what is stopping them from performing we will all get along better.

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Celebrate the little things – my blogs 1st birthday


It’s been my first full year of blogging. Not the most successful, not the least. I now have an MSc in international HRM and I am on the cusp of launching my own business.

It’s important to celebrate the little things, like this blog’s first birthday. I may not have written consistently throughout the year but I did continue. We may not always get it right but it can be just as important to recognise small successes to help make the big successes happen.

Do you celebrate all the little successes?

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Are you curious?


Change change change change and change again. This is what business looks and feels like now. Sometimes it feels hard to gain a grasp of. I find there is one way to lessen the sense of dread piling up. 

Be curious.

Being curious helps us to learn. Learning helps you to understand. And understanding helps you to actually contribute to the business. Seems simple enough?

So why do we give ourselves reason not to be curious? ‘I don’t have time’, ‘That isn’t relevant’, ‘I have no interest’. Why do we protect ourselves from the new? And I do mean protect. When you discover that new band that sound like music has never been played before or the first time you set down for holiday and you can feel the possibilities. We like new things so why don’t we like to be curious? There are many reasons but for me personally, it’s a fear of failure. I like new things only when I know they can’t go wrong. What’s yours?

If we don’t like to be curious then we won’t survive in constant change. You may know someone with a “zest for life”. I just see them as comfortably curious. So how can you increase what I like to call your curio-capacity?

1. Know yourself. You have to understand what you enjoy about curiosity but also what stops you from enjoying it. When you understand your barriers then you can overcome them.

2. Challenge your curiosity. Find activities which will force your curiosity. My favourite is driving on a road you don’t know without a map or destination. Go discover. It might be in another country on holiday, or it might be ten minutes from home. Either can be liberating.

3. Enjoy the satisfaction. Accomplishment can be it’s own greatest reward. Revel in learning something new. Self-reinforcement will perpetuate and grow your curio-capacity.

4. Grow your curiosity socially. Take every conversation as a chance to learn something new about the person you are talking to. Be genuinely interested. If you like sports, talk to someone about music. As a leader challenge other peoples curiosity. It can foster satisfaction, engagement and loyalty from your team.

Being curious can help when things change and let us keep contributing. If you are unsure, your kids will show you how it’s done. 

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Management: Your problem, is that a problem, is a problem

ImageYou are managing a busy team and everything seems to be going well. Then you get a member of staff coming to you to complain about something. That staff member is an issue, right?


Just because they are complaining doesn’t mean they are a burden. And don’t think that the problem they have raised is solely extra work for you. I’ve worked for so many managers that don’t like to hear about problems. In fact they have just thought of them as an inconvenience, or worse, threatening their practices personally. 

If someone has highlighted a genuine problem then that staff member should be praised for identifying an issue, certainly not chastised for rocking the boat. If they have perceived a problem which does not exist then talk them through it. Don’t palm them off and complain about them after. And don’t see them as a dysfunctional member of the team. 

The big issue here is about intent. If you see all advances as a threat then the outcome will always be the same. You will be defensive, aggressive or worst, passive-aggressive. You have trained yourself not to let slip those unprofessional feelings and comments but if you still think like that underneath, your subconscious will show through in your behaviours. Even worse when everything could be a threat you can overcompensate and keep people distant to avoid any issues. You can’t connect, delegate, motivate, engage etc with anyone who is distant. Trust here is key.

It can take time to trust your staff to behave positively for the organisation. But if you don’t start the ball rolling as a manager your staff certainly aren’t going to help. And they will help. You’ve just got to let them do it their way.

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