A to Z of Management and Leadership: Aspiration

For my brief explanatory video on ‘Aspiration’, go to …


To download a free (pdf) workbook, follow the link below:

Aspiration, by definition, is a strong desire to achieve something. What many organisation’s don’t realise, however, is that a clearly identified aspiration is its most important asset. The aspiration of an organisation is typically stated in a vision or mission statement, and is often associated with delivering their service to the highest possible standard.  But in order to succeed and achieve, an organisation’s people must share the same aspiration.  There are three key elements behind an individual’s desire to achieve:

• How clear they are about what they want to achieve,
• How realistic it is for them to achieve it, and
• How much they value achieving it.

It is the combination of these fundamentals that determines a person’s level of motivation. Therefore, it is vital that an organisation provides a clear picture as to where the team is heading and, as importantly, why.  This gives individual’s something to work towards within the context of the desired end result.
If you believe you or your team could benefit from exploring the concept of ‘Aspiration’ more fully, simply download my free workbook. It contains some thought-provoking ideas and an exercise to further develop you and your team.
To download a free (pdf) workbook, follow the link below:


With budgets tight, is coaching a worthwhile expenditure?

With budgets tight, is coaching a worthwhile expenditure?

Thanks to Claire Collins, Director of the Diploma in Business Administration at Henley Business School.

There is no doubt that considerable sums of money these days are invested in coaching as a form of employee development in organisations. What is also true is that it is very difficult to know how effective this investment is or what is the best way to get optimum value for money from offering coaching to staff. The CIPD’s 2011 report, The Coaching Climate, showed that coaching is offered by 75% of the organisations surveyed and that, even in these straightened times, 84% of these are using it more than was reported two years ago. The two main purposes for undertaking coaching are stated as being; improvement in performance and employee engagement. Although it is problematic to try to quantify the beneficial effect that coaching in business has on the bottom line, research demonstrates that a number of indirect benefits can be realised that lead to improved engagement, better performance, greater efficiency and effectiveness and, ultimately, enhanced business results. Some of these indirect benefits include: lower burn-out rates, improved psychological health, better communication, reduced candour and denial, higher resilience, learning adherence, greater capability and capacity and improved interpersonal relationships. In addition, by persisting with these improvements, organisational costs such as sickness and high turnover can be reduced.

The many forms of coaching

What is less often understood is that there are different forms of coaching that can bring about these positive outcomes. The most common route is to engage coaches, either internally or externally sourced, to work with particular groups of staff as part of a formal development process. The coach and coachee sit in a private space and conduct a one and a half hour session in which deeply meaningful issues are discussed, options for change generated and an action plan agreed. While this is a simplistic view of a very sophisticated intervention, it is the most commonly used coaching format. However, an alternative way of embedding coaching is for the organisation to adapt to a coaching style of leadership. The skills of listening and questioning in order to address developmental issues become embedded in the organisation’s culture and it forms the prevailing philosophy behind key leader-follower interactions. By embracing a coaching culture as the bedrock of the organisation’s conversations, the indirect benefits listed above are achieved in a systemic way.

One to one relationships

However, let us return to the more conventional coaching approach; the one-to-one conversation. Are there ways in which the organisation can stack the odds in favour of getting a good return on its spend? Fortunately, recent research suggests that this is, indeed, achievable. One of the most vital aspects of a successful coaching intervention is that the relationship between coach and coachee is as positive as possible. Good rapport, openness and the establishment of trust are shown to lead to better coaching conversations and stronger outcomes. So as to achieve this, a deliberate process of matching the pair together should be undertaken. Coachees should be given a choice of who they would like to work with, ideally, from at least three candidates. In order to achieve this short list, some process of selection should take place in the organisation, based on a range of criteria relevant to the situation, which might include the coach’s experience, accreditation, previous clients, supervision and style. The coachee should then be given the opportunity to meet each potential coach. This does not have to be a long drawn-out process. In fact, it has been shown that a brief encounter of only five minutes is sufficient for this matching decision to be made. Once the match is achieved, a three-way meeting between the coach, coachee and the person commissioning the coaching enables clarification of the objectives of the coaching, and the expectations on each party. At the commencement of the coaching sessions themselves, a robust contracting conversation should establish important aspects, such as confidentiality and boundaries of the coaching. These preparatory actions strengthen the likelihood of a fruitful coaching relationship being formed, which itself is an indicator of better coaching outcomes.

Good coaching is worthwhile to the business

So, is coaching worth the spend? I believe that it certainly is, if an organisation approaches it systematically, sets up the coaching relationship well and makes the most of the indirect benefits that accrue this most surely builds performance, engagement and ultimately business success.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …


Screen shot - Home Page

Innovation is About Adopting Something New!

As public services managers struggle to maintain service standards while dealing with the double whammy of government cuts and heightened customer expectations, innovation is often presented as the panacea.  For example, the recent open public services white paper places innovation at its core, mentioning innovation 26 times.  But although the emphasis on innovation isn’t new, the context in which public services operate is changing rapidly.  There is energy, like there has never been energy before, towards reaching a consensus that the public sector must improve significantly and quickly.  So maybe now is the time to move ‘innovation’ beyond rhetoric and towards action.  Just because we hold creative workshops involving flipcharts and post-it notes, this doesn’t mean we’re being innovative.  Innovation requires the adoption of something new.

I don’t wish to be disloyal to the many public services colleagues with whom I work, but generally the public sector isn’t known for its dynamic innovative culture. The recent ‘Catching The Wave’ report on local authority innovation, funded by Nesta and the Local Government Group, found that although there was significant will among local authorities to innovate, there were serious questions about their ability to turn this will into action.

Indications that an organization is innovative, such as adaptation and step changes in process reform, have not traditionally been commonplace within the public sector.  So is it realistic to expect the public sector to invest in these areas now, in times of scarcity?

So what’s the answer … or at least a contribution to the answer?

On a practical level, the following five indicators form an acid test of your organization’s current approach to innovation.  You might find it useful to mark each on a scale of 1 to 10:

  1. Leadership and investment: Are senior directors demonstrating their commitment to innovate with ring-fenced money as well as modelling innovation in their own behaviours?
  2. Learning and reflection: Are resources being made available to both build new skills and pay for time to reflect on what is and isn’t working?
  3. Networks: Is there a coordinated effort being directed towards creating internal networks to build organizational and individual capacity, along with external networks to share best practice?
  4. Flexibility and reactivity: Are projects aimed at embracing challenges to current approaches effectively scheduled and followed through?
  5. Risk taking: Is a climate of appropriate and intelligent risk management an essential part of learning and improvement?  Is there an authentic and visible acceptance that some failure is inevitable – In other words, is progress being made in the spirit of ‘informed experiment’?

I think we are all familiar with the rhetoric of transformation, but some of us have yet to engage with the reality of the disruption such transformation inevitably entails.  For example, announcing a service closure or a transformation to a new commissioning model will create disruption, but the key is to be responsive and flexible in helping people invent and create high quality alternatives.  Central to the success of transformation is to expect, plan for, and make the most out of disruption.

These reflections were inspired by an article by Richard Wilson, published by Guardian Professional.  See   http://bit.ly/rfkhIS   if you are interested in the primary source.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …


Screen shot - Home Page

Transferable Skills Analysis

Transferable Skills Analysis


1.  Analyse your skills by listing your top ten achievements or career events that you are most proud of. You should do this by looking at your achievements, which are your richest source of information providing concrete and tangible evidence of what you have done so far. Use an active verb at the beginning of the phrase, and you’ll hear how much more powerful it sounds.

2.  Ask yourself exactly what you did. Then think about what happened next.

3.  Consider what skills you used when you did the thing you achieved. This should generate clear statements of your real capabilities.

4.  List all of your skills so you can rate them for transferability; most of your skills will transfer to another job quite easily. Think not just “How good am I?” but ask “How much do I enjoy this?” The skills that score most highly on both counts are your most transferable skills and you will be able to use them in many different settings. Use a box similar to the illustration below to map your skills against the two co-ordinates shown.  This is a 2 x 2 quadrant so admired by MBAs!

Don’t enjoy Enjoy

Good at

Not good at

At the top left we’ve got high “Good At” with low “Don’t enjoy” so this is often where we’ve developed a high level of skill to deal with a task that’s unavoidable but we don’t want to do any more than is strictly necessary. Some people who don’t manage their careers too well often end up here because their organizations push them to where they’re seen to be good.

Lower left is where too many people find themselves job wise – doing something they don’t enjoy and are not particularly good at. This is where necessity and stress sometimes come head-to-head, causing regular sick-leave. You’d be advised to try and change this if it’s you.

Lower right is where enjoyment is high but skill not necessarily so. The person who enjoys amateur dramatics may be an example or a spare-time painter or the average DIYer.

The top right is where the high scales of “Good at” and “Enjoy” end up, and this is where we all want to be. Success usually springs from enjoying and being good at something, but only if you want to repeat it. To choose your options bear this in mind and don’t start with a job title. Instead start with the ingredients of a successful role, based on your honest appraisal of what you enjoy and want to do, plus an objective view of what you are good at and can replicate.

Additional Notes

An achievement is something that you have done which has made a difference to you or to others. You may have done it on your own or with and through others. It is not necessarily momentous or world-shattering, but will be something that you feel good about. It doesn’t matter whether it comes from your “official” job or some other activity. If you’ve achieved something, you have used a level of skill which could be a valuable job skill elsewhere. For example:

  • Convinced colleagues of the need to change working practices
  • Launched the new product line in record time
  • Reduced supply costs by 15%
  • Secured a 10% increase in sales by…
  • Raised lots of money for a local charity through a new fund-raising event.
  • Completed a two year part-time MBA course while balancing work and family commitments

These can relate to unpaid as well as to paid work and also to leisure activities. Ask yourself this: do your successes tend to involve just your own work or that of others? In other words, are you most effective when in a team? Are they mostly to do with work or are there some from other parts of your life? Can you detect a theme to your achievements and if so, what is it?

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …


Screen shot - Home Page

Conducting a personal SWOT analysis

Guidelines for Conducting a Personal SWOT Analysis

What makes a personal SWOT powerful is that, with a little thought, it can help you uncover opportunities that you would not otherwise have spotted. And by understanding your weaknesses, you can manage and eliminate threats that might otherwise hurt your ability to move forward. If you look at yourself using the SWOT framework, you can start to separate yourself from your peers, and further develop the specialized talents and abilities you need to advance your career.

  • What do you do well?
  • What unique resources can you draw on?
  • What do others see as your strengths?
  • What could you improve?
  • Where do you have fewer resources than others?
  • What are others likely to see as weaknesses?
  • What opportunities are open to you?
  • What trends could you take advantage of?
  • How can you turn your strengths into opportunities?
  • What threats could harm you?
  • What is your competition doing?
  • What threats do your weaknesses expose you to?

How to Use the Tool

To perform a personal SWOT analysis, sketch out a template similar to that illustrated above and populate it with the answers to the questions posed.  And here are some additional guidelines …

Strengths -Think about your strengths in relation to the people around you. For example, if you’re a great problem-solver and the people around you are also great problem-solvers, then this is not likely to be a strength in your current role – it may be a necessity!

Weaknesses – What tasks do you usually avoid because you don’t feel confident doing them?  What will the people around you see as your weaknesses?  What are your negative work habits (for example, are you often late, are you disorganized, do you have a short temper, or are you poor at handling stress?)

Opportunities – What new technology can help you?  Or can you get help from others or from people via the Internet?  Is your industry growing?  If so, how can you take advantage of the current market?  Do you have a network of strategic contacts to help you, or offer good advice?  What trends (management or otherwise) do you see in your company, and how can you take advantage of them?  Are any of your competitors failing to do something important?  If so, can you take advantage of their mistakes?  Is there a need in your company or industry that no one is filling?  Do your customers or vendors complain about something in your company?  If so, could you create an opportunity by offering a solution?  You might find useful opportunities in the following:

  • Networking events, educational classes, or conferences.
  • A colleague going on an extended leave. Could you take on some of this person’s projects to gain experience?
  • A new role or project that forces you to learn new skills.

Threats – What obstacles do you currently face at work?  Are any of your colleagues competing with you for projects or roles?  Is your job (or the demand for the things you do) changing?  Does changing technology threaten your position?  Could any of your weaknesses lead to threats?

Performing this analysis will often provide key information – it can point out what needs to be done and puts problems into perspective.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …


Screen shot - Home Page

Keep your goals to yourself

Derek Sivers urges us to keep our goals to ourselves …. we’re more likely to achieve them this way!

Here’s the link ….


My website contains further resources that may be of interest …


Screen shot - Home Page