Stop being a Manager and Listen!!!

I first wrote this blog back in 2012. It seems to fit with a lot thats going on in my head right now, and I thought a useful share.

Over the past few weeks I have been blogging about performance management.

My personal view is that good performance management is about having regular conversations and dialogue rather than going through the motions and the focus being about completing the paperwork of the annual appraisal. It’s also about having performance conversations that focus on “inputs”, the stuff that drives the results rather than the results themselves.

So this blog is going to turn to the Managers themselves.

Over the past nine years, in my career as a coach and leadership development professional I have worked with a vast number of senior and middle managers across a range of sectors, and two sets of skills and behaviors repeatedly stand out for me as being an area that the majority of managers and leaders need to develop further.

One is the capacity to think around issues, and to generate more than one answer, not just the first answer to an issue and problem.

The other, the most common and possibly most important area for development is to really understand others.

Why do I feel the ability to understand others is so important?

Because it’s a key driver of motivation and the engagement of staff. It builds trust between leaders and followers. Without that trust, then I believe effective performance management can’t be realised. It’s also increasingly seen as a building block of other required leadership and management competencies.

Despite having a plethora of tools and systems, its people that make them work, and its Managers and Leaders that create the environment and culture that makes people want to use them.

For most organisations performance management is a process, but we all know that its down to the Managers and Leaders that decide whether it works. Not HR who designed it and who are charged with managing it!

We know that there are a lot of things to do in business and often it just feels like there are more urgent things to do. I have been there too!

So despite all the stuff to do, what I believe actually stops good performance management is that Managers and Leaders can’t let go of their need and urge to be “directive” and seen to “be in charge”.

Often they don’t know how to behave differently, and feel uncomfortable in situations and with people where they are not in control, where the answers might come from someone else or even there may be no immediate answer!

These factors add further to reasons why performance conversations are avoided.

So what might good like?

Give feedback and listen, really listen; suspend judgement and ask really open questions to really understand the thoughts, feelings and perspective of the other person, and take the time to “put yourself in their shoes”. Check understanding, summarise and question more.

It’s not about being nice or doing “soft stuff” but knowing that to really engage and motivate others, they need to feel that they have been listened to and understood. Call it empathy, or even emotional intelligence, but if Managers really want to improve performance then seeing and understanding the issue from the other persons perspective rather than their own might be a good starting point.

Don’t shy away from poor performance, question and challenge it, but by seeking to understand the other person more might be unlocked than originally expected.


So if you really want to improve the performance of others, then start having conversations.

The good news is that its all learnable, and you will probably have the skills already, its often just the pressure and expectations of being a Manager and Leader that get in the way.


So be curious, be challenging both of others and yourself.



Mind the Gap

I loved the recent two-part documentary by Evan Davis of R4 and Dragons Den fame where he considered the growth of London and what the rest of the UK could do to keep up.

Two things struck me in the programme and have left an impression on me. One was the size of London and a realisation of how little work I do in London and that I must target London as an area for my own business growth.

The other was the term agglomeration. This is a term in economics and refers to the economies of scale that businesses might enjoy by locating close to each other. A prime example used was the decision by Google to locate its HQ in the Kings Cross area as they wanted to be alongside other creative industries.

Evan Davis developed the concept of agglomeration further into three key themes that firms needed to embrace. He described this as the need to:




I reflected on this term further over the past few days whilst working with Ewan Strickley (@WorkbasedCoach), and we considered our own roles as coaches, trainers who practice as associates and with our own businesses. We talked about our relationships with the organisations we work with as associates, with each other in terms of the amounts that we disclose to each other, and to what degree we agglomerate:

Compete – to what degree we are in competition with each other

Copy – how much do we copy each others approaches and methods, and do we give credit and acknowledgement to each other

Collaborate – that we seek to create something completely unique and in the interests of all parties and really share with each other of thoughts, opinions and approaches with each other


Despite those questions and what ever your thoughts might be, we agreed that going forward we really need to embrace these behaviors. We need to cluster, we need to get closer, we need to share and collaborate, but perhaps we need to openly compete with one another too. That might drive our standards and the quality of what we offer.

I think I am starting to find a few people I can work with in this way but I really would like to work with more in this way, but that’s about trust and intent!


Those are just my thoughts. I’m going to be coming to London in the coming weeks so maybe we can talk about it?


Put the office door back on I need to be creative!

This is a reblog of a post I wrote back in 2012. After a couple of days working with Ewan Strickley (@WorkBasedCoach) who gave me the chance to copy, collaborate and compete with I thought I would re share this blog that I wrote at the time.

This blog was prompted by my wife (@crochetkate) after asking me to hang the door back on the bedroom that has become her office, and reading an article in the Sunday Times, “do not disturb : loners do the best work”.

The article draws on a new book that suggests teamwork might actually be stifling the creativity it was meant to encourage. The book “Quiet:the Power of Introverts in a World that Cant Stop Talking”.

Reading the article she proclaimed thats me!

“research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption”

“I prefer listening to talking, reading to socialising, and cosy chats to group settings. I like to think before I speak (softly). I’ve never given a speech without being terrified first, though Ive given many. And somehow I know that everything I’ve ever accomplished, in love and work, I owe to these traits”.

My wife Kathryn has a slight preference toward introversion, and her Myers Briggs Type (MBTI) is ISTJ. This means she has a preference for introversion, loves facts, logically thinks and likes everything planned and organised. I am completely opposite!

Her MBTI type preference can be summarised as:

“quiet, serious, earns success by thoroughness and dependability. Practical and matter of fact, realistic and responsible. decide logically what should be done and work toward it steadily, regardless of distractions. Takes pleasure in making everything orderly and organised – their work, their home, their life. Value traditions and loyalty”

Kathryn completely agrees with the MBTI thumbnail of her personality type, and she is very creative. In fact she works in Consumer Insights for a leading food manufacturer on new product innovation. Whilst she works with lots of creative marketing peeps, she needs to “withdraw” to her quiet space to reflect, and form her ideas and insights.

So when are you most creative, maybe “re hanging the office door”, getting out of the open plan, or just getting out for some reflective time might pay results for you.


If you would like to know more how your personality preferences might impact your creativty, innovation or performance at work please get in touch. Some personality feedback and coaching might unlock some insights about yourself.


Feedback – its nice!

Over the past 24 hours I have received four pieces of feedback. Three direct and one indirect.

The indirect was the sense of satisfaction following parents evening enabling us to talk to subject teachers to help with the choice of GCSE options for our eldest son Tom. There was a real joy in hearing how well he was doing and teachers trying hard to convince us that he should use his limited choice of three on their subjects. (He’s finally made a decision on the eve of the deadline and going with History, Geography and Computing – P preference like his Dad. Music was in this morning but his geography teacher sold him the possibility of an A so that was Tom sold!).

The direct feedback was for my work. Three very different pieces of work. One for the questions I asked during a Coaching Course I was running, another for the facilitation of a senior team event and the third for a piece of design work that was a very different approach for the client and the Consultancy that had commissioned me to design it for them.

Its nice to get feedback isn’t it? It makes you feel good, its “warm and fuzzy”, its a sign of achievement, its recognition of influence, and its a sign that someone values your contribution.

What ever our motivational preferences, and whether we try and justify it according to Maslow, Herzberg, McClelland, Pink or anyone else thats written a “10 things you need to know about Motivation” its just nice. 

I feel really good about it, and I’m aware that I don’t give feedback enough to those I work with and share a home with so I shall paying attention to that in the next few days.

How about we all do it – its nice!




Our future sports stars need YOU!

I’m at Wolverhampton swimming pool today. The third day of four that Luke is swimming in the Worcestershire County Championships and following a twitter exchange this morning with Claire Haynes @WildfireSpark I thought I would blog from the event.

It’s a call to action.

Because these events don’t just happen. It takes an army of volunteers to make these events run. I’m sat at the moment in a room having lunch with a small army of timekeepers, judges and other officials. People who have given up their time to become accredited and make sure these events run within guidelines set by the sports governing bodies.

What’s more alarming as I scan the room is that around half of the officials don’t have children who are here swimming. Some are even pensioners who are still turning out long after their children have stopped competing. Some even talk of their grandchildren swimming.

Do you all remember 2012. What a fabulous event that was. The legacy? We’ll I’m not seeing it here. There are no new faces in this room that there was in 2012.

We are all busy, so sorry that does not wash with me. Maybe it’s just too scary to get involved, maybe you fear getting dumped on, maybe you think Its full of people who are obsesssed with power.
Maybe all of those are true, but let’s get back to why I’m here and you should be here, or out on a park, gym or other sporting venue because our children, or your neighbours children need you to make it happen.

Lord Coe said when he closed the 2012 Olympics that it said “made in Britain”. So let’s make it in Britain, let’s have an army of great British sports stars or just a bunch of kids who just love sport in all in its beauty and the values that sport really stands for.

I’m afraid though, it needs you to make it happen.

The culture of tell – and taking a risk!


I had a great learning experience yesterday which I would like to share, not in that “look at me aren’t I clever’ sought of way but because it fits into an area that I have increasingly become interested and curious about. I gained a considerable amount of confidence to continue to do what is a natural style for me and may be prompt some reflection for you too!

“we take it for granted that telling is more valued than asking. Asking the right questions is valued, but asking in general is not. To ask is to reveal ignorance and weakness. Knowing things is highly valued, and telling people what we know is almost automatic because we have made it habitual in most situations. We are especially prone to telling when we have been empowered by someone else’s question or when we have been formally promoted into a position of power”

Yesterday, I was promoted into a position of power as Edgar H. Schein describes in his book Humble Inquiry. I had been asked to facilitate a senior team around an issue, and my internal client emailed me in advance and reflected that may be she had given me a hospital pass.

So I had spoken to both my HR client and the Director to clarify expectations and agree a plan for the morning. All good stuff this contracting!

So I came to the morning, and with Schein’s book poking me in my mind, I swopped my plan around, furiously scribbling process flows and re writing questions in which to kick of the session and for various points based on the process. I was after all the expert and expected to lead this group, through facilitation to an answer.

Then in one moment as the Director kicked off the meeting, I pushed the scribbled notes aside, and whilst I can’t remember what I actually asked, my intent was to find out what was on their mind and what they would like from their time together. Whoosh, 90 minutes later each of the six team members had really opened up the issue, been really rather tough on themselves about their own role in the issue rather than the people we were intending to discuss and we got to a place that the Director had expressed that he only hoped possibly achieve at the end of the session.

So what do I think happened? Due to the fact I can’t remember the questions I asked means they were obviously not particularly clever, it was clearly my intent of “humble inquiry” as Schein calls it. I truly believe that I took a state of ignorance and asked for information in the least biased and non threatening way. I gave up the power invested in me for one moment and trusted the group, they were after all adults and senior people.

So what can we learn from my experience? Whether we are facilitating, training, leading or coaching others why not just drop the power bit for one moment, be genuinely curious. I wonder what you might achieve?