Thursday, 12 December 2013

Does analysis paralysis prevent you from managing effectively?

The ability to make decisions that are timely and powerful is a critical management skill; being overly contemplative and over-analysing a situation can be damaging as Shakespeare’s Hamlet would attest to.

So how do managers know that chosen decisions are the best ones and avoid falling into the trap of just “making a decision for the sake of it, because any decision is better than none?”

To help managers produce effective decisions there are a few simple rules:

Plan, plan, plan
A common error is reactive decision making - a situation that at best ends with a serendipitous result but more often with a poor outcome.  Planning allows for decisions to be made simply, comfortably and in an effective way.

Planning provides benefits to decisions:

  • opportunity to establish independent goals through a conscious and directed series of choices
  • a standard of measurement of whether there is movement towards or away from a desired result 
  • finite (often limited) resources can be committed in a structured and orderly way

Do your research but avoid information overload 
Information overload can be defined as "a gap between the volume of information and the tools needed to assimilate it”; the more information overload, the worse the quality of decisions made. The overload of information can be related to problems processing and tasking, which impacts decision making.

  • There are a number of factors concerning information overload and consideration of these may help focus information collection and processing:
  • Personal Information characteristics - qualifications, experiences and attitudes 
  • Information Characteristics - information quality, quantity and frequency 
  • Tasks and Process - standardised procedures or methods for gathering information and undertaking work 
  • Organisational Design - organisation processing capacity and relationship - both of which affect the ability to collect, assimilate and analyse information
  • Information Technology - IT management, and general technology that assist with both collection and analysis

Keep decisions rational
It is often considered that people are rational, free to make their own decisions and therefore behave according to the rational choice theory - making decisions by determining the likelihood of a potential outcome, the value of the outcome and then multiplying the two. However, in reality, there are some factors that affect decision making abilities and cause people to make irrational decisions.

Cognitive and personal biases can lead to decisions being affected and it is therefore important to be aware, to understand and to reduce (or eliminate) these.

Some common biases in decision making include:

  • Selective search for evidence – the tendency to be willing to gather facts that support certain conclusions but disregard other facts that support different conclusions 
  • Premature termination –  the tendency to accept the first alternative that looks like it might work 
  • Cognitive inertia – the unwillingness to change existing thought patterns in the face of new circumstances 
  • Selective perception – screening out information considered unimportant 
  • Wishful thinking – a tendency to want to see things in a positive light 
  • Recency – the tendency to place more attention on more recent information and either ignore or forget more distant information 
  • Repetition bias – the willingness to believe what one has been told most often and by the greatest number of different sources 

Use a logical approach
Within decision making, managers must consider a structured approach that ensures:

  • Objectives are first established 
  • Objectives are then classified and prioritised by importance 
  • Alternative actions are developed 
  • The alternative(s) are evaluated against all the objectives 
  • The alternative that is able to achieve all the objectives is the tentative decision 
  • The tentative decision is evaluated for more possible consequences 
  • The decisive actions are taken together with any additional actions required to prevent any adverse consequences from becoming problems and re-starting both problem analysis and decision making.

Building effective decision making steps
Managers do not work in isolation in decision making and are most effective when working with the team when implementing the logical approach above. This enables a collaborative approach to developing the following steps - increasing awareness of and overcoming any possible social, cognitive and cultural obstacles along the way.

  1. Establish team ethos -  creating and nurturing the relationships, norms, and procedures that will influence how situations are understood and communicated 
  2. Increase group perception -  recognising that a situation exists that needs a decision exists 
  3. Interpret - identifying competing explanations for the situation and evaluating the drivers behind those interpretations 
  4. Judgment - sorting various possible actions or responses and determining which is more justifiable 
  5. Motivation - examining the competing commitments and then prioritising and committing to team values/needs over other personal or social values 
  6. Action - following through with action that supports the more justified decision 
  7. Reflect on action

So, does analysis paralysis prevent effective management? It does – but following these rules will help to overcome potential decision making obstacles and prevent this scourge of the well managed organisation.

Written by David Mathieson, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Advanced Selling Skills: Stop Selling, Start Helping

Over the last decade sales training has moved forward considerably. It is however important to consider why this evolution has taken place. This has happened not necessarily due to more ‘sales techniques’ being developed, but actually due to the customer becoming more educated and powerful than ever before.

Advanced Selling Skills
Advanced Selling Skills

Gone are the days of the hard sell, or the deliberate 'mirroring technique' of the customer sales teams employed in order to get the customer/client to say ‘yes’.  Sales teams have to realise that they need to start helping customers in order to build repertoire and partnerships.

This may sound like common sense, yet old habits die hard and there are many sales people out there who are still using out-of-date selling techniques and forgetting that customer service is in fact key to successful sales.

Business goes where it is invited and it stays where it is looked after.

Think about any previous encounters you had with 'good sales people' and 'bad sales people', what were their common character traits?   Were they passionate?  Were they pushy or rude? Did they possess a good knowledge of the product or service you were interested in? Did they help you in any way or provide you with more information?

Although passion and product/service knowledge does help make a good sales person, the question being posed today is what makes a ‘great’ sales person?

A great sales person cares about you getting the most for your money, will happily take the time to really understand your needs and assist you with finding solutions for those particular needs. In Buddhism this is called ‘unselfish intention.’

A good sales person knows all the techniques to employ to get customers to say 'yes'.  A great sales person will have a pure ‘intention’ of the customer being completely satisfied in the purchase they have made or are about to make. Not only this, a great sales person understands that money has value and when the customer passes that money over, in return they need to gain a product or service that to the customer is worth more than the money they have spent.

These are the simple things which distinguishes between efficient and exceptional sales people and which will keep a customer returning over and over again.

Today, more than ever before companies need to hold on to the customers they already have as we are in an age where having the number one product or service doesn't necessarily equate trust or loyalty.  Even having a great brand doesn't ensure success.  We are dealing with more sophisticated buyers who want more for their money. And that ‘more’ comes in the form of the service when they pick up the phone to your company, the after care service when they have made their purchase and most importantly, the customer service they receive when making that all important decision to purchase from your sales person.  

Training your sales team to help/assist customers will significantly increase your customer base and retention. Here are a few quick pointers to think about when ‘helping’, not selling.
  • Have an intention to help the customer make the best decision for them, don’t just think about making the sale. Customers see ‘selfish’ sales people a mile off.
  • Remember, sales and customer service are becoming more and more aligned, so always go the extra mile to help your customers.
  • ‘When you educate your build rapport, when you sell you break it.’  People will buy when they understand so rather than just close the sale, keep informing and educating - see what difference it makes.
Capita Learning & Development offers an Advanced Selling Skills Training Course, which will introduce you to new selling skills and also help you cope with the changing demands of the customer.

Written by Pete Scott, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.

Monday, 18 November 2013

How to Lead a Team and Gain Respect After Internal Promotion

Most of us start at the bottom of the career ladder and work our way up. We become so proficient at our job, earning respect of the management and becoming a valued member of the team. Eventually promotion is offered, usually within the same team and we can find ourselves leader of the team we were once part of. This does have its advantages, however, doesn't come without its problems.

New to Team Leadership
New to Team Leadership

There is nothing that can gain respect more than people knowing that you have been there and done the job for yourself. You know the systems and procedures, what is expected and the problems that your team may encounter. You can see things from their point of view. This can be a great advantage when leading a team. You know when to cut the slack because of genuine difficulties, but you also know an excuse when you hear one.

The problems arise though when some of the team members may have been there much longer than you, may be older with more experience, or may feel that they were the ones that deserved the promotion. You may find it difficult to be assertive and to feel that you are taken seriously as a manager. Since you were once in their position, you will know how hard the job is and may feel guilty for enforcing deadlines.

So how can you gain respect from your team and get them to do what you need them to without them thinking that power has gone to your head?

Firstly, stop beating yourself up and congratulate yourself on your promotion. It is quite normal to feel this way when you have been used to working on the other side of the fence, as it were. The dynamics of your team have now changed so now you need to embrace this change and take control.

In order to gain respect, you have to give it. Show your team that you value them and support them by listening to how you can help them. Listen to any ideas that they may have. Think back to when you were in their position. If you had a problem, how would you have liked your leader to have handled it? Remember that the only way to get what you want is to ask for it. Never assume that anyone in your team knows exactly what is expected of them. When enforcing a deadline, explain to them when it has to be done by and why, then ask how they think they can achieve it, what do they need to make this happen, how can you best help them? Once they know that they have your full support, then they will do whatever they can for you.

Capita Learning & Development offers a training course in New to Team Leadership, which will help you develop and grow your leadership and management skills.

Yvonne Bleakley
Learning Consultant, Capita Learning & Development

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Should managers operate in a pressure free environment?

One of the overarching responsibilities of the manager is to “get the job done” and creating the environment in which this work can be done effectively and efficiently is crucial.

But should this environment be pressure free?

Pressure Free Environment - Capita Learning & Development
Pressure free management? 

“Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors” the African proverb tells us. Managers want skilful sailors (effective staff) on their team – but there is a major difference between the pressure of gentle swells and the stress of tidal waves.

It is important that managers understand the difference between pressure and stress.

There is a difference between pressure and stress. Pressure can be positive and a motivating factor, and is often essential in a job. It can help individuals achieve goals and perform better.

Stress often describes both the events that are a source of pressure and the subjective feelings associated with external events and stimuli.

The Health & Safety Executive defines stress as: 'the adverse reaction a person has to excessive pressure or other types of demands placed upon them'.

This makes a distinction between 'pressure', which can be a positive state if managed correctly, and 'stress' which can be detrimental to health.

Is pressure good?
There is a direct link between performance and the appropriate levels of pressure – too little pressure results in boredom, too much results in exhaustion. Pressure must be appropriate not only in terms of volume of work but also on its longevity.

It is natural to feel under pressure at times, because of life and work demands. If the pressure is unrelenting and there is no time for recovery, negative health effects can result.

Who has the responsibility for maintaining pressure at the appropriate level?

In 1936 Kurt Lewin advocated that Behaviour is a function of both the person and the environment -  B= f  (P/E)

This clearly states that behaviour can be influenced internally and externally – the individual manages their own internal state and the manager influences the external state. So both have a part to play in creating and maintaining pressure that makes that skilful sailor.

The management responsibility
Managers must create an environment in which their people can cope. Coping means balancing the demands and pressures placed on an individual by the job requirements with the skills and knowledge required by the capable individual within that job – so well-designed, organised and managed work is vital.
It is essential that managers have an active role in facilitating and supporting staff to do their job effectively and to contribute to the success of their team and the organisation. So within the context of that role, managers can ensure they establish the following:

  • Role – do people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that the person does not have conflicting roles? Are jobs designed to avoid conflicting demands and are the expectation of the job role clear? 
  • Appropriate Demand - are the workload, work patterns, and the work environment appropriate?
  • Control -  how much empowerment do people have in taking responsibility for the way they do their work 
  • Support - what encouragement, support and resources are provided by the organisation, line managers and colleagues? Are people fully trained to undertake the demands of their job?
  • Relationships - is a positive working environment promoted to avoid conflict and deal with unacceptable behaviour, identify or respond to issues of concern promptly and seek constructive solutions? 
  • Changes - how are organisational changes managed and communicated - are people engaged in this process?
  • Feedback – are there regular opportunities for feedback on performance e.g. regular 'one to one' meetings and team meetings?

The Employees responsibility
It is essential that managers ensure their people play an active role in maintaining pressure at the appropriate level by encouraging them to:

  • maintain good communication with colleagues and line management structure 
  • engage in discussion about  performance and act on feedback 
  • raise issues of concern at an early stage and seek constructive support and solutions 
  • make use of the support and training resources available 
So, should managers operate in a pressure free environment?

No – managers should operate in a pressure controlled, pressure maintained and pressure appropriate environment.

Written by David Mathieson, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Predictions for Learning & Development in 2014

With the recovery of the recession in full swing, training is on the rise again.  With that said, we have a prediction for Learning & Development moving into 2014 which might just surprise you.

Before we press on with today’s article, here are a few questions you may wish to consider for your business heading into next year:

“How could Learning & Development help your staff members both individually and as a team in 2014?”

“What specific skills would help your business deliver an even greater service to your customers?

“What are the 3 main areas you would like to see up skilled within your team by the end of next year?”

“Combining all of the above, how could Learning & Development help your business rise to the next level?”

Training Predictions for 2014
Training Predictions for 2014

You do not need to answer these questions in detail right now, however once you have read today’s predictions for Learning & Development you may wish to revisit these questions and see how closely they link to your business and aims for next year and beyond.

The prediction relates to an area which even just 10 years ago didn’t really exist in the Learning & Development world but in contrast, over the last 12 months has been bubbling up and by next year will be ready to explode. This area is called Intrapersonal Skills (relationship with yourself), this includes courses like Emotional Intelligence Training Course, Presenting Skills Training Course, Building Personal Resilience Training Course and Leadership Training Courses.

Presenting skills and leadership courses also relate to Interpersonal Skills (your relationship with others), which no doubt these courses are about that, yet we are realising more and more now that in order to influence others and communicate effectively, we must first own a confident and good relationship with ourselves, especially in the business world. 

Emotional Intelligence takes this one step further and delves into the depths of the subconscious mind, being present and understanding that we can control our emotions or at least manage them, something that is essential when working in a busy and high demanding office environment.

Why are these types of courses becoming so popular in the business world?
  • Intrapersonal Skills courses are no longer considered fluffy or non measurable.  This is greatly due to training companies ensuring they are delivering to a higher standard but also because of the growth of the personal development industry over the last 5 years and the direct impact it is continually having on people’s lives for the better.  How many people do you know who have read at least one personal development book at your office?  Perhaps you have read one or more yourself?
  • Stress costs the UK economy up to 12 billion per year - a recent study done by mental health charity MIND revealed that work is the most stressful factor in peoples’ lives, with one in three people (34 percent,) saying their work life was either very or quite stressful.  Therefore, companies are now being very proactive by investing in their staff members’ health and wellbeing.  Businesses are achieving this by offering staff courses such as some already mentioned in this articleAfter all  ‘Prevention is always better than cure.’
  • With technology making such dramatic advances over the last decade, the focus and emphasis has now been put back on ensuring team members are up to date on these technological advances.  This ‘change’ within a business can also come with a lot of resistance so once again this is where Intrapersonal skills play a vital role in staff members being able to be adaptable and open minded to change.
  • The above point also relates to companies being fully aware of the uncertainty felt by many working Britons about their job security so by offering staff a variety of training courses team members can feel the company is investing in them and more so than this, the staff member can keep their skills sharp and even be up for promotion internally when the opportunity arises.

Overall, Learning & Development has the ability to bring staff members together in a fun but professional environment, it allows people to speak their mind about their views and vision with their current company. It can also work as a great motivator even if each staff member takes 2 or 3 skills or tips back to the office with them after a training day and finally, the one thing that is constant is change, training will always work as a facilitator to assist with that change.

Now could be a good time to return back to the questions at the beginning of this article.  However, this time when asking each question, have a pen & note pad ready and consider how Learning & Development could impact the mindset, skills and emotions of staff members within your business and even yourself.

‘All change starts on the inside.’ 

To train your team, have a look at what courses Capita Learning & Development offers in 2014. If you need any tailored courses please call 0800 022 3410.
Written by Pete Scott, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

How can managers step up to the challenge of managing remotely?

In days when going to work meant commuting to the office and sitting at one’s own desk, managers were encouraged to be present – to keep their eyes open and their hands off and promise the metaphorical open door.

Working from home
But what about in days when being present means occupying virtual space and the door has been replaced with a portal? How do managers maintain the correct level of contact with their teams whilst ensuring effective performance and appropriate behaviours?

To understand what to do it’s worth understanding what has created the need to manage remotely:

  • Virtual teams created by the availability of technology
  • Matrix management created by the need to be leaner, more effective and more responsive to client demands 
  • Flexible working environments (e.g. working patterns, working space configuration)  created by the reaction to customer/user demands and the social needs of workforce

The challenges presented by these newly created environments, means that the manager must be aware of, and support, the shifting needs and feelings of many:

  • Those taking the step into remote working for the first time
  • Those experienced members of the team who need to retain a sense of belonging whilst maintaining the motivation to achieve
  • Those working in virtual teams who may been spread throughout the country or the globe  
  • Those on the team who do not have the opportunity to operate remotely and often openly deride their colleagues for (cue fingers indicating inverted commas) “working at home” 
  • The manager who must tussle with the potential feeling of  loss of control

When developing his “Action Centred Leadership” model in the 1960s and 1970s, John Adair could not have anticipated the increased significance it would have taken on but never have the underpinning needs of its component elements  –  to manage and develop the individual, grow the team and achieve the task – been more relevant.

Of course in there are some very simple management actions like keeping electronic diaries free of unnecessary meetings and placeholders but it goes way beyond that. This is about setting conditions and environments for matters like communication, performance objectives and expectations from all. So what good practices can managers adopt?

Get the team emotion right

  • Consider the effect of motivation of those working at the office versus the perceived (and often real) benefit for those working at home
  • Remember that new working arrangements cause a shift in behaviour with the team (they are reverting to storming) so is it time to reconsider the ideology of the team – how do we work together, what is expected of each other, how do we communicate, what does respect look like, how do we deal with issues and problem, what does “belonging” mean and so on)
  • Consider the practical (e.g. time) and cultural elements of global virtual teams  
  • Develop the collective maturity and capability of the group so that you can progressively increase group freedom and authority 

Get the individual expectations right

  • One size does not fit all – what feels right and gets the best out of one relationship doesn’t work for another. Start with the default position of asking the individual what they need to make remote working effective and come to agreeable solutions
  • Develop individual freedom and authority - avoid overcompensating for not having sight of individuals. In remote situations “management by exception” has to be the de facto approach – agreeing standard communication up front and agreeing what constitutes exception situations when additional communication is required
  • Remember that recognition and praise is not as immediate or ad hoc so take the time to provide this – it means even more when working alone for periods of time to have effort and good work acknowledged
  • Remember that working in isolation is not necessarily always felt to be a reward (or indeed a preferred way of working) – what motivation does the individual require and how can you provide this? (NB – motivation itself is a huge topic and is covered in other blog articles)   

Get the performance management of the task right

  • Manage by outputs and outcomes not inputs or process 
  • Be accurate in your expectations surrounding deliverables (measures, timescales, strategy and tactics responsibilities), objectives (accountabilities and measures) and task (standards, quality, time and reporting parameters)
  • Consider what resources (physical and emotional) the individual requires
  • Do they have a support network provided? 

In achieving the right balance in all these, the manager has the chance of nurturing a successful remote working environment and step up to effectively perform the sole responsibility of managing remotely.

Written by David Mathieson, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The 3 C's to Achieving Your Goals

Just by embracing 3 simple yet powerful words, your goals can be yours.

Goal Completion
By making a firm commitment to achieve your goals, you put aside all excuses and become more determined and focused than ever before. Successful people set and write down their goals and then refuse to budge no matter what happens until they have achieved them.

Once you have set clear, specific goals with definite tasks and deadlines, your subconscious mind will then set about finding solutions and opportunities to help you get them. Without deadlines it is easy to procrastinate and put off important tasks.

It is very common for people to complete 90% of a task and then slack off the final completion. You must discipline yourself to fight off this natural tendency and push through to completion.
Every time you complete a task your brain releases endorphins which give you a sense of well-being and elation. The greater the task, the more endorphins are released. Those that work with me regularly, know how I use the reward and punishment system for completing action steps. Well this is nature's way of rewarding you.

Everyone likes to feel like a winner and you get a feeling of winning by completing a task 100%. When this habit of task completion kicks in, your life will begin to improve in ways you can't imagine. However, the reverse is also true. The incompletion of a task is a major source of stress and anxiety. If you have ever had a major assignment that you have put off, you will understand what I am talking about. The longer you wait, the closer the deadline, the greater the stress. It can start to keep you awake at night. When you finally complete it you have a great feeling of relief.

Bringing closure to an issue is essential for you to feel happy and in control of your situation. Lack of closure, unfinished business or an incomplete task is a major source of stress, dissatisfaction and failure. It consumes an enormous amount of physical and emotional energy.

Yvonne Bleakley
Learning Consultant, Capita Learning & Development

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Should managers possess and encourage creativity and innovation?

In striving for results and measuring the degree to which objectives are achieved, managers often fixate on effectiveness  – doing the right thing  – and pay less attention to efficiency  – doing things right.

This may lead to a lack of attention to solving problems or introducing improvements and the tendency to think of that well worn adage – “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”

But managers are required to “fix it” –  to ensure operational and strategic problems are solved.  Generating solutions require creative problem solving and the encouragement of creativity in themselves and their teams –  to develop the ability to go beyond the obvious daily habit and routine.

Creative Problem Solving Training Course - Capita Learning & Development
Creative Problem Solving
In his book “Applied Imagination” Alex Osborn said:

 “Creative problem solving defers judgment on a right answer. Instead, the process evaluates many possible answers, seeking patterns and relationships that might suggest solutions we wouldn’t otherwise see”. 

Naturally not all solutions and suggestions require innovation or unique ideas. However, developing the capacity to extend the style of thinking and problem solving provides the opportunity for creative solution generation.

It’s crucial to understand – and help the team understand - that creativity is:

  • An ability – creativity is often suppressed but everyone has the ability to imagine or invent something new and to generate solutions by combining, changing, or reapplying existing ideas
  • An attitude – creativity is grown by overcoming socialised norms, accepting change and newness, being willing to play with ideas and possibilities and the habit of enjoying the good, while looking for ways to improve it
  • A process – creativity requires hard work to suggest ideas and solutions. Creative people make gradual alterations and refinements – few works of creative excellence are produced with a single stroke of brilliance

It’s worth remembering that people tend to generate their creative resources in two environments:

  • In stressful situations 
  • When feeling uninhibited

The manager has massive impact on the emotional temperature of the team and the environment in which it works, and must ensure that this is free of inhibitions and:

  • Eradicates the “What will people think?” mentality which encourages conformation (promoting the notion that to deviate from ‘norms’ is wrong) but increases the toying with the “What if?” 
  • Eliminates limiting thinking about ability. People often defer to ‘experts’ to create solutions – “I can't do it”, or “There’s nothing I can do”. History, though, is replete with examples of solution generation from the unlikeliest of sources – and a good mind with a positive attitude will go far in producing creative solutions 
  • Abolishes the “I might fail” syndrome – the reluctance to risk that is caused by the societal view of failure and results in people being afraid to experiment. Fear of failure is one of the major obstacles to creativity. The cure is to change attitudes. Controlled failures should be expected and accepted – they are simply learning tools that help focus the way toward success 
  • Deals with overcertainty – the reaction of “It can't be done” gives the situation or problem power; giving up before starting is self fulfilling.  Prejudice caused by preconceived ideas often prevents clear sight beyond what is already known or believed to be possible. 

When this environment is in place, managers should develop creative methodology with the team – techniques that can help define situations or problems, explore their attributes, generate alternatives and evaluate and implement ideas. These tools include:

  • Ishikawa (or Fishbone) – an analysis tool that provides a systematic way of looking at effects and the causes that create or contribute to those effects. This tool will assist the team identify and categorize the many potential root causes of problems or issues in an orderly way 
  • “5 Whys” – a simple process of articulating the current situation and asking “Why the situation or problem happens”. If the answer provided doesn't identify the root cause of the problem, the question is repeated and there is a loop back to the previous step until the team is in agreement that the problem's root cause is identified
  • De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats – this industry standard team discussion and individual thinking tool provides a means for teams to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way, and in doing so to think together more effectively. Looking at a situation with this technique helps to create solutions using all approaches. 

So, should managers be creative and innovative, encouraging the team to do likewise?

The harmony of effectiveness and efficiency requires it.

Find out more about Creative Problem Solving Training Courses Available in London.

Written by David Mathieson, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Improving your business presentation and speaking skills

Being able to present confidently and effectively in business is probably one of the most underrated skills in the working world today.

If you cast your mind back to a great business presentation you have attended, there will be a number of reasons of why it was great.  Let’s find out some of these reasons now by asking some questions:

“Was the speaker organised and kept to time commitments?”
“Were they knowledgeable and passionate about their topic?”
“Were they confident?”
“Were they able to build a relationship with the audience?”
“Did they have a clear message that was easy to understand?”
Business Presentation and Speaking Skills
Business Presentation and Speaking Skills
By even asking these questions we can start to draw out some of the strategies and behaviours of a great speaker versus an average one and it is vitally important that when preparing your own presentations, you think about these factors and not just the content which needs to be delivered.

Over the years, we have started to understand this science behind great presentations and the good news is that these skills can be shared with more and more people so they too can feel confident when delivering a presentation.

The first thing to know is that at work, you are presenting all of the time.  From meetings, staff training sessions, one to one coaching to that twenty-minute presentation you will be doing next month in front of 200 staff.  Hence, another strong reason for understanding and practicing becoming the best speaker you can possibly be.

With knowing that you are presenting and speaking in a business environment regularly, let’s share some areas to consider before your next presentation.

Great speakers have the ability to contextualise their presentations or in other words, they are fantastic storytellers. This helps to even turn the driest topic into something interesting.

Although the benefit of adding context to our presentations makes sense, most people still avoid it at all costs to purely focus on content and by doing so the belief is that with enough content the presentation will go smoothly.  This is rarely the case.

As already discussed, you may have the best content in the world for your presentation or speaking engagement, but the question still lies in ‘how can you bring that content to life?’

Contextualising your presentation can be through metaphors, personal stories, example stories or even complete make believe stories (so long as they relate back to the content!)  Yet, the human mind remembers far better when a story is told, it gives clear links, it evokes emotion and months, even years later we always remember a good story.

Perhaps take sometime out today to think of how you can start bringing your presentations to life through adding context.  A great way of checking you are organised for an effective presentation is by checking you have the three C’s.
  • Content
  • Concept
  • Context
Concept so people understand why they are there in the first place, content for the science and logical approach and context to win the hearts of the audience.

Written by Pete Scott, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

To be or not to be a Trainer? You decide…

Training the Trainer - Capita Learning & Development
Trainer: benefits
Being a Trainer can be a varied and exciting role, travelling to UK and International destinations, meeting people of different cultures, with no two days the same. But every job has its up and downs, so what is it really like to be a Trainer?

Delivering courses to large groups of people can be a daunting task. Standing up at the front with all eyes on you could be someone’s nightmare, but then again some people love being the centre of attention! Speaking publicly is something that takes practice and time to build confidence, but this skill is something you’ll never lose once mastered. There’s nothing like the feeling you get from a job well done – receiving great feedback and knowing that you have helped people learn something new or motivated them to develop themselves further. There’s always the odd time when you have to deal with an unruly delegate, but no job can be smooth sailing all the time, and there is a great support network of trainers so we can help and advise each other and learn from each others’ experiences.

People often wonder how trainers remember everything they need to deliver their courses. Although all learning and development professionals spend years developing a base knowledge of a variety of subjects and theories that they can refer to when delivering training, by no means are they required to have all of this information on the tip of their tongues. Preparation is key! Subjects can be revisited and refreshed upon the night before and notes can be made to refer to during the training sessions and in breaks. Of course, some of the learning is so embedded, delivery just comes naturally.

Another big part of the job is the travel involved. Trainers for Capita Learning & Development travel across the UK and also abroad to places like the Middle East, The Gambia and Europe where they can drink in the culture and sights. However, as the travel is for work, trainers find their free time for tourism quite limited as the majority of their time is spent travelling to the venue, preparing and working. But some people are just not made to sit in an office…

So, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of any job. And our trainers have all jumped into their roles – imparting their expert knowledge, passion, and support to many people on a daily basis.

As one trainer summarises: “What other job can offer you the experience of working in so many different places, industries, cultures, with new faces and challenges on a daily basis?”

So you decide. To be or not to be a Trainer?

Written by Claire Hopkins, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Strategic Thinking – but whose job is it anyway?

Thinking strategically, often seen as the accountability of top management, is a skill and a process that are required to grow the organisation both in times of stability and in challenging circumstances.
So, what is strategic thinking and why should there be a cultural acceptance of it being part of everyone’s job and not just the domain of the select few?

Strategic Thinking Capita Learning & Development
Strategic thinking
The Cambridge dictionary defines strategy as:

a detailed plan for achieving success in situations such as war, politics, business, industry or sport, or the skill of planning for such situations

What the definition makes transparent is that strategy is just that - a plan; a plan to reach something. As such strategy can be deemed to be “owned” at various levels and responsibility and awareness ought to be organisationally grown.

It is true to say that long term, far reaching organisational aims, the design of culture and the creation of ethos must be “driven” - but not owned -  by senior management who ensure that operational plans and activities will then take over. In this way strategy is cascaded down throughout all levels of staff.

But balanced with that, organisations are increasingly bottom-up type businesses.  People want, and must see that they have, the opportunity to inform organisational objectives and deliver their part of the business to contribute to a successful organisation. Of course it is far too simplistic to think that organisations operate as democracies or co-operatives; they need to be managed with plans that can be immediately linked to the external environment and for organisations to be successful these links, and therefore these plans, must be recognised at all levels.

This knowledge must be implicit not tacit in the organisation – how operational and operational plans and thinking inform and support strategy and strategic thinking.

In enlightened times and in enlightened organisations individuals want (and seek) amongst other things -

  • engagement in the organisation and its successes 
  • fulfilment
  • sense of being valued

Informed senior management want at the very least -

  • People to take responsibility
  • Committed individuals
  • Success through effort
  • To meet (beat) strategic objectives

So what can organisations do to grow the strategic thinking culture and support the above desires? Well it’s back to the ownership of plans at all levels – but plans based on the understanding of how strategy can be informed from the bottom up with a clear line of sight from the individual to the organisation. Steps to achieve this are:

  • Establish a raison d’ĂȘtre  – increase the sense of ownership by having people articulate “what business they are in” (make sure it’s aligned to the organisation’s business and coach out any differences) and design a mission around that understanding
  • Define the destination - have people agree what the strategic intent is of “their business” – how will they help the organisation beat the competition, differentiate, collaborate or survive?
  • “SWOT” the issues – have individuals and teams scan the internal and external environment – what are the requirements for “their business” to succeed? What might get in the way of achieving strategic intent? What resources can be best leveraged and what opportunities are there for growth and improvement?
  • Plan the journey – ensure the individuals and teams undertake the design of the objectives that will achieve the strategic intent and state the actions that will get them there.

Naturally these steps can be undertaken at an individual level too and built in to the performance management process.

The bottom line is that it is paramount for organisational success that strategic thinking is considered the property of all and that there is empowerment of individuals at all levels to own and take responsibility.

So whose job is strategic thinking? Everyone’s.

Written by David Mathieson, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Do you play the Blame Game?

When something goes wrong, a number of organisations and managers need someone to blame and they set about instigating a hunt to put a name to the culprit without ever thinking of the impact that this has on employees.

When this happens employees will try to cover up mistakes and hide problems hoping that no one will find out. Genuine mistakes may go unnoticed and unreported which may lead to even greater problems in the future. The result is that nothing ever gets resolved.
Blaming Someone at work
Blaming Culture at Work
However, the impact of harnessing a blame culture is far greater than unresolved issues. Staff will lack initiative and creativity in case they make a mistake and are more concerned with covering their own back rather than engaging in more productive actions. If any staff member receives negative feedback for their actions, then this will soon become common knowledge within the workplace, especially if they have been dealt with harshly. This will result in them losing trust and respect for their leaders.

If you use or hear such language as “who is responsible for this” or “when will they ever learn?” then this is the language of a blame culture. Rather than being focused on learning how to improve the situation or on the solution, this is focusing on finding someone to blame because it is always someone else’s fault.

So how do you move from a blame culture towards a culture where people feel empowered to take responsibility?
  • Recognise that everybody makes mistakes
  • Thank people for bringing problems to your attention
  • Praise what people have achieved
  • Take responsibility for your own actions
  • Clarify what lessons can be learnt
  • Recognise staff for identifying problems early and for suggesting improvements
There is no such thing as failure, only results.  If we all learn from our results, then we can never fail. Just a small shift in mind set and language can make a huge difference.

Yvonne Bleakley
Learning Consultant, Capita Learning & Development

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

What challenges do Internal Communication professionals face in 2013?

Internal communication is rising high on the management agenda.  The demands being placed on internal communication professionals are also increasing. 

Internal Communication
Effective Internal Communication
While internal communication may have been seen historically as ‘nice to have’, senior leaders are increasingly aware of its importance in maintaining a healthy and robust organisation that is fit for the future.

More and more evidence backs up these expectations.  A Towers Watson study comparing communication and financial effectiveness found that organisations that ensure effective internal communications are 1.7 times more likely to outperform their peers financially. The same study found organisations with effective communication and change management processes outperformed peers without this focus by a factor of 2.5.  The ‘Engage for Success’ movement is amassing a significant volume of evidence to show the business value of providing an engaging workplace environment.  Their work also demonstrates how communication and employee voice is a vital strand at the heart of a strategic approach to engagement.

This changing landscape provides a new set of opportunities for the communication professional – but a whole set of fresh challenges too. While developing and managing a communication infrastructure remains important, leaders are increasingly likely to demand support from senior communication professionals with real clout – who can provide guidance on how to communicate in the trickiest situations, and have earned the respect and credibility to be listened to.

So what are some of the challenges facing today’s internal communication professional?

  • Developing an ability to ‘think business’:  at Executive and Board level.  Plus an understanding of how senior leaders think – and make decisions.  All important aspects of knowing how best to influence in a positive way. Understanding and navigating the political and power structure helps too
  • Having the gravitas to promote communication strategies supporting business objectives – and the knowledge to explain why they make sense.  That means getting an understanding of what makes different people tick – the psychology of communication.  It also means having the listening and research skills to apply that knowledge with the various groups that make up the organisation, developing strategies that acknowledge their different world views. One approach doesn’t fit all.  
  • Getting to grips with the culture (or cultures) of the organisation and identifying communication approaches that will work – and those that won’t.  As well as understanding the complexities involved in ‘changing culture’. 
  • Responding to the opportunities of a more connected world.  Gone are the days where communication = telling. Digital communication can open up dialogue and sharing across – and beyond – the organisation.  It can also be the latest corporate toy to crash and burn. The internal communication professional can make all the difference here.
  • Having the confidence and skill to coach leaders at all levels in their leadership communication style.  The way that leaders – from top to bottom of the organisation – promote dialogue is the foundation for an engaged and healthy organisation.
  • Providing opportunities for the organisation to both communicate and to listen while avoiding communication overload.  And ensuring that measurement, evaluation, and continuous improvement  are part of ‘business as usual’.
Of course, the core craft skills of writing and creating compelling communication materials remain as important as ever. But the time is right for internal communication professionals to be raising our game.

What do you see as the core challenges facing communication professionals today?
Share your experiences below:

Liz Cochrane
Course Director, Masters in Internal Communication Management

Monday, 13 May 2013

As a manager, do you know your impact or are you relying on your intentions?

“It is not enough that your designs, nay that your actions, are intrinsically good, you must take care they shall appear so.” (Henry Fielding).

An effective manager is one of the most significant and valuable assets that the team can possess and the very things the manager does and says could increase the effectiveness of the team - the “Hawthorne Effect” (the increase in productivity and effectiveness that occurs due to the impact of the motivational effect on the team as a result of the interest being shown in them) is prevalent.
Effective Management - A Manager's Intentions
Effective Management
But there is a danger that the manager can be the single biggest thing that gets in the way of people performing. In their actions and behaviours, managers - who are human after all - may mean well but it is worth considering that it is the impact of what the manager does, not the intention behind actions and behaviours that ultimately matters.

“Impact not intention” – this must be the manager’s mantra.
Consider the manager who:

  • always books things in their teams diaries “to save them the effort” 
  • filters communications for the team because “they are too busy to do it themselves” 
  • takes on the frequent checking of work with an individual “because it shows I am interested” 
  • insists on a weekly one to one with each of their team “because it shows I care”
  • pays special attention to underperforming individuals and allows the good performers to carry on without managerial input “because they don’t need me” 
Sound familiar?

“But I meant well, it’s just what they want, what they need,” is the cry that goes up. But who decided that? Are these the best thing for the individuals involved to help them perform?  What are these actions really saying to the team?

How do you know whether your actions and behaviours when managing the team are the ones that are most effective for them?
These managers may be misguided but all want the same thing – for the individual to perform. But what do individuals need from their manager in order to perform?  Why not start by asking the individual?

Whilst it is important to remember that managing people is a collaborative approach and the team cannot decide in isolation what they get, in the managerial process of seeking to ensure that people are developed, the team is built and the task is achieved it is valuable to keep in mind that we are talking about the individuals job and their performance so their voice is crucial.

“Seek first to understand. Then to be understood” wrote Steven Covey.
For a manager, getting feedback on own performance is often ignored in favour of giving feedback on others. But reflect on how valuable it would be to know those behaviours and actions that support and reinforce and those that disturb, disrupt or damage.

There are a few things worth considering:
  • Developing and establishing a 360 (or 180) degree feedback system
  • Building in time at the end of performance meetings to discuss what you do that supports or gets in the way of your people
  • Getting other managers to observe your performance and feedback
  • Having effective performance discussions with own line manager, ensuring that objectives relating to the management of people are agreed, measured and fed back on  
Samuel Johnson said "Hell is paved with good intentions."
No manager wants to live in hell so create the opportunity and take the time to check your impact matches your intentions.

Written by David Mathieson, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Employment Law Changes Spring 2013

This Spring coincides with various changes in employment law that are likely to affect the day-to-day working practices of many organisations. If you would like expert advice on the current legislation and ensure you have the correct employment law procedures in place, why not join The PEEL Club, an exclusive club for HR professionals?

The PEEL Club is a group of HR professionals who regularly meet up to discuss Employment Law changes, challenges and best practice. In this video we meet, Prof Patricia Leighton, an employment law specialist and the PEEL Club leader, who tells us more about the benefits of attending the PEEL Club...

Thursday, 4 April 2013

How To Change Your Company Culture

Barclay’s recent job cuts announcement includes a vow to ‘change the corporate culture’ of the organisation.  How realistic is that as an aim?
Change Company Culture
Organisational Change
New CEO Anthony Jenkins is wise to say that it will take ‘five to 10 years’ to embed genuine change. Culture is the very essence of an organisation.  There is a debate about whether culture is something an organisation “has” – a characteristic which can be changed in the same way as new equipment can be bought or processes introduced, or whether it is something an organisation “is” – so fundamental to the DNA of the organisation that it permeates all elements of organisational life.

Cultural models reflect this complexity. The well-known cultural web developed by Johnson and Scholes provides one illustration. The web is made up of a number of elements:
  • The events and stories that people talk about
  • The rituals and routines that show what is important and what‘sanctioned’ behaviour is
  • The symbols, from the organisation’s brand and buildings to the language that people use
  • Who has real power – to keep the status quo or make improvements
  • What controls are in place – both measurement and reward systems
  • The formal organisational structure – showing both who and what is important
At the centre of these six elements is what Johnson and Scholes call the ‘paradigm’: those deep unstated assumptions about the organisation that are so taken for granted, people don’t even know they have them.
To make it worse, few organisations have a single culture.   Subcultures proliferate – forming for reasons as varied as the requirement for an R&D division to work in a particular way to make its contribution, to the different basic assumptions that contribute to the world view of people from varying national cultures in a multi-national organisation.

So is change possible?  Yes, but it is important to recognise the limitations and risks.  As well as multifaceted, culture is multi-layered.  Ed Schein, father of organisational cultural theory, paints a picture of the levels of culture: Artifacts– things that can be seen, heard and touched as soon as you walk through an organisation’s doors.  Espoused values and beliefs - what people say is important. And finally – the basic, underlying assumptions that form the beating heart of the organisation. These assumptions build up over an organisation’s lifetime as a result of people finding a way of being that ‘works’ and works repeatedly when tackling challenges. That level of ‘taken for grantedness’ is tough to permeate – which helps explain the anxiety and resistance that can scupper the most well-meaning change efforts.  Though it also means that there are times where it is obvious that ‘the world is shifting’ when cultural change is the most likely – as it becomes increasingly clear that the old ways of being simply just won’t cut it for the future.

Changing culture means being in it for the long haul, taking a holistic approach – and recognising that intended changes often end up having unexpected consequences. No blog post could do justice to the complexity of what is required. A few pointers, in particular from a communication perspective include:
  • Clarity. Populate the cultural web to understand where your culture is now, and where you need it to be
  • Help people to ‘unlearn’:  use communication to help show why the current way of being just won’t work for the future. Better still, find ways people can find this out for themselves (e.g.: ask groups to conduct their own market research) 
  • Support leaders in being tangible and explicit about what is changing (and what isn’t).  Highlight role models to help people ‘reframe’ their thinking.   Engage – providing structured opportunities for people to make their own informed decisions about solutions.
  • Provide a safe environment.  Fear of failure or looking stupid is a big stumbling block.  Listen to understand concerns, then communicate the support that is being put in place.
  • Recognise the power of the peer group – especially in the digital age.  Nurture and support ‘informal’ leaders
  • Publicise and reinforce successes – and encourage people to do the same through internal social media platforms.
Liz Cochrane
Course Director, Masters in Internal Communication Management

Monday, 18 March 2013

Learning and Development: At a Glance

Carol Martin, Senior Consultant and Development Manager, Capita Learning & Development highlights the benefits of training employees - it stops stagnation, it's a great networking opportunity and it generates creativity and innovation.

She also talks about how the recession exposed gaps in the organisational structure of companies and how this has forced companies to train their employees in order to cultivate better performance. Watch the full interview below...

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Future of Learning & Development

What effect has the recession had on the Learning and Development function?

Rob Williams, Sales & Solutions Director at Capita Learning & Development, talks about how the recession has forced businesses to do more with less and to prove that there is a valid business case for investment in learning programmes that improve performance and overall business.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Learning and Development Outsourcing by Capita Learning & Development

In this month’s post we are inviting you to watch a video introducing Rob Williams, Sales & Solutions Director at Capita Learning & Development, who talks about his role in learning and development outsourcing.  Rob has been part of Business Focus Learning, a project on identifying the learning and development needs for businesses and how to deliver the services while demonstrating value for money. 

Does your company outsource learning and development or is the training done internally? What benefits have you seen when outsourcing these needs?