How can you make learning stick when returning to work from a training course?

I came across an interesting article today which contains a link to a learning strategy that you may find practical to use. It’s by Martin Sandbrook, who says:

“How often have you been fired up by something you have learned on a development programme? You return to work the day after the course all ready to implement your new learning. Within hours, business as usual has swamped your resolve. You mention your idea to a colleague and she just rolls her eyes and says “just been on a course have you?”

Recently I was invited to facilitate the final session of a leadership development programme. The participants had been offered some radical new ideas and were being asked to make significant changes in their behaviour when they returned to work. I suggested that I teach them about ‘Action Experiment’, so that they could identify a single simple action, one which they would feel confident to actually do, and one which they would see as the start of a changed pattern in their approach to leadership.”

The blog post is continued here:

And this is the system he proposes: Action Experiment


It seems delegation is one of the things we find most difficult to master as we climb the corporate ladder. During our early careers much of our success is measured by our outputs, the things we actually produce ourselves, whether they be projects completed, academic papers published, lectures prepared and delivered or, in manufacturing, widgets produced. As we progress into management and leadership, our success is measured by the success of the group of people we manage. So why is it often so difficult to delegate responsibilities to others in our team?

One reason may be perfectionism. When we believe that no-one but we ourselves can can be trusted to do a job properly, we may be unwilling to delegate, in case things go wrong. But how will anyone else ever learn if we don’t trust them to try? That doesn’t mean we breathe down their necks and micro-manage them either. When you delegate responsibility, you must also delegate authority, but if you are to do so effectively, you must set clear guidelines and put in place clear and well understood reporting and feedback mechanisms.

Another may reason may be fear of not being seen as achieving things ourselves. However, the more strategic our role, the less we should actually be doing and the more we should be thinking ahead, planning, and supporting others in carrying out the the tasks our work group needs to complete.

Sharing power is a means of developing and motivating people. By analysing the qualities needed to bring a particular task or project to successful completion you should be able to choose an employee with the skills, strengths and interests needed to succeed. You are literally setting that person up for success, with all the benefits to their self-esteem that brings. Delegation can be a key development tool.

When you delegate, make sure that both you and the person to whom you are delegating have:

  • mutual clarity about what the project involves
  • mutual clarity about what is expected in the form of outcomes or deliverables
  • mutual clarity about the level of autonomy you are giving
  • mutual clarity about time scales and reporting mechanisms
  • mutual clarity about priorities

Bill Gates said “Develop your people to do their jobs better than you can. Transfer your skills to them. This is exciting, but it can be threatening to a manager who worries that he is training his replacement. Smart managers like to see their employees increase their responsibilities because it frees the managers to tackle new or undone tasks”

I hope you’re a smart manager. You have the future in your hands.

Evaluate Your Emotional Agility

Now here’s an intriguing little activity from the good old Harvard Business Review in an article by by Susan David and Christina Congleton. Probably not very scientific, but a good rough indicator you might find useful to get you thinking about how emotionally agile you are.

The more we know about ourselves and the way we function, especially under stress or duress, the better we can actively manage our behaviour. We all have some negative thoughts and reactions – the important thing is how we react when we feel them and what steps we take to challenge them.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Most of you will be familiar with this construct, also known as the Urgent/Important matrix, used by Stephen Covey and a myriad other management gurus. This week I’ve had the privilege of facilitating parts of an HE management ‘Awayday’ and the matrix was useful in illustrating the importance for leaders of remaining as much as possible in the upper right hand quadrant – Q2 –  which is where they make for themselves ‘headspace’  to work on strategy, develop people, strengthen systems, solve problems, set clear outcomes and develop themselves.

I’ve often used it both as a tool to manage my own tasks and priorities and as a way to help teams make informed choices about how they work, but I’ve rarely seen it so well illustrated as it is here, on Dr. Kristian Rother’s Academis blog,

The icons really say it all!

Rother Eisenhower matrix

Lingualy Turns Your Web Browsing Into a Chance to Learn a New Language

Lingualy Turns Your Web Browsing Into a Chance to Learn a New Language – <a href=" Now here’s a clever idea. It’s an extension for the Chrome browser which helps you learn a new language by providing translations based on the web pages you’re browsing, thus ensuring you’re learning language around your interests rather than explaining that your postilion has been struck by lightning and you need to catch a tram.
Only a few languages available thus far, but I suspect more will be added.

Can You Take Your Strengths Too Far?

From the HBR Blog Network –

Can You Take Your Strengths Too Far?

by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman  |   2:04 PM October 2, 2012

For the past decade, leaders have been encouraged to focus on developing their strengths rather than always gravitating to working on a weakness. But is this too much of a good thing? Lately, a number of business thinkers have suggested so.

It’s tempting for those of us strongly committed to developing leadership strengths to ignore such dissent on the grounds that any new practice will attract critics. But the debate has practical significance to leaders. How should a hard-driving executive respond when given high scores for his ability to drive for results but low scores on building strong relationships with peers and subordinates? Is this evidence that he’s taken his strength too far?

We don’t think so. We would absolutely advise this person to keep driving for results; we suspect that his intense drive is what got him this far in the organization. But we don’t see this as a zero sum game — we don’t think he needs to stop doing one thing to start doing something else. So we’d also recommend he develop additional strengths in relating to people.

Like many of those who are raising doubts about the limits of developing leadership strengths — as Robert E. Kaplan and Robert Kaiser have done in the pages of HBR, and more recently Tony Schwartz has done on this site, we believe that a single strength by itself doesn’t serve anyone well. A leader needs several strengths to succeed. And balance is required. Strengths in combination are far more powerful than any one alone, our research has confirmed. Our data show, in fact, that possessing five strengths is a surefooted way to become an exceptional leader. One-trick ponies don’t last long in the center ring.

We also strongly agree with them that serious weaknesses should not be ignored. We’ve called these “fatal flaws,” and we certainly advise people to fix them first. That’s critical for the roughly one-quarter of leaders our data tell us appear to have such serious defects. We submit, however, that the rest should be working on their strengths.

People can and do behave inappropriately — and they do things to excess. In his blog, Schwartz describes how he learned that his own unbridled candor was hurtful and unproductive. Kaplan and Kaiser similarly described how either “forceful” or “enabling” behaviors could be taken too far and have negative consequences. They observed that if a leader overuses the “forceful” strength by being exceedingly directive — always taking charge, making every decision, and constantly pushing people — the leader’s effectiveness diminishes. That’s a conclusion that we suspect most would accept. And so do we. They also observed that a leader who is too cautious, gentle, understanding, mild-mannered, and almost exclusively focused on others will also be less effective. We completely concur.

Where we part company is in labeling any those behaviors as a strength.

We find it constructive to use a definition of “a strength” based on the work of psychologist Martin Seligman, among others. By his definition, a strength is a behavior that is:

  • Executed effectively
  • Broadly used in a variety of situations or settings
  • Lasting in its effects over time
  • Consistent in producing positive outcomes
  • Valued for its intrinsic worth, as well as its positive outcomes
  • Not specific to one culture
  • Harmonious with, rather than opposed to, other strengths

By these measures, “being forceful,” or “exhibiting righteous honesty unmediated by empathy,” are not strengths.

Our analysis of behavior that does fit our definition of strengths comes from data generated in the 360-degree evaluations of 30,000 managers by 300,000 of their colleagues. From examining 12 years of such data, we’ve identified 16 competencies that describe the most effective leaders and distinguish them from average and poor leaders. When done extremely well, these behaviors become leadership strengths. They included qualities like displaying integrity, exhibiting superior problem-solving skills, being highly technically competent, being innovative, taking initiative, inspiring and motivating others to high performance — and, yes, driving for results.

We’ve found no evidence that extremely high scores on any of these competencies has negative consequences. That is, we haven’t found anyone who scored at the 90th percentile for any one of these behaviors who was perceived by their bosses, colleagues, and direct reports as less effective than someone who scored in the 60th or 70th percentiles. We haven’t found the business results of any high scorer to be inferior to the people who received lower scores. Nor have we found subordinates and peers writing more negative comments about a higher scorer than about any individual with a more moderate score.

Instead, we find the data tell a consistent story. Those with the lowest scores on a competency receive many negative written comments, and their objective results are inferior. Those with the highest scores produce the best outcomes on everything we’ve been able to measure. If this is overusing statistics, then so be it. Our profession needs more leadership analytics, not less, in our opinion.

Some might think strengths-based development was discovered by a social scientist or consulting company, but the real credit should go to Peter Drucker, who in his classic 1967 book The Effective Executive made the compelling case for focusing on strengths. In fact, he argued, it is the role of the organization to leverage people’s strengths and to make their weaknesses irrelevant.

Unsticking people

Six Sources of influence: Source: David Maxfield, Crucial Skills blog, August 21st 2012

People seeming to under-achieve or be ‘stuck in a rut’ is a fairly common issue that often comes to light as managers undertake staff performance reviews.

This well considered post by David Maxwell may be of help when you are trying to ‘unstick’ someone whom you feel is not achieving their true potential. On the other hand, don’t lose sight of the fact there are many people for whom work is only a part of an already satisfying and fulfilling life, and they may not be stuck at all, but just content to do their job and go home without aiming for progression!

Six Sources of Influence:

Personal ability
Social Motivation
Social Ability
Structural Motivation
Structural Ability.

Diagnose all six sources. When people are stuck, it’s usually because all Six Sources of Influence are working in combination to hold them fast. Their world is perfectly organized to create the behavior (or lack of behavior) you are currently seeing. Here are the questions we use to diagnose obstacles in all six sources:

Personal Motivation

Left in a room by themselves, would they want to take on greater responsibilities? Would they enjoy it, find it meaningful, and aspire to it as an important part of their identity? Would they take pride in it, or see it as a moral imperative? Ideas for action:

• Invite choice. As part of the performance-management process, ask each employee to prepare a two- to three-year plan. Ask them to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) your organization and your department face. Then have them anticipate how they see your department and their jobs changing in order to take advantage of these SWOTs. Finally, have them describe what they would like to be doing in two or three years and what they need to do now in order to prepare themselves.

• Try small steps. Identify the crucial moments when it would be most helpful for your employees to step up to greater responsibilities. Think of times, places, and circumstances when you could really use their help in a particular way for a short period of time. It will be most effective if you can include them in finding these crucial moments. People are more trusting when they discover crucial moments for themselves. Then ask for their help during these brief and occasional crucial moments.

Personal Ability

Left in a room by themselves would they have all the skills they need to feel confident taking on greater responsibilities? Do they already have the right knowledge, skill sets, experiences, training, and strength? Ideas for action:

• Training that focuses on critical dependencies. Ask your reluctant employees to identify skill sets that are new, are becoming more important, or are in short supply. These skills would make a person indispensable. If they aren’t quick to identify these skills, work with them to identify the people in your organization who could help and ask your employees to interview them.

• Training that fills in missing skills. Suppose your reluctant employees did accept a greater role, what parts of an expanded job would they find most difficult, tedious, or noxious? How could you skill them up so they’d be confident, efficient, and effective in these areas? We often say, “If it’s taking too much will, add some more skill!” Maybe an ounce of skill will yield another pound of motivation.

Social Motivation

Are the right people encouraging them to take on greater responsibilities? Do the peers they respect, the managers they look up to, and their family members encourage or discourage them from stepping up? Ideas for action:

• Get them some feedback. Do they know how others see them? Most of us want to believe we are doing our fair share. Motivate change by using a 360-degree feedback tool to get feedback from their peers and customers. Make it clear that the feedback is for development—not evaluation—purposes and make sure you have solutions for whatever negative feedback they receive. Otherwise, this kind of feedback can be more demoralizing than motivating.

• Connect them with a greater purpose. Get them involved in field trips where they meet with their internal or external customers. Make the connection as personal as possible. Have them report to your team on what they learned and on how your team can improve.

Social Ability

If your employees take on greater responsibilities, are the people around them ready to lend a hand? Do they have mentors, trainers, and peers who can give advice and step in to help? Ideas for action:

• Make them coaches. Sometimes people step up when they become responsible for someone else’s success. Consider assigning them to work with another person in your group.

Structural Motivation

Does your organization provide incentives such as performance reviews, pay, promotions, and perks that could motivate these employees to take on greater responsibilities? Your employees’ job descriptions don’t include management activities so it’s hard to use the formal reward system, but there may be other routes to explore. Ideas for action:

• Recognize incremental improvements. Try small assignments, projects that can be completed within a week, and then give your honest, heartfelt appreciation when they complete them. Then gradually increase the number, size, duration, and importance of these projects. Continue to show your appreciation as you deem appropriate.

Structural Ability

Is there a way to use the environment, data, tools, cues, or systems to make it easier and more convenient for these people to take on greater responsibilities? Ideas for action:

• Discover and remove obstacles. Ask yourself (or your reluctant employees), “If you wanted to take on a few additional responsibilities, what are the biggest obstacles you would face?” One good guess would be time. If nothing else about their jobs changed, they would have to work longer, harder days. How could you change that? What could you take off their plates so they would have more time for higher-value work? Showing your flexibility may encourage them to become more flexible as well.

What is coaching?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) defines coaching as follows:

“Coaching targets high performance and improvement at work and usually focuses on specific skills and goals, although it may also have an impact on an individual’s personal attributes (such as social interaction or confidence). The process typically lasts for a relatively short period.

Although there is a lack of agreement among coaching professionals about precise definitions, the following are some generally agreed characteristics of coaching in organisations:

  • It is essentially a non-directive form of development, though this is not a hard and fast rule.
  • It focuses on improving performance and developing individuals’ skills.
  • Personal issues may be discussed but the emphasis is on performance at work.
  • Coaching activities have both organisational and individual goals.
  • It provides people with feedback on both their strengths and their weaknesses.
  • It is a skilled activity, which should be delivered by people who are trained to do so.”

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) define coaching as:

“an ongoing partnership that helps clients produce fulfilling results in their personal
and professional lives. Through the process of coaching, clients deepen their learning,
improve their performance, and enhance their quality of life … each meeting, the
client chooses the focus of conversation, while the coach listens and contributes
observations and questions. This interaction creates clarity and moves the client into
action. Coaching accelerates the client’s progress by providing greater focus and
awareness of choice. Coaching concentrates on where clients are today and what they
are willing to do to get to where they want to be tomorrow”

These are the contexts within which I offer coaching in HE.

Coaching is not about the past – it’s about the future.