What makes you individual?


“Written by Louise Phelps, a highly experienced and professional Learning & Development and Staff Retention Coach”

Throughout our lives, we have experiences. Experiences no matter how big or small they are, they define the future us. We know this to be true. I remember a boy I knew in junior school asked me for some of my Quavers at one play-time. I definitely did not want to share them with him, so I said no. He called me a bitch to the whole playground-and for a 10 year old that was a pretty big swear word. It humiliated me and more importantly hurt my feelings. Needless to say, I always shared my crisps after that – I learnt the outcome of selfishness the hard way.

What defines us as people, is a mixture of our core values, our intrinsic motivations, our behaviours and our environment. And of course experiences along the way.

I directly line manage employees on a daily basis, some in exactly the same position as their peers, carrying out the same role as them; however are completely different people to manage. It goes back to the above-our DNA, our makeup of the particular things, that play out in our daily work.

Person A is someone who really wants to be successful in their Business Analyst role. Person B is also someone who wants to be successful in their role too. But how do you define the different development, coaching and up-skilling one person needs that’s tailored to them in such a way – that you are guaranteed to get results? It’s easy…

Once you know how, you can tap into core values and motivations. Understand that Person A wants to be successful in their role because praise, recognition and being seen to be successful is their intrinsic driver. They want to be a big name. Person B wants to be successful for a different reason, they do not value praise and recognition as much as Person A, they sometimes shy aware from individual praise, preferring to divert this to a ‘team effort’. Why? Because person B doesn’t want to let people down – they have a high fellowship value and a high team work motivation. Both want to do a great job, but for different reasons.

You have this core DNA of a person, mixed with the experiences they have daily, that makes them who they are in the workplace. As a good manager, it is imperative you understand these differences in people, and how you can work with your employees to bring the best out of them. Similarly from a peer perspective – know what drivers your colleagues have and learn to adapt your behaviours to suit.

How do you do this? That’s a blog for another time.

All the best

Does strategy stifle 'thinking'?


Do efficiency, streamlining and generic strategies prevent people 'thinking'?

"Thinking is the ability to use one's mind to create ideas, decisions and memories"
"Recall is the process of using one's mind to retrieve information previously learnt or taught"

Recently I came across two long-standing business approaches that seem diametrically opposed to one another, yet we try to run them side by side. Is this possible?

  1. Business and corporate strategy planning have been around for years, the creation of roles such as Corporate Strategy Officers (CSO) has bought this to the forefront of how businesses try to anticipate the future.
  2. Talent development, retention and mindfulness have seen rising popularity with health and welfare becoming the focus of the 21st century.

I propose with theories such as Porters 5 forces, McKinsey 7s and SWOT analysis, we are stuck in an state of limbo between age old approaches and the ability of individuals to apply them in real world problems and produce solutions that allow for flexibility and unexpected change.

Let me build on this a bit more....Using a video by Dr Derek Cabrera he refers to the existing solution to learning as the 'bandwidth solution'. We get a large pipe, fill it with information and expect individuals to create an inter-web of links and creative solutions to problems.

It is common knowledge the top consultancies companies recruit only the best candidates, they have a tradition of working with the biggest companies and guiding them through strategy management.

But......the current education system is built on recall not thinking, accompanied with the desire of businesses to continually create efficiencies and streamlining work processes, we are in danger of cementing the working population in an age of recall based on models.

Modern day graduate programmes are trying to address this issue. But how do we teach individuals new things if we are doing what we have always done or are trying to keep up with competitors. By following a market leader or competitor are we in danger of simply allowing these business strategy theories to turn individuals into 'theory compliant' solution creators?

"Business Strategy Theories + Education + Recall = Compliance + Ratification"

Thinking comes from the environment, is embedded in everyday life and derives from the culture of a business. UBER, AirBNB, Apple weren't created following business strategy theories; recruit disruptive individuals, manage them well and guide them to turn strategy into practice with flexibility at the heart of the future.



Silence is not consensus!


Engage a group, break silence and get feedback.

I've been on a week long course with some of the best minds I've met. The distance learning course I'm taking part in bought together a great selection of people from all walks of life and gave me invaluable experience in how different personalities and cultures work.

Have you ever been talking to a group of people and asked a question, to which you get no engagement? Even if you need a 'Yes' confirming that they all understand, it rarely materialises. Over the last week it has become more evident to me that this is common during group exercises or meetings where there may be a wide variety of personalities and individuals.

I have decided to find out why and provide some tips on mitigating this and moving away from the general conception that 'Silence is Consensus!'

The starting point is to clarify what does not constitute silence. I'm sure we have all been meetings where there is tension, disagreements and in some cases where no consensus is met. In these cases it is common for one party back down, withdraw any opinions and thus become silent. THIS IS NOT CONSENSUS; the withdrawal of an opinion could be for many reasons, whether it be feeling uncomfortable with conflict or the assumption that disagreement may never end until one party gives in.

We can look at this from a wide variety of perspectives but let’s look at active engagement and turning responses into, what I would like to call 'positive confirmation' i.e. individuals saying 'yes' or 'no'.

It is down to you, as the leader, to facilitate this. Remove the idea that 'they had the chance to speak up and didn't'.
It is down to you to facilitate the involvement of all members, understand their body language and recognise the introverts/critical thinkers.

You should be constantly asking yourself these questions. Is everyone engaged? If not, how can I bring them in? How can you get better participation?

The most important part for me in active engagement is making sure that I engage with the introverted members of the group at appropriate times. The key point here is to remember that introverts are more likely to need time to listen, process and evaluate what you or other people have said. Therefore, involve them if you feel their body language is changing or when you are getting to the end of a subject or issue.

With some people who perceive a challenge of an opinion as confrontational, it may be necessary to conduct in a level of humbleness or humility. Try to deviate from your normal meeting model, it may work better than you think.
I have used something along these lines if I feel that by asking people to confirm their agreement I'm not getting the response I would like.

"Having now told you about my idea, I've decided that actually it doesn't sound too good after all and I think there are areas that could do with improvements, can you come up with some suggestions?" - You aren't admitting defeat, instead stating that by combining the minds of all those in the team a better result can be met.

Don't forget to thank everyone for their contribution, stay impartial and then request the involvement of the remainder of the group if they are not forthcoming.

Now let's consider your personality as a leader, your dominant meeting style and the power struggle between a leader, a manager, the facilitator and the participant of the meeting. You may be all these at different points and it’s important you recognise that where appropriate.

You may find the power play of the meeting is such that you are presenting ideas in a way they have already be approved, imagine the occasions when you have been on the receiving end of such a meeting, and think about what you thought and how you would have conducted it differently.

Are you giving out mixed messages when trying to act as all the roles above, do you need to delegate other members of the team to be the facilitator or leader? The choice is ultimately yours but if you don’t feel you are getting the results you require, or when a project starts it starts to meet opposition when you thought there wasn't any, it may be time for a change of tact.

Positive confirmation is preferred at all times, and by assuming consensus results may not be as good as expected. That said, every situation is different and only you will know the circumstances surrounding your work place.

All the best


Your Personal USP!


What makes you unique?

I recently had a meeting with a business coach when discussing an idea I had that would hopefully be the beginning of the rest of my life. After about an hour or so of getting torn apart, piece by piece, on why I did this and that, how I want to come across to people and such like, we came around to the realisation that my personal sales pitch was wrong.

What do I mean? And how can you not sell yourself correctly?

Well its simple, I'm a problem solver, quick thinker and ultimately can resolve issues and help people even if it means telling them what they don't want to hear. But...this is where it gets interesting, I was asked why I want to consult for small businesses and why I would be good at it. My answer was something as follows,

"I really love to understand the business, the owners and really care why they have put so much passion into it. For me it is all about building empathy, understanding the individual and appreciating they may have other personal troubles that are preventing them from reaching their goals."

This is 100% true but no one would buy it! Why not? I asked myself. Well if I said that in a strong South London accent, forthright in approach and at 100 words a second, with no subtleties on accents or enunciation (which is what I did), my sales pitch was shot to pieces.

I'd taken the wrong approach. Do I need to show someone that I care about them if they are in need of help, structure or guidance? To start off with not entirely, in the long-term maybe but by that point they will know you for who you are.

This is when the realisation set in that I should sell myself for who I am, appreciate my audience and tell them why I'm good enough to help them or work for them. This is where my discovery into personal USP's started. This is a tricky task and by no means a quick one, it involves asking many questions, followed by more questions to get to the true answer; the key is not to dwell on who you want to be! If I wanted to be Alan Sugar, am I going to have the same USP's as him? Very unlikely!

The current buzzword for this is 'your brand' and like anything brands change. Yours will change with life experiences, family events and sometimes with circumstances. The key at any time is to sit back and assess whether these external factors are preventing you from being who you truly are.

Here is an article from HBR that you may find useful in doing this and by all means get in touch with me if you want to bounce around some ideas.


The key to a successful culture change


Over the last 6 months I have met many businesses who want to evolve, grow into their next 'version' or just alter their perspective in relation to a certain business problem.

What is 'culture'? Culture is the people, the 'way things are done around here', the decision making process, the dress code, rituals...need I go on! These are all engrained in the DNA of the business, they become a sub-conscious way of life, something individuals tune into when starting work.

What's the problem with this? Nothing at all, but issue tends to arise when the change becomes a challenge or doesn't materialise as quickly as businesses expect it to.

I've seen many occasions where a business may hire someone against 'the grain'.  "We need someone different to shake things up a little or add a different dynamic" they often say. It goes without saying that people hired continually by the same managers will fit a similar type, but trying to force a 'dynamic' individual into an organisation will lead to the immovable object meeting the unstoppable force.

I have seen 'dynamic' employees, filled with enthusiasm and energy to inject change, coming up against tradition and hesitation. Something has to give, either new blood gets consumed and becomes one of the masses or leave as they 'just don't fit'.

An example - getting individuals to consider the workload of others when delegating work

By asking a simple question, "What else do you have on?" should elicit a conversation that creates effective team work and leads to cooperation and conscientious working.
Why is this proving so difficult? I have no idea, it should come as second nature but for one simple reason doesn't; historic working practices have created a culture of solitary target driven objectives.

The initial impact of a Consultant, Mentor or Coach will stimulate a culture shift and create design thinking, but what happens when the external stimulus has gone? The organisation and individuals often revert to type.

This is where I present you with the key things to do that will successfully change your culture without problems and in a swift, effective manner.

Well I'm sorry they don't exist, not in a scripted, recipe kind of way, but the following are some things I have come across that can help.

  1. Stop reviewing, create thinking or reflecting in the environment you are trying to change. Use other venues, unique environments you haven't been to before.
  2. Be responsible for your own actions and desire to change. Stop using excuses or waiting for others to adopt or initiate it.
  3. Focus on the things that are really important and can be influenced, not those you think are important, nor those that force you into a no-win situation.
  4. Ask for help. There is no shame in asking those you want to adopt change for help, involvement at an early stage is sometimes a great way to build collaboration.
  5. While I would never recommend changing the people on a whim, it should be considered as a last resort.

I don't claim change culture is always possible, but I can provide help and the tools to enable you, the owners of the business, to do give it a good shot.



How important is the right business coach?


Do they need to be the same as you? Have the experience you want to gain? Or be in the same sector that you are/want to be in?

These are all questions, among many more that you may be asking yourself when either being approached by a business coach, while you're talking to one or even after you have had your session.

While broadening my network of contacts, I took the decision to seek coaching from an experienced individual who is not only influential in the circles I would love to be involved in, but more so I feel like he understands what I am trying to achieve.

We can't get on with everybody in life and there a few people with whom you have a distinct understanding and even fewer who tell you that you remind them of themselves. When I first met my coach I had genuine reservations, not because he didn't have the relevant experience or ability to adapt his style but because he told me what I didn't want to hear on the day in question.

So what should you expect from a coach? Are they there to empathise with you and give emotional support if your business is failing? Not always. Are they there to tell you what you want to hear? Definitely not. Are they there to ask you more questions than give answers? Yes

It is my view that you should be able to be as selective with your business coach as you would be your life partner. This person is there to provide you with what you need to enhance yourself as an individual and help you succeed, it is their privilege to work with you as much as it is yours to have their help.

One of the main driving factors for me was someone that had the ability to view life from perspectives that I didn't.

My tips of what to look for in a good and effective coach are as follows:

  • They should be there as an ongoing supporter fitting around the time you have
  • They should keep their end of the bargain and follow-up on deliverables; this isn't just about you doing things so they can tick a few boxes
  • Provide feedback on signs of development
  • Ask for your opinion on the relationship as and when appropriate
  • Be willing to provide you with face to face coaching rather than distance
  • They should be able to provide other contacts in their network for you to meet
  • Agree on the outcomes of coaching; there is no point in a coach telling you how you should change if it not what you want or are comfortable with

Now some less conventional ones...

  • Be capable of getting you emotive; after all what use is a coach that can't establish what makes you passionate
  • Be there to learn something from you! No coach is perfect and every person is unique, they are there to learn from you as well

Overall would I say coaching is worthwhile? Yes. But only if you can find the right individual to unlock your potential. Use them wisely, your time with them is limited; preparation, follow-up and continual self-reflection is the key to making it worthwhile. You should always end a session asking yourself more questions than when you went in. You should be considering how you can use what you have spoken about to enhance your own way of working and that of others.

As a coach to small businesses and the colleagues I work with, it is vital I try to stick to these rules as much as possible. It is difficult sometimes to jump from one side of the fence to the other but it is also rewarding, anything I learn I try to pass on. All coaches may drop their focus at one time, but a brief nudge will have the relationship working in the right direction for you both.