Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Apprentice - Episode 4

Two key things happened during last night’s episode which are worthy of mention.  Aside from my husband sitting through it with his hands over his eyes, saying, “You couldn’t invent this!”

Obviously one of them was Lord Sugar firing three people in one go.  That grabbed everyone’s attention, including mine.  I loved it to be frank and actually when the Boardroom spat descended into a major bun fight with  accusations, name calling and no one having the ability to listen, I wondered if that might happen, because given that ridiculous behaviour, who would you want to keep??

The other key thing was Team Summit’s excellent team spirit, the first I’ve witnessed so far.  Although Team Tenacity’s project manager Ella started her team meeting by identifying each person’s strengths, she soon dropped the ball and her leadership fell apart; there was the usual eyeball rolling, grimacing and passing the buck, rather than attempting to resolve the difficulties.  It was clear there were big differences of opinion about what their video channel offering was all about and Ella didn’t seem capable of bringing those opinions together and sorting them out.

Whereas Solomon really did have a vision, took charge of seeing it through and brought his team along with him.  The atmosphere he created was full of laughter, ideas were batted around and for once, egos seemed to be in check most of the time.  Everyone was involved in achieving the end result and whatever the viewer may have thought about that end result, they as a team were in accord. That can make a huge difference in any project.

The content of each team’s channel offering was pretty dire yet that’s really beside the point.  Team Summit didn’t win the task because they produced a winning YouTube channel  (and their winning margin was relatively small); they won because they paid attention to details such as ensuring they uploaded their material with a title and description, which Team Tenacity ‘forgot’ to do.

Team Summit’s performance this week absolutely reflected what I wrote about Project Management two weeks ago and team working last week, which is why Solomon got his team’s endorsement of his project management skills when they were in the Boardroom.

One thing I wanted to talk about here which reflects the success of Team Summit was the fact that when they presented their idea to Buzz Feed, they presented as a team.  This is something we look at a lot at Impact Factory, both when we ourselves pitch and present and when we train others to pitch and present, ensuring that presenting as a team is smooth, seamless and like a well rehearsed choir – everyone in tune.

It is our experience that if more than one person goes to a pitch then every single person needs to have something to say during the presentation and not wait till the Q & A at the end.  This way whoever is being pitched to gets to experience how well the pitch team works together, which in turn will be a reflection of what it would be like to work with said team.

By Team Tenacity fronting Steven as the only spokesperson, they shot themselves in the foot because there was no one to mitigate his in your face style by having an additional voice in the room.  This isn’t meant as a criticism of Steven’s style per se (though I really did wish he would learn to zip his lip at appropriate times), rather it’s meant to point out that when there is a dominant voice during a pitch, there needs to be a counter-weight so the client has a balanced pitch experience.

By the time Tenacity got to the Q& A they were chaotic and had no clear message because the team members weren’t in agreement from the outset.

Presenting as a team can be exhilarating and akin to running the 100 metres four by four when it works well – the baton is passed smoothly and every person contributes equally based on their strengths.

Well, Lord Sugar said no more dead wood; we’ll find out next week if the scare of this one has an impact.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication, Presentation and Project Management Skills Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Apprentice – Episode 3



According to Lord Sugar, week three’s task was “so simple anyone could do it – it was an easy task.”

No task is easy (however simple it may be) if people don’t work as a team and agree team objectives.
And that’s when things can descend into chaos as we witnessed last night.

Each team actually came up with what appeared to be sellable products (even the slightly bilious yellow candles seemed OK because of the scent) but as we have already seen and will undoubtedly see again in the weeks ahead, teamwork seems to come apart at the seams.

And it comes apart at the seams in a variety of ways:  when a clear strategy hasn’t been agreed and confirmed; when egos get in the way; when panic hits.

At Impact Factory a goodly chunk of our trainers come from a theatrical background.  In the theatre people come together to form ‘teams’ very quickly:  the team is formed for a shared purpose, people know their roles and responsibilities; and then it’s all over and everyone scatters to the four winds.

Egos and personality clashes will always be present when people work together – it’s inevitable.  The maturity is whether you can manage your ego and feelings about other people for the greater good of the team.  If that didn’t happen in the theatre, there would be no theatre.

It’s a formula that for the most part works and would be one that the candidates would be well advised to follow, though year after year it never seems to happen.  We were joking in the office again that maybe candidates are chosen who have never watched the programme before because it is astonishing that people don’t just make the same mistakes as in previous series but they seem to make them with even more disastrous results.

You could say that’s human nature – I say it’s a degree of immaturity and ego.

My favourite crash and burn moments last night were the tussles between Lord Sugar and James:  “You would have done what I done Lord Sugar.”  Don’t do it, don’t do it James!  And he did….more than once.

To work well as a team you have to have a good strong ego to believe you can accomplish what you need to accomplish and at the same time you have to be able to put your ego aside to work well in a group.  If you ever watch those choir programmes with Gareth Malone you see him looking for voices that will blend and that when people sing together that blending makes the whole choir stronger and more interesting to listen to.

Individuals excel in solo spots but the most compelling parts of the music are when the choir sings with passion and unity.

That’s what’s lacking so far:  the teams aren’t singing in unity and so far no one has displayed the skills to create that unity.  Last week I talked about a good project manager being able to take on any task; this week it’s about how well and how quickly a project manager can create a team that works well together.

I said earlier that in the theatre people come together for a shared purpose; if each project manager worked with his/her newly formed team to agree a common purpose that helps define the progress of the task and the individual responsibilities within that task.

Teams aren’t substitute families; they aren’t group therapy; they aren’t a forum to point fingers and blame.  Good teams (as well as having a common purpose) are places to pool ideas and consider each one equally; they are supportive; the whole really should be better than the sum of its parts; they should be able to resolve differences and conflict quickly and easily.

Lots of ‘shoulds’ there and once again I look forward to seeing whether any of the future project managers come anywhere close to forming a well-integrated team that works in unity.


Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication Skills Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Line Management

line management training
Line Management is one of those courses that has chugged along at a nice steady pace over the years.

We’ve been running them about every six weeks or so and they’ve been generally full or nearly full.

Something seems to have happened recently where we have an upsurge in demand and we have now put extra courses on because our regularly scheduled ones have filled up and have waiting lists.

So what is this upsurge inn demand for Line Management?  Why now?

The time of year certainly has something to do with it.  People change jobs; people get promoted; people realise after a summer holiday that they need to refresh their skills.

There’s something else as well, and something we’ve noticed over the years that hopefully is changing:  people really aren’t expected to know it all when they take on a Line Manager role.  In the past our experience was that often the opposite was true – people got promoted to Line Management with an expectation that they would slot into their roles and somehow they would know what to do.

In the early days of Impact Factory we were occasionally asked to tailor Line Management courses for people newly promoted because after a short while in their new roles as Line Managers, they wanted to go back to what they were doing before.

Somehow, because they were good at what they had been doing, there was an expectation that they’d be good in their new role without any additional support or training at all.  The companies that hired us realised that without offering their managers training they were steadily losing good people.

Most companies (I hope!) now seem to have the same realisation:  give your new Line Managers training at the beginning of their management careers and they will feel more confident, have a greater understanding of the difference between being managed and managing and of course will have a more comprehensive ‘tool kit’ of skills at their disposal.

Equally important is an acceptance that it’s all right to ask for support, that they won’t be viewed as weak or incompetent.  Just the reverse is true; by seeking support, managers are more approachable, they become better role models and they gain more skills because they are more open to others and what they have to offer.

We love working with Line Managers and are delighted that places on our courses are ‘flying off the shelves’ as it were.


Check out Impact Factory’s Line Management Training

By Jo Ellen Grzy, Impact Factory Director

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Apprentice - So What’s New?


Communication Skills Course
We’ve all snuggled down to two episodes of The Apprentice now.

Anything new?  Aside from the double firing on Episode Two, things seem pretty much the same:

Candidates stack up as the usual suspects, squabbling sets in pretty early on, everyone choruses “Good morning Lord Sugar” in what seems like well-rehearsed unison.  There’s lots of sighing and eyeball-rolling, grimacing and finger pointing.  Blaming is the order of the day as is ducking and weaving.  Communication overall is fairly abysmal.

Nick Hewer seems to feel that this is the most chaotic group he’s seen in ten years.  Possibly; though I’ve seen some humdingers in past series that were pretty shambolic.

But again, that’s what keeps us watching – same play, new cast.  It’s all familiar and yet with new twists each episode.

What I really want to talk about is the whole issue of Project Management.  In the first episode Felipe and Sarah appointed themselves as Project Managers and then of course had to face evisceration in the Boardroom at the end of their tasks.

The girls’ team (why don’t they call them woman and men??) won by a whisker so Sarah didn’t have to face a complete disembowelling, but Felipe sure did.  Needless to say, by task two everyone was passing the buck as fast as they could and the task ended up being fronted by two people – Nurun and Scott – who were reluctant to say the least, each one claiming that fashion wasn’t one of their strong points.

So here is where I completely disagree with anyone claiming something is or isn’t their strong suit.  Project Management isn’t about knowing the product or industry inside out.  It’s about finding and playing to the strengths of the individuals in your team, delegating not bossing, being well-organised, having terrific communication skills, being able to juggle loads of information coming in and going out, inspiring and motivating the people you are working with.

Now, I know about telly:  a ton of stuff is edited out in order to create the most viewable programme possible so people will keep watching; obviously that means a ton of stuff we never see.  Not only that, this is a competition and even though each team wants to shine and win, individually people are competing against each other so there’s bound to be a bit of deliberate undermining going on.

Having said that, every single candidate should be ready, willing and able to volunteer for any task that Lord Sugar sets them instead of waiting for the one they think will put them in the best light.  Good Project Management, whatever the project, will make them shine.

Here’s a good example of what I mean.  My husband and I bought a house in Greece a number of years ago that needed major renovation from top to bottom.  We weren’t going to be there for much of the build in the early stages so we hired a friend who lives there to be Project Manager.  Gill is an artist, not a builder.  She didn’t know the first thing about electrics, plumbing, earthquake collars and so on.  But she was brilliant at finding ‘a man who did’ and she was fantastic at ensuring the building team were looked after.  She fielded problems and suggested solutions and she was always open to hearing what everyone on site had to say.

Was it easy?  No it was not.  Was she successful?  Absolutely; we have a lovely house beautifully restored.

Project Management is about having great people skills, getting buy-in early, defusing conflict and intervening when there are personality clashes, getting the best out of each team member and giving praise and acknowledgement to keep motivation high.

How much of that did we see during the first two episodes?

As the show progresses I look forward to at least one Project Manager being part of a winning task not because the other team failed dismally but because they managed their task with flair and professionalism.

Should I hold my breath?

Check out our Impact Factory's Communication and Project Management Courses

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Impact Factory Director

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Apprentice - Here We Go Again

Get ready to cringe!

The Apprentice is starting and those of us addicted to the programme will be getting our score cards ready:  who’ll get fired first, who will we love to hate, who will get up our nose and everyone else’s as well, who will we be cheering for, who will come up with some ingenious ideas, who will make a fool of him/herself?

Why is The Apprentice such compelling viewing?  At ten years old it still hasn’t lost its appeal, even if, as a long-time viewer, you wonder if each new crop of candidates has ever watched the show before because the same mistakes are repeated over and over.  Or maybe that is why we watch!

We want to see Alan Sugar sneering at someone’s absolutely foolish behaviour; we want to see someone becoming a turncoat and dumping their colleagues in the s**t; we want to hear someone say something utterly fatuous; and of course we want to hear those hard-hearted words, “You’re fired.”

Every one of us will cringe at some point because of someone’s idiotic behaviour or abysmal communication.  We’ll shout at the telly, “Don’t do it!”  We’ll talk to our friends about how we would have tackled each task, we’ll unpick each episode like forensic scientists and best of all we’ll take bets on who will win (so far I’ve picked the winner on Episode One five times). 

My colleague David said that usually the best communicator is the one who wins.  Although that isn’t 100% true, it’s certainly mostly true, so anyone watching tonight and over the next few weeks, pay attention to how well each candidate communicates and what makes them good communicators.

Pay attention to those one-to-one inter-team conversations that can make or break a task.  Pay attention to what’s left out, what’s ignored; what’s said that shouldn’t have been. 

We’ll be tweeting our favourite worst communication moments!!

And get ready to cringe each time someone walks blindly ahead and falls into that deep pit of humiliation we hope never happens to us!

Check out our Communication Skills Courses

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory


Monday, 13 October 2014

Presentation Skills

Watching the telly during the Party Conference season is a perfect example of ‘the triumph of hope over experience.’  I dutifully watched the Conservative Party Conference, The Labour Party Conference, The LibDem Party Conference, The Green Party Conference and the UKIP Party Conference.

One by one the politicians got up to the rostrum and presented themselves, their policies, their exhortations.  And one by one their Presentation Skills were woefully inadequate.

This is not an indictment of those policies or exhortations; rather, what I experience year after year when I watch these Conferences is ‘so what?’  Not one person truly touched me, got me involved in what they were saying , and worst of all no one held my interest

And yet I keep watching in the hope that just one person will present themselves in any other guise than PRESENTATION MAN/WOMAN.

So what do I mean by PRESENTATION MAN/WOMAN?

This is a phenomenon we see at some point during every single Presentation Skills course we run:  a perfectly natural, interesting and engaging person stands up to present and in front of our very eyes turns into a stiff, inauthentic and ‘cardboard cut-out’ of a human being.  We describe this as turning into PRESENTATION MAN/WOMAN.

Somewhere inside these people is a belief and picture of what a presenter is supposed to look like and behave and they contort their natural selves into something unrecognizable that distances themselves from their audience.

It’s fairly common knowledge that the most widespread phobia for people is having to stand in front of an audience and present.  It’s incredibly exposing, people feel vulnerable; they become inarticulate, panic stricken at worst and awkward at best

And that’s a good part of the reason they become an ersatz version of who they think they ought to be.

Our job in the Presentation Skills training room is to facilitate delegates being able to present more of who they really are and to manage those crippling nerves. We do this first by de-mystifying the whole presenting arena and overturning some of the beliefs that have grown up about what presentations are supposed to look like.

We develop each person’s unique presentation style and ‘voice’ so when they stand up in front of an audience they aren’t a cookie cutter presenter but an attractive individual who is able to use his or her passion, strengths and even idiosyncrasies to deliver a clear and authentic message.

Maybe next year just one politician will shuck off the mantle of PRESENTATION MAN/WOMAN and engage my interest and trust.  Somehow, I don’t think so.

Check out our Impact Factory's Communication and Presentation Skills Courses

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factor

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Communication Skills

You’d think given what I do for a living, I wouldn’t still be astonished at how bad some people are at communicating.  Not only are they bad at communicating, they don’t think they need any help to get better at it.

senior management training
Communication is something that everyone does, in one form or another, everywhere across the globe.  No one is exempt from communicating; even a recluse in a cave has to communicate with him/herself.

So given that communicating is something everyone does, you’d think people would want to get better at it.  
Here’s what I mean.  Some people are accountants, some are nurses, some do ballet, some are journalists, some are taxi drivers, some are even rocket scientists.  

And all of them study, practise and continue to hone their skills.  

Indeed, most people in most forms of employment get training to get better at their jobs.

So why don’t people do it around communication skills, the fundamental heart of how we interact with others?

I remember dealing with one particularly aggressive person on a workshop who had a reputation of being very hard on his staff, using humiliation as a management tool.  At one point when my co-leader and I made suggestions of some possible alternative ways of communicating, he bellowed, “This is just how I am!” 

It took great skill on our part to help him see that his aggressive behaviour was only part of who he was and that he had a great many alternative choices he could make if he slowed down enough to consider them.

That’s what communication skills training is all about.  Whether it’s in a workshop, reading a book, watching a TEDTalk, seeking counselling or getting support from friends and colleagues, everyone can refine and develop their communication skills so that life is easier.

That’s my key message to anyone reading this:  the better your communication skills, the better your life is.  I could almost say there’s a money back guarantee in there somewhere!  When you have a sufficient range of communication choices you don’t have to do what you’ve always done particularly if you don’t get the results you want.

Our chap may have felt that aggression got him what he wanted, but on reflection he realised that he didn’t have particularly good relationships with his colleagues, his team wasn’t as effective as they could have been and at the end of the day he didn’t feel particularly happy about how he behaved at work.

The same is true away from work:  if we think there’s only one fixed way to communicate with family and friends then we end up repeating patterns that keep us stuck and frustrated.

Not only that, when we improve our communication skills we re liberated from those patterns and our relationships become more honest, more authentic and we have the opportunity to truly become who we really are.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication Skills Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Interview and Communication Skills

Oh dear.  How people do let themselves down.

For the past two weeks Impact Factory’s Leadership Team has been conducting interviews to fill a vacant post.  Some of the candidates have interviewed very well and those are the ones who have made the short-list.

But, oh dear, the rest.  I want to send them all  to get Interview Skills coaching before they come along to meet us so they know how to present themselves more effectively.

Facilitation and Better Meetings Course
I used to do a lot of career counselling, prepping people for job interviews, revamping CVs and helping people identify the careers that would most suit their skills and desires.  Because of that I’ve seen and worked with a lot of people over the past 30 years and know what makes a good candidate (aside from having the requisite skills).

Not only that, as a business owner (and previously head of a variety of departments with other organisations) I have interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people over the years and I know what I want to see and experience when someone walks through the door.

I’ve also written about job hunting and offered loads of hints and tips over the years.  In light of this recent experience, I’m going to offer a few more to anyone out there going for a job:

Be on time!  Even if you have to get there an hour early, go to a cafĂ© and have a cup of soothing, calming tea so you don’t end up rushing in sweating buckets and in a stressed-out state.

Do your research.  Read the company’s website from top to bottom.  Make notes, have an opinion, find something that you like about it and mention it.  Check out the industry so you know about any trends.

Rehearse how you’re going to present yourself.  If you aren’t inclined to get any coaching before you go job hunting, then practising ahead of time is essential.  Typical questions are:

Why are you suitable for this role?
Tell us about your relevant experience.
Why do you want to work for our company?
Why are you leaving your current job?        
How will you add value to our company?

Don’t just answer these questions in your head – say them out loud, say them to a friend or family member, say them in front of a mirror.

Make it relevant; bring it to life; give examples.  The number of times candidates just say, yes, they can do whatever it is they’ve been asked.  They don’t offer any examples or link work they’ve done in the past to the current role they’re being interviewed for.  They make we interviewers do all the work of probing and digging.  It’s your job to help bring the interview to life so that we want to know more and can visualise you working for us.  Put some energy into it!

Do you have any questions for us?  This is usually asked towards the end of the interview and is an invitation to display your thoughtfulness and interest in the organisation.  Having done the research prior to the interview you should have a good list of questions to get those on the receiving end thinking and being reflective.

Send a follow-up email.  As soon as you are near a tablet, phone, laptop, send a follow-up email thanking the company for their time and offer any more information.  Even if you have gone through an agency, they’ll be happy to forward an email – they want you to get the job, too!

We’ve finished our interviews now; we had a short -ist of three and have all agreed on the final choice.  It’s possible our short-list could have been a lot longer if each of those other candidates had followed the above advice!

Check out Impact Factory’s one-to-one Interview Skills Coaching and Communication Skills Courses


Interview and Communication Skills  By Jo Ellen Grzyb