Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Apprentice Final – Is This Any Way Run A Business?

It’s over.  This year’s Apprentice has had its two-hour final and Mark was awarded his heavily fought win. 
My purpose for this final Apprentice blog is to assess the series as a whole.

Way back in the 1960s there was an ad for National Airlines in the United States that had a slogan, "Is this any way to run an airline?  You bet it is!"

I had that tag line in mind watching the past twelve weeks of The Apprentice, having changed it to read, "Is this any way to run a business? You bet it isn't."

What I realised since the very first series 10 years ago, and have had that realisation reinforced with each subsequent series, is that I fundamentally disagree with the way Lord Sugar does business, even within a much edited entertainment programme.

I like Alan Sugar. I like his straight forward approach, his cutting to the chase and usually getting to the heart of the matter quite quickly. I even sometimes like his abrasive manner and impatience.  After all, he didn't get where he is today without incredible skills, determination and an ability to beat the odds.  Hey, my first computer was an Amstrad, so I  even have a soft spot for his pioneering work.

I initially really liked the premise of The Apprentice and there's much that still makes for compelling television:  the drama, the ingenuity of the tasks, the tension of the Boardroom, the Prokofiev theme tune, even the naivety of the Candidates.

There is much, however, that I wouldn't exactly say I dislike, but it's more a clash of values.  Or at least the values that are portrayed in the programme.  We don't actually know whether Lord Sugar runs his own business the way he runs The Apprentice, so I'll only focus on what we all see on our screens.

Every task's win has been determined by bottom line results.  And indeed, you cannot run a business without bottom line results or else you end up joining the dole queue.  Yet I know I'm not alone in shouting at the telly when what I perceive as the ‘wrong’ team wins because their figures are better.

The wins are based on who gets the most orders, who makes the most money.  All the other elements that go into making a successful business are ignored:  communications skills, good customer service, team working, giving and receiving support, giving and receiving acknowledgement and praise, creativity (who can forget Skeletongate!), kindness, emotional intelligence.

Some of those qualities are examined in the Boardroom once the winning team has been announced and given their treat, while the losing team project manager has to drag in two of his/her colleagues to be raked over.  At that point issues concerning team working, communication, trust, etc. are scrutinised and assessed.

But what if the erstwhile apprentices didn’t have to wait till they are drawn and quartered in the Boardroom to be judged on how well they managed everything but the bottom line?

What if each task was weighted with some of those elements, then the winners of each task may very well be different. And what added drama there could be if not only the bottom line was at stake, but how colleagues worked together, how they interacted with the public, how they managed their own emotions, how they 'attacked' each task (what skills did they use; what compassion did they show; what fairness did they demonstrate; how well did they handle conflict; how well did they encourage?).

Obviously, The Apprentice in its current format is successful and as they say,” if it ain't broke, don't fix it”.

Not only that, after all, it’s Lord Sugar’s money on the table so he can do ‘it’ however he wants.

I do want to posit something to think about.

Why I'm even bothering writing about it in this way is about the message it gives to people who are entering the business world or wanting to get ahead in business. It doesn't have to be all aggression, profit driven, chasing the buck.

Successful businesses can and do run without any of that, with a focus far more on the well being of it's employees, on encouraging and inspiring, on retaining and developing customers through superb customer service, on developing the skills of the people who make the business happen.

Obviously the BBC and Lord Sugar like the messages the programme promotes or they wouldn't still be doing it.

We at Impact Factory know there's a more humane and gentler way of doing business that doesn't have to rely solely on results and promotes the best that people have to offer.

And by the way, good luck Mark – a tough market to break into.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Friday, 19 December 2014

Surviving The Holidays Part 3

So let’s talk about the office Christmas ‘do’.

Restaurants and pubs are getting crammed full of revellers all from the same company supposedly having a good time.

There are also loads of company parties that take place at their own premises with trees and tinsel and Secret Santas designed to create a festive mood.

Some parties are so cringingly horrible ‘The Office’ looks tame; some are great fun where people can let their hair down and get to know each other better.

There could be a long list of Dos and Don’ts.  I only have three Don’ts that if you follow them, you will have survived yet another Company do.

1. Don’t drink too much.  Yes, the booze might be free, it’s out of office hours, it really is about letting your hair down.  However, what’s free today you will pay for tomorrow if you make a complete fool of yourself.  If you do drink alcohol, drink to get a lovely buzz and then switch to water or juice.  Even if you and two others are the only ones propping the bar up at 1 am, resist the urge to keep on chugging it down.  What you consume will be noticed and noted.

Actually, I remember quite a few years ago during one of our Christmas dos, someone relatively new to the company had a snootful too many and said something quite offensive about someone else.  It made me incredibly wary of her, slightly distrustful and had to have a conversation with her about it. What I found was that at subsequent parties I was always keeping half and eye on her.

2. Don’t gossip in public.  Everybody gossips (I bet even the Dalai Lama gossips every now and then); for some people it’s a way of life with juicy titbits offered as currency to get other juicy titbits. For others, it’s being in on the tittle-tattle.  And for others it can be quite malicious and deliberately harmful.

It’s really hard to stop gossiping completely, though I do recommend cutting back.  However, it’s a seriously wise idea to keep your big fat trap shut during the Christmas party.  You don’t know who might overhear; gossip can be hurtful and wounding and you may find yourself on the end of some form of retaliation.

3. Don’t snog the boss (unless she or he is your partner, and even then it’s probably in bad taste).  Don’t snog anyone who’s in another relationship.  Actually, my strong suggestion is that you leave snogging out altogether and save it for a different occasion.

The Company Christmas party is not a license to be an idiot – do that in your own time.

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

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Apprentice - Bad Cop vs Bad Cop

Last night's episode of The Apprentice is the one I least look forward to and yet I suppose it's the one that creates 'exciting' television.  I guess.

Perhaps it's human nature to want to witness the ripping apart of the innocents, but I have to say I have never been comfortable with this style of interviewing

I think the format in itself is terrific; interviewers with specific expertise putting candidates through their paces.  It's the manner in which it is done that I find almost distasteful.

The cruelty, attacking and downright meanness creates humiliation, fear and confusion in a group of people who have worked bloody hard to get this far in the process.

I suppose it has to do with preferred styles. Lord Sugar is abrasive and adversarial; therefore his 'trusted advisors' are also abrasive and adversarial.  Or that's what we see on the telly.

One particularly cruel moment was when Claude Littner praised Solomon for having the best CV he'd seen and then threw him out of the interview because of his business plan. So for the sake of a few minutes of dramatic television, we were witness to the complete humiliation of someone who is bright, eager and enthusiastic.

It was unnecessary.

It would have been just as easy and equally compelling to say something along the lines of “You have a great CV Solomon, with none of the usual exaggeration.  On the other hand, your business plan leaves a lot to be desired.  I can’t really have a conversation with you about it because it’s incomplete.  Are you able to fill in any details, or shall we simply call it a day and you can chalk this one up to experience?”

Interviews do not need to be so aggressive.

Unfortunately, many businesses do hold interviews very like that which we saw on the programme.  Years ago I worked with someone who said he was brought into interviews in his firm solely to frighten the candidates by asking 'left field' question in order to trip them up.

At Impact Factory we believe that the whole interview process is stressful enough without interviewers stripping people of their dignity and putting them through such a gruelling process.

Of course interviewees have a responsibility to come well-prepared, present themselves as credible and show determination, willingness and a desire to work hard to get ahead in the world, no matter what the job is they are applying for.

To begin with never send in a CV with blatant porkies included.  It's true that most organisations aren't going to be as rigorous as Lord Sugar's trusted advisors, however, to get a job based partially on a lie could come back to take a chunk out of your bum; additionally, you will have it hanging over your head that one day you might be found out.

Having said that, I think there is an equal responsibility on the part of interviewers to facilitate getting the best out of their candidates, not scaring the wits out of them.

Here are some things you can do if you find yourself in interviews that are confrontational, intimidating and downright nasty:

Slow things down.  When someone is barking at you, it’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of finding a good answer immediately.  Then you can become tongue-tied, awkward and your mind could go completely blank.  What you want to do is slow the pace right down so you don’t feel ‘hustled’.  You can lean forward slightly, look the interviewer in the eye and say, “I like that question. Let me take a moment to order my thoughts.”

Take your time.   You can slow the process down by taking a drink of water or say you’d like to refer to notes you had made earlier and take your time going through your CV and any other supporting documents you have.  Or both.  The idea is to avoid rushing your answers so that you retain some of the power in the interview dynamic.

Avoid getting defensive.  It’s also very easy to go into defensive mode.  When people are attacked they really do go into fight, flight or freeze behaviour.  We saw each option displayed during the programme.

Return fire with fire.  If you are desperate for the job and are willing to tolerate this style of interview then you can fight back.

Bianca stood her ground and announced that she believed her personality was being attacked.  Even through her tears she didn't back down.

You, too, can stand your ground and give as good as you get, even calling the other person’s behaviour:

     "That feels quite rude."
     "I feel as though you've made a judgement without hearing the whole story."
     "I’m not sure you’ve heard my answer. Would you like me to summarise?”
                And so on.         

Turn the tables.  Often one of the purposes of this style is to take the wind out of your sails.  We believe that you can do a little switcheroo and take the wind out of their sails, and one of the most effective ways of doing that is to agree with something they say that's derogatory and then leave a space of silence.

For instance, if your interviewer says something along the lines of, "Your CV is full of holes," avoid trying to defend it, getting tongue tied and looking as though you are hiding something.

Respond along the lines of, "You're right, it is full of holes."

And then shut up and wait to see what happens.

If s/he says, "This reads like bullshit to me," you can say, "You're right, I can see that in your eyes it does look like bullshit."  And silence.

The silence technique is designed to stop you from defending yourself and it tends to put the other person in the position of defending what they have just said. They may come back at you with a demand that you explain yourself, at the same time you will have come across as far more confident, stronger and less of a pushover.

Walk away.   You don't have to wait till the end of the interview and tolerate abuse.  If you realise that this kind of company culture isn't for you, you can take the bold step of closing the whole thing down by saying, "You know, I don't think I'm right for this job nor is this job right for me. Thank you for your time, but I don't think there's any point in carrying on. Goodbye."

Scary idea, huh?  I've done it and it is remarkably liberating.

Finally, You have to ask yourself if any job is worth being treated like that?

The justification is often that if you can tough it out during a gruelling interview process then you have the backbone necessary to do the job.

Bollocks I say!

Interviews that strive to trip up, trick and undermine a candidate's confidence are a clear indication of a company's culture. Lord Sugar did say it was "dog eat dog" and that is an indication of his belief, values and company culture.

We don't think business has to be dog eat dog, and we know many who aren't.  We certainly have loads of clients who are at the top of their game in their very competitive industries and who have kinder, more generous, more humane cultures that that which have seen over the past eleven weeks.

I know, I know, I keep saying that I'm aware that this is an entertainment programme and therefore there is much that is edited out that might give us a fuller picture.

However, editing out stuff still can't make up for the fact that the four interviewers last night demonstrated the aggressive kind of interview techniques that obliterate rather than encourage.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Assertiveness and Communication Skills Training.  Impact Factory also offers one to one Interview Skills Coaching and one to one Career Coaching.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 15 December 2014

Surviving Christmas

So for those of you who read my last blog, how are you getting on with that boundary setting??

I’ll be referring to that again as we get closer to the holidays but today I want to talk about something I hear every year and this year have been hearing more than normal this year:  how Christmas has sneaked up, how there’s so little time, how ‘I’ll never get everything done’ and so on.

Well in this country, Christmas hasn’t actually snuck up on anyone since there’s been Christmas references in shops, in magazines, on the telly, on the Internet, on billboards since SEPTEMBER!!

What people are really saying is, “I haven’t wanted to think about Christmas and now it’s close enough to bite me in the bum I better do something about it.”

And then they feel really stressed about everything they think they have to do.

If you are one of those people, what would happen if you didn’t do half of what you think you have to do?  What would happen if you didn’t run around buying a whole lot of stuff out of a feeling of obligation?  What would happen if you didn’t make the perfect meal?  What would happen if you didn’t take care of everyone who continues to rely on you??

What exactly would happen? Let’s start there.  In my experience, most people imagine consequences far worse than what actually happens.  Negative consequences often happen because you’re so stressed that you get to breaking point and blow up or cry or sulk or be stoical (for everyone to see).  In turn people react to your sulking, anger or tears.

So what would happen if not only you let yourself off the hook, but you let those around you know you were letting yourself off the hook?

So here we come back to boundaries again.

What if you let people know that this year present giving was going to be a simpler affair or perhaps no store bought presents at all? 

What about giving people personal vouchers?  They could cover anything from taking them to lunch in the New Year to spending a couple of hours helping them sort through their wardrobe to exploring a new gallery or park or a part of where you live that you’ve never been to before. 

There’s tons of stuff you could do that doesn’t involve dashing through the snow trying to find the perfect gift.

What if you told people that this year the Christmas meal was going to be a shared activity – everybody bring a dish like old fashioned pot luck? 

What if instead of you taking care of everyone and doing everything, you gave everyone a job or task that would take some of the burden off your shoulders? 

That would mean you might have to lower your standards and things might not be as you would have done them.  But it does mean that you have to let go of your picture of how things should be and let others contribute.

Christmas (or whatever else you might do during that time that puts added pressure on you) doesn’t have to be stress-filled.

You don’t have to buy into the hype or the fantasy perfect family sitting down to the perfect meal.

You could have a far more relaxed and therefore enjoyable time, if you let yourself off the hook and onto a more pragmatic view of what coming together with loved ones means.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Assertiveness, Negotiation and CommunicationSkills Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Apprentice Episode 10

What a relief that we can now move on from all the foodie jokes and foodie double entendres.

Yesterday’s episode was all about creating a new product, branding it, doing market research and pitching it to three supermarket chains.  Two people got the chop (sorry, hard to resist, isn’t it?) and the anticipation is on the evisceration to come during next week’s episode.

Last night, however, Lord Sugar said something that is fundamentally antithetical to Impact Factory’s ethos and is worth exploring here.

Sanjay, who was in charge of the market research in his team, made the point that if 6 out of 7 people said good things about the product then that was a positive result.

Lord Sugar, in turn, said something along the lines of “What you should do is focus on is what is bad about the product.”

Although we think there is some merit in looking at the negatives, if you put all your focus on trying to fix them you’re focusing on the wrong thing.  You’re actually catering (sorry, sorry) to the wrong ‘crowd’. 

Yes, it’s good to listen and take comments on board and then assess whether they make sense for your entire brand profile. On the other hand, if you try to adjust your product/brand to each negative comment, you will have a product created by committee, rather than something which reflects your ethos and values.

Our belief, experience and root of our way of working is to focus on what’s already working about your brand so you can put your energy into developing it and making it even better. Another way of putting it is, if you spend more time working on what already works and doing more of that, then what doesn’t work begins to fade away and be far less noticeable.

When we use the term ‘brand’ we also mean you – you as a brand.  Just think if your tried to change yourself to appease every negative comment anyone makes about you.  You’d be twisting yourself into knots and what happens when you have conflicting negative comments:  one person likes your measured way of talking and someone else thinks you talk too slowly.  Whose advice do you listen to?
To get specific, let’s take a look at one of our courses – Presentation Skills.  Most Presentation Skills courses are designed to look at delegates’ faults and then try to fix them:  don’t fidget, don’t jiggle the change in your pocket, don’t say ‘um’, don’t pace about.  And so on.

It’s really hard to keep a drop down list in your head of what not to do. 

We don’t work that way at Impact Factory.  What is far more effective is to notice what already works about your presenting style:  you have good eye contact, you have an easy voice to listen to, you are a great story teller, you know how to tell jokes, etc. In every instance, we would ignore the change jiggling and go for telling more stories.

The jiggling may be a distraction only if your audience isn’t engaged. You engage your audience by being more natural and the only way you can be natural is to use what you know works and do more of that. 

The same with any brand.  If enough people love something, then you need to find out the fine detail of why and promote that.  If 6 out of 7 people like your product, dig down and find out what specifically they like.  You can then draw attention to the fine detail which reassures other people that the product has substance.

Of course it’s important not to ignore the negatives but if you put the majority of your effort into them you give yourself a far harder task and it will erode your confidence.  It’s so much more fulfilling and energising putting effort into developing positives, which gives you more resilience when the bad stuff comes along.

You can listen to Lord Sugar if you want and put effort into trying to fix stuff, or you can listen to us and develop all those positives, whether they sit within a product or sit within yourself.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Personal Impact, Negotiation and Communication Skills Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Candy Crush Saga and Death by Meeting

Oh boy, good ole Nigel Mills MP.

Got caught playing Candy Crush Saga during a Work and Pensions Committee meeting and now he’s doing that apologising thing that seems to be so prevalent these days.  

As a matter of fact, he apologised ‘unreservedly’, no bog standard apology from him.

There’s a couple of things going on here.  Of course, there’s the whole addictive nature of those clever computer games that has millions of people tapping their fingers at tablets and phones trying to get ever higher scores.  And gaming companies know just how to dribble enough hope-of-winning to keep people playing on and on and on.

Not only during boring meetings, but just about anywhere.

What’s far more fascinating to me, however, is the meeting dynamics Mr Mills found himself in.  

One MP leapt to his defense saying that he’d also experienced boring meetings himself and though he may not have played computer games or fallen asleep, he came close.

Now this is something we hear quite a bit; how meetings are boring, unproductive, end up being about reporting rather than about debate, things going round and round in circles and never getting anywhere. 

We run quite a few courses on Facilitation and Better Meetings and are aware that habits, patterns, an unwillingness to stick your neck out and lethargy about upsetting the status quo each play a huge role in keeping meetings predictable, tedious, mind-numbing and completely unproductive.

Wonder what would have happened if Nigel Mills, instead of pulling out his iPad, said something along the lines of, “This meeting seems to be going ‘round in circles and we don’t seem to be getting anywhere.”?

What would have happened if he’d said, “Let’s try something out of the ordinary and run this meeting in a completely different way.”?

And I particularly wonder what would have happened if he’d said, “You know everyone, I’m so bored I’d rather be playing Candy Crush Saga instead of listening to us all droning on.”?

Now, any of those options would have caused a bit of a stir among his colleagues (of course nothing like the Candy Crush stir that’s hitting the headlines) but it might have created a different dynamic that woke everyone up to see what might happen next.

On a serious note though, meetings are a necessary part of our lives, whether they are high level business meetings discussing financial planning or cosy family conflabs talking about next year’s holiday.

Why, then, with the important chunk of time meetings take up, aren’t they run more effectively? 

I’m not talking about those meetings that are run differently, more creatively, with more flair and a desire to keep things moving and energetic.

I’m concerned about all the other meetings that are, quite frankly, my dear, dire.

I’m a great believer in telling the truth about what’s going on in a meeting (or at least what I perceive is going on in a meeting). 

Try it some time.  You can choose the degree to which you tell the truth.  For instance, if you simply want to get things back on track, you might say, “We seem to have wandered from the agenda.”  Or  “We seem to be getting bogged down.”  Or  “We seem to be losing focus.” 

Using the phrase ‘we seem’ keeps it neutral and inclusive.

On the other hand, if you want to shake things up, you might ramp it up and say something along the lines of, “I’m getting really frustrated here.”  or  “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”  or  “I can’t imagine we’re ever going to get agreement on this.”  And so on.

You don’t have to put up with boring meetings!

Silence is a tacit agreement that the status quo is working.  Why should anything change if no one says it isn't working?

Nigel Mills was doing what a lot of people wish they could do to alleviate tediousness; how much braver and healthier it would be to tell it like it is and create a different kind of controversy.

Instead of Candy Crush headlines MP Nigel Mills might have earned one that said, MP tells truth and brings mattress to the Commons for a snooze

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Assertiveness, Negotiation and CommunicationSkills Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 8 December 2014

Countdown to Christmas

We’re now at the beginning of December and Christmas is bearing down upon us like a train with no brakes.

When I use the term Christmas, I mean the Christmas Holiday period, not specifically the Christian observance as such.

Now, for many of you Christmas really is a joyful time:  a chance to get together with family and friends; maybe even acknowledge the religious reasons for the day.  Or if not, a chance to connect and commune with some of the people you care about. 

Or you could be someone who likes to be alone at Christmas; you’re not particularly interested in the ‘institution’ of Christmas; it may not be part of your own religious life; you may just want the time to yourself.

For others of you, though, Christmas is not such a joyful time.  It can be a lonely and isolating experience if you don’t have friends and family around them, and even for those of you who do.

Christmas can also be a stressful and exhausting time as people feel the pressure of buying presents, preparing meals and dealing with people they’d rather not spend their time with.

Over the next few weeks in the lead up to Christmas Day, I’ll be offering some hints and tips that just might make this Christmas more bearable, less stressful, dare we say, possibly more enjoyable.

My first tip is to make sure you have a realistic view of what’s going to happen.  One reason why the holidays can be so additionally stressful is that people don’t come up to your expectations. 

Or should we be more honest and use the word ‘fantasies’.  For in my experience, people have fantasies about what’s going to happen when everyone gets together that have no bearing whatsoever on reality:  “This year, my brother and I will get along.”  “This year Uncle Reg won’t get drunk.” “This year Mum won’t get on my nerves.”

Unless something has radically changed then people (including yourself) will behave as they did last year, maybe even worse.

If you have a realistic expectation of other people’s behaviour then you avoid the deep disappointment, frustration and anger that happens during and after these intense get-togethers.

My second tip is that having grounded yourself in reality, it’s time to set a whole lot of boundaries.  You’re going to read this tip more than once, as it is pivotal if you want to have an easier time.

The thing about boundaries, is that most of us know what we want and don’t want.  What we’re really bad at is letting other people know in a way that they can hear.  Two things usually end up happening: 

1) You never set the boundary so no one else know what you want other than you.  You then have an on-going monologue in your head along the lines of “how come they don’t know what I want” or “they should know….” Or “I can’t believe they didn’t….”

2) You wait to set a boundary till you are near breaking point and it all comes out through gritted teeth or shouty or aggravated or frustrated or angry.  Whichever way it comes out, it will tend to be an inappropriate response.

Something to remember:  a boundary is for the other person.  They are not going to be able to read your mind – you have to tell them.

For instance, if you only want to spend Christmas Day with your family and not Boxing Day, then you need to let people know now, not on Christmas Eve and not in a defensive way.

It could be as simple as:  “I thought I’d let you know that this year I’m really looking forward to being with you on Christmas Day.  I have other plans for Boxing Day so won’t be staying over.”

Typical comeback (or what you fear will be said) might be:  “But you always stay for Boxing Day!  What’s more important than being with your family?”

And here’s where you can avoid creating more conflict:  “I see you’re really disappointed, which is why we need to have a fabulous day on Christmas when we will be together as a family.”

Key to that kind of response:  acknowledgement of how the other person feels, no justifications, no ‘I’ll-make-it up-to-you’ promises.

You may very well have to do this more than once. Getting in the habit of being clear with other people is one of the best communication skills you can have and I recommend practising boundary setting wherever you can so that it becomes second nature and not as a last resort.

More on surviving the holidays later in the week!

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Assertiveness, Conflict Management and Communication Skills Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Apprentice Episode 9: Creativity, Felipe and Skeletongate

I'm not going to talk about whether I agree with Lord Sugar's style of doing business; I'm saving that till the end of the series.

Today's blog is on creativity and team working.

Needless to say, 'Skeltongate' is trending on Twitter with most opinions leaning towards Felipe and his decision to buy a paper skeleton for last night's task. Lord Sugar was certainly scathing in the Boardroom, "Are you taking the piss?"

So for me the question isn't whether it was the right move to fire Felipe; rather how do you define 'thinking outside the box'. And of course, the paradox in asking the question is there can't be a definitive answer because that then just makes another box.

So again, I say, this blog is about creativity and innovative thinking.

What I loved about Team Tenacity before they began eviscerating each other in the Boardroom, was how joyful they were at completing the task on time and with a belief that the paper skeleton would pass muster.

Felipe's teammates may have played turncoat in the Boardroom, but all of them thought they might just get away with it.

So was Felipe being creative in sourcing and buying a paper skeleton?

You bet!

At Impact Factory we have a few 'rules' about creativity and innovation, which is all about breaking rules.  Here are a few from our list:

Chance your arm
Take risks
Break some rules
Upset the status quo
Have fun
Be unconventional
Use ingenuity

Felipe did all of that and was then punished for it, which of course is what can happen when you take risks - they sometimes fail. I may not have thought his ingenuity was a failure but Lord Sugar certainly did.

This has been the best programme of the series so far for a number of reasons. The scavenger hunt for all those disparate  goodies was right out of childhood and was great fun to watch how each team coped with the task.

It was great to see Felipe and Daniel park their differences....at least for a little while...till Daniel reverted to type in the Boardroom. 

And finally, it has created proper controversy and debate about Felipe getting fired. This is one of the points of good telly - getting people talking about what they saw, arguing about whether it should have happened or not, was Felipe being punished for being too nice a guy.

And for me, I go back to creativity.  In our opinion, a good business has to have a bedrock of creativity and innovation to succeed. There's a lot of talk about disruptive creativity which is indeed about challenging the status quo.

It would have been an entirely different programme if Lord Sugar had overcome his knee jerk reaction and said something along the lines of, "Are you taking the piss? Well, you know what? Good for you! You chanced your arm, you took a risk, you failed, you admitted your mistake, I'm giving you another chance."

And fired Daniel.

Which brings me to my second point:  team working.

Team Summit was so sure they'd lost that they were't so much 'at' each other as resigned to defeat, so they lobbed a couple of slightly barbed softballs in Sanjay's direction, but nothing too vicious. Their shock at winning (Sanjay certainly must have seen the writing on the wall and then got his reprieve from the Gov'nor) was a delight to see.

Team Tenacity, on the other hand, started off full of praise for each other and for Daniel's Project Management....until they realised they had lost, and then the knives were out. In an instant they went from lovey-dovey to snarling dogs. Aside from Felipe who remained a gentleman throughout.

Many many years ago in the early days of my career, I had a boss who made a whopper of a mistake. 

We on the team were pretty gutted and upset. He was raked across the coals and despite how we felt, we stood by him because we were all part of the team that supported his decision. The organisation we worked for ended up praising us for being good team members so that the integrity of the team was maintained and we could carry on without a betrayal sitting like a lump in the middle of the office.

We weren't covering up his incompetence; we were behaving like a solid team so that we could then unpick what happened and move on. Daggers pointed at each other draws blood and rarely resolves anything or makes room to resolve anything.

A far better and more mature behaviour in the Boardroom would have been for the whole team to admit culpability and take joint responsibility and then really given Lord Sugar a run for his money in making his decision.

In the opening of each show you hear Lord Sugar saying, "It's a dog eat dog world out there" and that's how the teams tend to behave:  throw a colleague to the eating dogs in Oder to save your own skin.

I know who I'd rather do business with. Felipe's sacking is Lord Sugar's loss, and ours, since we will be bereft of Felipe'isms for the rest of the series.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Project Management

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men 
Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy.

Robert Burns from To A Mouse

And that just about sums up the whole issue of Project Management:  plans get messed up causing much grief and pain.

Unless, of course, you are the kind of Project Manager who has contingency plans up your sleeve.  Even then, both poor mousie and all the rest of us can come a cropper when, through no fault of our own, our plans go awry.

Recently, we ran a Breakfast Taster which in the end went very well indeed.  That is, the actual event.  No one knew about the supplier who couldn’t supply what we needed in time, the other supplier who missed a deadline, the crossed wires in communication (yes, even we….) where yet another supplier got very mixed messages which we had to sort out.

What prevents a project disaster isn’t that everything goes smoothly (you get a gold star if you’ve ever managed a project that hasn’t had something go a bit wrong!!), it’s that you know how to recover in time to avert disaster.  Even if a project tumbles into disaster, it’s whether you have the skill to then haul it back onto solid ground.

Here are some of my personal rules when things go wrong.

The First Rule:  keep your cool.

There’s no benefit to losing your temper when things go wrong and shouting at colleagues or suppliers or heaven forefend, even your client (internal or external).  You can feel like a roiling volcano inside, but if you keep your emotions in check others will perceive you as reasonable, easy to work with and are more likely to want to work with you in the future.

The Second Rule:  forgive other people’s mistakes.

Obviously, that goes hand in hand with rule number one. When someone else screw up, avoid blaming and just get on with finding a solution with them. In our experience, if you make it all right for the other person they are far more likely to go the ‘extra mile’ to sort out the problem because you’re not finger pointing and they aren’t feeling defensive or guilty (or both).

The Third Rule:  keep everyone in the loop.

When disaster is looming, it’s really important that everyone knows what’s going on.  The old trope about two heads are better than one really is true.  When people are kept informed, there’s a far greater chance of finding a way through than if you sit with it yourself and stew over how it all came to pass.

The Fourth Rule:  acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge.

Even when someone makes a hash of it, find something to praise them for.  Also, look for opportunities to acknowledge people’s efforts throughout the project.  It’s very debilitating when things go wrong to feel your best efforts have been in vain. Giving people recognition motivates them to want to do better

The Fifth Rule:  debrief.

Believe it or not, we’ve heard of many project that never have a debrief with everyone who was involved.  By looking at what well and of course, looking at where things fell apart, you are far better able to prepare for the next project and will be better armed to pre-empt difficulties.

Follow these ‘rules’ and your projects actually will run better even if it gets bumpy along the way.

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

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Monday, 1 December 2014

Why We Love TED Talks

Thank you TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design for those who don’t know what the letters stand for!) for existing.  We’d all be the poorer without you.

So just why do we love TED Talks so much?

First, the range of speakers is fabulous:  from filmmaker JJ Abrams to Brene Brown, vulnerability researcher, to Philip Zimbardo, psychologist, and even Ruby Wax has done a TED Talk.  Scientists, business men and women, artists, writers, physicists, Nobel laureates, software designers, journalists, memoirists, soldiers; the impressive list grows and grows.

Second, the topics are phenomenal.  You can listen to a TED Talk on refugees, getting a good night’s sleep, washing your hands, the genius of ant colonies and seemingly a zillion other subjects.  You can always find a talk on something you’re interested in.

Third, they are only up to 18 minutes long and that’s it.  How great is that?  How many of us have started off quite engaged and intrigued at a lecture or presentation and then it goes on and on an on and you lose the will to live (party conferences, take note!).

What a great example to set – powerful, potent, dynamic, even life-changing messages can be delivered in 18 minutes or under with no razzle-dazzle or hype.

Fourth, just about every speaker we’ve watched is a great presenter and we should know since our Presentation Skills workshops are our most popular courses and we have been known to be super-critical of bad presenting.  It’s worth watching a good Ted Talk a couple of times, first because of the content, but it’s then worth watching again to observe the excellent presentation skills on show.

Some of the speakers may start off nervous but because they are so passionate about their subjects, that emotion trumps the nerves and what we are left with is inspiring presenting.  They engage with their audience and create dialogue even when they are the only ones talking.

They use the whole stage and aren’t static or stuck behind a lectern holding on for dear life.  They use great visual aids that enhance their stories rather than endless PowerPoint slides to convey information.

They all have a great story to tell, a message to deliver, a point to make; many have a call to arms, encouraging us to take action – and believe me, we at Impact Factory often embrace those calls to action wholeheartedly.

Fifth, every TED Talk that we recommend is a great learning and support tool.  There’s so much depth and insight in those 18 minutes that our post course resource pages always include relevant TED Talks that directly relate to the specific course our delegates have attended.

Sixth, it’s really hard not to get emotionally involved when someone else is expressing their emotions in an accessible, welcoming way.  TED Talks engage emotions and remind us of things many of us have forgotten – about our humanity, our community, our connectedness.

All in under 18 minutes.

And that’s why we love TED Talks.

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

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory