Friday, 29 May 2015

Train The Trainer

When Robin and I started Impact Factory nearly 25 years ago, training was more often than not considered a waste of time and money. In some circles it still is.

Fortunately for employees of many companies training is considered a necessity and people’s annual Professional Development Reviews include what training needs to be undertaken in the year ahead.

This is why there are so many more training departments than when we started out.  Not only is that, training (sometimes slowly) is moving on from PowerPoint tedium and extensive note-taking to programmes that are far more experiential, practical and relevant.

This is great news for anyone in the business of delivering training and of course Impact Factory’s work is based on providing superb tailored programmes delivered by superb ‘home grown’ trainers.

What we’re also incredibly good at is training other people to become more dynamic and engaging trainers no matter what the subject.

Our experience is that trainers need training too!  Many medium size companies often have just one trainer, and larger companies may have whole Learning & Development departments but their trainers usually work on their own.  It can be a lonely business delivering training on your own with no one to bounce ideas off of or simply to get feedback that what you’re doing is OK. 

Everyone needs feedback and trainers are prone to question themselves anyway because standing up in front of groups of people day after day, helping them develop their skills can be daunting.  All you need is one tricky delegate and you begin to wonder why you ever signed up to the job in the first place. 

I ran one of our Train the Trainer courses a couple of years ago and every single delegate worked on their own for their organisations; the relief they felt simply spending two days with colleagues in the same boat was enormous.  They all left feeling refreshed, revitalised, with loads of new ideas to bring to their own training.  It was a great two days, but what I remember most was how important each of them felt it was in being able to take two days away from the fray for their own professional development.

It’s a hugely rewarding job training other people in new skills or developing the ones they already have.  Whether it’s hard skills like IT and Finance or Soft Skills like Communication, Leadership, Change and Customer Service, trainers are crucial to every organisation’s progress; the better the trainers the better the organisation’s potential for growth.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Storytelling: Who Doesn’t Love a Story?

Did you know there are libraries around the world where you can check out people as well as books in order to listen to their stories?  What a terrific idea!

In 'my day' these people were called grandparents, aunts, uncles and old family friends, but as the nuclear family has faded so has the immediate access to tall tales, intriguing family history, meandering story lines that can be put down and picked up again later.

What’s great about the human library books is exactly what great storytelling is all about – each storyteller will have his or her own unique experiences, told in his or her own unique way that imparts adventure, insight, romance, drama, mystery, tragedy, humour.

We all learn from stories.  We all love stories.

Anyone with children knows that once hooked on a story they want to hear it or read it over and over and over again.  Or they want to watch their favourite film again and again and again to relive all the best bits.

Stories are one of our oldest forms of communication so the desire to learn through stories is built into our psyches – everyone relates to narrative.

Look how we are affected by ads that tell a story rather than just sell a product – we want to know……what happens next?

Impact Factory has been running Storytelling workshops for only a few years, but this year we’ve had an explosion of requests from regular and prospective clients on Storytelling.  The most recent one was this week where an organisation asked us about creating a course for their senior team because their company has gone through a lot of uncertainty recently.  Their thinking is that storytelling would be a powerful way to convey their new strategy and to re-engage with their people who have been through a lot.

We agree. 

Whether it’s presenting new strategies, facts and figures, plans for the future, challenges ahead or even changing the office layout – pretty much anything at all – using a storytelling format will bring those presentations to life, touch people’s imaginations and emotions and allow the presenter/s to be more creative and expressive.

Be more compelling, use colour and imagery, create drama – use stories. 

Check out Impact Factory’s Storytelling and Communication Skills courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Friday, 15 May 2015

Polls, Pundits, Predictions

I knew things wouldn’t be much better after the election in terms of Communication and Leadership and I was right!

Since the 7th May 2015 at one second past 10 pm we have been subjected to endless, and I mean endless post mortems. 

Boo hoo.  What went wrong??? Or rather, how did we get it so wrong??

Pollsters and pundits make a lot of money for their expertise – what would we do without them?  

That was a rhetorical question by the way.

We’ve had centuries of elections without gangs of ‘experts’ telling us what we’re thinking and how we’re going to vote. Society’s reliance on them has created an industry in itself that in this election proved kind of useless.  The annoyance I have is how much air-time, newsprint and internet space they took up with what has turned out to be rather valueless information.

What went wrong?  Nothing went wrong other than the media and the politicians giving these pollsters and pundits far more credence than they deserved. 

What would have happened if they weren’t around?  Since people made their own choices, clearly not influenced by the information avalanche, I suspect that without the glut of analysts and commentators it all would have simply been quieter. 

The airwaves, newsprint and web would have to have found other things to write about and guess what?  They would have!  Aside from cat videos, there’s plenty of real news going on in the world that barely got a look in for what seemed like months.

The soul-searching which should take place, and I guarantee by the next election won’t have taken place, is - do we need them at all? 

The Labour party candidly said after the fact that their internal data was telling them one thing (what indeed actually happened in terms of loss of seats, etc.) while the polls were saying another.  

Clearly they had their own mechanism in place which was feeding them information and yet the lure of those exaggerated figures allowed them to ignore their own ‘evidence’.

As individuals we often rely on external ‘data’ to tell us how we’re doing instead of looking inwards.  

The same with organisations that depend too much on consultants to show them the way, when their own employees could tell them what’s going on.

So I’m willing to take bets right now on any election that’s coming up that those pundits and pollsters will be trotted out again as though nothing at all happened. And all that noise will  just keep getting louder and louder..

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Communication Skills: Why Does It Go So Wrong?

Many years ago we pinched a really good phrase from a BT initiative they ran back in the 1990s: 

Miscommunication is the norm.

The basis of this rather stark phrase is that communication goes wrong a lot – perhaps even as much as it goes right.

And why is that?

It’s unlikely you’ll remember way back to your childhood (perhaps you will!), but that’s when the foundations for how we communicate were laid. 

Right now, I have five year old twins in my life and it’s like being in a communications laboratory watching how they learn to communicate.

Of course, there are the magic words, please and thank you that are drummed in whenever they need reminding.  However, there’s so much more that’s going into their very plastic brains:  how the adults around them communicate, how they learn to resolve conflict, how they deal with their competitiveness, how they are encouraged to express their feelings and let the adults know what’s happening.  I observe them learning to lie, to exaggerate, to negotiate.

Teaching children to communicate ‘well’ is a constant process, constant reminding, constant reinforcing till, at some point, they will hopefully acquire healthy communication skills.  What also strikes me is that good communication ‘should’ be a constant process for everyone; we should be refreshing our skills often, gaining new insights and strengthening our ability to manage challenging situations.

What’s far more common is that we unconsciously learn how to communicate when we’re young and that’s it; we carry those particular skills into adulthood even if they aren’t always appropriate or healthy. 

And that’s why it goes wrong so much of the time – we often respond to situations as if we were five (irrationally) or ten (‘it’s not fair”) or fifteen (stroppy and stubborn) rather than as mature adults.

Communication is a complex process of expressing a thought or feeling in such a way that other people understand what you are trying to convey.  Mostly, we communicate from our point of view. The additional complexity is that other people will be hearing your communication from their point of view. That’s all fine if your points of view are in sync.

Far more often, points of view are different – from slightly different to massively out of sync.  That’s when someone is most likely to get the wrong end of the communication stick and when we are most likely to misunderstand and to be misunderstood.

In our experience, one of the best skills you can learn to improve your communication is to develop the ability not only to see other points of view but to then incorporate those points in view in the way you talk or write to other people.

There are many more skills that will help you become a better communicator, but if you can start with that one and keep practising it, your communication skills will improve dramatically.

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

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Best Surprise Is No Surprise - Performance Management and Appraisals

Remember that tag line for the Holiday Inn a few years back?  The Best Surprise Is No Surprise?

Well, we pinched it and use it to describe what we think a great appraisal process should be:  no surprises.

That means that Performance Management has to be handled with care, empathy, respect and most importantly of all, day-to-day.

Too many times people tell us what horrible appraisals they’ve had.  A common theme is when their manager presents them with something that happened a few months back that the appraisee hadn’t realised was a problem.  In other cases, the manager has a long list of things that should have been done or could have been done better.

In every situation, it was only during the formal appraisal setting that the catalogue of errors was introduced. Sadly, this happens a lot.

In a great appraisal nothing should come as a shock or surprise; appraisals should be a summary of the year or six month’s work of the appraisee and not an opportunity to dump on the appraisee things that haven’t gone so well all in one go.

That’s what Performance Management is for – to deal with issues as they arise, not months down the road when the details may get lost or muddled but right then, in the moment.  Yet this is when a lot of managers miss fantastic chances to get more from their staff. 

When a problem or issue is spotted and dealt with right away, first, it gets the issue out in the open so that relevant solutions can be discussed; second, it short-circuits the possibility of festering resentments where the manager somehow thinks his/her staff member is deliberately doing something wrong and that they should know better.

It’s all common sense isn’t it?  You see a mistake, you take the person aside to discuss it and give them support and keep a ‘light’ eye on things till you feel confident that they’re meeting your expectations.

So why doesn’t it happen like that so much of the time?  Why are appraisals filled with ‘surprises’ and shocks?

This is the nub of the matter.  Many managers simply don’t like having uncomfortable conversations, they hope the problem will fix itself without their intervention, they’re afraid of other people’s emotions, so they don’t do it.  Then within the more formal setting of an annual appraisal they can hide behind the process.

We heard of one situation where a manager was upset because one of his staff was taking longer lunch hours than the agreed time.  Every time the employee came back ‘late’ from lunch, the manager’s resentment grew.  He groused to other people, including colleagues of Mr Latelunch; he kept a log of every time Mr Latelunch was late, even by a couple of minutes; he began to obsess about it and assumed Mr Latelunch was doing it on purpose.  Finally, he presented his ‘evidence’ to HR for them to sort nearly one year down the line.

What did he never do?  He never spoke to Mr Latelunch about it; he never even casually mentioned that he needed to keep an eye on his timekeeping.

Something simple became huge in the manager’s mind and of course once it was escalated to HR it became even more huge.  HR was annoyed with the manager for not dealing with it earlier and even more annoyed that it had been dumped on them. 

And that was why we were brought in when they were creating a new appraisal process; they didn’t want it undermined from the beginning if the managers didn’t have the skills to deal with the day-to-day.

Repeat our mantra when it comes to Appraisals – The Best Surprise is No Surprise!

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Friday, 8 May 2015

Authentic Presentation

Image result for giving a presentation
I’d like to be able to say that I’m looking forward to the peace and quiet of the media after the General Election but alas, that is very unlikely.

What I was most looking forward to was not being bombarded with the party leaders’ various speeches, non-debates, campaign sound-bites and quite frankly, their completely inauthentic presentation styles.

I’m sure it’s one reason why the pre-election polls are so close – no one party leader has stood out enough to warrant a leap in their support.  I do believe that comes down in part to how they present themselves.

Good presentation isn’t about being spun so hard that all the quirky, idiosyncratic and individual traits are worn down and the presentation style becomes homogenised and bland.

Good presentation is about enhancing those quirks and idiosyncrasies because they are unique to you.

It is really really really hard to change something that’s part of who you are.  It is even harder to change something you think you shouldn’t do when you are presenting, such as too many hand gestures or saying ‘um’ and ‘er’ or pacing back and forth.  Your brain will already be filled with the content of your presentation, wondering what your audience is thinking, wishing it were all over. 

To then add extra stuff you think you need to change will only add stress and fill your mind with unnecessary garbage.

I believe it’s why these politicians look so stiff and uncomfortable so much of the time; they have been coached so rigorously that they have to keep buttoned up in case something ‘real’ seeps out.

Being ‘real’, being authentic, being who you genuinely are will all help get rid of that ‘unnecessary garbage’ in your mind so you can focus on what’s important:  engaging your audience and getting your message across.

OK, so how do you focus on your authentic self when you might be experiencing any of the following:  accelerated heart beat, dry mouth, sweaty palms, shaking knees, butterflies in the stomach and a head that’s buzzing with random, catastrophic thoughts?

Impact Factory’s approach is always to put attention on what already works about you, including some of your unique characteristics, even your eccentricities.

Take some time to identify those things that you either take for granted or those quirks that you think you should change.  Also identify what you already do well (a welcoming smile, a listen-to-able voice, an ability to tell a good story).  We call those two lists ‘money in the bank’; those attributes you know you can rely upon because they are already a natural part of who you are.

That is how you begin to build an authentic presentation style.

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

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Networking: Get me Out of Here!

Image result for networking
Networking seems to be one of those things, like presenting, that makes people uncomfortable at best and terrifies them at worst. 

We’ve been running Networking courses for years and years, both as Open Courses and tailored workshops, and we see the same thing time and time again:  people simply wish they didn’t have to do it.

Occasionally we run into someone who loves the socialising side and seems comfortable chatting with anyone in any circumstance.  But not that many.

Like presenting, networking is very exposing; or at least it feels that way.  The most common phrase we hear is, “I’m not good with chit chat and small talk.”  And if you do feel awkward then the very nature of networking events will create that feeling of dread.

It doesn’t have to be that way!

Again, like presentation, when someone has to go to networking events who doesn’t want to, their attention tends to be on themselves:  “I’m nervous” “I’m shy” “People are ignoring me” etc.  And that’s perfectly natural.  When we’re frightened we do tend to become somewhat blinkered and self-focused.

One of the key ways to help overcome both the nerves and the self-attention is to place your awareness on other people:  do they look comfortable?  Do they look on their own?  Shall I see if someone would like a drink or a nibble? 

Instead of huddling in a corner by yourself or hiding out in a group you already know, you can become a networking star by looking after other people; taking people under your wing, helping them meet others.  It’s far less exposing than going up to a group of people you don’t know and introducing yourself.

What it also does is give you practise joining new groups so that later on if you do find yourself on your own by then your confidence will have increased and you will most likely be able to join a group of strangers.

For those of you who still feel self-conscious making small-talk, don’t bother.  Don’t even try.  All you need to do is remember the most important ‘rule’ about networking:  get the other person to talk about themselves.  Just about everyone likes to have a good natter about themselves given the opportunity. You don’t need to feel inept; get a few good leading questions at the ready – people don’t need a lot of encouragement. 

You can even throw in a bit of personal disclosure which also is a good catalyst for getting people to open up.  Things like, “I wonder if you had the same luck I had this weekend, I was actually able to take a whole day off and do nothing.”  Or  “I was really pleased to come along tonight, otherwise I’d still be chained to my desk.  What about you?”

It really doesn’t matter what you ask or even what personal information you disclose (well, not too personal!); all you’re looking for is a way in to open up the conversation so that other people feel listened to and you’re away.

Once you’ve had a go a few times, we can pretty much guarantee that networking events will be something you look forward to instead of something to fear.

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Business Networking Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

U Turns

Image result for russell brand and ed miliband
Russell Brand must have finally got it about voting as he has now executed a U Turn and is urging his followers to vote Labour.

I’m willing to do a U Turn as well, and applaud his common sense.  Whether the majority of his followers are actually registered to vote is another matter; at least he is urging people to exercise their right to vote.

U Turns are funny things, aren’t they?  Politicians and other leaders are often mocked or castigated in the press for making U Turns and personally, I find the term unhelpful.

We all, every single human being on the earth, have changed our minds about something at some point.  It could be as simple as “I think I’ll sleep in an extra hour.  Hmm, no I’ll get up now.”  Or it could be as complex as “Will you marry me?”  “Actually, the engagement is off.”

Why I dislike the term U Turn as it is used in the media and by many politicians finger pointing when someone from the other side changes their mind, is that it implies it’s only being done for expediency’s sake – there has to be something behind it.  It also implies that once you’ve made your mind up, that’s it, it’s fixed in concrete.

We probably all know Margaret Thatcher’s famous, “The lady’s not for turning,” or Tony Blair’s “I can only go one way, I’ve not got a reverse gear.”

Why the bloody hell not?

Why shouldn’t careful consideration of information, new facts, differing points of view, all contribute to a different outcome, which could in the end involve turning or reversing?

Which is why it makes me cross when politicians use absolutes and make declarations that they will never do X, will never work with Y; when they issue dire warnings and forecasts of disaster.

I’d far rather see these party leaders speak like responsible adults rather than playground bullies who threaten and take defiant stances.

This would also mean that if no party wins an overall majority on Thursday then deals are going to have to be done, negotiations are going to have to take place and all the rigid rhetoric could very well become rather meaningless as the leaders jostle for supremacy. There will have to be U Turns, reverses and back-pedalling.

How much better in these last (excruciating) weeks if the candidates and party leaders had been honest and told us that “If we don’t win outright, then this is what a government led by me could look like.”  And then be clear with the electorate who they would work with to form a government and what that would entail; what they might have to compromise on, where the give and take could be.

Oink oink….and pigs will fly.

Check out Impact Factory’s Leadership, Negotiations, Communication and Creative Strategic Thinking courses

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Friday, 1 May 2015

The Long Road Ahead

Another non-debate last evening.  Thank goodness it’s all going to be over soon.

Ah…but it ain't over till the fat lady sings.

Oh oh.

Kind of on the cards that there's not going to be much singing on Thursday from fat ladies or anyone else.  Instead we are going to have a long drawn out process, the outcome of which no one knows at this point.

And this is why an already distasteful election campaign is getting even more distasteful.  Of course, we could be like America, where campaigning has already begun more than 18 months before the actual election. We’re not that bad…..yet.

However, the scrabble to get votes is still focused on what’s wrong with ‘everyone else’ and what’s right with ‘us’. There could be deals being done behind closed doors, but if you believe what you read in the papers, on social media and the telly, hardly anyone wants to do a deal with anyone else to create a smooth transition to whatever is going to happen next.

This got me thinking about role models and what all this very public behaviour is telling us.

Because Impact Factory is an interpersonal skills training organisation we are hyper-alert to the spoken and unspoken messages that leaders (sic) and other high profile people give to all the rest of us.

What are some of the messages the party leaders are giving out at the moment?

                Win at all costs
                Wallop the opposition at every opportunity
                Make unrealistic promises
                Finger point and blame
                Make ultimatums
    Speak in absolutes…never and always

A weensy part of me understands why Russell Brand urges his followers not to vote because the inevitable sameness of it all is quite disheartening.  But it’s a very wee part and the bottom line is that votes do matter.

However, my question watching all that blather last night was about what kind of role models  are our politicians presenting?  I don’t think Russell Brand is necessarily a good role model for civic progress but even more so ‘our’ politicians are poor role models as well.

Let’s step back a bit and reflect on the role models who have influenced your life. If they’re anything like mine they might be your immediate family, inspiring teachers, individuals in the forefront of change, friends you admired, books you loved, sports teams/people you cheered, music and musicians who ‘spoke’ to you, movies you watched over and over, and yes, perhaps even the occasional politician.

These are the messages I received through the role models in my life and maybe they were similar to the ones you got:

                Be brave
                It’s OK to be different
                Kindness and empathy are essential
                Love and more love heals many wounds
                Keep going even when the prospects seem bleak
                Bring joy to others
                Look for opportunities to help
                Ethics and values are important
                Passion is good
Compare the two lists.

What kind of role models are we accepting as the face of British politics?  And what messages do they keep churning out?

One of the biggest messages I’m getting is how childish it all is - the way our ‘leaders’ (sic) insist they won’t do back room deals, join forces with one or another party, blah blah blah. 

Rather than being honest with the electorate and saying, “OK, no one is going to win this election outright, so we need to look now at how we can ‘rehearse’ forming a government after the 7th.  

Instead, every leader is campaigning in the hopes that there will be some magical breakthrough that will sway the voters and bring in a majority.

Under a coalition government (check out some of those proper coalitions in The Netherlands, Belgium, etc.) there would be genuine cooperation and that cooperation would start before the results of the election are known. 

Now that would be the kind of role modelling I’d like to see.

Check out Impact Factory’s Leadership, Communication and Creative Strategic thinking courses

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory