Archive for July, 2010

Handling weather fronts

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

I was very sad to see that Alex “Hurricane” Higgins had died at the weekend. In the early 1980’s I really enjoyed watching him play. He had such talent as a snooker player. He could pot balls from difficult positions with such apparent ease. He didn’t indulge in conformity. I have very fond memories of discussions with my dad as to his qualities when compared with the likes of Steve Davis – who my dad particularly liked to watch. I suspect that part of my fascination with Alex Higgins was that he was totally the opposite of me in so many ways and, at that time, I wished I could have been like him in.

Knowing more about him now, I am very pleased that I wasn’t and am not like him. As the years progressed I became more aware of his unpredictability, his mercurial temperament, his alcohol-related behaviour. He had a chaotic lifestyle.

When I read about such individuals, I always wonder whether with a little more assistance they could have lead a more organised and less chaotic life. I then wonder whether by doing that, it would have stunted their phenomenal talent and inventiveness. Does the sheer brilliance of talent have to go with a lifestyle of chaos and unpredictability? Are the two inseparable?

I don’t know. But I do know that most of us at certain times in our lives find ourselves in situations where we need a little help in order to steer ourselves through stormy situations or mildly chaotic periods. And this same weekend I had a phone call from one such person who I had recently assisted. Jayne – I will call her – has absolutely nothing in common with Alex Higgins, and in at least one way she is completely different to him – she realised when she needed a little assistance.

Last month – 22 June to be precise – I blogged about how I was assisting a number of people with their preparations for their CIPD examinations. One person in particular – Jayne, I will call her – had explained to me that when she read the exam paper, the questions, “just became a jumble of words making no sense”.  Jayne had failed the exams the first time around, having walked out after half an hour. When we first made contact, there were three weeks to go before the exam and she was panicking about what she needed to do. She was finding the whole thing very stressful – made worse by problems she was having at work.

Three weeks wasn’t long to have an impact. We had telephone chats every two or three days. We had short term action plans and longer term action plans (but never longer than three weeks!). I gave her micro-teaches on aspects of Transactional Analysis (TA), Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Emotional Intelligence (EI) to help her understand what was happening for her and how she could start to manage the situation more effectively. I devised a set of questions (see 22 June entry) to assist Jayne with focusing whilst in the exam.

I spoke to Jayne a few days after the exam and she thought that she had given it her best shot, and a few days later she emailed me (see 10 June entry) to thank me for my assistance.

I didn’t expect to hear from Jayne again – but then she rang at the weekend. She rang to say that she had passed, and not only had she passed, she had achieved a distinction (over 70%)!  She was very pleased – and wanted to thank me for my support. I was overjoyed for her, and was smiling about it for the whole weekend – the effort that she had put in had really paid off. It illustrated a few points for me:

  • There are times when we all need help – and those of us who are prepared to seek it out will generally flourish.
  • Never give up – it’s never too late to start to address something – (but it is easier with more time!).
  • By being open to new learning and skills we can achieve much in what appears to be a short space of time – and can create positive ‘anchors’ that will assist us in future endeavours.

How could you be more effective with a little assistance or a little more focus?


Playing with feeling and playing to learn

Monday, July 26th, 2010

In my last post I talked about the value that can be gained from affective learning methodologies, and the reluctance of some trainers to use such methodologies. One such methodology is the role play, and in this post I will give a brief run through on how to do it well.

Some role plays are very tightly scripted or structured – almost being the acting out of a scenario, or a simulation – and such activities are not intended to, nor are they likely to, achieve any affective based learning.

In order to create learning through the use of the Affective domain, the role play needs to be as unstructured as possible – and even then there is no guarantee it will achieve this. As the title suggests, it needs to involve ‘play’. We first learn to ‘play’ as children – and this generally takes place within very loose parameters, generates feelings and is one of the principle ways for children to develop their understanding of the world around them. Not unlike a good role play!

When I think back to learning events that I have really enjoyed delivering because of the intensity of the learning that has taken place, several involve unstructured or semi-structured role plays. When prepared, delivered and – most importantly – de-briefed effectively, they are an impactive way to improve interpersonal and decision making skills in a safe environment, generating long lasting learning.

Here are some key points to incorporate into your planning if you want to stand the best chance of creating an affective role play.

  • Be clear about why you are choosing the methodology – does it link in to your desired outcomes or objectives?
  • Role plays tend to be most impactive once the group is settled and relatively comfortable with each other.
  • Use volunteers – the more relaxed and willing the participants are, the more likely they are to ‘get into the role’.
  • Use written instructions so that the participants don’t know what the briefs are for each other.
  • Use names that can be for either gender – Sam or Pat for example – so that you can use whoever volunteers.
  • Where you are using an unstructured role, it is important to give the role a person’s name (i.e. Sam). This will make it clear to the person playing the role that their skills are not being assessed by those watching. In order to generate real feelings, they need to understand that they are not being asked to ‘perform’.
  • Give sufficient instructions so that the participants know how to get started, together with the licence to react as they feel fit as the role play unfolds – so you give them a ‘role’, and encourage them to ‘play’.

When might you use one? Well, one example could be in customer service training where you are wanting (1) delegates to be able to explain the potential effect on customers of a particular course of action and (2) to give feedback to a delegate on how he or she deals with a situation they may be faced with in the future.

Your briefing for the employee who will receive feedback on how they deal with a scenario could be that they are required to deal with a customer complaint in the role in which they are employed – in this instance as a Borough Council ‘front desk’ clerk.  The complainant’s brief could be that they are Sam and have neighbours who have had noisy parties for the last three weekends which have stopped Sam from sleeping. As a result Sam has spoken to the neighbour who has said that they will carry on having them, and so Sam wants the Council to address the matter before the weekend. Sam can react as he or she sees fit dependent upon how Sam is dealt with by the clerk.

Having run the role play to its natural conclusion you come to the all important de-brief. Important because you may have generated feelings in individuals and as the instigator (and trainer) you have a responsibility to discuss and give meaning to these. Important because this is where the learning is for all who are present. This is the order in which I would de-brief the scenario – and the order is important for the benefit of all those involved.

  1. Go to ‘Sam’ and ask them what they are feeling / what emotions they have.
  2. Go to Council employee (using real name) and ask the same
  3. Ask if the role play has generated any feelings for the rest of the group, and if so what feelings.
  4. Go to ‘Sam’, and this time using his / her real name, ask why Sam had the feelings described in point 1. Explore what created each of those feelings. (The name change is important here as it starts to take the person out of role).
  5. Using their own names, ask the same questions of the Council clerk and any others from the group.
  6. Points 4 & 5 above have enabled you to extract the affective learning and enabled you to debrief those involved.
  7. You can then debrief the rest of the role play in a similar way to how you might have done if you had used as a case exercise or case study as your methodology. If there are no feelings generated, you would again de-brief in a similar way to a case exercise.  
  8. Ensure the group has taken all the learning from the scenario.

That’s my 5 minute guide to running and de-briefing a role play with the intention of incorporating the Affective domain of learning. Did it make sense? If not, or you need more information, please get in touch.


To the Affective and beyond …

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Buzz, Woody and co are back! Toy Story 3 has arrived and is at a cinema near you. Reports say that it is a quite brilliant film, with the ability to appeal to both young and old. I’m getting excited just writing about it (and on a personal note, I’m surprised it has taken me until my fifteenth blog post to mention anything Disney)!  

Whilst it appears that Toy Story 3 will appeal to all ages, I get the impression that it’s one of those films where the adults will get more emotional than the children, and the children probably will not understand why the parents are getting all tearful – so some explanation or meaning may be required.

As many trainers know, this could be a great example of some affective learning. I’m also aware that many trainers know very little about the affective domain, and even when they do they are reluctant to use it. This is often due to the perception of such scenarios being complicated to de-brief, or that they may lose control of what takes place and not be able to gain the learning.

The majority of trainers will have a good understanding of Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy (or ‘ordered list’) of Cognitive learning which describes the 6 levels we, as trainers, can seek to attain with our learning methodologies. Many of us also use the Psychomotor domain of learning – the domain through which people learn how to use, for example, tools. So, when we learn to drive we learn through the Cognitive domain (what signs mean, when to indicate) and the Psychomotor domain (how to change gear, how to steer the vehicle along a correct course).

I can also recall a few affective experiences during my time driving. The one that immediately springs to mind involves a level crossing near Barnsdale Bar, but the less said about that the better – suffice to say it didn’t involve any trains or vehicles other than mine.  The Affective domain relates to feelings, and Affective learning is when we learn from those feelings.  Due to feelings having been involved, it can make the learning far longer lasting and far more potent than would otherwise be the case. Consequently, due to how much I scared myself at that level crossing, and the fact I understand what I did wrong, I haven’t made the same error again.

The use of the Affective domain can be a really powerful tool in situations such as role plays, when using an evocative piece of music or when asking people to imagine themselves in a certain scenario. I will explain in another post how to run these as effectively as possible.

The most important thing to remember, however, is that a person doesn’t actually learn whist experiencing the feelings – they learn from being de-briefed. They learn in the cognitive domain from understanding their feelings – and in learning situations people will often not fully appreciate why they have experienced certain feelings.  And the rest of the group – who may not have experienced any feelings – will learn vicariously from the effective de-briefing of the situation.

The reviewer of Toy Story 3 at commented, “You might bring a handkerchief along. Or some tissue. Whatever you have. A long-sleeved shirt will do. You’re going to need it. My viewing companion openly sobbed during the entire final five minutes”.

If you go and see Toy Story 3, I’m pretty sure that you will understand where any feelings come from – but those around you may not, particularly if they are young. You will be able to increase their understanding of the world with a helpful explanation of what happened for you – once you’ve stopped sobbing!


That’s one small step for most people; one giant leap for Paul

Friday, July 16th, 2010

I think I have now got to grips with a blog – or at least the basics of a blog. Unless you tell me differently?  I have also received some great feedback about the website.

What is even better is that two people have said that the site doesn’t do quite what they would like it to. One person said they really liked it and wanted to leave some comments both on it and about it, but couldn’t, and another person said that they wanted to ask for a bit of help / advice but thought that the contact section felt a bit too formal.  To me, the common denominator in those comments was that it needed to be more interactive.

Having had my thinking hat on, and having spent many hours tinkering (and I mean ‘many’, due to my lack of computer skills!), I have hatched a cunning plan … so cunning – Blackadder might say – you could put a tail on it and call it a fox!  A plan that will – I think – go a good way to addressing that feedback. In fact, I’m really excited about what I have come up with!

The excitement is mainly due my ‘solution’ also enabling me to work on something else I have been thinking about for some time. Lots of the websites that I frequent or have looked at have forums for their members – CIPD, TainingZone, CMI, Glasstap, etc. These are great, however, you also have to pay to access them and / or they are very specialist.

Many of the first line managers or aspiring managers who I coach or train do not have access to any such forums. From the discussions we’ve had, they would find such a facility of great use. I know from delivering learning events that often the most beneficial, valuable and thought provoking aspects are when  we look at case studies  to which there are no obvious right or wrong answers. Because that’s what happens in reality.

But I don’t have the capability or resources to set up anything on the scale of those previously mentioned sites. But I would like to offer a facility to those who have attended courses (and those who come across the facility and find it of use) whereby I can continue to offer them support.

 People also tell me that they would sometimes like the chance to make contact away from a workplace computer, and it isn’t lost on me just how many people use Facebook – and how versatile it has become.

So, how can I deal with all that? Well, I have created a ‘Breathe Personal and Organisational Development Facebook Page’. This will enable people to leave comments on the website and to ask questions in a more informal way. It will also give others the opportunity to contribute to posts that people have left. People will be able to pick up ideas from reading questions and comments that others raise. Almost a virtual action learning set. And, of course, it’s all free!

I hope people will use it to pose a question, get a bit of advice or perhaps a resource they have mislaid. I’ll not have the answers to all the points raised, but in such cases there’s a good chance I’ll know someone who will.  It will be interesting to see how well it works or what level of take up there is. I’ve had great fun learning as I have put it all in place, so if it’s of use to one person, it will have been worth the effort!

And, dear reader, you can help me. As you may be aware, it is possible to create a ‘Username’ for a ‘Facebook Page’, however, a page has to have at least 25 ‘fans’ for this to happen. So if you would be happy to be a ‘fan’, it would be great if you could support this little venture by going the Breathe Facebook Page (via this link) and pressing the ‘like’ button – assuming you do like the idea – and that will enable me to give it a proper name!

And if you can see any other improvements I could make, please do let me know …

But – unfortunately – I haven’t solved the whole problem as I have now found out that one of the people who sent me the feedback isn’t on Facebook! – So let’s get back to that drawing board …


Reducing the cost of Training Rooms

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

The sun is shining and I’m in a field in Northamptonshire – Elkington to be exact. Having said that, I’ll not be in the field when you read this as I have no internet access here and so ‘publication’ will have to wait. I’m at the Battlefield Trec with Peta and Sasha (and Sam and Joker).

The Trec is presumably named after the Battle that, according to my map, took place near here in 1645. My lack of detailed knowledge of English history and – more importantly – no internet access prevent me from imparting further detail.

A Trec, in short, is a challenge for horses and riders in orienteering and agility skills and they take place all over the UK. On one day horse and rider enjoy a 20 – 50km ride (dependent upon your level) where they pick up points for interpreting the map clues correctly and completing the ride within the set timescales. On the other day, they undertake a sort of obstacle course and are timed on how effectively the horses can undertake walking and cantering – technically referred to as ‘Control of Paces’. I go as a helper, gofer and driver – and have increased my repertoire of skills this weekend by doing some judging.

What made this Trec different to any of the others that I have attended was the provision of a training session for people who wanted to learn more about moving up a level. If you move up a level you go on a longer orienteering ride and the clues are more difficult.

The training session was in a barn. You took your own chair, your own paper, your own refreshments and your own writing implements. No free pens bearing a sponsor’s name, no sweets to eat (or take home to the kids!). The air-conditioning was determined by the gap in the barn door. But all the delegates were enthusiastic and willing to learn. What would you prefer – a posh venue with delegates who do not particularly want to be there, or keen and participative delegates at a Village Hall? 

This venue reminded me of various discussions I had seen and heard in the previous week relating to perceived links between the quality of a venue and how this can improve the quality of learning. One person had asked the question on a forum and there were various responses, including one person listing their Top 21 tips for an effective training room.  Another person in another discussion was quite effervescent in their enthusiasm for the use of good quality learning facilities and the many benefits they bring with them – they did at least have the openness to point out that their role was to hire out such facilities. The return on the investment is difficult to quantify – if in fact there is any.

But hiring facilities is an expensive business.  And if you or your organisation is looking to save money at the moment it is an area that you could target with surprisingly good results. 

Every day there will be training and meeting rooms near you sitting empty, and every day – again near you – your organisation or other people will be hiring such facilities. These people need to be brought together. 

I have done this previously by getting together with similar organisations and creating a ‘currency’ for the use of a classroom or a spare place on a corporate course. First it needs some alternative thinking – in a similar way to the Universities when they decided to hire out their accommodation during student holiday time.  It also takes a bit of setting up as you need to decide on full or partial cost recovery and may need to involve your Finance people to keep them on side, but it’s do-able.  And not only does it save money, it cements effective helping relationships and can bring in different ideas by having delegates from other organisations. 

Try it – there are great gains to be made, and not just financial ones. If you want any more information about how I went about it, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll happily supply you with more information. 


P.S. (added after returning from Elkington) Peta, Sam and the horses came second overall in their level with their highest ever score, so they were very happy!

And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

If you read my last post, you may recall (well, you should recall – it was only yesterday!) that I was illustrating some possible principles for coaching through use of quotes from “The Prophet” by Khalil Gibran.

The next few quotes describe to me aspects of the relationship between the coach and coachee:

    Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower,
    But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee.
    For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,
    And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
    And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.

    Your friend is your needs answered.
    He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.

    The mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.

    And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
    And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.

And my final section is devoted to the coachee, or a learner in any situation. I think these are probably my favourites, and some of them I find very powerful:

    And how shall you rise beyond your days and nights unless you break the chains which you at the dawn of your understanding have fastened around your noon hour?    We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us.    Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.

If either your sails or our rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.

    Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
    Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
    And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
    For self is a sea boundless and measureless.
    Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
    Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
    For the soul walks upon all paths.
    The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
    The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.

    No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of our knowledge.    You have been told that, even like a chain, you are as weak as your weakest link.
    This is but half the truth. You are also as strong as your strongest link.
    To measure you by your smallest deed is to reckon the power of ocean by the frailty of its foam.

    And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.

What do you think? Do you like them? Are there any that particularly stand out for you? Or do they do nothing for you? Do you have some alternative principles or inspirational quotes?

And looking at the two posts as a whole, and revisiting my question with regard to coaching models, what are your views?


Do we need models for coaching?

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

I am amazed at how many coaching models appear to have been created over the last few years. Almost every time I run a session on coaching, someone in the group tells me of another model I then encounter for the first time. Are they all required? Are any of them required? Perhaps I ask the question as I come from a standpoint that I don’t see any of them as particularly useful.

Well, there’s one I like – and I first heard about it last year. It is the “WAIT” model. And it stands for “Why Am I Talking?”. Which perhaps isn’t a model but more of a principle – which could explain why I like it. I much prefer the idea of operating from a set of principles.

The best bit of coaching I ever received was about 13 or 14 years ago near a lock on a waterway somewhere in Cambridgeshire. I had stopped off on the way to or from somewhere to have a meal with my very dear friend Sara. Sara and I are different in many ways – perhaps the most striking being my liking to consider and plan, and Sara being a person who does almost everything on the spur of the moment. We were having a walk (with a bit of skipping and the odd cartwheel thrown in for good measure) near this river or canal, having a laugh and being silly. As we approached the lock, Sara said, “Come on, let’s walk across the lock”, and off she went stepping on to this thin lock gate. “But I might fall in”, I retorted. “And?” she shouted back, almost at the other side.

That “And?” has replayed many times in my mind since then and in many different situations. It didn’t need a model to make it great, but it did need a relationship.

Sara also introduced me to a book called “The Prophet” by Khalil Gibran. As he is apparently the third most read poet in history, and this particular work is his most famous, you may have read it. “The Prophet” is said to be his metaphor for life.

I think it offers some very inspirational thoughts that can work very well as principles for coaching and training. The following are some extracts that help me to ensure that I am as effective as possible as a coach or trainer.

    The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.
    If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.

    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
    You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
    For they have their own thoughts. 

    You give but little when you give of your possessions.
    It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. 

    Work is love made visible.
    And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should
 leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
    For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
    And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
    And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.
    And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
    For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words many indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.
What do you think?

Tomorrow I will offer some other quotes from the book which will relate to principles that coachees or learners could adopt and quotes that could apply to the coach and coachee relationship.


Banking on objectivity

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

I’ve just had a request this morning from a bank in Cambodia for a copy of a Learning and Development Quality Management System. It reminded me of a recent encounter I had with a more local bank.

I recently discovered that a cheque I had paid into the Bank had not registered on the account. It had been a couple of weeks since I posted it through the bank’s letterbox and I was starting to wonder where it had got to. I had used the letterbox as the cash machine on the side of the building was not accepting deposits. I thought a visit to the Bank was in order.

I explained the circumstances to one of the staff and I answered all her questions. Yes, I was sure it was this Branch. Yes, I had used the correct account number. Yes, I had definitely delivered it. No, I didn’t have any other bank accounts with them that I could have put it into. Yes, it was definitely this Bank I had posted it at and not a different one.

A slightly awkward silence followed. “I’m sorry Mr Ackerley, I don’t know what has happened to your cheque, but we definitely haven’t got it”, was the comment that broke the silence. I felt my frustration levels rising. This was obviously the end of the road with this person. I asked to speak with a manager. “I don’t think a manager will be able to do any more than I have done”. I reiterated my desire to speak with a manager, and in due course one arrived. We revisited all the questions that I had answered with the first assistant – perhaps unsurprisingly, the answers were the same. And the conclusion was the same – “I’m sorry, I don’t know where your cheque can be”.

“Okay”, I said, “I say I posted it through your letterbox and you say you haven’t received it. Let’s go back to the last point I know where it was – your letterbox. Please can you check the letterbox to ensure it hasn’t got stuck anywhere”. I was assured that this couldn’t have happened as there was nowhere in the box for it to get stuck. I was insistent. The manager reluctantly agreed. About five minutes later the manager returned with a sheepish look on his face and a huge pile of mail. “I must apologise”, he sighed, “It looks like nobody has emptied it for about 3 weeks”. And, yes, my cheque was in there.

The interaction highlighted the value of focussing on the process rather than assumptions. If either of the staff members had focussed on the process – the route the cheque had taken – they would have approached the situation more objectively and looked in the letterbox, but they chose to focus on the assumption that the customer didn’t know what he was doing (sometimes the case, I will admit, but not on this occasion!).

Would you notice if you hadn’t received any post for three weeks? I would. It made me realise that in some sectors mail doesn’t have much of a role any longer. I remember as a child my dad stopping the car and pointing out a house with no chimney – a real rarity. Perhaps in 10 years time we will be pointing out buildings with no letterboxes.

Pleasingly, the manager was very apologetic – unlike the assistant who appeared to disappear into the woodwork as the manager returned with the mail. Perhaps because they were embarrassed, or it was their job to empty the letterbox, or they would have to go through all the mail – or perhaps some other reason.  But when a mistake has been made, admit it. He did that, and we had a laugh about it and moved on. If he hadn’t, I would have formally complained or changed banks.

And from a training perspective, what a great scenario for a role play for customer service training! Better than anything I could have made up – but the real experiences always are.