>Presentation training

>I today completed a set of presentation skills training with a group of people at my workplace. I think presentation skills training is my most favourite training that I deliver. It covers a broad spectrum of topics. Much like leadership and management training. But I think for me, this is the best topic. In terms of soft skills, presentation skills training crosses so many necessary skills: assertiveness, facilitation, rapport building, active listening, effective questioning, information delivery, engagement, credibility building, making a personal impact, confidence building, and those are just the ones that come to mind.

What I like best is how conscious I have to be of everything happening in the room at that moment. It’s taken me a long time to understand what that means. It means initially that I have to create an environment that is safe and open for my delegates to say what they need to. They then have to feel that they have something to learn from my session. This is all a power trip for me. I have complete control of that learning environment. Conversely that means I have to ensure the delegates leave learning something of value. Now there’s my true challenge. I believe I’m a great trainer. It’s a strong belief residing in my gut. You know, where the core of a person lies. Anyway, I digress.

More importantly though this means that I have to build a picture of the needs of the delegates and really hone in on those. Now there’s the part I love. By the end of the training in most occasions I’ll have sussed out what the person needs. But that journey to find that out, that’s what I love. Why? Because I love understanding people. And watching a person do presentations tells you so much about their character.

I have seen some God awful presentations delivered well. And some really difficult topics delivered effortlessly. And that’s no mean feat. Imagine having to tell a group of people that your department is receiving negative feedback from other departments and you have to collectively work to change this perception. That’s bloody hard. But when my old manager did this, he didn’t beat us up about it. We felt we had a mission, a purpose, something to prove.

So what’s my point here? Presentations are key in helping you to make decisions about a person. The training I do helps to ensure the message is delivered genuinely. That looks different for each person and that’s how it should be. Next time you see a presentation, give the person feedback. Let them know what impact they made, how they handled questions/challenges, how they built rapport with the group, if the content was appropriate. It has such an impact on the presenter. And you will also learn to have those development conversations so much better.

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>Sack the self deluded manager

>I have been reminded today of the importance of being clear and direct in how you communicate with your staff. But more importantly I have been reminded of how a self deluded manager can be such a bad thing for any business. You know who I mean. The manager that thinks they’re shit hot when they’re just shit. Oh Lord, give me strength.

So the situation goes something like this:
Manager “I don’t think Bob is working out.”
Me “What feedback has he had?”
Manager “Oh I’ve spoken with him and he understands he needs to improve his performance”
Me “Are you confident he is clear about exactly what he has to do to improve?”
Manager “Absolutely”

4 weeks later.

Manager “Bob definitely isn’t working out.”
Me “Ok let me talk to Bob.”

Me “Bob did you know that you’re not performing according to your manager’s expectations?”
Bob “Kind of.”
Me “Are you clear about what you need to do to improve?”
Bob “No.”

Who would I fire of the two? No surprises for guessing it would be the manager. Why though? Because the manager was self deluded. He thought that he was being clear by giving Bob messages like “we’ve had feedback that you aren’t being enough of a leader” but not giving Bob any further information about how to be a leader. Or messages like “we need to put you on a development plan” with little explanation of why and even less explanation of how to improve. Or messages like “You have great technical skills but you need to work on your people skills” with zero guidance on how to develop those all important people skills.

As a manager one of the key responsibilities you have is to be clear in no uncertain terms about your expectations of your team. If they’re not performing and you have clear evidence to support your judgement the conversation needs to be as pointed as saying “Bob I’ve had feedback you aren’t being enough of a leader. And here’s how I’m going to help. Here’s a plan we will work on together to help you improve. It is important you are able to do this otherwise I will have to consider putting you on a development plan or worse disciplining you.”

You have to have those conversations. You’re not a manager to make friends. You’re a manager to (drum roll) manage. You have to manage workloads, staff, departments, budgets, plans, deliverables, blah, blah, blah. And if you’re not having those conversations because you’re self deluded you deserve to be let go sooner than Bob or any other member of your team you think aren’t performing.

>Can I rule the world now?

>What does the new year beckon for a lot of people? Hopes and dreams. At best achievable hopes and dreams. Realistically for a lot of people, badly conceived hopes and dreams. At worst, false hopes and dreams. Why though? Why is it that people are not better at achieving their ambitions? Simply because not enough thought goes into the How. The What is ever present. The How, though, is ever elusive.

A world of thought I am enthusiastic about is positive psychology. One of the notable professors in this discipline is Martin Seligman. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him talk and he is a wonderful human being. He has learned through no hard pain of his own how to live a positive life. His research into this field shows that if you want to succeed in any respect, being positive and surrounding yourself with positive environments is key. He describes several pillars that you need to establish.

The first is positive emotions. Here you have to learn to accept the past, be happy in the present, hope for the future. These are no small things. In order for each to happen you have to spend energy allowing yourself to dwell and decide. There are key actions you have to take, and with the help of either self-learning or professional advice, you can take decisive action to allow your emotions to remain positive. An important aspect is to not dismiss unhappy/bad events but to accept them and learn from them.

You must then look at positive individual traits. Through careful feedback and focused development you can learn to understand what positive traits you already possess. This is of crucial importance. Too many people dismiss their strengths. From here you can then look to identify what other positive traits you want to either learn or develop. This is truly difficult. You need a mentor or trusted guide to help with this. Or the wisdom of Nelson Mandela.

Last you need to surround yourself with positive institutions. This is the ability to recognise what environments you operate in and the effect they have on your life. This isn’t simply the place of work or study or family life. This includes things like who you keep company with, what free time activities do you engage in, how do you commute, how do you like to travel, where do you shop, where do you eat, what’s your neighbourhood like, and the list goes on. This is probably the one we least consider. The other two are normally self-evident enough. But thinking about the institutions we surround ourselves with? Who cares about that? Not enough of us do.

So what does this tell us about anything? Does it mean simply being more positive? Not at all. It means if you want to succeed you have to make concerted efforts. There’s plenty of advice to say make plans and stick to them and make them achievable and make them clear and make sure you follow the SMART format and make more plans if you fail. Blah blah blah.

The insightful piece about positive psychology (there are many) tells us that you can take very practical steps to improve how you live your life. For example try the following. Think about yesterday. Think about it carefully. What did you do in the morning? Lunch? Teatime? Evening? Before bed? Now think about 3 things you did yesterday that made you feel good. Think of something which actually helped you feel good – no matter how fleeting. Now think about describing those 3 very exact positive experiences to someone you know. Could you do this? Could you actually articulate it? Now think about if you genuinely did this on a daily basis. Not necessarily telling someone daily, but either keeping a log or diary or even a blog! It would start to determine how you live your life as you find a way to complete each day thinking about positive events. By thinking about ending a day positively you will direct your energies at engaging in positive actions/language/behaviours.

I’ve been working at this ever since I’ve learned about it. It’s a struggle I’ll freely admit to. I’ve always been a fairly positive person. Actually for many years my language and actions have been about being positive. Only in the last couple of years though have I considered that maybe that’s not enough. I need to consider all aspects of my life and how they all lead me to being a positive influence on those I meet.

If you want to get all zen about this, then you can only truly rule the world if you first rule yourself. That’s a discussion point for another blog. So if you have set yourself new year resolutions then follow the advice that is currently floating around every publication in the next month. Positive psychology is about incorporating many facets of your life and finding a thread that links them all together. You won’t find out about that in most articles. You need to find where that motivation comes from and then start the journey. Oh yes. It’s another bloody journey. Done half-heartedly this will be another failed attempt at doing something different. Done right though and it’s a journey which will yield insight and discovery. I’m still on that journey. I’m enjoying it too.

>’Tis the season to do your appraisals

>Oh it’s that time of year. Collate feedback. Backtrack over the past year’s performance. Have meeting. Set objectives. Give rating. Salary review. Carry on and keep calm.

Appraisals are oft quoted as being the hardest task for managers. Why? Because managers are responsible for all those things above. And it’s hard work. Sure it comes with the responsibility, but it doesn’t make it easy. Especially if you have a big team to deal with. It’s no less a challenge for managers with small teams though. Either way it’s a burden. A necessary burden. A necessary evil. Actually, no. Check that. An essential necessity.

Carrying out appraisals are the most effective way of ensuring your team members are on track to help them achieve their personal goals, objectives, business goals and success. Even if you see your team member once a year, that will be the single most important meeting between a manager and your direct report.

Tom Peters talks about making arduous tasks into ‘WOW! Projects’. The essence of which says make an appraisal a meeting about excellence, creating a wider team of experts, setting amazing objectives and giving inspirational feedback. Yes, very American. But an interesting premise from which to work. My take on this? An appraisal should be a meaningful experience for all involved.

How can you make it meaningful? Well simple things like preparing in advance. Letting the team know meetings are upcoming. Ensure everyone is aware of what’s expected in the meeting. Have all paperwork completed before the meeting. Set uninterruptable time aside. Spend time listening to your direct reports thoughts about their performance. There’s more, much more, but it’s about committing to the process. Not because it’s a call from HR or the Exec team. But because it means so much to the success of a business.

Research (Corporate Leadership Council, Gallup) has shown that the discretionary effort from employees increases dependent on how well they are engaged by the organisation and their line managers. What is discretionary effort? The amount of effort an employee chooses to exercise based on how well they perceive they are being treated.

Employee engagement is a whole topic unto itself. But if a manager doesn’t commit to the appraisal process then you can wave goodbye to your staff. I will guarantee that with regards to appraisals, the following contribute to making it a poor process:
– last minute notification of meeting (i.e. tomorrow or even worse, this afternoon)
– poor solicited feedback
– poorly set and worded objectives
– badly delivered feedback
– lack of consideration of coaching opportunity
– judgements based on impressions rather than evidence based

Yet I’m amazed how many managers will use the excuse “but those things will happen because I have no time”. Nonsence. That’s a poor excuse to say “I’m not committed to the process and care little for the development of my staff”.

I’ve seen some great managers who don’t dismiss the importance of a good appraisal. Unfortunately they’re few and far between. Also they’re not shouted about enough to show what a great example looks like. Particulary though, it also falls on either HR or the Exec team to raise the profile of appraisals in a meaningful way.

‘Tis definitely the season to wind down and recharge those batteries. ‘Tis also the season to show your staff that you’re serious about their development.

>I’m self-aware. Am I?

>Oh that elusive ideal of self-realisation. What is that meant to achieve? Why do I need to be self-aware? Who does it benefit? How does it change anything in the future? Surely we should just respect that we each have different points of view and that’s all we need to do? And how do I become self-aware?

Consider this. You are learning how to ride a bike. Your dad tells you how to improve. What you’re doing wrong, how to balance, hold the handlebars and press the brakes. At school you’re learning how to do addition. The teacher helps you understand why you’re not getting the right answer. You try again and wait for a response. At university you hand in the first draft of your dissertation. You’re waiting to find out if you’re on the right path. Each of these situations has one thing in common. You are seeking and waiting for someone to give you feedback.

Why is it then that once you enter adult life and the world of work that you stop to solicit feedback? Not in terms of being able to do the job. Of course you want to know if you are producing work which is of the required standard. But just as important why are you not trying to understand if you are behaving in the desired fashion? Is this an aspect of the job role which is not important?

Some companies insist on 360 feedback surveys for their staff. But that’s not the same. You can dismiss them easily as not being truthful or the respondents not being the right people. But if you manage someone you have the responsibility of making them aware of how they are behaving.

But why do it? Because in life if you want to succeed you have to know how you are perceived, and thereby how you have to improve. I firmly believe in positive psychology and the benefits it can bring. Keeping in mind some prinicples from that school of thought you can achieve amazing things:
– Reverse the focus from negative to positive
– Develop a language of strength
– Balance the positive and negative
– Build strategies that foster hope

If you want this to be a successful strategy you have to be soliciting feedback from the right people. People who are not willing to be nice because of misplaced politics. People who are genuinely interested in seeing you develop and mature. In that respect I’m lucky I have Mrs P, Jim and Joe. Those 3 individuals are my harshest critics and best friends. I can guarantee if I’m doing something wrong I will feel the force of their venom and it will be true. I can’t escape from that. It forces me to act. It forces me to evaluate what I am doing and why I am doing it. I am forced to raise my self-awareness or risk remaining unaware.

Question yourself viciously. Seek feedback from those not afraid to give it. Be adult enough to deal with it. And be bold enough to admit you may not be self aware enough.

>The day L&D gains prominence

>

So my chosen career path has been for a while now learning and development. I really enjoy what I do. I’m able to develop sessions for staff to enable them to learn skills they didn’t know they had and then to go out and do. Then based on all that I get to learn more about how business works and offer my insights to how to continue developing new and more interesting sessions that really tap into what the business needs.

The size of the company I’m working at now (circa 400) means I get to really learn about what the business needs. What I love most about it all though is the freedom to develop and learn because the business is open to it. However, as time is passing by I’m noticing more that my learning is increasing about business operations. Eventually I’m guessing this will also develop into finance and the accounting side of a business. But that’s what’s so unique about L&D. You get to truly understand the departments across the agency and develop initiatives that make a difference.

Learning and development has importance for businesses because they understand that you have to invest in your staff and develop them and all that good stuff. What businesses fail to understand though is that L&D can help businesses develop at every level through staff. What do I mean by that? I mean that as an L&D professional it’s my job to understand how X department works. At the same time I’ll understand how Y department works. I can then take that learning and apply some thinking which centres on how to get the two working together effectively. At the end of the day that’s what a good L&D person should be able to do – facilitate essential conversations that improve business effectiveness.

The trouble with this though is that L&D is lumbered with HR. It’s understandable why that’s happened, and it has to sit somewhere so why not HR right? Well it’s right insofar as no-one else in a business has the vested interest that HR does in the development of its workforce. But what needs to happen is L&D needs to be a dedicated function that sits independently of HR. It’s then that L&D will gain the prominence it seeks. If a business can recognise this and support it, it will reap the benefits of having a team of L&D people that only care about one thing. Business effectiveness.

I’ll save for a later blog what should be included in this ninja team of L&D folks. For now though it’s enough to say that until the day HR and L&D are seen as independent but vital parts of a business, L&D will always play the backfoot no matter how good they should about what they do.

>Those damned CVs

>Oh my. Yesterday I was re-introduced to the world of CVs. I fucking hate poorly written CVs. They make me very mad. Hence my swearing. Which I apologise for. Good release for annoyances though you understand. Anyway, as it stands there are some very poorly written CVs in the world and I have to rectify this. It is an evil which I can not and will not idly support!

Right, so let’s start from the beginning. Your introduction. If you are a school leaver I will expect you to spout such nonsense as ‘I am a team player and work well with others. I am also happy to work by myself if required.’ By God, what a lot of nothing. Acceptable but means nothing. Similarly ‘I have remarkable organisational ability’. Or ‘I thrive on new and exciting challenges’ Or ‘I am looking to step into a new role offering me a challenge from which I can develop’. However, if you are a professional i.e. someone who is embarking on their career or is in the throes of their career, such statements are bland, pointless, meaningless, unneccesary, uncreative and plain stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

How have you not amassed enough work experience to know that work demands that you work by yourself and as part of a team all at the same time? Or that you will be challenged because that is how work operates? If you are in a job which offers no or little challenge then you are doing yourself a disservice and you need to leave your job. Now.

Your introduction has to say something interesting otherwise it will go in the bin in the first few seconds. Seriously. Say something like ‘The world of interactive gaming offers a lot of innovation and free thought which I enjoy being part of. I enjoy coming up with new ways of engaging a gaming audience so that they are completely immersed in the experience I design.’ Really? You feel that strongly about stuff? Fuck me, let’s bring you in for an interview. Whereas if it reads something like ‘I have experience of building and designing a range of platform based games as well as adventure based games. I am looking forward to working in a new field to learn new skills and develop the ones I currently have.’ Then I have a simple response. Get lost.

Ok then we come on to the educational qualifications. Give me strength. Why, if you are a professional do you see the need to talk about your GCSEs? Seriously? GCSEs? What do they tell me about your ability to do the job? How does getting an ‘A’ in Geography tell me that you know anything about merchandising or about HR or about Account Planning or about Finance? Tell me what bits of your education history are relevant. Primarily, your degree or last major qualification. That’s it. I can assume then you’ve done well enough to get to that point. If you haven’t and you’re one of those gifted individuals who left school and did not go into further education then forget mentioning anything at all about which school you went to. It won’t make a difference to your application. Really.

Work experience. This is the year 2009. I need to only know about the work experience relevant to the last 10 years at most. Do not tell me about what you were doing in 1990. It is not relevant. Ever. And only tell me about your key achievements. I don’t need a complete breakdown of every single task you’ve ever done. I am intelligent enough to deduce that if you are working at X level you are able to do some of the basics. ‘Responsible for strategic direction or all agency accounts’, ‘responsible for new business and marketing of agency’, ‘training team and others in industry trends’. Oh how mundane and lifeless. Tell me something like ‘One of my key achievements was to roll out a programme on how to develop a strategic direction as an agency. This involved getting buy-in from department heads, and seeking approval from Exec sponsors. It taught me the importance of building relationships with key people and how to listen to the needs of the team.’ You actually learned something from work? Blow me over and call me Nancy.

Interests? Unless you are the Mother F*?!ing Theresa I care about your interests as much as I care about what Gordon Brown has for breakfast. Even then, Mother Theresa wouldn’t need to talk about her interests. Stop. Please. If you have a key skill such as being tri-lingual then I expect to see that mentioned in a section called ‘Key Skills’. Not your interests. It’s not an interest. It’s a KEY SKILL.

Which lastly brings me onto the presentation and layout of a CV. I actually have little to say about this except the following. We’re in a digital age. Have you considered making your CV online? Creating your very own CV webpage? Consider this. In an age when digital is integral to daily life, why create a CV? What does it say about you that a blog or a webpage can’t say better? With 18.3 million households having access to the internet (source: www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?ID=8), how are you not considering this a way forward? Application forms are a topic for a later blog. Mostly, they’re useless.

Phew. If you want to sensor check your CV then please find someone credible enough to do this for you. I’m far from the only person able to do this. I just care enough to blog about it. By credible I mean anyone but a recruitment consultant. Honestly they know as much about CV writing as they know about flying to the moon. These leeches are only agents trying to place a potential candidate with a potential employer. Period. Find someone who you trust and is senior to you and ask them to do it. They’ll give you great advice about if your CV works.

UPDATE 15/12/2010 – I’ve been very unkind to recruitment consultants in that last paragraph. Since writing this post, I’ve expanded my online network and now talk very regularly to folks working in the recruitment industry. Those I talk to are inspiring and forward thinking individuals who recognise the perceptions around their industry and are trying to make a change for the better. If you’re in my network, and I talk to you, hopefully, I’ve not offended you – if I have please accept an apology from me.