Professional Development

Receiving Feedback

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Recieving FeedbackFor many the thoughts of receiving feedback can be daunting, yet for others it’s seen as a wonderful opportunity. Many perhaps reading this piece, would most likely put themselves in the former category because, after all, it is very judgmental and can point to shortcomings. In response to that, yes this is true but the key to feedback (and its effectiveness) is to have the receiver take control of the process and use the information to their benefit. After all, if you choose to feel judged or insecure about feedback, you are probably feeling the same way about other things in your life.

So how can we reframe this so that the recipients of feedback actually take charge. The key is to hone in on its potential benefits and Stone and Heen, in their HBS article “Thanks for the Feedback”, point to three key positives.

  • Take charge of your Life Long Learning – see this feedback as a blessing and a real opportunity for you to acquire new skills and information, that ultimately allow you to grow.
  • Improve Your relationships – if you can take feedback positively, people will see you as being open and what somebody says actually matters. This can only serve to improve how you interact with everybody.
  • Reduce Stress and Anxiety – sometimes feedback can be tough, but if you can build up the resilience to accept as just that, and not personal, it can make you feel a lot more composed and relaxed.

In general, getting feedback can be very helpful. What is important to optimizing this is to ensure that both the provider and receiver seize the opportunity for what it is truly intended. So notwithstanding what was presented above, there is also an obligation to the feedback provider to do so in an appropriate manner. Some of the keys to this are:

Honesty – be candid in your feedback
Timing – don’t wait for something to go wrong to speak up
Frequency – do it often and let it become normal
De-personalize – be strong on the issue and kind with the person

When all is said and done, “true feedback” is an opportunity for somebody to improve. If that can be instilled as the pure purpose both for the provider and receiver, and become a seamless process that just happens as a natural course of events. However, if you are one of those who struggles with being that recipient, remember this is very much about how you choose to view it, so take control and get the benefit!

Handling a Difficult Boss

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Quite often, when dealing with a difficult boss, the tendency is to blame him or her. However, in any relationship there are at least two people involved and therefore with that comes an equal responsibility. But, how you might ask, can you influence the behavior when he/she are in control? Yes, they may be able to pull rank on you in terms of decisions, but there are things within your control that you can do about it.Boss Giving Direction

  • Walk in their shoes – this is often regarded as empathy and when we take time and truly look at people’s behavior from their perspective, it might help to understand better why they show up as they do. It may not be excusable, but if it goes somewhere toward providing a justification, that can be a major first step in terms of how you process what is actually happening. For example, if you feel you are being ignored, but then realize that your boss is under extreme pressures (that could be work based or even personal), then you are more inclined to understand and help explain what might be happening as a result.
  • It’s not always about you – bosses have multiple agendas and are dealing with complex issues all the time. They can be easily distracted or side tracked which can mean less time for you. But you are not the problem (though you might perceive it that way); it’s all these other things they are dealing with and therefore try to avoid taking things personally.
  • Seek Advice from Others – perhaps what you are doing might be pressing your boss’s buttons (i.e. his personal dislikes). For example, if he/she values somebody who is direct and to the point and you have a habit of being long winded in your responses, he/she might avoid you unless it’s something critical. Your peers might be able to provide a ‘heads up” in terms of how best to interact with your boss, that you could work on adapting to.
  • Speak with your boss – at the appropriate moment discuss with your boss how you might make some improvements, as distinct from fixing shortcomings. This could happen in a casual setting (e.g. while traveling) or you could ask for some time to formally sit down. The key is to avoid any defensiveness and make it about positives and opportunities.

So, if you are feeling a little like this and somewhat helpless, take control and do something about it. Most bosses and even the most difficult ones, are inherently good people. They are human as well and have their own challenges, so that if you can find a way to make their lives that bit easier, it’s pretty well guaranteed that this will be reciprocated. In the end of the day, you always reserve the final option, and that is to find another job. Either way, you are the person in control.

Training Needs – Hard Skills v Soft Skills

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What skills would most benefit an organization? Based on research coming from Stanford University, most people view the answer to this question quite differently when considering their own needs versus the needs of say their peers. More specifically, when asked what they would benefit most from themselves, it tends to be things like time management, finance, strategy, computer skills, etc. These are normally characterized as left brain or technical skills. Interestingly when it comes to identifying what others need, the tendency is to advise more towards communication, interpersonal, conflict resolution, negotiation skills, etc all of which typically fall under right brain or “soft” skills categorization.

So why is there such an anomaly? The answer to this lies in the fact that technical skills are generally perceived as developmental, something that will make you better. On the other hand soft skills are often seen as remedial; fixing something that is wrong. This in turn creates a psychological barrier which forces people to avoid anything that might be perceived as wrong and therefore a weakness.

The reality is that most of the deficiencies that exist in organizations are soft skills related. This starts when people are hired during which the focus is typically on technical abilities. The people doing the hiring are often not equipped to have the “soft” skills types of discussions and therefore avoid it. This in turn creates a situation where the wrong person is hired and the problem just continues to perpetuate itself.

One solution to this lies in facing head on that most organizations have a greater need for “soft” skills development than they think. It should form the part of every employee’s professional development. Needs analysis should focus on what the organization needs rather than what you think for yourself. Otherwise you may end up spending a lot of money fulfilling the perceived needs of the individual but with little value to the organization.

Lean Coaching

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coaching 3Lean Manufacturing has been an attribute of progressive production systems for many years. It was initiated as part of Toyota’s manufacturing process to eliminate waste and ultimately boost productivity and reduce costs. In a recent edition of the Harvard Business Journal, contributor Steve Blank, discussed the use of lean techniques in entrepreneurial start ups. Again within this context of lean, the argument is made that there are quicker more efficient ways of navigating the start up process that can lead to better outputs and ultimately speedier success.

To use the term “Lean Coaching” might almost sound like heresy to some coaches. There might be fears of expediting the process, being insensitive to people’s needs and just being more concerned about a result rather than the process and people involved. However these thoughts stem from a lack of understanding as to what the concept of lean truly means and for that matter, coaching.

Lean Coaching considers all aspects of the coaching engagement. It’s not just the sessions where coach and client converse; it’s also about the activities in between that emerge from these sessions. But more importantly it has to do with the agreement between coach and client as to how best to affect a solution. Coaching is often driven by the supposed “tried and tested” processes of so many sessions over a period of time. Lean Coaching is solution driven and involves helping the client achieve a solution in an efficient manner, with consideration to both costs and time.

In order to be effective in this method, coaches need to be the following:

  • Solution Oriented – start with the end in mind and get to challenge quickly
  • Skills Mastery – become masterly proficient at using coaching skills and tools
  • Multi Facet Communication – utilize all forms of communicate (text, e-mail, phone, etc) to build and maintain momentum
  • Measure Success – be able to demonstrate achievement

This may appear mechanical but don’t forget this is about the client who is at the core of what coaching is all about. It offers an effective way of helping clients realize solutions in an efficient manner; what client’s wouldn’t want this?

The Value of Professional Development

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According to Dan Pink in his book, Drive, there are three components to driving motivation within employees, namely Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy. He argues that essentially people want to understand how their role fits into the overall goal of the business, they need the skills to do it and finally they flourish when given the freedom to execute.

Purpose and Autonomy are pretty self explanatory so let’s explore Mastery in some further detail. Mastery does not imply that you must be the best or that you have nothing further to learn. Rather mastery is viewed as a journey; it is this pursuit of constant learning that enables you to adapt to changing circumstances and ultimately strive towards constant improvement. The more common term to this is ongoing professional development.

Many organizations are looking for ways to enhance the levels of contribution of their employees and ongoing professional development is certainly a key component of this. But when is training right and what are some of the pitfalls? Here are a few tips.

  • Developmental opportunities should be driven firmly by organization needs. It should not be perceived as an employee benefit or to meet a training hour goal.
  • Accountability of the trainee should be built in. This can be in the form of a project submission or an exam but something that ensures that there is means of measuring commitment and retention of what has been learned.
  • The integration of the learning back into the organization cannot be overlooked (though it is often forgotten). When people go back to their busy responsibilities what accommodations are being made to practice their new skills?

If these are followed or used as criteria for training, the thorny issue of what is Return on Investment lessens. In truth training can rarely be assessed in such tangible forms as money, but if its benefits can be demonstrated through improved processes, behaviors and / or activities, then this will become an acceptable alternative.

So rather than asking what will be the ROI, simply ask what will be different as a result of this training and how will we know. If you get an acceptable answer. then the training is right.



Living the Life You Want

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work lifeRecently while reading a blog by Todd Henry, I was struck by the simplicity yet difficulty associated with identifying one’s life purpose and ultimately who you are. For many who are caught in the hustle of meeting everybody else’s expectations we very often forget about our own. Henry almost chides us that if we do not accept this challenge, it eventually can lead to a very sad conclusion where we “Die Empty” which is aptly the name of his book.

This question becomes even more complex when one considers this relative to who you are, professionally and personally. In a recent HBS article by Groysberg and Abrahams, they presented an article that questioned whether work life balance was even a possibility. They went one step further and suggested that the pursuit of this balance might actually prevent people from engaging meaningfully either at work or at home. From their research, they found that only those who are more deliberate and focused make the right choices and can therefore achieve balance.

Both these findings ultimately present a challenge relative to who you are and consequently the choices you have. Here are some possible strategies to consider that might help in terms of being deliberate and focused.

  • Get Clarity around what matters most to you. Consider doing some of the exercises suggested by Todd Henry in his blog.
  • Build Important Relationships of people that you know and respect that will provide you the necessary support.
  • Make Choices based on the knowledge you have and do so with conviction and to the best of your ability.
  • Take Responsibility for You because that’s what you can control. Do what you feel is right and accept the consequences.
  • Learn from Your Actions and see the positivity in the choices you make and the additional knowledge you have acquired as a result; there is no failure.
  • Trust the Process and adapt along the way, as appropriate.

Identifying who you are is a journey not a destination. It’s an evolving self discovery process that can provide great richness in terms of the type of person you are and / or want to become.

Selling Training / Coaching to Organizations

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employeesProfessional development is not an easy sell. In fact in many organizations, training is seen as a discretionary cost and, if budgets are tight, it is often one of the first things to be cut. This maybe perceived as understandable as often associated benefits are less tangible and impact is not typically immediate.

Consequently for those selling their training or coaching services, one needs to be mindful of the agenda of those to whom they are selling to. Quite often it starts with speaking with a Human Resources representative who is charged with the responsibility of identifying a suitable program and vendor. They in turn will typically present and justify their recommendation to the Business Leader of the people identified for training. So here are a few key considerations (and associated questions) to think about depending on whom you are dealing with.

What’s Important to Human Resources
1. Curriculum
What does the program involve in terms of training manual and assessments used? How long does it last and what experiential components are there?
2. Trainer Qualification
Who are the trainers, what’s their style and backgrounds?
3. Testimonials
Who else has done this training? What has been their experience? Can we speak with somebody?
4. Cost (if coming from OD budget)
How much will it cost and how many per class?

What’s Important to the Business Leader
5. Business Benefits
How will my group be better as a result? What are the deliverables? What has been your experience with a similar discipline in another organization?
6. Program Duration
How do you propose to do this training? How much time will participants be away from their work? What else do they have to do?
7. Participation
Who are the best people to put in the first group or should I put those who need it most?
8. Cost (if coming from business unit budget)
How much will it cost and what’s the return on investment

Final Tip: Consider coaching the Human Resource representative on how best to subsequently sell to the Business Leader by sharing all 8 tips.


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feedbackProviding feedback typically brings with it a certain level of negativity and, for the intended recipient, considerable anxiety. This is such a shame, as feedback provided in the proper manner can be the source of valuable information and significant potential for improvement. Perhaps its origin can be sourced back to our childhood when feedback was provided as a means of protection and therefore was typically preceded by the word “don’t”. The bottom line is that feedback can either help to build on something you are doing well or identify opportunities for improvement; either ways it can be progressive.

Feedback typically comes in two forms; it is either given (offered) or it can be asked for. The Johari Window is a very effective tool relative to understanding this and at its core is the fact that, in the absence of feedback, we can have many blind spots. These might be habits, mannerisms, behaviors, performance expectations, etc, but we are largely unaware of how others are perceiving them and therefore the consequence. However once you do become aware, you have the opportunity to use this information to make the appropriate adjustments to make things better.

Whatever the circumstances, effective feedback should always be provided in a meaningful and positive manner and here are some of the keys for doing this well.

  • Be Timely – procrastination does not work very well with feedback. It is best to offer it when whatever has occurred is still fresh and affords the recipient the opportunity to learn from it promptly.
  • Be Honest – don’t try to sugar coat and tell half the story, but rather offer the feedback specifically and from an unbiased perspective.
  • Be Helpful – do this from a place of wanting to help rather than discipline. This can be done by using positive language and offering your support in helping their progress.
  • Be Regular – use feedback as a constant and ongoing means of natural communication rather than on an exceptional basis.
  • Be Non-Judgmental – try to approach from the point of view that you are not rating somebody as good or bad, but just making them aware of a perception that exists.

When giving feedback, try to be mindful of the bigger picture. Assess what other factors could be present and are having a bearing on whatever is being communicated. Ultimately, whether you are a parent, leader or coach, the intention should always be to make the situation better for the receiver and those directly impacted.


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dispensableWhen you think of your role as an employee within an organization, how dispensable are you really relative to the people you interact with? With these relationships there exists a degree of dependence or a “dispensability factor” which, for a newborn and their mother would be 100%, and then drops to 0% for total strangers. It is influenced by such things as likability, trust and reliability.

It reminds me of a friend who was responsible for a business but reporting to a boss overseas. Almost irrespective of results, so long as the dispensability factor remained pretty high both ways, everything was good. But them something happened and there was a shift and soon it became obvious that the boss’s factor was reducing. This led to a degree of isolation, non-involvement with key decisions and ultimately to the realization that he had in fact become dispensable. A few months later, his boss showed up unannounced and told him he was being laid off. Thankfully my friend had seen the warning signals and had put plans in place for his next move and was ready when he got the news.

The key message from this story is that you should be regularly assessing the dispensability factor in all your working relationships. This also allows you to see yourself from other people’s perspective and gives you time to do something about it. It may not be as dramatic as the above and very often, if noticed early, can be resolved by just speaking candidly to somebody. But how often have we heard people saying, “I never saw it coming?” and they get blindsided. In the case of my friend above, he saw it coming and had plans in place for his next move but more importantly, he had also worked on the relationship with his old boss so that when it came to be let go, he was well looked after.

In conclusion, if you find yourself in a situation where your dispensability factors are not where you would like them to be with the people that matter, firstly ask yourself what you can do to make it better? If you are not seeing any improvements, start thinking about what might be next. Unlike a mother and newborn, there might come a time when none of us are indispensable.

Positive Perception

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I met with a friend recently and upon greeting him with my usual “well, how are things going?” he responded, “couldn’t be better”, which I found extremely refreshing. I was struck by my immediate response as though I expected the usual, busy with the kids, work sucks, or something else far less positive than the response I got. More importantly it wasn’t fake, he genuinely felt that life was so good that “it couldn’t be better”.

This in turn got me thinking about why more people don’t feel this way. If you polled 100 random people, you might get that positive response from around 10%.   And so it begs the questions “why?” The answer lies in the fact that we all see things a certain way based on own filter systems; these form our perception, which can be positive or negative. If you have a more negative tendency I would like to offer the following 5 tips to help create a positive shift.

  • Consciously seek the positive – you have control of your frame of mind and the lenses through which you see things. Look more for the good and it’s amazing how much is actually there.
  • Stop watching the news – as a society we are sadly drawn to bad news and though it’s good to be informed, there is a balance; sadly the media does not provide it.
  • Give back to your community – there is a tremendous gift in giving and research (Aker) has proved that helping others actually makes you happier.
  • Be the player – too many people are in the victim mode and blame others for whatever their misfortunes might be (parents, teachers, boss, and government). Take responsibility for you and be the main player in your life.
  • Pursue your dream – determine what you want and just start it even if it might take a day, a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime. Very often the process is more fulfilling than the outcome.

If the above resonates with you, then you are already on the way. If you think it stupid or impossible, though it might be understandable relative to your experiences to date, you do have a choice whether to do something about it or not.   But just imagine what life could be like if you were able to say “it couldn’t be better”. You just need to get out of your own way.