Posted by: mikeduckett | August 15, 2016

GROW (them)!

GROW (them)!


Much of our thinking so far has been about getting yourself in the ‘zone of flow’ so that you can be at your best when you need to be. Often clients speak to me about what they believe are the different elements of performance that make a great leader or CEO  and they will often include for example:

  • Vision
  • Communication skills
  • People Development

There are many more and even these can broken down further, especially the last one. This comes up often as people new to leadership realise they are relying not just on their own skills but their ability to get the cooperation and best out of others. A big part of any leadership role is developing other people.

The stereotypical style displayed in older films is autocratic and highly directive, something that may have been appropriate in those times. In my experience this style is just a stereotype based on some past reality and most leaders develop their teams very differently today. It’s all about how to get the best out of people, which is usually through encouragement rather than punishment (although there is a time and place for strict reprimand).

No matter how in control you think you are you can’t MAKE people learn, you can only give them the best opportunity through demonstration, explanation and creating a culture of trial and error. One simple tool that is the basis of many performance coaching conversations is GROW. If you like you can regard this as your agenda for a conversation and the first point is that it’s not spelt RGOgrowW!

It stands for:

  • Goal
  • Reality
  • Options
  • What, where, when, who

The natural tendency for all of us when asked something like, “what would you like to achieve?”, is to begin our answer along the lines of, “well the problem as I see it is…….”, or “I can’t seem to ……”. We all have a tendency to answer a question about the future with thoughts about the present! Following this thought process would lead you to RGOW; thinking about today’s reality before you know your goal.

If you want to help this person develop their own solutions and their own abilities you can start right here by politely pointing this out and asking them to clear their mind of the present situation and think about what they’d like the future situation to be. There is a good reason for being pedantic about this because I’ll bet the person in front of you already knows a lot about the current situation and could probably talk about it all day; which is a bit like digging a bigger hole.

So do them a favour and politely ask them to stop digging and return to the future; forget the problem for a moment and just think about how they’d like things to be when they’ve succeeded. What you’re doing is helping them employ much clearer thinking about what they’re trying to achieve without undue influence of all the limitations they’ve already created in their heads by dwelling on ‘the problem’ as they see it right now.

When you do this, watch the other person’s face closely and listen. You will probably see a change in their gaze as they also go quiet for a second – you have already shifted their thinking!

I’ll come back to step 2, Reality, next time but meanwhile you might like to catch up on some of the thoughts on goal setting we’ve run before: Goal Setting; How Not to Score an Own Goal

Posted by: mikeduckett | March 25, 2015


(Drawing on the book The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters)

HumanLast time we talked about being at your absolute best and getting ‘in the zone of flow’. I talk about this a lot with clients and the point is we can’t be at our best all the time; we wouldn’t be human.If you want to know what gets in the way of being on top form the simple answer is ‘life’, certainly life in the kitchen! You might well ask yourself ‘why do I react in a way that takes me out of the Zone?’

You may remember from the Olympics top cyclists like Sir Chris Hoy referring on TV to managing his chimp! Here’s what he meant (after talking to Steve Peters).

There are three key elements to our human brains that I will refer to although Peters goes on to add a few more later in his book.

As humans we were all born with a human inside us and the good news is that this human is the kind of person you aspire to be right now; it has all the potential you could hope for.The thing is, as a human you also inherited your very own chimpanzee which is also a fundamental part of all of us. They both have your best interests at heart but have different roles to play. They both think and react in the present moment, focused on the here and now. However, the chimp reacts very rapidly and processes information based on emotional responses, whilst your human uses facts and logic but therefore takes longer to process the same information.

The third element you have is an enormously powerful computer which will store information from the past so the human and chimp can access this to take account of any lessons they learned in the past that are relevant to what’s happening now. computer

When something happens (e.g. someone criticises your work) your chimp will almost always process the information first and fastest; waking up to assess any threat and ‘kicking off’ in the way chimps do! Meanwhile your human will be processing the same incoming using facts and logic to make sense of it before deciding what to do.Both will look into the computer to see what they’ve put in there in the past that form rules of how to react. but the chimp usually puts in Gremlins in the form of rules like “all criticism is an attempt to score points off you!” – which of course affects the way it reacts now.

Your human slowly counteracts these Gremlins with rules of its own, based remember, on logic and facts, which are called Autopilots. In this case it might read something like, “even criticism can be useful feedback”.

Untitled-1Now it must be said your chimp is neither good nor bad – it’s just being a chimp and your human is tasked with managing this chimp, because let’s face it, reacting fast on intuition can be very useful at times when there really is a threat. Also when you need sheer grit and determination chimps can be really stubborn!

So a couple of guidelines on managing your chimp:

  •  Chimps are 5 times stronger than humans so the rule is ‘never arm wrestle your chimp – you’ll lose’!
  •  Chimps need exercise to burn energy or let off steam and this is best done in a safe environment (like with a trusted friend or my office!). NEVER exercise your chimp at the office – it can cause all sorts of damage!

Its always best to manage your chimp when appropriate by giving it bananas as rewards. The bananas can be used to distract them before they have time to kick off – like forming an automatic routine to listen to criticism, walk away and only decide on its validity when you’ve asked a 3rd party. (You can work on whatever distraction banana manages your chimp).

Another banana might be offered as a reward such as “let’s get though this meeting without one negative comment and then I’ll let you kick off about it all when I phone Mike / trusted friend”.

So there you are: I bet you never thought of using metaphorical bananas at the office before!

Posted by: mikeduckett | March 25, 2015

Getting in The Zone

(First published in Staff Canteen)

FlowLast time I talked about setting goals in a way that helps get your brain in gear. Now let’s think about how to make sure it’s the right gear.

Sports people call this ‘getting in the zone of flow’; it’s when they are at their best.

The last blog mentioned Rule 2: Separate your goal from the performance needed to achieve that goal and stay focused on what you can control – your performance. I can’t emphasise this enough.

When your goal is to have the biggest market share in a market it’s clear you can’t control customers; you can’tmake them buy more of your product than your competitors. A little less obvious is that you can’t control your staff; you can’t make them be creative, attend to fine detail or be customer focused. What you can control are the elements of your own performance such as thinking like a marketing person to gain customer response. What you can control are elements of your leadership such as persuasiveness and inspirational style to give you the best chance of staff responding.

Elite athletes don’t focus on winning or losing, because they can’t control the result. What they focus on is what they’re DOING from moment to moment.

This is all part of getting in the zone – a mental state that has been widely studied not only in sports but in other general walks of life. So what’s it like to ‘be in the zone’? You have almost certainly experienced it already; maybe when you’ve been absorbed by some task – working on an idea in development for example – and time simply flew by. You faced a stiff challenge but somehow you just knew you’d rise to this challenge. That’s being in the zone; when you’re at your best.

So the question is, what’s it take to get into the zone? (Before we say any more let me point out that you can’t force this and you can’t stay in the zone forever!)

  1. There has to be the kind of clear goal we just discussed
  2. The focus then needs to be on the task in the moment i.e. the performance we talked about above. Your thoughts are in the present; what you’re doing NOW (thinking; encouraging; presenting). Your thoughts are in neither the future nor the past (what response you might get tomorrow or did get last month).
  3. The challenge presented by the goal has to be neither too great nor too small. In the same way that playing a set of tennis against Andy Murray would push most of us out of flow and into anxiety, then telling a junior to produce the most complicated market report may well be beyond their skill level and push them to the point where anxiety reduces performance. Equally, on the other hand, Andy Murray would be very unlikely to get into his zone of flow playing me, as my challenge for him would be so low that he’d be pushed into the boredom zone and not play at his best.

wcf4. To get in the zone you’ll need unambiguous feedback; so continuing the tennis example, when you see the ball you served slam in the back for an ace you know immediately that your service action was good. Can you get similar immediate feedback on your performance in the board room/customer’s office? If you’re focused on your performance in presenting a new market campaign and someone says an idea doesn’t sound viable, that’s good feedback. However the more subtle areas of your performance may prove a bit tricky. For example, you don’t always get immediate unambiguous feedback about your inspirational leadership style so you’ll need to be tuned to notice it when you do get it!

These are four key aspects to think about if you want to be at your best and then if you do get in the zone you’ll know because time will distort (as they say, ‘it flies by when you’re having fun’); you will lose any self-consciousness and feel in control. ENJOY!

Posted by: mikeduckett | November 12, 2014

From Back Stage to Public Speaker – just

From Back Stage to Public Speaker – just another step

Jo Wood has lived the life that many might dream of.  She’s perhaps most famous for having been a model and ‘rock chick’, touring with The Rolling Stones for 30 years.  The Jo Wood of today is a successful entrepreneur and champion not just of organic food but of all things organic, including her own range of organic fragrance, bath and body care products. Some might therefore find it a little surprising to read that she didn’t imagine she could stand up and talk to people – indeed, she kept declining offers to give out awards and speak to groups.  She really felt that she needed to learn the skill and, just like her other skills, needed training in order to acquire that skill.

Ever since her school days Jo had known that presenting was a weak area for her – she had always dreaded standing up in front of her class to present.  She knew she needed to find confidence.  She didn’t just want to appear free and easy; she wanted to be free and easy.

Jo felt it best to work with a coach who was experienced in helping people achieve such objectives and spoke to trusted people about who she might work with, which led to her working with Mike.

In all of their sessions Jo made sure that she listened carefully and learned.  Visualisation was the key tool Jo learned how to use.  She recognised that successful actors and sports people do it and it is proven to work for them – why should it not work for her?

She learned how to visualise herself in a role and to run through a scenario in her head.  With practice, this became easier to do – she eventually became able to have a whole event rehearsed in her mind from start to finish.

Not only did this really help her as planned, when presenting, but she uses the tool in many other scenarios.  Just one of these is when going to gym and working with her personal trainer – she has found that she works much better when doing routines if she has first properly visualised herself doing them.

The original stimulus to engage with a coach was when she agreed to present an evening at the Natural History Museum and knew that she needed help before she could do so.  Now looking back at the event, Jo said “Two seconds in I was off and running, with huge self-confidence – they had to force me off the stage in the end!  Each time I present it becomes a little easier.  As with anything, having the right tools means a job can be done well – coaching has given me those tools.”.

Co-hosting an event for the first time was another major step forward for Jo.  Before she was announced to the crowd and she went on stage, she took a deep breath and ensured she clearly remembered her visualisation of what was about to happen, quickly running through it again.  She then walked on stage and it all just fell into place.

Immediately after each event she now does, looking back on what she has just achieved, Jo knew her coaching had worked.

At the time of writing, Jo has an upcoming talk for 100 people at a  ‘Friends of the Earth’ dinner, so will have a couple of sessions with Mike to refresh existing tools and develop new ones, to deal with a different type of presenting – telling her story rather than reading from autocue.

After each coaching session Jo has had so far, she feels she developed more confidence in her ability.  She is therefore sure that she will walk away from these upcoming sessions with new skills to tackle her new challenge.

Jo feels she has really learned about herself by going through this process.  She commented “I now have confidence that I can do anything.  My fear of presenting, of standing up in front of a group of people and being the focus of their attention, went out of the window.  It was just an insecurity.  Coaching helped me believe in myself.  It really helped with my self-confidence.”.

Jo is well aware that there are some who just don’t “get” coaching.  To such people she says “Unless you are a complete natural, coaching is so fantastic because whatever your challenge is, it does take skills to rise to that challenge and there are tools to use.  The only way you acquire those skills and tools is from an expert.  I would not have been able to rise to my challenges without such coaching.”

Posted by: mikeduckett | October 16, 2014

Goal Setting – How Not To Score An Own Goal

Most people would not think they could use help setting goals.

What’s your goal?  Well, there could be a few.  To have another hundred happy customers?  To get a promotion?  To move to a new organisation?

When I work with clients we first agree some terminology to ensure we are both talking the same language!  Getting a certain number of new customers should be regarded as simply a ‘result’ i.e. a measure of your goal. Usually when we scratch beneath the surface of a result, the client realises there could be more than one way of measuring a desired success and x number of customers is just one of those measures.

There are a number goal setting theories, especially in sports psychology, and all of them attempt to draw out in some way, a distinction between a result and the performance required to achieve that result. The main issue is about degree of control.

What I mean here is that if you examine the goal you are setting, ask yourself how much control you have over its achievement. If other people are needed to make the result happen then you have very little control. However, if no-one else is involved then you have complete control. You’ll often hear athletes talk about their coach’s instruction at times of pressure to “control the controllables”.

Getting a promotion obviously relies upon the selector/s awarding you one and you’re certainly not in control of them! Even having happy customers is not entirely under your control as the customer alone will decide if they are happy.

These would be valid and powerful Goals but after you’ve done some envisaging work on them your attention should turn to your own performance that will be needed to influence the goal.

What areas of ‘performance’ might you focus on?

When you break down everything that needs to happen between where you want to end up (say with x new customers) and where you start from today, you’ll find there will be a list of desired situations e.g.:

  • Your team deliver their best sales performance
  • You release your best leadership behaviour
  • Your product gets good reviews

In terms of your own performance (the only thing you can fully control) then obviously you can focus on exhibiting the right leadership behaviours and set a clear ‘outcome’ for this. E.g., although you have little control over the team (we can only influence others, rather than control them) your focus could be on your inspirational leadership style and setting a clear outcome for this.

If this produces the desired inspiration in individuals the short-term goal of customers signing up will have a much better chance of happening.  An eventual result may be the achievement of a sales number, or a promotion but I’m confident that if you stay focused on this result, rather than your performance (your leadership style) you will be less likely to achieve it.

Put even more simply, a result (sales numbers) is in the future so stay focused on the here and now; what you’re doing in this moment. Elite athletes never focus on winning or losing; only on how they are performing now.

If you need convincing then take a look at the record of David Brailsford. He is currently performance director of British Cycling and the general manager of Team Sky.  One might suggest he had a reasonably successful 2012!  He has been clear on countless occasions that he is not focused on gold, he’s focused on performance – the right performance will bring gold medals (and boy did that happen during the Olympics!).

‘Focusing on the moment’ is key.  In a busy office, with things perhaps not going 100% right on a challenging Monday morning, should you be focused on whether or not you’ll have a £x sales by Christmas?  Absolutely not.  At that time, the goal is to ‘pull it together’, to get everyone in that team to perform to the best of their ability.

Did you hear the BBC commentary as Andy Murray was about to serve for the match, and for the Gold, in the Olympic Final?  The commentator actually said “All he needs to do now is focus on the moment”.  Would it have helped to have thought about the Gold medal, about beating his nemesis, about the countless millions watching on TV?  Quite the contrary.  His goal was to win that one point and his performance outcome was to serve at his best which, I am delighted to say, he did with an ace. Just to make the point – at that moment he certainly wasn’t thinking about being Wimbledon champion in 1 year’s time!

But do you really need help to set goals?

Well, does the aforementioned Andy Murray have a Coach to help him set and achieve goals?  Or Tiger Woods?  And how about senior executives in the business world?  Or high performing sales people?

What the coach provides is the skill of facilitating your thinking; teasing out what is under your control and what isn’t; asking the right questions to stimulate the right thoughts. The very process itself is of tremendous benefit because you’re rehearsing success.

Done properly, there is so much more to this than simply writing down some SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound) goals and pinning them on the wall. When you really get your brain engaged in hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling and tasting the moment of success before it happens, then I reckon you are more than half way to achieving it.

Ghandi once said, “The difference between what we do, and what we’re capable of doing would solve most of the world’s problems”. The question is, how big is the gap between your current success and what you’re capable of?

Posted by: mikeduckett | August 8, 2014


(first published in Staff Canteen : a digital portal for Chefs)

Have ever been taught how to set yourself a goal?

Have you ever been on a goal setting course?

Have you ever listened to any motivational tapes about Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)?!

Probably not, unless you have a corporate background, so you might be wondering how anyone could make such a meal over this. There is a huge number of books, tapes, videos and courses on the subject but this need not concern us here – suffice it to say goal setting is a subject all of its own that we may return to in another posting.
For the moment the bigger issue is how do you know what goal to set yourself? You can learn about setting SMART goals – Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; Time-bound and then set yourself the goal “to start my own business by 30th January 2017”. That seems to match the criteria pretty well so it must be a well-formed goal. The problem for me is whether you’re sure that’s what you really want. It’s a bit like going to university after school; for some people it’s a real goal but for others it just seems to be the thing to do.
Before setting yourself some big goals this year you might want to consider how clear you are about what really matters to you. What values do you hold around your chosen career path? What is your core purpose?

You don’t have to believe in the gods to entertain the idea that if they are playing a big game with us and we’re just pieces, what is the role your piece plays on the board?

Not to get too deep and philosophical about this, we’re talking about your true values, not the things politicians speak about such as “good old-fashioned family values”  – that’s just what they call meaningless motherhood and apple pie. Thinking about this stuff properly can save you years of hard work, striving to get somewhere you never wanted to be in the first place. If – and it’s a big ‘if’ – you eventually achieve your goal of starting that business you might find yourself wondering if it was all worth the effort.  You are almost certainly clever and hard-working enough to make anything happen if you put your mind to it; so be careful what you put your mind to!
In fact once you’ve done the thinking about your core purpose (mission if you prefer) and your true values, many things get easier, including the hard work needed to achieve things. Take a look at a couple of famous purpose, or mission, statements:
Walmart: to “…save people money so they can live better”
Disney: to “…develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world”

These aren’t complicated corporate jargon statements; they are pretty straightforward lines that tell us (and themselves) what they are here to do. The real point though is that once you’ve figured out your own you can use this as a decision template for most choices you will be faced with in future. It’s obvious that although selling insurance might be profitable for Disney to get into, why would they; it just doesn’t fit with what they are here for.

Knowing your own real purpose for which you have a passion, the goals you set each year may well vary but you’ll almost certainly find the energy and commitment to make them happen because they should all continue to be in line with this single purpose. There are many ways to skin a cat but this way you will end up with a skinned cat and not a dead horse – to mix metaphors!
The trick is how to uncover these unconscious beliefs and principles so you can make clear conscious decisions based on them. Let me give you a couple of tips:
Try asking yourself, “if I gave up work tomorrow and no-one else took over from me, what would the rest of the world be missing (even if they don’t realise it yet)”?

On the basis that you’re going to be spending many hours of your life doing work make a list of single words or very short phrases that come to mind when you ask yourself, “what matters to me about the kind of work I do?” Then take each one and ask again, “why does that matter to me?” Each time you ask “why” you’re getting closer to the real heart of the matter until you end up with maybe 10 key values. Every decision you make from now on can be made with this list in mind e.g. when recruiting employees. If they have a very different set of values beware hiring them, no matter how competent they are. They just won’t ‘fit’.

Finally to get back to setting that goal of starting your own business, when you’ve done that will it have kept you focused on your real reason for bothering to work?

Posted by: mikeduckett | June 11, 2014

In Their Own Right part 3

An interview with Jo Wood and Suzanne Lee-Barnes: two women who ‘s lives were set to run in parallel, with an occasional meeting, from the moment they decided to go to two separate parties.

Both ended up as successful entrepreneurs in their own right, despite having been married to rock stars Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones and Alvin Lee of Ten Years After.

Here they discuss stepping out of the shadows of their rock star husbands and making moves into the male dominated business world. (They laugh at the thought of business degrees and business plans!)

Posted by: mikeduckett | June 11, 2014

In Their Own Right part 2

Second part of an interview with Suzanne Lee-Barnes (who was married to Alvin Lee of Ten Years After) and Jo Wood (who was married to Ronnie Wood of Rolling Stones). Both are successful entrepreneurs – how did that happen?

Posted by: mikeduckett | June 11, 2014

In Their Own Right part 1

An interview with Jo Wood and Suzanne Lee-Barnes: two women who ‘s lives were set to run in parallel, with an occasional meeting, from the moment they decided to go to two separate parties.

Both ended up as successful entrepreneurs in their own right, despite having been married to rock stars Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones and Alvin Lee of Ten Years After.

Posted by: mikeduckett | February 26, 2014

Are You Looking For Talent or Just Weeding Out The Chaff??

In a recent piece on Radio Marlow FM we discussed something I had spotted in the news about Google’s HR processes, i.e. their use of algorithms, not just for searching the web but for making decisions about pay and promotions. I was quite impressed, even though I jokiClip edit1ngly referred to Robomanager.

If you listen to this clip you’ll hear some comments about not being able to measure things other than results. As I said, I think you probably can identify valid measures of most things if you’re really specific about the behaviour you’re looking for, after all, if someone isn’t demonstrating a ‘quality’ (characteristic / value / capability etc) then how do you know they have it!?

Well it seems Google spend a great deal of time correlating outcomes / results with numerous behaviours . For example they even track people’s’ time spent queuing for coffee. They then treat this as one piece of behaviour that influences collaboration. Collaboration in turn is well-known to be linked to innovation and we all know Google are masters of innovation.

I recently came across two interesting linked blogs, a year apart, by Dr John Sullivan who seems to have followed Google’s use of maths and statistics in HR very closely. The first of these picked out what he calls his ‘Top 10 Most Powerful Illustrations of the “People Analytics” Approach’ in reinventing HR. ‘I would say this wouldn’t I’ – but for me, one of the most interesting points was the recognition through data analysis and not opinion, that a coaching style of management and giving frequent personal feedback is the No1 key to being a successful leader.

The second piece, Facebook’s Billion Dollar hiring lesson makes a terrific point about how much it costs companies when they miss a talented individual i.e. when they fail to spot some inherent potential in people. History has some famous examples that bring wry smiles, such as Decca Records turning down The Beatles but Sullivan is now able to put a direct price on Facebook’s mistake; not just as a missed opportunity cost.

Facebook just bought WhatsApp for nearly $15 billion having refused the two inventors Jan Koum and Brian Acton jobs only 5 years previously! He points out that for Koum to go from a reject to a main board member in 5 years must be very embarrassing. He then goes on once again to illustrate how Google use objective statistics to make hiring decisions and avoid missing talent like this.

So what’s my take on this? Why is it grabbing my attention?

There are two points I’d make:

1. Don’t fall into the trap of only measuring results. “We’re a results driven company” may sound objective and aggressive but from a performance coaching perspective you’d be wise to separate a result from the performance (behaviour) required to obtain that result; then focus on the performance. Google are proving the claim that you can’t measure subtle or so-called ‘soft’ success behaviours to be a myth. Don’t follow the example of football clubs (see my previous blog) and remove talent purely on a set of results simply because that’s all you can be bothered to measure. They may be putting in a great performance which hasn’t yet been rewarded through factors outside their control.

2. Think about your recruitment processes in terms of seeking out the ones you’re looking for.  There’s a useful way of examining your motivation for setting a goal in terms of whether your underlying motive is to avoid something negative or to seek out something desirable. Each has a subtly different effect on the way you think about what you’re doing and therefore on the likely outcome.

Although Sullivan’s blog is written in the language of avoidance of errors and ‘not missing’ talent, I suspect the reality of Google’s algorithm is that it seeks out talent. I just wonder how much recruitment, certainly in large orgnisations, is done to ensure they don’t make the mistake of hiring the wrong people. The difference in outcomes then could be that Google find what they are looking for – talent – and others find what they are looking for – non errors. I know which sounds more exciting!

I suspect that if many companies were to try to follow Google’s example the biggest first step would not be hiring statisticians but deciding precisely what they are looking for!

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