Sunday 9 December 2012

Cardiff Futures

Following its success at Newcastle and Essex Universities, it was not surprising that Colin Riordan, the new VC at Cardiff, should launch the Futures Programme there more or less on arrival.

It was, after all, his brainchild at Faculty level in Newcastle (where it was shortlisted for Times Higher Award in 2008, and where a programme for professors using a similar philosophy and approach has just won a THE Award this year); and it was he who ran it at a University Level at Essex.

Despite this history of success, both he and I were aware that Cardiff would be different. For a start, it is a much larger institution than Essex (or Newcastle's HASS Faculty), and also much more diverse.  Previously we had had delegates almost entirely from a humanities background: this time we are including medics and scientists.

So we were delighted to see the consolidated feedback from participants for the first module, which was as positive (or indeed more positive) than any we have previously seen.

We have just run the second module, focussing on Finance: that always has the risk of being a bit dry, but thanks to great presentations from our guest speaker Gill Ball, FD of Birmingham University, and participative sessions run by Cardiff's own FD and the Deputy VC, all participants seemed to engage and find the topic both relevant and interesting.

We also launched the Action Learning Sets, which form an integral part of the programme, and they seemed to go well, too.  Due to time constraints, we use what I would term Brief Action Learning, but the methodology stands up very well even in very short sessions.

Needless to say, I await the feedback summary from this second module with interest.

Friday 30 November 2012

Times Higher Award

I am really pleased - and proud - to have been part of the team that won a Times Higher Education Award for outstanding contribution to Leadership Development last night.

This was very much a team effort, with Liz Kemp of Newcastle University's Staff Development Unit, and Gerry Docherty, Dean of Research, Innovation and Business Development.  Together we had developed and delivered a programme for newly-promoted professors, Unpacking Your Chair (see here, here and here for descriptions of the fist three days).

This modular programme is designed to help participants explore the different ways in which they may develop their roles as professors.  It includes discussing these issues with both senior members of the University's leadership team, and successful experienced professors, as well as exploring the expectations colleagues, Heads of School and others have of the professoriate.

The first cohort engaged very positively with the programme, and are as much co-responsible for its success as any of the rest of us.

Liz, (R) Gerry (L), and me with three of the cohort one participants (AdamKathryn and Mike) in a publicity shot for the THE Award.

Friday 16 November 2012

Force Field Analysis

This is by way of an experiment.  I have long used Lewin's Force Field Analysis (which he suggests as a change management tool) as a tool for generating creative ideas.

Here I have put together a brief (c4') video explaining how to use it in that context.

I will be very interested in any feedback.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Meetings By Design - again

I am looking forward to doing the training for online creative meetings offered by Mike Clargo and Meetings By Design: participants' skills next week and leading meetings skills the week after.

Needless to say, both training days are run as online meetings, so I am able to do them from my base in the Lake District, while Mike runs them from London, and the other participants could be anywhere in the world.

I am sure they will be both enjoyable and useful and will post updates here as I go through them.

Monday 8 October 2012

Meeting by Design

I am currently reading Meeting by Design by an old friend, Mike Clargo.

Mike looks at the importance of meetings in organisational life: they take up a huge proportion of management time and are how most of a manager's or leader's work is transacted.  He notes that their effectiveness is rarely rigorously measured, unlike any other key business process.

He also makes an important distinction between single-channel meetings (most typical business meetings) and multi-channel meetings (eg workshop style, with several people contributing at once in various creative ways), and their differing effectiveness in terms of generating real understanding and ownership of issues, provoking creative solutions, and building commitment to action.

From this he constructs his thesis that most meetings would be more effective if the meeting process were better thought through and more emphasis placed on multi-channel approaches.

Into this mix, he adds the web: the potential for online meetings.  The immediate business case for these may be to save travel time and costs, but he believes their real contribution could be to transform our meeting behaviour.  So rather than try to replicate traditional meetings but simply add video-conferencing, he advocates investing time to become adept with the full range of online meeting tools available in (for example) WebEx or MS Live Meeting, to transform online meeting processes - and then to play that back into face-to-face meetings, and transform them too.

This is a fascinating and stimulating read - and Mike clearly has experience of implementing this in real life with his client organisations.

For me the interest also lies in how this could transform the world of learning and development, and re-balance corporate training in ways that might be more conducive to the reflectives, the introverts and so on.

I will think - and possibly experiment - more with this, and may well blog on it further,

In the meantime, I strongly recommend Mike's book. The introduction can be read online, ( and if you are as intrigued as I am, you can follow the links to buy the rest.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Action Learning Conference

I went to the one day conference on Action Learning hosted by Lancaster University Business School yesterday.

The morning was a useful overview and reminder of the basics, the back ground and the application - including some fascinating videos of Reg Revan discussing the thinking behind Action Learning.

In the afternoon, we had a brief experiential session as Action Learning Sets, and a couple of Workshop sessions.  These were all stimulating and enjoyable, and brought back to my conscious awareness how much of my work incorporates these principles, both using Action Learning sets as a part of leadership development programmes, and also in my coaching work.  I particularly enjoyed the Advanced Skills session which encouraged a very self-aware approach to personal development as AL Facilitators.

As so often, much of the richness came from the discussions with, and contributions of, other delegates on the programme: there was a rich mix of academics, practitioners and business people, which made for very good conversation.  All in all, an excellent and most enjoyable day.

Friday 4 May 2012


Had a very interesting day working with Mark Crabtree, running an Awayday for the Directors of the Durham Energy Institute.

Mark and I had met them all previously both together and on a one-to-one basis, so were able to design a day that addressed the things they wanted to explore and discuss.

As with all such work, the content is confidential.  What I can say is that they really threw themselves into the day, including staying on 2 hours beyond the intended end time to ensure we'd done all we could on the day.  They are a very talented and committed group of people, and I am confident they will go from strength to strength, addressing Energy issues from a perspective informed, from the outset, by the social sciences as well as drawing on their considerable technical expertise.

It was good working with Mark, too: the first time we have run an event like that together.  Days like that make me reflect on how privileged I am to do the work I do.

Friday 27 April 2012

An Exciting New Project

Today we are starting a new piece of work which I am really looking forward to.  I say we, as it involves a colleague, Laura Meagher, whom I really enjoy working with.  And I say exciting, because both the content and the context are fascinating.

The context is working with the SiDE project, (Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy) who are doing extraordinary multi-disciplinary work across two universities, looking at a range of important issues and coming up with extremely innovative solutions.  Just the other day, I heard one of the SiDE team on the Today programme talking about their SatNav ideas for elderly drivers, for example.

Our project is working with them to explore different ways of getting even more creativity out of the rich mix of people involved in the project, under the auspices of the EPSRC creativity@home project. We are starting today by meeting some of the key figures, and will continue to interview all the researchers on the programme over the next month or so, to build a joint understanding of what will be most valuable for them.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Awayday Feedback

A while back I ran an awayday for the DMOC research group at Newcastle University.  It was a very buzzy day: they seemed a really good group.

So I was naturally pleased to see the feedback they had submitted to the University about the day, which was very positive.  But what was even more pleasing was running into a couple of people this week.  One had attended the day, and said that it had made a real difference.  The other was somebody working in the same building, who hadn't known I'd been involved with them, who commented quite unprompted on how much more vibrant their area seems to be now.

I note these things against those days when I doubt the value of my work, my competence etc, as one does from time to time...

Friday 16 March 2012

360 feedback - some musings...

There are two ways of doing 360 feedback. One is online, where colleagues answer a questionnaire, the data is collated and a skilled facilitator meets the subject of the process to talk through the feedback and draw some conclusions, leading to an action plan.

The second is for an independent person to conduct interviews with colleagues, and then collate the feedback and conduct the feedback meeting.

The first process has several advantages: it is quick, simple and relatively inexpensive; it allows comparisons to be made across populations (anonymously), and ensures consistency of questions, targetting issues that the organisation has deemed to be important.

However, I have a strong preference for the second approach, interviews; and not only because it generates work for me.

The advantages I see in the interview approach are these:

The subject of the process is involved in deciding what questions are asked.  That means that issues which are important to the individual are addressed, and also that there is a greater commitment from the individual to the process, increasing the probability of profound learning and action as a result. That does not mean that the issues the organisation deems important are not explored. Typically, I suggest that questions around the organisation's competence framework are among those to be asked.

Likewise the subject is involved in deciding whom should be interviewed, with similar impact.  I always encourage people to include those who think well of them and those who don’t, as well as considering the 360 degree aspect.

Moreover, the interviewees are much more engaged in the process. Frequently, when I am conducting such interviews, people tell me that they have previously done online feedback, and find it a less satisfying or worthwhile experience; some say that the online process doesn't really get them to think and reflect, but just give quick and (possibly) superficial answers.  Others have told me that they weren't asked the right questions: the one bit of feedback they think would be really valuable isn't asked for. 

Clearly the cumulative effect of participants finding the online process unsatisfactory could be that the process loses credibility in the organisation.

Further, by being involved in the process in this active way, interviewees' perceptions are changed, generally for the better. This is another application of tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner. That is, to understand everything is to forgive everything.  Quite frequently, people when interviewed will have something negative to say about the individual: not least because I encourage the subject of the process to choose people whom they suspect will offer criticism as part of their sample.  

However, when they are invited to reflect in depth and in a safe thinking environment, on the other's behaviour, intentions and motivations, they often move beyond an initial critical stance to a more understanding, and often more compassionate and sympathetic evaluation.  That has value to the organisation, as relationships are thereby potentially improved as part of the very process.

This aspect of the interview as an intervention was particularly brought home to me a few years ago, when there was a delay between my collecting the feedback and meeting the subject to share and discuss it.  In the interim, I met one of the people I had interviewed, and she was keen to tell me about the impact the feedback had had: how the subject was really making an effort to change now, and so on.... My interpretation of that was that the colleague had left the interview with a readiness to expect positive change, and had regarded the subject differently, looking for evidence of more positive behaviour; and what we look for, we find.

Also, when discussing the feedback, someone who has done the interviews has a much better understanding of the issues and the feelings and nuances that sit behind them, than can be gleaned from online surveys.  That can lead to a deeper understanding and a richer discussion, resulting in more insight, better action planning, and greater commitment to carry the actions forward.

So for all these reasons, I am convinced that an interview-based 360 process is far more powerful than the online version: more expensive, undoubtedly; but I suspect it to be better value for money.  Proving that, however, is very difficult indeed...

Thursday 1 March 2012

Some interesting projects

I have a number of new and interesting projects, all coming live quite soon.

One relates to some early work on a cultural change project in a large organisation; the real launch is in the autumn, but we are planning some taster sessions over the next few months to stimulate interest and pique people's curiosity.

Another is looking at approaches to creativity - an area of particular interest to me for a long time.  We will be exploring both creative tools and techniques, but also facilitation skills to enable creativity to flourish in meetings, and a number of other related approaches.

There's a few interesting team awaydays coming up too;  I always love that sort of work, as the issues are so practical and real, and with all members of a team present, you have the right people in the room to make some substantial changes and ensure they will be implemented and sustained.

Coaching Supervision

Really valuable session with my coaching supervisor today.

It is so easy to get fall into habits of behaviour and lose that quality of awareness and active choice in the way we are with others.  We were reflecting on recent patterns and noticing a little erosion of how I have been compared to when I'm at my very best: lots of good insights and practical steps to apply them.

And of course, she'll hold me to them when we talk next week!

Friday 10 February 2012

A Night Walk

Periodically, I meet a few fellow consultants for a day's walking and talking.  We call it cpd to feel good about it: and in truth, I often learn a lot by comparing experiences, sharing dilemmas, and stealing ideas...

Alan Sides suggested a while back that we should try a night walk, so we did that.  Everyone was very keen on the  idea, but as the February night approached, one by one they dropped out.

So it was only four of us, Alan, Mike Cockburn, Stephen Merckx and myself who undertook the walk.  We left my house at about 10.45pm and drove to the bottom of Haweswater.  Thence we climbed up an extremely icy path to Small Water.

The moon was a few days short of full, and very bright, the stars clear and twinkling, and the air crisp and very cold (-5 when we started).

From Small Water - beautiful and atmospheric in the moonlight - we climbed up to Nan Bield Pass, where we got the full force of the wind.  Thence onwards and upwards, right onto High Street Summit at Racecourse Hill.  The ice was slippery, and the snow was deep: it was all much harder work than we had foreseen.  Fortunately we were all pretty fit, and had all kitted ourselves out appropriately.

From Racecourse Hill we walked over successively lower hills, one after the other, until Loadpot, the last summit of the walk.  In my memory (and it was a bit dark for maps, as the moon had set at about 5.00 and it was now nearly 5.30) it was a fairly short walk down from Loadpot Hill onto Askham Fell and so home.

Not so, but far otherwise: it was another 2 hours before we got back to Helton (via a small detour, due to the paths being completely hidden by the snow).

Breakfast has rarely tasted so good.

I enjoyed the experience greatly, as I think the others did too.

We did talk a fair bit, but much of the walk was in silence: so in terms of cpd it didn't quite live up to expectations.  But if the others are still talking to me after I led them on such a tough expedition, I'm sure I'll learn plenty more from them next time.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Organisational Integrity (ii)

Here's what lay behind my post before Christmas.

A client had approached me and asked me to design and run an awayday for them.  We had met and discussed the needs, and agreed a draft design for the day, a date and so on.

Then they said that we would have to go through a tendering process.  (I was slightly surprised at this, as the value of the event was not high, and I was already on an approved suppliers' register, following a  previous 'framework' tender).

But what concerned me was that:

A) Either I was the only person being asked to tender, in which case it seemed entirely meaningless (particularly as one of their organisational priorities is reducing meaningless work...);

B) Or they were inviting others to tender, in which case:

  1.  Either they had really decided to use me, but were going through the motions (wasting their own and others' time, and compromising their integrity) or
  2. It was a real competition, in which case I had been misled earlier, when we had agreed that I would do the work, on a specific date etc (on the basis of which I did the (admittedly small amount of) consultation and design at no cost).
Further, I was expected to sign declarations of non-collusion,  non-canvassing etc, including a statement that I had not talked with anyone at the organisation about this bit of work.

That was clearly a nonsense, and I could not sign it.

The good news is that I have talked all this through with the appropriate senior managers, they agree with my analysis that the system has thrown up something which, inadvertently, goes against a number of their own principles of operation, and they are sorting it out.

But as a supplier, it can be hard to raise such issues ('I can't sign that!') if one fears one may lose a contract, or even a client.  There must be a better way...