Regarding Training

The Benefits of Being Always Watchful

January 17th, 2014

During the festive break, I returned to the town of my birth, Dumfries in Scotland.

While waiting for a bus, I got talking to a local man outside a local school. After a police car had whizzed past with sirens blaring, he informed me that the Scottish Police Crest (pictured above) had been designed by one of the Art teachers at the school behind us. Curiosity peaked, I ‘googled’ the crest when I got home. The Latin phrase on the crest, Semper Vigilo, means Always Watchful.

Later the same day, I was asked by a relative about my work and the conversation got on to how I keep my training ‘fresh’.

‘How do you go about updating and developing your existing training courses?’

While answering I was reminded of the phrase ‘Semper Vigilo’ as it articulates how much of mch’s training develops. Essentially, keeping training fresh requires mch to be ever watchful for new ideas. On reflecting further I saw how several recent iterations to training materials had initially come from very varied (and non-traditional) sources. These included:

  • Taking a quick glance at the host’s book shelf during a dinner party
  • Reading a magazine I never normally read while waiting for a haircut. -Listening to a radio programme during a long car journey

Through discussions with others, the act of being ‘semper vigilo’, always watchful, appears to be a very effective way to approach learning and development in general. Consequently, I hope you adopt the semper vigilo approach to your own learning in 2014.

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Making Development Stick

December 6th, 2012

As a provider of staff development, making development ‘stick’ is something of great interest to mch. To this end, we try and incorporate a range of activities before, during and after our training to encourage participants to remain aware of their development issues and maintain the consistent application required for genuine, lasting improvement.

A technique that has long been used by trainers is the ‘public declaration’ approach. The theory goes that if you articulate your goal to at least one other person, then you have more chance of success than if you keep the goal to yourself. The rationale for such an approach is that sharing your goal increases your accountability and thus your commitment.

However, recent research suggests that making your goals public can have the opposite effect from what you intend. One explanation for such a finding is that the very act of telling your goal to others gives you some sense that you’re closer to reaching it. Essentially, your brain is tricked into thinking you’re making progress when you’re not.

For those who like to examine the detail, the research paper in question can be found by clicking here. Alternatively a three minute TED talk summary of the research can be viewed here.

What does mch make of this? Well, our view is that development is undoubtedly a ‘contact sport’ which requires the engagement of others. The key issue is telling the right people and in a work context this often means those you work most closely with. In addition to telling them your goal, success depends on receiving specific and timely feedback so that you know when you are progressing and when you are regressing. This in turn requires high levels of trust and rapport between you and your colleagues. A piece of research which supports our thinking can be accessed here.

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Are You Left Brained or Right Brained?

August 10th, 2012

During our training courses in areas such as emotional intelligence and communication, the issue of our brains often comes up. A common starting point is when a participant says something like;

“I’m very ‘left’ brained, which makes it difficult for me to communicate with my boss who is very ‘right’ brained.”

The left part of your brain is often considered responsible for emotion and language, while the right is concerned with reason. The reality though appears to be far less straight forward. To find out more, have a look at the following animation from the RSA.

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The Business Practices Debate

October 13th, 2011

Recently mch held a poll which asked the following question:

‘Should Third Sector organisations adopt the language and practices of successful, sustainable businesses?’

The results from the 32 respondents were as follows:

  • 62% agreed
  • 19% disagreed
  • 19% were not sure.

In addition to their vote, one voter provided some personal insights into the differences between the two sectors. Key extracts are as follows:

“The 3rd sector should have compassion at the heart of what its does rather than the pursuit of profit. This is probably and overly stereotypical view of both sectors….but what I would say is that the 3rd sector could really learn many valuable lessons from successful businesses when it comes to professionalism.

In my experience [service users’] personal files are routinely left out on desks. Curiously, low level stationery is locked up, suggesting there is a higher value placed on this than on personal information.”

During the course of the polling, I became aware of a similar debate that was administered by a former employer of mine, McKinsey & Company. The question they posed was:

‘Should social entrepreneurs adopt the language and practices of business?’

Many of the resulting comments were illuminating and you can read them all by clicking on the link at the bottom of this blog post.

One comment that particularly struck me was;

“The false dichotomy of business-model versus a social-impact model is a vestige of a dying world.”

Around the same time, I read Jim Collins’ monograph entitled:

‘Why business thinking is not the answer – Good to Great and the Social Sectors’

A key line from the book is;

“The critical distinction is not between business and social, but between great and good. We need to reject the naïve imposition of the ‘language of business’ on the social sectors, and instead jointly embrace a language of greatness.”

When I think about all the excellent organisations that I know, whether in the Third Sector or Private Sector (and dare I say it in the odd government department) I am indeed struck by how similar they are in the way they operate.

Consequently, perhaps the original poll question was the wrong one to ask! A better one may be:

‘What does it take for any organisation to become great?’

Here, I think the previously outlined resource by Jim Collins is a really useful starting point. As an outline, five of the key ingredients identified by Collins’ research include:

  1. Excellent Leadership - Leaders with “a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.”
  2. First ‘Who’, then ‘What’ - Devote time to getting people with the right motivations into your organisation (and the wrong people out of it). Do this before spending too much time on what your organisation is going to do.
  3. Confront the Brutal Facts (yet never lose faith)
  4. Apply the Hedgehog Principle - Work out what lies in the overlap between: (i) What you’re passionate about (ii) What you can be the best at (iii) What drives your resources (time, money and brand)
  5. Build and maintain a culture of discipline

To review all the comments from the McKinsey debate, click here.

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