#cipdldshow – Purpose, Culture, Coaching and Leadership

Last week I was honoured and excited to be invited to be on the blog squad for the CIPD at their annual L&D show at the Olympia in London.

It’s the third year in a row that I’ve attended. The first of those I was blown away by some of the content I was hearing, the first insight for me into a big world outside of my day job where great stuff was happening in organisations with inclusive cultures based on the belief that everyone has talent, it’s just about unlocking it.

A year later and a lot had changed. I’d spent nearly that whole year getting clear on what was important to me about work, what I cared about, and connecting via Twitter with a load of fantastic HR and L&D pros who cared about similar things to me – although always with a twist or nuance to bring some fresh challenge.

So by the time #CIPDLDShow 2014 came around I had started my business and had my first opportunity to blog the L&D Show. However I left feeling less inspired than 2013. Maybe my expectations had been too high after the previous show, maybe it was too much ‘sage on the stage’ with not enough of the actual sage, and maybe I had shifted my learning during the year so that my frame of reference was different.

Whatever the situation, the show felt different again this year. There was a wealth of 30 minute sessions in the Exhibition Hall, where Julie Drybrough spent more time, and which she reflected weren’t hard-sell like they used to be, and that they were focussed, on message and providing great insights to their audiences. For free! There were Ignite presentation sessions with canapé-bite-sized injections of learning on a variety of topics. For free! There were of course the exhibitors’ stands with cake / chocolate / sweets / pens / oh, and some learning stuff. For free! And there was my own networking event to help people turn their learning into action while also connecting with some new people. For free!

With the opportunity to attend the seminar sessions and share them more widely I chose to spend my time there. At the end is a list of the ones I attended, so you know where my insights have come from. And here’s a link to Phil Wilcox’s post where he’s collating all the content together.

With my own passion and purpose in mind, you’ll notice a theme around where I went – coaching, leadership, culture, mindfulness, neuroscience.

OK so not every session did exactly what it said on the tin, but it was very much closer than last year, and the sessions felt real, rather than suggesting these organisations were untouchably polished and perfect. They were sharing their ‘we’ve done it, and got the T-shirt, and we’re still wearing it and adjusting it as we go’ stories. So yes, some “look-at-what-we’ve-done-isn’t-it-marvellous” – of course – why else would you have someone on a stage. But it was balanced by some great honesty about ‘and it’s not a destination’, ‘and we’ve not cracked that bit yet’, ‘and we’re not sure about this bit over here’.

Because no individual person is perfect, therefore how can we expect a collection of individuals to be perfect, finished, done?

And yet we do. Isn’t that fascinating?

So from these sessions, I’m going to pull together the common threads I heard which I hope will give some insight into what this could mean for where you work. Many of these examples are large organisations, and there are some which aren’t, but much of the success comes from conversations and human connections which we are all capable of.

To achieve what we want, rather than what we’ve got, requires us to make choices.


Get clear on this.

Why? Because people come to work for more than just money. I know what you’re thinking. You can point to people in your organisation who only come to work for the money.

So here’s my question back to you – do you have a purpose for your organisation?

What difference does your organisation make by existing in this world?

In what way does what you do matter?

When you find that purpose and share it, and start to live and breathe it, you might be surprised to find that money becomes less of a topic of conversation (as long as you’re paying at least minimum wage, and maybe even helping people out with how to manage their money).

So this fabulous session with Unilever was incredibly strong at showing how you can have a purpose beyond profit which is the anchor for everything you do, every decision you make, every supplier you work with. And which enables you to bring together ‘doing business’ and ‘doing the best for people’ in the same breath – “We win because we care” – is their subscript to their purpose of “We will make sustainable living commonplace in the UK and Ireland”.

So no longer are sustainability, employee wellbeing or CSR things you do, initiatives you implement, which sit over there to counteract what you do over here in the main business. They’re engrained and woven into everything you do so, to borrow from the Spice Girls, Two Become One!


Something which Unilever acknowledged is that, when people are connected to the purpose of the organisation, their resilience is greater.

There’s something in this about being focussed on achieving something bigger, rather than getting stuck in the day-to-day weeds of work. And that, even when those weeds get a bit tangled around you, the purpose – your purpose – is what helps you find a way out. Because to create this link of organisational purpose improving resilience, you as an employee need to also believe in that purpose. So as a business, if you want to attract and retain people who believe in what you believe in, you have to be clear and able to communicate that purpose to others.

Resilience was a topic that came up again later with Tesco who, in the VUCA world we live in – maybe especially in the VUCA world Tesco’s live in – people need to be able to manage themselves and their emotions, so they can make choices to balance work and life. This is especially true when you run a 24/7 operation which takes its toll on people physically and emotionally.

Different organisations are, and will, take different steps to enable resilience – and in fact wellbeing.

Some examples that came out were –

Unilever – a click, call or conversation away from support (which they’ve implemented for £40 a head)

Tesco – a positive psychology basis to their development programme, in partnership with Nuffield Health, and which has resonance with Steve Radcliffe’s Future, Engage, Deliver work (see image below of the Tesco Vitality Framework).

NHS Ambulance Service – using mindfulness, physical activity (even if just a short burst of 15-20 mins), being outdoors and music – all to develop helpful brain wiring.

One theme was that organisations are using evidence and academic research to choose what they do in this area. This is great! And one challenge over the coming years, I believe, will be keeping pace with the new insights coming from neuroscience and ensuring that it’s ‘proper’ validated insight. Knowing people who are more expert than me in this area means I can be guided to the helpful and away from the ‘Daily Mail’ neuroscience. Who do you know that could connect you to the good stuff?

At this point I feel the story naturally tips into coaching because of all the psychological disciplines, Positive Psychology is the most relevant to a professional coaching practice.


Based on what I know right now, coaching is the best form of development to achieve lasting, sustainable success and change.

But before I dive into what’s going on out there which confirms my belief, I want to be clear what this version of coaching is because coaching is (currently) an unregulated market where anybody can call themselves a coach and which can therefore cause some confusion for buyers of this service.

So when people say they’re a coach, they may use some initial coaching questions or a coaching approach, and then fairly quickly tip into consultancy, mentoring or training. And these may be what you need. And that’s not good or bad – your needs and your organisation’s needs are unique. Just be clear about what you need.

The coaching we’re talking about here is non-directive coaching where you draw insight from the person or people in front of you through skilful listening, sharing observations without judgement, and curious questioning – sounds simple, and yet the simplest things are so often the hardest.

The definition the BBC use is that of Myles Downey; “The art and science of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another”.

So “facilitating” that stuff, enabling it. Not enforcing or telling.

Because when we are enabled or facilitated to find our own way and our own solutions we grab hold of our decisions and actions with both hands and run with them – achieving that sense of empowerment, ownership and capability – which breeds confidence and resilience.

What’s clear is that an increasing number of organisations are recognising that the world is fast and constantly changing (VUCA if you will), emphasising the need to work smarter not harder (which Tesco picked up on) and that employees are looking for more from work than to come in, be told what and how to do their day job and go home.

And managers, given that context, are no longer able to be the heroic, all-controlling, all-seeing-eye. They will, and are, literally falling over, be it mentally or physically.

So bringing coaching into an organisation is a way to shift that manager-employee relationship into a more adult-adult place, away from the historical master-servant or parent-child.

Developing yourself as a coach involves developing your self-awareness and emotional intelligence because you can’t be at your best to enable others unless you know how to get yourself in the best place to do so – put your own oxygen mask on first.

There were four great examples of creating a coaching culture shared at the event. These came from the BBC, Visa, Freebridge Housing and BT.

Each of these are different sizes of business, with different contexts, different structures, different geographical spreads – we are all unique.

I’d invite you to read more of what they’re up to – both Ian Pettigrew and David Goddin bogged about both of these sessions, see the link to Phil’s collation post above – because these examples may give you some idea of the variety of approaches that can be taken.

But all having some common themes –

  • Senior team buy-in and role modelling
  • The importance of coaching ‘in the moment’ – as a living culture this can’t always be a sit down for 1 to 2 hours session
  • What they’ve created is sustainable and has created a momentum of its own.

And each had made a conscious choice for this to be a long-term, strategic culture change.

If coaching is to become part of the fabric of the organisation, in a similar way to the Purpose section above, it needs to be woven through everything – not popped over there by L&D as an extra thing to have, or a little initiative. It may be that that’s where it needs to start, to get some buy-in and for people to see the difference it can make – but be clear on your end point with this. To be truly successful, this will be a long-term journey which will ultimately encompass how you recruit, how you develop, how you performance manage, how you recognise and reward, how you promote – and in fact, from the BBC / Visa session, how you do many more things too –

  • Mentoring
  • Negotiation
  • Relationship/Stakeholder Management
  • Dealing with change
  • Seeing alternative perspectives

And if you want some ideas of where to measure success, those who’ve already seen results have been able to measure it through –

  • Colleagues having greater contextual understanding
  • Reduced silo working
  • Creation of headroom for managers so they can reflect, focus on future strategy, and form connections across the organisation
  • Reduced training costs
  • Increased work-based learning (70:20:10) and just-in-time support
  • Improved employee engagement
  • Improved retention
  • Increased performance
  • Faster individual development and promotion
  • Greater knowledge retention and cross-fertilisation of ideas
  • Feedback becomes more immediate, common, and natural
  • People are more creative and have more confidence

You may read some of those and see opportunities for numerical measurement.

And you may read some and think they’re a bit fluffy and hard to get your arms around.

But there is always an opportunity to measure the less tangible through asking people to rate these aspects on a 0 to 10 scale. Your initial reaction may be ‘but that’s just their opinion’ – and yes it is. And there’s not much else that matters when it comes to having a sense of where your culture is.

So if this kind of culture is something you want for your organisation, start by thinking what success looks like early on so you can decide what you need to measure now for a benchmark, and which you can re-measure as you progress.

Developing Leaders

I’ve realised that, for all I heard about leadership development over those two days, I’ve not yet written much about it here. That’s mostly because everything I’ve already written is the stuff you want to be developing leaders in – that is, if you want to develop an organisation that helps its people to be at their best, which will help the organisation to be at its best, and which will help achievement of the organisational purpose.

All things in life are a choice.

Just one additional element I’d put in the pot here is the idea of developing collective leadership.

This is something which Unilever are doing because there is increasing recognition that this approach drives greater success than individual or ‘as they need it’ leadership development.

The idea links back to Patrick Lencioni’s idea of your ‘home team’ being the one you’re in with your peers and leader and that it’s from being strong and connected here that you’re able to ‘lead out’ from that team. Rather than ‘report in’ by only focussing or caring about the team you’re responsible for. It’s a significant mindset shift for most.

This collective leadership approach across a level of leadership in an organisation enables reduction of silos as the team are connected to what each area of the business is up to, and can speak with one voice for where the business is and where it’s going. Something which, if missing, can cause concerns, frustration and confusion.

To achieve this success through collective leadership isn’t necessarily an easy path to take. One area which was given attention was the need for friction in a successful team, highlighted with the stones analogy from Steve Jobs, and which again links back to Patrick Lencioni with his 2nd dysfunction of teams being Fear of Conflict, or Artificial Harmony.

Nick referred to Prof Peter Hawkins’ model for systemic team coaching (pic below) as an anchor point for a team to check in against and for them to use as a guide for adjustment or activity.

Systemic Team Coaching

It would seem then that, just as coaching’s becoming more ‘mainstream’, team coaching is now becoming the future!  Something for next year’s show…..

So that’s my roundup of my #cipdldshow 2015 experience. I’m very conscious that even in this long post there is so much I’ve not been able to capture so please do take time to read some of what others have written.  I hope it’s been valuable to you and has wheted your appetite to learn more, do more, achieve more. Enjoy!

The sessions I attended – (A1) The Power of Purpose – building resilience and collective leadership to solve commercial challenges;  (B3) Professionalising Leadership to Create a High-Performance Culture; (C3) Identifying and Developing Tomorrow’s Leadership Skills to Drive Business Change; (D2) Applying Principles of Neuroscience and Behavioural Science to Maximise Learning Outcomes; (E2) Embedding Coaching Skills into Daily Conversations to Foster your Talent; (F2) The Role of L&D in Building Resilience in Employees; (G2) Using Neuroscience for Individuals and Teams to Realise their Full Potential; (H1) Maximising Organisational Performance by Building Greater Capability in Line Managers

This is me….www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

WFS Tree

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