A fresh perspective: how we’ve got stuck working in our minds

‘Working in the business or on the business?’ A common phrase to shift attention out of the day-to-day. Up and out into strategy and external insight. But have you ever considered this in the context of your mind?

This week I was one of a group of parents at a meeting with the Head of my kid’s school about changes and improvements they’re making.

At one point there was the suggestion that they ask parents for help more; a wealth of knowledge and experience on their doorstep and from very differing backgrounds and industries. read more

#cipdmap16 : Curation of the blogs

Last Saturday, 8th October, saw the third CIPD Midlands Area Partnership event.  Jon Bartlett and I were the blogsquad for the day and thankfully lots of other people were on the # too.  It’s been great to see the numbers of people grow on Twitter at events like these, and there were some good debates happening, as well as straight sharing of content or appreciation of what was being spoken about.


Between us, Jon and I blogged the day, with Jon picking up the mantle for the 3 sessions we both went to (I tweeted those 3 if you want to check out the # too).  So here’s what we captured in one place:

Brexit Breakfast – Richard Barker and Abisola Latunji, Mills and Reeve

I’d been curious what was going to be shared here, given nothing’s yet changed, so it was heartening to hear that nothing has and also it was interesting to listen to the kind of areas where there could be some changes.  All speculation so far but delegates seemed to get a lot from having their thoughts stirred about the kind of impact.

Opening Keynote – Tim Jones, Network Rail and Peter Cheese, CEO CIPD read more

The Soulless Hotel Room

For this post I’m delighted to be hosting a piece from Andrew Page. I worked with Andrew and a number of his fellow leaders alongside Lane 4 as part of their leadership development programme at Loughborough Uni, and I subsequently went on to work with more of the Anglian team at one of their main UK locations.

Andrew and I have kept in touch on Twitter since we met about a year ago, and it was after a recent phone call that I asked if he’d write a post for my blog. During that call he talked about how, for many years, he was a task-focussed, ‘traditional’ manager – managing resources (both human and otherwise) rather than engaging hearts and minds. Now, since the leadership programme, he’s seen another way. As a leader of contracted teams – rather than direct reports – it could be argued that he has a much more challenging leadership context. And yet his teams have flourished under his new-found people-focused leadership.

Here’s Andrew’s story about the power of choosing to make a change…..



What if business leaders didn’t stay in soulless, global chain, hotels?

We all do it. Check-in, find your room, walk in and, yep, everything is pretty much where I expect it to be. No matter where in the world or what chain of hotels, yep, it’s all where I usually find it. And guess what. We go for food, and see similar people to us, talking about how business is so tough, talking about last night’s football match, how they wished they had gone to bed earlier etc etc. All very familiar.

We get what we always get.

It’s comforting in a way.

Recently I opted out of this ‘routine’ and stayed in a yurt. It got cold at nights. The food was prepared in the wood burner in the yurt. I spoke to the entrepreneur who has created this fabulous business as part of her portfolio of Green Economy businesses – she was full of optimism and hadn’t stayed up late watching a game.

As I set off for my meeting on the first morning, I looked back, saw the view captured above and grinned. I don’t ever recall walking away from a hotel and grinning…. My day started with a feeling of happy confidence…. As I headed off to corporate hotel meeting venue…

So, what if we don’t hold meetings in soulless office meeting rooms.? We don’t all have the pleasure of working in environments such as google or apple… Well, actually we do. In fact, we have better. It’s called ‘outdoors’.

I am fortunate that I work for a great company that allows me the freedom to Lead as I choose. They give me the tools, support and coaching (that’s my link to Wild Fig Solutions) to get on and Lead to the best of my ability.

So I took my team out for a walk in the woods. Literally. This is a team of Contract Managers. Not usually seen as a ‘soft and genteel’ bunch. So it’s fair to say they were probably curious at best and cynical at worst as we set off.

But here’s the thing. Out of the standard soulless office environment, we had laughter. We had ideas. We had a new energy to face the rest of the day. We had Contract Managers that said ‘we must do this more often’.

I work for a progressive, forward thinking company. Since we worked with Helen at Wild Fig Solutions and Lane4, I see more and more meetings being held in the great outdoors by others around our business.

Our CEO declared our business performance last year as ‘Stellar’. ‘Nuff said.



#CIPDNAP16 : Join me for a walk

Last week at the CIPD Learning & Development Show I attended one of the free exhibition sessions with David Pearl of Street Wisdom.

Street Wisdom is an amazing way of using your surroundings to help you answer a question you hold. Getting out into the streets either somewhere you know, or somewhere new, looking up, paying attention, and seeing what thoughts appear from what your attention is drawn to.

I first discovered Street Wisdom in November 2014 at the Annual Conference. You can read about my experience here.

Since then I’ve learnt about the brain benefits of getting out and walking, and especially of walking in nature-filled surroundings. When our brain feels well we build our resilience.  We think better, process and sort through priorities better and make better decisions. It means we’re focused on the right stuff instead of operating on auto pilot or plodding through a to-do list.

If you and those around you could do with these kinds of benefits, join me on the 18th of June when I’m speaking at the annual and very brilliant CIPD Northern Area Partnership event about walking, why it helps us from a brain perspective, and you’ll also get to experiment with walking on the day to see what you discover and can take back to work. It’ll be the perfect way to blow away the cobwebs from the gala dinner the night before!

If you’ve not booked for the event yet you can do that here, and I’d love to see you at my session so that we can do some experimenting together.

Expectations in a Box

Think of yourself at work and how it feels right now.

If you imagine you’re in a box at work, what would that box be like?

Are you in a roomy box with space to spread yourself out and change position?

Are you cramped in a box that you feel you could burst out of any minute?

Do you remember once feeling like you could burst out and now you feel like you’ve shrunk to fit inside?

What about your team?  What are their boxes like?

“The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Our brains are constantly scanning for danger, these days danger isn’t usually an animal that wants to eat us, it’s a threat to our self esteem, or our ego.  We’re raised in a world where being ‘right’ and ‘good’ are the things we’re meant to strive for*.  That’s what gets us praise, good school grades, a good job, a pay rise……stuff that boosts our self esteem and positively strokes our ego.  Interactions that make us feel like this are helpful to calm our fearful brain down which improves our thinking, helps us feel more abundant and generous towards ourselves and others, helps us become more creative by connecting dots.  This then leads to a growth in confidence and the desire to try more things, to push the boundaries, to come up with new ideas.  To coin the lyricist R Kelly, we believe we can fly! read more

Some Guest Bloggage – including that mis-posted one!

I’ve been really enjoying having some space to blog recently and I’ve written for a couple of people I guest blog for.

This one for The HR Director magazine which is about how we can get stuck in our emotions and thoughts, and how we can move out of that place.

And this one (the one I mis-posted a draft of the other week!) for Bray and Bray Solicitors about the challenging world of workplace relationships, and shifting those from the playground to an adult world.

I hope you or someone you know finds them useful.

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

WFS Tree

#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.
  • read more

    #FeedbackCarnival – The Curation!

    Wow! What an amazing month April’s been for fabulous feelings and philosophies on feedback! 33 posts all together! Impressive stuff and a great wealth of insight has been created on a topic which is clearly an area of work that continues to need some attention so that we can improve.

    Thank you to everyone who’s contributed. It’s only because of you that this curation is possible and able to benefit others with this same challenge.

    It all started with a post I began to write  after a Pilates class…..

    “Every week in my Pilates class there’s at least one of us that needs help to perfect a move.

    > Sit right back, put all the weight into your heels so you can lift your toes. > Keep your hips facing forward and twist at the waist. > Lift your chest keeping your back in neutral.

    And we adjust what we’re doing and then go “Oh! That’s how it’s meant to feel”.

    And sometimes words aren’t enough and our instructor needs to come and show us one-to-one. Perhaps just visibly. Perhaps physically adjusting our bodies for us so we can really feel the difference.

    We think we’re copying her when she stands at the front of the class. And yet sometimes we’re just not. Sometimes we’re really completely oblivious to how our own bodies are actually moving.

    Timothy Gallwey talks about this in The Inner Game of Tennis. How he has to get players to stand somewhere that they can see their reflection so they can watch their swing. And then they see “Oh! I really am finishing too high”.

    Because we really can be oblivious to what we’re actually doing compared to what we’re supposed to be doing – we all have Blind Spots.”

    From those origins, the Feedback Carnival was born with this invitation for people to add their thoughts and observations; “Feedback would happen all the time if……”


    So this post is my curation of all that insight to bring you some of the thinking that’s out there into one place.

    A key point made by David Goddin in his post is that feedback benefits from being observations, not judgements, and so with this post my intention is to share the insights from all the contributions without judgement of whether they are right or wrong, good or bad. They are what they are and you will be able to read; debate with whoever will be helpful for you in that; and choose what is right for you – because some parts will be more helpful in some contexts than others. So while you read, I invite you to have your context and your purpose with feedback in your mind, and maybe start with a question.

    What might help you?

    What might help those around you?

    What might help your organisation?

    So, why should we care about feedback? What’s the purpose?

    I think without exception, all the writers have believed that feedback is a helpful thing. Helpful for our personal development, and therefore helpful for those around us – and beyond – because it raises our awareness and so enables us to develop and improve what we do and how we do it, which improves ours and others performance, and therefore improves overall organisational results.

    Peter Cook wrote a great example of how embracing feedback and doing something about it, coupled with persistence, got him the result he wanted for his career.

    Heather Kinzie wrote about our fundamental human need of being wanted – or of receiving attention. This need for attention, which is very obvious in children, remains with us as we grow older, and feedback is one way in which we can meet this need in others. If someone’s given us feedback, they’ve seen us, they’ve noticed us, and they’ve cared enough to say something about it, and that has us feel OK – something Gemma Reucroft experienced when offering feedback to a colleague.

    Kandy Woodfield acknowledges the purpose of feedback as providing a sense of belonging, a purpose, aspirational goals and trust in each other.

    So the purpose of feedback isn’t just about that external results and performance stuff out there, it’s about the stuff that goes on inside each and every one of us every day. Perhaps if we took care of the internal stuff, the external would be more likely to take care of itself?

    So what does that ‘helpful’ feedback place look like?

    Many people acknowledge that feedback already happens all around us all the time, if we stop to notice it. However most of the content has focused on improving the ‘traditional’ work-based feedback situation. The place of ‘this is how you’re doing in your job’ or ‘this was the impact on me when you did that’.

    As 70:20:10 learning strategies continue to be the focus for improved sustainability of learning, effective feedback will have to be central to that, given that it sits in the 70% of on-the-job learning, and in the 20% of coaching and mentoring, as well as in the 10% of classroom learning which  Rachel Burnham picked up on with some practical examples of making feedback part of a learning environment.

    Jo Stephenson has a dream for how her future place of feedback will look “I’m dreaming of time when it’s common practice that feedback talk happens as standard, within the 1:1s I’m part of. It’s expected, it’s what we do here. We value it.”

    Meg Peppin, Julie Drybrough and Gemma Reucroft all wrote about a place where feedback isn’t a separate ‘thing’ you ‘do’ it’s just part of the conversation between two or more people.

    David Goddin read more

    #CIPDLDShow 2015 is nearly here!

    Can you believe the 13th and 14th May are just around the corner when people who are interested in stuff to do with learning, developing, training, facilitating, coaching…. will be heading to the Olympia in London for another amazing two day Learning and Development event hosted by the CIPD, this year sponsored by the Open University.

    I’m excited!  These events are always a great chance to hear what’s going on in the world of L&D, what’s going on in other organisations, as well as a chance to continue to learn about your personal professional career development.  This all happens……

    > in the exhibition hall where there are free 30 minute taster sessions through the day

    > in the seminars and workshops where case studies and experiences are shared in more detail

    > and in the coffee areas and round the stands where you meet fascinating people with fascinating stories to tell.

    I’m humbled and honoured to be invited by the CIPD to be part of the Blog Squad again this year – this is a bunch of us who love to write and share people stuff on Social Media, and who care about better work and working lives.  We’re responsible for tweeting and blogging from the event so that more people can benefit from what’s going on, and so that when you have two things at once that you want to go to, there’s a good chance someone else will be sharing stuff from the one you can’t make.

    Of course we’re not exclusive in this social sharing stuff and last year there were more people than ever tweeting from the sessions. A great way to get the conversation bigger and broader.  More brains = better thinking = better results!

    I’m especially looking forward to attending a load of stuff about leadership development with a sprinkling of neuroscience.  Employees continue to tell us we’re not developing our leaders well enough (about half don’t think they have a great boss).  And great leadership is difficult because it often goes against many of our natural engrained and learned tendencies, behaviours and habits.  Which is where neuroscience, and getting to the root of the challenge, is the place I love to play.  So I’m looking forward to hearing and sharing some of the latest thinking in how we help people to be great leaders more of the time.

    If you can make it, what are you waiting for?  Register for free here.

    I’m also running a free fringe event called Learn > Connect > Do for sole practitioners because it’s easy to go to these conferences, fill your head with stuff, and then not be sure what to do with it all when you get back to work.  A challenge made even harder when you might be the only one where you work who does this people stuff.  So this is a chance to share what you’ve learnt with others who have similar challenges so that you can grow your network and transfer your learning better to

    make a bigger difference read more

    In a crisis

    In a crisis we come together.

    While standing on the train station this morning, waiting for the fast train to London with all the regular commuters, the silence was deafening. Everybody was so separate. So isolated. So absorbed in their own world.

    It felt desperately alien to me and I wanted to talk to someone – anyone – to create some human connection.

    Our train was delayed, only by 5 minutes, but as the tannoy announced its arrival I thought about those instances when trains are REALLY delayed. Where people start to talk to each other; first about the state of the train service but then moving on to work and personal conversations. Sometimes discovering they have some kind of connection in common. And in those instances when the train finally arrives, people cheer together – connected through the adversity.

    We see it over and over again. Give us a crisis and we come together. I remember in my last job when one of our shops was very sadly burnt to the ground. The team effort which ensued was incredible, there was pace, there was communication and collaboration across boundaries, deadlines were left for dust, people went over and above. And it resulted in a new store being built in record time. A store which then went on to outperform its previous sales results as it became a beacon of pride for the local team and community.

    I remember at the time it was used as an example to say “we can achieve amazing things when we come together like that. If we can do that more of the time, we’ll be flying”.

    So what stops us? What is it that means we only connect in a crisis? That means we only behave as our most awesome versions of human beings when the chips are down.


    I saw this TED Talk of Simon Sinek recently and I think there might be an answer in here.

    Our primitive brain still plays a significant part in how we operate today.

    Simon describes in this talk about our primitive heritage when we had to connect and be social for our survival. We had to be able to collaborate to ensure someone was on night-duty and watching over the rest of the tribe while they slept. We had to work together to catch food so everyone could eat.

    And in the days of our primitive heritage, a state of crisis was more the norm than the exception. Our stress response was a necessary physiological response to ensure we survived to see another day and ensure procreation would continue.

    Bringing this to today, the stress response is still alive and well, it’s just that the sabre toothed tigers have turned into bosses, competitors, shop fires and delayed trains.

    And so it’s in these circumstances of threat that we pull together, connect and collaborate just as we would have done all those years ago.

    So this is perhaps an explanation for our innate ability to pull together in a crisis but how do we make it happen more of the time? And how do we make it happen without the need for the stress response to kick in? Because as much as our ancestors lived more on stress than not, pulling together more often than not, I would guess their life expectancy was a fair bit shorter than we have today. We know that prolonged periods of stress make us ill – physically and mentally – so the answer isn’t to create stressful situations more of the time.

    So what is the answer?

    Maybe it’s the opposite.

    Positive Psychology is about making more of the good stuff. Finding strengths and doing more of those things that let us use them. Focussing on what’s gone well. Seeing what’s gone not so well as an opportunity to learn and adjust. Being appreciative of what we have. Being believed in.

    When these things are present we’re awesome versions of human beings and even better because, in contrast to the stress response which narrows our thinking, being in an environment of positivity and safety broadens our thinking. Broader thinking means more opportunities are spotted and more great things are created.

    This broader thinking is what enabled us to progress ourselves and our world from those primitive days. Although back then the predominant feature was threats, there were times when we did feel safe and it was in these moments that we invented stuff and created new solutions to help our subsequent generations find shelter, food and stay safe more easily.

    So by now, you’d think we’d have invented so much of this great stuff that we’d feel super-safe and be at our best, most positive selves all the time.

    And yet that’s not true. As Rick Hanson writes in Hardwiring Happiness, our mind is still like Teflon for the good and like Velcro for the bad. Another hangover from our primitive days to ensure we stayed alive.

    So this positive stuff, we have to work on it. We have to re-train our brains to help us be our awesome+1 selves more of the time.

    But imagine that: awesome teamwork, communication, delivery of results, going above and beyond – and all without the need to be in a crisis!

    This is me – www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

    WFS Tree