Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Counter Intuitive Talents

I recently applied for a visa to visit India, and made my 6th trip to the consulate offices in Birmingham.

At the office is a man, I don't really know his role and I don't know his name. He seems to be a combined receptionist, security guard and document checker, and he is remarkable.

Every day, he faces hundreds of people with the same questions and I have never seen him lose patience, even when answering the exact same question individually to three people who were standing next to each other at the desk.

On my 5th visit, I waited my turn at the counter. As he looked at me, he seemed to pause for a moment, then his face exploded into a smile. "Hello mate!", he exclaimed, as if greeting a long lost friend, "Is it that time of year again?"

I said, "I can't believe you remember me", and he replied, "I remember everyone, mate".

He treats everyone who comes into the centre with the same infectious positivity, the same bouncy, upbeat, welcoming, uplifting attitude. He's the kind of person who you feel good just to be near to.

And as you might know, the question I wanted to ask was, how does he do it? So I asked him.

"Well, mate, I don't know, it's just the way I am, it's just my personality, you know?"

Yes, I know very well. This is the first hallmark of a talented person; when you ask them how they do it, they don't know. It's just the way they are. Isn't everyone like it?

"I suppose it could be because my Dad was a Pastor, and he loved helping people, and you know, everyone loved him."

The second thing that talented people say. They attribute a cause to their skill which sounds plausible but which is actually misleading. It's like a football player attributing their goal to putting their left boot on first.

Everyone loved him.

"So it doesn't matter what someone's race or colour is, I just treat everyone the same. I treat everyone how I would want to be treated."

I didn't mention race. And I would estimate that maybe 1% or 2% of the people I've ever seen in the centre were not Indian.

That's it. That's all we need to know to extract the essence of this wonderful talent. We can now teach the program to customer service people all over the world.

And most importantly, it demonstrates another key criteria of a talent - it is counter intuitive.

I've seen plenty of customer service training, and one of the things that happens in almost every case is that the customer staff are told they have to value each customer, to treat them as individuals.

And there's the counter intuitive nugget of gold. This lovely man doesn't treat his customers as individuals. He treats them all the same. The same.

More than that, he isn't even interacting with his customers at all! He is interacting with an internal simulation of his customers.

But how can great customer service be delivered by someone who isn't actually interacting with his customers? Because it is not his responsibility, nor is it in his control, to make his customers feel valued or well serviced.

It is the customer's responsibility.

If someone is in a really bad mood, they can ignore him. They can grunt and take their number and join the queue. Maybe someone is travelling for sad reasons. They can ignore him. They can smile politely and take their number. How they feel is their responsibility. He cannot make them enjoy the interaction with him, he can only behave in a certain way towards them. How he would like to be treated.

What we can learn from this is that, when we train customer service staff, we have to remember that they are not responsible for the customer experience, they are only responsible for their behaviour. The customer experience therefore comprises two parts; the agent's behaviour and the customer's perception and reaction to that behaviour.

Poor customer service staff will move the goalposts; their behaviour towards the customer will change depending on the last call, depending on their mood, depending on the time of day. The guy at the visa centre keeps his behaviour constant, and the only variable is the customer's mood.

He doesn't have to individualise his behaviour to the customer because it's the customer who does that through their subjective perception.

You don't have to individualise service - your customers will do that!

What you have to do is treat all customers as equals, and let them take whatever they need from that.

An upbeat attitude, when it's fake and forced and loaded with advertising for upsells, will drag a customer's mood down, because the customer knows that the agent is lying.

An upbeat attitude, when it's genuine, and motivated by something that is personally valuable (everyone loved him) will tend to lift everyone's mood.

So the final message is this: Stop treating your customers as individuals. Outside of the interaction, they're individuals, but inside the interaction, they are not. They are all simply customers.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

To Learn, We Must Be Prepared to Fail

Someone shared this image on LinkedIn recently, with the quote by Robert Schaeffer of FairTest:

"Believing we can improve schooling with more tests is like believing you can make yourself grow taller by measuring your height."

It's catchy, but it's not quite true.

The problem is that testing produces feedback which is used to modify the educational approach. No-one wants to be responsible for a generation that failed, so no-one is willing to experiment, instead they try to do what will 'work' and what will 'improve' results, when in reality we can't predict what will work.

Testing is part of the scientific method, and an equally important part of that method is a willingness to fail in the pursuit of knowledge.

Testing allows us to find a causal link between educational methods and improved educational output, but no-one is willing to actually test objectively, so instead we have year after year of politicians meddling based on what the latest trendy theory is without objectively testing those theories.

No parent wants their children to be in the control group!

To be fair, Robert's soundbite is part of a campaign to "end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial."

FairTest campaign against the sheep dip evaluation of students. But how else can we compare them? We all want to be treated as individuals. We all want to be special. But the educational system can't cope with 1.4 billion individuals. It doesn't seem right to compare students, because everyone is special, but if we are to make selections then we do have to apply a criteria. Do we want to limit our children's future lives just because they failed a maths test? No. But if you were on the operating table, you'd want the best doctor. We're all socialists when it comes to other people.

We can improve schooling with more tests, but those tests have to be used to determine a causal relationship between teaching methods and... and... what? We don't even know what we want children to do when they leave school, so how can we improve their ability to do it. Instead, we have to apply the narrow criteria of suitability for the workplace, and we know that not everyone suits the workplace.

We can't filter out the entrepreneurs at age 5, because every parent wants their child to be an entrepreneur. And a doctor. And an airline pilot. And a beauty queen. And a film star.

As soon as we create a test we impose a ranking, and every parent believes that their child deserves to be at the top.

Testing isn't the problem. Society's obsession with success is the problem.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Exciting News About Neurobusiness 2015

I have some incredibly exciting news about the Neurobusiness 2015 conference that I'm speaking at in June - I'm going to be interviewing world famous guitarist Byron Johnson and showing some video of how he uses behavioural modelling to acquire the musical styles of other guitarists. It will be a world exclusive!!

I met Byron in Spain last year during the NLP Practitioner training. Superficially, his music was... extraordinary. Skilful, touching, moving, breathtaking, integrating musical styles that he had acquired on his worldwide travels. Yet he did more than simply play other peoples' tunes, he embodied entirely different ways of using the guitar to make music. It really was something else.

We were talking to him afterwards, and it turned out that he used a few familiar techniques to acquire the mindset of other musicians, and since that's mainly what I'm speaking about in June, I'll be interviewing him and sharing some insights as well as some video clips at the conference.

It's really going to be something very, very special!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Neurobusiness 2015

I just had the best email of the year yet... 

"Dear Peter, 

Thank you for your submission to participate in NeuroBusiness 2015

After due consideration between the conference leadership and governance teams, I have the pleasure of confirming that we wish to formally invite you to deliver a workshop on “Winning the talent war – Decoding and transferring innate talents within a business”"

But what does that mean I'll be talking about?

One of the most pressing issues within business today is the attraction and retention of talent, with recruiters even describing a “talent war”.

But what if the most talented people within a business could be easily replicated? What if the hidden perceptions, attitudes and thought processes which drive high performance could be decoded and transferred from one person to another – literally, from one mind to another?

For the past 12 years, Peter Freeth has been developing and delivering a unique approach to talent development, modelling the innate qualities of high performers and installing those qualities into others. He has reduced graduate program costs by 25%, doubled sales conversion rates, increased the retention of technical experts and, in a global engineering company, increased profitability by 700%.

Delegates will learn that talented individuals are not unique and do not need to be ‘bought’ through the recruitment market. There are people within every organisation who are evolving best practice, even excellence, every day. Using the approach presented in this session, delegates will understand how to recognise innate talents and begin the process of decoding innate attitudes, perceptions and thought processes in order to transfer them to others. We could even describe the process as “cloning your high performers”.

This approach makes recruitment, induction, development and retention easier, faster and more effective. Most importantly, it protects the cultural integrity of the organisation which is vital for the right attitudes and behaviours to translate into excellence in product and service delivery to the customer.

In summary, delegates will learn how to discover what makes their highest performers ‘tick’ so that they can share those innate skills within the business.

I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Looking Forward to a Stress-Free 2015?

I bet you are. Stress is a nasty thing. It has been shown to shorten the 'telomeres' that protect the DNA in every cell in your body, leading to a measurable reduction in your body's cells ability to reproduce. That means an early death. Stress will kill you.

But how can you reduce stress, when it's not your fault? It's because of the economy, or your nasty boss, or your family, or your bank manager, or some other external pressure. Nothing you can do but grin and bear it.

Well, here's the bad news.

Stress is your fault.

Here's why. You're lying to yourself, and your lies create stress.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The End of the Year is Nigh...

The end of the year is nigh, and I'm sure you're thinking about winding down for the end of the year... and there's the problem. So are your sales people.

"There's no point doing anything in December", they say, "No-one's going to make any decisions until the New Year"

Even if that's true, why not hit the ground running in 2015?

Get your sales team together now, while they're saying things are quiet anyway, for an intensive strategy planning and goal setting session.

And best of all, if you pay before Christmas and hold the workshop before the end of January, I'm going to give you a half price offer. Normally, a full day strategy and goal setting workshop would cost £995, so I'm only going to charge £495.*

Why would you bother? Because I've doubled sales conversion rates for D&G and FIE, I've increased profitability at Parker Hannifin by 700% and I could get similar results for you.

Get ready for 2015. Before your competitors beat you to it.

* Plus travel expenses from the Midlands.

Monday, 28 April 2014


Recently, on a management development program, we advised managers to put reminders of quality standards next to staff rotas, so when the rota says 'goods in', staff know exactly what they are responsible for during that period of time.

As a manger, you have to make it easy for staff to achieve the standards that you hold them accountable for. It's simply not fair or reasonable to let them get on with it and then lay into them afterwards for not doing a job properly. Define what 'properly' means and they have at least half a chance.

This then sets the standard for performance management, so if a member of staff doesn't achieve the standard that's there in black and white, they're really out of excuses.

Compare that with a situation where the standards are all in a procedures manual, tucked away in the manager's office. Are you really expecting anyone to read it.

Make it easy for your staff to achieve the standards that you hold them accountable for.

And, lo and behold, after we told the managers this, we visited a sweet shop, and look what we found:

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Is Evaluation Still Relevant?

I'm getting ready to release the second edition of Genius at Work with some all new stuff and a whole new modelling case study.

I was just updating the chapter on Evaluation - specifically evaluation of learning, but it could apply to anything that you want to measure.

I thought I'd share it with you here to get you all excited about the upcoming second edition, which you can win a copy of in our competition to support this year's Learning at Work Week.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Talent Management - an Application of Modelling

Some companies have excellent talent management processes. They have regular, fair appraisals, competency frameworks and encourage career progression through mentoring, secondments and networking events.

However, the majority of employees aren't that lucky. They have to attend to their own career development if they want to 'get on'.

One company which recognised this problem was Babcock - at the time, known as Alstec. They had an ageing workforce with decades of technical knowledge locked up in engineers' heads. There was no plan to capture that knowledge before these people retired, so the normal routine was for someone to retire on a Friday and come back as a contractor the following Monday - paid more, and with no incentive to do much of anything other than protect their knowledge, because that was what they were being paid for. Once someone reached this position, it was practically impossible to 'download' their knowledge, because that would make them expendable.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Talent is, in Itself, Irrelevant

RSA Premiums has launched a 'Valuing your Talent Challenge' to discover new ways to identify and develop talent within an organisation, so I have submitted an idea based on Genius at Work; that talent is entirely culture dependent.

Everyone's focusing on talent; nurturing talent, the war for talent etc. and forgetting a very important point; that talent, in itself is irrelevant. If that talent cannot express itself in a which which creates value, it's a waste. In fact, we can only ever identify talent in light of an organisation's goals. Do we analyse an investment banker's talent for playing the trumpet? Or a production manager's talent for creating hybrid roses in his garden? No. So, if we don't also look at an organisation's culture then talent means nothing.

This is the subject of over 20 years of research that is shared in my book Genius at Work.

A culture can be enabling, where organisational and tacit rules inhibit the expression of rules, or it can be enabling, where those rules allow or even reinforce the expression of talent.

A culture is simply a set of rules (plus a language) which adapts as quickly as the people who make those rules. When managers talk about culture as an ethereal, intangible concept, they're talking about tacit rules - rules that aren't written down anywhere and which are passed on through experience. Our approach maps these rules as they connect with a person's behaviours and beliefs to create an interaction which either makes it difficult for that person to express their talents or easy.

We already know, intuitively, that you can have the best candidate in the world, on paper, but if they don't 'fit in', they won't perform. What we lack is a way to quantify and predict this. On the other hand, a group of average performers, working as a close-knit team to achieve shared, inspiring goals, will achieve more than a team of superstars, each fighting for the limelight.

My insight is therefore that talent is irrelevant, in itself, and you must look at the relationship between talent and culture to see how to improve performance, which is ultimately what we're aiming for.