Friday, 5 April 2019

Coaches Ask Too Many Questions


Coaches ask too many questions. Far too many. They are obsessed with questions, to the point that they are afraid to give advice. I even heard of a coach who failed her ICF certification for giving advice in her assessment coaching session.

The ICF lists 'asks powerful questions' as part of their 'credentialing' criteria. Some people even say that asking good questions is what marks out a coach as being different to a mentor or consultant.

Maybe we should take a step back and ask what the purpose of a question really is.

Questions are designed to get information from someone. And therefore, a question leads to an answer, and that answer represents what the coach wants to know about, not what the client wants to talk about.

Even an innocent, 'open' question such as, "Can you say more about that?" is a leading question. The client has already told you exactly what they want you to know. They used the precise number of words that they needed. When you ask them to tell you more, they are now saying more than they planned to, which usually means that they will simply repeat themselves, or throw you a bone to lead you off in a different direction. They told you what they told you for a specific reason - it was exactly what they wanted you to know, so that you would give them the response that they wanted.

Each time you ask a question, you change the subject.

As a communication method, a question contains three components. The first is a marker that the statement is a query, which could be a word, a punctuation mark or a voice intonation. For example, if you start a statement with words such as "what" or "why" or "how" then what comes next will be interpreted as a question. If you speak an entire statement and then end with a tag question, then the entire statement is re-interpreted as a question, isn't it?

The second component is the presupposition or 'payload' of the question; the information that frames the question. If I ask, "What job do you do?" then the presupposition is that you have a job. If I ask, "When are we going for dinner?" then the presupposition is that we are going for dinner, and the query is about the time. That final query, the piece of information being requested, is the third component.

The presupposition of the question is exploited by people who seek to influence. "Why are you thinking of hiring me as your coach?" is an obvious, and perhaps clumsy example. "What are some of the things you look for in an excellent coach?" is a more subtle one.

From an early age, as your brain created an abstract map of the world around you, you created a 'critical filter' to protect you from other people's maps.



Imagine that you have a problem at work. You go home and talk to your family who then give you advice. "You should do this", "You should try that", "You should tell your manager" and so on. You reply, "Yeah... but", "You don't understand", "It's different", "I've tried that", and so on. Your critical filter is working perfectly, deflecting the advice because you already know what to do. You might even say, "I've tried everything and nothing works", when what you really mean is that you know what you have to do, but you're scared to do it.

Your family, friends and colleagues have the best intentions when they give you advice. They pick up on the presupposition that you unknowingly transmit - that if you're talking about a problem then logically you have not solved it, so logically you don't know how to solve it. Therefore, they ask you questions to gather facts so that they can perform an analysis and deliver a solution to you.

This reveals another reason why their suggestions are unhelpful - each of them is a perfect solution to the problem that you have described. It's just that the problem that you described isn't actually the problem. You told them only what you wanted them to know.

Professional influencers, expert public speakers and people who are 'good with people' know that there are two simple communication methods that you can use to bypass the critical filter.



Stories are not blocked by the filter because they are not about you, and don't tell you anything which conflicts with your map of reality. Stories are explicitly about someone else's map of reality. However, in order to understand the story, you put yourself into it, and it therefore becomes part of your map. If you have ever felt an emotional response while reading a book or watching a movie then you have experienced this process.

Questions bypass the critical filter because they do not explicitly carry information, however the presupposition within the question does exactly that, so now you can see why I called it a 'payload' earlier. The presupposition, hiding within the question like an army inside a giant wooden horse, slips past your critical defences in the dead of night and quietly infiltrates your map of reality.

Let's join the dots and come full circle back to coaches asking too many questions.

A coach asks a question because they have an intention.

The coach reveals that intention through the presuppositions in their questions.

The coach delivers that intention in the payload of their questions.

The coach influences the client through their questions.

Whether you like it or not, as a coach, you are actively directing your clients.

Is this a bad thing? Of course not. If the client could get what they want by themselves, they wouldn't be talking to you. However, to pretend that you are 'non-directive' or that 'the client guides the direction' is misleading. As a coach, you absolutely guide the client, you actively manipulate them to where you want them to be.

As a coach, if you have something to say to your client, be honest and say it. Don't dance round in circles trying to get the client to say it by asking them manipulative questions, just because you believe you shouldn't be giving advice or unsolicited feedback.

When you enter into a coach/client relationship, you are put into a position of trust. The client accepts that, to get to where they want to be, they have to cover some unfamiliar or uncomfortable territory, and to do that, their existing maps will be useless. Sometimes, they are asking to be led, sometimes to be pushed, sometimes simply to know that they are not alone on their journey.

If you're not going to give the client advice or feedback, who else are they going to trust enough to do that?

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Respect My Authority

Working late again?

Taking a bit of work home with you, just to catch up?

Spending some time at the weekend on that important presentation?

You know that you should really stop doing it. You know it's not good for your stress, or your family, or your career. Although you keep telling yourself that if you're seen as someone who works really hard and goes the extra mile, you'll get recognised for it, eventually.

Well, you are being recognised for it. You're being recognised as the idiot who is prepared to give more, and more, and more, while your employer reduces headcount, thanks to people like you who do the work of two people. Or maybe more. Why would you get a promotion when you're doing very nicely where you are?

You probably think that you have to put in the hours, you don't have a choice, and I'm going to explain to you now why you're wrong.

Go get your employment contract and have a look in it. What does it say your working hours are? 40 hours a week? Monday to Friday, 9-5? Something close to that?

How many days holiday do you get per year? 20? 25?

What would happen if you just decided to work 10-3? What if you decided to take 50 days holiday this year?

You wouldn't be allowed. You'd be breaching the terms of your employment contract.

When you agreed to that contract, who was it who set those terms? Was it you? The chances are that your employer told you your working hours, and told you your holiday 'entitlement', and told you lots of other stuff that you had to agree to, if you wanted the job. These were the conditions for the job offer. Once you agree to that, you do not have the authority to vary the terms of your contract.

You cannot, on a whim, decide to work 20 hours a week.

Therefore, you cannot, on a whim, decide to work 60 hours a week. If you attempt to do so, you will be in breach of your contract of employment, and can expect to receive your first verbal warning.

Now, you don't want to lose your job over something as silly as your working hours, do you? You don't want to threaten your family's security, and your own career prospects, just to sneak some extra working time in, do you? And you certainly don't want to earn a reputation as the idiot who gives and gives and gives and asks for nothing in return. Oops. Too late.

Imagine sitting an exam where the allowed time is 3 hours. What would you say if another candidate snook into the room early and added an extra hour to their exam time? Would that be fair?

So stop working late. You simply do not have the authority to do so.

_________________________________

Peter Freeth is a talent and leadership expert who used to work too much and probably still does. His book on organisational change, Change Magic, explains why, when employees are allowed to work late, they hide a resource and performance problem, and when that discretionary effort is no longer available, organisational performance falls off a cliff. Overwork leads to stress which leads to premature death, and who wants that on their conscience?

www.geniuslearning.co.uk

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Dead or Alive, You're Coming With Me

I'm sure you've heard of Schrödinger’s cat - the famous thought experiment devised in the 1930s by physicist Erwin Schrödinger. In the basic set-up you take a cat and place it in a box containing a radioactive atom, a hammer and a vial of poisonous gas. The atom decays, and this triggers the hammer to fall and break the vial, suffocating the cat.

Radioactive decays are random processes described by quantum theory, so we can’t say when one will happen. Quantum theory suggests that before you observe or measure an object, it exists in a “superposition” of all its possible states. Before we open the box, the atom is both decayed and undecayed – and the cat is neither dead nor alive, but in a superposition where it is both, neither, who knows. The act of looking seals the cat's fate, one way or another.

Part of the thought experiment is about the concept that information requires an observer. Atoms only become dots on a screen, and photons only activate cells on your retina because you exist to observe these phenomena from your unique viewpoint. These words do not exist as information without you, the reader.

You're probably wondering why I'm telling you this.

I realised recently that long before I knew anything about Schrödinger’s cat, I had an intuitive belief, an idea which seemed to serve me well, and I would like to share it with you.

Long ago, if I was awaiting news, such as a letter about a job application (in the days when we had letters, and when employers actually kept candidates informed), then I figured that up until the point that I opened the envelope and read the letter, the outcome of the interview was still undecided. I somehow felt that the letter would coalesce into reality at the point at which I opened the interview, and therefore I could somehow influence the outcome of that decision right up until the point at which I read, "Dear Mr Freeth, I am pleased to...."

I know what you're thinking. It sounds crazy, and if the letter turned out as I wanted, it just fuelled my confirmation bias, and I ignore all the times the letter carried unwelcome news.

I suppose the thought experiment that I am asking you to conduct is this: What if it were possible? What if possibilities only coalesce into reality when you the observer are present to turn patterns of matter into information? If a tree falls in the forest, you're thinking. What nonsense. Of course it makes a sound.

No, my friend. If a tree falls in the forest and no-one is there to hear it, it does not make a sound. It creates a shockwave through the surrounding air, but that shockwave is not a sound unless someone hears it.

What in your life could be influenced simply by your belief that, right up until the point that you look at the information, all bets are off?

Friday, 18 May 2018

Get Your Clients Unstuck

Tomorrow, I'll be speaking at the International NLP Conference on the subject of 'Getting Your Clients Unstuck'. It's a practical workshop in how to get your clients past the obstacles and barriers that hold them back from achieving their goals. The underlying principles are complex, but the tool I'll be sharing in the workshop is very easy to use because it integrates all of those complex principles for you. It's called The Unsticker.

When we ask questions which are relevant to the client’s problem or goal, we are immediately constrained by the reasons for the problem, or the barriers to achieving the goal. A goal is something, perhaps a state or a tangible outcome which the client does not have, which means that there are reasons why they don’t have it.

You might think that maybe they just haven’t gotten round to it yet, or they’ve only just started to think about it. However, their life has everything in it that they want, even though what they have right now may or may not be relevant for their long term plans.

As soon as you start asking powerful coaching questions about the goal, the problem or even the present state, you become part of the client’s current reality, which makes it so much harder to change that reality. You can only influence the client’s reality by staying on the outside.

The Unsticker isn’t the only way to do that, but it saves you years of coaching training and practice, so it’s as good a place as any to start.

www.theunsticker.com

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Changing Perceptions


I've been working with high potential future leaders for a few years and a subject that keeps coming up is behavioural change.

The first thing to reassure them of is that they don't have to change their behaviour - they already have too many behavioural choices, that's not the issue, the issue is their awareness of context. All they have to do is change their focus. When their focus changes, their perception changes, their decisions change and their behaviour changes.



However, that's all very well and good, and they'll get better results, with less time and less stress, within a limited area of influence; their direct contacts, friends and family. One client said to me this morning that even his relationship with his wife has improved and his colleagues want to know what drugs he's taking that have made him so much easier to work with.

The bigger challenge, from a long term career perspective, is how to manage the perceptions that others have.

Outside of your direct circle of influence are people who you don't have daily contact with, but who influence decisions which affect your future. These people form opinions on you, based on your behaviour and, specifically, how your behaviour affects them. The more strongly they feel about the impact of your behaviour, the more strongly they will defend their opinion of you.

Here's the problem. When those opinions are well founded, they're hard to change, and that limits your career growth. Perhaps you have been disengaged, or disruptive, or confrontational in meetings. As a result, even if you were factually correct, no-one cares. As I learnt on my very first training course in 1985, no-one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

When the subject of your promotion comes up for discussion, these influential people will raise their objections, and you will be passed over again, and there is nothing that you can do about it.

Or is there?

When you're making changes that affect not only yourself but also others, you have to recognise that you not simply operating within a system - you are an intrinsic part of that system. Therefore, any changes that you make affect you, and they affect others too, and you hardly ever take that into consideration.

When another person has an opinion of you, that opinion is well-founded, at least in their eyes, and their opinion becomes the filter through which they will perceive everything that you do. If someone thinks you're an idiot, or you're lazy, or you're confrontational, or opinionated, or aggressive, that's the lens through which they interpret everything that you do. And because they are outside of your daily contact network, you have very limited opportunities to change that.

What you need to do is draw their attention to the changes you're making, and engage them in that process. After all, they are engaged in your career choices, and you therefore want them to use that influence in a different way.

Getting someone to notice and engage with the changes you're making is easy, there are just four simple steps to follow. Having said that, you must be consistent, if you contradict the changes you've committed to, you will do even more harm to your reputation.

Here are those four simple steps:

Acknowledge their experience of you
Acknowledge the impact of your behaviour
Commit to change
Ask for their help

And now, a little more detail:

Acknowledge their experience of you

Don't justify, argue or defend. They have an opinion, you don't like it, you shouldn't have done the things to make them form it. "I know that you think that I am X". No edge, no angle, just acknowledgement of a fact.

Acknowledge the impact of your behaviour

Don't justify, argue or defend. Their opinion is based on how they feel. Maybe you caused problems, or embarrassed them, or made them feel disrespected. Move on. "I know that X had an impact on you, I know that I caused you Y."

Commit to change

"I am making a real effort to change this, because I know it's important for me and the people I work with."

Ask for their help

"And I would like your help to do this."

Of course, all of this has to be honest and consistent. You have to actually be committed to the process of change, and you have to recognise that you don't live on an island; you are connected to the people around you, and you influence each other. At the same time, you can't expect other people to notice when you change something, they have their own priorities to worry about. So if you want to make a change really work for you and the people who are important to you, get their help.


Thursday, 10 May 2018

Just Say No. Maybe.

I'm currently working with a group of senior managers in a global business, plus a few private coaching clients, who seem to be facing the same issue - not having enough time to do all the things they need to do.
Time is a strange commodity. We treat it as if it's a real asset, something that we can touch and own and protect, and which we can give or sell to others. However, time is a perception, and therefore the passage of and value of time is subjective.

My clients tell me that they are too busy, that they have trouble prioritising, that they rush to complete tasks, that they work reactively, and that the person who always suffers from this is themselves.

Fundamentally, they see other people's deadlines as fixed, and their own personal time as flexible. So they give, and give, and give, until there is nothing left to give.

They think that they get a pay-off from saying 'yes' to everything that comes their way. They think that they are thought more highly of, that they will have better prospects for promotion, that their clients will see them as responsive and dynamic.

Here's the funny thing. If you show what a great job you're doing by taking on more, and more, and more work, and you get a promotion on that basis, what do you think your promotion will entail? 

More work!

You know what you want to do - you want to say no. You want to push back on the endless torrent of demands on your time. You want space to breathe - maybe even a day off. Maybe even a holiday. But instead, you put the kids to bed and get your laptop out, and when your phone pings with an email at midnight, you take a quick look, and your family go down to the beach while you join just a quick conference call.

The problem is that you don't like to say 'no', because you're worried that people might think you're unhelpful, or that you're not committed.

Worse than that, that's not even true. The truth is that you create this situation, you create this dependency because the constant stream of requests for your valuable expertise and opinion makes you feel needed, even valuable. Or at least, it did when the level was manageable. Now it's just getting out of hand.

What's the solution? You can't say yes, because that piles more pressure on you. You can't say no because what would people think of you.

There is an alternative, and it's something that I came up with about 15 years ago, and I've been teaching it to my coaching clients ever since with results that even in the past month they have described as "amazing".

You'll probably laugh, or kick yourself, when you find out how easy it is.

The fundamental problem is that in order to feel valuable, you give your time away freely. However, if your time actually was valuable, you wouldn't give it away. You would trade it for something of equal value. This process of trading value in order to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome is called, of course, negotiation.

How do we start any negotiation? With the word 'if'. If I do this for you, will you do that for me? If I give you this, will you give me that in return? If I introduce you to three other people, will you reduce the price? That kind of thing.

Usually, people are very bad at negotiating because they think it's the same as haggling, which it isn't. Haggling is only about price, and it usually involves someone giving away profit for nothing in return. It's what you do in souvenir markets on holiday where the seller has inflated the price in anticipation of you haggling.

Negotiation means that you consider all the variables which are under your control, and you include all of them in the negotiation. Fundamentally, negotiating is based on the belief that everything you're trading has value.

Here's how simple this is to implement in your everyday working life:

Demanding colleague: "Hey, how are you? Can you take on this extra work for me?"

You: "Yes, if you can either speak with my boss first to clear the time it will take, or help me out by doing some preparation work."

You will now hear one of two general responses.

Demanding colleague: "OK, no problem, I'll help you with that."

Or

Demanding colleague: "Erm... don't worry, I'll do it myself"

Either way, your reputation as an awesome, helpful team player is intact, because your first word was 'yes', and your workload is reduced because either your commitment is now realistic, or you don't have to take the work on. It's a win-win for you.

Here are some things that you can negotiate from the person making the request:

  • They do some of the work themselves
  • They get your boss to free up some of your time by removing other tasks
  • They find other resources to help you
  • They get someone else to do the whole thing, or do it themselves
  • They do something for you in return
  • They bring you pizza/chocolates/wine/etc as payment in kind
  • They extend their timescales
  • They reduce the scope of their request
  • They lower their expectations of quality
  • They reset their customers expectation in line with what you can deliver

What you will find, based on feedback from hundreds of people who have tested this method, is that by introducing the idea that your time and expertise has a cost, it becomes more valuable and the other person realises that they don't just get it for free. What you can also find is that the only reason they ever asked you before was not because you're the best person for the job, or they really valued your work, but because asking you was simply easier than doing it themselves, and as long as you never pushed back, they were happy to keep piling more work on you. That's hardly fair, is it?

Now that you're establishing a cost for your time, you have created value, and that is what makes you feel valued and valuable, and good about yourself.

Isn't that worth having?

Give it a try. Whenever someone asks you to do something for them, reply with, "Yes, if...."

Have fun!

Monday, 23 April 2018

It's Nearly Time to Get Unstuck


“I’ve tried everything and nothing works”

If you’re a coach then I’m sure you’ve had the experience where, no matter what questions you come up with, your client seems to have run out of answers.

Maybe you’ve had the experience of wanting to ask a question, but finding a reason not to. Maybe you felt uncomfortable, or maybe you though the question was too challenging.

In fact, once of the ICF’s credentialing criteria is that the coach should “ask powerful questions”. Wow. That puts a lot of pressure on you, the coach. How can you know in advance that your question will be powerful?

And perhaps you’ve had the experience where your client is simply stuck. They can’t see past their current problem, and you hear them say, “I’ve tried everything and nothing works”. Logically, you know they can’t have tried everything, yet no matter how many options you ask them to come up with, they’re no further forward.

They’re stuck. And because they’re stuck, you’re stuck.

What you need is The Unsticker.

I’ve been coaching from a time, long ago, before there was such a thing as coaching. I started, like many of us, because I was training NLP and people asked me to help them with specific issues. Work, career, relationships, developing skills and so on. Fear of public speaking, interview preparation, all the kinds of things that NLP Practitioners can help with. As an interaction between two people, a NLP session looks a lot like a counselling session looks a lot like a coaching session, so it’s no wonder that there are such close ties between these different disciplines.

As a NLP Practitioner, when you hear the words, “I’ve tried everything and nothing works”, you might think about applying Meta Model, or using the Clean Language approach, or getting inside the client’s map in some other way. However, it’s very easy to use those kinds of techniques in a heavy-handed way. “EVERYTHING??????!!!!” exclaims the inexperienced meta modeller, and the client becomes even more defensive.

We also have the issue of teaching coaching skills to non-coaches, a typical example being line managers in organisations. The logic seems to make sense. Managers have to interact with their staff to solve problems and encourage development, and that sounds like what a coach does, so let’s train line managers to be coaches. The problem here is that a line manager cannot be a coach because a manager has a vested interest in the client’s success. One of the most powerful assets that a coach possesses is the ability to allow the client to fail, because only in failure is there learning. We learn nothing from success, only to carry on doing what we’re doing.

Maybe if there was a flexible coaching tool that we could give to both coaches and non-coaches alike then that might be useful. A tool that hid deeply probing questions within a fun, playful package. A tool that, after just four or five questions, has the client laughing, unable to remember what their problem had been and seeing a clear way forward that they can’t believe they didn’t recognise before.

Well, you’ve guessed it. The Unsticker is that tool.

Yet it’s more than that. It’s something that you can incorporate into any problem-solving scenario, with individuals or groups, and it forces creative thinking. Yes, forces. Just by hearing the questions, the listener’s mind switches tracks and opens up new possibilities. Because as a coach you are not a bystander. You are not passive. Your client has asked for your help and your professional expertise. They expect you to do something that they can’t do for themselves.

The questions might make you laugh yet they are far from trivial. The powerful principles that you’ve learned during your NLP journey are packed in there, if you look carefully. Yet the most important key to The Unsticker’s effectiveness is that the questions are random. Now, I can’t reveal why that’s so important, so you’ll need to come along to my workshop at the NLP Conference to experience the effect for yourself, and then I promise I’ll explain how it works. You’ll also get a free Pocket Unsticker, and if you’re lucky enough to have an Android phone, you can download the free Unsticker app too for limitless Unsticking on the move. And of course, you can buy the paperback Unsticker if you prefer flicking through real pages to find your daily dose of random Unsticking.

So join me on 19th May 2018 and discover the joy of Unsticking - live at the International NLP Conference, streamed live or on YouTube after the event.

https://www.nlpconference.com/peterfreeth

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Your Best is Too Good



I know that you always do your best. I mean, why would you ever give less? You've got a lifetime of experience, and you know that you can do what you do better than anyone else could.

And, often, that means you're over-stretched. You're working late again. Maybe working at weekends. Maybe taking work calls when you're on the beach. And all because no-one else can do what you do as well as you do.

When you were growing up, you were probably quite a competitive person, maybe you excelled in sports, or in your studies. And when you did your best, that was what was important for you.

Now that you're where you are now, you can look back and see that your career has been continually built on this foundation, a foundation of excellence, of hard work, of self-sacrifice. You've made some mistakes along the way, maybe some compromises.

Your biggest challenge is that there are only so many hours in the day, and if there were only two of you, or more hours, then you could get more done. But the reality of life imposes certain limits, and that's frustrating.

Well, I have some news for you. There is nothing wrong in doing your best, always. In fact, when someone tries to convince you that good enough is good enough, that conflict that you feel is very real. Good enough is absolutely not good enough. Only the best is good enough. Also, there's no problem in gaining the approval of others. We are a social species and we need approval to navigate a course through life. Like it or not, we are on this planet with other people; families, friends, colleagues, customers. No man is an island, and no woman either. We are in this together.

The danger with approval is in starting from the default position that you don't have it. Once you've been accepted, maybe into a new job or relationship, you've proven yourself. You don't have to keep on doing it.

So here's the thing about always doing your best. Sometimes, your best is actually too good.

Imagine taking a taxi to a customer meeting so that you can prepare your presentation. On arrival, you might think that you could have driven more smoothly, you could have taken a better route, you could have arrived faster. However, you got to where you needed to be, and you were able to use that time more productively, to focus on something that was more important for you. You could have prepared or driven, and excelled at either, but you could only do one, so you chose the one that made the biggest difference for your future.

Imagine if you'd driven, and lost the business because you were unprepared. Imagine saying to the customer, "But I drove here really well!"

In customer service, people often give away profits by giving customers things they hadn't asked for. "Sorry for keeping you waiting, here's a discount", or "Sorry that we don't have that in stock, have a more expensive version for the same price". If the customer didn't ask for it, and doesn't value it, then all you've done is give away profit. In customer service, it's very easy to be too good, and the problem is that customers don't necessarily notice or care, and that effort went to waste.

My overall message here is that you are part of a system, and when you try to be the best at everything, it eats into your time, preventing you from focusing on what's important, and that prevents you from being recognised as the best.

Often, your best is too good.

By all means, do your best, be the best. Simply focus on the areas that are going to make the biggest difference to your future. And leave the driving to someone else.

________________________________________________

Peter Freeth is an executive coach, talent and leadership expert and a keen learner from his busy, perfectionist clients who could be spending their time doing something far more valuable.

www.geniuslearning.co.uk

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Why Do Talent Programs Fail?


I'm conducting research into what makes talent management programs effective, and what can be done to increase the accuracy of predictions made about 'high potentials'. As you might expect if you've read any of my books, the initial results are already fascinating and counter-intuitive. It seems that future potential has almost nothing to do with what you think constitutes a 'future leader', and is almost entirely dependent on something that I've been saying about high performers for the past 20 years - that the alignment between the individual and the organisational culture is almost all that matters.

I've drawn up a visual representation of some of the things that I've noticed in 15 years of running 'hipo' talent and future leader programs.

To offer some interpretation of this, what I consistently see within any group of named 'high potentials' is a top group of 20-30% who will fully engage with the process and achieve good outcomes in terms of career progression and role KPIs. At the other end of the scale is a bottom group of 20-30% who will not engage with the process and achieve unpredictable outcomes in terms of role KPIs, and almost never achieve career progression within the program. Remember that all of these people are actually identified by the organisation as 'high potentials'.

One of the things we therefore have to understand is the definition of 'high potential', because we cannot predict the potential of anyone or anything, unless we are constraining that potential.

The second interesting factor is the effect of telling someone that they are a 'high potential'. I've recently been talking to students at Aston University who are working on research to understand this effect. It's show in the diagram above as the 'spotlight', which I find polarises participants to move to either the top or bottom quartile.

The greatest predictor of future performance in the talent program seems to be the alignment between the individual's own goals, interests or values with those of the organisation. Imagine that you get on a train, but you don't really know where the train is going. Based on the behaviour of other passengers, and the stations that the train passes through, you become increasingly confident that this is 'your' train, so you get a drink, relax, read a book, maybe even have a short sleep.

Now imagine that you don't recognise the stations, some passengers reassure you that the train is going to your destination, but you just don't feel confident. Will you relax? How will you behave when the train approaches a station? Will you consider your options and wonder if you should switch trains?

These two examples illustrate the effect of alignment on the engagement of a 'high potential' in a talent program, and the results that you can therefore expect from them.

Procrastinate Tomorrow


I've seen a few things about procrastination lately, articles, presentations and so on. All nonsense, I'm afraid, because they all approached procrastination as an issue of motivation and focus, so all you have to do is get motivated and focus. Whoa! If someone had only told me it was that easy!

NO

Procrastination has nothing to do with motivation. In fact, the more you procrastinate, the more motivated you are, because you keep finding the energy to come back to something.

No, procrastination is about FEAR. Just in the past week I've worked with seasoned executives, directors, business owners and sales people whose best laid plans were derailed by fears that they were largely unaware of. Fear is so powerful, so pervasive, that it nudges us off track before we even realise, and before we know it, we've spent the morning doing anything other than what we meant to do.

Here is an antidote for you, a series of simple questions to help you to identify what is pushing you away from your intended outcome so that you can take action.

When you catch yourself starting the same task for maybe the 2nd or 3rd time, just pause for a moment and ask yourself this series of questions:

Why am I avoiding this?

What do I imagine is going to happen if I complete this task?

Is that what I want to happen?

What is it that I do want, then?

And what shall I do now to get that?

These questions help you to focus on the imaginary scenario that represents the fear which is pushing you off track. It could be fear of conflict, criticism, rejection, these seem to be the most common. Maybe if you finish a project or send an email, the recipient might not like it, might be angry at you. By acknowledging that imagined scenario, you have an opportunity to realise the obvious truth - that it is in the future and therefore cannot be real. You can then focus on what you do want, and what practical action you can take now to move towards that.

I can't guarantee that you'll become a super-efficient productivity machine by doing this, but I am highly certain that you'll get a little more done, more easily, each day, and if you keep on doing that, good things are just bound to happen.