Report Writing – Top Tips

  1. Make it easy to read
    1. Format the report to make it easy to navigate and refer to; use page and paragraph numbers
    2. Use headings and sub-headings to help the reader understand your text
    3. Use 1.5 or double spacing
  2. Use simple language; leave out jargon and explain acronyms
  3. Refer to data and cite your sources; numbers are convincing!
  4. Use tables, bulletin points and diagrams where possible in order to represent information; it will make your report quicker to read and more compelling
  5. Plan to write at least two drafts. Writing is an iterative process.  Get your ideas out and shape them up, then shape and polish them some more!


A Standard Report Format

  1. Title Page & Table of Contents

Give a short explanation of the purpose of the report if necessary e.g. “Hanging on the Line.  A discussion of current telephone resources and potential new approaches to internal communication”.  Include authors and date your report.

  1. Executive Summary

Keep this short; no more than one side of A4. Outline the purpose of the report, give the most important information from the report, and state briefly your recommendations.

Make this section really easy to read by using bullet points and clear headings.  Someone coming to the report “cold” should be able to grasp the rationale of your report instantly from the executive summary.

  1. Methodology

State what methods you used and why you chose them.  Identify any challenges you faced, e.g. in collecting representative data, how you over-came those difficulties or what impact they have had on the report findings e.g. if you were not able to collect data from the night-shift, then be clear about the limitations of any conclusions about the whole workforce.

  1. Introduction

Signpost what the report is about and how it will be presented.

  1. Main Body

Structure the body of your report; make it a “story” which the reader can follow easily.  Give your strongest points first.  Use tables, bullet points, diagrams etc. to make it punchy.

Being overly selective about the data or being overtly biased in your argument will weaken your report over-all and leave you open to criticism.  So, make sure your argument is rounded, and acknowledge key weaknesses or challenges.

  1. Conclusion

Synthesise what has gone before.  Bring your argument together and state your outcome. Be brief.  Someone skim-reading the report should be able to comprehend your conclusion quickly and easily.

  1. Recommendations

Make it easy for a decision-maker to commit and take the next step by setting out clearly what you recommend.  Here is where your research and the strength of your argument play out.  If you know your argument is weak, you may feel nervous about this section; you are assuming responsibility for directing a decision.  Make it count!

  1. Appendices

The appendices are an essential reference for future use.  Include your data here.  Give your sources.

9. Glossary

If required, include a glossary of key terms or acronyms or abbreviations (although you should always give the name/reference in full the first time you use it in the text too e.g. Construction Design & Management Regulations (“CDM” Regs))

Forget the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe…..

How about the Wand the Whip and the Carrot?

How do you manage performance in your organisation?

Option 1 the Wand – Using your magic wand to sprinkle a little pixie dust over the people in your organisation; make them all feel good for a while. Lovely!

Option 2 – the Whip – Using a whip or a big stick to threaten and scare people to work harder. It’s always worked in the past hasn’t it?

Option 3 – the Carrot – Encouraging the right behaviours and discouraging unhelpful behaviours.

All of these approaches have an impact on performance, but only the carrot creates a sustainable change in behaviour.

Performance management is a bad thing though isn’t it?

Very often the mere words, performance management, instil dread; a sense that something bad is going to happen to someone (hopefully not you!!).

It doesn’t have to be like that.

Defining what ‘good’ looks like, enables you to acknowledge good performance, encouraging desired behaviours to be replicated by others.

“Thank you” for a job well done is welcome, but doesn’t help the person understand specifically what it was that they did which was particularly helpful, or made a difference.

“Thank you” on its own is pixie dust. It has an immediate feel good factor, but does not always translate into continuing performance.

How do you manage performance?

Define Performance Starting with the end in mind.  Defining the   outcomes you are looking for, or what ‘good’ looks like. Performance definition, on its own, is not always enough, however, It does not clarify the expected observable behaviours.
Set up for Success Defining   what ‘good’ looks like.E.g. A professional who continually over-delivers, constantly agreeing to extra work.  As their manager you be pleased, but the impact on the organisation and the individual may not so positive.If  good performance is defined as ‘to deliver xxxx outcomes’, this could lead to a the individual feeling that they need to deliver no matter what the personal impact on them is.  However, if performance is further explained by….- deliver the outcomes in a way that does not impact other commitments

– ensuring that any obstacles or issues are dealt with in a timely way, and

– keeping your manager informed at all times

The professional can then understand how they  achieve the performance required.

Monitor & Review performance For improved performance you need to monitor performance and provide clear, structured feedback that enables the other person to stop, start or continue the behaviours or activities observed.If the behaviours expected have been clearly defined, it is much easier to give meaningful feedback at review stage. The individual can then take responsibility for their actions and adapt their behaviour.
Respond Engendering sustainable change by the over-deliverer stopping, starting or continuing the   desired activities or behaviours


Whether you use the wand the whip or the carrot, there will be no change unless you are clear about your expectations, not just the ‘WHAT’, also the ‘HOW’.

For help and support to introduce a positive performance management culture in your organisation contact:

Jane               07977 932551, Nicola             07799 237479

Mentoring: Take another look

At first blush mentoring looks like a safe option.

  • It’s usually based on an hierarchical relationship (Odysseus gave his trusted servant “Mentor” responsibility for the development of his son, so the idea has been around a while)
  • It’s about passing on good practicePartnership
  • It’s not too demanding

If this view concurs with your impression of mentoring, then you have got the wrong end of the stick!

Certainly, mentoring is not a threatening activity, but its more than a quiet chat.  Mentoring can help unlock potential, engage long-serving staff and generate ideas.  All things a modern, progressive business will have on its “to do” list of people development.

Who benefits?

Mentoring results in hard, quantifiable benefits, like staff retention, or new staff being able to be productive rapidly.  Examples of less tangible, but highly valuable benefits include, staff engagement, inter-generational & inter-department communication, and support for line management.


Benefits of Mentoring for Stakeholders

Mentor Mentee Organisation
  • Recognition of experience & value to organisation
  • The opportunity to contribute to development
  • Time to reflect
  • A chance to stay in touch with colleagues
  • The possibility of learning something new from them
  • Learning new skills which will serve them in all walks of life


  • Access to experience outside line-management
  • Support
  • Guidance
  • Advice
  • A listening ear
  • A sounding board
  • Another perspective
  • Someone who can challenge them to be their best


  • Staff engagement
  • Increased staff retention
  • Motivation & commitment from all parties
  • New staff productive earlier
  • An additional source of support for line managers
  • Communication between different levels of staff
  • Cross-department working
  • Transferable skills for both mentor & mentee
  • A flow of ideas about existing practices

Mentoring: Getting started

It is essential that there is clarity about the purpose of your mentoring programme; otherwise any initiatives will fizzle out in the face of operational pressure.  Here are some key steps:

Step One

Identify who might benefit from mentoring, how that fits with business need and how you might measure the benefits.  You might consider;

  • your least experienced staffTaking the first step
  • new comers
  • people hoping for promotion

Think about existing formal and informal mentoring or mentoring-type activities in your business and make sure you are not over-burdening either the potential mentees or the potential mentors.  Do you need something new, or do you want to improve an existing arrangement?

Step Two

Get management buy-in to:

  • the strategic purpose
  • the operational impact (e.g. training need, communication effort, time away from the work-place)
  • how the process will be monitored and its impact measured

Step Three

Mentors have to be volunteers.  Identify who is interested in being a mentor and get them together to discuss their motivation and expectation.  Remember, mentors do not have to be people from the top of the organisation.  Experience, knowledge and skills worth communicating will be found at all levels.

Giving staff ownership of the mentoring project will increase its impact on engagement and is likely to be a positive factor in its success.   So get the potential mentors to think about;

  • The purpose of mentoring
  • The resources they need
  • What skills, knowledge and attitudes mentors need; do they have them?
  • What and how they would like to learn.

At this point you will have the basis for a planned approach to mentoring.

Essential Principles

Mentoring is natural for some people; they instinctively know when to encourage, or  when to advise and when to stand back and let someone work something out for themselves.  Even so, there are some basics which need to be part of the framework of mentoring, however lose it might be.

  • Boundaries need to be agreed at the outset
  • The ethics of the process need to be clear
  • Expectations need to be managed for all parties concerned, including line-managers, HoDs and at an organisational level

Reaching the parts other initiatives do not reach

High-flyers benefit from being mentored by excellent role-models, of course.  However, mentoring is a great way of engaging long-serving staff who may not have any other mechanism to communicate their knowledge and experience.  It builds-in that buzz word; sustainability.



A quiet performer

Introducing mentoring, or reviewing an existing programme, is an easy win.  Its low risk and relatively cheap.  Its a great way of demonstrating business values such as commitment to development, strong communication and recognition of experience.  And it opens up other avenues, like using developing low key coaching skills in senior staff, collaborative working,  and the potential to use online systems as a platform for mentoring.


Team Dynamics

Team Dynamics are how individuals within a group or team interact with each other.

The phrase was coined by Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist and change management expert in the early 1940s.  He observed that individuals in a team often take on particular roles and behaviours (See also Belbin’s work on team roles).  He defined Team Dynamics as the effect of these roles and behaviours  on the other team members and the team as a whole.

A team with a positive dynamic is very easy to spot.  There are high levels of trust, there are collective decisions, there are clear accountabilities defined and the team hold each other to account.  These teams tend to be very creative.

Poor team dynamics are demonstrated by disruptive behaviour within the team, poor decisions or a lack of of decision making and a lower propensity to be creative.

What Causes Poor Team Dynamics? A group lacking in behavioural diversity i.e. everyone behaves in the same way with no one introducing a different perspective, resulting in poor decisions or lack of decision-making and a lower propensity for creativity.

Negative team dynamics can be created by any of the team members, including the team leader.  Some of the most common problems that occur include:

  • Lack of leadership: without a strong leader, a more dominant member of the team may take charge. This can have many effects including infighting, change of focus or a  lack of direction.
  • Blocking: when the behaviours in the team disrupt the flow of information. These behaviours are driven by individuals adopting blocking roles such as:
    • The aggressor who continually disagrees with others, or is inappropriately outspoken.
    • The critic who is constantly critical of others’ ideas.
    • The withdrawer who doesn’t participate in the discussion.
    • The recognition seeker the boastful individual who dominates the session.
    • The joker who introduces humour inappropriately.
  • Groupthink:  when a desire for consensus exceeds the desire to reach the right decision.  This is often referred to as the Abilene Paradox. This prevents people from fully exploring alternative solutions.
  • Excessive deference to authority: this can happen when there is a very dominant leader with whom the rest of the team want to be seen to agree.  This leads team members holding back from expressing their own opinions which in turn can lead to the best solution not being adopted
  • Free riding: when some team members start to coast, and leave their colleagues to do all the work. Sometimes these free riders can work very hard on their own, but do not contribute to team situations; this is known as “social loafing.”
  • Evaluation apprehension: when people feel that they are being judged by other team members, and hold back their opinions as a result.

How can you improve Team Dynamics? 

Know your team You need to guide the development of your team, helping them progress through Tuckman’s stages of team development.  Understanding that progression through these stages is part of the process of developing an effective team will improve your team dynamics.Using Belbin’s Team Roles can help you understand the value that each person brings to the team, and help you deal with potential problems early.
Tackle problems quickly Nipping problems in the bud is the key here.  If you notice inappropriate behaviour act quickly to challenge it.  Give effective feedback to ensure the team member understands the impact of their actions, and to enable them to change their behaviour
Define Roles and Responsibilities Without focus or direction poor team dynamics quickly emerge.  Use RACI or a similar tool to help you clarify Responsibilities, Accountabilities Consult and Inform requirements early on.  Hold people to account
Break down barriers Ensure that attention is paid to the forming stage both at the outset and if new members join.  Team building exercises or using the Johari Window model can be very useful here
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate Communication is vital to effective team dynamics.  When you define the roles and responsibilities ensure that the Consult and Inform are also defined clearly and stick to it.  If you need to make an announcement let all the team know as quickly as possible to ensure all have the same information
Pay Attention Be continually aware of the signs of poor team dynamics and take action as soon as you spot them

Beyond reasonable doubt – A step too far?

Beyond Reasonable doubt - a step too far?In employment matters how much evidence do you need to make a decision?

There is a lot of misunderstanding within business about the burden of proof necessary to take action such as dismissal.

We are all used to crime drama where the test is “beyond reasonable doubt”…. However, employment law is a form of civil law and the burden of proof required is the rather less dramatically phrased, “on the balance of probabilities”.  This can be described as, “what is more likely to have happened than not”.

In employment matters you need:

  • a reasonable belief that the act of misconduct occurred based on a reasonable investigation of the facts
  • to follow a fair and reasonable process,  and
  • To respond within a range of reasonable responses.

Lots of “reasonableness”, which is probably why it gets confused with the criminal standard of proof, but what does it mean in practice?

Reasonable belief – a Case in Point

A female employee (Emma) alleged that her manager (Tom) had bullied her over an extended period of time.  Grievance & disciplinary procedures kicked in.  Tom was dismissed and took a claim to the Employment Tribunal.

The Investigation

In this case we looked at the behaviour of both parties over time using witness statements about the specific incidents detailed in the grievance.  A view was then taken, based on the evidence, about whether the dismissing manager had a reasonable belief that misconduct had occurred.

The evidence included material confirming the following:

  • Tom had on several occasions made jokes, at the expense of Emma, in front of others
  • Tom had excluded Emma from conversations
  • Tom had made several comments that Emma and others had believed were of a threatening nature towards Emma
  • Tom had used his position as a special police constable to make threats towards Emma
  • Emma had raised an informal complaint about Tom’s behaviour, but the behaviour had continued.

The dismissing manager concluded, on the balance of evidence available, that Tom did bully Emma over a lengthy period.

Was this a Reasonable Belief?

If this belief was based on a reasonable investigation, which gathered evidence from a range of sources that were believed to be reliable and was appropriately documented, then it can be a reasonable belief.  In Emma’s case the investigation revealed plenty of evidence which supported her claim to have been bullied.

Was this a Fair and Reasonable Process?

The company disciplinary process was followed, based on ACAS guidelines, an investigation was completed, relevant notice was given for the hearing, Tom was offered representation, Tom was given an opportunity to challenge the evidence and the dismissing manager was not previously involved in the situation. On this basis it was held to be a fair and reasonable process.

Was the Response Reasonable?

The outcome of this grievance was a disciplinary process that resulted in Tom being dismissed for gross misconduct.

It was found that the misconduct alleged had, on the balance of probabilities, occurred, and this misconduct was clearly identified as gross misconduct in the disciplinary process for which one option open to the company was dismissal.

Alternative responses were considered and were rejected, for example demotion, move to another site, remedial training, meditation.  The consideration of these alternatives to dismissal was documented.

At appeal the original decision was upheld.

At Tribunal

Tom took a claim to the Employment Tribunal on the basis that he had been unfairly dismissed.  He argued that there was insufficient evidence on which to base a decision to dismiss him. .

The company were able to demonstrate to the ET that they had conducted a reasonable investigation, which had informed a fair & reasonable grievance & disciplinary process.  The breadth of the evidence relied on, the procedural propriety and the fact consideration of alternative outcomes had been documented all served the company well.  The ET was able to find, using the civil standard of proof, that the company were not at fault and the claim failed.


Grievance & disciplinary procedures may sometimes seem onerous, but if the situation is handled professionally from the outset, they are not difficult.  If managers are well informed, able to exercise professional discretion and comfortable with the processes involved then the chances of being able to demonstrate a “reasonable” approach are greatly enhanced.  Having the confidence to be “reasonable” could save you a lot of money, time and heart-ache.

If you would like some help to manage employment issues in a way that sets you up to have the best chance of winning if matters come to tribunal, contact us on:

 01926 633086


A competency framework to demonstrate continuing competence

In November 2016 the CPD hour ceased. The SRA have now moved to a continuing competence based approach to personal development. Solicitors are required by the SRA to make a declaration of competence to practise each year by demonstrating continuing competence, rather than completing 16 hours cpd.

But what do the SRA mean by competent?

SRA Continuing Competence

The SRA define competence as:

the ability to perform the roles and tasks required by one’s job to the expected standard (Eraut & du Boulay 2001).

In layman’s terms – the skills knowledge & behaviours to do your job well.

How do you measure continuing competence?

Using a competency framework, which defines observable behaviours, can be enormously helpful.  At Athena Professional we have  developed a continuing competence framework for the legal sector.  Our competency framework maps back to the SRA competencies, thus ensuring you are in a position to make your declaration of competence to practise.

If you would like to download our continuing competence framework please click here.

Competency Framework for the Legal Sector 2017.

And if as a result of reviewing this framework you would like to talk to us about how to demonstrate continuing competence please contact us.

The Abilene Paradox


From Organizational Dynamics, Summer 1988, pp. 17–43. © 1988 by the American Management Association, New York. All rights reserved.  The Abilene Paradox:The Management of Agreement – Jerry B. Harvey

The July afternoon in Coleman, Texas (population 5,607) was particularly hot— 104 degrees as measured by the Walgreen’s Rexall Ex-Lax temperature gauge. In addition, the wind was blowing fine-gained West Texas topsoil through the house. But the afternoon was still tolerable—even potentially enjoyable.
There was a fan going on the back porch; there was cold lemonade; and finally, there was entertainment. Dominoes. Perfect for the conditions. The game required little more physical exertion than an occasional mumbled comment, “Shuffle ‘em,” and an unhurried movement of the arm to place the spots in the appropriate perspective on the table. All in all, it had the makings of an agreeable Sunday afternoon in Coleman—this is, it was until my father-in-law suddenly said, “Let’s get in the
car and go to Abilene and have dinner at the cafeteria.”

I thought, “What, go to Abilene? Fifty-three miles? In this dust storm and heat? And in an
unairconditioned 1958 Buick?”

But my wife chimed in with, “Sounds like a great idea. I’d like to go. How about you,
Jerry?” Since my own preferences were obviously out of step with the rest I replied,
“Sounds good to me,” and added, “I just hope your mother wants to go.”

“Of course I want to go,” said my mother-inlaw. “I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”
So into the car and off to Abilene we went.
My predictions were fulfilled. The heat was brutal. We were coated with a fine layer of
dust that was cemented with perspiration by the time we arrived. The food at the cafeteria
provided first-rate testimonial material for antacid commercials.
Some four hours and 106 miles later we returned to Coleman, hot and exhausted. We sat
in front of the fan for a long time in silence.

Then, both to be sociable and to break the silence, I said, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?”

No one spoke.

Finally my mother-in-law said, with some irritation, “Well, to tell the truth, I really didn’t enjoy it much and would rather have stayed here. I just went along because
the three of you were so enthusiastic about going. I wouldn’t have gone if you all
hadn’t pressured me into it.”

I couldn’t believe it. “What do you mean ‘you all’?” I said. “Don’t put me in the ‘you all’ group. I was delighted to be doing what we were doing. I didn’t want to go. I only went to satisfy the rest of you. You’re the culprits.”

My wife looked shocked. “Don’t call me a culprit. You and Daddy and Mama were the ones who wanted to go. I just went along to be sociable and to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in heat like that.”

Her father entered the conversation abruptly. “Hell!” he said.  He proceeded to expand on what was already absolutely clear. “Listen, I never wanted to go to Abilene. I just thought you might be bored. You visit so seldom I wanted to be sure you enjoyed it. I would have preferred to playanother game of dominoes and eat the leftovers in the icebox.”

After the outburst of recrimination we all sat back in silence. Here we were, four reasonably sensible people who, of our own volition, had just taken a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in a furnace-like temperature through a cloud-like dust storm to eat unpalatable food at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in Abilene, when none of us had really wanted to go.

In fact, to be more accurate, we’d done just the opposite of what we wanted to do. The whole situation simply didn’t make sense.

At least it didn’t make sense at the time.


JERRY B. HARVEY is professor of management science at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin, where he earned an undergraduate degree in business administration and a Ph.D. in social psychology.
A member of the International Consultant’s Foundation, a Diplomate of the American Board of Professional Psychology, and a member of the O.D. Network, he has served as a consultant to a wide variety of industrial, governmental, religious, and voluntary organizations. He has written a number of articles in the fields of organizational
behavior and education and currently is involved in the exploration of moral, ethical, and spiritual issues of work. In the pursuit of that interest, his book, The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management, was published by Lexington Books in 1988.


Does Culture eat Strategy for Breakfast?

It sometimes feels that no matter what you do in terms of strategy,  nothing really changes?

If so perhaps Peter Drucker’s question ‘ Does Culture eat Strategy for Breakfast?’  might give an insight  into what is getting in the way, to understand why it might feel that the organisation is facing in a different direction from the senior team.

Culture permeates through organisations creating the ‘feel’ of an organisation, affecting how things are done.  Often it is multilayered and different  cultures coexisting within one organisation.

If culture has such power what can you do to limit its impact?

There are thousands of different theories about organisational culture and the factors which will align your culture to your strategic objectives.  As fascinating as these theories are they often don’t offer the practical help to allow you to address your cultural issues.

We have found that four key factors that when addressed can make a significant difference:

Leadership approach

Every individual has personal preferences, this includes the leaders in your organisation.  When performing their leadership function they will favour those leadership activities and behaviours with which they feel most comfortable avoiding those which are on the edge or totally outside their comfort zone.

If the culture of your organisation is at odds with your strategic objectives, starting with your leadership team enables you to assess whether the leadership activities which will make the most difference are being performed.  Which these are  will vary dependent upon what you are trying to change and the make up of your leadership team.

Examining your leadership approach will give you a framework within which to develop your team.

Organisational behaviour

The accepted way of doing things effectively becomes your organisational behaviours. Changing behaviour is like breaking a habit.  Anyone who has given up smoking or some other addiction knows how difficult that can be.

Habits Triangle

Attitude is the biggest challenge to changing behaviour.

So how do you tackle attitude?

But consider how well your managers are equipped to manage behavioural performance?  Start by defining the behaviours that you want to see, with examples of positive and negative indicators, so there is a common understanding of these desired behaviours, then manage against them.

Do they have the right knowledge skills and attitude to be able to do this?

Organisational design
Organisational structures often evolve rather than be designed.

When they work effectively supporting the strategic objectives no one really notices.  When they don’t they can become a major obstacle.

Reviewing whether your structure is fit for purpose can make a significant difference.

Performance measures

Following on from the other factors, ensuring that
you are measuring the right things will enable you to encourage the right behaviours to deliver the results you need.

We all know from performance measures in schools and hospitals, if you measure the wrong things you will encourage behaviours which will undermine the bigger picture.

Identifying the right performance measures is the start, but you also need to equip your managers with the skills knowledge and attitudes to manage staff effectively.  Easy enough when the performance measures are being achieved not always so easy when they are not.

Athena professional can help you to ensure that rather than your culture eating strategy for breakfast it becomes the magic ingredient that makes your strategy a Michelin starred full english!.





Cup of Coffee?- A lesson in time management

On the first day of class, a university professor stood in front of his MBA class with an empty jug.

Without saying a word to his students, he started to fill the jug with golf balls.  When no more golf balls would fit, he passed the jug to the class and asked, “Would you say that the jug is full?”  His students looked at the jug and agreed that the jug was indeed full.
The professor then took the jug back and proceeded to place marbles into the jug.  The marbles started to fill the gaps between the golf balls.  After carefully ensuring that every gap between the golf balls was taken, he passed the jug to the class and asked once again if they thought the jug was full.  The class conferred and the general consensus was that the jug was full.

The professor took the jug back a third time and started to pour in fine sand.  Obviously the sand stated to fill the gaps between the golf balls and the marbles.  Once the sand had reached the top of the jug he asked the class a third time whether the jug was full.  This time his class chuckled and replied in unison, “took the jug back a third time and started to pour in fine sand.  Obviously the sand stated to fill the gaps between the golf balls and the marbles.  Once the sand had reached the top of the jug he asked the class a third time whether the jug was full.  This time his class chuckled and replied in unison, “Yes, it is now full!”

The professor took the jug back and emptied two small cups of coffee into the jug.  The liquid completely filled any remaining gap between the golf balls, the marbles and the grains of sand.  He then commenced his lecture.

He started with a question and asked the class what the filling the jug with golf balls, marbles, sand and coffee demonstrated.  One bright spark at the front of the class shouted out “It shows that no matter how full you think your schedule is you can always get a little bit more in.

The professor slowly shook his head, saying,

“I hope you realise that life is very much like this jug.  The golf balls represent the important things in life like beliefs, loved ones, family, health, things that you care intimately about.  If we lost everything else in life, our lives would still be ‘full’.  The marbles are the other things in our lives that are important, but our happiness doesn’t depend upon them.  Things like our work, our house, our car etc.  Finally, the sand represents everything else; the small stuff”.

“If we were to have filled our jug up with sand first, we would not have had enough room for the marbles or the golf balls.  If we use all our life and energy on the small stuff, we won’t have any room for the important things.”

After a brief moment of silence one of the students asked, “Professor, what does the coffee represent?”

“Ah, I’m glad you asked.” replied the professor. “It means that no matter how full your life is there is always room for a cup of coffee with a friend.”

Strategy, expectation and … action?

I keep hearing the same story from all sorts of different businesses; we’ve done the thinking, we’ve got a strategy that everyone agrees with… but nothing has changed!  Amongst those who are leading changes in business structure and profile there is bafflement:  Surely people can see the imperative?  Why do they keep doing the same things they have always done?

It reminds me of the old joke; how many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb?  One, but the light bulb has got to want to change.

And there is the conundrum; getting people to change behaviour ought to be easy.  No one is being asked to get into astrophysics overnight.  It should not be that difficult.  But it is.  Moving beyond rhetoric and into action requires individuals to choose to do something differently.

I’m special

OccasionallOld professor with a green apple on top of his head.y I hear about an individual who is driving everyone mad by simply not towing
the line.  Perhaps they refuse to use a new management system or they never turn up to events.  This person believes themselves to be special or different from everyone else.  They are convinced that in some way their situation is exceptional, i.e. change should apply to everyone except them.

Dealing with this person is hard, because fundamentally it means trespassing on the individual’s sense of who they are.  If they are rigidly adhering to a particular practice or excluding themselves from something, then it is likely that the behaviour serves some underpinning value or belief which will need to be tackled if they are to stay in the business.  Not an easy prospect.

The long grass

However challenging the maverick individual is, at least they are visible and the way to manage the situation is fairly easily identified, even if it is unappealing.

Perhaps a more difficult challenge arises when the majority of people pay lip service to the importance of change.  Quite quickly a kind of organisational paralysis sets in.  Those championing change get frustrated; those resisting change may be unaware of the impact of their intransigence, because don’t see the connection between agreeing to a strategy and implementing it through the way they think and act on a daily basis.  Soon the idea of change begins to be a drag.

Creatures of habit

I habitually Habits Trianglemake tea using a teapot.  I am aware that there are other (inferior) ways of making tea, but left to my own devices I’ll do what I always do.  I know that the tea tastes better if brewed in a pot.  I know that reduces the temperature of the liquid.  I have learned that if I warm the pot and the cup I can keep my tea hot.  Doing those things is easy and I chose to do them.  I like making tea this way, because I like hot tea.  I have the knowledge, the skills and the attitude required to make a really good cup of hot tea.  I routinely adapt when I’m out and about.  I can drink tea made in the mug.  I change my expectations and behaviour to suit the occasion.

Ok, there’s not much at stake in my example.   It is true though, that we default to our behavioural preferences most of the time whatever the activity in question is.  Being able to flex our behaviour to adapt to new demands involves being aware of our default position and consciously choosing to shift our ground.  Being self-aware and aware of impact of one’s behaviour on others is a starting point for change.

Time & investment

Creating changes in behaviour takes time and investment.  It requires a planned approach.  People need the opportunity to make changes in their daily work, and they need their efforts rewarded when they do.  Individual and collective evidence of success is crucial.

Bringing strategy alive

Our best successes in bringing strategy alive have been with organisations which are willing to address knowledge, skills and attitudes.  That openness enables us to use online learning, class-room based experiential learning and coaching to ensure that people;

  1. Know what they need to know and
  2. Have a chance to try out new skills and
  3. Are challenged and supported as individuals to make changes

Usually when we are delivering these programmes I have to make my tea in the cup, but you can’t have everything.