What makes a great learner? 

Having operated in this learning and development space for the past two decades, I’ve amassed a significant tally of trainees, that have as it were learnt under my wing.  A very rough estimate puts it at around 7000 people.  In that time I’ve probably seen everything a trainer might expect to come across in a life time!  Truly the good the bad and the metaphorical ugly!  As a learner it might be very easy to blame the teacher for a poor learning experience, perhaps justifiably in some cases, but without doubt the mindset of the learner will make an enormous impact on the value of the intervention.  

I see this weekly, often daily.  I also see the contrast between groups of people that are truly ‘working’ the learning experience, and those that have to be pulled, nudged and cajoled into a learning zone.  It’s only happened once, but I remember one particular delegate many years ago sitting in their seat arms crossed, announcing to the group “I’m not doing this exercise, it’s not my learning style!”  For a short moment, I was speechless!

In my experience, great learners do seem to have some similar characteristics.  Here’s what I’ve found they have in common. 

They are inquisitive

Great learners are like little kids in the rock pool, inquisitively lifting rocks to find out what’s underneath.  They are like explorers, open to whatever they encounter on their expedition.  This openness to all possibilities is so helpful in learning.  Rather than casting off an idea, they engage with it and explore its credibility, questioning, exploring, developing their understanding.  

 They value their time

Great learners value their time so much that they totally commit to the learning experience, protecting that time jealously.  In contrast others consider learning time something that can be played with; phone calls made; emails completed all in the pursuit of perceived effectiveness.  The reality is they murder the opportunity to develop and at best leave with a few incremental improvements.  The learners that commit time, leave with rich insights and matured thinking.  They are very present, especially when attending remote workshops online, cameras on, committed to the experience.  

They go deeper

Great learners demonstrate the humility that recognises they can still learn, and they penetrate the depths of a topic.  Poor learners skid along the surface, seeing ideas as very simple in concept.  Putting learning preferences aside, great learners are willing to give a concept time and thought in order to extract its richness.  They will take the time to milk every last drop of insight before leaving the topic.  It’s like learning to play a page of music.  The player may grasp the basics of the piece, and manage to perform it.  But the great learners will work it, again and again, to nuance, to refine, to take every little part, explore timing, dynamics, expression, phrasing, rhythm, musicianship, technique, variation, interaction with others etc.  The deep dive brings deep learning and ultimately excellence in performance.  

Listen to Squeeze episode 35 for more on this topic.

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Now might be a good time to break out of your rut and realise your potential! 

I wonder how many of us feel that we haven’t yet reached our full potential.  I have no real idea if everyone thinks this or whether it’s just me?  I guess some people don’t care, others may feel that they’ve not reached their peak yet live happily with that thought.  If you are like me, it’s been a constant driver over many years.  Of course the potential of reward is motivating, but for me it’s something deeper, I love the challenge of doing better, achieving more, attaining, maximising my potential.  

I’m like it in business, but in other walks of life too.  I love the challenge of motorsport sprinting.  Sprinting is you a car and the track, and you are trying to find the perfect lap (a bit like qualifying).  I study the previous attempt, I try and work out where there’s more speed to be extracted and I strive to reach my true potential.  In business, I’m always tinkering away, at ways to improve the offering, bring innovative solutions, push ahead and achieve.  

Yet even with this inbuilt drive, I have a real tendency to plateau!  I’ve frequently found myself getting onto a rut and finding periods where I do not seem to progress.  Sometimes hose periods have been prolonged.  I remember a period when our business hit a turnover ceiling which lasted several years.  I was working hard, still wanting to grow the business, but for some reason we could not push past a certain threshold.  

It’s that brick wall thing I’ve recently been trying to break though again, and I think I have some insight!  It’s not ground breaking insight, it’s not even something that I’ve not been aware of in the past!  It’s that I’ve come to realise that in the past I have often failed to walk the talk!  And the talk is this…

If you do the same thing, you get the same thing!

So if you want something different, you have to do something different! 

This is much easier said than done.  I find that there can be many barriers in the way of doing something different.  Sometimes those barriers come in the form of other people, who are comfeartable!  That’s too comfortable to bother, too fearful to try.  

With all that said, maybe now is a really good time to break out and do something different.  I have certainly found the current remote working climate useful in making a move on my next achievement frontier.  So much has changed around about us; some things may never be the same again, but that’s OK, because it forces us to do something different.  If we do something different, it stands to reason we will get a different result.  The post covid world may create a momentum that forces people out of being so comfeartable.  

What change could you force right now that might lead to a greater realisation of your potential?  Get action orientated, work out what you need to try, and push through the barriers to open up an exciting new opportunity.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain.  

 

How to approach interviewing people remotely.  

The interviewers guide. 

Doing a good job of interviewing is harder than we might first imagine.  There are loads of things that we can get wrong, so getting some good training on this topic is a must for any recruiter.  For this blog, I’m going to assume you know what you are doing normally, and just focus on the key things that are different when holding that interview remotely.  

If you are interested, we have another blog which is the ‘interviewees guide’ – it’s definitely worth reading this if you are the interviewer!  

Here are some simple but important things:

Top Tip 1 – Ensure everyone uses their cam.  

The visual connection is so helpful for everyone involved, so make sure your team all have their cameras on.  This should not be optional!  Some may make excuses for not using their cams, but remember you are also selling the organisation to the candidate; if they can’t see, you are limiting their understanding and ultimately their interest in you.  

Explain to interviewees that this will also be required of them.  It would be very easy to bias your decision making if some candidates used cams and others didn’t.  

Providing the visual improves communication, you and the candidate will better understand each other if you have the opportunity to read the expression, body language, posture, gesture etc.  

By the way, the audio feed is often improved if everyone uses earbuds or headphones.  So consider making this a requirement too.  

Top Tip 2 – Think about your background!  

Even if you are interviewing from your own home, give some thought to the company image that you are projecting.  Some things are not variable, but as far as possible, make sure that your background is conducive for giving a helpful impression.  Check the detail, what’s in shot, move things around, tidy up etc to create as professional perspective as possible.  

Top Tip 3 – Bank your questions by interviewer. 

In face to face interviews it can be relatively easy for different interviewers to ask questions in a relaxed interchangeable way.  This is harder with remote interviewing.  Best practice is to be more rigorous about who’s asking the questions at any given point.  Group the agreed questions by interviewer and have them ask them all, before moving to the next interviewer.  

Top Tip 4 – Have an independent note taker.

Make sure that you assign note taking to someone who is not actively involved in the interview process.  You already have to manage the platform, coordinate the interviewers and probably ask your own questions.  That’s enough for any brain to cope with!  

In addition, it’s likely that you will be using the microphone within your laptop.  If you are typing on it at the same time, there is an added audio challenge (of the sound of your typing) making harder for everyone.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain.

How do I come across well in a remote interview?  

The interviewees guide.

It’s already a part of work life; holding and or attending interviews remotely happens regularly.  In this first of two parts on the subject we are going to take a look at the question from the interviewees perspective.  Next time we can deal with the interviewers viewpoint.  

For a start lets state the obvious, an online interview needs to do all the good things that you would expect in a traditional interview.  So here I want to deal with some ideas that might be specifically useful for a remote interview scenario.  

Top Tip 1 – What’s the place like?  

You get a significant amount of helpful information when you turn up physically for an interview.  I’m thinking about cultural indicators and clues.  Simple things like; What’s the building like? How are people generally dressed?  Whats the mood?  Is it a vibrant noisy place, or quieter and more formal.  

These cues are very helpful in gauging how to pitch yourself in the interview.  They are small but significant indicators that you lose in remote interviews.  

To counter for this you need to do a bit more research than normal.  Specifically look for ways to get a feel for the organisation over and above the technical aspects.  What can you learn about the organisation from the google street view, the style of the twitter feed, imagery on the website etc.  

Build up a picture that profiles the organisation and people to help you fine tune your approach. 

Top tip 2 – Know what platform you will be using.

There’s nothing worse than coming across poorly because you are struggling with the technology.  If at all possible find out what platform they will use to host the interview.  Often it will be a public system, which means you can gain access and familiarise yourself with the facilities and options beforehand.  Maybe you will need to make a presentation during the interview; find out how to do this in good time.  Work out what’s needed to share your screen, and by the way, make sure you have set your computer background to something neutral and suitable!  

Top tip 3 – Consider your opening sequence. 

First impressions are still important when attending an online interview, so make sure you give good consideration to your opening sequence.  Ensure you arrive punctually, this is not an option!  Show positivity and enthusiasm in a natural way.  Be clear and comfortably concise, answer questions once and stop talking, avoid any waffling.  This is a real danger when you can’t see the interviewers on the other end of the conference.  

We’ve all seen those adverts when the interviewee has dressed smartly on top, but is in shorts and flip flops from the waist down.  It’s comical, but honestly, it’s not going to help you put yourself across.  Dress right down to the shoes you would have worn in the old interview world, and give yourself that extra edge of professionalism in your whole positioning.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain. 

Two new things we have learnt about remote working

We’ve been digital nomads for decades, but the past couple of months has escalated our combined experience exponentially.  It would be great to hear from you about what you’ve learnt, but here are two things that we’ve discovered working with a range of our clients.  

People may be spending too much time on online conferencing!

There seems to be a new overload for many people.  It’s always been too much email, but now people are talking about too much conferencing.  It’s eating into peoples work time and adding to the probability of stretching the working day at either or both ends.  Sensible teams are agreeing limits for themselves, but others are drowning in them.  

Digging a little deeper, it seems that poor conferencing behaviour is slowing things down.  Like allowing a few to dominate, limiting the collaboration rather than helping it.  We are recommending that online conferencing needs ‘super good’ facilitation skills, they also seem to benefit significantly from an independent chairperson.  

It’s too easy for a chair who has a stake in the outcome, to bias the conference rather than focusing on inclusion and collaboration.  We are hearing a lot of people airing this type of frustration.  Quieter people are metaphorically being pushed to the back of the room.  

A single place of work is helping people cope with the division of life. 

On a more positive note, some best practice is emerging in regard to remote worker wellbeing.  Many of us are used to and comfortable with the division of work and home, that of course has been utterly destroyed in recent weeks!  Normally we might expect to have the commute as a cool down period, our unwind that helps us transverse these two worlds that we inhabit.  Now, we might be working one minute and then find ourselves dealing with a domestic crisis the next!  This is stressful and most of the time pretty uncomfortable.  It can easily lead to a range of frustrations, disappointments, embarrassments and more.  

So what can we do about it?  Well, one emerging practice that can help is the creation of a single place of work in the home.  Now don’t get this out of proportion, this doesn’t need a  £15k cabin in the garden.  It can in fact be the corner of the kitchen table, but the point is, it’s always that corner.  We create a place that is work and treat it as if it’s only work.  When you sit there you are in work mode, therefore to deal with anything other than work you step away from that place.  

It seems that adopters of this practice are finding it easier to segregate work and home.  It’s no less dynamic; you might be working away one minute and then need to deal with a domestic crisis the next, but the point is, you literally get up and step away from the corner of the kitchen table to deal with the domestic.  You and others in the property increasingly understand the division, and it helps the mind to cope with the interchange between these two worlds.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Becoming the person I want to be! 

Is there a part of you that doesn’t yet fulfil the personal aspiration that you might have for yourself?  I suspect there will be something where you feel you’ve not regularly attained the standard that you would like to live out.  It could be any number of things that leave you feeling short of the desired mark, but I’m here to suggest to you that it’s high likely that you can enable the change and become that person that you want to be.  

It stands to reason that the ‘ideal you’ will be a mirror of some previous human behaviour, something that others have on occasions attained, so if they can do it, let me tell you, so can you!  

There are two really important things to becoming the person you want to be.  One is to set yourself some ‘who goals’.  Have a read of my previous blog post on this topic.  

The second is to act on your decisions.  Execution is everything.  No really!  

There’s a proverb that says:

‘Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.’

I agree it seems a bit harsh!  Not many of us would willingly take up the label ‘sluggard’; but the principle is simple, the ant may be diminutive but it is super good at execution.  

Someone else (don’t ask me who) has said ‘the harder I work, the luckier I become!’  Becoming the person you want to be, doesn’t require luck; truly, it is not a real phenomena!  Anyone who is relying on luck to succeed is staring at failure.  Those that succeed are those that execute on their plans.  Always remember, a dream is a dream until you do something about it!  So do something about it!  

Nothing in life happens without a sequence of events, so work out the sequence of events necessary to make the changes you want to make, write them down, set deadlines to achieve them and start executing!  It doesn’t even matter if the crowd is travelling in a different direction to you, let’s face it, going with the crowd is accepting mediocrity.  It’s those that break away from the crowds direction and execute on their dreams that will make a real difference.  Become a prominent leader in your own life (along side others) and start to act on your decisions.  

If this has stirred you, I suggest you also have a listen to Squeeze the podcast episode 30.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain.

Can you all hear me?  Why your volume really matters, when presenting.

Once upon a time in a land far away, public speakers learnt the great art of projecting their voices.  It was before amplification, yet some could fill those colosseums just with their lungs.  Later the theatres and churches would respond to the sound of a single voice, clear and loud.  They had learnt how to use their vocal instrument to the fullest, with great effect.  Over the centuries and particularly since the modern era of electrical amplification, much of this potential has been put on ice.  No longer do we make a connection between presenting and the need for volume in their voice.  

Now I know that most of us will never need to fill a great hall with nothing but our own voice, but there is still something super important about using volume when I stand up to present.  

In workshops I often get people to walk to the front of the room and present a short sentence so that we can calibrate the volume (and speed) of their voice.  In most cases I’m encouraging people to find a slightly louder voice.  If you imagine a ‘Marshall guitar amp’ volume knob; which goes from 0 to 11, I’m often asking people to up their output by at least a couple of points.  The impact is amazing.  This slight increase feels so much more confident, so much more commanding and capable.  

At no point do we need to shout, just use our voice to ‘present’.  It might be helpful to think about ‘filling the room’ with sound.  Unless you are in a big hall, imagine that your voice needs to fill every corner of the room – every wall, the ceiling, the floor, and right up into every corner of the room.  

It helps to breath well, right from the pit of our diaphragm muscle, rather than breathing in our chest.  Like any wind instrument, the volume of air is the thing that makes the difference with volume.  The voice is no different.  When you begin to present, pause, take a deep breath; and start with a confident strong voice.  Keep your pace a little slower too so that you can focus on giving the words full due, rather than a quiet rushed tone.  

Give it a try, I guarantee that you can be much louder than you think before it becomes over done.  So practice giving a good volume and build up an understanding of what level works well for you personally.  Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues what they thought, feedback will only help you to refine the perfect presentation level.

The likely outcome; everyone will be amazed at how confident you sound and appear, no matter what nerves maybe hidden under the surface.  

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

PS:  There’s more on this topic in episode 29 of Squeeze.  

Is now the time to give things away?

Perhaps the current Covid crisis has shown both the best and the worst of humanity.  We have all witnessed and even taken part in the extremities of human behaviour ranging from the utterly selfish (the toilet roll grabbing), to the utterly sacrificial (putting oneself in danger for the benefit of others).  Maybe it’s caused a number of us to re-evaluate how and why we contribute to society for the greater good?  Could it be that now more than ever before, it’s time to give consider giving things away?  

I’ve always been quite a fan of the idea that generosity is a very noble value.  It’s something to aim for in many walks of life.  It’s also something we can all attain, no matter how relatively rich or poor we may feel.  

If you can imagine this, it’s like we are all walking around carrying a bucket load of water!  Some people we interact with are a drain on this, our resource bucket.  Every time that we interface with them, they seem to take a little more from us.  They metaphorically grab a mug, dip it into our bucket, and fill it to the brim, and then slosh it into their own bucket.  Every time they leave us a little lower than we started.  

However, some people are the complete reverse.  It’s as though, with every interaction they take from their own bucket and pour into ours.  These people are true givers.  They in some way, they somehow, always leave us feeling topped up and richer for the interaction.  

I love this idea.  What if everyone was like this.  Parents to kids, kids to their teachers, managers to their staff, staff to their peers, train conductors to the public etc etc.  How much better would the world be?  I guess in part that’s what we are seeing in some peoples response to Covid.  Cadburys nailed it with that advert where the old neighbour keeps throwing back the kids balls, frisbees and anything else that ends up in his garden, then the kids throw over a bar of chocolate and shout out “you don’t have to throw that one back Mr Smith”.  

I wonder who you will interface with today.  How will you leave them?  Bereft or enriched?  

Yesterday was my first day back at work after a week doing some decorating, reading, making music and forgetting entirely about work.  On reflection my return to work wasn’t generous, sadly I think I was a drain on my colleagues resources.  So today, I’m going to do my best to be the guy that leaves others feeling they benefited in some small way from interacting with me.  How about you?  

Interested in this topic, listen to Squeeze Episode 28.

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Making Meetings Matter

It’s about time we started to make meetings matter a little more.  I’ve recently had several people tell me that they are expected to be in meetings nearly all day long (both physical and virtual meetings) and they have not time to get the real job done!  That cannot be sensible!

Improving this is so simple, it just takes a little common sense and the guts to challenge the status quo.  

I have one essential, and eight rules that can transform your organisations meetings so that they matter.  

The essential:

Every meeting must have a clear purpose.  

Understanding that purpose helps us to know what our likely contribution would be and therefore helps us to prepare that contribution in advance.   Attendance at any meeting is only valid when we have some form of contribution!

There are only ten common reasons for a meeting, five are to do with the fact ‘they want’ something, and five are related to what ‘they are’ doing.  If your meeting does not fall within one of these categories, then simply forget it, you don’t need it!  

Here are the valid things ‘they want’:

  • A decision, 
  • to generate ideas, 
  • to solve a problem, 
  • to build relationship, 
  • to learn from the past.

Here are the valid things ‘they are’ doing:

  • Getting an update,
  • communicating something,
  • making plans,
  • exploring options, 
  • persuading others (sales). 

Don’t accept failure, if the chairperson has been unclear about the meeting purpose then raise the challenge.  If you are the chairperson, it’s easier, work it out and make sure you have a very clear purpose.  My personal recommendation is that the best meetings only have one purpose, they are shorter, more focused and stick to a pre agreed time limit in order to achieve that purpose.  

So for example we might state; this meeting is to explore cost options for the new customer solution, and will be completed in 40 minutes.  

Be specific about the time period, it will condition everyone to work at an appropriate pace, and help to keep everyone on point.  

The eight rules

Then consider what rules will be helpful to make meetings matter.  Here are eight suggestions:

Rule 1: Run meetings as you would have others run meetings that you attend

This is the fundamental rule of good meeting management.  Running an effective meeting or being a good meeting participant is all about being considerate of others and their time.  All of the other rules flow from this principle.

Rule 2 : Is a meeting needed?

Carefully assess how often routine meetings really need to be held.  For

example, if you have daily staff meetings, how productive are they?  Can they be held less frequently? Or, perhaps they can be held standing up somewhere and kept to a few minutes?  Staff meetings are crucial vehicles for maintaining good communication in the office, but it is important to find the right balance between good communication and productive use of time.

Rule 3: Prepare

Distribute the meeting agenda before the meeting and make sure everyone has access to any relevant background materials.  Participants, of course, have the obligation of reviewing the agenda and background materials and arriving at the meeting prepared.  If the meeting organiser has not provided adequate information about the objectives of the meeting, the participants should take the initiative to ask.  No one should arrive at the meeting not knowing why they are there and what is supposed to be accomplished during it.  

If there is nothing to put on the agenda, the organiser should ask themselves whether there really needs to be a meeting.

Rule 4: Have clear roles

There are many important roles to be carried out during a meeting and these can be spread out amongst the delegates.  The chair or facilitator may delegate these to individuals which helps to share the responsibility of the success of the meeting with more people.  These roles can be; chair or facilitator, timekeeper, scribe or notetaker, rabbit hole monitor (to stop the meetings being side-tracked), flip-chart writer and many more.

Rule 5: Set the rules

The most successful meetings are those where ground-rules are agreed at the start of the meeting.  If you wait until it happens in the meeting your are too late and the offending person may feel picked upon.

Common ground-rules might be: 

  • Phone/blackberries switched off
  • Treat others with respect by listening without interrupting
  • Everyone is entitled to their opinion
  • Confidential issues should be kept confidential outside of the meeting
  • Timings must be kept to, people should be back promptly after breaks
  • If you disagree be honest and say so

Rule 6: Stick to a schedule

Start and end the meeting on time.  Starting on time requires discipline by the organiser and the participants.  Arriving late shows a lack of consideration for all those who were on time.  If the participants know that the organiser is going to start the meeting at the right time there is a much greater likelihood that the others will make the effort to be punctual.  Remember ‘behaviour breeds behaviour’

Finishing in a timely manner is also crucial.  If everyone agreed that the meeting would last an hour, the meeting should not run any longer that that.  Keeping the agenda realistic is important, of course.  Finally, if only 20 minutes are required to accomplish the objectives, the meeting should end then.

Except for emergency meetings, the time for which the meeting is scheduled is also important as arranging meetings after the working day and at unusual times can have a negative impact on morale and interest in the meeting.

Rule 7: Stay on topic

Most groups have at least one person who tends to go off on a tangent (or down a rabbit hole) or tell stories during meetings.  Whether this is the organiser or one of the participants, all participants have a responsibility of gently guiding the meeting back to the agenda items.

Anything which is brought up which is not on the agenda can be put forward as an agenda item for another meeting.

Items which are mentioned which are in a later agenda item can be ‘parked’ by writing them on a white board or flip chart so that they are not forgotten about later on.

Rule 8: Have an action plan

Make sure you wrap up meetings with a clear statement of the next steps or actions to be taken.

Actions should be noted with; the what, the when and by whom they are going to be completed by.

This is crucial, if participants leave the meeting and no one is accountable for taking action on the decisions that were made, then the meeting will have been a waste of everyones time.

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

Supporting teams facing pressure and uncertainty

The clue to this blog is in the title, when people are facing pressure and uncertainty they need bosses and organisations that will support them!  

A key to this ‘support’ is to create what we like to call a ‘comfortable community’.  This is one of our 4 C’s of high functioning teams, we’ve have posted on this topic before, you can read it here.  In this post I wanted to expand on what a comfortable community looks like in practice.  

If we draw a circle, then everything within it becomes our community, our inside world.  Everything outside for these purposes are excluded from our community (See diagram). 

In the outside world, danger is in fact a constant.  It’s worth considering that the outside world will at least frustrate the community, and at worst kill it!  In days of old, perhaps that outside threat came from the weather or tigers!  For us today, there are a whole lot of other, more modern dangers at large, all aiming to threaten us.  Things like economics; social change; competition; electoral change; technology change; pandemics and other such catastrophes.  

Within the comfortable community, our inside world, danger is not a constant but a variable.  It should be a place where the leaders set the environment of support and protection.  Inside we should be removing fear of internal danger.  The safer our inside world the better equipped we will be to fight the external dangers.  Simply energy spent on fighting internal dangers reduces our capacity to deal with the external.  There are a number of interesting examples of this around the world.  Occasions when (for example) companies had everyone take 4 weeks unpaid leave rather than making some staff redundant.  They protected everyone in the community. 

Supporting teams facing pressure and uncertainty requires us to reduce the threats within that we can control.  We should ask what we should do to make the community as safe as possible. 

There are important questions to ask, such as how big is your community?  Who do you let in? How strong or weak is the circle?  How porous is it?  

If these things are clear, we need to work away at making it as safe and supportive a place as we possibly can.  This take focus effort and resources, you have to invest in creating a comfortable community.  It won’t happen by accident!  

More on this topic in episode 26 of Squeeze the podcast.

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain

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