Remember when your history teacher kept interrupting?

March 4, 2016

A brief but important piece this time round.

Picture this – and you’ll have to imagine it because despite the question in the title, I bet it never happened. You are sat in a Maths class at school and just getting into some long division or a bit of algebra when in through the door bursts the history teacher who was teaching you the previous lesson.

“We didn’t cover it earlier but I just wanted to let you know, the Battle of Hastings was 1066 and Harold died when he was hit in the eye with an arrow!”

Then out she goes.

A little perplexed, your Maths teacher tries to remember where he was and carry on. Six minutes later, in comes your Geography teacher.

“I know I’ll be seeing you in class this afternoon, but I couldn’t wait to tell you that the best example of coastal erosion in the UK is at Barton-on-Sea and we’ll have a look later at some brilliant footage of the cliffs collapsing. Bye.”

“This is getting silly”, you think to yourself. And it is. Really silly. It makes the Maths lesson really unproductive for you in terms of learning anything, tires all the teachers out as they rush around trying not to forget to tell anyone anything that might be important, and generally leaves both teachers and pupils feeling stressed and like they’re not accomplishing important work nearly as fast as they should be.

Good job the workplace isn’t anything like this!

We talk a lot about this at our Foundations of Success workshops and it certainly stirs up some interesting conversations!



A PowerPoint failure victory!

February 4, 2016

A very interesting conversation took place yesterday when I went to meet with an L&D Director who had attended a Foundations of Success half-day workshop I ran recently in London.

Half way through running that workshop I had what seemed like a major disaster. The computer I was using to present slides packed in. I tried to access the file on a backup computer at the venue via my cloud storage but it was having none of it…so I ran the second half of the course without any slides at all.

What a nightmare!

Here’s the interesting part. In our meeting yesterday the lady I was meeting with told me that one of the reasons she was interested to work with me was the obvious depth of knowledge and genuine passion for the subject exhibited in being able to run the rest of the session effectively despite the technical glitch (or calamity as it felt at the time)!

Interesting stuff. Presentation experts always say that slides are a backup not the main event when you’re speaking or presenting. Yesterday for me was a stark reminder how true that is.

I knew the rules but not how to win!

February 18, 2015

In our house board games are big! We love them!

The old classics – Monopoly, Cluedo, Scrabble. There are some fantastic new kids on the block, our current favourite being Sequence.

One of the kids’ birthdays recently yielded a new delight – a game called Scotland Yard. There is great excitement in the house when a new game is being unveiled and the learning of the rules followed by those first few run-throughs is an almost-sacred ritual!


On this occasion I was not around when the cellophane was pierced and the game learnt. Neither was I present for the second and third outings. The rest of Team Howes had become fairly well versed in this new entertainment and I was at a significant disadvantage.

Finally I get to play and the kids explain the rules to me. This piece moves here. This card does that. You can’t lay this card when that happens. You must collect six of these before you can do this.

Ok, I think I understand the rules. But what’s the aim of the game? How do I win?

This was the bit that was not so well explained by the kids in their eagerness to get started…and beat me!

I find myself in the middle of the game, asking questions as we go and squinting at the tiny instructions without my glasses to try and make sense as we went along as to how the game eventually gets won.

Work can feel like that. Sometimes for the owners / leaders…often for staff. I know what I’m supposed to be getting on with, but how do we win? What does success look like? How does today, or this week really count?

We want (and for our own well-being, need) to succeed. Victories keep us fresh, energised and creative. Knowing the rules without having a clear and imminent sense of a goal to reach, a finish line to cross, it’s drudgery and no-wonder the productivity levels aren’t what they could be.

Whether it’s for yourself, or for those you lead, make it clear where the next finish lines to cross are, and make a deal of it when the tape is broken. Mine today was a short list of ‘Must do today’ tasks, the last of which was writing this blog. My prize – I’m off to make a fresh pot of very nice coffee!

10,000 Facts About Keys!

February 10, 2015

I popped in yesterday to a well-known high street store to get my watch strap repaired. The place also cuts keys. Loud and proud on the wall is a big sign:

We know 10,000 facts about keys.

Wow! That’s a claim. I commented to the only guy staffing the shop that I had no idea there was so much to know about keys. His reply was telling:

“There isn’t. I’ve no idea how they came up with that.”

He was clearly fed up with having to explain this to another customer. ‘They’ had done it again. The very use of the word ‘they’ gives so much away. He – the guy on the front line dealing with customers – had no involvement, connection or ownership of what ‘they’ had done.

People don’t so much like having things done to them, or thrown at them. People generally like to be involved, to feel valued and to be treated with a bit of general kindness – especially if they are the ones who have to live with the consequences of what is decided day-in and day-out…which ‘they’ never do.

I’ve seen this kind of thing happen so many times. To manage and lead well takes more time and requires extra effort but the benefits to be gained and the losses to be avoided by doing so are enormous, both on the happiness of staff and the profitability of the business.

It’s a good reminder to us all – Think very carefully before directing a sign to go up in someone else’s workplace that they have had, and want (as they will gladly tell the customers) nothing to do with.