It’s February: in Scotland, we’re replete with haggis and battered by Jigsaw puzzleStorm Henry, but we’re also battling with budgets for the next financial year. Can I ask you to pause for a second and ask yourself how much you’re planning to spend on upskilling your people? Is the training budget the first thing to go when funds are tight? It could also be the missing piece in your plan for success.

When you consider how much many businesses spend on employing people, it still comes as a shock to find out how little many invest in developing their skills. Research and experience bear out the fact that the most successful organisations are those where every member of staff knows what’s expected of her or him and is competent and confident to deliver.

Lost customers, expensive rework and wasted resources will cost you dear. So it could be worth a lot to your organisation to know where the skills gaps are and to plan the most economical way to fill them.  As a bonus, you could find out that the people working with you have hitherto hidden talents or potential that could enhance your business now or in the future.

How to go about it? You can use what you already know – brush off last year’s Performance Reviews, if you have them, and consider any skills development questions that haven’t been addressed yet.  More importantly, managers should make the time to sit down with every employee, and ask The Question. It’s a very simple one:

“What would help you to do your job better?”

But the real trick, and the one that will make the difference, is to really listen to the answer.


How often does someone say to you, in work or another context: “Just let me know if I can help” and you say: “Thanks, I will.”

And then you don’t.

Every ordinary one of us carries round a wealth of experience and wisdom, but we often fail to tap into that of others when it could really help us. Why? It could be pride that prevents us, a reluctance to bother someone, or just a (perceived) lack of time.

Sharing problems and wisdom has been part of the human experience forever; how else would knowledge of fire and the wheel have spread to the whole human race? And now, with 24 hour access to kindly talking apps, we can seek knowledge and information from across the globe instantaneously.

But there’s another way to share and resolve everyday worries, and I believe it is greatly under-used and under-rated. The posh term for it is “peer coaching” but I like to think of it as Constructive Coffee Conversations.

In my last post, I talked about the principles that lie behind a genuine coaching conversation (see Coaching: Just Another Buzzword?). Applied to a coffee session, or a walk in the park if you prefer, there is the potential to turn a moanfest into a constructive conversation that provides a way out for anyone feeling stuck. It can take as little as 10 minutes.

The trick is, if you are the one coaching, to ask open questions, always without trying to anticipate or provide the answers. Find out:

  • Where would your friend/colleague like to be at the end of this conversation?
  • What is the problem – what lies behind it?
  • What are the options for making a change? (Encourage imaginative, off-the-wall suggestions; have a laugh)
  • What will the friend/colleague do next to make the change happen?

Stay focused and if it seems appropriate,  reward yourselves with cake.

Here’s a quote that follows on from a very pleasant Constructive Coffee Conversation I had with a colleague who felt totally overwhelmed by “duties” and had no time for herself; she made a few small changes and I asked how that felt:

“I feel great. It’s felt quite empowering. It’s like the scales have fallen from my eyes and I can see how simple it is to resolve things by just taking action. Even very small changes have led to quite dramatic results already. It’s fantastic!”

Learn to be your friends’ best buddy, and then Coaching & coffeepass this around so they can learn to be yours.


Business loves buzzwords: in times past, I would amuse my Dad (by then, long retired) by collecting buzzwords and buzz-phrase2016 2Bees from the workplace. The more ludicrous they were, the better he liked them. A favourite was “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes”, but he was almost as amused/irritated by such everyday clichés as “at the end of the day”, and “going forward” (whoever wants their business to go backwards?)

Occasionally on the point of using such a phrase myself, I usually pull back in time; some part of me is imagining what he would say if he could hear me!

For some businesses, the word “coaching” is in danger of becoming a cliché which is at best misunderstood and at worst counter-productive. Coaching “skills” may be covered off in short workshops or courses, without participants really gaining a clear idea of how this powerful communication tool could, and should, be used.

(Best, perhaps, not to ask my opinion on tick-box training – another cliché?  In my view, if you undertake training that makes no difference, rather skip it and spend the day in the pub.)

So what is coaching, and what difference should it make to the way we communicate – at work, and elsewhere?

Coaching is not

  • A roundabout way of telling someone what to do
  • A vehicle for demonstrating your own skills and knowledge
  • A way of forcing someone round to your way of thinking
  • Advising, mentoring, training or counselling

It’s a much more exciting process, based on listening, questioning and challenging. It’s a journey which the coach must undertake with real curiosity and humility, always trusting that the person being coached already has the answers and the resources they need to move on. At the very most, the coach is turning the lens to reflect a slightly different view of the world.

Coaching is about

  • Believing in the ability of people to grow and change, to make decisions and to follow them through
  • Focusing on possibilities for the future (not past errors)
  • Allowing the person being coached to decide on her own best course of action
  • Being very curious to see what she will come up with – and prepared, often,  to be surprised at the outcome.

You know you’ve got it righBeet when the person being coached lights up and says “Thank you.”

You know you’ve got it right, when you can honestly say: “Don’t thank me; you did it all yourself”. That’s the buzz.


Getting off my bahookie

One of the changes I want to make this year is to write more.

The odd thing is – I really like writing.  Once my bahookie is on that seat, I can tap away happily and not notice time passing.  I put pieces together for Facebook (frequently) and a blog (less frequently) for my website, and I can spend absorbing hours designing training materials when I have a deadline to meet. My client newsletter is a pleasure to write – once I get around to it.

The odd thing is – I coach people day in, day out, to follow their dreams and break up the unfeasible into manageable “chunks” (all the time disliking the word “chunks”, but so far unable to find a better one).

The odd thing is – I love doing it, I know how to do it – and I have spent a whole year not getting around to it.

Fortunately, I too have a coach and a very good one. She it was who took me to lunch and winkled out of me my real objections. Put simply these were:

  •  It has to be good
  • I need to make time
  • I don’t want to write in my day job workspace

She succeeded in helping me to replace my lack of enthusiasm with a determination to do something – anything. Here I am, then: I have transformed my office, very simply, using a scented candle in a teacup, a desk lamp and a print of two people jiving against a vibrant background.  Dance music is playing through my headphones as I’m typing.

Sounds mad? The associations are clear in my mind, at least: four years ago, I couldn’t dance. And now I can. I knew I would love it but I put off learning for years (no time/am not fit/might not be good enough – sounds familiar?).JiversAndt it’s good to remind myself that when I started learning to dance, I almost gave up. I dislike not being good at things and anger threatens to take over when I don’t succeed straight away. I still stamp my feet like a petulant child on the dance floor when I’m struggling to learn a new step. My dance partners find this very funny.

So, I need to laugh at myself too, accept my failures, and just get my bahookie off the dance floor and back on this seat – bringing all that learning with me.


This wonderful, vibrant pastel drawing, by the way, is by Jo Sunshine Art from Maryhill, Glasgow.

Watch your language in the New Year

As a coach, I have an annoying habit. When the person I’m working with says she will try to change or do something, I say: “Don’t try.” Just that. Don’t try.

After a second’s pause, most clients get it. Brief irritation sometimes shows on their face. Then they usually say: “I will do/change whatever-it-was”.

I love the New Year. This year I was lucky enough to be spending a few days with relatives, mostly relaxing in their lovely Suffolk 16th century cottage. My brother-in-law, though, found time to mentor me over coffee on the changes I want to make in my life.

Here’s what we considered:
1. My key goals: financial, work, home and leisure
2. The changes I will make to my present way of doing things
3. The learning I will do on the way, formal and informal
4. The practical planning for getting on with it.

Vision boardFor me, a vision board works wonders. I pin up pictures and cartoons that illustrate what I’m going for and that make me smile.

Try it. Start every by day by looking at your vision and reminding yourself what it is you really really want. Then…stop trying and just do it.

Coaching and what it isn’t…

Coaching – it’s been a buzzword for some time in the world of business. It’s not always clear what is meant by it, and it isn’t – yet – a regulated profession.

The concept goes back further than you might imagine, anEtymology-of-coachd according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was first used in the 1830s to mean a tutor. It’s believed to have originated as a metaphor – as people travelled physically by coach from one place to another, so they can undertake personal learning journeys with the help of a coach or tutor. This is certainly the essence of what we mean by coaching today.

In his book, The Inner Game of Tennis, published in 1974, Timothy Gallwey proposed the idea that the opponent in the physical game of tennis is not the only opponent a player has to face; in reality, we can be hampered as much by our inner critic, which can undermine us with self-limiting beliefs, negative thinking and inner barriers.

So, how does coaching help? When a client comes to me with a problem, I start with the belief that the client herself already has the solution, and that my job is to accompany on her on a journey of exploration until she finds it. Sounds airy fairy? Maybe – but it works.

Through listening, questioning and challenging, the coach encourages the client to step back and find the internal barriers, recognise the opportunities and make the small changes that result in (sometimes) huge differences.

A client will often thank me for “finding” the solution to a problem; the honest answer is “I didn’t – you did!”

Sometimes, it’s easier to understand the nature of coaching by considering what it isn’t. Coaching isn’t about demonstrating your own expertise, telling someone how to solve a problem or even giving advice.

It is about holding the client to account, trusting her to decide the best way forward and helping her to develop the right attitude for continued success.

If you’re interested, you can see more on the history of coaching here.

Seeing the light of day

Have lived in the west of Scotland for more than half my life, I’ve developed an opportunistic approach to weather. We’ve had to thole a disappointing summer, so far at least, so that when the sun shone out of a cloudless sky yesterday, two planned meetings were held outdoors in beautiful settings.

Firstly, a catch up and some new ideas explored with my own coach and mentor on a very pleasant round walk beside the seaside at Troon Troon(with coffee and scones as a starting point, I need not add). It’s liberating to stroll and talk – ideas emerge in the sunshine that may not even see the light of day in a dull meeting room. The beach filled up as we passed, and the sight of beach picnics, cyclists on the front and ice creams just starting to melt made us forget we were working at all.

This was (indulgently) followed up by more excellent coffee and ideas shared with a former colleague from the Scottish Qualifications Authority, in the beautiful gardens of Lochgreen House Hotel. The business could have been done by email, I suppose, but he is an old friend too, so the talk just may have strayed to family matters and warm friendship.We both left the gardens refreshed in body and mind.

ILochgreens that so very bad on a sunny day?

Everyday courage

Inspiration can come from anywhere. I’ve just been chatting with the podiatrist (I’ll call her Kay) who comes to my house, and makes sure my feet are fit to keep dancing on! We’ve built one of those relationships that arise when you find yourself making conversation for 45 minutes every six weeks.

Less than a year ago, Kay’s husband died suddenly and unexpectedly. I met her shortly after that, and didn’t realise at the time how recently bereaved she was. She was at the “soldiering on/nothing else for it” stage, and was still working through the first anniversaries part of the process.

It being February and my first appointment of the year, Kay asked me how Christmas h2015 Crisis at Christmasad been (mine was fantastic – all twinkly lights, wonderful food and family jokes). I was more interested in how hers had gone and was hoping it hadn’t been too painful for her. It turns out that she and her daughter, also a podiatrist, had spent most of the holiday in London. They had travelled from Scotland and stayed there at their own expense for five days. Kay and her daughter were part of Crisis at Christmas: North London, where they gave their services to people in refuges and in homeless shelters, washing and tending sore, battered feet and providing both advice and socks. Kay said it had been a brilliant time, hard work in some cases and a great laugh much of the time.

One man’s plight struck her, she said. His feet were very bad and she asked the doctor to prescribe for him. His feet were a size 14 and he had to wear shoes that were much too small for him, with the backs cut out of them. Back home,  Kay’s thinking about how she can obtain a pair of size 14s and somehow get them to him. (Just let me know if you have a pair going spare – I’ll see she gets them).

So, for two ordinary women, Christmas could have been a time of mourning and despair. They chose to make it otherwise.  It’s the everyday courage of ordinary folk that continues to inspire me.



Once the pine needles and cinnamon scented candles are cleared away, our thoughts may well turn to the tempting idea of a new start in the new year, to changes being made and to projects finally undertaken. (I have my own list of goals or resolutions or outcomes, one of which is to celebrate an important birthday every day,  all year long.) Disney.gif

How do we turn dreams into reality? It’s actually crucial to spend time daydreaming about what life will be like once we have what we really want because that necessarily brings us closer to the reality. When opportunities come into view, we are able to recognise them. Walt Disney, that great dreamer and achiever, called this “imagineering”.

But there are pitfalls lurking in the New Year resolution list? The danger is either that we make too many resolutions and run out of energy before the end of January or conversely, that we put off making the changes that will make the difference to us.

Here’s a checklist for testing each of your goals or resolutions; if you can’t answer the questions, it may be that this particular goal should be reconsidered, postponed or –dare I say it – binned.

ARE YOU POSITIVE? Can you state your goal positively in the present tense?

“I’m definitely going to lose weight this year “  :(

“I am enjoying two sessions of exercise and eating healthily six days a week”  :)

ARE YOU FOR REAL? If you could really have it, would you take it?

“Well, I’d like to spend more time with the family but I can never get away from the office.”  :(

“I really want to spend two evenings with the children so I have planned changes to the way I work.” :)

 WHERE’S YOUR EVIDENCE? How will you know when you have what you’re aiming for? How will it feel, look, sound?

“I’ll manage my finances better this year”  :(

“When my turnover hits the projected £500,000, I’ll know that my business is sustainable. I will see the results on the balance sheet/I will feel very satisfied/I will hear good reports from my accountant”  :)

 WHO’S IN CHARGE? Is the change within your control?

“When my partner gets his/her act together, I’ll be so much happier”  :(

“Now that I know what it is I want, I can take the next steps”  :)

If every journey starts with a single step maybe it really is time to get those walking shoes on…



Hassly Christmas?

People have been asking me for some weeks now: “Well, areDSC_1292 cropped small you all ready?” – meaning, of course, have I reached the bottom of that mysterious list entitled ‘Christmas Preparations’. The answer’s always No. I’ll never be ready for Christmas; as soon as I cross things off my list, more appear as if by magic.

Where I am very lucky, though, is that generally no-one wants to see the likes of me over the Christmas or New Year holiday. Others are not so lucky -  those who work in the health and care sectors, the police and rescue services and many voluntary organisations, who have to keep working because people like us depend on them at all times. So, my thanks and good wishes go to them for their hard work and dedication over the festive time.

Fishing for a better 2015

This year, I’ve worked with a number of organisations who are going through change. imagesIt’s always challenging, and it seems that while a few people embrace it enthusiastically, for many of the rest of us, it can be a source of worry and even stress.

I came across the Fish! Philosophy while I was putting together some ideas for a new course; its principles, famously modelled after the high energy present at the Pike Place Fish Market, were created by John Christensen in 1998. Like all the best ideas, there’s a simplicity about it. Its practices are summed up as follows:

Be There: When people need you, they need all of you. Setting aside distractions and judgments to be fully present is a sign of respect. Not only that, but if you are fully present your communications will be more meaningful and relationships will be improved

Play: We all forget to do this, including me. Fish! argues that you can be serious about your work without taking yourself so seriously. Play is a mindset which allows you to throw yourself with enthusiasm and creativity into whatever you are doing. Opening your mind and  “playing” with ideas helps you find solutions to everyday challenges.

Make Their Day: Simple gestures of thoughtfulness, thanks and recognition make people feel appreciated and valued. When you make someone else feel good, you feel good too.

Choose Your Attitude: This is probably my favourite one: it is possible actually to choose how you respond to life, and not just react. When you get up, decide who you want to “be” today. Moment-to-moment awareness is key. Ask yourself throughout the day, “What is my attitude right now? Is it helping the people who depend on me? Is it helping me to be most effective?”

On screen

One of the pleasures of small business working is the people you meet. This year, once again, I have been lucky to make new business friends, as well as renewing auld acquaintance. I had a great time playing at being a TV announcer while working with Tosh Lubek of Tosh Lubek Productions. Tosh is an expert at putting you at ease in front of the camera, and he and I made three Top Tips videos in the space of a short afternoon. Here’s the link to the first one, Top Tips on Great Business Communication; two more will be “released” in 2015 (if I can cope with the pressures of being a celebrity! J)

Sending you my best wishes, I look forward to our staying in touch in 2015