Friday Reflections - Neurodiversity Celebration Week

Friday Reflections

This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week, the purpose is to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences. It aims to change the focus from the challenges of neurological diversity and transform how neurodivergent individuals are perceived and supported, recognising the talents and advantages being neurodivergent brings.

As a severe dyslexic who was in many remedial classes as a child and who’s educational psychology report referred to a “gifted child who is retarded when it comes to language.” I appreciate the term neurodiversity which to me is non-judgmental and advocates inclusion. Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences should not simply be viewed as deficits.

I also appreciate that neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, but is often used in the context of autism or ADHD and other conditions previously referred to as learning disabilities. However, I am going to the focus on the area I feel qualified to talk about which is dyslexia.

I had no reading or writing age when I was tested at 9. But I was lucky to be spotted and tested, dyslexia wasn’t as well known when I was at school. At my school we sat in form order, with the bright kids in the back row, the mediocre kids in the middle row and the thick kids in the front row. I use that language purposefully, as that is how the system made us feel.  We moved around for each lesson and normally kids stayed in their ability row. I stood out as I went from top in maths to bottom in English etc. jumping from the extremes of the capability seating plan. I then went from top in maths to bottom. When they looked into this, they realised that the boy who had been sat next to me in maths had moved seats, and that as he had been reading me the questions, without his support I could no longer do maths. I was lucky, as this led to me being tested and ultimately to getting specialist support which taught me in different, probably more complicated way, that made sense to me and allowed me to overcome the challenges I faced in school and mask my different way of thinking so I could get by.

I saw my dyslexia as a disadvantage, I saw it as something I had to cover up and overcome not just in order to fit in but in order to get by in life. I saw it this way as that is how it was always presented to me. There is a great Ted talk by Dean Bragonier titled “the true gifts of a dyslexic mind”. In the talk he talks about neuro pathways in the brain and how the axons that connect to minicolumns which make up these pathways vary in length. He quotes science which I haven’t substantiated, but I like the idea of, that determines the varying degree of axon length has a profound impact in the way we think. Where those with autism having far shorter axon lengths between minicolumns enabling them to process incredibility detailed and highly specific information, whereas with dyslexics these axon lengths are far longer leading to other advantages, where we can make sense of seemingly disparate information and create a meaningful narrative others may not see, perhaps a bigger picture. This ability leads to success in certain fields, such as entrepreneurship, architecture, engineering and the arts. However, these longer pathways mean we find it incredibly difficult to do the phonetic decoding – needed to translate letters and words.

He goes on to point out that before reading and writing became the stable benchmark to assess kids progress in education we learnt from watching and doing, from kinaesthetic learning and dyslexics excelled. Since then the education system based on reading and writing has essential locked out the 20% of the population who are dyslexic.

As an intelligent child that couldn’t do the things everyone else around me was seemingly doing easily – reading and writing – it was highly frustrating and demoralising. You are constantly presented with situations where this view of yourself is reinforced and you become ashamed of your failings, and apparent stupidity. Now I was lucky, I was spotted, tested and given expert support, however, I have no doubt that without the support my path would have been very different.

In his talk Dean quotes that in the states, while 20% of the population are dyslexic, a disproportionate 60% of all young offenders have dyslexia. Intelligent kids disenfranchised by a system that sets them up for failure. Afterall if a child is repeatedly made to feel like a failure there is a good chance that is what they will become.

On the flip side we can see that when dyslexic minds are empowered, dyslexics like Einstein, Picasso, Da Vinci, JFK, Richard Branson, Mohamid Ali, then anything is possible. Apparently 40% of all self made millionaires are dyslexic as are 50% of NASA scientists.

Cambridge University released research by Dr Helen Taylor last year that not only expounds the case that developmental dyslexia give advantages it sights that dyslexia is essential to human adaptive success. The research concluded that people with dyslexia are specialised to explore the unknown, which plays a fundamental role in the ability for humans to adapt to changing environments; crucial to our survival. According to Dr Taylor “The deficit-centred view of dyslexia isn’t telling the whole story. We believe that the areas of difficulty experienced by people with dyslexia result from a cognitive trade-off between exploration of new information and exploitation of existing knowledge, with the upside being an explorative bias that could explain enhanced abilities observed in certain realms like discovery, invention and creativity.” The theory is that our ancestors evolved to specialise in different, but complementary, ways of thinking, which enhances human’s ability to adapt through collaboration. These cognitive specialisations are rooted in a well-known trade-off between exploration of new information and exploitation of existing knowledge.

Exploration encompasses activities that involve searching the unknown such as experimentation, discovery and innovation. In contrast, exploitation is concerned with using what’s already known including refinement, efficiency and selection. The researchers highlight that collaboration between individuals with different abilities could help explain the exceptional capacity of our species to adapt.

What is clear to me is that when we see those who approach challenges, whose who think differently, as lacking something or being deficit in an area then we not only do them a disservice we miss out as a society or a business.  This huge delta in outcomes between the 60% of young offenders and 40% of self-made millionaires is clearly largely down to the support and nurture we are given when at school or in the workplace. Now I have speaking about the area I know a little about, dyslexia, but I think the essence of the example applies to any type of neurodiversity. If we harness the different ways of thinking, if we embrace it then we can, not only support people to get by, but we can unleash genuine capabilities and brilliance to the benefit of all.

‘neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general.’ Blume (1998)


Friday Reflections

Friday Reflections

Last week I was walking back from our Darlington office and came across the carpet of Crocuses that Vic has hopefully added to this post somewhere, I have always loved Crocuses. They announce spring to me like no other plant – to me they trump the daffodils and snowdrops.

I love that they can appear anywhere, that they can be blue, white, yellow or purple seemingly in the same patch and, that like daisies they are one of the few flowers we happily tolerate in a well-tended lawn. Having already said Crocuses twice I can confirm that the vernacular plural of crocus is a personal choice so either a carpet of crocuses or a chorus of croci is fine to use.

From what I have read the name Crocus comes from the Greek work for Saffron – as the Saffron Crocus is where the spice is harvested from and then used in cooking, for fragrances and for dying. Many people associate the crocus with happiness, rebirth, joy and cheerfulness. It is generally recognized as a symbol of hope that the dark days of winter are at an end and that life will return and flourish.

The different colours also hold symbolic meaning – white for honesty, truth, and purity. Often used at both funerals and weddings. The purple crocus flower symbolizes hope, dignity, success and pride. Orange for hardiness, blue sadly for those who are disheartened and yellow for love. Buddhist monks favoured dying their robes yellow because they associated the Saffron flower with humility and renunciation.

The Crocus appears in the traditional Jewish Song of Solomon. The flower being the symbol of spirituality and is dedicated to St. Valentine (which makes sense given the time of year).

Greek mythology tell the story of the mortal youth named Crocus being a lover of the Messenger God Hermes. The lovers were said to be undertaking athletic pursuits when a discus thrown by Hermes hit Crocus upon the head, mortally wounding him. The grief-stricken Hermes transformed his lover into a flower, and three drops of blood, that had fallen from the head of Crocus, became the stigmata of the flower (which is the saffron).

This alternate version of the Crocus myth say’s that the mortal Crocus was in love with the nymph, Smilax. Sadly the love offered by Crocus was either unrequited or forbidden, so he died of a broken heart, the Gods in their pity transformed him into the flower.

Both myths are tragic, but both symbolise a romantic devotion. Roman myths also refer to the Crocus as an emblem of love, often used in love potions.

I love how such a unintrusive and undemanding little flower can elicit so much symbolism and generate its own myths, stories and meanings. How it can represent love and rebirth, how it bides its time through the hard months of winter and reappear with full flourish as the first signs of a warm sun. the lesson is gives us is perhaps best summed up by Miss H.F. Gould in her book The Poetry of Flowers:

“Many, perhaps, from so simple a flower,

This little lesson may borrow,

Patient today, through its gloomiest hour,

We come out the brighter tomorrow.”

 


Friday Reflections - Personal Development

Friday Reflections

I am not a big fan of annual appraisals, I’m much more of an advocate of regular 1-2-1’s. I often find appraisals can prove to be a negative experience were people only take away the ‘constructive’ feedback, however, much positivity is given. Clearly feedback should never be saved up for once a year and appraisals can too easily become about the system or the process losing site of the value to the person.

Manager: “This is your revised salary, keep it confidential.”

Employee: “Don’t worry, I am equally ashamed of it!”

We all know that employee engagement drives the success of any organisation, highly engaged employees are far less likely to leave their roles and the Companies with higher engagement report significantly higher profitability – the correlation between engagement and business success has been demonstrated repeatedly.

A Gallup study revealed that 70% of the variance in employee engagement can be attributed to the line manager – 70% – a bad manager will trump your culture every time. I read that employees who have received meaningful back from their manager in the past week were four times more likely to be engaged to work. Frequent and constructive feedback given in the right way will nurture trusted relationships that should empower the employee.

This is way I have implemented a regular 1-2-1 process everywhere I have worked. However, in focusing on 1-2-1’s there is danger that we only discuss the current state of play and miss the longer-term planning and aspirations. Whilst I believe the regular feedback is hugely important, employees also need to be able to relate to the opportunities they perceive they have in terms of personal and career development. They need to feel they are growing professionally, see a path to advance, recognise that their job enables them to learn and develop new skills and feel they have a manager who is encouraging and supportive of their development.

This way we have focused development conversations that sits alongside the 1-2-1’s. The aim is to produce a personal development plan for individual that supports them to breakdown and achieve their longer term aims. The way we do it is to ask the them to complete a personal SWOT analysis prior to the conversation so they have already considered what they perceive to be their strengths and their opportunities to develop. We then use this as the foundation of the conversation to uncover their career aspirations and design their personal development plan.

In the conversation we take their goal and break it down into individual objectives – these maybe aimed at developing new skills, experiences, knowledge, confidence or breaking down barriers and blockers they may have. Even as a Training Company we recognise the 70/20/10 ratio of learning so often this isn’t about sending people on a course but providing access to different experiences: observing others, evaluating good and bad examples, researching and presenting back a topic, working in different areas, taking on added responsibility, working with a mentor, leading meetings, training others, modelling behaviours, working with others both internally and if possible in other organisations etc etc.

From a Company perspective the process also allows us to highlight those that have high potential, that are ambassadors for our culture or that are critical job experts – so we can ensure their plans are appropriate for them – ensuring the talent is challenged and developed so they stay, that the behaviours and approach of our cultural ambassadors are celebrated and recognised and that the information contained with the critical job experts is disseminated.

We then work with the individuals over to the course of the year to review how they are getting on in delivering the plan. We will help shape it, provide opportunity and help remove any blockers but they have to own it and drive it – Afterall it is their development. I would be really interested in how other organisation approach career development also happy to pass on the templates and process we use if that is of help to anyone.


Friday Reflections - Pay and Inflation

Friday Reflections

I’m not economist but I have been reading the headlines this week about pay and yet more strikes which really got me thinking. Not a usual post from me, a little heavy, but I’m going to ask for you to be generous with me as I work through my thoughts on the topic and forgiving if I get any of this wrong – I don’t have a plan for this either so I’m not sure it will end with any answers!

“Negotiation and discussion are the greatest weapons we have for promoting peace and development.” Nelson Mandela

So first of all let’s look at the facts (well according to the governments statistics): Ignoring an anomaly when we returned from the pandemonic pay in the UK has risen at it’s the fastest pace for over 20 years, rising 6.4% between September and November. However, this average increase actually breaks down as 7.2% in the private sector and only 3.3% in the public sector.

Unemployment remains at a historical low and job vacancies, whilst failing slightly still remain at a historic high.  Inflation is at 10.7% showing the continuing rate at which prices are increasing in turn driving the cost-of-living crisis. The governments plan is to half inflation this year and the Bank of England has raised interest rates in an attempt to support this.

With all this context, a labour market with low unemployment and high vacancies numbers, favours the employee – as it is hard to recruit and with rising rents, fuels, and costs employers may need to offer more pay to attract people. Where there is high demand for labour you potentially also have to offer more to retain talent. These market forces will drive up pay rates. Although as a side note I do appreciate this picture is not reflective for everyone right now with an increase in redundancies too.

Having been involved in numerous pay negotiations with various Trade Unions during my career I can completely understand the argument they will be making, and which is resulting in the current pay talk deadlock and industrial action we are seeing. If we take the case for the public sector as a whole as an example then if pay in this area has increased by 3.3%, as the figures suggest, then that is clearly not keeping up with the rising prices so represents a real terms pay cut of 7.4% and that is before you then take into account any historic under inflation pay increases which may have compound the issue further. Hence unions asking for the double digit pay awards we are seeing.

However, whilst I understand this argument, having sat on the employer’s side of the table all my career I cannot help but wonder how all that is paid for. Most business’s I have worked for operated on a margin anywhere between 5% and 20%. Clearly businesses are not immune to this hyperinflation either so their costs will be increasing too. The cost of fuel, utilises etc will already be eating into their margins significantly. The wage bill is often the largest chunk of a companies operating expense so a further 10% here and the margin is gone. The only way to survive therefore to increase your prices as it is hard to reduce your costs when they are all rising – unless you do something drastic. Yet if you increase your prices then aren’t we just compounding and continuing the high inflation world we live in and so where does it stop.

This I believe was the argument the governor of the bank of England, Andrew Bailey made last summer when he said “if everybody tries to beat inflation – and that is both in price-setting and wage setting – it doesn’t come down it gets worse… if inflations becomes embedded and persistent, it gets worse.”

So if employers can not afford double digit pay increases without increasing pricing and in doing so compounding inflation and employees, especially those on lower pay, can not afford to keep up with spiralling prices – how do you square this circle? How do we bring an end to the strike action across, rail, postal services, nursing and now teaching? However, it seems not all economists agree with this outcome and suggest resisting giving fair pay increases and increasing poverty is actually likely to accelerate the onset of a recession. So what is the answer?

From CIPD research last year it seems offering improved flexibility and extending remote working are being used to attract candidates, however, this doesn’t resolve the pay talks. Clearly good industrial relations are key and being open and transparent about what can be afforded and the consequences of overstretching costs. Looking at solutions like remote working which save on travel costs, financial support packages and education, wellbeing, increased flexibility and one-off lump sum payments through this period without increases your on-going costs can form part of an overall solution (an approach Lloyds took last year) that expands the conversation behold just pay may help. But in my research, perhaps unsurprisingly I have not found a magic wand.

I would love to know what you think and what your business or your union is doing to resolve the apparent and understandable loggerhead we are in.


Friday Reflections - New Year Edition

Friday Reflections

Happy Friday and welcome to Peter Waller's first Friday Reflections of 2023!!

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go. They merely determine where you start.” Nido Qubein

If you have watched these reflections before you may have noticed that I like a good folk tale or parable. I love the stories and traditions that have been passed down the centuries in different cultures. So given this is the first week of the year I thought I would have a look at some of the things people apparently do around this world to ring the new year in and encourage a prosperous 12 months ahead.

In the UK we are familiar with making resolutions at new year of things we are going to commit to in the coming months – either taking on new habits or hobbies or giving up old ones.  What I didn’t know was that this tradition is apparently over 4,000 years old, there are records Babylonians promising to pay debts as a way to celebrate the changing of the year – if they fulfilled their promise then the gods would favour them, if they didn’t then they were doomed.

For the ancient Babylonians New Year was timed with the planting of crops in March, it was changed by Julius Caesar some 2 thousand years later when the Roman calendar introduced January 1st named after Janus, the two-faced god, whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches – therefore able to simultaneously look back over the previous year and forward to the coming year. As a result, early Christians watch night services on New Year’s Eve were about reflecting on your past mistakes and resolving to do better. Today New Year resolutions are more self-improvement and whilst up to 45% of people make them only 8% successfully stick to them – in my post last week I gave some tips on how to increase your success rate.

In other cultures, rounds things seem to crop up – in the Philippines they buy 12 different round fruits at new year. Apparently, the round shape represents money or coins and 12 ensures they are prosperous for each month in coming year. The different fruits also have meanings apparently apples for peace and harmony.  This theme of wishing for a peaceful new year also links to the tradition in Brazil and some parts of Africa to wear white and deliver offerings to the queen of the sea by jumping seven waves and making a wish for each jump. Whilst we are on jumping, I like the tradition in Denmark where they climb onto a chair at the stroke of midnight and literally leap into the new year to move on from them past and bring them luck for the future.

Back in the UK, if possible, we like to kiss someone on the stroke of midnight, as the tradition goes the first person with whom you come into contact on the new year dictates the shape of the year ahead. They are many other traditions that I discovered but they all seem to have the same, I guess logical aim, to draw a line under last year and enter the new year with renewed hope and positivity.

My message to you then is that however you to choose to mark the turning of the year, whether you to commit to resolutions or not, maybe at the very least take note of the traditions and just take a moment to reflect on the on the successes and learnings from last year then design how you want this year to be.


Friday Reflections

Friday Reflections

I recently downloaded a great white paper from Shola Kaye concerning Empathy in the workplace. Effectively she puts forward the case that there is an increasing need for greater empathy in leadership based on a number of factors:

  • The shift to home or hybrid working following the pandemic leaving some people feeling more isolated.
  • The Great Resignation or the Big Quit has been well-documented with people looking for improved work life balance or greater sense of belonging and fulfilment from their careers.
  • And a greater exposure and awareness of both social justice movements and, also in mind, neurodiversity has led for a demand in equitable treatment and for any systemic unfairness to be addressed.

In his talk, “Understanding Empathy” Simon Sinek states that “if you want to be a great leader, start with empathy, if you want to be a great leader change your perspective and play the game your actually playing.”

But what do we mean by Empathy in the workplace, or empathetic leadership? There is a fabulous, animated video by RSA and Brené Brown on Empathy. In it Brené talks about the difference between sympathy with empathy. Where for her sympathy is: I feel bad FOR you while Empathy is I feel WITH you. It is her view that Sympathy can make us feel more alone whereas Empathy helps us feel connected. There’s a great line where she says “rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with “At least…”

She discusses 4 key steps to showing empathy:

  • Perspective Taking or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
  • Staying out of judgement, not easy, and listening.
  • Recognizing emotion in another person that you have maybe felt before.
  • and Communicating that you can recognize that emotion.

Simon Sinek uses the example of someone cutting into your lane on a motorway, how we immediately react and get angry, how we may try and block them. We have been wronged and they have done wrong. However, if we shift focus from our perspective to theirs and practice empathy – maybe they don’t know the roads and are lost, confused by the unknown layout, maybe they are running late for a hospital appointment that they simply have to get too … or maybe they are just aggressive drivers. But we don’t know, and that is the point, we don’t know. As he puts it If we practice empathy, we will accept we don’t know and let them in and the only consequence is that we will arrive to our destination just one car length later.

Empathy is seeing the person and relating to what they might be going through. It is powerful. One of the favourite sayings of a wonderful coach I had is simply “don’t make them wrong”. I might be moaning about pay negotiations with Trade Unions or ranting about how I cannot understand a group of people’s negative reactions when clearly, we are acting in their best interest. I cannot believe they did this, poor me.

But she would say to me whoever “they” may be, don’t make them wrong. We don’t have to be right; we don’t have to win and I think you have to let go of that in order to start to consider the other person perspective to really listen to what they are saying. I believe if you make them wrong, even just in your mind, you have lost the opportunity for both you and them.   Empathy is a choice, perhaps a vulnerable one, but as such all the more powerful.

We love working with leaders on the shadow they create and helping them have a positive impact on their people. The links to Shola’s white paper and both the Simon Sinek and Brené Brown videos are listed below.

Empathy in the workplace white paper | Shola Kaye

Brené Brown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

Simon Sinek: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pi86Nr9Mdms

 


Self Improvement

Friday Reflections

So I’m told September is Self-improvement month. The aim of self-improvement month is to encourage us to take a look at ourselves, at our own lives and see what we can improve.

Clearly that is a good aim and should be applauded. However, we can all fall into a complacency trap, and it is too easy to put off things we know we should be doing – more exercise, eat better, get out in nature more, shout at the kids less, drink less alcohol, drink more water etc. etc.

I think part of the reason it can be hard to motivate ourselves to make a positive change to our well-established habits is that our brains seem to be wired for short term planning and anything too far off can become an abstract concept. I have seen research that shows when we envision ourselves far into the future we think of our future self as an entirely different person. That’s why people are generally rubbish for saving for retirement or can avoid doing things that they know will benefit them in the long run, if it is hard to connect that future person to me then it is easy to think “it won’t happen to me” and put it off.

Another issue is that things can seem overwhelming. When I Googled Self-improvement month I came up with search findings saying things like “50 ways to improve yourself during self-improvement month” – now clearly it is good list but where do you start.

If you are anything like me – I have to get my head right first before I can really make a proper go at anything. So I thought I share five simple questions that a coach once got me to consider and which I now ask myself on an at least an annual basis to help me plan what I need to be focusing on. There is no need to change your diet or join a gym at this stage. Just take a very important hour out and consider the following questions – that is it, you can do it with a coffee and you don’t even have to leave your desk.

Question 1: What is really important to me both in my career and my life?

Make a list, or two lists, one for your career and one for your life. As with all these questions it is important to write it down. Maybe start it as a quantity exercise and then try and whittle your answers down until you can not possibility remove anything else. Put them priority order if you can.

Question 2: What is now possible for you?

For this question you have to be looking back from the future so imagine it is 12 or 18 months from now and describe the world around you. Again write it down, remembering this future has happened. Then start to think what must have happened to produce this future which brings us to question 3.

Question 3: To realize this future what must have happened?

So again imagine you have produced that future, you are standing in it looking back and feeling chuffed, what must have happened by then, 12 or 18 months out to create it. What are the milestones, write them down and make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound), who did you in engage, in what, by when?

To achieve this I need to also take care of myself, I need balance in my life.  So let’s consider question 4.

Question 4: What Principles and Practices am I going to make sure I hold too?

Again I list out the principles and what that means in practice, for example I am going to spend more time with my family as a principle means that I won’t work weekends as a practice.

That brings us to Question 5: What do your Stand for?

This is hard it should end up being a short sentence or two that you are going to hold yourself too – what you stand for. Using the answers to the previous four questions helps inform this. It is what you are going be accountable for on a daily basis – it will also be what you fail against all the time – but that is OK as it should be your constant reminder of who you are trying to be and you can constantly test how you being against your stand and adjust accordingly.

5 simple questions, yet if you do them properly, they are hard, holding yourself to them is even harder – my coach would say it is a lifetimes work. But they are interesting to do and I really find the process hugely worthwhile. Remember to write your answers down and ideally share them with someone important to you. You should then have a clear idea of what is important, where you are heading, the milestones to get there, the principles that will guide you and the Stand you are going to hold yourself against.

At On Track Learning we love working with individual and leaders to help them really take themselves on.


Many of our fears are just temporary reactions solely of our own making

Friday Reflections

Happy Friday and welcome to this week’s Friday Reflection’s video produced by Peter Waller, our one and only M.D 👏🏼

Grab yourself a coffee ☕️ and 5 minutes to watch Peter reflect on his recent parachute jump (with pictures!), the anxiety and fear it initially caused and how many of our fears are just temporary reactions solely of our own making

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin 💡

A few weeks ago, I completed my first Parachute jump. It is something I have said for years that I wanted to do, and as a result my wife surprised me and brought one for me for my birthday back in April.  So really until the day of the jump for me the idea of jumping out of the plane had either only ever been a remote possibility or something that was some way off in the future.

When the idea became reality, I was pretty nervous. The setup is great but by the time you’ve had an induction, been kitted out, had some training and watched a lot of people take off from a field and then come floating back down to earth in front of you the anxiety only increases. 

I found the whole experience surreal, after all, this is the only plane that I have taken off in that I didn’t then also land in. The instructor was great and really put me at ease, yet I was very aware that he literally had my life in his hands (again not a power I allow a stranger to have very often). Sitting on the edge of the open door of plane then plummeting at 125 miles an hour through the air was just bizarre, exhilarating but, weird. When the chute had deployed, we started to do controlled spins and then when these stopped, we had a few moments of what the instructor called “zero G’s” – which was amazing, I felt weightless, it felt like we were floating in the air and I guess is the closest I’ll ever get to feeling like an astronaut. 

Jumping out of plane was certainly not in my comfort zone. I guess typically, like most people, I operate out of my own created comfort zone, it is what I know and what I am familiar with. 

However, I also know that if I only ever stay inside my comfort zone, I can become complacent. Whilst I may enjoy the familiarity and security it offers, if I only say in it, I can also become bored and stale, Despite knowing this it can be hard to leave the safety and find that little bit of drive that is necessary to make a change.

I think it’s important to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and recognise that many of our fears are just temporary reactions solely of our own making – as my parachute jump clearly demonstrated to me. The anxiety I felt prior to the event could have been overwhelming, as we shuffled to the open plane door with the earth thousands of feet below and the wind rushing past, I wasn’t convinced this was something I wanted to do, yet when it was over, I would have happily done it again straight away. The anxiety is just a temporary reaction to the unknown, yet when it has been done it became a known, it felt good, and I wanted to repeat it.

Outside the comfort zone, we often find that the fear becomes positive challenges, new adventures and untapped opportunities, we may find there is choice, challenge, opportunity, progress, change, growth and development.

I know that to some the idea of change can be stimulating and exciting; to others it fosters feelings of insecurity and anxiety. For many it is a complex combination of fluctuating feelings and reactions, and no two people react or respond in exactly the same way to change or at exactly the same time. For me the key to managing change is not to resist it but to understand and learn from it and to take opportunities that are available to you. If you don’t push yourself outside your comfort zone how you are going to grow?

At On Track Learning we have over 30 courses on our platform focused on Personal Development. And over 35 covering leadership. We love working with leaders and managers on our programmes and helping them really take a look at themselves and take themselves on.

 


Four Step Customer Service Approach

Friday Reflections

Welcome to this week's edition of our Friday Reflections produced by our Managing Director, Pete Waller

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the customer gets out of it.” – Peter Drucker

I’m not someone that goes to the pub often, but on Sunday afternoon I was in my local having a quiet pint relaxing before the new week started. My Zen state was then abruptly interrupted by panicked phone calls from both my wife and son shouting that water was pouring through the ceiling. I hastily gave some instructions on where to find the stop cock and shut the water off and then rushed home, my relaxation in tatters.

When I came home to water running down the living room walls and dripping from the ceiling it took me a while, and some probing questioning skills, to fully comprehend what had happened. It turns out my 7-year-old daughter was in the bath and couldn’t get the tap to turn on so called for help. My 14-year-old son then came and “helped” but in doing so splashed the walls with water. Which, to be fair to him, he wanted to clean up. Now, we have a free-standing bath on legs and as he couldn’t get his hand behind the bath to clean the wall and decided the only solution was to move the bath. So he preceded to lift the bath, full of water and my daughter and move it about a foot away from the wall, I know this as the is a big foot long scratch on the floor. He cleaned up, moved it back and then left.

When my daughter went to get out the bath she released the plug and the whole bath then fell onto the floor as the plug hole was no longer connected to the waste pipe. This is when the screaming and panic ensued, and my pint was ruined. On questioning my son, not very calmly, why he moved the bath his response was that he just thought it was a bit of furniture and didn’t realise it was connected to pipes – he is very bright, although I am questioning his practical logic.

I wasn’t happy and really layered on him that not only has he clearly discounted the waste pipe and damaged the bath but that he may have pulled out the hot and cold pipes, but this would be under the floor and if we had to rip up the floor it would cost us thousands – this didn’t make him feel much better about himself.

So the reason for sharing this story is that having shut of the water, I messaged a plumber on Sunday evening laying out the challenge. Not only did he respond immediately but he agreed to come round at 8 am Monday morning.  He then turned up on the Monday, early, and spent several hours assessing and fixing the problem. 

Whilst he was here I reflected on our customer service programme and gleefully ticked of all the steps within it as he so perfectly demonstrated them. He acknowledged my issues in responding to me and coming round as soon as possible, he took full responsibility and accountability of the issues, turning up when he said he would, he demonstrated true empathy in dealing with, what for me was a difficult situation, both in his messages and when he was here and he showed true expertise, knowledge and experience in sorting the problem out and putting me at ease. 

Our programmed has a 4 step approach (Acknowledge, Assist, Answer and Advice) which can be delivered in tiered capability or experience levels – bronze, Silver, Gold. Our plumper certainly got the Gold award my son on the other hand owes me his paper round money for the next 20 years.


The Importance of Compliance Training

Friday Reflections

“Don't be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I find that when we talk about compliance and the importance of health and safety, of risk assessments and safe systems of work, we are often reminded of what happens when things go wrong – these examples are meant to serve as reminders and warnings of what happens when compliance is not given the credence it deserves and so drives us into action.

 

One of the starkest examples of this is the tragic events that took place at the theme park Alton Towers in 2015. When a fun day out, during a sunny June day, people were excitedly queuing for the parks newest ride – The Smiler – a rollercoaster that had more loops than any other in the world ended in tragedy. A carriage carrying 16 people devastatingly slammed into another empty car – trapping those on the ride 20 ft in the air. 11 people required medical attention, 5 were seriously injured, with 2 ultimately requiring partial leg amputations.

Not only did this incident have seriously traumatic impacts on those on the ride, both physically and mentality, but it also severally impacted the business. Alton Towers’ reputation clearly suffered, visitor numbers dropped, contributing to 190 redundancies, they were fined £5 million and four years later the victims were finally awarded a multimillion-pound compensation. 

The subsequent investigation revealed that there were no technical or mechanical issues with the ride. The accident was caused by human error when poorly trained staff manually overrode the safety control systems. As I understand it staff were so used to alarms going off, they would just override them, ignore them and carry on. According to judge this was a “needless and avoidable accident.”

Compliance should clearly not just be a tick box exercise and as the Smiler incident demonstrates nor should the staff training around it. Sadly, we find this isn’t always the case, where compliance training whether it be on health and safety, or anti bribery, or data protection, or even topics like diversity and inclusion is seen as a chore – where employees are sheep dipped through learning, often on their first day. This approach may reduce a Company’s liability, but does it engage the staff to act differently, or to embrace these topics with positive intent. 

I find that much like the health warnings on cigarette packages when we only focus on the negative potential impact of doing something wrong, our minds struggle to relate to these unimaginable possibilities. So, subconsciously perhaps, we believe those consequences will never happen to us and we naively view compliance as something that has be done rather than an engaging force for good.

Our compliance courses are built around stories to make them relatable and engaging. But also, because we don’t just want to focus on the dark side of compliance, when things go wrong, but the also the positive impact and the brighter, better world we can create if we focus on the benefits – we believe this approach is more likely to generate action.