Divide or Multiply


Divide or Multiply

We loved hosting our quarterly Breakfast of Change last week.

For those of you who weren't able to join us, it was a deep-seamed exploration into the power of vulnerability and the benefits of leading by heart. Our Breakfasts are generally fertile breeding grounds for ideas, and this one cut to the core of the human experience - we laughed, we cried and we parted feeling galvanised and uplifted - all before 10:45!

The choice of whether to divide (exclude, judge, differentiate) or to multiply (bring together, include, cross-pollinate) is one we face every day, in a multitude of different ways. Whilst instinctively we might appreciate the value of multiplication, it's often easier for us to do the opposite - to exclude people, to handle stuff on our own, or with the ones who 'get it' most readily.

At the breakfast we shared this beautiful short film which went viral recently, an ad for a broadcaster in Denmark. Take a look at it if you haven't already seen it - take a look again if you have! 

What this film does so elegantly is to expose us to our own prejudices, pre-judgements that assume an entire identity (and point of difference) from what we perceive at surface level. 

I have always believed that there is more that unites us than that which divides us - we simply have to take the effort to dig beneath the surface - to ask questions to expand our understanding of other people; their experiences and perspectives.

Much of my adult life, and our work at AOC, has been invested in helping people to see the wholeness and uniqueness of each of us as human beings, resisting simplistic generalisations or superficial judgements. This film writes the rulebook on how we can do this. 

What can we do? 

This week's Catalyst asks: how can we do more multiplication, less division. How can we include people more, or give people greater opportunity to reveal who they are? What advantages will this bring?


Love at work


Love at work

I remember watching Simon Sinek’s TED talk on leaders who create safety a few years ago, in which he asks what it would take to be able to talk about love and leadership in the same sentence. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here.

The answer, it turned out, was being willing to bring the subject up. 

More and more people are waking up to the need for greater connection, humanity, love in the way we work with each other.

A good proportion of our clients are large, male dominated, engineering/ops-focused businesses; these are not fluffy, cuddly, talk-in-intangibles kind of places. And yet many are willing to explore how to bring more love into the way they lead their people, the way they connect to customers, the way they work across departments, as they see the impact it has not just on productivity, but on how happy they feel.

So if you're ready here are some a few ideas for how you can up the level of love in your work life:

Love yourself

‘Would you treat another person in the way you treat yourself?’ We are often our own harshest critic, applying pressures and standards to ourselves that we would never expect of others. Accept yourself, perfect as you are right now, fabulous and fallible. We are all a work in progress so love where you are at in this moment.

Extend love to others

When you’re in a meeting, in a coffee queue conversation, a conference call, really be there. Turn up fully and listen intently to what others have to say. Giving people attention is extending them love. You'll be amazed at the results!

Love what you do

Reconnect with your purpose. Why did you decide to work where you do. What drew you to dedicate a chunk of your life to this cause, to apply your skills to their vision? Reinvigorate your reason for being.

We are going to explore Leading by Heart at our next Breakfast of Change, why not come and join us?


Recognition: The Single Biggest Driver of Success


Recognition: The Single Biggest Driver of Success

Someone asked me recently what I thought was the single biggest driver of organisational success.  

It took only a fraction of a second to respond. Recognition. From the moment we arrive on this planet until the moment we leave it, our need for recognition governs and defines our human experience. 

And great organisations get this – how we recognise and reward our people has long been the cornerstone of effective management and successful organisations.

But as organisations become ever leaner, meaner machines this week we explore how each of us can invoke the power of recognition.

The Push and The Pull

The battles for talent and competitive edge are only going to intensify. Recognition is the not-so-secret ingredient for not only how to hire and retain the right people but also to enable them to perform at their best for the long haul.  

But as technology continues to transform what we do, as organisational structures adapt and transform how we do it, the ways in which we recognise, engage and reward people has to keep pace.

Forward-thinking organisations are activating recognition on on three levels:

Smart companies are leveraging technology to harness the energy and experiences of their people. Building lines of communication up, down and across the organisation can have a huge impact on how engaged and recognised people feel, and on the health of the bottom line. 

Whatever happens organisationally, local trumps global – our relationship with the people we work with is what defines our daily experiences. If you're the leader of a team your influence is huge, so take time out to look at what you could be doing more to really connect with people and recognise individual efforts. 

Firstly we need to recognise ourselves and the impact we have on others. Wherever we work in an organisation, it's how we behave in our encounters with each other that defines our culture. So we have a responsibility to ourselves to and to each other. Even the simple decision to smile at people more, or to say thank you more often can have transformative effects. 

There are a million ways to recognise people and their efforts, so this week we challenge you to think of five new approaches – and try them out. Let us know how you get on.

Why bother?

A recent whitepaper commissioned by Fortune 100 Best Company to Work For investigates the root cause of great employee performance and how managers can tailor their workplaces to promote it. The paper gathers its conclusions from an open-ended survey where respondents were asked the question, "What is the most important thing that your manager or company currently does that would cause you to produce great work?"

The data is clear - way above a promotion, or training, at 37% recognition is by far the biggest driver of employee experience, the biggest driver of performance.

So if we want to get the best from our working lives let's all consider how we can help to make authentic and meaningful recognition a more significant part of our management philosophy - individually, as a team and as an organisation.


Equality and the yin and yang of gender


Equality and the yin and yang of gender

In any of the work we do with teams of people, regardless of gender, it is diversity that is paramount; how do we catalyse the individual uniqueness within the team to enable greater collective success?

This is important when it comes to the gender discussion too. As men and women how do we harness both our masculine and feminine, the yin and the yang, to enable greater success? 

Rethinking Gender at Work

When women started entering the workforce in significant numbers it forced many organisations to examine gender. Through the decades the desire for equality has translated into a drive towards sameness - same numbers, same ways of doing things, same ways of thinking, same ways of leading, same measures of success.

Having grown up in a world structured by patriarchal systems, we are programmed to judge success in masculine terms - power, money, competition. What if we changed the criteria? Surely that would really create a shift in true gender equality?

What would it take?

We have to start from a place of valuing the contribution of the feminine. Success through fulfilment of purpose, greater connection and collaboration, sustainability of impact.

At AOC we're dedicated to being part of this conversation.

International Women’s Day

This Wednesday we're starting with women. We are creating a regular event to help every woman regardless of role to own the value of our different contributions.

The sessions will help build the strength to stand out rather than blend in. 

Guys - it's your turn next! 


Are you on the Empowerment superhighway?


Are you on the Empowerment superhighway?

Empowerment has long been part of the conversation in organisations, but talk isn't enough – the need for the real deal, genuine empowerment, has never been greater.

As more leadership teams wake up to end of the old world hierarchy of command and control, many are finding they lack sufficient skills to empower the more dynamic, agile workplaces of the future – which is often we're we come in. 

But where should this empowerment come from? Is empowerment something to be given by others, or to be taken for ourselves?

This week The Catalyst explores how we can both empower ourselves and empower others.   

I Empower

I can hang on, hoping and waiting to feel empowered by my boss or my organisation, or I can take charge of the one thing that is always in my power, me.

Here are a few things we can do to empower ourselves whatever our situation:

  1. Mind Control
    Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right. Whatever you think you make real for yourself so be mindful of falling into negative thought loops. Think about a situation you are feeling disempowered in at the moment and ask yourself, ‘what do I need to be thinking that would make it easier for me to be empowered?’ and ‘what’s a baby step I can take to make that thought more real for myself’ and then think it and do it.
  2. Get Connected 
    Who are the key influences around you and what is the quality of your relationship? Galvanising the trust and support of others is crucial so invest in the relationships around you and not only at the point you need them. Having regular time carved out in your diary to connect more broadly across the organisation always pays long term.
  3. Focus  
    Control what you can control, influence what’s in others' control and let go of whatever is beyond your control. There is a lot of personal and organisational energy wasted in trying to control things that aren’t within our realm of control. Be really clear with yourself and focus on your own business.

We Empower

If you're a leader of a group of people there are many things you can do to help them feel and therefore behave in an empowered way. Ultimately it’s about diminishing fear in your culture.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Set the where and the why but leave the what and the how to your people
    Organisations need to be certain of where they are heading and why they are going there in order to provide a clear direction of travel and galvanise energy purposefully. Beyond that, rely on the talents of your people to determine what needs to be done and how to do it to move their bit of the business towards that goal 
  2. Provide clarity and rigour in roles and responsibilities
    It’s not enough to have job descriptions, people need to know exactly what they are responsible for and be held accountable for it. Often we find that the lure of being involved in tangible operational activity draws leadership down a level and into things that are not their remit. This is where rigour is needed.
  3. Create a learning culture
    How leaders respond when things don’t work out has a huge impact on how empowered their people are likely to feel. If you want to encourage a growth mindset and an environment where people are willing to stretch themselves and take a risk provide resilience training, coaching and mentoring to help them work through problems and disappointments.


The Two Faces of Engagement


The Two Faces of Engagement

Organisations face the risk of losing up to 55% of key talent because they're not fully engaged with their jobs, their managers or the organisation itself. This comes at an enormous cost in terms of knowledge loss, recruitment, on boarding - not to mention team morale and productivity.

One major ad agency in London recently lost several popular senior figures and attrition went through the roof as key talent panicked and jumped ship. Clients soon followed suit, and the agency is now scrambling to pick up the pieces. The risks are real and significant, whatever the size of your business.

So how do we ensure we engage and retain our talent? 

We now understand that there are two core components that influence whether people stay or go: current engagement and future engagement.

Current engagement is determined by a combination of past experiences with an employer, and an individual’s current experiences in their role and work environment.

Future engagement is determined by an employee’s expectations about their job, career prospects and their employer, or what’s known as “engagement capital.”

7 ways to engage and retain key talent

Engagement levels, both for now and the future, will depend on an individual’s rational and emotional commitment. They are going to be as interested in their alignment with the organisation’s mission and goals as they are with their personal challenges and goals.

So to drive engagement and retain talent, here are a few things every manager can do. 

  1. Show them some love: make sure they know they’re important to you, and how much you appreciate their work.
  2. Sit down with them regularly: listen and respond to their needs and concerns.
  3. Strive to be the best people manager you can be: working on your own skills as a leader enables you to lead by example and inspire your team. 70% of disengagement is because of poor management.
  4. Provide clear structure, role definition and career pathways.
  5. Give them a challenge: provide opportunities within their current role to stretch themselves.
  6. Support their growth with development opportunities: think about the 70:20:10 approach to how we learn.
  7. Be their organisational champion and let them shine. 

It's easy to others for how our teams feel, but these simple tips are within our direct control and will make a huge difference to the long-term stability and effectiveness of our teams.


Random Acts of Kindness


Random Acts of Kindness

In a week in which romantic love is celebrated across the globe it also happens to be Random Acts of Kindness week. The RAK Foundation believe in the power of kindness to change the way people see or experience the world – and we couldn't agree more.  From the 12-18 February we are invited to demonstrate love in its wider context – the love for our fellow man.

Kindness as enabler

Kindness might be less headline-grabbing than romantic love but it comes from the same heart-led place, and it is arguably as or more important for humanity.

There are over 7 billion of us on the planet, and in our self(ie)-obsessed world it's easy to forget the power of simple connections. A study in 2015 revealed Britain to be the loneliness capital of Europe with people less likely to know their neighbours or have strong friendships than anywhere else in the continent.

Rebuilding connections

Random Acts of Kindness week gives us the opportunity to reach out, to rebuild connections with each other.  And unlike its card-bearing, flower-waving sibling kindness doesn't come with a price tag attached.  

To recognise somebody, to pay them a complement, to offer a hand of support, a smile, an opportunity to laugh, to learn – kindness comes in many guises; it needn't be flashy and it shouldn't need a fanfare; kindness is quiet, it's simple, it's real. 

'Love makes the world go round' might be an overused and inaccurate cliché but it certainly helps us feel stronger and more connected as we spin through space and time. 


Do you work in a post-truth organisation?


Do you work in a post-truth organisation?

In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” its international word of the year. In a new world order where politicians openly propagate “alternative facts” when the truth doesn’t fit their desired narrative, it’s hardly surprising that people are becoming more cynical and disengaged than ever.

But politicians aren’t the only ones at fault - organisations can fall into the post-truth trap at times too. 

The post-truth organisation

Unwilling or unable to involve people in an authentic corporate narrative, organisations often push out propaganda that reflects a distorted version of reality. Statistics lost in spin often reveal a corporate “truth” that fails to recognise the reality that employees are experiencing day-to-day.

The result? Instead of feeling involved, people check-out because their experiences feel unrecognised, invalidated.

Personal experience will trump statistics every time. In the post-truth crisis statistics are widely discredited. People respond to qualitative evidence, to stories, to photographs, to experiences that they can witness with their own eyes, feel with their own hearts. 

So what can be done?

So what can we do as leaders of teams and organisations to involve people in the creation of narratives in which they feel like an active participant, rather than an ill-fitting statistic?

We need to be encouraging story sharing at every level of an organisation, and we need to pay attention to what people are saying. Not only does it drive engagement, it’s also a rich source of management information that can effectively inform future strategy – the people at the coalface understand better than anyone the impact of decisions made at board level, and they’ll help you identify and overcome the bottlenecks and blockers to productivity.

So let's get people talking, sharing their stories and see the effect that feeling heard and empowered has on them – and on the bottom line. 


Wanna be starting something?


Wanna be starting something?

2016 was an outrageous year. A frenzy of change was whipped up in both the UK and the US, and by tapping into insecurities it scrabbled to seize control with clenched fists and fighting talk. 

And now we see the sorry results of that change: the ultimate symbol of the fragile ego expressing its fear through a language of hate and disconnection.

Thankfully there is another way, as reflected by the millions who took to the streets across the globe after Trump’s inauguration, as revealed by the men and women currently making their voices heard in airports and city centres across the US. 

Hate and fear and disconnection can’t be the winners here. We have the potential for so much more. So we have to reach deeper, each of us within ourselves, to unleash our love.

According to the Dalai Lama 'the world will be saved by Western women'. Here's the opportunity to start. After its debut for a major FTSE 100 organisation last year, we're proud to announce the launch of our brand new women's network.

SpeakEasy - Inspiring Women At Work

To our sisters – come and join us for breakfast on March 8th, International Women’s Day, to explore how as women we can create a different way of being in the world; starting with ourselves, inspiring those around us and transforming the world from within.

To our brothers – thanks for forwarding the details of this new women's network to anybody you think might value it.  

Further details and registration for the network are here: 

If the session isn't for you perhaps you know someone who'll benefit? Please share this message via any of the links below.

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Authenticity and Resilience


Authenticity and Resilience

We recently hosted our quarterly Breakfast of Change, where we explored the relationship between resilience and performance.

One thing that emerged from our discussions was how people felt the need to put on a 'game face' at work and it left us wondering, when there has been such a move towards greater authenticity at work, why do we still feel we have to hide so much?

Our role as leaders

It was specifically when the attention turned to what is expected – or what we expect of ourselves – in our roles as leaders, that people feel they have to disguise what they're really experiencing and put on their game face. 

The debate ultimately comes down to whether we perceive strength and vulnerability as mutually exclusive of one another. We think they are complementary.

By and large we still operate in a world where being in control, being certain is deemed the criteria of success. So we have all learnt to collectively keep up the charade; even though no one has it all figured out or knows for certain what is round the corner, we pretend as if we do. This makes it very difficult to show vulnerabilities like doubt, insecurity or exhaustion. 

Don't get us wrong, sometimes the game face is needed. Sometimes it’s the kindest thing we can do for ourselves in the moment, but when it becomes hardened into a habit then we are game facing ourselves – and it's down that road that burn-out lies.

What can we do?

So how do we move this forward? How do we become more accepting of the messy stuff in life and more truthful in expressing it without unnerving the people we lead?

Building personal resilience has many levers – anything from regular physical activity to taking time to reflect. To dig a little deeper though, it's about how we treat ourselves; how we marshal the pressures we put ourselves under, how much what other people think about us affects us, and whether we permit ourselves time to relax. 

The first step is always about self-awareness. So as a first step, think about the situations you find yourself in today, ask yourself on a scale of 1-10 (10 being high and 1 being low) how real are you able to be? And what would be one thing you can do next time to shift that score one mark higher?

Open Workshop

We’re going to be diving deeper into this subject in our upcoming open programme Personal Leadership: Resilience and Performance and we'd love you to join us. Click through to find out more. If the session isn't for you perhaps you know someone who'll benefit? Please feel free to share this message via any of the links below.

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Stop Setting Goals You Don't Care About


Stop Setting Goals You Don't Care About

At the start of 2016, I asked myself one question: “How can I make achieving my professional growth goals effortless?” I found the answer was elegantly simple — by focusing on alignment goals.

Many people fail on their professional development goals for the year because they take on a lot of goals — goals that they feel they “should” do but ultimately don’t energise them. For example, maybe they tell themselves that they need to read a pile of books in order to learn more, keep up with their colleagues, or just stay up-to-date with their industry. But if sitting down to read feels more like a chore, it’s unlikely they’ll make any progress — and they may feel badly for not achieving their goal when the year comes to a close. While the goal itself felt like it was something that fit the needs of their professional role, it didn’t match the individual’s preferences or ambitions.

If you want to succeed with your professional growth goals, choose one or two key areas of focus that align with what really matters to you.

For example, this year, I decided to make writing a book proposal for a new book my primary professional development goal. I knew this was the right direction because I felt a lasting surge of energy behind the idea. It had been on my mind since September 2015, and I couldn’t wait to get started at the beginning of 2016.

Nothing about writing the proposal felt like a “should.” It felt like a “must.” I was excited to move ahead and willing to cut back in other areas of my business to make room for this to happen. This congruence between my internal desires and my external goal made moving ahead relatively effortless.

To begin thinking of your own professional development goals, start by asking yourself three questions:

  • If I could accomplish just one major professional development goal in 2017, what would it be?
  • When I think about working on this goal, do I get excited about the process as well as the outcome?
  • Is my motivation to pursue this goal intrinsic, something coming from within because it is personally interesting and important, or is it extrinsic, something that I feel would please other people?

These three questions will help you identify what really motivates you internally. Also, I’d recommend keeping the number of goals you choose as narrow as possible, so you can give them your full attention.

Selecting what you want to work on, though, can often feel easier than actually moving toward those goals, especially when you’re faced with other work commitments. In order to reach these objectives, you need to ensure you’ve aligned your time with them as well.

I’ve always been a huge fan of time blocking as a way to reserve time for important items. But in the past, time for professional development goals was usually slotted in around other work responsibilities, like coaching calls with my time management clients. Even when I was writing my first two books, I would block out at most half days to get the writing done. Doing so gave me focused time to concentrate, but it also meant that I ended up working longer hours when I was working on special projects.

This year, though, I decided that I wanted to align my time more firmly with my priorities. That meant blocking out an entire day once a week (I chose Wednesdays) to focus on my book proposal and, once that was sold, my book writing. But rather than simply marking it down, I took it a step further: I put up an out-of-office for each Tuesday and Wednesday to let people know I was out for book writing on Wednesday, and would respond to Tuesday and Wednesday e-mails on Thursday.

At first, this felt uncomfortable, and I worried about getting everything done. But after making this a lifestyle since the beginning of the year, I realised that it was not only possible, but it felt amazing! I overcame my limiting belief that when I worked on big projects I had to work longer hours.

Once you decide on your professional development goal or goals for the year, I encourage you to take a similar approach to aligning your time with your goals to make the results effortless. Most people can’t block out an entire day every week, but almost everyone can start to reserve more time for their professional development goals than they do now. It may take some time for your colleagues to adjust to the fact that you are not always available. But typically, you can make a consistent investment to your own growth.

To do so, decide on which days and times you can commit to moving ahead on your goal. You may have the opportunity to do something like I did, where you block out an entire day (maybe to take a training class), or you may need to set aside smaller chunks of time. For example, some of my time coaching clients will set aside two to three hours on a Wednesday morning, come into the office early a couple of days a week, or pick a weeknight or a weekend morning where they can spend an hour of time moving ahead on their goal. Try one strategy and see how it works. If it seems to suit you and your colleagues, stick with it. If not, adjust the days or times until you get something that fits.

If you plan on working on professional development during the day, you may need to discuss with your boss what’s appropriate before making these changes. I also recommend shutting your door, going to a conference room, or working from home. The physical boundary is a great help to avoid the time getting derailed by drive-by meetings.

The exact amount of time you can spend will vary depending on your other responsibilities. But it is important that you’re consistently setting aside the time for your professional development goals. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but in time it will get more natural. This will create alignment between what you say is important to you and where you invest your time.

When you have professional development goals that align with what’s important to you and you align your time with those goals, you’ll find the results can feel effortless in 2017.

This is a guest article by Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money


Resilience: The Art of Getting Back Up


Resilience: The Art of Getting Back Up

Back in 1997, Chumbawamba taught us the mantra "I get knocked down, but I get up again", but even 20 years later that's often easier said than done.  All kinds of hurdles, knock-backs and surprises can leave us feeling exhausted and uncertain of our next turn, unless we have the personal resources - the resilience - to keep going.

The turn of a new year tends to be an opportune time to reset and to take a fresh approach to achieving our goals, but many of us find that even with the best of intentions our resolutions are dead in the water before spring has sprung.

Why does this happen? I believe it's often because the first time we don't quite reach that height, or achieve that goal instead of seeing simply that we failed on this occasion, we see ourselves as a failure and therefore subconsciously believe we are incapable of ever succeeding. We lack the resilience to see that while we may have failed on the first attempt, we are not a failure.  It's a choice. We can either choose to give up / beat ourselves up / rail against the injustice of the world (delete as appropriate) or we can choose to get back up and redouble our efforts.

Very few people succeed first time - remember that as an inventor, Edison made over 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before successfully inventing the light bulb. Resilience is the skill to keep on keeping on, and its what makes the difference between the highly successful and the also-rans. 

The good thing is that resilience can be learned: it's a matter of mindset, and of how we see ourselves. In her excellent book Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck explores many examples of successful sporting stars who through diligence, curiosity and a growth mindset succeed in the face of often overwhelming negativity, physical limitations and other barriers. 

Resilience and Performance is the focus of our first Breakfast of Change for 2017. A few tickets are still available here - come and join us to ensure that you can stay focused, motivated and invigorated for all of the year - and years - ahead.  

You're never gonna keep me down.


Bringing Meetings to Life


Bringing Meetings to Life

Many of us dread meetings at work. Too often they’re dull: they follow predictable patterns, and people struggle to stay engaged.

After regular meetings, the gossip by the water cooler afterwards is usually more interesting – and honest – than the meeting itself.

The best part of many conferences is the coffee break, when suddenly the whole audience comes to life and conversations and ideas start sparking.

What if we could bring all that energy into our meetings instead of squeezing it out?

Meetings for human beings

We are social creatures, fundamentally wired for socialising, playing and creating together.  To release that energy into our meetings, we need to disrupt some conventions.

  • We need to have fewer presentations and more conversations.

  • We need to free people to move around, rather than remaining pinned to their chairs.

  • We need to give participants autonomy: instead of telling them what to do, we create choices for them about how to participate and collaborate.

  • We need to create a more level playing field in meetings, a space in which everyone feels able to contribute, so we don’t just get stuck listening to the usual suspects.

How to have better meetings

Agent of Change Johnnie Moore has spent the last 20 years  helping organisations around the world have meetings that command attention and generate fun and excitement. There’s no big secret to what he does, it comes down to just two things: using creative processes that allow people to really participate, and showing up as a facilitator that people feel able to trust.

He's going to share all this experience in a two-day workshop in Cambridge in January. The workshop will explore how to:

  • Get more out of every meeting - for you, attendees and the organisation.

  • Learn new techniques for creating engagement

  • Build your presence and performance as a facilitator

Not training-as-usual

Johnnie says: "I don't believe in facilitation-as-usual and this won't be training-as-usual. There will be no powerpoint, little use of a flip chart and certainly no 'turn-to-page-94-of-the-manual'.

There will be movement, surprise, emotion, engagement and fun. We learn our most powerful lessons from experience, not from lectures. The greatest value in workshops comes from sharing experiences, rather than taking notes from the 'sage on the stage'."

There will be two threads over the two days: techniques and performance.


Johnnie will share a simple model of networks to show how you can shift the way you think about your meetings, and move away from hierarchy towards more creative, peer-to-peer engagement.

He'll share methods he's learnt and created over the years to bring that model to life, including:

  • Cafe processes for connecting and conversation

  • Open Space - a brilliant participatory process - and the pitfalls to avoid when hosting it

  • Full circle and other methods to speed up feedback and avoid the agony of “creeping death” reporting from breakouts

  • Bringing scenarios to life in three dimensions

  • Line ups - a simple but brilliant way to add movement and surprise to finding out more about what people think and feel about topics and each other

  • Playful approaches to serious topics, situations and people


When you facilitate a meeting you are on stage, and people are watching. The pressure to perform is high. If you can stay present and spontaneous, the chances are you will set the tone for the whole event, bringing it to life. If you can’t do this, even the best processes in the world won’t save you.

Over the course of two days you'll explore using a range of activities and challenges to enable you become more aware of your performance and to become a more engaging version of yourself.

You’ll explore:

  • Presence: how it’s not about showing off or making yourself the centre of attention.

  • Avoiding ‘teaching trance’ and ‘plenary vortex’ - the factors that most easily kill the atmosphere in meetings

  • Getting braver and more creative managing difficult conversations and people

  • Embracing surprise: some of the best things I've done when facilitating have been spontaneous, often in response to mistakes and curve-balls. The ability to respond well is a muscle we can build with practice.

Who should attend?

Anyone responsible for organising and leading meetings - whether that’s internally, with stakeholders or clients, or for consultation, feedback or generating ideas. Anyone who is frustrated by boring, uneventful, and time-wasting meetings.


Creative Facilitation: Bringing Meetings To Life

January 9th and 10th 2017, King’s College Cambridge

Book now for Early Bird discount until 31 October

Full booking details



The Recipe for Engagement


The Recipe for Engagement

It’s now a well-established fact that organisations that master the culture/engagement dynamic reap the benefits - higher profits, faster growth, greater productivity, lower attrition…but what’s the recipe for success?

Companies that get it right give employees something to engage with - we highlighted a few of them in a tweet last week. 

The budget US airline, Southwest Airlines, for example, won't give customers much more than a pack of peanuts with their flight, but they can fly cross-country for as little as $49, and the company's customer service is legendary.

Southwest succeeds through a culture of mutual respect, where a high percentage of employees ‘own’ their jobs. It's right there on the company's careers webpage: ‘Not just a career, but a cause.’ Leadership urges a well-managed work/life balance in which employees "value the opportunity to work hard, be creative, and have fun on the job."

So, how can you create a cause in the same way, whatever your business?

A recipe for success

Most people live their lives according to "What's in it for me?”. So if you want to be a productive leader, consider this: What is in it for your employees? When they’re engaged, they’ll reward you with a bigger share of their discretionary time and effort — and their collective productivity will skyrocket.

While many ingredients go into any individual engagement recipe, all have three components in common: Motivation, appreciation, and communication. 


Give people reasons to engage that go beyond appeals to company loyalty. In addition to inspiring them with fulfilling work and your own example, try building their sense of pride in what they do. What’s their purpose? Why does it matter? What kind of incentive are people given to go above and beyond? At John Lewis, for example, hardworking partners get a share of the profits.


Financial rewards might work well, up to a point, but so too does public acknowledgement: pats on the back, public call outs. Regular one-to-ones, where great work is highlighted, not just what went wrong, are also highly effective. Try doing something unexpected - rewarding a great piece of work with a dinner for two at a nice restaurant, for example, or another personal touch. Just make it consistent: When anyone trips the switch for recognition or reward, make sure they get it.


Long-term successful businesses communicate well. It’s the lifeblood of the organisation, the thing that keeps people on board through tough times, and stops the rumour mill from disengaging people. Keep your communications clear, consistent, and to the point. Share organisational goals and objectives, erring on the side of over-communication. Show everyone why and how their contributions matter.

Of course, every business is different, and Agents of Change work with many sizes and sectors to help them to succeed. Get in touch to discuss how we can help you.


Leading with Integrity


Leading with Integrity

It's no secret that I'm a Liverpool fan, and never more so since the arrival of new manager Jürgen Klopp a year ago. I'd like to bottle what he does and sell it to some of the leaders we work with - he gives a masterclass in leadership, every day:

Chief exec Ian Ayre says (in the Guardian, Friday 7th October), “Jürgen wants to understand why or what you do in every situation. He’ll either adapt to it or say he doesn’t feel that works. He is very open and honest and it is very difficult to get in trouble if you’re open and honest. It sounds really simple, and it is.

I’d love to say he’s changed things by sprinkling magic dust but it really is very simple – good communication, good collaboration, good energy and good spirit. He’s an easy character to deal with. There’s no agenda and no ego – that’s not what the guy is about. You can say he’s one of the biggest managerial names in world football but it doesn’t play out that way and he doesn’t act that way. Externally there seems to be a general feeling among people of: ‘What are you hiding?’ But what you see is what you get. It is normal dealing with him. Whether you’re a steward in the tunnel at Anfield or the CEO, he’s the same with everyone.”

Our role at Agents of Change is to help people move beyond being controlled by ego and personal agendas, to truly connect with everyone they impact. From that point, as Jürgen is proving, there's no limit to potential, personally and organisationally.


Heroes:                            John Lewis


Heroes: John Lewis

Many business leaders and organisations aspire to authenticity, transparency and openness, but struggle when it comes to implementation.  John Lewis and its leadership have long embodied all of these attributes - and outperform most of the competition. 

John Lewis has a unique culture, which engages partners and customers alike. Its focus on building this unique culture and distinctive brand has led to sustainable success. All 76,500 permanent staff are partners who own the business and its five elected board directors are supported by a council of 80 partners who discuss strategy and objectives and make key recommendations. This combination of shared leadership and authentic values is central to John Lewis’ success.

As many organisations struggle to increase levels of employee engagement, many John Lewis partners openly say how proud they are to work for the organisation they jointly own. The high level of trust within the business extends beyond it to its hugely loyal customer base. John Lewis leaders and all partners connect to the organisation's values, which in turn helps them connect to each other and to customers.

John Lewis is famous for its guiding principles. The partnership's ultimate purpose is 'the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business' - a principle at the very heart of employee engagement. Partners share the responsibilities of ownership as well as the rewards. The John Lewis principles underpin its authentic, open and honest leadership.

What lessons can other businesses learn from this beacon of light on the British High Street?





The Lessons from Bakexit!


The Lessons from Bakexit!

Is the end of an era nigh? Will the Great British Bake-off succeed in pastures new or crumble (sorry!) as its two hosts Mel and Sue– and now show matriarch Mary Berry – say farewell to soggy bottoms.

Whilst Bake Off might be dismissed as a light-as-a-meringue reality show, for its millions of viewers its whole-hearted approach calms and feeds the soul on a Wednesday night, and the decision that Mel Giedroyc, Sue Perkins and Mary Berry made – to remain loyal to the BBC – should be admired and deserves to be reflected upon.

They are all successful, established women and while their departure won’t ruin their careers the decision to leave was still a courageous one. Moving stations would undoubtedly have brought financial benefits – but those types of rewards didn’t sway them.

I read an article recently that described how Mel and Sue were at the core of the ‘warmth and humanity’ that the show exudes. They made it their mission to ‘create a model for reality TV that protects, not exploits, people's mental health and emotional integrity’. They did this by loudly swearing during contestants embarrassing moments so the footage was rendered unusable and covering people with coats when they cried so they couldn’t be seen. They initially declined the offer to host the show because they weren’t comfortable with the ‘human interest drama’ device that most reality TV shows rely on. How interesting that the show has thrived without it…

‘Bake Off is currently one of the highest-rated reality shows on TV. The fact that it doesn’t ridicule or embarrass its competitors is the very recipe which has made the show such a success. Our interest is deeply rooted in the bakers and their achievements and when things go wrong we genuinely care, inspired by others who genuinely care. 

If we compare this to everyday work or life situations we have to ask how often do we try to over-complicate things, or fail to see the human cost or the emotional impact of what we do? Perhaps simpler is better… Perhaps kinder is more powerful… Perhaps believing in the ability of those around us, wanting them to succeed might be the answer.

What do the decisions made by this formidable trio tell us about them? That they have a mixing bowl full of integrity, that they stick to their values come what may, that – despite the pressures placed upon them – they put people, not profit, first. 

The outcome? They are admired, respected and hugely successful. They are an example to us all. How can we be more like them? By having the courage of our convictions, by being comfortable with vulnerability and most of all by connecting with those around us.


Enabling Conversations


Enabling Conversations

For many of us, our instinctive reaction to facing what might be termed a 'difficult' conversation is to ignore the issue and hope that it goes away. Fat chance.

I inherited my own head-in-the-sand approach from my mother.  I believed she'd accidentally slipped it into my DNA until I eventually saw how futile, time-consuming and destructive my approach was – and that I could do things differently. 

At some point in our lives we all need to have a 'difficult' conversation with a partner, a peer, a team-member or a boss, about anything from a performance gap to something more personal.

How well we manage the conversation has a huge impact on our relationship, so understandably we're often anxious about bringing stuff up. We either avoid it for so long that when we do tackle it it comes as a complete shock to the other party, or we rush at it like a bull in a china shop just to get it over with, paradoxically damaging the relationship in the process.

But it doesn't have to be this way. The sooner we stop thinking of them as difficult conversations and start seeing them as enabling conversations, the sooner we're able to step up and master the simple skills it takes to communicate anything to anyone.

The only reason we would ever embark on an enabling conversation is to try to make something better - be that performance, behaviour or our relationship. And whatever 'better' looks like to us, it needs to feel better for both parties.  

So here are our top ten tips to help you get the result you're after:

  • Choose the right conversation - at the right time.
  • Be clear in your own mind about the outcome you're seeking.
  • Invite them in - how you initiate the conversation builds trust and a sense of safety.
  • Maintain faith in people's desire to do their best.
  • Approach with concern and curiosity - not judgement.
  • Listen to their perspective.
  • Talk about the effect of behaviours on you/others.
  • Use contrasting to build safety - "I don't want you to think that..."
  • Offer support and reassurance - how can you or others help them to succeed?
  • Look forward to solutions, not backwards to blame.



Learning at the pool


Learning at the pool

I can't tell you how much I wanted to step in and sort this situation out. But biting my tongue and staying put was a glorious lesson.

Picture this...

A glorious sunny day in a Greek resort, not a cloud in the sky, perched on a sun lounger by the side of the pool watching my children play in the water. The pool is very kid focused and full of brightly coloured water slides, fountains, jets, wheels. My two are having a ball!

And then the older boys arrive. We've all experienced them - they come in threes or fours, buoyed by their numbers and the desire to compete with one another - who's the toughest? The game today? Block the water slide.

If my eldest, Poppy, doesn't become a lawyer or a judge I'll be surprised. I'm not sure I know anyone with a stronger sense of justice. And this situation is unjust - so Poppy lets these boys know. 

It has no effect. She comes over to us briefly to make us aware of the situation but swiftly returns to give those boys another piece of her mind. Still no justice is served and she disappears from my view. 

This is when I am ready to pounce, to defend my babies.

My alarm is unnecessary. Before I jump up I see that Poppy has found allies of her own – four of them! They try again. Still the older boys show no sign of relenting and by now, my urge to intervene is even stronger. 

Instead I choose to breathe and let these children find their own way. I realise what I am watching is a practice in conflict management. They try many strategies; sending in the cute younger sibling to melt hearts, brute force, avoidance, reasoning, nonchalance.

What wins in the end? Perseverance! The kids simply do not give up and eventually the older boys get that and make way for them.

I found myself wondering if the same would be true for adults. How often are we as persistent as those kids? Of course some of us are. But there are are plenty of times that I simply give up because stepping into the uncomfortable just seems too much bother. And what's the sacrifice?


Bringing our Olympic Spirit to work


Bringing our Olympic Spirit to work

The contrast between the paranoid atmosphere around the England football team at major championships and the inclusive, positive ethos of the 366-strong Olympic Team is obvious.

After the humiliation in Atlanta in 1996, when we took 36th place in the medals table with only one gold, British sport took a long hard look at itself and came up with a plan. It’s clearly a strategy that’s paying off - with 16 golds and counting at the half-way point. 

The fact that Team GB overtook the mighty China this weekend to seize second place in the medals table is testament to the power of team spirit and of talent being identified and nurtured from within. 

While raw talent is a prerequisite, the influx of funding has allowed those in charge to create a pathway to make the most out of it. What organisers sought to achieve was a situation where the maverick geniuses who might land you a gold medal on talent and application alone were replaced by a system that constantly regenerated talent.

Our Organisations

A lot of our organisations are still performing as our Olympians did in Atlanta. Sure, there are pockets of golden brilliance - people who get it and organisations that fly - but on average, productivity in the UK is the lowest out of all G7 nations. Output per hour worked in the UK was 18 percentage points below the average for the remaining six members of the G7 group of industrial nations in 2014, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Unless we address the crippling problems at the heart of UK businesses we will fall further and further behind, and with the prospect of Brexit on the horizon the need to remain competitive has never been more important. So what lessons might we learn from our best in Rio to drive performance and long-term success in our organisations? 

Four Lessons Businesses Can Learn from Rio

  1. Funding - Providing sufficient budget for development and engagement is essential to enable managers to embrace the kind of skills it takes to lead effective teams, to focus on collaboration and on becoming curators capable of establishing and sustaining cultures that excel. It’s simple - forward thinking, successful organisations understand the value of investment in their people, and in curating their culture. Those who don’t are falling behind, and the failure to invest reveals an unfortunate case of myopia - one project we have worked on alone has yielded an incredible 3400% return on investment. 
  2. High-performance culture - Even our most jaded organisations have pockets of brilliance. How can we leverage our best talent to inspire and drive performance and create a values-driven culture in which everyone feels a part? Marrying clear performance metrics with mentoring and open coaching conversations will create a culture where feedback is both expected and welcomed, rather than feared. This drives engagement and accountability and means that people know what they’re aiming for and feel supported in getting there.
  3. Supporting Emerging Talent - Bringing in a pipeline of new talent and identifying and supporting existing talent is a key tenet for building long-term organisational success. Helping people to develop and grow into roles that might be beyond them currently, to fill in capability gaps that might be holding them back, recognises our innate need need to stretch ourselves not only builds loyalty and engagement, it also drives the ability for organisations to retain talent, knowledge for longer.
  4. Team Spirit - A sense that we’re all in this together drives motivation and engagement - we’re aligned in our thinking and in our goals, and we understand how each of our roles contributes to the overall mission of the operation. We understand each other and we speak the same language, pulling together to achieve more collectively than we could ever achieve individually.