Tag Archives | working smarter


I have been reading the latest book by Ricardo Semler, and amongst the many themes it has reminded me of is the one of making work fun.

It is so easy for work to become tedious, the same old round of meetings, discussions, decisions, actions, email clearing etc. This problem is intensified for us as leaders, because not only do we suffer from it, we also have the people who work for us suffering from it as well.

Of course all the tedious things have to be done – well, some of them anyway. But that doesn’t mean that we have to find them tedious. We can choose to scatter rewards for ourselves in amongst the boring tasks – a walk, a quite cup of coffee, a chat with someone, and a job we really want to do.

We can also check out that list of tedious jobs. Are they all really necessary? We often develop a set of routines that are habit rather than necessity, and a check once in a while on the purpose of what we are doing may lead us to remove the task from our list.

Some of the things we do are because we don’t trust people enough. We give them things to do, then check that they know they have to do it, then ask them to report on their progress at regular intervals, and sometimes we still do some of it ourselves because we are not sure that they will do it right.

So how about daring to trust others to get on with things. You may come across the odd failure’ if you do this, but weigh that against the time and effort you could save!

And this brings us to how you can offset the dangers of boredom in your people. One way is to trust them to do something. When we have full responsibility for something, it tends to be more inspiring than when we are given detailed task lists.

Another way is to dare to allow them to manage their boredom themselves. In the same way that you will function better and achieve more if you make work more fun for yourself, your people will make their day work better and produce more, if given permission to do so.

Semler talks about treating people as grown-ups. It requires trusting people to be responsible, and to achieve while giving them the freedom to make their work life work for them as individuals. It might sound risky, but doesn’t it also sound like common sense?


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This month’s workshop is about taking stock. I don’t know about you, but I am very good at reviewing, targets, goals, objectives and ultimately my work plan. It’s a necessary process and what I have found over the past couple of years is that my tendency can often be to notice what was missing last year, and what do I need to change to make it better.
I often find it to be a bit of challenge, and what gets lost is what I did actually accomplish.
So this workshop is focused on taking stock with inspiration, doing the same process but actually really seeing and owning what I have achieved, so that I can walk away with a real sense of purpose and renewed enthusiasm.
I suggest taking a blank sheet of paper or a notebook to write down any insights or thoughts that occur to you as you complete these exercises. Have fun!!!
1. List out the areas in your work that are the most important to you. (for example, financial success, relationships, contribution, etc.,)
Take this list and prioritise it.
2. Spend a few moments and write down 3 accomplishments in each area, and be specific. An accomplishment is something that you know for you or another person made a difference. It does not need to be a big thing, it just needs to be important to you.
3. Ok now the fun part… tell at least 1 person about them. This is very important, why? because we all deep down love to be recognised and to know that what we do makes a difference. Actually telling another person allows you to really own it.
4. Now review your list and assess what do I want to keep doing, what do I want to take out and what can I replace it with.
5. Complete the process by writing down 1 specific goal and 1 specific accomplishment for each area that you identified in step 1.
Make sure that you share these with at least 1 other person.
Review the list every 6- 8 weeks to check your progress.

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I have struggled over the years to get team meetings to work well.  There have always been some inherent conflicts I have never really managed to balance.  Whether to allow the conversation to flow freely or to keep strictly to time, when I knew that digressions would often lead to moments of inspiration.  How to keep the whole team interested, when I was keen to understand how each of my team were doing.  Over the years, I tended to vary the format, as it became stale, or as the excuses for non-attendance grew.  Yet, the “right formula” remained elusive.

When I think about the best meetings I have had, as opposed to analysing what’s going wrong, I get a different picture.  In these meetings, people are engaged; the conversation flows and laughter can be heard.  I realise that it is not about having a repeatable formula.  It is about team members feeling engaged as a true member of a real team.  The “chemistry” happens not due to a formula, but when they have been working on something that interests him or her and when they feel their contribution has been useful and valued.

Those meetings finish naturally, not when the chairman says so.  People leave invigorated and refreshed, not relieved or depressed.  The team are re-united and strong again.  The buzz of the meeting often continues into the corridors and onwards to the vending machine.

I have also come to realise that I always had my interests at the front of my mind.  I needed to understand what my managers were doing, what issues they had, where they needed my help or the help of others.  On reflection, they should have been called “my meetings” not “team meetings”, as they were really there to ensure I felt fully informed and in control.

How different it could have been if I really trusted them to do their jobs and used the team meetings as a way of harnessing their collective skills and energies.  So, if you run team meetings in a conventional way and they feel somewhat stale or sterile, this month’s workshop is to encourage you to think differently about them – to make them truly “team meetings”.

Ask yourself whether you are using team meetings for your own ends e.g. as a means of keeping you better informed or for exercising control.  If so, are there other ways of achieving this (as you are not using people’s time effectively!) e.g. making better use of one-to-one meetings.

  1. Choose a single agenda item where you could usefully use the team to collectively resolve.  Ideally choose something where everyone has some level of personal interest in the outcome.
  2. If possible, use an experienced facilitator to guide the meeting, capturing key points.  This allows you, as team leader, to contribute alongside others, rather than to direct the discussions.
  3. Step back and enjoy the interaction and energy as the team starts to work together, resisting the tendency to take control or act as timekeeper.
  4. Recognise when the energy level naturally subsides, resisting the temptation to complete the task, but allowing it to come a useful resting place.  Then spend a little time reviewing where you are, what needs to be done next and agree a time for getting together again.

I tend to measure the effectiveness of such meetings by the amount of laughter heard and by how easily people can magically find space in their diaries when they are looking forward to something!

We have been following this approach in our team meetings at Meta, when we realised a few months ago we were falling into the “formula trap”.  We have had some inspired sessions and our meetings are far more enjoyable.  They now feel like proper “team meetings”.

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For many years, especially in the early days of running a small business, I never quite saw the link between creativity and my work. Creativity for me meant paint a picture, do a drawing, mould a piece of clay, even perhaps do a bit of singing.  Then I started to discover that when I actually did something creative, work and my business seemed to flow that much easier. Here is another paystub maker online review which might help your business.

I started to question for myself what is creativity and saw that in actuality that creativity is full self-expression. It takes many forms and is a natural extension of our gifts.  In coming to accept this realisation, I could begin to clearly see the link to the work I was doing. My work and the business I had created were my way to contribute and share that with others.

The more I accepted the concept that my creativity is my unique self-expression, I found myself with a magical way in which to clearly set my vision, values and actions for starting and maintaining a viable, sustainable business, and the more I allowed and activated my creativity the easier it became.  One of the most helpful exercises I did was to actually define for myself what CREATIVITY meant to me, choosing words that inspired and energised me.   It has become a powerful way of reminding myself of who I am and how to BE in relationship to my business:

C  Clarity

R  Release

E  Ease

A  Action

T  Timely

I  Insight

V  Vital

I  Inspired

T  Transform

Y  You


  1. I invite you to take some time to discover the meaning of creativity and what it means in your life and your business.  Take 5-10 minutes of quiet time to remind yourself as to why you started your business.
  2. Write down what creativity means to you, where is it present in your life, where has it made a difference.
  3. Ask yourself where has the use of my creativity really helped in a work situation.

Take the word Creativity and choose powerful, inspiring words to spell it out, then post it somewhere to remind you.

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‘I’ve always prided myself on being good at analytical/logical thinking, and when I was asked if I would like to go on a programme on developing my skills as a leader I thought I would learn to be even more logical and analytical. Half way through my first day all I could do was shake my head in disbelief.

We had spent the whole morning looking at ways I could make myself feel good and, although that was very pleasant, it felt both selfish and irrelevant to me as a leader.

The workshop facilitator persisted in looking at personal stuff for the rest of the afternoon, which was spent on how I think. Analytical? Nope! My intuition, for goodness sake! I haven’t used that since I was a child. I went home and told my wife that it was a most unexpected day. Two hours later she told me to shut up.

I was curious about the next day and had to admit I felt rather good about myself. As we began to explore what made a good leader I realised that I had what it took, but it wasn’t what I thought it was.

Since that five day session I think I have used about half of what I learned with Di – which is about 100%, at least, more than I have taken from other courses. It makes more and more sense, and it works. No, it really works.’


Di says:

Adam spent the whole of the first day staring at me and shaking his head in disbelief. I could feel his gaze on me the whole time.

It’s a common reaction. At first many people think I am crazy. And I remind them that, when they do get themselves in a state where they feel good abut themselves, they are in a superb position to help others get more from their work.

Western society’s love affair with logical and analytical thought reflects a belief that science could solve all of our ‘problems’ This ‘logic’ breaks work down into boring and meaningless tasks, so that the work does not inspire and motivate, and ultimately the work gets done badly. Nice logic!

We have got to the stage in our culture where many of us think that work has to be boring, hard, stressful. If not, the story runs, we are not earning our money or our leisure time: “work hard, play hard’.


1. Enjoy your work today.

2. Give yourself some treats: stop and smell that flower, smile at that toddler, use your favourite soap, wear your favourite clothes.

3. Take a risk: go in after the traffic, leave your tie at home, leave your e-mails until you have spoken to everyone face-to-face

Enjoy your work today.

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Having Enthusiasm

Have you noticed how infectious enthusiasm is? We all respond to someone who obviously has put their heart and soul into something rather than just their intellect.

The word enthusiasm originally means ‘inspired by God’ or ‘the God within’. This may sound off-putting to some of you, but it captures well the sense that enthusiasm is heart- or spirit-based, and therefore appeals to us at a deeper level.

An example I came across recently is of someone who works for Virgin airlines. She is a member of the ground crew, doing an apparently ‘ordinary’ job, yet she talked for half an hour of how much she loves what she does and whom she works for. She saw her job as important to the company’s success, and gave her all to it willingly, because the company also made sure that she was cared for, and had her own life as well.

To invoke enthusiasm in others like that, we need to ensure that they feel valued and important, and that their individuality is appreciated.

To invoke it in ourselves we need to find what makes our heart sing in our work, and build on that.


  1. When are you enthusiastic? Look for what makes your heart sing at work.
  2. When do you encourage others to be enthusiastic? Look for opportunities to make others feel valued and important, and cared for.


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Being a Customer

I have recently been working on a proposal to help an organisation become more customer focused, and it has really made me think about the other side of the story – the customer. My conclusion is that we all need training to be good customers, not just to treat customers well!

Most of us are passive victims as customers, whether the responsiveness to us is good or bad. Yet with a little pro-active effort on our part, we can often change our experience for the better.

For example, smiling, saying hello, saying thank you, all make a difference to our server and take little from us. Imagine for a moment that you are that server. You have to be pleasant all day/evening to the unresponsive and unsmiling creatures most of us are – wouldn’t you get to the point of being unresponsive? On top of that, you maybe have a boss who never praises you, and doesn’t appreciate what you do – are you sullen and fed up yet?!

We can help people to want to serve us with a genuine smile, by treating them well, by making them feel noticed and valued. And if they do make an effort for us, we can appreciate it, rather than only commenting if we have a complaint. Let’s have a ‘Being a Good Customer’ week!


  1. Smile and say hello to 5 people who are in some way serving you this week, even if they don’t respond.
  2. Thank anyone who serves you well this month, and maybe write a letter appreciating their service to their boss.
  3. Apply the same principle to those who ‘serve’ you at work – your colleagues, and those from other departments who help you to do your job.


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Many years ago, I was working with groups of young people who had been thrown out of school for ‘bad behaviour’. They were a great bunch of kids, once they decided they trusted you. Having been given that honour – of being trusted – I was curious to know what I had done to earn it.

Ade told me that two things mattered to them:

  • I didn’t talk down to them
  • I had never once seemed to doubt their ability to achieve whatever they wanted to

I wondered why that was, and then realised that I had been brought up to believe that everyone has something special about them, so that’s what I looked for in others. And whatever you look for, you find…

It is a vital perspective, if you want to bring out the best in those you work with. There was a piece of research done in the USA, where they took two mixed ability classes, but told their teachers that one group were high achievers, and the other group were slow learners. By the end of the first term, the teachers had proved them right!

The group classed as high achievers were all achieving, the other group were all being slow learners.

With beliefs, you tend, as in this example, to get what you expect. So, stop and think about what you expect your colleagues to be like. If they don’t get your point, do you think they are a bit slow or not bright enough? Or do you think that you have expressed it badly?

We can prove any belief we like to hold, so why not make it easier for you to enable people to be at their best, by deciding to believe that they are pretty special, your job is just to bring that out in them.


  1. List your beliefs about others, including the contradictions – be honest in this one
  2. Now go through your list and choose the beliefs that would be useful to you in enabling others to develop, then add some if you want to
  3. At your next team meeting, read through the ones you have chosen, and decide to act as if they are always true, for the whole of that session, and see what happens


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I often hear that work is a means to an end for people. They do it so that they can earn enough money to do other things. What a shame to spend so much of your time doing something which doesn’t have any intrinsic fulfilment!

Yet we also come across all sorts of people doing all sorts of jobs who do feel that their work is worthwhile. What’s the difference? These people have found something to make their work purposeful.

Ways of making your work purposeful can be identified by asking yourself:

  1. How does what I do make a difference in the world? For example you may be contributing to a service or product that improves people’s lives.
  2. How does what I do help other people? For example you may help to make their job easier, or make them feel good by treating them well.
  3. How does what I do use my talents and personal qualities? For example, you may be good at communicating and use that to please your customers, or someone whose sense of humour lightens the day for others.

When our work feels purposeful, we give of our best, and feel satisfaction with what we are doing. It gives meaning to all those hours spent at work. What is the purpose for you of your work?


  1. Ask yourself the questions above and find at least one thing that makes your work feel purposeful.
  2. Encourage others to do the same.


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This month, I would like to explore the concept of EMPOWERMENT.  This became a buzzword for the nineties, along with other management concepts, such as de-layering, re-engineering and even, dare I say it, “leadership” itself!  Many organisations embraced the concept and empowered their people, but the results have not been inspiring.

Empowered staff often complain that they are not really empowered, as decisions are still taken by their bosses.  Managers complain that empowered workers ignore the rules and are quick to explain that they “tried empowerment”, but that it just did not work.  Leaders need to anticipate the needs of those that have been empowered.  How will others react to them, will they want confirmation from “the boss”, will they resent their authority?  Leaders and others may also need to show greater tolerance for mistakes and support people, so that they are able to learn from their experiences.

A useful metaphor is a teenager who becomes “empowered” through having greater independence, often financially as well as socially.  As parents, we recognise the need to set boundaries, to gradually develop trust in our sons or daughters, to tolerate their occasional mistake and for them to know that we will always be there for them.  But as managers, we can often operate with a different set of rules.  We do not outline the “do’s and don’ts”.  When people fail, we take back control (after all, it was a daft idea, anyway!) and if things get tough, we are not always supportive.

Think about how you have empowered those who work for you.  Have you provided them with the support, at both a day-to-day level and also at an emotional level?  Are they flourishing, as would a growing adult, or are they floundering like a child in the wilderness?

  1. Spend some time thinking about the people that you manage?
  2. How are they coping with the degree of “empowerment” that you have given them?
  3. Have you outlined the “rules-of-the-game” (both written and unwritten) within your company or are they stumbling into problems on a regular basis?  If not, jot down some of the rules and discuss them at the next opportunity.
  4. How are you supporting them on a regular basis?  Do you share their experiences and discuss ways of improving things next time?
  5. How do you react to mistakes?  Do you support them?  Are you there to help when things go wrong – in a way that is constructive?

Be sure to treat them as individuals, since they will be at different stages and will have differing needs.  Finally, consider the benefits that effectively empowered staff will offer to you.  Perhaps, more time to think strategically or to network with others outside your company or even the chance to occasionally go home early!

Write these down, as they will be useful reminders to you when you are tempted to abandon empowerment and to take control back again!


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