Monday, 19 December 2011

A Calendar of Blogs

Who’s on your blog radar?
There are lots of good blogs out there aren’t there.  At various times of the year various listings or rankings of top bloggers hits the timeline providing great endorsement and signposting to some wonderful reading and discussion.

But what about all the other bloggers?  You know, the ones who blog religiously but perhaps don’t get the notoriety that others do.  The ones who don’t blog each week or even those who have taken a blogging break.  They maybe haven’t hit people’s blog radars yet…
A Calendar of Blogs
Well let’s change that a little bit.  I’d like to share with you some of the fantastic people I’ve come across this year who may not be on your blog radar.  Some of them I’ve known a while; others I only connected with a few weeks ago.  However, I appreciate what they have to say and if you don’t know them already, I think you might too.

I’ve selected one for each month of the year because each is different and bloggers are not just for Christmas!  There are others but hopefully you might add them here yourself…

Who would you like to recognise that might not be on most people’s blog radars?
Please feel free to create your own list in the comments below.  The only criteria is your appreciation and the fact that they may not be on peoples radars!

My Calendar of Blogs
Thanks for such great dialogue, sharing, engagement and writing.  I hope you have a wonderful 2012!

Emily Stone (@Em_Stone)
Emma (@Onatrainagain)
Huw Sayer (@huwsayer)
Ian Perry (@Ianperryemerge)
Ian Pettigrew (@KingfisherCoach)
Jan Bowen-Nielsen (@janbowennielsen)
Jon Bartlett (@Projectlibero)
Martin Couzins (@martincouzins)
Natasha Stallard (@StirTheSource)
Sam Lizars (@SamLizars)
Vera Woodhead (@verawoodhead)
Zoe Mounsey (@zoemounsey)

Friday, 16 December 2011

Social Media in Coaching & Mentoring

So, is there any application for coaching or mentoring using social media?

I recently spoke with a group of fellow coaches & mentors about this (see here).  The focus of our conversation and thinking was to establish what value there could be rather than what such a solution might look like.

What the conversation generated was some interesting insights into how social media and both coaching & mentoring have some common issues at heart.  It also showed how coaching & mentoring is in danger of ignoring the evolving communication preferences of our clients.

Issues in common
There is such a broad range of experiences and perceptions of Social Media yet for many it still seems to be something to be held at arms length rather than embraced.  The main issues creating this perception seem to be trust & value.

Now rephrase that paragraph....

There is such a broad range of experiences and perceptions of Coaching & Mentoring yet for many it still seems to be something to be held at arms length rather than embraced.  The main issues creating this perception seem to be trust & value.

Isn’t it curious that we are dealing with some common issues…

If you want to engage with people on platforms such as Twitter you have to place trust, faith even, in the fact that people will engage with you, respectfully.  You have to trust the sentiments of strangers.  You have to trust exposing yourself in this way.

It takes trust to build that all important rapport.

Doesn’t this describe social media as well as coaching & mentoring relationships?

Naysayers talk of social media as a waste of time - it’s just people chatting.  Well, I believe value is to be found where you create it.  Engaging with people you trust nearly always creates value.  Sometimes we do it through chatting just as you would in the workplace.  Sometimes the dialogue is much deeper, perhaps in a way we don’t experience in the workplace.

With people the value is in the conversations and relationships you build.

Doesn’t this describe social media as well as coaching & mentoring relationships?

Communication is not a generational difference!
Many people have developed careers and worked in businesses that have had little or no engagement with social media.  Over the years we’ve developed successful practices without social media.  However, the reality is that people are now engaging differently & more frequently because of social media.

If we look at the “standard” executive coaching engagement, many people will talk of something akin to 6 sessions over 6 months.  Regardless of the value this does or doesn’t create, how do we know this format is still appropriate?  Is it still relevant for a social media savvy population?

What method(s) and frequency of engagement do clients find most relevant and supportive? Are we even asking them?

The Future?
We can’t let our own tried & tested practices stop us from embracing more appropriate tools or methods of communication or engagement.

We must maintain high standards and explore how we can embrace more appropriate tools or methods of communication & engagement.  Don’t get caught up on how it can’t work.  Focus on how it could work.

If our clients are working in the real-time world of social media, why aren’t we?

Coaching & mentoring are both often framed as conversations with a purpose.  That sounds a lot like social media to me!

What do you think?

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Trickiest Question in Coaching

My experience of professional external coaches & mentors is that they are generally giving of their time and often willing to share & support other colleagues who ask for their help.

However, there does seem to be one exception. It's perhaps the trickiest question in coaching... 

What do you charge? 

I recently wrote here about Sheffield Hallam Business Schools' quarterly Coaching & Mentoring Research day.

During the day a group of us (largely strangers) had a discussion about pricing and marketing coaching services. We shared our individual views on the market, how we saw the market was priced and where we thought our services sat in that mix. Each of us took something from it but we all felt it was a healthy conversation not often had. 

Now I've had very honest conversations on pricing with colleagues before and we've found it easy to talk about our experiences. Similarly, I've found clients very supportive in helping understand market rates. It takes trust but it's not that hard to do. 

However, it does seem that the subject of pricing tends to be avoided between coaches & mentors. I know others share this view. 

What is stopping you?

So what's stopping coaches & mentors from having this discussion? 

I'm aware that in some jurisdictions, conversations on pricing are not permissable as it could be construed as price fixing. However, to my knowledge this is not the case in the UK. 

There is an argument that the pricing is so variable dependent on industry, individual and need that any conversation would be mixing apples & pears... I think that's an excuse. Arguing the variables would be a conversation about pricing! 

Coaching & mentoring as "professions" are embryonic and practices can be diverse so perhaps the lack of clarity on pricing is a market phenomena... so how come clients know what the market price is? 

A theory
Bear with me on this as I attempt to journey into amateur economics... Paul Stokes in our group mentioned the Giffen Good in terms of exceptions to the normal supply & demand curve. What I actually think he meant was the Veblen Good.

Veblen Good describes a commodity where after a certain price point, rather than demand falling it actually increases - luxury cars being a good example. Now this doesn't necessarily sound like coaching or mentoring until you overlay a few key features of the current coaching market:

  1. The market is diverse with a spectrum ranging from high end organisational needs to more personal coaching
  2. Executive Coaching is seen as the preserve of the most highly paid.
  3. Client ego or perceived value can have an impact
  4. Unlike other markets, price often bears no correlation to the quality of the coaching

You'll find some interesting references to these points on Coaching at Work here and here (you may need to be a subscriber).

For external coaching & mentoring, I think this implies that there is price point at which prestige kicks in (snob value) but has no relevance to quality necessarily.

What's compelling for me in this theory is the fact that there are a good amount of coaches & mentors working at the high end of the spectrum. Similarly there are many more advertising their services at the low end of the spectrum. Where there appears to be a dearth is quality coaches at reasonable prices for middle-management...

What this means?

Firstly this is a theory. It has some attraction but it is just a theory.

However, it may be that coaches & mentors are reluctant to discuss pricing because we are working in a market that is exceptional to normal supply and demand. This makes it harder for people to gauge where their pricing should sit between the highest and the lowest.

Beyond the reticence of coaches & mentors to discuss their pricing is the observation that perhaps clients are paying a premium to support the egos of the most highly paid.

Perhaps more importantly is the opportunity to provide high quality external coaching to lower levels of the organisation based on the "real" price. 

I would really appreciate any thoughts or reactions, specifically :

  • Are coaches & mentors slow to have discussions about pricing? What creates such examples of reticence?
  • How well does the Veblen Good diagram above relate to your view of the coaching & mentoring market?
  • Is pricing the only perceived barrier to providing high quality coaching to lower organisational levels?  What other barriers do we face?

Friday, 9 December 2011

A Model for the Weekend!

I've been thinking about the relationship between competence, expertise & mastery which has recently been renewed by a blog post from @naturalgrump here.

What I've noticed is that much of the time our expertise comes out subconsciously but when this happens there is a confidence to our actions that is recognised by others if not ourselves. At other times our expertise is more explicit and understood and again combined with confidence it is recognised. I'm curious about the role confidence plays here so have drafted a model to explore this further.

The Model
What this tries to show is some of the observation above but more explicitly how the relationship between feelings of confidence and our actual expertise & knowledge manifests itself.
As I explored the relationship, I perceived a "zone" where we are in essence incompetent. With low confidence we are just INEPT. With high confidence we become DANGEROUS. I'm sure we can all think of examples but car driving is something that sticks in my mind.

However, there comes a stage where you move from incompetent to competent. In essence, confidence doesn't change the fact that you are competent. I've called this PERCEIVED COMPETENCE. This may be perceived by yourself or others. With increasing knowledge & expertise we attain PERCEIVED EXPERTISE and in my mind this ultimately leads to MASTERY. I think the principles are straightforward enough but something funny happens when you throw confidence into the mix...

I've come across many examples where the combination of enough competence and high confidence can very quickly move you from PERCEIVED COMPETENCE into PERCEIVED EXPERTISE. I don't think there's anything wrong in this necessarily but perhaps you now see why I've been using the word "perceived"!

With regards to MASTERY, I don't think it behaves this way. In fact, without the confidence underpinned by actual knowledge & expertise you can not attain MASTERY. The reality is that very expert people with high knowledge won't achieve MASTERY without high confidence.

Conscious Competence Model
As you've read through this you might have started to think about the conscious competence model. I think there's some relation here but it doesn't fully explain the impact of our confidence.

When we act with unconscious incompetence we can assume that our confidence is higher perhaps than thereafter when we know we are incompetent. We can also assume our confidence may increase with competence. This may not be the case though if we don't feel confident. Also, what is the relationship between unconscious competence & expertise or even mastery?

Below is my interpretation of the overlay but perhaps this can be viewed differently.

What Next?
This is purely exploration at this stage but it's helping me think about my own professional development. Perhaps it has an application in a client context.

What would be great is if you could provide your views or thinking on this. Nothing is sacrosanct and I'm happy to be told I'm wrong or that this is old hat!

So what do you think about the above?
What are your thoughts in general about how we attain expertise & mastery?
What role does confidence play in how we our competence is perceived?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Some things make you react. @naturalgrump recently wrote about this here. Before you read any further please do take a read through his post above as it’s very relevant for what comes next!

A Twitter Reaction
This morning’s twitter stream soon filled with the CIPD 2011 Social Media conference
.  I’d forgotten exactly what was on the agenda so I skipped over to the CIPD website for a look.  Looking at the details, what I hadn’t appreciated was the price....  tickets were £550 for members or £600 for non-members.

I’m a pretty tolerant soul and being typically Libran I’m usually quite good at seeing both sides of an argument.  However, the old amygdala kicked in big time when I saw the price.  Now to be clear, this is not a case of amygdala hijack!  However, for some reason, this is making me react...

Is this some reaction to the CIPD?  
No – I’m not anti-CIPD.  In fact their embracing of social media and engagement with the community seems to be a positive thing.

Is this jealousy?  Do I wish I was there?
No – I already made the decision about what was most important and existing diary commitments won.  I can catch up on what I missed through social media and friends.

Is the scheduled agenda the issue?
No - I have no particular views on it but knowing who’s involved I’m sure it will be excellent.

Deja Vu
The above don’t seem to hold any answers but my sense is that my reaction was in some way connected to recent blogs on conferences:

@onatrainagain wrote here about the prohibitive cost of conference attendance for certain sectors or those with restricted financial circumstances.

@robjones_tring wrote in quite a different vein about the conference experience here.   In fact I think he was talking about revolutionising the conference experience.

@neilmorrison also wrote here about conference attendance and value, remarking that something is going to have to change...

What is really going on here?
Well I think possibly a few things but they centre about these observations...
  1. The cost of the conference today is prohibitive for some if not many.  I understand the argument about affordability being our own judgement.  However, in such times, when we price events at such levels we are effectively excluding people.
  2. In the past year I’ve attended conferences, unconferences, events and research days.  The ones that have created the most value for me are those where there is content, challenge and community in abundance.  Not exclusivity.
  3. There seems to be a correlation between community value and price paid.  Where community engagement is high and is the driving force, the value is high and the cost is always low.
I value inclusivity and believe in the value of communities.  My concern is that if we ignore the above we will find ourselves creating "cliqmunities"...

What next?

I’ve tried to be non-judgemental but please do react.  Tell me what you think.  Shape the thinking around this subject.

Talk about the impact of today’s conference in the context of the above.

Talk about the value of the mainstream conference format.

Talk about how community can be brought together without exclusion.

Perhaps more importantly, if you want to help provide low-cost learning or mini-conferences for the broad HR community who can’t afford mainstream prices.  Then say so.   You won’t be alone.

Post Script
The title of this post was inspired by a tweet from @BillBoorman. I’d been struggling to describe and finish this blog and it just seemed to fit. Thanks Bill! 

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Learning Journeys

Living in Norfolk, I’m well used to commuting by train for work or conferences.  So I’ve found myself in the lucky position of having plenty of time for reading, writing, working & reflecting.  I can’t sleep on trains I’m afraid...

Today I got up at 05:15 and will get back home around 15 hours later.  I’ll have spent over £130 and 7 hours of my day on trains.  I won’t earn a penny  from it.  Why?  To learn of course!

Learning School
The reason for today’s trip was Sheffield Hallam Business Schools Coaching & Mentoring Research day.  Each quarter, they run a 6 hour learning day using Open Space.  It’s a very inclusive affair so look them up if you have an interest.

The wonderful thing I find about Open Space is that it never fails to please or surprise me.  Today was no exception and after wonderfully rich discussions, it’s left me with a few thoughts around coaching & mentoring :

Social Media & Coaching/Mentoring
So, is there any application for coaching or mentoring using social media?  Perhaps but maybe what is more meaningful is what method(s) and frequency of engagement do clients (coachees) find most relevant and supportive?  How is this expectation changing generationally?

This segues into the above but if you want to run a mentoring programme, what are you trying to achieve?  It’s easy to develop tools and lose sight...  How can you provide the system & process for groups & communities to engage in a way that is meaningful to them?

Pricing & Value in Coaching & Mentoring
It’s funny how little external coaches & mentors discuss pricing together – what prevents them?  What does it say about the profession?  Beyond that, how do we best demonstrate the value of either as a paid for professional service?

Disclosure in Coaching & Mentoring relationships
You wouldn’t think one little word could mean so much...   What we disclose to our clients has potentially enormous implications on the success or failure of the coaching or mentoring.

These themes give you a sense of the discussions I participated in – there were at least 8 others that I missed.  Over the coming days I’ll try to blog about each individually.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts or reactions on these subjects.

On the subject of Learning Journeys, what would you would do with 7 hours of uninterrupted time at a table on a train?

Friday, 2 December 2011

The one where the "Boot" was on the other foot – Part 4 "The Art of Giving"

Last week I was invited to join a demonstration day with TrainersKitbag (@trainerskitbag) and in this week’s series of blogs I’ve talked about my reflections from the day.  In today’s final blog I’d like to share my reflections regarding Generosity.

Part 4 “The Art of Giving”
By Christopher Smart, via Wikimedia Commons
I’m sure none of us are strangers to giving or even being generous.  It’s part of being human… sending gifts on birthdays... helping out with a bit of DIY… taking time to listen to a friend’s problems.  For most of us it’s what we do with our friends & families and it’s rewarding.  We often don’t think about it being an act of generosity.

Even when we look to give our time or money to strangers, say through voluntary support or charitable donations, we still tend not to talk about our acts as being generous.

The meaning of generosity
Perhaps take a moment to reflect on the meaning of gen·er·os·i·ty :
  • Liberality in giving or willingness to give one’s money, time, etc.
  • Nobility of thought or behavior; magnanimity.
  • Free from pettiness in character & mind
  • Amplitude; abundance; plentiful

I’d forgotten the word's Latin origins.  It derives from generĊsus, which means "of noble birth".  Originally, being generous was literally a way of complying to nobility.  Over time this origin has been lost but the sentiment hasn’t.  Generosity as an act of giving is still seen by many as an act of humanity.

The generosity of strangers
The nature of the Trainers Kit Bag “Property Trading Game” game requires you to perform tasks.  Sometimes these involve asking strangers for information or help.  Throughout our day we were struck by just how spontaneously people would help us with what were sometimes quite bizarre requests…
  • The gentleman on Pall Mall whom we asked for a business card.  He’d have happily given one to us but he’d just given a man who had had his car clamped £20 for a train fare and had given him his last business card so he could post the money back.  His view was that he wanted to help and he may never see that £20 pound again but that wasn’t really the point.  You had to trust in human nature.  A very genuine and lovely person.
  • The armed policeman dashing out for his lunch break who gladly stopped and posed for a smiling “team photo” before heading into McDonalds for his “fix”.
  • The endless shopkeepers, hotel staff & theatre box offices who took time to listen to our strange requests and helped us where they could.  Yet, we bought nothing from them apart from a 50p “Sights of London” pencil.
  • Perhaps most surprisingly was @RichardAArnold.  Having been spotted walking past us on the Strand, @StirTheSource ran after him and he gladly helped us with our much needed celebrity photo and autograph.  He took time to talk about what we were doing and shared a laugh.  Firstly though he went to the bank, then came back and found us, all on his birthday with a hangover.  That’s generosity!
The Art of Giving
On reflection, it’s perhaps not surprising that a day that started with the generosity of Trainers Kit Bag, continued in that same vein throughout.  Even to the end of the day when someone I’d just met for the first time asked “Is there anything I can do to help you?”.

This post isn’t about how to give or what to give.  It’s more of a recognition that we all give willingly and generously.  Perhaps we need to be asked, nicely of course, but we are all qualified in the art of giving.  If you feel you’ve not practiced this art for a while then have a go – it’s very easy.

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”
Albert Camus

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The one where the "Boot" was on the other foot – Part 3 "The Way we Act"

Last week I was invited to join a demonstration day with TrainersKitbag (@trainerskitbag) and in yesterdays blog here I talked about my reflections from the day focussing on “The Way we Think”.  In today’s blog I’d like to share my reflections on how we act.
By Herzog Hans, Pfalzgraf, Graf zu Spanheim, via Wikimedia Commons*

Part 3 “The Way we Act”
When put into a situation such as game play we’re often debriefed afterwards about how the players could have acted more successfully.  Sometimes it’s simple task oriented things:
  • At the very start, take 15 minutes to discuss/agree a strategy.
  • Make sure you assign roles or a leader.
  • Periodically take a moment to review your plans & actions.

Sometimes it’s a little more complex as we look at behaviours and interactions:
  • Be aware of the team dynamics.
  • Take time to understand the personality types in the group.
  • Use a range of communications styles to bring across your point.

All of these have merit and the great value of the facilitator/coach in such team situations is that they can independently observe your actions & behaviours.  With trust the facilitator/coach can create the right degrees of tension and challenge to raise awareness and help facilitate change.

The way we can act with skill
On the demo day, you’d think that our team of seasoned professionals shared & followed the best practice that we know & love.  Well not exactly…by and large we just got stuck in!

We knew that developing a strategy for the game at the start was an appropriate thing to do but we chose to take action first and then strategise on our way.  We didn’t assign roles at all.  We reviewed our actions constantly.  We were still very successful in our tasks.

So what was going on that allowed us to apparently ignore the textbook rules?  Well I think two things:
  1. We were already familiar and practised at working in such team environments.  I wouldn’t say we were masters (read here) as such but we were able to trust our intuition (read here) and break some of the "rules".
  2. We had a number of enabling factors working in our favour (read here) which when combined with our experience created successful behaviours.

In hindsight, where I think we could have improved was in terms of a deeper strategy conversation around 20 minutes into the exercise.  This wouldn’t have changed our next actions but it may have helped relieve some of the effort we had to make towards the end of the day.

On reflection I think my message here is to pay attention to best practice.  However, if you are practiced and able to employ successful behaviours then go with your intuition.  Feel free to break some rules – it might be the only way to beat the rest!

Would love to hear your views and stories on rule-breaking!

*This 16th century image describes the punishment at tournaments for breaking the rules - the delinquent was put across the fence of the tournament area and beaten!  Nowadays, we might worry that the equivalent of this will happen to us but in reality we are only ever "punished" by our lack of skill or fear itself.