Welcome to our October business briefing.

It takes 3.5 minutes to read. We hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for all your feedback on last month’s edition which discussed how to ‘get to the right question’. These slides give an example of what the technique of question fanning involve.

Fit for purpose?

Why do business people do so little training? I don’t mean training to get fit physically but to help get better at the sort of work we do? Some people may go on the occasional course, others will do a few development days here and there. But many of us will go through an entire year without doing any formal training at all. It’s the same in both the commercial and public sectors.

Of course, support with personal development comes in other guises too –one-to-one coaching, guidance and feedback from line managers, ‘on-the-job’ learning, reading. If you count it up though, how much of this are you really getting, what does it add up to – not as much as it should?

Many of us know that we ought to be investing more in our personal development. We blame a lack of time (and perhaps increasingly tight budgets). We fear the pile of work and mountain of unanswered emails that will build up. We feel guilty about taking time away leaving busy colleagues. Those same colleagues may resent us as we go off to do some training. The line manager who was happy to approve the course 3 months ago now regrets saying “yes” as the deadline looms.

Others of us are more relaxed about the need for personal development. It’s not that we necessarily expect it all to come naturally to us, though we may be guilty of believing that. More often, we suffer from what might be termed the ‘fallacy of position’. We say to ourselves: “Because I have reached this position in the organisation, I must be able to do the job well.” That may or may not be the case (the ‘Peter Principle’ holds that people rise to their level of incompetence!) but the question still remains: “are you doing your job as best as you can?”

And it is the idea of achieving your personal best that interests us.

Do you know what your ‘personal best’ is? Consider your typical athlete – they do. It is their benchmark, how they gauge the level to which they are performing. It is the way they measure improvement. They might use the time for a race, the place in a particular competition, the ranking in their competitive category.

What are the equivalents for you? Writing a report faster or to a better quality? Getting higher feedback scores in appraisals? Generating more sales? Having more people come up and speak to you after giving a presentation? Or something else?

And we can also copy athletes in how they go about improving their performance. The first thing to focus on is ‘technique’ – what are the skills and ways of doing things that comprise the job I do? By being explicit about all the techniques you need to do your job you can spot which ones are most critical and which need most attention.

Athletes then focus on developing technique by:

> observing (measuring what they do, watching themselves, getting others to scrutinise what they do)

> reflecting (thinking about what is working and what is not, trying to understand what is stopping them from getting it right)

> learning (building on what works well for them, drawing on the best that other athletes are doing, listening to the advice of their coaches)

> experimenting (trying out the new learning to see what difference it makes, adapting to find the optimum approach)

> embedding (practicing the improved technique again and again to be able to be able to repeat it under any circumstance, however stressful).

Like an athlete, a lot of the improvement you could make through training will be incremental. Steady, patient persistence in reaching new personal bests. Sometimes, though, you can make a big breakthrough by discovering a new technique. The equivalent of the Fosbury Flop.

Now you may be saying, “it’s all very well for athletes. They spend 95% of their time training and 5% performing. It’s not like that in business.”

But here’s a hypothesis to think about: could it be that if you spent 20% of your time training (in whatever form), you could do your current work better in the remaining 80% of the time? In other words, could a 20% investment in training deliver at least a 25% increase in performance?

Impossible for you? Probably not. There are people who do this and more. Challenging? Certainly!

As with achieving most things, there are a lot of small steps you can take to get there. Make the most of your line manager. See if you can get a personal coach through work or you could approach a colleague, acquaintance or friend. Build learning time into every day. Find like-minded people and see how they manage their personal development.

You’ll never know if you can do it without trying. Maybe by 2012 you will be hitting ‘personal bests’ that you never imagined you’d achieve?

“A half hour’s thinking time is needed every day; apart from when you are really busy, and then it’s an hour”

Lexicon for Leaders: 26 ideas for business success

‘D’ is for Developmental methods

Try blending some of these methods to find your own winning combination.


With best wishes,

Ross, Phil and the idenk team

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