Mergers – what is your role as a leader?

Bringing two businesses together is a tough ask of any leader in any size organisation.  So how do you get it right? What are your responsibilities?

Well, you could do some research and visit and talk to other people who have done what you are about to do…you will not be the first to merge companies like this.  So you can learn from what worked with them and what did not and then you can avoid the latter!

You can also do desktop research, which is quicker than face to face but you cannot interrogate the websites you find to get to the nub of the issues.

In my experience the single biggest issue in the bringing together of two organisations is that of communication.  Yes, that old chestnut!  But it is true, and borne out again recently when I met some of the people directly impacted on by a merger.  When I asked them how they felt about the situation I got answers such as ‘frustrated’ ‘scared’ ‘helpless’ and ‘under-valued’.  I could go on because the list was quite extensive but you get the gist!  When I asked why they were feeling like this it boiled down to a lack of communication by the senior management which means that people’s jobs are changing, the location of the workplace is changing and their line manager is changing but no-body has told them how it is changing and what the consequences of those changes will be.

Sure, if you are familiar with the change curve (my blog on April 3) you would say that they are still resisting but what I found interesting was that when you explored their feelings they wanted to discuss the options and what the future held, but no-body could tell them what that was. The lack of clarity around job roles & responsibilities for the future (less than 2 months away) would concern me if I was a shareholder in this business! There appeared to be no plan!

I bet if I went to the senior management team there is a plan and it is all beautifully presented and fits a classic merger format.  My issue is that NO-ONE is sharing that information with the people at the coal face!!

So what about you as the leader, what should you be doing?  Well in my opinion you should be communicating on a regular basis with your team. Even if there is nothing to tell them, that is what you tell them!! You should be pushing upwards to get more information and you should be feeding upwards the feelings that you and your team are experiencing.

We are all human and therefore feel threatened by something as massive as a merger but we as leaders in our organisation have a responsibility to the people in our team so talk to them!!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

English as a second language – a training dilemma?

Here at Rubus Associates, even though we are based in South Wales, we get involved in leadership and management training  all over the world.  We are often, therefore, in a learning environment with people who have English as a second language.  As professional people developers this is something we have to consider not just in the delivery of our programmes but in all aspects of the training cycle.

As you may, or may not be aware there are four stages to this cycle and they are identifying training needs, designing the solution, delivering the solution and finally evaluating the success of the learning event. So let’s consider each of those areas:


As part of the process of identifying the training needs it is important to clarify and confirm the level and competence of the people who require the training.  This will be vital for you in the design stage.  However if the course you are developing is advertised as an ‘open to all’ course then it is important that the requirements for attending the course are clearly specified, such as having achieved a certain level of qualification or be in a certain role within the business.  Clarification around terminology used to describe the course content and the ideal course candidate needs to be though through very carefully to ensure that the needs of the attendees are met.


Care needs to be taken here to use correct grammar and punctuation in the documentation as well as not using phrases such as ‘wishy washy’ or local sayings such as ‘where you too?’  These will just be too complicated and too confusing for an audience who is having to learn new theories and techniques as well as dealing with translating the information between two languages.  It is also critical in your design to consider the different cultural requirements of your delegates including religion, dietary and general well being.  For example prayer breaks will have to form part of your design and will have to be managed respectfully.


As a trainer you need to have done your cultural homework before starting the course so that you are fully aware of any situation that you may present itself.  Once you are delivering you need to consider the pace at which you are speaking and the use of correct English.  It is therefore very important that the notes that the delegates have and the visual aids that you are using are used to reinforce the key messages that you are conveying.  So remember to allow people time to read the slides/your flip chart; ensure that you write clearly and slowly on the flip chart and most importantly that you do not talk away from the delegates who need to see you facial expressions to assist in the assimilation of what you are saying.

You also need to be flexible around start times and break times to accommodate different cultural requirements.This can be frustrating for you as a trainer as you may have to cut short a session or exercise, but it is also about creating mutual respect and developing an understanding about what has to be covered, especially if the course is accredited.


The methods used for evaluation need to reflect the needs that were identified in the beginning and often need to be developed by the delegate’s organisation.  The first level evaluation that is completed (aka the Happy sheet) is a good base to judge immediate reaction however long term evaluation also needs to be considered.Our role as professional trainers should involve helping & supporting organisations to put robust evaluation strategies in place to assist them in showing an effective return on their investment. As has been stated before the language that is used on the evaluation sheet needs to be considered carefully to reduce any confusion and mis-interpretation.

So if you are about to embark on delivering to an audience whose first language is not English do take some time to ensure that the notes you provide as well as the actual training you deliver consider the needs of the delegates.

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth


I have recently spent a very constructive & interesting day with a number of people discussing ‘leading teams’ and the importance of this subject…so I thought I would share some of these ideas with you.

Teamwork is crucial to any organisation as we need to make the most of the people that we employ, especially in the current economic climate.  So how do you measure the effectiveness and efficiency of your team? I bet your key measurements are numerical, such as how much we saved or made and I bet you don’t often think about measuring how much trust there is in your team or how much commitment to the objectives of the team.  Yet these are crucial areas that impact on your team’s performance.

Then there is your leadership style…are you a micro-manager or have you got the leadership maturity to know when to demonstrate directive behaviour towards your team and when you need to be supportive and when you need to leave them alone? Having met over 30 team leaders in the last month it is interesting to listen to how we measure success in a team.  It is almost exclusively by numbers: how many boxes we shipped; how much sales revenue we have made and this has very little if anything to do with the qualities that we believe make up a good team.

These qualities are often cited as communication, trust, honesty, support and respect.  So how do you measure how your team are performing in these areas….oh that’s too hard I hear you cry so that’s why I don’t do it.  Exactly!  You can be the best sales team on the planet but if you don’t trust and support each other you are not a team, you are a group of people all reporting to one person.

A team can be successful without selling the most, saving the most or making the best…your role as the manager is to talk to all of them to help them understand how you are going to measure success, what your expectations are of their behaviour towards each other and you and that is all matters.  As Lencioni stated in his book the Five Dysfunctions of a Team and I am paraphrasing here:

Without trust I am vulnerable so I will not challenge the situation.  If I don’t challenge what we are doing I do not buy into it.  So if I do not commit to the situation I am not accountable and therefore I am not interested in the results. This team becomes or is dysfunctional.

However if we all trust each other I will challenge you in our meetings and when we have resolved our differences I will commit to what we have decided to do 100%.  As I am committed to making it happen I therefore realise that I am accountable for the outcome and therefore I will ensure that the results come. Thus this team is functional and performing!

Surely the latter is a much better situation for your as a team leader?

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Do you coach or do you tell?

In a recent training programme I was encouraged by the managers on the course telling me how often they coached their people and how good they were at it.  I was then hugely disappointed to watch them in a role play situation spending all the time that they were allegedly coaching the individual telling them what to do.  Oh dear I thought, this is going to be a long, long day!!

What has happened is that many people, maybe you included, have thought coaching is about telling people what to do because, lets face it, you are the manager and you should know what to do!  However coaching is about you helping the other person to learn for themselves….this is not done by you telling them what to do all the time! In fact if you do this, the only thing they have learnt is that you will give them the answer and so they don’t have to think!

So lets consider the key skills of an effective coach:

Questioning skills – this is not just about asking open questions.  It is about asking the right question at the right time which has the ability to allow a person to see things from a different perspective.  You will know when you have asked a ‘killer’ question as it will be obvious that your coachee has to think hard about answering it.  You need to question around making comparisons, encouraging the person to evaluate different situations as well as getting them to synthesise information.

Listening skills – once you have asked a question BE QUIET even if you find it is uncomfortable, you have to give the person time to consider their response, formulate that response and then respond.  So do not interrupt them!  But do make sure that it is obvious to them that you are paying them 100% attention, make encouraging noises and tell them, if appropriate, to take their time in answering. You have to develop a desire to listen and ensure that the other person does most of the talking.  You listen 70% and you talk 30% of the time is a good measure of how an effective coaching session should be.  Remember, never impose your solution onto the other person as then it will be yours and not theirs.

Action – Always make sure that both of you are clear about what the next actions will be and when they will be done by.  If you fail to do this there will have been no point to the coaching session.  Do not settle for ‘I’ll do it soon’ or ‘As soon as possible’ make sure that you have a definite action and a definite delivery time that the action will be done by.  Agree a follow up meeting and make sure you turn up for it!

Coaching can happen anywhere at any time with people at any levels. The best coaching often happens when the coach has no knowledge of the subject or baggage about the relationships that the coachee wishes to discuss.  This can be hard in an organasational situation which is why as a manager you may find it useful to have a business coach from outside your company. It certainly has worked for me both as a coach and a coachee.

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

What is the ideal number of delegates on a training course?

What is the ideal number of delegates on a training course?

As you may know I have been a delegate recently on a course in my role as church treasurer and it brought to mind one of the biggest issues that we have as professional trainers…how many people do you have on one programme?

Well the answer is, as ever, it depends upon the subject, the competence of the learners and how practical the learning needs to be.  Adult learning theory shows us that we all have a preferred way of learning, be it reflective, and thus need time to consider and review the information or be it active, where the learner wants to get involved. It is therefore important that we as managers & trainers design a learning activity that is suitable for all types of learners, whether it is a five day programme or a 20minute tool box talk.

You may be in the fortunate situation that you know the learners whom you will be training and so with that greater insight you can provide a much more bespoke learning experience.  However, if you are running open courses, such as those that I am involved in, you have no idea about the learners preferred way of learning.  You must therefore design & develop your training programme to suit all four learning styles as identified by Honey & Mumford.  Be aware that you are likely to design a training programme that suits your learning style and thus will bore the pants off other types of learner.  I am an activist and like to ‘do stuff’ on a course, so this recent learning experience, which was aimed at reflectors, was hard work!!

Your other consideration is what you are training your people on…on my course there were 50 of us, so there was no chance for the trainer to spend time with us on an individual basis, so there was no practical learning or experience.  This was not too bad for a subject like accounting practice and there were three trainers so their different styles helped to maintain attention. However it is not how training IT subjects would work at all, for example, as people want to be hands on & practical with these subjects…people need to practice the skills as they are being taught them, not just watch the upteenth PowerPoint slide!

The final and most pragmatic answer to the question is that of cost or sales, depending on how you look at this situation.  I recently saw an advert for a ‘hands on, interactive training session where you will be one of only 4 delegates’ which I thought was fantastic.  It was for a very practical subject and meant that you as the delegate knew you would have a lot of attention from the trainer and therefore, able to get a lot of hands on experience with good supervision.  But this approach may not work in an organisation where you have to train a lot of people at once because they can only be released from their job all together, when the line is closed for example, in a manufacturing environment.

Commercial considerations also have to be made especially if you are charging people for attending the programme.   You have to cover the venue costs, costs of the trainer and materials that you produce as well as refreshments and you are a business so you need to run this at a profit.  So this may be the biggest influence on the numbers you train and in my experience this is very often the case.  So despite you, as a professional trainer, explaining that the maximum number for a particular course is X people the company put X+ on the course as they will make more money, but will the learning happen?!

I hope that this has been thought provoking!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Leadership behaviour…learn how to manage it!

Leadership behaviour…learn how to manage it!

As a manager, trainer or coach we all have to be leaders of people and we often forget how our behaviour impacts on other people…we need to learn how to manage our behaviour and recognise that sometimes we just don’t get it right!

If you go and look up leadership behaviour on a search engine or dare I say it, in a book, you will find many references to leadership theory dating back over 50 years.  As a trainer who delivers accredited training I have to share a lot of this theory with managers at all stages of their career and it is interesting to see when people have that ‘light bulb’ moment.

Most recently this has been around changing your behaviour to different members of the team, for the theorists amongst you, this is situational or contingency theory.  Fundamentally it is about you recognising when a member of your team/group needs you to tell them what to do and when they need you to back off, so that they can get on with the job.

Different behaviour can be categorised into two key areas: directive behaviour where you tell the person what to do and supportive behaviour where you discuss with the person what they are going to do.  This categorisation forms part of Hersey & Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory, which gives much more detail, I am barely scratching the surface here, just making a key point for you to think about.

Take a new recruit, for example, in the first few days & weeks they will need more directive behaviour from you but as they learn the job you need to pull back and give them more support to allow them to do the job on their own. I often use the analogy of swimming: when you are teaching someone to swim you are in the water telling them what to do; once they can do the basics you are still in the pool but you are encouraging them.  When they can swim a length or two you might be on the side of the pool still encouraging but eventually all you will have to do is take them to the pool.  That is where you want to get to with all your team eventually.

So often I meet team members who wish that their manager would give them space to do the job, they do not want to be micro managed.  We, therefore have to look at our own behaviour and recognise when it is appropriate to be directive, which will not be all the time, and when it is important to be supportive of your team.

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Creating the right learning environment

Creating the right learning environment

I have just recently been a delegate on a course, not for me as a trainer, but for me in my role as church treasurer.  It was good to be on the receiving end of the learning for a change and enabled me to get a good insight into the perspective of the learner.

Venues vary tremendously from client to client and hotel to conference centre but as a trainer it is one of the areas that nobody tells you about.  Very often you have to spend the first 10-15 minutes setting up or sorting out the room to make it conducive to the learning of your delegates.  This had been thought about a little in the venue I was at….yes there was daylight and yes we could all see the screen for the PowerPoint presentation, but you couldn’t see the presenters and if you had been at the front you would’ve disturbed a lot of people if you had wanted to go out for a wee.

People who design meeting rooms, conference rooms and church halls forget that if they want to sell it as a training venue, that you are a trainer will want to walk in amongst your delegates not lecture from the front…this is especially true if you are an experiential trainer.  Yet the designers/IT people insist in putting the plugs in the middle of the floor so you have to tip toe through the cables all day.  Or the tables are fixed so that you cannot move them, this means that not only can you not move from the front very easily, but also the exercises that you have designed for small groups are very hard to facilitate….or even just getting people to work in small groups is restricted by the furniture.

Daylight is also so important for assisting the attention span of the delegates as well as allowing fresh air to be circulated.  I have trained in a number of venues without natural light and as the trainer you have to take this into consideration with your delegates and their learning capacity.  Last week as a delegate it was great that some of the daylight was allowed into the room, however because the session was completely tutor led and driven by PowerPoint half the windows had to be covered so people could see the screen!!

The other key area to consider is the seating arrangements; can all the delegates see the visual aids that you will be using? Can they see you? How well can they see each other?  This latter point is very important if a high percentage of your programme is based around facilitated discussions. Hopefully as well, the seats will have arms as this assists the comfort of your delegates.  Remember that the mind will only take in as much information as the posterior can endure!!

You also have to consider the number of people that you will have attending your session….I was one of 50 people last week, so yes, it was a lecture not a learning session, consequently there was little interaction between learner and trainer which for learning styles like mine (active, participative) was not good at all.  In fact I spent a lot of the time on my social media sites…my apologies to the trainer but I was bored and that is a whole other subject to talk about in the future!!

So lets make our learning environments more conducive to learning and ensure that our learning outcomes are met and we don’t bore our delegates to death!!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

THE MOTIVATION OF CPD (continuous professional development)

THE MOTIVATION OF CPD (continuous professional development)

For the first time in quite a long time I attended a conference this weekend as part of my continuous professional development (CPD) and feel so motivated by it I thought I would share it with you.

What is CPD?

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) continuous professional development (CPD) “is a combination of approaches, ideas and techniques that will help you manage your own learning and growth”.

Why do CPD?

As professional trainers, coaches and mangers we should be encouraging everyone we come into contact with to keep their CPD up to date.  Obviously we should also be doing it ourselves!!  The idea is to keep us up to date with developments in our industry, to keep our ‘little grey cells’ working and to ensure that we are motivated and developing ourselves as well as other people.

However, we are like the cobblers children and very often give this great advice and don’t take it up ourselves…guilty as charged here!!  So as I am interested in eating real natural food I attended the inaugural Harcombe Diet conference at the weekend in Birmingham.

Not only was it good for me to be a delegate…which does make you think about some of the things we take for granted as trainers, such as environment, comfort of chairs, how long until a break etc. It was also good for me to see other people present, manage a large group of over 50 people and give people advice about how to break habits and become motivated.  The latter is always good as you see things from a different perspective, get new ideas that you can pass on and generally feel more motivated than when you arrived!  Well I did anyway!!

So I am going to ensure that my CPD activities feature in my diary on a regular basis as I feel invigorated and motivated as I start the working week.  Hope you have a great week as well,

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

How do you measure learning?

How do you measure learning?

How many times do you actually read the instructions and ensure that you understand them before you go ahead and do something?

Part of my work involves marking work for students so that they are assessed against a given criteria decided upon by awarding bodies such as Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) or Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD). If the student meets the required standard they then get a recognised qualification. This is often valued by many of the people I have the pleasure to work with and the reason they are attending the programme.

However it never ceases to amaze me that people, who appear to be competent and literate, do not read instructions!! If you are asked for 2 examples of something, why only give 1!!! Or you are asked to explain something and you describe it…these are two different activities.

Reading and understanding the instructions or the criteria against which you are being assessed is fundamental to the process of accreditation. It means that people like me, and lets be fair, there are a lot us out here, have a benchmark to which we are measuring a person’s work.

Interestingly if you as a trainer or a manager, or both, have not identified why the person needs to attend a training programme how will you be able to measure the success of that learning event once it has been completed?  This is why there is much more emphasis on accredited programmes now because companies can set a level at which they expect people to attain.  It is also why a lot of government money is available because it can be measured and therefore the expense can be justified.

So, if you are attending a training programme or planning to run one for your team or individuals within it, ask yourself: “how will I know that the training has been effective?” Ask this question to the people you are thinking of hiring to run that training or put your own measurement criteria together.  But remember to be clear about what you are asking people to do and then make sure that they actually understand what is being asked of them.

The assessment criteria needs to be clear, measurable and relevant to the subject and must be accessible to all.  Then depending upon how many people will be completing this assessment, how do you ensure consistency in the people who are marking this work?  This is especially true in the intangible area of leadership and motivation, so you as a trainer, or as a manager need to set clear expectations of what you are measuring and be able to provide examples for the learners.

So, if the instructions are clear & understandable for the learners it will make marking of such work fairer and more equitable for people like me!  It will also mean that the money you are spending on the learning will provide you with a measurable return.

Off to do some assessment now!!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Make sure you qualify every lead!

Make sure you qualify every lead!

Although sales training is not one of my main strengths I was amazed to be part of a sales process where the initial qualification of the need of the customer was not done.

A couple of weeks ago a sales representative of a very well known double glazing firm called at our house selling his wares, so to speak.  Well I know that we need new fascia boards at the gable end of the property, which I explained to this person. He then asked about sofit boards (sorry to be so technical but you need to know what I wanted) and I explained that we only have one of those.  He said he would arrange for someone to come out and give us a quote on a date that we agreed.

Now from this representative’s perspective he had succeeded in getting an appointment.  So he was well on his way to his target…job done!

Two weeks later and three days before the appointment I get a call from another representative to check that I will be in on the agreed date to meet with the surveyor.  This person explained that I would also get a quote from the surveyor on the day, which this person hoped would be acceptable to me.

On the day of the allotted appointment I get a call from a third person from this company to confirm that I am in and I am the decision maker.  They also confirmed what I wanted and I explained two fascia boards and a sofit board, no I did not need the guttering replaced.  This voice said that was part of the package but the surveyor would ensure that I got the right information when he arrived later that day.

The surveyor duly arrived on time and very well presented…always a good start for a sales appointmentm I believe.  He took one look at my house and said he could give me a quote but it would be far too expensive, I was better off going to a local builder and getting them to do it.  He was with me for no more than 3 minutes!!

Two lessons to learn from this:

1. Make sure that you know what the customer wants and what you are selling.  If the initial representative had been better trained he would’ve been able to tell me that the job was too small for his firm.

2. If the job had been qualified better three people would not have had to interact with me to establish that the job was too small.  Again if the person on phone call had been better trained, again he could’ve qualified me out

Please make sure you do not waste your precious time & your resources on badly developed sales leads.

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth