Learning impacts on all business functions

For any business to run effectively all the functions within that organisation have to interact through good communication, clearly defined procedures and good management.

In discussion with a group of ‘baby’ trainers recently it became apparent how important the function of learning and development is to all businesses whatever their size and complexity.  For example a business may be developing a new product or service which once tested and customer ready has to be sold.  Therefore the developers need to train the sales & marketing people in how this product works, what are its features & benefits, why it will be a great purchase for the customer. Other functions, such as customer service, distribution, IT and administration also have to be trained on the new product so that can assist the customer with any queries they may have, ensure that the processes are compatible and so on.

So it is quite interesting how in some organisations they treat Learning & Development as a separate entity, a part of HR or just outsource training delivery and yet I make the case for the fact that if you get your Learning & Development right in your business, as part of every function within your business, you will reap many rewards.  These will not only be from your customers who are getting great service & products but also from the people who are running your business….your staff!

To make this real one of the key roles of any manager should be that of ‘developing your team’ whether that is through formal training or more informal coaching or a combination of both. Learning & Development should not just consist of ‘going on a course’ every now and then but should be part of everyone’s job but especially in the role of manager.

Every manager should have ‘developing your team through learning & development’ written into their job description and be measured on how effective they are in delivering on this.  This will enable your people to learn & grow in your business, this will give you an engaged workforce who feel valued and will therefore be more loyal and productive and you will ‘grow your own people’ which can also be a cost saving benefit in the longer term.

So my question to you is how effective are your line managers? How effective are you at growing and developing the talent that you have in your team?  Are you brave enough to move the poor performers out or are you just coasting along hoping that it will all work out in the end?  You have to be a model to your people, you need to realise that you need to grow & develop in your role….so maybe you need coaching as well?

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth


Succession planning – have you thought about it?

Succession planning is a critical management tool whatever the size of your business because without it your organisation may not survive!

So what is succession planning? In simple terms….who is going to do your job when you are not there any more!  This does not mean that you are about to be made redundant or sacked but it is good business practice to consider who will do what you do if you are not here.

It may not be about developing people but you may be faced with a situations affected by external issues. Many organisations, for example, now have in their risk register & planning process what will happen if a group of key workers win the lottery.  This is because the likelihood is that the people will leave work, thus giving the organisation a great deal of problems to fill that gap, especially if they are all members of the same team.

The Harvard Business Review suggests that Succession planning should be called Succession Development as plans do not help people learn about the new job so, yes it should be about developing people who have the potential.This has to begin with regular performance reviews and frank discussions about peoples’ aspirations and capabilities.  It is no good if you have identified that George is the ideal candidate to succeed you, if George is quite happy in his current role and has no wish to be promoted.  An even worse scenario would be that you encourage George into thinking he can succeed you when it is clearly beyond his capability.

An even worse crime that you may commit as a line manager is not to consider this at all because you do not know where you are going or you are quite happy in your current role.  That does not stop you being responsible for developing your team, even if that means that they eventually will leave you and go and work elsewhere….that is a natural process.

So we as managers have to be clear about what qualities, competencies, skills & knowledge people should have to be able to carry out a specific role effectively.  It is then important to identify the gaps between what you require and what the person actually has and then develop that person in those areas.

The development can take many different forms and take much time to happen.  Remember it does not just mean ‘sending them on a course’ or getting an MBA or other such qualification, but it may mean the individual spending time with key people & departments in the business to gain a sound working knowledge of the whole business.  It is also good practice for the identified individual to have a mentor (not their line manager) so that their development can be guided effectively and a realistic time frame needs to be given.  Obviously there should then be regular reviews of the development process.

This is not a job that you as a line manager should be doing in isolation but in conjunction with your HR support as well as other line managers so that you can begin to develop a pool of people who have the potential for more senior positions in the business. Critical for you as line manager is your ability to coach and develop your people but also to recognise that for you to succeed your boss you have to work at your own development & knowledge gaps….so don’t forget to look after yourself as well!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth


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


Change – how do you cope with it?

Change is something that we all have to deal with and we often think about it in work terms but it is happening in our own personal life as well.  Wherever that change is happening it is interesting to see how people react to it and work through it.

Lets be honest we all like things that we know and are familiar with so when this is changed out of our control, it is very interesting to observe people’s reactions to it even in a social environment.  Just recently I have been away with a group of friends to a hotel that we have visited regularly over the last 10 years.  Since our last visit the whole of the ground floor area, lounge & reception have been refurbished….well it was not to my taste, nor to my friends but we bitched and moaned about it as it wasn’t like it used to be, not as good and why did they do this, why put that with that etc.

Yet after two days of being in that environment we had accepted the change, we were more used to the decor and the new layout, we still did not like it but we had explored used to it. So we had got to the point of acceptance and this is the same with all different types of change, especially if we cannot do anything about the changes.

If you then think about change in the work environment then it is ongoing, for if companies do not change and evolve, they will become extinct. These changes might involve changes of personnel, changes of premises or the amalgamation of two organisations into one and I am currently working with all three of these different types of changes and it is interesting to see the different reactions of the people involved, just like my friends and the hotel refurbishment.

What it shows is that whatever the change, people will react differently and you as a manager need to be able to support and respond to each different reaction as well as dealing with the changes yourself.  If you read around this subject it all comes back to regular and effective communication in all directions and from all levels.  You as a manager should not be relying on other people but getting the information to share with your teams.

I am sure you are all aware of the different stages that people go through with change from denial to resistance to exploration to commitment and as leaders of people we have to help people through these stages and recognise that it is not a smooth passage from one to another but people often go back and forwards a number of times, so you have to have patience.  This is especially important if you accept change readily.  I have known a manager who was like this who just did not understand why her team could not accept what was happening and the relationships got very strained to say the least!!

Sone thoughts on each of these stages that we experience during change:

During denial

Confront individual with information. Let them know that the change will happen. Explain what to expect and suggest actions they can take to adjust to the change. Give them time to let things sink in, and then arrange a planning session to talk things over.

During resistance

Listen, acknowledge feelings, respond empathetically, and encourage support. Don’t try to talk people out of their feelings, or tell them to change or pull together. If you accept their responses they will continue to tell you how they are feeling. This will help you to respond to some of their concerns.

During exploration

Concentrate on priorities and provide any necessary training. Follow up projects underway. Set short-term goals. Conduct brainstorming and planning sessions. Give direction and guidance with gentle persuasion. Allow people to explore.

During commitment

Harness commitment with objectives and goals. Concentrate on team building. Create a mission statement. Acknowledge and reward those responding to the change. Look ahead.

So whatever change you are facing, remember that you must be the best you can in terms of communication, support your people and be honest about your feelings as well.

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth


That was 2012!

So here we are at the end of another busy and interesting year in the world of training and leadership development and just taking a few moments to reflect on the year and to look forward.

For us at Rubus Associates 2012 was the start of our next decade in business and it has been a great year.  We have re-developed our website which is now something that I can develop add content to without having to bother my web designer, this makes life so much easier and faster.  Mind you it was thanks to his patience that I know what to do!!!!

I have also developed my own blog this year which I have found very interesting and a great way to share thoughts and ideas with the world in a short document…I don’t think any of us have got loads of time to read pages and pages of stuff!!  I am also getting better at the whole social media by using Twitter and beginning to develop our Facebook pages, but I must admit that you have to be disciplined to ensure that it is all up to date!

We have also developed a number of different bespoke courses for our clients and delighted to still be working with some key people who have been our clients for many years…..long may that continue!

Now is also the time when as professionals we should all spend some quality time reviewing what we have achieved for our own professional development (CPD) and recording it so that we have that record to look back on.  It is also a time to consider what do we want to learn & develop within ourselves this coming year.   I did not think I would be this far down the social media path last year so I have it on my plan for 2013 as it is something I enjoy doing and I hope that you enjoy reading!

If you are not a great planner or you just like to go with the flow….more spontaneous use your diary to review what you have done this year.  I always find it amazing to look back and to realise what you have achieved over the 12 months, we do forget! So take that time and look back and then, if nobody else does, pat yourself on the back and say “Great Job”

Then the harder part is to say ok, ‘what am I going to achieve in 2013?’  Write a few ideas down or put together a vision board.  This is where you use pictures of what you would like to see in the future in your world or themes that you want for key areas of your life.  There is plenty of stuff about it out there on the web, but just get a few ideas or thoughts down on paper so that when you get to this time next year you will have done something you wanted to do because you made it happen, not just seeing what comes along.

So here’s to a fab 2013! Thanks for your time,

Suzanne Unsworth