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Thursday, 17 August 2017

The 7 barriers to optimal performance

I often get asked about the return on investment for coaching, or any soft skills learning and development interventions I deliver.

It's not a question I have a ready made answer for, as it very much depends where the individuals is starting from. That said, there are some common outcomes that I'd like to explore in this post - and they're outcomes that relate to what coachees or attendees will be improving, and the impact that improvement will have.

The biggest outcome of most coaching sessions is an increase in confidence, where as the biggest outcome from workshops is often around improved communication and influencing.

Rather than focus on the outcome of the interventions though, I want to look at the barriers that are getting in the way of optimal performance, and that are demolished or reduced as a result of the coaching/workshop.

1. Unconfident

Easily written, and often under estimated, but what price a lack of confidence:
  • Avoids conflict with colleagues, managers, stakeholders and suppliers
  • Doesn't set stretching targets
  • Gets bullied into doing something they shouldn't
  • Isn't able to stand up for, and therefor deliver, best procurement practice 
  • Is easily swayed away from an agreed processes, procedures or decisions
  • Inconsistent in approach   
  • Consistently looks outside themselves for approval and direction
  • Delayed decision making
  • Doesn't challenge others even in areas where they have the expertise
  • Stays within their comfort zone and avoids anything innovative or new  
  • Doesn't look for advancement or promotion (not in and of it self an issue, unless they have the capability to do that, if only they had a little more confidence)
It depends on the role requirements, yet each of these examples will have costly time and financial implications, never mind increased risk and opportunities lost. (Also see post entitled Self-confidence - the difference between success and failure, and there's also a postcard to you from your confidence.)

2. Lack of Motivation

Motivation is an interesting topic as people often ignore that there is a lot they can do to impact and improve their own motivation - it's not a done deal it's impacted by our values and we can proactively use them to inspire action or otherwise.

Coaching can significantly improve coachee motivation, and provide an understanding about what makes them tick, and therefore results in reducing or mitigating the following outcomes:
  • Can't be bothered attitude
  • Tired and lethargic
  • Unfoccused
  • Unable to make decisions
  • Dissatisfaction 
  • Inability to inspire others or even get them to listen to them
  • Quick to judge and blame others
  • Not taking personal responsibility 
  • Lackadaisical 
  • Makes mistakes 
  • Refusal to do some tasks 
  • Applying for the wrong jobs
  • People leaving
Just imagine what your team performance would be if these were removed.

3. Resistant to Change

Whilst coaching and soft skills interventions may help us to personally expand our comfort zones and reduce our resistance to change, most often than not the workshops help people to understand the process of change, and how to manage others resistance to change better. Which results in minimising:
  • Stakeholders doing their own thing
  • Time spent arguing and persuading stakeholders of the merit of the proposed strategy
  • Benefits not being realised 
  • Innovations missed
  • Operational stagnation 
  • Dealing with defensiveness 
  • Inability to adapt to new processes
  • Suppliers being able to divide and conquer
  • Denial of the need for change  

There's also a postcard to you from Change Management getting a little frustrated with you at being re-prioritised in importance.

4. Reactive

One outcome of coaching can be holding the mirror up to a coachee on how often they absolve responsibility and don't take personal responsibility for actions, outcomes or problems, which may currently be resulting in:
  • Problems escalating
  •  

I kept writing about the other barriers, and left this to last and realised that being reactive is all about not getting the job done - waiting to be chased, waiting for someone else to tell you what to do. Which may lead to a lack of completion and issues being left unresolved!

After all, if you keep doing what you've always done you'll get the same outcome - as demonstrated in this Purchasing Coach vlog (just turn the sound down a little first).


5. Indecisive/Negative

I was being indecisive about whether to highlight indecisive or being overly negative here - a great reminder about why 1:1 coaching is helpful.

In a classroom the impact of negativity or strategies for decision making can be outlined and explored. In a coaching session an individual's personal relationship with, and reasons for, indecision or negativity can be explored much more deeply, and action plans agreed to release their hold.

Without an intervention it's easy for performance to be impacted by these underlying behaviours, that if not addressed can cycle down into inaction and even depression.

This post on not wanting to do the hard work needed to achieve a goal might help identify some of the discussion points that would be covered in a coaching session tackling this barrier to effective performance. So too this post entitled What's stopping you which looks at the barriers to achieving our goals.

6. Ineffective Communication   

Perhaps it's because we talk every day we assume we know how to do it effectively, forgetting that our own preferences can often get in the way of effective communication.

The cost of ineffective communication is so high it surprises me that so little is done to improve communication skills on a regular basis. The outcomes of ineffective communication might include:
  • Miscommunication 
  • Misunderstanding
  • Conflict
  • Resistance 
  • Isolation 
  • Failure
  • Inability to persuade others
  • Inability to influence others
  • Uninspiring to others
  • Unable to change others points of view  
  • Missed deadlines 
  • Lack of support to do the project
  • Lack of support for the recommendations 
  • Lack of support to implement
  • Humiliation 
  • Wasted time
  • Benefits not realised
  • Wrong requirements delivered 
  • Unhappy customers
  • Problems escalating
  • Lack of respect across the business
Oh dear I could go on. Even if only one of the above was mitigated it's likely that the saving (in time or money) to the organisation over the year would more than pay for any coaching session or workshop. You may also like my post the top 10 things to remember when communicating.

7. Stressed

Well being and mental health all have a positive, negative or detrimental impact on outcomes and performance. However I'll leave those best able to communicate the significant cost of absenteeism, presenteeism and mental ill-health to a dear friend Amy McDonald over on HeadTorch.

Poet Angie Strachan who I've have heard speak at many of the Headtorch conferences has written a wonderful poem entitled Stressed- I'm not stressed.

Other barriers I considered for my top 7 included: fear, anger, blame, lack of trust, distracted, controlling, sticking to the stereotype (wolf?), lack of empathy, lack of self awareness, arrogance, not being a team player, lack of creative thinking, and ineffective management of time

What barriers to optimal performance come to mind for you?

Perhaps more importantly, what is the impact on performance from not dismantling these barriers?

I'm sure there will be teams full of very self aware individuals who do have well being, and who are confident, motivated, decisive, proactive, open to innovation and change and who are effectively influencing and communicating others. 

For those teams where this is not the case the question to be answered is:

What action are you taking to demolish these barriers to optimal performance?

There's much you can do - but hiding behind the need for direct ROI for an intervention before taking action means you're going to be waiting a long time - whilst all of the outcomes above continue to deliver at best sub-optimal outcomes, and at worse significantly increased risk. (I suspect many of the horror stories of procurement gone wrong could point to one of these barriers being responsible.)

What action will you take today to move towards optimal performance?

I'm always happy to help.

Alison Smith
Unlocking potential using unconventional tools

To find out more about coaching and soft skills interventions for you or your team do please get in touch - +44 (0)7770 538159 or alison@alisonsmith.eu.

The Purchasing Coach soft skills toolkit is also a helpful reference guide for exploring and developing soft skills competency individually, or as a team.


Hypertext links in the text above take you to posts written on the subjects highlighted.

If after all that you still don't think you, or your team, do the soft fluffy stuff then you may want to read this rant on the subject, and a more recent and perhaps more considered post 'What should we call our soft skills'.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Targets of perfection


At 88, my dad worries about his mental capacity, and uses the Telegraph's cryptic crossword as a means of checking this. On our weekly call he will often say "I didn't do very well this week" and the niggle at the back of my mind would wonder whether decline was imminent.

Until that is I asked " how many did you struggle with dad".

His answer was "oh about 3 this week".

"3 whole crosswords?" I asked.

"No 3 clues". Let's put this into perspective, there's approximately 25 clues a day, and 7 crosswords a week, and my dad was worried that he was failing to answer less than 2% of the clues. Interestingly, I'm happy if I manage one clue, and therefore have a much lower success target of about 4% to my dads 100%. It just shows how easy it can be to set such high standards, and start to catastrophise a little too quickly.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Metaphors for email management

If you thought that every email was a red light and stopped you in your tracks would you manage them any differently?
In yesterday's post I shared insights from the temporary traffic lights across from my house and applied them to managing my emails better. In the post I provided a number of different potential solutions to improving our email management.

One suggestion to shift our relationship with emails was using metaphor. After all, we consciously know the theory, many of us just don't always put it into practice. Which means the solution is more about managing the subconscious where responsibility for motivation, focus, willpower, developing routines or even resistance lie. Metaphor is such a great means of talking the language of our subconscious and communicating with it in a way that theory and logic just can't manage! (More about the power of metaphor here.)

Assuming you're like me, and may from time to time allow emails to take over your working day, and if the red light analogy didn't help shift your relationship with your emails, let's have some fun, get a little absurd if we can (as that's a very effective way to shift our thinking), and explore some additional analogies.

To make the most of the analogies you may want to first consider your answer to the following questions:
  • How many times a day do you check your emails?
  • How many times a day do you stop what you're doing to check/read an email?
  • What's the longest time you focus on something without distraction?
  • How long could you go and not check your emails before you get a little jumpy/twitchy?
  • What excuse reason do you give for not checking your emails less frequently?
  • When you return from a holiday, and after the initial email reading marathon, do you have a different relationship to checking emails?   
  • Do you find it harder to concentrate and focus on tasks than you used to?
I'm sure many of you may have healthy relationships to your emails, but if as a result of your answers to these questions you realise they're ruling your life you may want to continue reading.

What insight might the following have on how to manage your emails:  
  • Judge telling you what to do: my use of 'ruling your life' above made me realise we can often hand over power to our emails just like we do for the laws of the land. The question to be answered is, should emails have that much power? We certainly wouldn't allow a judge to tell us what to eat and when to eat it and yet it can seem like we allow emails to do so! 
  • Playing football: the image comes to mind of a footballer with the ball headed for the goal, and then allowing the spectators to distract them and even having a conversation with them, and never actually getting anywhere near the goal, and certainly never being able to score!
  • Playing music: I went to a live recording of BBC Radio 2's Michael Ball show at the Edinburgh festival on Sunday, and Tokyo Myers played live :-). This video is a 3 minute version of a much longer version we heard. If we imagine him stopping 3 or 4 times, it's perhaps easier to understand what we're doing when we're allowing emails to distract us away from focusing on the task in hand.
  • Reading a book: I like to read a book before I go to bed, even if it is only a paragraph before my eyes close and I fall asleep. The problem with such a short reading time is I have to reread the paragraph the next time I return to the book. Isn't this what we have to do every time we allow an email to distract us from what we're doing, remind ourselves where we got to and then spend some time getting back into the flow?  
  • Watching a movie: My favourite movie is Contact and I suspect I could watch that and zone in and out constantly and still understand where I am and what's going on. That's only, however, because I've watched the movie/film soooooooo many times. If we're watching a film for the first time there's going to be a maximum number of distractions we can manage before it reduces our understanding and enjoyment of the film. The key is knowing what that optimal number of distractions is, or determining at what frequency they can be accommodated in. 
  • Shopping: In the HBR article the Cost of Continuously checking emails they use writing shopping lists as a reminder that we write the lists so we don't keep popping to the shops every time we run out of something. We go to the shops at regular intervals when its convenient to do so, and pick up everything we've added to the list at that time. Recognising, of course, that there may be emergencies where we absolutely must rush out and buy ice cream or chocolate NOW. 
  • Eating: Just because it's there doesn't mean we should eat it - nor be eating constantly! Many of us can admit to being addicted to eating certain foods and yet fail to acknowledge the same behaviour with respect to checking emails. Which means sometimes the only answer is will power. 
  • Setting sail: the best time to set sail is above a particular height of hide which means there's only certain times twice a day when you can set off, and as they're c12 hours apart one of them may be at more unsociable hours. Trying to set sail outside those times may mean you run aground, need more help, or find it impossible to do what you want to do.  
  • Working with the tide - as per my vlog on the subject

    Do please share any further suggestions in comments below - anything that helps us observe our relationship with emails from a different perspective, and might just provide a gap for us to make a different decision between the email arriving and us taking action to read it.

    Alison Smith
    Unlocking potential using unconventional tools 

    Monday, 14 August 2017

    Shifting from theory into practice

    I had to move my car this morning, as they were digging up the road and needed to put some temporary traffic lights outside the house where I would normally park the car.

    A while later as I looked out of the office window and watched the lights change from red to green and back I was struck with the analogy between them and the issue I'd been wrestling with over recent weeks.

    How to manage emails effectively.

    When I'm out of the office, and as I still don't have emails on my phone only my ipad, I find responding to emails at set times of day much easier to manage ie through necessity it's likely to be at the start or end of the day and done all together.

    When working in the office I do find the little icon that appears a distraction, and much like an annoying itch something that needs scratching - resulting in emails being checked hourly, if not much more frequently!

    I know the theory of managing and responding to emails and time management more broadly - it was even a topic for one of the coaching clinics last year I facilitated and where I summarised the key findings in a Pinterest board.

    I don't, however, always follow the theory - or walk the talk!

    When coaching others the biggest challenge to be addressed for many issues is shifting theory into practice. More often than not we do know what to do - we're just not doing it - whether that's managing emails, eating more healthily, exercising, making decisions, speaking up, taking timely action and so on.

    The challenge in many coaching sessions is finding the difference that makes the difference for the client. Finding what would move them from theory into action, and in this case dealing with emails differently. For some people it might be about finding the motivation to take action, for others changing the trigger for taking action, and others it might be about changing their strategy all together.

    In others words, when wanting to improve email handling, it might include any one or all of the following:
    • Turning the icon that tells you that you've unopened emails off, or closing emails - which might work if, like me, you have a visual trigger for action. 
    • Turning the sound that heralds the arrival of a new emails off - which might work if you have an auditory trigger for action. 
    • Setting a timer to enable you to focus for a set time on a given task with no distractions allowed - which might work if you have a strategy that means you're good at following rules you set yourself, or if you're motivated by reward and can see reading emails as a reward for focusing on another task for an amount of time.
    • Finding the motivation by tapping into the thought of what it would be like to finally get other things on your to-do list done (some people may need to tick a box to get the sense of achievement or success).
    • Thinking about the people you're letting down by not getting your other actions completed (although this may be the same value that is motivating your over responsiveness to emails).
    • Monitoring how often you respond to emails in a day - which might work if you're motivated by efficiency, or away from the horror for how often you let them distract your day.
    • Comparing how much time you spend responding to emails if you do them frequently vs in chunks x times a day - which might work if you're struggling with your workload and know you need to free up time every day.
    • Writing a list of all the things you don't seem to be doing because you're responding to emails - which might work if you really would prefer to be doing the other activities.
    • Adding 'respond to emails' to your to-do list or diary might help you prioritise them alongside your other actions, rather than them just being a filler that expands and takes over your working day.
    • Rooting emails into different folders to assist with their prioritisation (e.g many people redirect emails they're cc'd onto into another folder - the rules set up could be expanded to include redirection based on name, project, key words etc). 
    • Asking someone who manages their time and emails well what strategy they adopt.
    Sometimes the more obvious strategies might not work, and a more unconventional perspective might be just what is needed. In which case, options might include: 
    • Considering the language you're using for emails that arrive - instead of calling them 'emails' what about calling them 'distractions' - might that reduce the frequency that you view them? or perhaps calling them 'actions' would help you manage them more effectively. There's no right or wrong, just a strategy that helps you manage your emails and your work load more effectively.   
    • Doing a collage to act as a visual reminder about the impact of emails, and using it as a screensaver or popping it by your desk (I'll do a blog on this later in the week and link to it when it's written).
    • In a coaching session if we're going around in circles I may get the Frameworks for Change Coaching Process cards out to help provide a different perspective to the situation. (Certainly for me reconnecting to my inner wisdom and vision (big picture) for the future has helped me find more time to allocate to non email activity, and therefore forced me to handle emails differently).
    • Using pipe cleaners to help demonstrate the pros of changing your behaviour, and cons of continuing with your current strategy.
    • Finding a metaphor that helps the theory land - which is where the traffic lights come in. If I imagine the email is the red light I realise that every x minutes, just like the traffic, I'm being stopped in mid-flow - no choice when I stop just at the whim of something external to me. Once the green light shows I have to navigate the roadworks / obstruction before I get back on track and up to my normal speed. If this metaphor doesn't work for you, what other metaphor might help you relate to your emails more resourcefully? Here's some further suggestions.
    • Writing a blog, article, or poem about dealing with emails might help shift the pattern as you are forced to consider, explore and provide solutions to your current unresourceful, unhelpful and unproductive behaviour :-)
    • or even doing a vlog
    • and so on - what strategy do you adopt for managing emails? 


    Alison Smith
    Unlocking your potential using unconventional tools

    Thursday, 3 August 2017

    Testing the Water

    I've just written a blog over on my Landscaping Your Life blog that you might like - it's about the insights to be gleaned from testing the water whilst Open Water Swimming that can be applied to any situation we find ourselves in where we're wanting / needing to test the water first.


    Thursday, 15 June 2017

    The world needs your inner hero - NOW

    If 200 firefighters could walk into that burning building anything is possible. Imagine therefore what difference we would make if we all acted from own inner hero?

    Little did I realise at the start of the year how much I would be reminded of our shared humanity as the year progressed. At the time I shared my desire to ensure that we don't leave our humanity at the office door. 


    As recent events here in the UK have demonstrated it's our humanity that we have in common. It's our humanity that means people will put their differences to one side, and go to extraordinary lengths to help another. It's also our humanity that means that people are now looking for sustainable change so that the mistakes of the past are never repeated.

    If we can continue to keep our hearts open, and take the level of humanity we've seen in recent weeks and months into the work we do - just think what difference we could all make in organisations, politics and beyond.

    The world needs your inner hero - NOW. 

    More here on what started out as a potentially stretching objective for the year - 'to not leave our humanity at the door'.

    Alison Smith
    Unlocking potential using unconventional tools

    #innerhero #humanity

    Tuesday, 13 June 2017

    Self-Confidence - the difference between success and failure


    Self-Confidence is often the major differentiator between failure and success – which is why it surprises me that we so often ignore what we could be doing to increase our own, or our team’s confidence. I'd go as far as to say that, certainly in the UK, anyone expounding their confidence too loudly and saying "I believe in me" would be labelled as arrogant rather than assured. Despite confidence's positive impact on personal and organisational performance. 

    When I undertook my modelling project on negotiation I discovered that the major differentiator between a successful negotiation, and an unsuccessful one was the level of confidence someone felt before entering the negotiation room.

    Not so unsurprising really when you think about it.

    It leads us to then consider what benefit a 5% increase in confidence delivers? Or does the benefit only get interesting when confidence increases 50% or perhaps even 100%. Or is confidence on a more digital scale where we simply do or don't have confidence?

    Confidence banishes a number of emotions and thoughts that hinder success, and delivers other characteristics that support our success. In and of itself not a guarantee of success, and yet something that certainly improves the probability of success.

    Why bother some ask? And that's the crux of this post – I bother because it's the single biggest outcome of the coaching sessions I provide. I know that as a result of that increase in confidence my client is able to do something that they previously wouldn't have been able to do.

    Confidence can banish, reduce or negate
    • Fear or dread
    • Doubt
    • Negativity 
    • Limiting beliefs
    • Comfort zones
    • Resistance 
    • Rigidity
    Confidence can provide, enhance or support
    • Clear thinking
    • Clarity of communication
    • Creativity & innovation
    • Improved decision making
    • Motivation for action
    • Openness to change
    • Flexibility of approach
    • Ability to address or tackle issues head on
    • Joy for life
    • Self expression
    All aspects that impact performance - on an hourly not just daily basis.

    Confidence can wax and wane, and the key for anyone is therefore understanding what work's for them in getting confidence back when it's evading them.

    Future posts this month will explore the processes for increasing our confidence.

    What benefits does confidence provide you - please do leave your suggestions in comments below or on the LinkedIn discussion I started. More importantly what tools do you have in your toolkit for ensuring your, or your team's, confidence is available when it's needed?

    Alison Smith
    The Purchasing Coach
    Unlocking Potential using unconventional tools 
    alison@alisonsmith.eu +44 7770 538159

    You may also find the postcard written to Procurement with love from confidence of interest - it's one of many postcards written from our soft skills brought together in the Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit. The toolkit provides an unconventional means of exploring soft skills and their development. 


    The notes from a recent talk at a CIPS branch meeting on Soft Skills for Procurement Success, that used the toolkit as the content for the session, may also provide insight.

    Wednesday, 24 May 2017

    Would your team win gold at Chelsea?

    I love watching the RHS Chelsea Flower Show – it’s the time of year when I yearn for greener fingers – or perhaps it’s just more time to use them.

    The pride, passion and enthusiasm for all things horticulture is conveyed in the many TV programmes as they interview the winners, runners up, and anyone involved in this wonderful show. 

    Tears, laughter and relief mix as they finally receive the feedback on all their efforts.

    Yesterday it was announced that the M&G Garden designed by James Basson won the prestigious Best Show Garden 2017. (The above video is the making of the garden based on a quarry in Malta - here's a tour of the finished garden). 

    Every year hearing their stories has me considering what is needed in order to even get to Chelsea never mind win gold or even best show garden. For me it includes:
    • Commitment & passion for what they do
    • Effective Team work
    • Great design, planning & creativity – often having taken a year or more to do
    • Attention to detail
    • Timely implementation – they have 3 weeks on site to get the gardens ready for judging on the Sunday (brought forward a day this year), followed by a week of visitors
    • Spot on plant selection & quality – with weather significantly impacting what’s at its best for that one short week
    • Careful and loving planting
    • Meticulous plant care and maintenance
    The project success has much to do with all the things I've listed - failure on any one of these and they might have failed. As head gardener and designer for the project James Basson will have been responsible for ensuring it all worked perfectly.

    For whatever you're head gardener of - could you say the same?

    Would your effort on tending to those in your team enable them to win you a best in class? Do you have the passion? How much planning have you done? Are you attending to every detail? Are you giving it, and them the care they need? and would you delight in their success?

    What seeds do you need to sow today for your team to win best in show later in the year?

    Alison Smith
    The Purchasing Coach

    Unlocking potential using unconventional tools

    Another Chelsea inspired post this week was entitled Benefiting from the fruits of your labours, I also wrote a LinkedIn post about learning from Chelsea in order to bust some moulds, shift perceptions and expand comfort zones whether in Procurement or more broadly.

    Monday, 22 May 2017

    What should you call your soft skills?

    At the CIPS East of Scotland branch meeting last week I gave a talk on Soft Skills - skills that for example include motivation, communication, influencing, change management, decision making, time management and so on (more on what I spoke about here).


    One of the subjects we touched on was the use of 'soft' skills as the term used to describe these essential skills.

    I've ranted before that soft skills aren't something that only those in touch with their emotions have. They're something we all have, and use daily. Soft skills are how we do what we do, and their effective use will make a huge impact on the outcome we get.

    When I asked about the use of the word 'soft' last week, people suggested the term conveyed that they were unimportant or weak skills.

    You only have to look at the power of water ie something seemingly very soft to realise that soft shouldn't mean weak nor unimportant.


    It still raises the question about whether we should give these skills a different name? What about:
    • People skills
    • Emotional Intelligence 
    • Behavioural skills
    • Essential skills
    • Social skills
    • Humanity skills 
    I suspect however, that we end up with the same issue. Perhaps it's not 'soft' that generates the belief that they're unimportant, it's that they're unconscious, below the surface, and linked to our emotions and our humanity that makes them scary, and something therefore to be ignored or avoided. (Perhaps time to let go of the musts, oughts and shoulds about what is and isn't appropriate in business?) 

    With that in mind, we can call them what we want and people are still going to resist exploring them.

    One solution might be to link the skills to the outcome they help you achieve, for example why not call them:
    • The skills that get you the job
    • The skills that get you through your day
    • The skills that help you prepare for your retirement!
    • The skills that mean you can afford to go on fabulous holidays 
    • The skills that help you cope with people in your life 
    • The skills that add meaning to your day
    • The skills that keep the roof over your head
    • The skills that get you out of bed every day
    • The skills that help you decide what to to
    • The skills that keep you out of danger (or try to)
    • The skills that help you open your mouth and say what you want to say when you want to say it
    • The skills that help you change a boring day into an exciting one
    • and so on
    My recommendation therefore is to find a term that makes most sense for you personally. A term for the skills that will inspire your action to review your current competency of a skill, and also inspire action to develop the skill further too.  

    What will you call these very essential skills that support your humanity?

    Alison Smith
    Unlocking personal, procurement and organisational potential using unconventional tools
    alison@alisonsmith.eu +44(0)7770 538159

    I've developed a Soft Skills Toolkit. The aim of the toolkit is to provide discussion points for personal or group exploration of your soft skills, allowing you to understand what options you have, should you decide to develop a particular soft skill.

    There's 2 versions of the toolkit - Dear Procurement, with love from your soft skills aimed at procurement professionals, and Dear Human Being, with love from your soft skills aimed at a wider business audience. They're only £4.99 for personal use, with pricing available on request for organisational use.

    Sunday, 21 May 2017

    Benefiting from the Fruits of your Labours

    RHS Chelsea flower show is here, and with it the art of the possible.

    Every year about this time I think about growing my own vegetables. I think about how lovely it would be to eat the fruits of my labour later in the year. I dream of freshly picked green beans, beetroots straight from the ground, and picking ripe juicy raspberries from the bush. I imagine the recipes I could use, and the wonderful meals I could cook with the home-grown fruits and vegetables. The fun and laughter with the friends I’d invite to share in the delights of my garden.

    Then reality sets in as I watch my neighbours as they spend hours I don’t have, nor have the motivation, sowing seeds, carefully putting them in the greenhouse, watering then daily, pricking out and thinning the seeds as they grow, repotting them, and then feeding and generally putting a lot of time and effort into their own fruit and vegetable plots.

    When I told Terry, the guy who mows my lawn, of my plans he smiled sweetly as he recalled all the times he’s had to tell me he’s going to prune a bush, or set about the garden to weed it after it’s got very overgrown.

    Isn’t that the same in many organisations? Not for fruit and veg but for our suppliers? We have high hopes and expectations of our suppliers, and yet we, and our organisation, are not prepared to put in the effort needed to bring forth that bounty?

    If we expect suppliers to do it themselves without our support and assistance then we shouldn’t be surprised if we end up with an overgrown lawn, a tree whose roots are busy undermining the house’s foundations, plants throttling other plants, or plants that have died through lack of water.   

    Many of the horror stories of procurement gone wrong can track their origin to suppliers left to fend for themselves, or inadequately cared for. 

    Who in your organisation is responsible for tending for your suppliers, and will the fruits of their labours meet organisational expectations in the autumn?

    Gardening is a metaphor I often use with non-procurement managers as it’s something they can relate to more easily than the process we enthuse about and understand intimately. This post explores the metaphor further, and I’ve also pulled together a Pinterest board exploring different aspects of the metaphor.

    Alison Smith
    The Purchasing Coach
    Unlocking Procurement Potential using Unconventional Tools 

    Friday, 19 May 2017

    Soft Skills for Procurement Success

    I spoke about Soft Skills at the CIPS East of Scotland branch meeting earlier this week. I'd like to hope that at least some of those there were inspired to come to hear more about soft skills, rather than just the CIPS/Hays salary guide 2017 that Suzanne Dillon shared with us earlier in the evening.

    I used my recently developed soft skills toolkit as the basis of my talk. The toolkit uses postcards written to procurement from their soft skills.

    At the start of the session I asked people to share the challenges they have with soft skills. As a result, I promised to pull an index together of posts I've written to answer the challenges, and to provide further information on subjects touched on in my talk.

    This is that very index, for you to dip in and out of as needed over the coming days, weeks and months. You just need to follow the highlighted hypertext link and it will take you to the relevant post.

    They won't be going anywhere so no need to read them all in one go :-). Just get a coffee, or wine for that matter, and pop along when you're in need of a different perspective, and pick a post or two to read.

    Content of the Talk:
    • How can you influence others - vlog with insight from those flowers that follow the sun.
    Challenges you asked for additional insight on 
    I'll have to come back to and write posts to address the following challenges: 
    • "When do we use our soft skills?" I'll do a soft skills diary at some point, and for now will just say - I think soft skills are responsible for 'how' we do everything every minute of every day.
    • "How do we develop our soft skills?" The same as any other skill - it's simply a case of taking it out of unconscious awareness into conscious awareness. You'll find more here. It's why I've developed the Soft Skill Toolkit, and you'll find more about how to use that here.
    • "How do we measure the impact of soft skills?" I suspect it's in people achieving their objectives better.
    • "How do I get my team to take soft skills seriously?" Hmm what gets measure gets done - so the answer may lie in the measures of success used in the organisation.  
    • "How do I increase peoples level of self awareness?" Whilst it is very personal I do think the culture within an organisation can help - vulnerability and asking for help need to be accepted and encouraged in order for people to lower their defences long enough to hear the feedback. Which starts with the manager being a role model for this too. This post, asking if we have our head in the sand about our own level of self awareness, might also help. 
    Unconventional Tools that I use in Coaching and Training
    My Passions
    • This index of top 10 Purchasing coach posts might explain more about what I get passionate about - the main ingredient not mentioned already is about taking our humanity with us to work every day, and inviting procurement to be Enlightened and not to fall back on being Mr Wolf (descriptions used by some suppliers I trained last year)!
    The Sales Pitch - ie what I could do for you
    • Coaching
    • Organisational soft skills training
    • Team facilitation - unlocking the potential of procurement teams
    • Open workshops - I'm going to be offering some 1 day soft skills workshops here in Fife over the summer - do drop me a line if you'd like me to send you details once they're sorted. I can promise they won't involve sitting in a hotel conference room all day. 
    • I also deliver procurement and supplier management workshops - direct and as an associate. Here's an index of posts linked to the content and discussions during a 3 day category management workshop, and updated after each session. 
    Email alison@alisonsmith.eu or even call me +44 (0)7770 538159 

    Hopefully you'll have found at least one post that adds to your insight on soft skills, and has inspired you to do something different. Which reminds me of something I forgot to say, and that's that the quickest way to learn new things is to get your 'doing new things' muscle working by doing something different everyday - here's how I fared when I did it for 28 days last year.

    Do keep in touch - here in comments, over on LinkedIn, or email.

    Alison Smith
    The Purchasing Coach
    Unlocking individual and procurement potential using unconventional tools
    (with some conventional tools thrown in for good measure)

    Wednesday, 17 May 2017

    Love from Learning and Development



    If your soft skills were to write a postcard what would they say?

    Today it's the turn for learning and development to get something off their chest.

    POSTCARD

    Dear Procurement, 

    We love the 70/20/10 model - after all it reminds you that there's multiple places that your learning and development takes place - i.e. experiential via on the job learning (70%), social interactions (20%), and formally via training events (10%).

    The biggest challenge is that in order for learning and development to take place you do need to be consciously aware of what's not working for you. I'm sure you all have stories to tell of people who think for example, that they're great at communication, listening or negotiation. Yet being on the receiving end of their communication, listening or negotiation skills you would resoundingly disagree.

    The key is moving from unconscious incompetence into conscious incompetence - knowing what you don't know, or could get better at. It's only then that a plan can be developed for a competency to be improved or enhanced.

    The question you need to answer is how do you become aware of your incompetence areas for improvement or development if it's not consciously obvious to you?

    360 degree feedback is one mechanism, so too observing others you admire and noticing what they do and how they do it. YouTube, books and online learning are all great places to find out how those that do something well do it. Podcasts, vlogs and blogs too - even Arianne Huffington's Thrive Global got in on the act yesterday sharing a post on the power of constant learning.

    From there it's a case of comparing what you do to their model of excellence, and then making changes to your behaviour, and noticing the impact they have on your performance.

    There are some barriers however to even these activities working, and that's either being resistant to the feedback, or having beliefs that either a particular competency is common sense and so innate that anyone can do it, or a belief that you're great at the skill, and no one can tell you otherwise.

    All and any learning requires that you be open to alternative ways of doing something.

    Soft Skills is one of those areas where so many people remain oblivious to what can be achieved with just a little tweak here and there, or a little perspective change. You may want to read the top 10 things to remember when communicating to give you a sense of some of the things you might be unconscious about.

    How can you become more aware of your own level of competency with respect to soft skills, and what can you do to identify a plan to learn and develop them? After all, we can personally think of nothing better than doing that, and so can certainly support you. We just need your intention and we'll then be gladly be of assistance.

    We look forward to a great year ahead full of surprises, busting a few limiting beliefs, and celebrating the expansion of you comfort zone or even getting in touch with you comfort universe.

    With love from Learning and Development 

    PS: Doing something different everyday is one activity you may want to try that we can guarantee will help you develop your skills.


    A selection of postcards from others of your soft skills have been brought together into the Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit. You can find more about buying the Toolkit here - for personal use (at a cost of only £4.99) or organisationally (cost on request).

    A toolkit entitled Dear Human, with love from your Soft skills has also been developed, and is available for non Procurement professionals wanting to develop their soft skills.

    There are examples of other postcards in posts on this blog from change managementemotions,
    confidence,
    and your mental health.

    Follow the link to a post providing an example of how to use the postcards to develop you, or your team's, Soft Skills.

    Alison Smith
    The Purchasing Coach
    Unlocking Procurement Potential Using Unconventional Tools.

    alison@alisonsmith.eu +44(0)7770 538159

    © Alison Smith 2017

    Tuesday, 16 May 2017

    Have you taken your eye off the ball on coaching

    Have you taken your eye of the ball on coaching in business?
    It goes without saying that sports gold medallists have a coach, so too championship and grand final winners. Yet when it comes to business we often feel as if it's of no merit to have a coach! Is it just easier to keep an eye on the ball when there's a real ball involved I wonder? In this post for Future Purchasing, for whom I'm an associate, I invite you to consider the benefits to be obtained if you do have a coach, even if it is for the more mental activities we do when in the office.

    For more on the coaching I personally offer do see here.

    Another post for FP that aligns with this post, is about the similarities between parenting and procurement.

    Tuesday, 9 May 2017

    With love from your suppliers' mental health

    It's Mental health awareness week (#MHAW17), and with that in mind I wrote a postcard yesterday entitled Dear Human Being, with love from your Mental Health

    Today I wondered what postcard our suppliers' mental health might write to procurement. After all, we all have mental health, and that includes our suppliers. 

    Please note: This is a postcard I'd suggest that is written to the wolves that still exist within procurement, and not to the more enlightened procurement professionals. (A term coined by a group of suppliers at a workshop last year).


    POSTCARD
    Dear Procurement,

    I'm sending this postcard because I know your supplier won't. After all, like you they believe it's just the way business is - dog eat dog an all that!

    We just wanted you to understand how your actions negatively impact us, and plead to your own sense of humanity to think about the repercussions of those actions. After all, we're human beings like you, not bar codes or robots!

    The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests that there are six key areas of work that can cause stress, and in turn impact mental health. The six areas are; role, relationships, demands, change, control and support. 

    Let's consider the impact you can have on each of these.

    Role
    Clarity of role is often a given in buyer/supplier relationships. Although there are times when your actions bring up conflict when you ask your supplier representative to take your side against their own organisation. Perhaps an area our own organisations can impact the most, by understanding this will happen, rather than pressuring them about it. Perhaps even championing our staff for being client centric.

    Relationships
    The HSE talks of avoiding conflict, and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.

    Conflict is often a given in buyer/supplier relationships which means it's up to both parties to understand how to manage their own reaction to conflict, and to understand their style - both the pros and the cons of that style - and on self and others.

    Just letting a supplier have it in a rage, and believing your behaviour to be an acceptable reaction to the 'poor' performance you're receiving is unacceptable. So too bullying behaviour, and abuse of your power. Don't leave your humanity at the door - you wouldn't act like that out of the office 5-9 - so why do the rules change 9-5.

    If you want to know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of your behaviour, and it is such a great technique for facilitating change, try standing in our shoes for a moment.

    And for anyone believing this postcard is aimed at others and not them - you may want to look at the behaviours you've buried your head in the sand about - those behaviours that others see and you deny.

    Demands
    This area includes work load, work patterns and work environment.

    It's perhaps the key area where you impact us. For example tenders with questions you'll never assess, short deadlines, deadlines that mean we have to cancel plans, work the weekend and late into the night. Often passing your own ineffective planning and organisation onto us.

    Or what about telling us we are in with a chance when we're not! Or setting selection criteria that might as well mean it's useless us responding to you.

    Change
    Change management is something managed ineffectively in many organisations, and we're not sure procurement is the sole contributor to it done badly. We'd even suggest that it's one area where suppliers impact procurement's mental healthy badly.

    Control
    Mental health is achieved by having control over the work we do. Procurement has such a huge contribution to make in this area. Output vs input specs being just one of many contractual changes that could be considered that would significantly impact the mental health of those responsible for delivering a service to you.

    Support
    When did you last say thank you to a supplier, or show them your support? And before that, when did you do it. A thank you can go a long way, and when stressed I'd suggest it can go even further.

    We hope something we've said has triggered a thought about how you can behave differently to your suppliers to support their mental health. In turn we will encourage the suppliers to do the same, and to consider you're mental health - after all you are human just like us, and not a bar code or a robot.

    With Love from your Suppliers' Mental Health

    It's also interesting to consider what behaviours buying and supplying organisations demonstrate that are counter to their own organisational values statements. After all the majority of values statements include openness, honesty, trust and respect - more here. Adoption of these values would certainly support everyone's mental health.


    If you like the idea of aspects of yourself writing postcards to you, you might also like my Soft Skills Toolkit where different soft skills have written postcards to you.

    The aim of the toolkit is to provide discussion points for personal or group exploration of your soft skills, allowing you to understand what options you have, should you decide to develop a particular soft skill.

    There's 2 versions of the toolkit - Dear Procurement, with love from your soft skills aimed at procurement professionals, and Dear Human Being, with love from your soft skills aimed at a wider business audience. They're only £4.99 for personal use, with pricing available on request for organisational use.

    Alison Smith
    Unlocking personal and organisational potential using unconventional tools
    alison@alisonsmith.eu +44(0)7770 538159