Olive Strachan North West Export Champion 2016
phone +44 (0) 161 209 3950

Abraham Lincoln statue

I recently facilitated a session for a senior leadership team called 'inspirational leadership'. Part of the pre-course preparation was to identify a leader they admired and to prepare a short presentation on:

  1. Why are they an inspirational leader?
  2. What impact have they had?
  3. What is their legacy?

It was extremely interesting to listen to the different presentations and to learn about what each member of the leadership team felt that good leadership looked like.

The leaders selected were as follows:

  • Sir David Brailsford, Olympic Coaching Superstar

Brailsford once referred to himself as a conductor of an orchestra. His role as performance director of British cycling saw him recognising talent and encouraging professionals, experts and athletes to perform at their best.

His approach is a collaborative one, he speaks about creating an enjoyable environment for his athletes and rather than dictating the steps they take to success, instead he works together with them to help them on the way up.

  • Richard Branson

He was chosen because he has a sense of fun, he is not a remote leader but gets involved at all levels. He takes time to listen, is not afraid to take risks and he demonstrates respect for his employees. He gives to charity and one of his challenges is that he has had to overcome dyslexia, and he dreams big.

  • Winston Churchill

Dynamic, able to mobilise people using his great inspirational quotes. He was courageous and creative, he didn’t sugar coat the message he ‘said it as it is’.

His key skills were that he could: influence and engage, he was bold and had a unique style, he was team spirited and made powerful speeches.

  • Abraham Lincoln

Was known as honest Abe, he was not afraid of taking risks and he was a good situational leader. He could share his goal and vision, he took the blame when things went wrong, but was happy to share success. He was aware of his weaknesses.

  • Rosa Louise Parks

Was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement, whom the United States congress called “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”.

Rosa helped spark the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat in Montgomery.

Her strengths were: a keen sense of justice, a profound sense of conviction, integrity, she was quietly confident and she took a significant risk.

  • Emmeline Pankhurst

Was a British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women win the right to vote. She was named one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. She shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back. She took drastic action to achieve her goals.

Her style was: transformational, visionary, charismatic, empathetic, goal focused and she left a strong legacy.

  • Lord Baden Powell

He was especially talented in military scouting and is best known for starting a worldwide scouting movement. He was also a prolific writer who often chose his military experiences as the subjects of his work. The legacy of Baden-Powell lies in the popularity of the scouting movement throughout the world.

Leadership Qualities

You may not agree that the leaders chosen by the senior leadership team are good examples of leaders, also certain styles of leadership used in the past are not practical for modern day, however, each leader named had a lasting impact and left a legacy.

After listening to all the presentations there are 8 lessons in leadership that are the common thread for most, if not all, of our leaders:

  1. Inspires and motivates others
  2. Displays integrity and honesty
  3. Solves problems and analyses issues
  4. Drives for results
  5. Good communicator
  6. Displays strategic perspective
  7. Develops others
  8. Innovates

I would love to know who you would have chosen as the leader you most admire and why - please contact me at olive@olivestrachan.com.

"A person without a sense of humour is like a wagon without springs, jolted by every pebble in the road." - Henry Ward Beecher

Humour in the workplace

Why I use humour in training

During my career, I have been fortunate enough to have worked for organisations who have invested in my development and sent me on many training courses. I always left home with a feeling of excitement, looking forward to meeting new people and learning something new, but often the way the training was delivered lacked humour, did not engage and I was often left wondering how soon it would be over.

The idea came to me that I could deliver factual, well researched, up to date content, but in a fun and engaging way. Hence the reason I opened my own training consultancy.

The benefits of using humour in learning

Research into neuroscience reveals that humour systematically activates the brain’s dopamine reward system.  Cognitive studies show that dopamine is important for both goal orientated motivation and long term memory. Also, research into Accelerated Learning Theory indicates that people retain information in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Humour is beneficial in the following ways:

  1. It can break the ice and enhance the enjoyment of the learner
  2. It can build a sense of community amongst delegates
  3. It can establish rapport quickly
  4. It aids knowledge retention
  5. It helps keep enthusiasm at peak levels

Dr Richard Bandler in his interview for NLP LIFE, reveals why humour is important in learning and coaching, he says, “Humour is a tool that, as far as I’m concerned, shields you from the stupidity that’s rampant on the planet”.  He goes on to say that he tries to get people to look from a different point of view, which is what humour is really about.

Possible pitfalls

Humour must be appropriate – we want to make people laugh but not to offend them. Avoid jokes around religion, race, gender or weight.  Also cruel or inappropriate comments, sarcasm and too many jokes. There must be a balance between humour and instruction so that respect for the trainer/facilitator is maintained.

Humour and culture

Nik Peachey, a trainer for the British Council wrote an article called ‘Sense of Humour’, he talks about how by understanding a person’s humour it helps to understand their culture and language. One of his ideas which resonated with me was to get students to try to translate a joke from one language to another and observe cultural nuances as often jokes can mask some negative underlying prejudices.

My experience of laughter and learning

It has been nearly 20 years since I delivered my first training programme based on my ethos of making learning engaging with humourous content. This has had a big impact on our success. Content is tailored to the needs of the learner, we encourage high participation amongst our delegates and all of this is underpinned by current research and theories.

We do live in a politically correct age, and sometimes unintentionally a word or a phrase may cause offence. If you have strong reservations then don’t do it. As a trainer/facilitator we ask for and receive feedback from our delegates, but also, we can read body language and facial expressions which tell us if we have got it wrong. Having delivered training to audiences in over 20 countries, I have built many contacts and networks who use my services because I am authentic and provide a safe environment where learning is energising, memorable and fun.

Jul31

Celebrating Success

Posted by olive

Olive Strachan with Packaging Automation

I recently received an exciting and unexpected email:

Hi Olive,

We are going to an awards dinner on 13th July because we are finalists in three categories, the whole management team are going and we would love you to join us, as you have been closely involved in our journey and our success.

This email was from Sam Ashton, Operations Director of Packaging Automation Ltd in Knutsford, who I have been working with on various projects since 2014. As a Learning and Development/HR Consultant I work for myself and we often work with organisations in various capacities. You know you have had a positive impact, but you don’t often have a chance to share in the success. It was lovely to be invited to the awards ceremony, sharing the recognition received by my clients.

The 2017 E3 Business Awards evening took place on Thursday 13th July at the Macron Stadium in Bolton. The winners were announced in front of an audience of over 500 business delegates. There were seventeen award categories. The winning companies and individuals came from organisations across the North West: from Cumbria to Cheshire, Merseyside to Manchester. It was an amazing evening with each business having the opportunity to speak on a video about why they deserve to be recognised.

We were not successful for two of the three categories, so as they announced the ‘Manufacturing Business of the Year 2017’ we sat there tense, with our hearts beating fast. Sam Ashton appeared on the screen sharing the company's many achievements with the rapt audience. This was a challenging category because the winner had to demonstrate:

  • Excellent sales performance and growth prospects
  • A strong pioneering spirit in new product development
  • Manufacturing innovation and the use of technology
  • Quality and continuous improvement
  • Investment in people
  • Evidence of staff training / mentoring

As soon as they announced Packaging Automation as the winner, our table erupted. I was invited to join the senior leadership team on the stage and we danced towards it cheering and clapping to the music. It was such a fantastic feeling. Everyone joined together their faces reflecting pride and elation. This was the culmination of all their hard work.

Packaging Automation at the 2017 E3 Business Awards

When we returned to our table with the award, both Neil and Sam Ashton spoke with pride about their staff, acknowledging that each member had impacted on the organisation’s success.

Neil paid tribute to his staff saying the following:

"I know the effort that’s gone into the last four years by everybody and these awards are not easy to win. Recognition from other industry and business leaders add to all the other positive feedback we receive and it’s great to know we’ve achieved another accolade.

"We have so much more to achieve and many more challenges ahead and with the belief we have anything is possible. We will continue our journey which can only mean more success.

"Well done everyone!"

So, what has been the impact of celebrating success?

  • Celebrating milestones does have a positive impact on employee well-being and engagement. Staff feel that they are contributing to the long-term success of the organisation.

  • It contributes to the stories and myths that will be told in the future about the organisation, e.g. 'Remember when we won that award?'

  • It motivates staff to focus on the next goal, the next award.

  • It helps build collaborative relationships - other organisations are now contacting them to ask for their advice and support.

  • It makes them an employer of choice. Success is contagious!

I feel an immense pride in working with this amazing organisation, who are leading the way in the manufacturing field.

Thank you again for allowing me to share in your successful journey.

With the start of Brexit, Theresa May and her team will have to hone their influencing and persuading skills, which after all, are the key tenets of any negotiation. In a change process or just in everyday work, leaders often come across situations where they need the support of people or groups around them.

One of the key skills of a Leader is the ability to influence others in order to get what they want. To do this effectively they need to be organised in the way they get you to think about the situation and plan their actions. Influencing is the process of gaining the support and commitment of others in achieving your goals.

Influence is about people not things – it comes to a person from another person and it develops through an awareness of what people think about that person and their ideas. What others think is partly to do with the impression a person makes, their manner and the way they speak.

Also, perceived power can give a type of influence, e.g. there is positional power – which is the power of authority or personal power – which is the power relationship building and interpersonal skills.

There are three stages to influencing:

A) Prepare the ground 

This is about building relationships and planning how to handle the situation. There are two sides to preparation, the first is about building relationships and gaining information. Effective relationships take time to develop. We need to invest in others so that they feel we can be trusted. It is also important to keep abreast of any issues which are coming up and could impact on a positive outcome.

The second part of preparing is specific to the situation. Always set yourself clear goals, it is not wise to go into an influencing situation without a clear idea of the outcomes or goals you wish to achieve.

Ask and answer the following two questions every time:

1. What do I want to be doing and feeling afterwards?

2. What do I want others to be doing and feeling afterwards?

You also need to think about how a person is likely to react to any suggestions you may make.

B) Managing the situation

During this phase, it is important to establish rapport to build confidence and trust, this is done by:

- Giving attention to the other person

- Maintaining eye contact

- Greeting people warmly

- Using people’s names

- Being aware of your body language

- Encouraging others to speak and avoid constantly interrupting them

Engaging skills

These are the behaviours which help us gain people’s interest; create empathy and common feelings about critical issues. Building trust and understanding between people includes the skills of: 

- Disclosing

- Listening

- Discovering

- Envisaging and empathising

C) Channelling skills, looking forward and concluding

When satisfactory agreement can’t be reached, highlight key points, summarise difficulties, suggest a way forward, seek reactions and agree how to proceed. It is important to summarise the agreement, decisions and actions, and check reactions and show appreciation.

9 Key Questions You Should Ask Yourself When You Are Preparing to Influence:

1. What do you want to achieve?

2. What are the range of things the other person could offer?

3. What would you be prepared to accept? (In other words, what is your fall-back position)

4. How will you approach the conversation? What tactics will you use?

5. What are the facts and figures behind the situation?

6. What objections may they come up with?

7. How will you overcome these objections?

8. When is the best time to influence?

9. Where will you influence?

If our Brexit negotiators follow a few of the hints and tips above, it should go a long way in helping to achieve a satisfactory agreement.  We wish good luck to Theresa May and her team!

I have just read a report by the World Economic Forum called 'The Future of Jobs – Employment Skills and Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution'. As a Learning and Development professional, consultant and coach, part of my role is to prepare my clients for the future trends which could impact on their business, and the individuals that work in that business. This report together with the CIPD Megatrends report paints a picture of the future where changes in technology, emerging markets, the ageing population, together with a rise in robotics, mean that the jobs we hold dear may not exist in the future.  There may also be a shift in the skills required from technical expertise to interpersonal, soft skills.

The Future of Jobs report predicts that, by 2020, some of the core work-related skills will be overall social skills such as:

  • Persuasion
  • Emotional intelligence
  • The ability to teach others
  • Active listening

One of the most effective methods of preparing leaders, managers and individuals for the future is coaching. Coaching targets high performance and improvement at work, usually focusing on specific skills and goals. As an experienced coach, I see coaching particularly impacting on social interaction and confidence.

A great deal of my work involves delivering training to managers and leaders; so emotional intelligence, influencing and persuading skills are often neglected. Because of the years of austerity and ‘making do with less’, managers have had to focus on achieving goals by delivering on KPIs and aligning all efforts to the organisation's strategic objectives, ultimately ensuring that growth targets are met demonstrating return on investment (ROI). Sometimes, but not always, this can mean that the softer 'people' side of management is neglected.

Why coaching is an effective technique

  1. It focuses on improving performance and developing skills. The starting point is getting the person being coached to look objectively at all aspects of their present situation.  This includes looking at home life, personal life, friends, family etc. as often these impact on their ability to perform well at work.

  2. Personal issues may be discussed, but for business coaching, the emphasis is on performance at work. It is useful at the beginning of the relationship to use a profiling tool, which helps the coachee to better understand themselves and others. This often helps to clarify that the conflict they may be experiencing with others may be because of different personal values and beliefs.

  3. It provides people with feedback on both their strengths and their weaknesses. Working with a coach means that there can be a free and frank discussion, which helps to focus on how the person is perceived by others and their impact and presence.

  4. A good coach will work with you to achieve your goals, whether business or personal. They will sometimes hold you to account, allowing you to push out of your comfort zone to discover your true capabilities. Goals can become just written aspirations without a coach to keep you on track and provide support or challenge when necessary.

  5. The right coach can make the difference between success and failure. Coaching is a skilled activity, so it is important that the person doing the coaching has been trained to do so. Many organisations use internal coaches such as line managers - this can be a benefit or a liability depending on how committed they are to the coaching relationship. As an external coach, I am engaged specifically to coach a member of staff. Often, coaching is bolted onto a manager's job role with no training, so coaching becomes a chore that must be done.

Coaching is not the only way to develop the skills required for the future. In the Learning and Development profession, we recommend a blended learning soluton - this could include classroom, shadowing, a webinar, eBooks, etc. The possibilities are endless.

However, to achieve real behavioural change - particularly when focusing on the soft skills required to build strong relationships and influence others - I feel that at least one of the techniques used should be coaching.

To discuss your coaching requirements, please email info@olivestrachan.com or call +44 (0) 161 209 3950.

5 Reasons Why Taking a Break Increases Your Resilience

We live in turbulent and uncertain times, and right now you can’t look at Twitter, turn on the radio, or watch the news without being informed of some conflict that is either happening or about to happen somewhere in the world. As a consultant, trainer and executive coach, it is vital that I not only keep abreast of what is happening in the UK (e.g. our impending general election) but also maintain a global perspective.

I spent the entire month of March in the Caribbean, visiting the beautiful Nature Island of Dominica. This visit had two purposes: we have plans to establish a consultancy in the Caribbean, but it was also a time to reflect and enjoy a beautiful natural environment of mountains, natural hot springs and tropical rainforests.

I am now back at my desk in Manchester and feeling reinvigorated and refreshed, with a clear focus. I have returned feeling that I have prioritised my values. My break has increased my wellbeing and benefited me, my business and the people in my life - here are 5 reasons why:

 

Dominica

 

1) It allows you to replenish your energy

I recently read a factsheet from the CIPD on developing resilience in times of change. It recommended energy mapping, which involves completing tasks to boost your energy in and your energy out to boost the resilience of others. Energy sources are: Spirit, Mind, Heart, Body and Soul.

I was able to work on all of these during my month-long holiday. We rented a house in Laplaine, a rural community that's not too far from where my mum lives with my sisters and nieces and nephews. The house had Wi-Fi, but we made a conscious effort not to use our phones or watch TV; every morning we work up to the sound of a cock crowing and a friend of my mum's delivering some fresh coconut water and fruit. We would then sit with our morning coffee looking at the deep blue ocean, which was just across the road from us. There is nothing like standing on a boulder with the Atlantic Ocean roaring towards you to demonstrate how insignificant we all are in the grand scheme of things. I was able to put business and life matters into perspective and clarify what was really important to me. 

 

2) It gives you a chance to spend time with people who care for you

In the world we live in, we sometimes feel that life is one big roller-coaster ride of activity - there are always more things to do, deadlines to meet, figures to improve upon. We are constantly being pushed to do more with less!

Make sure you spend time with people who love you and don't judge you. When you relax with friends over wholesome food in warm sunshine, your body relaxes and your sense of well-being increases. After feeling the warmth and affection of family and friends (and my mum's cooking!), I have come away renewed and feeling valued.

 

3) It allows you to connect with nature

I remember reading an article in the Guardian by Richard Louv in which he stated, "the more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need". He went on to say that humans are hard-wired to love, and that we need exposure to the natural world. The same article discusses research by the University of Michigan, where researchers demonstrated that after just one hour spent interacting with nature, memory performance and attention span improved by 20%.

The delights of Dominica include visiting the Kalinago Territory. The Kalinago are the indigenous people of Dominica, and they live a simple, communal life, carrying on the many traditions of their ancestors. We spent a lovely day eating some beautifully-cooked local food and watching a carving demonstration, which was fascinating. Next came a visit to Scott's Head, a beautiful fishing village that's situated between the gentle, swaying Caribbean Sea and the scarily fierce and noisy Atlantic Ocean - all that separates them is a strip of land. We also went to Portsmouth, where we sat on the sand at Prince Rupert's Bay and swam in the warm sea while watching a beach wedding take place. We visited the amazing Trafalgar Falls, and I immersed myself in a natural sulphur bath at Wotten Waven, where the water coming from the ground and falling into the pool is as warm as a hot bath. All this while surrounded by Dominica's lush vegetation!

 

Waterfall

 

4) It inspires others

In the 18 years that I have worked for myself, I have coached many people and shared my experiences with a variety of acquaintances and friends. Since I returned from my break, many people have asked the question, 'how can you take a month off work?' But if I return refreshed, inspired, and infused with positive energy and a renewed sense of well-being, then I believe I can achieve a lot more! Sometimes, we need to take a step back to see a clearer picture.

 

5) It allows you to refocus on your goals

I am now at home, feeling gratitude for all I have but also with a clearer vision of what I need to focus on in my life - and what I need to let go of. I have made some immediate changes because, while taking the time out to reflect, I realised that some of my activities were not serving my purpose in life. Just those slight changes have already yielded positive results. As Tony Robbins says, "where focus goes, energy flows!"

 

Bath Tubs

Be sure to follow @OliveStrachan on Twitter!

Tools to Help Organisations Deal with Brexit

Every organisation will be affected in different ways by Brexit depending on their sector and specific circumstances, and Human Resources/Learning & Development have a key role to play in ensuring that employees are kept informed and reassured during this time of change and transition.

 

1. Present an unambiguous message from the top of the organisation.

This could come from the CEO or the HR function. There must be clear intent to address employee worries and concerns. It is important that this message re-focuses staff on the business, because during times of uncertainty we tend to focus on our own individual problems, which can cause conflict. For some staff, Brexit can have potentially positive outcomes - for example, some may see it as improving the organisation's competitive position, meaning more work and better job security. UK citizens working in the EU and EU nationals working in the UK - people who may be directly affected by Brexit - will need reassurance and support.

 

2. Make sure you have a strong communication strategy.

At this time, communication is key to building trust. It must be a blended communication approach encompassing:

  • A message from the CEO (which should emphasise the fact that 'we are all in this together')
  • Discussion groups
  • Employee forums
  • 'Town Hall' meetings

 

3. Make use of social media.

Social media has a strong part to play in the two-way communication process. A video message from the CEO shown across all social media platforms ensures that all employees globally receive the same message. Many organisations employ staff whose first language is not English, and a video allows these people to assimilate the message at their own pace and in their own time. Most organisations have their own equivalent of Facebook for employees, which is great for creating communities and allows staff to post comments and pose questions that are important to them. This allows for open communication at all levels of the organisation. It is important that this is monitored by HR to maintain understanding of employee needs and concerns. Another advantage of using a video is that millennials prefer videos that allow staff to listen to the tone of voice and also to see the speaker's face.

 

4. Reaffirm the values that are at the core of your organisation.

Many of the organisations we work with have 'integrity' and 'respect for others' as their core business values. Now is the time to keep staff on track - changes are happening, but you are still the same organisation and your values remain the same. Make sure that employees keep the connection and bring them together using the organisation's values as the thread that holds everyone together.

 

5. Equip line managers with the skills required to manage change.

Brexit means that line managers will have to maximise talent to help build a sustainable business. Some of the key areas that they will need to address are:

  • Inclusion & Diversity - Brexit has, in some instances, widened the cracks in society, emphasising our differences in a negative way. Now is the time to invest in Equality & Diversity training; help staff to celebrate our differences, be aware of unconscious bias, and work together to create a work environment where everyone thrives and feels included.

  • Staff Engagement - Managers need some specific skills to engage staff during these challenging times. Donald Trump's rallying cry is 'Putting America First!' During Brexit, some staff will feel threatened, and we don't always think rationally when our emotional brain kicks in. We start to think more about ourselves and less about others, which can impact on collaborative relationships at work. If we do not work well together, this ultimately impacts on team cohesion and productivity. Managers will have to work a lot harder to get a positive response from their staff.

  • Skills Development - As a HR/L&D professional, I recommend that you create your Brexit toolkit using all the hints and tips discussed above. We have found that this sets the foundations for the future and also alleviates stress, helping the organisation to get ahead of the issue. 

Olive with CIPD certificate

When I deliver training on Leadership and Management Skills, I always encourage managers to start with the end in mind - in other words, have a powerful vision of what you would like to achieve and aim for that.

The photograph above is a picture of me receiving an award as a CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) volunteer spanning over 20 years. It was a wonderful moment, and all the sweeter because it was totally unexpected! In April of this year, I will be leaving the CIPD Manchester Branch committee so that someone else can have this fantastic opportunity. As I walked towards the front of the room at the Royal College of Physicians in London where I was attending the Council dinner, I started to reflect on how and why I joined the CIPD committee as a volunteer in 1996.

I had worked in the recruitment industry for many years when I decided it was time to enhance my career prospects by enrolling for a post graduate diploma at Salford University. As it was a CIPD qualification, we were encouraged to join our local committee and we were given all the benefits of attending the events that were available to us as CIPD members. As I was keen to start a new career, I joined the committee straight away and started attending branch events.

My first role on the committee was as Newsletter Editor. This coincided with my leaving the recruitment industry and starting a job with Video Arts. So I was involved in Learning and Development in my day job while completing my post graduate diploma in HR in the evening. A large part of my role for Video Arts was a great deal of client liaison, assisting companies with learning at work day events; selecting training resources; creating a learning culture and becoming a learning organisation. These organisations included: Astra Zeneca, Tameside College, Matalan and Manchester Metropolitan University, to name a few. When I became Newsletter Editor, I saw it as an opportunity to draw together local business and the CIPD. Therefore, I persuaded Astra Zeneca to write an article about their brand new, state-of-the-art learning resource centre. Part of my role as Editor was to gain sponsorship from local businesses for the newsletter, and to place adverts and articles in it. I thoroughly enjoyed this role as it played to my strengths, which are:

  • Building relationships
  • Presenting
  • Persuading and influencing
  • Networking
  • Organising events
  • Business strategy

Over the next few years, I held two similar roles: Group Leader of the Bolton geographical group and of the Altrincham group. These were interesting roles that involved working to a budget and organising speakers, suitable venues and sponsorships. The committee of 22 people was involved in making sure we provided our 5,000+ members with over 30 events - all relevant to HR and Learning and Development or up-to-date employment law.

My next role on the committee was Vice Chair for 2 years, then Chair. The Chair's role was one that I relished, leading over 20 volunteers. I wanted to influence the perception of HR, which was not always a positive one. This was made clear to me when, as new Chair, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I visited a company in Wythenshawe where I attempted to encourage the CEO to get involved with the CIPD. His comment was, "What, spend time with HR people? I would prefer to stick pins in my eyes!"

So, together with my fabulous committee, we met and planned our strategy, which was linked to the PACE values of the CIPD. These are:

  • P - Purposeful
  • A - Agile
  • C - Collaborative
  • E - Expert

I did have my challenges as Chair, and on occasion you do wonder if you are doing the right thing. Fortunately, there was a lot of support and advice from previous Chairs, who have formed the Northern Area Partnership (NAP), Wimbledon HQ, and other committee members. We also had a Regional Coordinator, who was an excellent support. When you have 20+ volunteers aged from mid-20s to 70s, with different backgrounds and cultures and some strong personalities, there will always be some disagreement. But it has made me more resilient.

My highlights as Chair were as follows:

  1. Becoming Chair during the CIPD Centenary celebrations and being involved, together with our committee members, in organising a celebration at the Lowry Hotel.
  2. Being asked to host the HR Business Partner conference when it was held here in Manchester.

  3. Being asked to speak at KPMG on workplace pensions.

  4. Speaking at Barclays Bank on annual hours.

  5. Being chosen by Insider magazine 3 years running as one of the top 100 most influential women in business in the North West.

  6. Receiving an award as Showcase Volunteer, CIPD Pace Awards.

My 20 years on the committee have seen me through 3 career changes: working in recruitment, working in the training resources market, and finally working as a consultant and executive coach. During my time as Chair, I met some wonderful people and forged some strong relationships with some fantastic organisations, who provided much support and friendship: Hays Recruitment, TLT Solicitors, Berg, the ACCA Manchester Members' Network, Pro Manchester, and ACAS. These contacts are still current, and some have become lifelong friends.

It has been an enriching experience - I gave a lot and gained a lot, and I would do it all over again! My final role on the committee is that of the HR Leaders leader and Council Representative, both interesting roles that I have thoroughly enjoyed. The next HR Leaders event is on the 8th of March 2017 at Event City. Starting from 6pm, we have Andy Lancaster (Head of Learning & Development Content, CIPD) as our speaker; places are limited, so book early!

You can also join me at the Life of HR conference with Lancashire CIPD, where I am one of the key note speakers, on 25th February 2017. Find out more here.

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Make 2017 the Best Year of Your Life

At the end of November 2016, I decided after a challenging year that it was time to invest in my own development. I managed to tick off an item on my 'bucket list' at the same time, as the event I was attending was GoPRO 2016 at the Las Vegas Convention Centre in Nevada. I have always wanted to visit Las Vegas and was able to board a small plane that had been specially cusotmised for sightseeing - we flew over the Mojave desert, the Hoover dam, and the Grand Canyon, where we stopped for a picnic lunch. It was an experience that I will never forget.

Most memorable of all was the experience of walking across the Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped cantilever bridge with a glass walkway over the Grand Canyon. When you're out on the Skywalk, the rim of the Grand Canyon is 70 feet behind you and the opposite side is 3 miles in front of you. The bottom of the Canyon is 2 thousand feet beneath you - the moment I looked down is one I'll never forget!

After that amazing experience, I felt ready to tackle anything, and I arrived at the GoPRO event ready to absorb, learn and participate.

Olive Strachan at GoPRO 2016

The event featured an interesting array of speakers, including Eric Worre, John Addison, Mel Robbins, Sir Richard Branson, and Tony Robbins. I firmly believe that, in order to achieve success, you need to "model yourself on someone who is already doing what you want to achieve", so to be in the presence of these great speakers and successful entrepreneurs with 20,000 other people was extremely motivational. When I left the event after 3 days, I felt energised, positive, and focused, with a written plan for 2017.

So what did I learn at GoPRO 2016, and why have I already booked for next year's event? Let me share with you the 3 steps that form part of my strategy for success in 2017. The key themes running through the event's 3 days were developing mental toughness, managing your emotions, and having a strategy. Additionally, quite a few of the speakers focused on the question of whether you have an internal or external locus of control; this refers to the extent to which you believe that you have control over the events that influence your life. When you are dealing with a challenge in your life, do you feel that you have control over the outcome? Or do you believe that you are simply at the hands of outside forces?

If you believe that you have no control over what happens and that external variables are to blame, then you have what is known as an external locus of control.

River

 

Developing mental toughness

Mel Robbins, whose popular TED Talk named 'How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over' became world famous, advocates the '54321 - Go!' method. This is based around the power of 5-second decisions. Mel shared with us that she had experienced many years of depression, which impacted on her ability to function well. One day, she forced herself to act by using metacognition, in effect tricking her brain. Whenever she felt challenged or unable to do something, she used her 5 second rule, simply saying to herself, "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go, action!" This method has helped her to overcome her fears and just keep going.

Richard Branson discussed the importance of taking risks. In his case, he has risked his life for the Virgin brand; his mental courage is underpinned by a strong belief in his company, a love of people, thriving on challenge, and seeing life as one big learning opportunity. A few other sayings that resonated with me were: "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down" (that is, life will serve us a few curve balls, but we can overcome these challenges); "Don't confuse disappointment with disaster" (we often overreact when things go wrong, but reflection and a calm appraisal of the situation can give some clarity); and Tony Robbins's observation that "Success leaves clues - unless you can handle failure, you can never have success".

 

Managing your emotions

John Addison discussed how important it is to manage our emotional response to crises. "What is up to us", he said, is the following:

  • Our emotions
  • Our judgement
  • Our creativity
  • Our attitudes
  • Our perspectives
  • Our desires
  • Our decisions
  • Our determination

"What is not up to us", he continued, is everything else! Successful entrepreneurs learn to manage the things listed above. Part of emotional management is being able to motivate yourself and having a powerful vision - one of the mantras of the GoPRO event was 'focus on the vision; wherever focus goes, energy flows!' People who are unable to motivate themselves must be happy with mediocrity.

Donna Johnson, a successul entrepreneur of 27 years, stressed how important it is to "Learn from the accelerated wisdom of people around you". You need to develop the strength to ignore the doubters, distractions and dream stealers.

 

Having a strategy

Whether you are using social media or other methods of marketing your business, it is important to:

  • Define your marketing strategy
  • Create your identity - describe who you are and craft your story
  • Write a page on why people should buy from you rather than from anyone else
  • Communicate your vision - walk the walk as well as talking the talk!
  • Invest in personal development (e.g. keep reading to increase your knowledge, attend networking events to make new contacts)
  • Create a plan of action and stick to it - be disciplined!

John Addison, who wrote the book Real Leadership, shared some of his hints and tips during the GoPRO event. He talked about 'attacking the day' - not meandering through, but having a purpose! Another pertinent saying of his was "I will do today what others don't, so I will have tomorrow what others won't". Some sacrifice is necessary to achieve our goals.

Olive Strachan

I came away from this event with my action plan for a successful 2017. I hope you find the information I have shared useful; if you have tried any of the above and found it useful, please feel free to contact me and share your success!

Follow Olive Strachan (@OliveStrachan) on Twitter for more insight and inspiration.

Has 2016 served you well from a business point of view? What would you like to happen in 2017?

New Year 2017

Over the forthcoming Christmas period, give yourself the gift of reflection and consider the possibility of a new challenge for the New Year!

Because I run my own business, I tend to use December as a month for reflecting and setting myself fresh goals going forward. When it comes to reflection, here are a few key things to think about:

1. Review your client relationships. I examine my list of clients and the work we have completed together, and review the feedback I have received. I ask myself the following questions:

  • Have I implemented any recommended changes?
  • Is this relationship a good one?
  • Do I need to move things forward in any way?
  • Should I book review meeting over coffee or lunch?

2. Review your product / service. We design and deliver training courses and provide consultancy and coaching. Each December, I ask myself: do we need to...

  • ...update?
  • ...change?
  • ...refine?
  • ...add new programmes?

3. Are your tools fit for purpose? Take a look at your resources (including equipment). Are contracts due for renewal? Do you need to update anything? This year, I am updating my latpop and software ready for next year; all transfers will take place over the holiday period, causing me minimum disruption in the process.

4. Tame the paperwork tiger! Have a mega 'filing and chucking' session - go through those magazines you were going to read and the files you were keeping 'just in case', and decide whether or not you need each item. Of course, the information you have to keep for legal reasons will have to be stored; I myself have 7 years' worth of accounts in my attic. But all the 'stuff' you are holding onto just causes clutter and can block creativity - so get rid of it!

5. What is your ROI (Return On Investment)? Examine your suppliers and other business relationships. I can get lazy sometimes and stick with the same supplier for years purely because I am comfortable - they know me well and understand my requirements, so why should I go to the trouble of starting again with somebody new? But step away from that mindset for a moment and ask yourself: are your suppliers delivering what you want and what your business needs? If not, it could be time to say goodbye. This can be hard, especially if you and the supplier have a long-standing business relationship that has moved into the realm of friendship. However, in these challenging times - we have been warned that there could be a rocky road ahead as we transition through the Brexit process - it's important to take ROI (Return On Investment) seriously. Ask yourself whether the relationship is beneftting you or your business; often, a fresh perspective can give your organisation that extra push it needs to move to the next level.

6. Are you a product of the product? I was always told that you need to dress like the person you want to be, so ask yourself: does your look reflect you and your business? Or is it time to invest in a completely new look? There is nothing like well-cut clothing that flatters you, whatever your shape.

7. Do you have the stamina to run a business? If you are not mentally and physically fit, you may be unable to put the necessary energy into your business. Take stock of your health this December - after trying every diet under the sun and various forms of exercise (including the gym and latterly a yoga class, where I fell asleep!), I have finally discovered the joy of walking. I love it! Fresh air the beauty of nature...you can go at your own pace, and there are many health benefits. To help me achieve my goal of 10,000 steps per day, I have asked my hubby to buy me a Fitbit for Christmas. As someone who is very goal-driven, I know that this will incentivise me to reach my target.

8. Have you lost your mojo? Feeling a little stale? Do something new! Set yourself a fresh challenge! After 18 years of running my own consultancy (Olive Strachan Resources), I have now opened a second business through which I represent a successful global health and wellness company. It is completely different, but uses some of the same skill sets; it is fun, a lot of it involves having parties and socialising with people, and it has given me a lot of joy and a brand new impetus. So look at adding something new to your list of accomplishments in 2017.

9. Spend some time with the people you love. For me, time spent with people - friends or family members - who genuinely want to be with me is a soothing balm to all the stresses that come with running a business. Laughing over a glass of Prosecco and a lovely meal always leaves me on a high. So get on the phone and arrange that meeting, go to that part, and generally kick back and enjoy yourself!

10. Take a break! Over the years, we have spent Christmas and New Year in the UK, the Caribbean, and Europe. Wherever you spend it, turn your phone off, stop emailing people, and allow yourself to recharge those batteries. For me, the ideal break is somewhere warm where I can push my toes into the sand, feel the heat of the sun, and run into the warm sea - utter bliss! When you return to work in the New Year, you will be ready to face anything. So give yourself the gift of time - time for yourself - because you deserve it!

Have a fabulous break, and I hope to catch up with you all in 2017!

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