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

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:




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!




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. 

Life of HR

On Saturday 25th of February 2017 I presented a session on the DNA of an Ideal HR Director, this was based around research by Hays Recruitment and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). This was part of an event organised by Lancashire CIPD Volunteer Committee and the lovely branch chair Jenny Bond invited me to speak.

The survey had been conducted at a time of significant change for the UK economy and for HR professionals both HAYS and the CIPD wanted to sound out the views of the HR profession and open a debate on:


  • What do they think are the skills and capabilities required by the ideal HR Director as we emerged from a global financial crisis?
  • Are the skills and capabilities needed in the future any different from those needed now?
  • And what are the perceptions that junior professional have about the role of their senior colleagues compared to those of the HR Director themselves?

The research focused on three areas:

  • Strategic credibility
  • Business knowledge/acumen
  • Personal credibility

My session was 45 minutes long, it was impossible to cover the full report in this time, plus I wanted make it an interactive session. I shared the research with the audience then gave them the opportunity to share their views. The first question was? What are the key capabilities required by an ideal HR Director in order to contribute to and advance strategic level planning? The report identified the strategic credibility priorities of a leader were:

  • Cultivating a high performance culture the ability to foster collaboration
  • Knowledge sharing across the organisation and encourage a culture of innovation
  • The need to develop a far greater understanding of social media and the opportunities it provides

The audience agreed with the research particularly when it came to social media, I asked for a show of hands from the audience regarding how many of them had a LinkedIn account. Most of the 70-strong audience put their hands up. However when asked if their account was currently in use and frequently up-dated it was a different story! One of my personal recommendations was that as a credible professional in the current climate it was imperative that you create ‘brand you’ which means making sure you use all the tools available to you to get your message out there.

LinkedIn – Key facts and figures

  • 476 million + registered users
  • Fast growing – more than 2 new members per second
  • Global reach – over 200 countries and territories in 24 languages
  • More than 40 million students and recent college graduates
  • 40% of users visit Linked In daily.

Peter Cheese in this month’s People Management states that, “Professionalism is also about belonging to a wider community”! As HR professionals, we need to create our brand and share it as widely as possible. Another community that we should make the most of is the CIPD itself with a community of 140,000 members worldwide.

Business knowledge and acumen

What are the key capabilities required by an ideal HR Director in order to understand and contribute to business operations and planning?

They need to support the business but with a growing external focus, what are the current global trends and what will be their impact? Understand and support the value chain/business drivers and help to actively build sustainability through strategy and policy. It is vital that the HR strategy supports the Business strategy.

This question generated a great deal of response about the way in which HR is perceived by the rest of the business. HR unfortunately is still seen by some Directors as a cost rather than a benefit, if there is a problem it tends to land at HR’s door, but when HR has done a good job and things are going smoothly there is often no recognition or appreciation for a job well done. Often due to excellent policies, due diligence, coaching and other interventions HR has managed to avert a situation that could cost the business a great deal of money or damage their reputation but once again some HR professionals report that this is not always recognised.

If CEO’s are looking for a Director who is commercial and strategic as stated in the March issues of People Management in an article called ‘Secrets of HR Head Hunters’, then HR needs to demonstrate that this is the case. One of the comments made by a delegate at the event was that it is was difficult to gain access to the board to demonstrate your business acumen. A recommendation from another delegate was to:

  • Build a relationship with the CEO outside of the business context
  • Challenge when necessary e.g. making sure we anchor the core values of the business
  • Don’t be risk averse
  • Build trust

It is important that HR understands the whole business not just the people side of things, so demonstrate an understanding of:

  1. Customer satisfaction
  2. Profit margins
  3. Logistics
  4. Distribution.

The final area was around personal credibility – the skills and knowledge required by an ideal leader in order to influence and engage successfully with internal and external stakeholders.

HR needs to be visible throughout the business, build internal networks and have that face to face contact. Too often HR who are supposed to be focused on the ‘people’ side of things is cloistered behind an office door busily focusing on analysing data. That is part of our role; however building a connection with people in the business is extremely rewarding and beneficial. Laura Guttfield who is the HR Business partner at ITN productions is being mentored by the Chief finance officer Bryan Martin she says “HR doesn’t just start and end with people. It stretches across all areas of the business”.

I would like to thank CIPD Lancashire for inviting me to speak at the Life of HR Lancashire CIPD Conference and Exhibition. It was an extremely successful event which I thoroughly enjoyed, thanks everyone for your positive feedback.

References have been taken for this blog from:
The DNA of an Ideal HR Director by HAYS recruitment and CIPD, copyright HAY plc 2014
People Management Magazine March 2017

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.

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.



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!

As a training consultancy, one of the most important things we help our clients with is employee engagement.

Ryan Cheyne @ Rentalcars.com

What is employee engagement?

There are a number of different definitions available, but according to the CIPD, employee engagement is:

"Being focused in what you do (thinking), feeling good about yourself in your role and organisation (feeling), and acting in a way that demonstrates commitment to the organisational values and objectives (acting)."

I've been fortunate enough to meet Ryan Cheyne, Director of Rentalcars.com, on a few occasions, and he recently shared with me the employee engagement strategy that's in use at his present organisation. It immediately piqued my interest as it sounded creative, innovative, and fun! As leader of the HR Leaders/Fellows group of the CIPD's Manchester branch, I asked Ryan (pictured above) if he would host an event for us at his offices and demonstrate how his employee engagement strategy works.

On the 6th of October, a group of HR professionals and business leaders attended the event at Rentalcars.com's offices on Fountain Street in Manchester. It was a very interesting event indeed, and each person took away some key hints and tips on how to improve employee engagement within their organisation.

The CIPD Factsheet on Employee Engagement quotes the MacLeod Review of 2009, summarising four 'enablers' that should be fundamentals of any employee engagement strategy:

  • Leadership that gives a 'strong strategic narrative about the organisation, where it's come from and where it is going'

  • Line managers who motivate, empower and support employees

  • Employee voice throughout the organisation, to challenge or reinforce the status quo and involve employees in decision-making

  • Organisational integrity: stated values, embedded into the organisation's culture ('What we say is what we do!')

I feel that Rentalcars.com have drawn together all of the above strands and more in their employee engagement strategy.

Rentalcars.com were excellent hosts, with Ryan Cheyne and Damiana Casile welcoming us to their offices with some lovely refreshments and giving everyone the opportunity to network.

Ryan then opened the event by taking us through his background in employee engagement. Prior to joining Rentalcars.com, Ryan was People Director of Pets at Home, the UK's leading pet specialist retailer. During the 9 years he spent with Pets at Home, the company was repeatedly recognised as a retail employer of choice, notably being named as the #1 Big Company to Work For in 2013 by The Sunday Times. In his role as People Director, Ryan found innovative ways to being the company's core values to life, and as a result, Ryan's expertise in the area of employee engagement is well known in the business community.

Here are some of the thoughts that Ryan shared with us:

It doesn't matter what your company does - people generally want the same things from work.

Here are some of the benefits that Rentalcars.com employees receive:

  • Free tea, coffee and fruit
  • A cool working environment
  • A subsidised canteen
  • Meeting rooms
  • A space that is fun and fit for purpose
  • A workplace to be PROUD of!

Having received a full tour of the Rentalcars.com office, I must say that it's somewhere I would be proud to work as well.

Ryan also shared his belief that:

The road to engagement starts with listening - the journey to engagement starts with doing.

We then discussed the purpose of Rentalcars.com, linking back to the Macleod review, which states that 'there should be a strong narrative about where the organisation is going'. I believe that the purpose of Rentalcars clearly states where the company would like to go and the contribution required from their employees.

Empowering People

Ryan then demonstrated how the organisation listens and involves its employees in the decision-making process. In order for employees to feel that they have a voice and that their contributions are of value, Rentalcars.com held an event around shaping their values, giving each employee the opportunity to have some input.

Rentalcars.com 'V' Festival

Ryan also told us about the Rentalcars.com 'V' Festival. The aim was to create:

  • A values-driven event
  • An event where people come together with a common purpose
  • Something that was fun, vibrant, trendy and cool
  • A buzz and a discussion
  • A memorable point in time where colleagues felt involved
  • A mass of data and feedback to uncover the company's values
  • Something that would 'launch' the values event before it took place

Ryan shared with us details of the 'V' festival, which included colourful bunting, live music, a photo booth, and interactive sessions intended to gather employee feedback. As someone who enjoys involvement and participation, I could visualise the event and very much wished I had been able to take part! Following on from the event, all the data was analysed and the stated values were then agreed upon and shared throughout the business. As each staff member was involved in shaping these values, the work required to embed them into the organisation's culture was partly achieved. The next step for Rentalcars.com is to live those values and make sure that 'what we say is what we do'!

The values of Rentalcars.com really resonate with me. Love plays a big part, together with creativity, togetherness, fun and honesty.

Rentalcars.com Company Values

The final part of our visit was a tour of the company's famous offices, hailed in the Manchester Evening News on the 27th of May 2015 as potentially 'Manchester's coolest office'!

Rentalcars.com Offices in Manchester

Ryan and his team gave us a guided tour of their offices, and I must say that I feel they are truly fabulous - we didn't want to leave!

Olive Strachan and friends

“Effective people management and development is essential in supporting productivity, effective skills utilisation, innovation and growth.” Peter Cheese, Chief Executive, CIPD

3 Top Tips for Driving Performance

In order to be productive it is important that managers drive performance within their team. Often a team’s performance is hampered by lack of clarity and direction. Here are my top 3 tips for driving performance and ultimately increasing productivity!

  1. Personalisation

    Create an internal ‘brand’ which draws a line in the sand regarding the past and agree the working methodology for the future! Branding can create leverage and team spirit. The brand should demonstrate the behaviours that the organisation expects from its staff and should have an internal focus as opposed to an external one encouraging employees to get involved and be part of it. An exercise that would get all staff involved would be to create a list of the emotions and adjectives surrounding your brand, then allow your staff to assist in refining the list. Your brand personality will inform all the decisions and form your visual identity for the future.
  2. Strengthen Leadership

    “Leadership is an activity, not a personality or a position”. This is taken from Fifteen Lessons on Leadership from the Video Arts film about Jamie Oliver taking 15 young people and training them to become chefs. The five key lessons which he shares are:
    • Lead the way
    • Show them how
    • Believe in them
    • Deal with it
    • Learn and adapt
    Managers and leaders should be role models to staff by embodying the values and beliefs of the organisation. They need to set the standards they expect and live and breathe the values. Problems that arise should be dealt with promptly and managers need to be consistent and, of course, they need to learn and adapt.
  3. Provide a support framework

    Where people are falling short of expectations for whatever reason there needs to be a series of support mechanisms. They may include coaching; mentoring; learning and development programmes or stress and emotional support.

    Mentoring is a fantastic tool that can boost performance. Mentoring in the workplace can describe the relationship in which a more experienced colleague uses his or her greater knowledge and understanding of the work or workplace to support the development of a more junior or inexperienced member of staff. But there is also reverse mentoring where the junior member of staff may have a skill e.g. the use of technology, where they mentor the more mature member of staff to increase their knowledge of social media.

    Pulling these together, creating an internal brand, having strong leadership and providing development opportunities will boost staff performance and productivity!

By Olive Strachan Executive Coach, Staff Development Specialist

“The way you think about yourself determines your reality. You are not being hurt by the way people think about you. Many of those people are a reflection of how you think about yourself. 

“Shannon L. Alder”

Having confidence and self-belief in your abilities is part of the key to achieving your goals. With the present environment of uncertainty we need to refocus our efforts and keep our eye on the prize! By constantly reaffirming what we want and if necessary making adjustments there is no reason why success should not follow. 

Here are my 7 key tips to achieve your goals! 

1. Clarify what your goal is, often when working with managers or staff members there is concern and a sense of failure and lack of self-esteem due to non-achievement of goals. Most of the time it is not due to lack of ability or effort but because of ambiguity. With 1:1 Coaching part of the coaching conversation begins with establishing what the goal is and how realistic it is.

2. The next step is having a plan, having a plan is like putting co-ordinates into Google maps, you may hit the odd diversion but you know exactly where you want to go. Over the years I have coached many people who believe that planning everything stifles creativity and makes them boring. But there is something satisfying about committing something to paper and then seeing it come to fruition.

3. Confidence and self-belief – we all have that certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ skill, something we are good at that we need to explore. Sit down and complete your own personal SWOT analysis. Or create your own trusted network of contacts who will give you constructive feedback. You need to create your own brand that reflects who you are which ultimately will give you confidence to be you!

4. Purpose - we all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I recently read an article about James Patterson the author in the Sunday Telegraph; he admitted that he had been rejected by 31 publishers before being published. He had a purpose and kept going until he achieved his goal. Tenacity and persistence win the day!

5. Resilience – The CIPD in their factsheet regarding ‘Developing resilience in Times of Change’ advise that to develop resilience we need to call upon and develop all our reserves of energy sources:






It recommends some deliberate activity daily in each of the 5 areas. Nourish each area by challenging yourself, e.g.  If you walk at lunch time (body) try walking faster or taking a different route.  Being able to bounce back in the face of adversity is essential when it comes to achieving our goals. There will be many obstacles along the way and that inner strength and ability to keep going is vital.

6. Tenacity - Make a commitment to yourself that you will not give up at the first hurdle or the second or third! Every challenge you face and overcome makes you a stronger, wiser more capable person.  After 18 years as a business owner there are not a lot of problems that I have not faced. After overcoming each one I felt added wisdom and a renewed sense of purpose. One thing that I have is an unshakeable belief in myself and what I want to achieve.  When I face adversity the song from Chumbawamba comes to mind ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going keep me down!’

7. Learn and adapt – having worked with many organisations and individuals over the years often there is no evaluation completed after a project or a piece of work and so the same mistake is repeated. Evaluating, reviewing and making appropriate changes ensures that we achieve our goals and can then celebrate our success.

Goals must be challenging, allowing us stretch and grow, inspiring us to keep moving forward.  This is reflected by the vision of one of my clients Louvre Hotel Group:


To fashion today’s hotel industry, to imagine the concepts of tomorrow, and to turn our sights towards emerging countries. Such are the stated ambitions of Louvre Hotels Group, a major worldwide player, forever driven by its challenger’s spirit.

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