Happy New Year and how to find it (happiness)

A couple of years ago I was approached by a client who was frustrated and annoyed by a recent NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey carried out on his staff. Since a major re-alignment of the business this score had taken a big dive and had gone from being a strength to a weakness. So much so that the prevailing mood of unhappiness in the company had led to dramatic increases in staff turnover and markedly poorer performance against targets.

His frustration and annoyance was that as far as he could see his people were being indulged with benefits that he wouldn’t have dared dream about when he was starting out himself. Pay rises, unlimited holiday, goldfish bowls in reception, transparent communications had all been introduced with as much vigour as possible but it seemed to him were just being taken for granted.

They weren’t happy, he didn’t know why and it was a major problem. Continue reading “Happy New Year and how to find it (happiness)”

The top five questions that come up in coaching

Every coaching assignment is different and the ground covered varies a lot depending on each client and their needs. But there are themes and questions that come up again and again in various forms. Some are rooted in the existential dilemmas that we all face in life; others are born out of common frustrations.

I often describe coaching as working on two levels over time. The first level is explicit: the conscious pursuit of the goals and objectives set at the beginning of a coaching programme. This is what people have come to coaching to address and spend time on. The second level is implicit: it’s what occurs as a consequence of going through a process of self-examination. Sometimes the themes here shift and become the core of the contract, as new depth and complexity alters the premise behind the questions being asked by the client of themselves. Continue reading “The top five questions that come up in coaching”

Meaning making machines: what do people do all day?

 “It’s completely out of hand. But I can see what’s going on, he’s trying to make up a version of events in his mind where what he’s doing is OK. Or at least that’s how it seems to me. Is he? Why? And is that what I’m doing too?” 

Yes is the answer to all of these. Creating a coherent narrative, which makes sense to us (no matter what) is a central function of being human.

When I was younger, my favourite book (by Richard Scary) was “What do People do all Day?” It’s a very intriguing question that I still find fascinating. The short answer was all kinds of “stuff”. Going from one place to another, working indoors and outdoors, shopping, eating etc. But the bigger questions behind the record of activity loomed ever larger: what for and why? From a distance we can look like a swarm of bees briefly and busily striving, fighting, achieving for no clear purpose before a quick expiration.

But with us there is a point. We can find what we do meaningful. Look what we do when we genuinely consider it to be meaningless. On the whole we stop. Continue reading “Meaning making machines: what do people do all day?”

To describe something is to change it

“I had been thinking about it that way, but talking to you about it now, I’m starting to see that it isn’t and could even be the opposite”. About relationships with colleagues, decisions to be made, general questions of whether something is right or wrong, I’ve heard variations of this comment more than any other during coaching sessions. Why is it that the act of talking out loud about something changes our understanding of it?

During coaching, people often discuss subjects that are either confidential are that seem too personal to talk to other people about. Doubt, motivation, anxiety, confidence, purpose are all very important issues, but for many of us, many of our thoughts on these subjects occur as part of our inner monologue, the voice inside our heads. Continue reading “To describe something is to change it”

Plate tectonics: four ultimate existential concerns

I’ve been lucky to work with clients who’ve achieved a lot, who can tick the boxes that are conventionally called “success”. Achievement of a creative endeavour or business and financial accomplishment has been the cherry on the top of an engaged life. The journey towards achievement has been exhilarating, absorbing and often brought out the best in collaborators. But, when the battle has been won, when we get to the part of the film where everyone walks off into the sunset, something unexpected happens. After the elation there’s a hangover.

What is this dissatisfaction that is perversely thrown into sharp relief when we get what we have wanted? Great thought has been applied to this over the ages in religion and philosophy. Continue reading “Plate tectonics: four ultimate existential concerns”

Elephant and rider: why don’t I do what I want me to do?

We often have a model of ourselves that has the brain in control as the executive centre. Information comes in, is considered and decisions are made. If I scratch my ear it’s because I’ve detected an itch and chosen an appropriate response. It’s almost like we have an army of specialists in lots of departments looking after each of our mind and body functions. There used to be a cartoon where they all wore white coats.

There is though another model, which I find people often recognise as more realistic: the elephant and the rider. You can see this pair lumbering through the jungle and hear an incessant chatter coming from the rather officious rider who thinks he’s in control.

“I’ll keep on walking this way for a bit, oh no, maybe not, I’ll head off right towards this water and [whoa!] knock over this tree and have a drink, no have a bathe and [oops!] fall down and roll over in the mud . . .” Continue reading “Elephant and rider: why don’t I do what I want me to do?”