The Magic Rule | Three Little Words To Help People ‘See The Change’


At the end of the film Ghostbusters the team encounter a giant Marshmallow Man at the top of a massive New York skyscraper.

They are in the middle of getting their asses kicked when one of them comes up with a plan to destroy the Marshmallow Man by “crossing the streams” of their highly dangerous (and unlicensed!) nuclear accelerators that they carry in their backpacks.

This scene is a beautiful illustration of change management in action and it plays out like this:

Egon: There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.
Peter: What?
Egon: Don’t cross the streams.
Peter: Why?
Egon: It would be bad.
Peter: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean “bad”?
Egon: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Raymond: Total protonic reversal.
Peter: That’s bad. Okay. Alright, important safety tip, thanks Egon.
[Later in the scene]
Egon: I have a radical idea. The door swings both ways, we could reverse the particle flow through the gate.
Peter: How?
Egon: [hesitates] We all cross the streams.
Peter: ‘Scuse me Egon? You said crossing the streams was bad!
Ray: Cross the streams…
Peter: You’re gonna endanger us, you’re gonna endanger our client – the nice lady, who paid us in advance, before she became a dog?…
Egon: Not necessarily. There’s definitely a *very slim* chance we’ll survive.
[pause while they consider this]
Peter: [slaps Ray] I love this plan! I’m excited to be part of it! LET’S DO IT!

Making sure everyone really, really understands an important point in order for decisions and changes to take effect are one of the key things to get right as part of managing change. And anticipating the ramifications and agreed course of action is probably equally as important as making the decision in the first place.

In the Ghostbusters scene, the risk of the danger of crossing the streams needed to be said twice by Egon (once as a warning and secondly as a solution) for the team to really understand what the plan meant in action and ‘see the change‘.

I’ve experienced this in many situations where it is crucial to ensure everyone ‘gets the message and clearly sees the change‘. Otherwise it can come back and bite you – or in the case of a giant Marshmallow Man, stomp on you.

To illustrate, I remember once issuing a set of meeting minutes following a workshop held earlier that particular day. It had been one of those meetings that had been quite highly charged and there were a couple of sensitive areas that the team discussed – and more importantly agreed a course of action in the room.

The minutes needed to be issued quickly before the dust settled and ensure we maintained momentum. I had been very careful to ensure the minutes were peer reviewed by a colleague who was also in the workshop (I trusted them to ensure I had an accurate picture of what had happened that had been sensitively recorded).

And then I received a phone call from one of the workshop attendees challenging a point in the minutes…

It took some time to get to the point that they did actually agree and had signed off that particular action; they were just in the process of still digesting it and wanted to discuss how they could be supported with it (which they were uncomfortable with raising in the room). Totally understandable really. We then proceeded to work up a plan and the call finished on good terms. Phew.

Events like this are hardly surprising. More and more work is often piled on top of already busy people in businesses today. It’s dangerous to assume that everyone will come adequately prepared for a meeting or be mentally prepared to contribute 100% because of everything else they need to focus on.

People need help to connect the dots. And one small but critical thing you can do is ensure what is being proposed is clearly underlined – so the change can be “locked in”.

I always remember a statistic that a fantastic Marketing lecturer once quoted in one of her lectures about the ‘Magic Rule of 7‘.  The rule says that buyers need (on average) to read or hear 7 messages before they decide if they wish to make a purchase from you or not. Now, I’m not advocating repeating an important issue that’s being proposed in a meeting 7 times, but rather to really appreciate the power of repetition.

When you are working with a busy team of people who have a difficult decision to make, it’s worth spending time to ensure everyone really gets what is being outlined on the table and they see the change by using these three little words to help people:

‘Say It Twice’

It doesn’t need to be a robotic replay like you are just re-playing a voice-mail message. But more along the lines of “just so everyone is absolutely clear, what we are saying is this – from next Monday, all new orders for product X will be prioritised by the order intake team with an improved response SLA from the current 3 hour window to the new 15 minute target – are we all agreed?

Next time you are running a meeting that involves a key decision being made (or giant Marshmallow Man that needs overcoming), make sure you channel the Magic Rule of 7 to help people really understand what is being said, so they can  clearly see the change – and Say It Twice.


Think Like A Hotel | How To Create An Operational Excellence Culture


I recently stayed in a beautiful boutique hotel. As I entered the revolving front door, it was like walking through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia. I had arrived in a magical world with soft velvet everywhere, cool tunes piping through the sound system and really posh toiletries in the bathroom, I’m sure you get the picture.

The check in experience was excellent. I was welcomed by name (how they knew it was me I still don’t know), offered a nice coffee and slice of cake while checking in and my bags had magically been whisked off to my room while I was at the desk.

And on top of that there were some really nice little touches – for example I was given a loan iPad during my stay that acted as my hotel guide, and invited to join the hotel reward scheme which bagged me a free newspaper and wifi code. Not ground breaking ideas but I thought what a great check in experience – everything just clicked. I was a very happy customer!

Trying to anticipate customer “moments of truth” which left unchecked can lead to operational challenges and ultimately unhappy customers is a challenge faced by most organisations.

And this raises a dilemma – how do you ensure everyone in the business can ‘connect the dots’ from the starting point of capturing customer needs to appreciating how these flow through to all of the key business functions in order for them to work together seamlessly? The outcome being a brilliant service to the customer in the most efficient way possible.

This is Operational Excellence – and it’s easier said than done.

So how do you create an operational excellence culture and ensure everyone in your business truly gets “it” and follows this mindset?

Well, there is a whole suite of options for various models to follow, such as Lean Six Sigma, ISO 9001 and various other hybrid approaches involving these and others such as change management and employee engagement approaches.

They all need certain strategies, tools and techniques to follow to embed them into the culture in order to succeed.

And there are a few questions to consider if you want to introduce an operational excellence culture into your business. For example;

  • Is the business culture ready for it?
  • How equipped are your people to lead operational excellence?
  • Are your leaders prepared to adjust their mindsets if necessary?
  • What kind of approach is appropriate?
  • What has or hasn’t been tried in the past?
  • What kind of appetite do the top team have?
  • Do you create a big programme and put lots of your people on training courses?

The list goes on.

So while the business figures these kind of questions out, there is a way where you can start to get the culture ready for operational excellence:

Think like a hotel and start small.

Think of the journey the customer makes from entering, staying and renewing with you as if you were running a hotel. And then keep focusing on what value they can get in each of these steps.

The check in experience I had at my hotel will have involved breaking it all down into manageable steps and making each as efficient and customer centric as possible. This “back to basics” thinking can be transferred to any other business.

It is very tempting to go “all in”, create a big noise in the business and get a big programme up and running. I’ve tried this in the past and it can become a double edged sword. I recommend assessing whether you feel your business is ready for that approach.

But you don’t need to go big bang to start bringing an operational excellence approach into your business. Here are a few strategies that have worked for me:

  • Start small – by identifying 1 or 2 issues that would benefit from improvement and bringing together a small team to work on them. This could be something that cuts across a few departments, and will bring benefits to the customer.
  • Avoid focusing on your “crown jewel” processes or issues first. Learn from your first few projects and then you can circle back and hit these hard in future phases. You’ll learn what will work and what doesn’t work. Also, try to keep in check how much you focus on, avoid trying to boil the ocean with lots of projects, just keep it to a couple that can make a real difference.
  • Try to avoid any initial issues requiring system changes, IT teams are likely to be already maxed with requirements which may delay the project.
  • Don’t brand it or advertise what you are doing just yet, just get on with it.
  • Set a challenging target for the team and complete the project within a 90 day window so the project has a realistic timeframe. Help the team win by giving them bandwidth to work on the project. Make it feel special to people.
  • Use simple project management techniques to track the project, apply “back to basics” type thinking to solve the problem at hand and try to get some early wins under the team’s belt to get some traction and inspire the team to push on.

In this way you can start to quietly bring in operational excellence into the business, (even if it’s been tried before) and you can demonstrate “the art of the possible”.

So think like a hotel and start small by standing in your customers shoes as they enter the revolving door to your business. Creating an operational excellence culture is about everyone in the business being involved to make sure your customers have a brilliant experience and keep coming back again and again – choosing you to buy from.

May I offer you a complimentary newspaper? 🙂

What’s the Story? | What Noel Gallagher Taught Me About Engaging The C-Suite


All through our lives we meet and have dealings with people who hold various positions of power and influence. Two unexpected experiences taught me a valuable lesson about how to engage and communicate with members of the C-Suite in unplanned moments.

My first experience was at school. My headmaster, a formidable man, once thrashed me with an old slipper for throwing a snowball during a playground snowball fight one winter (our school had a zero tolerance approach to snowball fights). I still remember awaiting my fate outside his office with the other accused and waiting for the little red light to turn to green above his door.

When I entered his office and before the slipper came out he asked me (like I was a condemned man) if I had anything to say. In hindsight, as I was going to get the slipper anyway, I wish I had something witty and memorable to recite but I didn’t. “No sir” I replied. Thwack.

Flash forward a few years and my second experience. This one was entirely different and fortunately didn’t involve a slipper.

A good friend of mine had asked me if I wanted to go to the Reading Festival – Oasis were playing that year and it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.  He also told me that his brother (who was the editor of a major music magazine at the time) could get us in backstage to the VIP area. Rock and Roll.

When the day came for the festival we flashed our VIP lanyards at the burly backstage crew and made it to the VIP area. It was like we had arrived in heaven.  A free well stocked bar. Lush sofas. Delicious snacks. We could easily have stayed there and just listened to the music.

And then this happened…

My friend’s brother asked us if we would like to meet Noel Gallagher. I looked over and there Noel was – and amazingly Paul Weller was standing next to him having a beer.  My friend and I looked at each other and in unison, we said hell yes!  So we slowly moseyed over, “shoe-gazing” as if we didn’t really care and it was just one of those things like buying a loaf of bread instead of meeting god.

As we joined them, Noel and Paul were deep in conversation about something no doubt important as taking the volume ‘up to 11’, their favourite chord to use that day or whether their blue M&M rider had been delivered. And out of nowhere my verbal diarrhea kicked in.

I said this: “Mr Gallagher, Mr Weller can I just say you are my heroes and I have all your CDs”.

Well, you can imagine what happened next – I had just broken the unwritten ‘don’t be a complete idiot when you talk to rock gods’ rule. There was an awkward silence that seemed to last for 2 hours. Everyone looked at each other.  I distinctly remember them being really lovely about it and Noel said “thanks mate” and they both smiled at me.  There was a bit more small talk and then I was discretely kicked in the shin by my friend and we were shepherded off by his brother who was giving me ‘the look’.  We were then told not to approach anyone famous for the rest of the concert.

Encore?  More like boo’d off stage.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many types of people who occupy roles in the various C-Suites in different organisations I’ve worked in.

Now for the purposes of this blog, when I say C-Suite here – I’m using it as a loose term for the group of people that often need to be influenced as part of major change or improvement programmes.  These can be board members, directors, heads of, senior stakeholders etc.  In many ways they have similar traits to Noel and Paul. They have power. They have influence. And they all typically don’t have much time.

So here’s the thing:

Everyone in this group needs a personal approach to how they are engaged and communicated with. And they need specific data of some form or another on what the impacts of the change or improvement will be on areas such as the business operations, customers experience, people changes, costs, systems, processes etc.

They cover a wide spectrum of personality types and communication styles but the one thing I learnt from Noel and Paul is this – if you have nothing tangible to say during an unplanned moment with them, you’ll lose a golden chance to really engage them.  I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever meet either of them and the result was a pile of drivel – not my finest moment.

So if you have something mentally prepared for the eventuality of coming across anyone in your ‘C-Suite’ and personalise it with a story, you can actually help accelerate change.

Don’t have nothing to say – instead prepare a mini story to tell.

Be prepared to tell the story for that unplanned discussion in the lift, at the start of the meeting, in the lunch queue, in the car park, passing in the corridor, while they walk past your desk etc.

People often call this an elevator pitch but I don’t see it this way. Think of it like a mini story – with a beginning, middle and an end. These people are busy and in the process of bumping into them there is a golden opportunity to sell to and engage them – quickly.

I’m not proposing having a pre-prepared robotic script tailored by person, but instead of ‘How’s it going?’ have a ‘if ever I bump into Kate, it would be really useful for Brian who is heading up the systems work stream that they could do with some support in understanding some process impacts in your department, – is there anybody you could think of?’ request ready.

It doesn’t need to be a rambling War and Peace. Just have something specific, short and snappy that is actionable to say.

Care is needed that you don’t become somebody who asks for something every time you see somebody so people swerve to avoid you.  It could sometimes be a piece of positive feedback that someone in their team has supported the programme, or an anecdote from a customer on a change that the programme has initiated, that they may wish to share with their department.

Also, it’s important to attune your senses to any visual “do not disturb” signs, a simple smile will do. 🙂

This isn’t rocket science and is all about building and maintaining rapport at the end of the day to create a positive and sustainable relationship.

I’ve often thought if I had the chance to ‘do over’ that excruciating moment in time again with Noel and Paul what I would do.  I think the best I would do is to be polite, not be a geek and if the opportunity in the conversation arose, I’d tell Noel and Paul a little story about an unlearnt red electric guitar gathering dust in the loft that I’d received as a Christmas present the previous year and ask for advice, such as their number one tip to learn how to play it.

Have a rock and roll Christmas!



Meeting Mayhem! | Turn Left To Ten Business Class Meeting Upgrades


Even after 20 years, I still vividly remember THAT DAY as if it was yesterday.

It was a rainy, Monday morning and I was about to start one of my meetings.  It was for a project that I was running that I desperately wanted to be successful – I wanted to ‘put a dent in the universe’.

But this is how the meeting played out:

  • People arrived late…
  • People spoke over each other…
  • The conversation covered lots of different areas that I wasn’t expecting….
  • The meeting over-ran by 20 minutes…

And then, THIS happened…

At the end of the meeting (well, when I say ‘end of the meeting’ it was when people started to drift off and say they had other things to do), somebody (who I looked up and really admired) came up to me and discretely said this:

Guy, that is quite possibly the worst meeting I’ve ever been to.  I’m not sure what I’ve done to you in a previous life to deserve this, but, please – I’m begging you, never invite me to one of your meetings again – just email me whatever you need from me”.

I had just been ‘Meeting Fired’.

I blushed. I just wanted the ground to swallow me up. I felt a mix of emotions – I was angry, ashamed and confused. I knew I had to change something.  But what? And how?

I went for a walk to clear my head to think what I could do.  Then it came to me. The best thing would be to get on a course.  Yes a course always solves everything! It was all going to work out.  Once I had a course folder and a nice shiny certificate I’d be able to hold any meeting with anyone – I’d be the Donald Trump of my meetings!

But waiting to get on the course was going to be too late.

The following week (minus the colleague who asked me to email them), THIS happened at my next project meeting…

I arrived in the room and there were agendas neatly laid out on the tables.

I immediately thought I was in the wrong room. I went back to my desk, double checked Lotus Notes (sweet memories) and it was indeed my room. Somebody must have doubled booked the room, so I headed back to the room.

When I got there I checked the agenda on one of the desks and it WAS my meeting.  What was going on?  Somebody had taken the time to create and print an agenda – FOR MY MEETING! I was about to start the meeting and was just about to open my mouth when a colleague opened the meeting – FOR MY MEETING!

I had been ‘Meeting-Jacked!’

A colleague of mine sitting next to me ran through the agenda and went into the first agenda point.  The meeting attendees, at first looked at bit puzzled and then just got on with the meeting.

I was like a rabbit in the headlights.

The meeting started on time and we actually finished early.  Discussion was kept to the topic.   Minutes were taken, owners agreed and deadlines agreed. People actually came up at the end of the meeting to my colleague and shook their hand like they’d just won X Factor. It was like none of my meetings.  I was awestruck.

At the end of the meeting, I was prepared for a stand up row with my colleague.  How dare you do that! While I waited for everyone to leave the room, I had my best ‘grumpy cat’ face ready and primed and a list of my objections to go through in my best stern ‘Telegraph letters page’ voice about what had just happened.

My colleague saw, and anticipated my struggle.  They quietly closed the door, and then said this:

That was difficult for you I know Guy. There was no malice intended. But I wanted you to see what a good meeting looked like. I’m sorry to have done that but I want to help you, if you will let me?

At which point they stuck out their hand.

What else could I do?  I swallowed my pride. I shook their hand and said “thank you, yes please”.  And with the help of my colleague slowly but surely I started to improve my meetings. (And in the end didn’t need the course).

Those two moments – being ‘meeting fired’ by one colleague and being ‘meeting jacked’ by another, shaped how I approached ALL of my future meetings.  I cringe when I think back to my younger self running car crash meetings.

But here’s the funny thing:

I’m actually really glad they happened. They took me on a path to ensure every single meeting I ever run stays focused on achieving clear outcomes and keeping the meeting on track.

I’m pretty passionate about running meetings now.  They are one of those things that we all do, sometimes we run them and sometimes we attend them and every single one is different.

It’s rare to receive formal meeting management development and this has massive consequences. Nobody likes to waste time, yet in our careers we are destined to spend thousands of precious hours wasting time in frustrating, unproductive and unstructured meetings just like the ones I USED to run.

A recent survey about time suggests the average UK office employee spends 16 hours in meetings each week.  It is estimated a quarter – 4 hours of that time – is wasted.  In a year, that equates to 9 X 24 hour days. IF this is true, then this all adds up, over the course of a career, to 9,000 hours or a full year, spent in useless meetings.

The survey findings indicated that many people were frustrated with going around in circles in meetings, poor agenda management and unfocused discussions with no resolution.

How completely depressing.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from some really inspiring meeting masters and facilitators. Whenever I have experienced an expert running a meeting, it’s always struck me how easy they make it look. They just make things look effortless. But there’s no meeting magic trick at play here.  The ‘secret’ is to adequately prepare for the meeting and all the pieces should fit into the place and the meeting will just flow.

By running a great meeting, the big payoff seems to me to be threefold:

  • You can accelerate change faster, you’ll get more done in your day and your projects will stay on track.
  • You’ll save your colleagues time and frustration – and help them deliver their goals and objectives.
  • And you’ll actually start to subtly ‘condition’ people to your way of running meetings. Once they get into the swing of the way you run them, people become accustomed to things like providing updates and anticipating what happens next in a meeting. Over time people may even start to adopt your approach – the ripple effect.

I see meetings now like plane travel. Most meetings are “Economy Class“.  This implies no criticism at all of those running these meetings, they are functional and most of the time get you to your destination. But over the years whenever I’ve worked with a meeting master and I experience a ‘Meeting Upgrade’ to “Business Class“, I intuitively knew I had made a ‘left turn’ into the meeting. There was something different that happened and so I made a note of it.


We now request that everyone please take a few minutes to read the following 10 tips to upgrade your meetings, to ensure your meeting passengers experience a business class service and the meeting achieves supersonic speed to reach its destination. Please note hot face towels, champagne and a series of delicious snacks will be served shortly after meeting takeoff.

#1. Agenda is King. Create a clear agenda and ideally send it out to the participants at least 24 hours before the meeting. Don’t surprise people – if people have specific areas they want to cover, factor that into the plan. Bring hard copies of the agenda to the meeting room. Make the agenda a reflection of you and invest time in it. Put your company logo on the page, put a border around the page. It needs to subtly say: “this meeting means business”.

Here is the meeting template I use:


#2. Think Outcome. Spend time on analysing what the meeting needs to achieve and list out the key outcomes you want from the meeting and specific discussion points. Avoid agenda items like “Finance Update” and instead say “Month End improvement project status”.  I knew someone once who actually wrote the actions from a meeting BEFORE the meeting (with owners and deadlines) and ticked them off during the meeting.  This may at first sound crazy, but it’s actually a pretty neat way to ensure you keep your team focused on outcomes. 

#3. Help People Connect The Dots. If there is any pre-read, send this out as soon as you can. Try to avoid just sending a deck with no additional commentary – if you can, highlight to people salient points in the pre-read that will be for discussion in the meeting.   

#4. Think Task. Accurate task management is critical in meetings. I use a simple task tracker (using a Word table with 5 columns and capture the following:

  • What is the number or reference of the action?
  • What is the action?
  • Who is the owner?
  • What is the target deadline?
  • What is the update on this since the last meeting?

#5. Banish TBAs. Avoid listing out TBAs – encourage your participants to commit to ownership.  If people don’t know who or when, ensure somebody takes the action to identify when these will be discovered.

#6. Follow Up FAST. Always follow up quickly with minutes and actions after the meeting. Ideally the same day, certainly no later than 24 hours.  You need to keep pace.

#7. Run It Like Clockwork. Meeting timing is critical. I typically schedule mine for 52 minutes.  Why?  Well, people need time to get from previous meetings and then prepare for their next meeting. So try these steps:

  • Let’s say your meeting is between 11 – 12.
  • Schedule the start of the meeting for 11.05
  • Schedule the end of the meeting for 11.57
  • Start on time and don’t wait for people. They will soon learn your new way of meetings. If people say ‘what did I miss?’ say you can pick up with them after the meeting.
  • Leave 3-4 minutes at the end to run through your task tracker and re-cap on everything you have captured. This will ensure you have captured all of the points accurately and not missed anything.

#8. Tailor Your Approach. Whether you are running a face to face meeting or if you are running a virtual meeting (like an online ‘gotomeeting’ or ‘webex’ type or dial in), or whether you’re running a senior stakeholder review, holding a project update call, running a process improvement workshop etc. you want to make sure every single meeting runs like clockwork. It’s how you prepare and structure the meeting which will make the difference. So tailor it. Visualise what you need to achieve and the best way to involve the meeting attendees. Then craft the meeting with that end picture in mind.  A great book to help outline the main types of meetings, and many more hints and tips is ‘Will There be Doughnuts?’. Well worth the investment.

#9. Be In The Moment And Focus. Avoid chit chat at the start – just get on with it. If you’ve sent the agenda and left copies out then people will have seen it  so you don’t need to run through it and you can save yourself some time. Keep a laser focus on the outcomes of the meeting and why you are there. If you feel like you are at risk of slipping in a task, work to come up with a solution (e.g. to have a separate discussion for example) that will not derail the other agenda points.

#10. Manage the Room. Finally, you need to manage people in the room. This is an art and comes with practice. If people try to interrupt off agenda or hijack, politely and quickly address their concern and close them down. This is YOUR meeting.  Don’t allow others to take the reins.  Thankfully, most people take a collaborative approach and get stuck in. How you deal with people needs careful planning and thought. Smile, be enthusiastic and show energy and you’re 75% there.

My meetings aren’t perfect but they are so much better than they were all those years ago, I feel I can always tweak to make a meeting better. Please don’t copy what happened to me and  hijack someone’s meeting. There are of course many ways and means to providing feedback and sometimes a brief, well intentioned and worded offer of help after the meeting can work wonders.

I’m always interested in learning new insights so if you have any meeting tips or nuggets that work for you that you wish to share, please feel free!

So, next time you hold a meeting, ask yourself this: “Are you going to turn left or right?”

The Theatre Of Change

A couple of years ago I was approaching 40 and started looking for one of those big life changing events to really push and challenge myself.

I considered all the usual kind of things people tend to think of at these kind of life milestones – running a marathon, buying a shiny red sports car, climbing a scary mountain, feeding a penguin at the South Pole and even starting a degree in adventure – yes you can actually do a degree in adventure.

But none of these really lit my fire.

Then one day a friend mentioned that they were looking for new members to join a local amateur dramatic theatre company that they were a member of which sounded much more like the kind of thing I was after. So I went along to a new members night and joined the theatre group and auditioned for a role in a play. Even though I hadn’t really done any “drama” since school, amazingly I got a part (as a bumbling colonel in Allo Allo).

After months of rehearsals in a local scout hut, learning the ropes and all the artistic processes around putting on a play and spending hours getting the play ready with a really amazing team of people, we were ready for show time.

With a bunch of mates, our little theatre group transported all of the set and props which the backstage team had carefully created over the winter months – from the scout hut which was a squeeze to fit 20 people in at a time to a local hall which comfortably sat 200 people in the audience. The change in space was refreshing.

Here’s a picture of my view from the stage just before we started our dress rehearsal:


I will never forget the first night of the play when the curtain was being pulled back thinking what the hell have you got yourself into Guy? I was absolutely terrified. Would I actually remember the 95 lines I had rehearsed off by heart? Would my leg stop shaking through fear? Would I stay awake? (I hadn’t slept properly in a week).

The curtain went up and we put on the play and it was brilliant fun and a great way to mark my birthday.

And with the benefit of hindsight, looking back the experience was very similar to changing a business. We had a team of people with a goal in mind (to put on a play) with some clear outcomes that we wanted to achieve (entertain our customers and cover our costs for putting on the play). For info I believe the costs were covered and I didn’t hear of anyone running out of the theatre screaming so I guess both were covered.

One of the most interesting things I experienced while I was up there on the stage, dressed up in a silly costume, with thick make up caked on and the baking lights shining down on me was a strange but wonderful feeling of connecting with every single person in the audience. It felt like a crazy sensation at the time but with everyone watching me when I said a line I felt like I was looking at and speaking to each audience member when I said my lines.

Every single line, inflection, look, action, reaction, movement and gesture had been rehearsed literally hundreds of times, but only some had got a reaction. And when a joke really landed, the audience seemed to erupt.

Now please believe me when I say ‘when a joke landed’ I am not in any way blowing my trumpet here. The source material was brilliant, the play director was brilliant, the cast was brilliant and the hard working back stage team were brilliant. They all patiently took the time to coach me how to go from a newbie zero to well, something a little bit more than a newbie zero in the space of 3 months.

I couldn’t sleep again after the first night of the play – but this time it wasn’t through fear – I was buzzing. I critically analysed everything I had done. What could I do differently to get a better reaction the next night? What if I slowed down my delivery? Or spoke a bit more loudly maybe? Or if I stood upstage a bit? All of these played on my mind. I made a couple of tweaks the following night and got some bigger laughs, especially around how I played with my comedy wig!

So here’s the thing…

That feeling of connection I felt when I was up on stage is called emotional contagion. It’s about understanding how our behaviour can make an impact and a powerful connection with other people. Emotional contagion is one of the most useful tools to understand and utilise when undertaking change.

Our moods have a dramatic impact on the moods and emotions of others around us. Studies have shown how we behave can dramatically infect the moods and behaviours of others. The impact of emotional contagion has a major influence on the success of changing a business.

And when I think back to our play, we were able to tightly control the emotional contagion we had with our audience. Our play was effectively hidden in our little hut until we were ready to show off the final article and pull back the curtain to a nice, well behaved, ticket paying audience who all knew what they were coming to watch.

And let’s just for a moment imagine that the art of change management was like putting on a play in a business where you are on stage. What would the play look like?

Well to start with, when you change something in a business you just don’t have the luxury of a scout hut – and no the MD or the HR Director’s office is not a hut. Often the preparation of the change will involve people from across the business in meetings and workshops of some form or other. And this in turn means it becomes very, very difficult to control emotional contagion – but it IS possible, but careful preparation and planning is required.

And there is a curtain of sorts to cover preparation on what’s going on, but it can’t possibly cover the stage all of the time. And not everyone will be in the same place when you want to start the process of change.  For example:

  • Some people are already in their seats watching and waiting.
  • Some have no interest at all to come and watch the play or even take part.
  • Some may talk to their neighbours in the audience and provide a running commentary of the play.
  • Some may heckle the play before, during and after the performance.
  • Some may turn their chairs around and face the other way.
  • The list goes on, you get the picture I am sure.

When you are making change every single thing you do, from the changes you choose to make, to the people who make the change, to the people you associate with in the business, to the emails you write, to the various updates you send, to the comments you make to those standing next to you in the lunch queue, to the way your face reacts to a comment in a meeting – all count to how the business perceives the change and how it will impact them.

And when the change is ready to go live, there is no chance to think about what can change for the next night – because there is only one night to put on the show. Remember that old saying “you only get one chance to make a first impression”? Well that holds so true here. You can’t say that one was a dress rehearsal!

So just how do you create emotional contagion when you want to change or improve something in a business? Here are five brief tips on what I have used that have worked for me:

  1. Assume that not everyone who will be impacted by the change is in the same place as you for various reasons and will go through the various steps of change at different times and different ways. Be patient and factor in time to help people through the change.
  2. Ensure that everyone on the change team really understand what the key challenges are and make sure they are equipped to address them. Also, focusing on resilience of people on the change team executing the change is key – you need to support people who are supporting you with the change. There are a number of emotional resilience tools that can help here.
  3. Help the team understand the impact of sending mixed messages on the change to the business. Identify people who are in the organisation who can act as advocates to the change and talk up the project to support the message. These are rarely the senior leaders in the business and they will need time to recruit onto the team to support you.
  4. Present an air of positivity and ‘the art of the possible’. People need to feel they can be trusted and have a part to play in the change. Make people really feel they are part of the solution. Make time for people.
  5. And finally – remember every single thing you do from the moment you walk through the door in the morning to the moment you leave is on show, so put on your ‘game face’ every morning. 🙂

So grab your audience’s attention and remember this: when you want to change something and you need to engage and fire people up – think about emotional contagion.

This is the Theatre of Change. The lights are dimming, your audience is waiting…

Awaken The Jedi Within | Obi Kenobi’s Secret Employee Engagement Mind Trick

Darth Obi

When we were young, my brother and I were avid autograph collectors. Dad would encourage us to do this to help us practice our writing.

Each time we wrote a letter to request an autograph, dad would encourage us to write a copy of our letter to keep as a record for our file. I seem to remember at the time this being a complete pain as I just wanted to send the letter out but he said it was important to keep a record so we grudgingly went along with it. (I still keep copies of letters today, habits eh?)

I recently came across my autograph collection which I hadn’t looked through in years whilst sorting out my loft and I was amazed at what I found; pages and pages of autographs from Neil Armstrong to Margaret Thatcher – together with copies of the letters that I had written all those years ago.

Now before you read on, you need to know this; when I was growing up I desperately wanted to be Han Solo. And to say that I’m excited about the new Star Wars coming out this year really would be the understatement of the century.

So, while I was leafing through the pages of my autograph collection I came across two autographs in my ‘Star Wars’ section that made me smile.

The first was from Harrison Ford – Han Solo himself! Here is my letter (sadly my writing hasn’t stayed this neat), followed by his response and his envelope.

Harrison letter

HF autograph


Please note how my name is written on the envelope (I think I’ll forgive Harrison on this occasion).

Then I turned the page and saw an autograph that stopped me in my tracks. It was from Sir Alec Guinnes aka Obi-Wan Kenobi. Here is his reply together with his envelope:

AG autograph

While I was sitting there reading this in my dusty loft, I was truly stunned. I thought this: all those years ago, Alec Guinness had taken the time to reply to me, when I was just 7 years old, and even personalised his response by writing my name in his reply.

But that’s not all; I’m no handwriting expert but it even looks like he took the time to write the envelope too – and he even got my name right (not so concerned about the address!)

So here’s the thing…

We all have busy lives, but its important to treat people with respect. And to get the very best out of people – to truly motivate them – you need to put some thought and time aside and invest in the relationship.

The most inspiring leaders I have worked with all share this attribute – they are truly authentic and make time for their people and in return their people pay them back in bucket loads.

The thing that they all seem to do subconsciously is to make a point of always using someone’s name whenever they speak to someone. Just like my autograph collection, the autographs that were personalised and where my names was mentioned, like Sir Alec’s, just stood out so much more and were more memorable.

It may sound like an overly simple observation but I’ve noticed that not everyone does this when they speak to each other and I think it can make a huge difference.

Research suggests that as we get older, our ability to process and remember names decreases, to a rate of nearly 85% of people forgetting some names so it’s even more important to do this – unless you want one of those “Ah hello YOU!, how are YOU doing?” moments. (Some great techniques in the above link for help with name memory).

By the way, I am not implying that people who don’t mention or remember names are some form of Darth Vader Sith Lord who have gone over to the dark side, it’s just the way of things. We all have different styles and approaches, this is just an observation on what I have seen that appears to work wonders.

This is employee engagement 101 and it really isn’t a Jedi mind trick where you have to spend some time in a dirty swamp with Yoda to learn is it? Treat your people well – and be personable – and they will treat you, your colleagues and your customers well.

So channel your inner Jedi and try this mind trick: every time you have a conversation with someone, do a mental check to see if you have mentioned their name, and if you haven’t, subtly drop it into the conversation.

It doesn’t have to be “Hello, LUKE, how are you LUKE? Dreary weather today eh LUKE? How’s that amazing Lean Six Sigma project coming along LUKE? etc. etc. but rather “Hi Luke! How’s the engagement programme?”

Weave this Jedi mind trick into your daily business and you’ll be a ‘force’ to be reckoned with.

The Hotel Lobby Napkin Sketch | The 52 Minute Change Exchange


Where does “change management” actually take place?

  • Is it in a transformation programme weekly team meeting?
  • Or in a project progress review meeting?
  • Or in an exec meeting to review transformation strategy?
  • Or how about bumping into someone in the car park to chit chat over an issue that is causing some problems?
  • Or what about overhearing someone talking about this or that on a project you are working on in the lunch queue?

The answer, is in all of these places, and many more.

Some of the more interesting for me have been during taxi rides, over coffee in airport lounges, getting into lifts and unexpectantly getting involved in conversations that lead to new opportunities and (my favourite) sketching out improvement strategies and plans on napkins in hotel lobbies. I’m sure you can think of some similar to these.

And perhaps one of the best examples of a TV show portraying the complexities of change management and these kind of meetings in action was The West Wing and the infamous “Walk and Talk” scenes which seemed to occur in every episode, like this one:

These types of ad-hoc meetings can all be very powerful ways to get stuff done. But why leave it to chance? So how about creating the right conditions to recreate the taxi, car-park, lunch queue, lift or lobby conversations?

Organise the meeting with the right people and you can move mountains. 

So here’s the idea. Create short, focused meeting opportunities called “Change Exchanges” to focus on driving improvement to support the current in flight change projects underway. By identifying important issues that are impacting the business and by resolving these, the overall transformation of the business will be accelerated. This is about creating and enabling the right ‘environment’ for successful change management to be really effective.

Instead of having the change discussion in the hotel lobby, get the people who would be on that sofa with you together to consider and exchange ideas on addressing each issue. It’s a bit like building a wall, think of these as the cement to keep the important “change building bricks” together. In my experience, change exchanges are most powerful when they are made up of people who are involved in change projects in the business and have a vested interest in transforming a business.

Note, these are not project or programme management meetings or times to theorise or hold moaning sessions – they are pragmatic, outcome focused meetings to turbo charge change. You need sleeves rolled up, strategic thinkers who have good hooks into the business.

Here’s what works for me:

1. Identify 2 or 3 issues that are bubbling away that may not necessarily need immediate action but would benefit from this approach. These can come from various sources and filtered through various people in the business. Some examples include; how do we overcome resistance in X area?, how can we get the Y work stream delivery time accelerated?, how can we surface some findings to the exec team before the upcoming board review etc. (I keep an ongoing list of these that can be used or referred to in a number of ways such as project reviews, stakeholder updates etc.)

2. Identify 4-5 people who all have a vested interest in transforming the business or can help address the issues. Again, avoid inviting the kind of people I mentioned earlier – none of them will help you out here and it’s not a meeting for passengers.

3. Get in touch with each person and personally ask them if they would like to be involved in the meeting. Say it’s low key and its off the radar – this is about exchanging ideas to drive change.

4. Once you have done this, send out an invite and agenda at least 48 hours before the meeting. Clearly set out the 2 or 3 issues you will be covering to get people thinking about what we could do.

5. Start the meeting at 5 minutes past the hour. Why this time? It will give people enough time to finish up any previous meetings.

6. And here is the key thing about what I believe an impactful change exchange meeting needs to deliver; focusing hard on the 2 or 3 key outcomes and spending time zeroing in on how to address each.

7. Spend 10-15 minutes on each issue then move on. Brainstorm what is happening, why and what needs to happen next.

8. Wrap up with the actions; owners, timelines for delivery and close the meeting in the 52 minute timeframe. Give people time to get to their next appointment. Then send out the minutes on the same day of the meeting and then you should have a good plan to address the issues. Anything that come up in the discussion that falls out of the scope you are discussing can go in the list I mentioned earlier for future exchanges.

The Change Exchange should be invisible to the business, and if you can work your network to encourage some like minded people to get together to work on a few issues, you can help transform your business and help ‘cement in’ other change projects underway.

Carrot 2.0 | 15 Tactics To Navigate The Resistance To Change Minefield


Winston Churchill was a creature of habit.

His habits rarely changed over the course of his career, even as the country went through great upheaval and change during the war years when he was Prime Minister.

Take a typical day… Churchill would wake up at 7.30 and stay in bed, eating a very large breakfast whilst reading his letters and newspapers.

At 11.00 he would get up, have a bath and take a turn around the garden.  He would then pour a weak whisky and soda, go into his study where he would work for an hour.

At 1.00, he would have lunch with his wife, Clementine, have a glass of Champagne, followed by a glass of brandy and a cigar. After lunch (around 3.30), he would return to work for 1.5 hours.

At 5.00 he would take a siesta and then wake up at 6.30, take another bath and take dinner at 8.00. When dinner finished, no doubt following some lively debate (at around midnight), he would return to his study for another hour of work.

These habits, he repeated, day in, day out, for years. These helped him get in the change zone.

Churchill was a change-master;  he thrived on change.

And when the country was at war, he knew that he would have to overcome resistance – both on the battlefield and in the hearts and minds of the people to the potential changes that lay ahead.

Churchill even had a personal catchphrase – “Keep Buggering On” which was sometimes abbreviated to “KBO”. And although he didn’t actually write the words for the now famous “Keep Calm and Carry on” poster, I don’t think it is a huge leap to see how he may have inspired and influenced the author of this poster.


Although never used, this poster came to symbolise a message that great change was coming and everyone had a part to play in the change.

Anticipating and neutralising resistance to change is one of the key areas to get right as part of a change, improvement or engagement project.

Getting it right is a minefield.

I know its not particularly fashionable to consider ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ as forms of motivation (Daniel Pink’s book Drive provides great new thinking here) – but – they act as perfect metaphors for how we can address resistance to change.

So, with this in mind, when it comes to thinking about approaches to resistance to change, consider these questions…

  • What carrots should you use?
  • What sticks are appropriate?
  • What carrot and sticks can be used together?
  • Who do you give carrots to?
  • When should you use a carrot or a stick?
  • How many carrots do you give out?
  • How big is the stick?
  • Who holds the stick?
  • Should you lend the stick to anyone?
  • Do people see you holding both a carrot and a stick at the same time?
  • How do you differentiate the right times to use a carrot or a stick?
  • What if people don’t respond to a carrot or a stick?
  • The list goes on…

To get through the resistance minefield, you need a plan. This will ensure the change ‘sticks’ and in turn allows the gains to be locked in.  The organisation, its employees and its customers will all benefit from the change.

Welcome to Carrot 2.0!

To build a plan and get a snapshot of potential areas or resistance can be done in the second 52 Minute Habit in a session which I’ve called ‘The Change Comfort Check-up’.

This is all about understanding the level of comfort people who you will work with on the change and how resistant they may be to the change ahead. It’s about assessing what kind of carrot they want.

I want to channel the Churchill spirit and assess from a neutral point of view where I’ve seen potential areas of resistance and provide an opportunity to create strategies to address each one. I’ve used the word comfort on purpose.

I’m not suggesting people need to be tap dancing with excitement over the change (although from an employee’s engagement angle that would be brilliant) but ensuring people are in the “comfort zone” ensures they aren’t in the “resistance zone” where real damage can be caused.

The change comfort check-up can be used before and during a project. It’s worth using it throughout your project as a way of scoring how comfortable the key people on your project are behaving. It can help signal if you need to take any corrective action.

So, try this. Set aside 52 minutes, grab a pen, print off 4 copies of the Change Comfort Check-up (attached at the bottom of this blog), find a quiet space and follow these steps. (Note, weak whiskey and soda optional).

In my experience, there are 4 key groups that need particular focus. These are;

The Business Owner. This person actually owns the area where there is an issue that you want to get fixed. You need to get as close as you can to the business owner to understand what they really want to get out of this project. Your goal is to stand in their shoes and to understand clearly what ‘good looks like from this project’.  If the project doesn’t give them what they need, they may well cause resistance by not supporting delivery of the project.

The Sponsor. This could well be the Business Owner, but often is someone who could be in their management team or a peer who is asked to be sponsor. You need to get them to help you get the project ‘over the line’. You need to help them understand what you need from them to help you – they need to clearly understand their role as a sponsor.

People Directly Impacted by the Change. This could be such as large group you may well need to chunk this down, but try to keep it at one level to start with. Understanding who will be directly impacted by the change and how they may respond is going to be fundamental to get right.  I would suggest a couple of strategies here to get this; can you locate to the area where they are located? (or do so once a week?)  Can you get involved in team meetings to see the dynamic of the team in action? Who do you know in your network in the business who could provide this information? The more you can start to feel and empathise how the team work and tick the better.

Project Team Members. Think that your team members are all going to be supportive?  Think again. They may have been assigned to the project with no wish to be on it. Often you may find that people who are impacted by the change are on your project.  They could silently torpedo and sabotage the project; they may want to secretly maintain the status quo on the inside while outwardly saying they are right behind the project; good times!  You need to keep very close to these people.


So these are the big 4 groups that can cause resistance – both by design and inadvertently.  They all need a strategy to anticipate and neutralise the resistance.

To do this I suggest focusing on 4 key questions to ask yourself. Any more and you risk overloading yourself. You will have 13 minutes for each area to get through the assessment, so not much time to hand around. When you are going through each question, put the first thing that comes into your head. Try to act as neutral as possible.  Where you may need more data, make a note to look into this further.

Once you have completed the whole sheet, you will have the start of a change neutralisation plan. You can then use this to understand where the largest areas of resistance are likely to be and what you need to do to start to overcome – and neutralise- them.

Here are the 4 key questions:

1. How could this change impact them – both positively and negatively?

2. What could they fear as a result of the change?

3. What kind of things could they do to cause resistance?

4. What actions need to be taken to keep them comfortable? Each group will be quite different and will require different approaches. All change is situational – on the project, programme, organisation, impact etc.

You will need to define what works best for you, but the main theme here is to gauge the level of resistance to change and then plan what you can do about it.

These are often the ‘hard miles’ of a change project.

To help support the comfort plan, here are 15 Habit Tactics that I have used to help neutralise resistance.

Of course the best tactic to neutralise resistance is not to have any in the first place! 🙂

1. Ok, to kick things off, it’s important to try to gauge and predict the behaviour of the person or people where you could face resistance.  There are many approaches to do this – one that I recommend is the DISC approach.  This brilliant video provides a good overview on the predicability of people.

2. Invest as much time as you can before the project has even begun to understand the key wants, fears and potential flash points of resistance from each group. If you can use your network in the business to work on potential challenges, you will save time in the long run.

3. Get a weekly meeting or call in with your sponsor – keep close to them. If they have a weekly update report they need to write, help write the project update for them.

4. If someone is not playing ball, take them for a coffee and have a grown up conversation with them. Enquire what is happening. Call their behaviour out. They may not realise what they are doing.

5.Don’t be afraid to call out repeated resistance to the sponsor – get it nipped in the bud early and escalate.

6. If you have a transition of people in roles – such as the business owner or sponsor – ensure you organise a transition plan to maintain the pace of the project.

7. If you have someone in your project who likes to take over meetings – such as taking discussions off on tangents, ‘forget’ agreements that have been previously made or appear to be constantly arguing with other members of the team – there are a few things you can try. Ensure you have robust meeting agendas and keep clear minutes from meetings which records agreements and circulate quickly after meetings.

8. Be careful how you use change and improvement terms. Try to make them ‘real world’ and avoid jargon.  Try to reassure people while you go through early stages of change and use terms like “let’s add draft approach” to this slide or “data health warning – validation required” for any critical analysis or findings.  People can get twitchy and this can help reassure them.

9. Create an internal blog that highlights the successes of the project. Share what the goal of the project is about, share highlights and challenges the team are facing, ask the business to support them. Share anecdotes. Put in pictures from meetings. Make the team look good.

10. Send a brief weekly update on the project that includes all of the above groups, to maintain a team approach. Create an infographic that outlines in an attractive way the challenge that this project will address.

11. If feasible, talk to customers (whether they are external or internal) that may be impacted by the project. Use this “voice of the customer” in meetings to remind people how important the project is.

12. If department or company meetings come up, see this as a great marketing opportunity for the project – think engagement. Consider making a short film using your smart phone and interview people on the project that you can post on an internal website or play in a team meeting. People tend to like videos more than PowerPoints and is a good way to engage people.

13. For people impacted by the change, regular communication is key, even if you have nothing specific to say about the change at that point. Consider having key people impacted by the change as ambassadors on the project so thy feel like they own the change.

14. Consider drawing an Influence map to sketch out who knows who and their releant influencing relationships. Knowing who influences who is a key success factor in successful change. You could even involve your project team in this and ask a couple of the team to complete one and then compare notes.

15. If you are trying to get to the root cause of resistance, and preparing for a discussion with someone who has been resistant, it’s key to stand in their shoes to try to understand why they are being this way. Take a “what’s in it for me” approach to try to understand what could help with resolving the issue.

Last Thing. Make sure you keep the Comfort Change Checkup discrete, you do not want this hanging around for anyone to stick their beaky nose into; without positioning the document appropriately it could cause you a headache!

Habit #2 - The 52 Minute Change Comfort Checkup

Click this link to download a PDF of the Change Comfort Checkup Worksheet. 

The 52 Minute Change Pit Stop | 15 Habit Tips to Turbo Charge Improvement


There is a scene in Raiders of The Last Ark where Indy is frantically looking for Marion through the bustling back streets of Cairo.

Indy has to fight his way through the locals, has a couple of  punch ups, gets chased by knife wielding baddies and eventually, after a crowd of locals move apart – comes face to face with an intimidating swordsman blocking his path.

At that moment, Indy stops in his tracks and ponders his options on how he could solve this problem. We expect him to enter an epic fight, perhaps use his whip, Marion’s frying pan, involve a wicker basket or even that cheeky monkey-spy that likes eating dates.

And what does Indy do?

He thinks “I really don’t have time for this”, gets out his revolver, shoots the scary swordsman and continues his search for Marion, finds her and they eventually save the day.

Indy didn’t have the time to mess around. He needed to solve the issue quickly, so he shot the guy.

Every day, we are bombarded with issues at work.  A recent survey by BUPA highlights that 43% of UK employees feel they have too many issues to deal with to even take a quick lunch break.

And like Indy, in the middle of all of the other issues we are dealing with, we will occasionally come across a major, ‘red flashing’ issue – like the intimidating swordsman – that will stop us in our tracks.

There are many types of  ‘red flashing issues’. They could be anything – review and update a strategy, redesign a broken process, repair a poorly delivering service, increase a target of some form or something else entirely.

And often you may find that as part of a business improvement, change management or employee engagement programme, you or a member of the team has to jump on and resolve one of these issues quickly (without using a revolver!)

In these instances, the time investment of setting up a project using a range of Lean Six Sigma and Change Management tools and techniques (which you may not know are methodologies which can help solve business problems) could well be challenging. I am not implying any of these methods are in any way inappropriate to use, I just want to provide an alternative approach to consider.

Your sponsor may need a really fast turnaround. And you can’t allow this type of meeting to be a wasted effort, it’s too important. These types of events have many names – Kaizen, Workouts, Scrums, Huddles etc. All focus on driving accelerated improvement.

Having road tested many of these methods, this is the first 52 Minute Habit that I want to cover for the rapid workshop habits that work for me.

The kind of mindset at play here is similar to that of a modern F1 pit crew. The team need to be finely tuned, focused and ready to be literally unleashed on the issue. This video shows just how far pit crews have come over the years and is a fantastic example of lean process thinking in action. This is about speed, accuracy and focus.

So think of this as a 52 Minute “Change Pit Stop“! Before I begin, the 52 Minute Change Pit Stop is really a High Intensity Improvement Challenge. It’s all about getting a team fired up to solve a problem as one team.

And just like the F1 pit crew, work needs to happen before they are ready to jump onto the issue. The 52 minute clock starts from the moment a team come together in a room to fix an issue.

  1. Identify and Recruit Your Sponsor. Meet with your sponsor to understand the issue and get from them a clear outcome on what is needed.  They then need to email the team beforehand (draft this for them beforehand that they can then update and send to save them some time) to highlight the urgency of the issue, help clear time in diaries and set expectations that the team need to deliver a solution.

The sponsor needs to come along at the start of the meeting and spend no more than 5 minutes detailing the issue – and outline the ‘Big 3’ things they need from the team to fix in the issue. They then need to come back for the last 10 minutes to hear the proposed solution and then make a go/no go decision.

Habit Tip #1 – I’ve found that if the sponsor appeals to the competitive nature of the attendees and sets them a challenge, the attendees more often than not will rise to the challenge. So, instead of putting “Fix the XXX workshop”, call it “The 52 Minute XXX Challenge”.

Habit Tip #2 – As the sponsor outlines the ‘Big 3’ issues, write them up on a flipchart as they say them. It gets people quickly used to the workshop dynamic you will be using. I’ve often found if you can list out 3 key areas that would address the issue a lot of the other stuff can be addressed in another 52 minute session if needed. But the big hitters will be addressed first. This will ensure you stick to the scope of what you are being tasked to fix.

Habit Tip #3 – You are lucky in life if you come across someone who truly knows what it means to be a sponsor. If you have one, well done! If not, you may well need to coach your sponsor in what you expect of them.

Habit Tip #4. It’s key that you work with the sponsor to find a challenging, but achievable issue. Too large and you won’t get results in 52 minutes. Too small and you risk not making a large enough impact. To borrow from the old joke, Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bit at a time. If the issue is so large, try to chunk down the problem into a number of manageable issues to go at. You may need a number of workshops. Once the team are used to the approach they will start sailing through.

  1. Identify and Recruit your Team. Meet with each person individually before the meeting and give each person homework. Yes, homework. Give them a task to do to come prepared to address one part of the challenge. If people absolutely cannot be there, get them on the phone (this should be a last resort though as it can take extra time to explain what’s happening in the room on the phone).

Habit Tip #5 – You need to get each member of your team fired up and come ready to focus on fixing the issue. I have found the best way to do this is to ask each person to come ready to propose how they would improve the process. Get the team to do the work, individually, outside the room. I guarantee not everyone will be have a solution for everything, but will likely have parts of the solution. So, when they come together, they will already be in the improvement game-zone.

Habit Tip #6 – Go through the ground rules and timing of the meeting in the individual meetings. Set expectations that this will be unlike any meeting they will have been to before, but will be incredibly exciting, high energy and help the sponsor with a challenge. People always talk about the WIIFMs (What’s in it for me’s?). For this one time, ditch them – appeal to the collective ego of the challenge. i.e. can the team rise to the challenge of fixing this as one team?

Habit Tip #7 – Set expectations that you may call on one person to present the new solution back to the sponsor and that the team will chip in with support. Say that as facilitator you will make the call on who that is – at the point when the sponsor comes in. This will keep people sharp and engaged.

  1. Set the Stage. Get the room ready for action. Invest in a big roll of brown paper and get a toolbox of post it notes, sharpie pens, blu tack and spray mount. Put the brown paper up on the wall, have your post it notes and pens ready.

Habit Tip #8 – I can’t stress how important it is to find a good location. It’s got to be fit for purpose. Check with your facilities people to see if you can use blu/white tack.   If you can’t stick paper up, invest in a “magic whiteboard“.

Habit Tip #9 – Put a sign up outside the room saying that this room is for the challenge. Invest a bit of time making the sign look interesting but professional. This will make your team feel special to be part of the event and people walking past will naturally feel curious, planting seeds for future events.

  1. Own the room. As the facilitator you need to really command and control the room to get the team over the finish line within 52 minutes. They need to feel that you know what you are doing and they can feel confident that you will guide and support them to get the job done.

Habit Tip #10 – Facilitation is an art. It just takes practice to keep honing it to get it right. Here’s what works for me: smile, make people feel good, energise them!, ask questions like “Why isn’t it working now?”, “What could be causing this to happen?”. Use positive reinforcement. Challenge them to do their very best.

Habit Tip #11 – Avoid technical jargon and theories at all costs. Just leave all that stuff at the door. Don’t say things like “The next phase of the Plan Do Check Act cycle is…” etc.  You will immediately turn people off and are at risk of lecturing people. So my advice is to be pragmatic and keep the energy high. I heard a story recently of someone running a workshop  taking textbooks and course books into their workshop and leafing through the pages to check what they needed to do next. You don’t want to be that person. So even if you feel like you are a swan paddling like mad under the water, you need to be serene and confident on the surface. So, leave all the theory and books at the desk!

  1. Jump Straight to the ‘To-Be’ (i.e. the new) Solution. Sacrilege I hear you scream! But this is key. If you have lined up your team to understand what are the issues today that need fixing, you are giving them a fantastic opportunity to go straight past GO and collect £200. To do this, start with the end in mind and start creating the solution with the final step. In each step write three things: “What is happening?”, “Who Does it?” and “When Do they Do it?”

Habit Tip #12 – Don’t dawdle, get on with it. Slap up a post it note on the brown paper and challenge the team with this question “What will be the final step in our solution?” Working with the end in mind will get the team motoring.

Habit Tip #13 – Once the team have completed the first pass of the process, encourage them to do another ‘fly past’ of the process. While you do this, check back to the ‘Big 3’ Issues on the flipchart. Are these being covered?

  1. Sponsor Playback. The team have created the new solution and you have the solution mapped out on the wall. Get ready for show-time! Choose a member of the team and ask if they would be comfortable to run the playback. If you’ve coached everyone in the individual meeting everyone should be comfortable for this.

The Go/No Go is critical. Don’t let your sponsor say “they need to sleep on it” or go and check in with a committee. They need to be able to make a call – there and then. If they try to, nudge them back to the decision. Remind them at the start of this segment what you are asking them to do.

If it’s “Go”. Take an action to work with the team on another 52 minute session on a robust improvement plan. (To be covered in a future habit). This needs to happen quickly to maintain momentum.

If it’s a “No Go”, which is entirely possible, all is not lost. Ask the sponsor what it is that is making them uncomfortable and then give them a pen and ask them to quickly sketch out what they would change. You may need to organise another 52 minute session to re-work the solution – but the investment will be worth it. The difference with the second session is that the sponsor will have input their ideas into the final solution. If it really is No-Go after this part, end the meeting and meet the sponsor separately to understand where they want to go next – don’t back them into a corner if they are uncomfortable.

Habit Tip #14 – Do not let anyone leave the room unless a clear decision has been made – either “Go”, “No Go” or “Re-Work”.

  1. Finally – make it fun! I’ve found the more buzz and energy you can inject into the session the better. People should be focused on the task and if you can make it a enjoyable and positive experience it will pay dividends outside the room.

Habit Tip #15 – Avoid being cheesy or you will lose people! Avoid radios/music to distract people. No food. Don’t make people feel silly or stupid. You need clear heads. Make them feel good and that their work is going to make a big difference to the business. Remember – this is all about them! 🙂

Habit Clock watch. Here’s the breakdown of the 52 minutes improvement challenge. Assume everyone is in the room for the start – don’t wait for people, start on time.

12.00 – 12:05       Sponsor sets the scene then leaves

12:05 – 12:35      Work backwards through the new ‘To-Be’ (i.e. new solution)

12:35 – 12:40      Review and amend the approach.

12:40 – 12:50      Sponsor returns and listens to playback from the team

12:50 – 12:52      Sponsor gives feedback – Go / No Go / Re-Work

Here is an Info-graphic of the key stages of the High Intensity Improvement Challenge. Click the link below for a downloadable PDF.

Here is an Info-graphic of the key stages of the 52 Minute Change Pit Stop. Click the link below for a downloadable PDF.

>>> Click this link for a downloadable PDF of the 52 Minute Change Pit Stop <<<

The 52 Minute Habit


One of the most popular articles in Fast Company magazine last year presented the magic formula for achieving perfect productivity.  The formula is this: scope out a task, focus on completing it intensively within 52 minutes and then immediately take a 17 minute break.

Now consider this; groundbreaking research into the science of habits indicates 40%-45% of what we believe are decisions we are making are actually based on our hard-wired habits. You can watch the author of the research, Charles Duhigg, provide a really entertaining Ted Talk on habits below. (His book is excellent btw).

Collectively, everyone’s habits have a major impact on the performance of a business. Yes, the senior team set the strategy, but then the habits of everyone in the business come in to play – in the execution of the strategy – which will ultimately have an impact on whether the strategy succeeds or fails.

Just let this sink in for a moment…short, sharp bursts of intense, focused activity create massive productivity returns and the combined, routine habits of everyone in the organisation strongly influence business performance results.

And when it comes  to transformation and change, our habits play a really crucial part.  Ken Blanchard, one of the gurus on management and change says this; “If people can’t see the need for change, they don’t want it, won’t stand for it and will go out of their way to avoid it, if not sabotage it”.

And it gets worse: without getting things right – including really engaging people – the deck is literally stacked against those looking to transform and change a business; research by Blanchard indicates 70% of all change initiatives are “doomed to failure from the start”.

And here we get to the raison d’être of this blog!

I think there is a really strong synergy at play here. So I’ve merged the concepts of intensive 52 minute bursts of focused activity and the power of habits together and applied this to how organisations approach business transformation – through business process improvement, change management and employee engagement.

I passionately believe in the “52 Minute Habit“. It’s a new way of thinking about how people can adopt new habits that can help enable the business strategy and deliver amazing business results in just 52 minutes. It’s all about breaking down what is needed into bite-sized chunks in an intense, high energy, outcome-focused way.  And by the way – taking a faster paced approach to work could actually reduce stress levels.

I want to target the 40-45% of time that we believe are decisions we are making but likely to be routine habits.  This is about building fresh and new habits that help provide intense focus and attention to the transformation task at hand and introduce supporting cues and rewards to enable success.

Coming soon is Habit #1; where I’ll cover a technique that I’m very passionate about and one that I have seen deliver great results – The High Intensity Improvement Challenge.

So, whether you are:

…part of the top team wanting to turbo charge your transformation programme to support your business strategy…

…or you are a member of an operational team involved in process, change or engagement and looking for some new ideas to refresh your approach to helping your business…

…or the world of transformation, improvement, change and employee engagement appear to be dark arts and you want to help your business just do things better, then the 52 Minute Habit can help you.

“We become what we repeatedly do” – Sean Covey