Calamine Lotion & Proximity

Calamine lotion & the importance of proximity……

“Mummy Mummy, I’ve got even more chicken spots. They’re everywhere!” 

Having found the first evidence of this particular lurgy on Saturday lunchtime, after unwittingly infecting c.20 preschoolers at gymnastics, we seem to have gone from just one little blister behind the ear, to a gazillion spread head to toe, and all in the blink of an eye. It’s clear to me already that having smugly secured the very last bottle of calamine lotion from the supermarket shelf that I’m going to need an ocean of the stuff between now and the spot-free future I’m already dreaming of.

No nursery for a week means either we leave a 4-year-old home alone with a steady supply of crisps, juice and Cbeebies or we have to pull off a masterclass in juggling, balancing the demands of work and family with the role of paediatric nurse!

Being a good parent has a lot to do with proximity, being there right next to your Little People at exactly the right moment is massively important. But I’ve got a lot of important work stuff that also needs my attention and my to do list is well stacked.

Anyway I’ve made the choice to sit on the sofa with an iPad, a mobile phone and a pile of reading and with one eye on the little person, one on Toy Story 3 and the other…, wait that’s way too many eyes. Anyway, I’m working out ways to get the customer-critical stuff done (and relying on other people in the business to carry on doing their bit) whilst applying aforementioned calamine lotion and administering cuddles on demand to the pink and spotty thing curled up next to me.

Before you think I’ve gone slightly mad by sharing the trials and tribulations of the Holden family with you in this way, I will leap straight to my own defence. Just as proximity matters when you’re trying to be a good parent, it matters when you’re trying to be a good boss.

When my Little People don’t get their own way and are feeling disappointed (a state often accompanied by a hissy fit), I’m there to talk them down and help them get some perspective, and to help them realise that it’s right to keep trying.

When my Little People experience a big change, like starting school or even changing teachers, I’m there to prepare them and to guide them to find a way through it, because I want them to know how to embrace change as a skill for the future.

When my Little People are ready to try something new, I hold their hands at the start, then I encourage them to have a go for themselves, and I stay close enough to cheer them on, to help them if things go wrong and to celebrate when they succeed.

Given my real life lesson in the benefits of proximity, it’s got me wondering….

What do you do to make sure you are in close proximity to your Big People at the times when they need you the most? I’m not naive enough to assume that everyone can be physically in the same room as their people at the drop of a hat. But with super-sophisticated communication methods at your disposal it is possible to be there, in virtual close proximity, even when you’re separated by geography;

Whilst my Little Person fights off a fairly commonplace childhood illness, she needs me to be close by. She’s already developed powerful influencing skills and can command my time and attention with her sad little face, and what can only be described as whimpering. I also know that what she demands is exactly what I should be providing for her, it’s not in any way unreasonable.

A challenge that you might face is that your Big People may not have such obvious symptoms as Chickenpox spots, and they may not make their demands of you in quite the same clear and direct way that a 4-year-old does, (or perhaps they do???), but their needs really aren’t so different.

Proximity is everything. If you’re not close enough to your people when they need you, and close enough to notice the symptoms when they are not as clear and obvious as Chickenpox spots, then how will you have measured up as a boss?

Image credit: Fotolia


Choose one thing, tell everyone!

Last month we started to look at how we could successfully work the doing more with less trend and avoid the impact of the almost inevitable budget ‘squeeze’.

In January our focus fell on the ‘small is beautiful’ approach and for February we have been thinking about how the ‘Let’s Tell The World’ approach can become both an instant hit and a timeless classic.

The ‘Let’s Tell The World’ Approach

Rather than target a small population with your learning & development activities, you could choose an area for development and give everyone in the organisation some exposure to it.

Rather than depth of understanding this is about breadth, it’s about your message ‘going viral’ in the business and your aim is likely to be universal adoption of an idea or concept, and a subsequent change in attitude or behaviour.

This approach challenges the organisation to have a really good grasp of ‘The Ground Truth’ – knowing what’s really going on in the business, even in the dustiest corners – and to identify one thing that could have a significant positive impact on the success of the organisation.

There are some immediate challenges to overcome:

1. Getting traction for something on this scale

2. Demonstrating relevance to everyone

3. Identifying just one thing to focus on

Finding and focusing on just one key improvement area and talking about that makes it easy for people to grasp, key messages are broadcast universally (and hopefully heard!), it’s BIG, it has impetus, it has traction and people feel part of something that is important to their on-going success.

Success isn’t guaranteed, particularly if the focus is too short and sharp. It can be seen as a flash in the pan with little substance, leaving people too little time to change and practice new ways of thinking and behaving.

If the message is too broad or has too many elements to it then the audience cannot interpret what’s happening around them and they are unsure about how to take the learning from their experiences or translate it into action.

With a big audience the message can be diluted and interpreted differently as it cascades through the structure of the organisation, so there’s a drift away from the original outcome that the business had in mind.

5 ways to maximise your Return On Investment with this approach……

  1. Choose your focus wisely! You get what you focus on so be sure to choose the thing that will make the difference you actually want. If you’ve not read / seen Freakonomics yet, now could be a good time to take a look!
  2. Create a buzz in the business by tailoring your approach to suit all your audiences. If it’s sexy enough people will want to be a part of the movement. 
  3. Be specific about what you want people to do with what you’re telling them. If you want them to spot learning and embed it back in the day job then you need to get them talking and let them decide how they will translate it into meaningful action.
  4. Link learning to organisational communication and highlight success stories from around the business. Talk often about what’s evolving and about successes and show them how they are creating the change.
  5. Adopt a little and often approach so people are reminded about what’s staying the same, what’s changing and how far they have come, and why it matters to them.

Sticky Thinking Top Secrets for Doing More With Less

Following on from our previous blog ……..

Number 4: What lurks at the back of your training cupboard?

If you want to get more from your training budget, take a leaf out of many a fashionista’s book and have a good root through your wardrobe – which in Learning & Development terms means digging out the training & development programmes from the past and looking for the past gems that are ready to be recycled.

What key messages have you delivered in the past that are relevant right now? What fantastic material can be dusted down, spruced up and put back into circulation with an up-to-date twist that makes it super relevant for 2013?

Working this way gives you a real opportunity to do more with what you already have.

Number 5: DIY Development

On a more personal level why not take advantage of the many and varied opportunities to grab a bit of web based inspiration and register for a free webinar? Easy to fit in and a great way of exploring a topic that is important to you.

Number 6: The Big Question…

“What’s the Ground Truth in your organisation? What are the things that are contributing to your success and what’s holding you back? Do you really know the truth?

We’ve shared some more of our ideas, but how are you going to do more with less during 2013? We’d love to hear your thoughts and we’ll be happy to share them too!

Get in touch at and tell us how you’ve been approaching the doing more with less trend in your organisation.

We hang out at

Image Credit: Microsoft

Should you ask a fish to climb a tree?

There is an orchid in my bathroom. So what? It’s not a hugely unusual thing to have in a bathroom, it’s a bright, beautiful and gracious plant and I’m sure that many of its relations live in bathrooms all around the country.

My ‘so what?’ is that we’ve had that beautiful orchid more than 18 months now and I don’t do anything very special with it (a bit of watering now and again is about all that happens) but it is still looking beautiful (as orchids tend to do) and it is even sporting not one, but two new stems with flowers and even more buds. Given that in the past I’ve been pretty adept at killing them, I think that this is pretty impressive.

So, what’s the secret? As I have seen off a multitude of orchids in the past, I don’t think that I can claim it’s something that I’m doing differently, it’s not magic, or new-found skill that’s responsible for its flourishing. The only thing that I can claim is that I’ve accidentally found just the right conditions for an orchid to not only survive, but flourish and thrive.

Albert Einstein said this…

“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”

And I think that we are on the same lines with our thinking. Find the right conditions for someone (or something) to succeed and you will help them to unlock their ‘genius potential.’

In the recently published CIPD HR Outlook for Winter 2012- 2013 it asserts that businesses need flexible and agile people to achieve higher or similar with a smaller number of employees. The pressure is on to do more with less and the study suggests that employees need to work out of their comfort zone more of the time. But is this like asking that fish to climb the tree again?

Businesses want to achieve long-term sustainability, and leadership development and employee engagement are recognised as being pivotal in driving the business agenda.

How can we really help people to flourish, find their natural genius and be the best that they can be?

Is it by stretching them far out of their comfort zone, into a situation where they have little or no experience and feel ill-equipped and slightly out of control?

Or is it by helping them to recognise the conditions in which they flourish and helping them to recreate these conditions more and more often in their working environment?

Image Credit: microsoft

I love you. You’re perfect. Now change.

I love you A5 Flyer Nov 27_page_1_sml

Growing organisation seeks perfect employee to join the team for long-term relationship. Must be able to work in harmony with others, bring unique talents and experience and be keen to achieve massive success.

The hiring process begins. Your eyes meet across the interview room. There’s a spark between you. This candidate is good! When they speak you hear a choir of angels. They rise to the challenge of every test with poise and grace. And they have the experience to back up their claims of skill and success. Everyone agrees.

The decision is made. I love you. You’re perfect. You’re hired!

Then our story takes a more sinister turn. Very quickly your thoughts turn away from what you loved about them and what made them perfect. Now you’re seeing them through a very different lens. They slip easily into your performance management processes and you start to focus your attention on their weaknesses and how to fix them.

The love affair is over. Now change.

Lost are the opportunities to leverage the potential of the individual and bring it to fruition because now the emphasis has shifted and your attention is divided at best, and completely focused on the negatives at worst. You may be asking them to be something that they cannot be and do something that they will never do with any great flair.

Here are some assumptions:

  • People have a preference for certain types of work activity
  • And for working in certain ways
  • During their careers they seek out opportunities to do the things they prefer
  • As they practice these things they become more proficient

We can either create the conditions that allow them to use their preferences to great effect within the role they are engaged to perform OR we can disregard their preferences and tackle where they fall short.

If we do the latter then I believe we are setting ourselves, and our people up for failure as we attempt to bring everyone – up to or down to – the same level of mediocrity. And so, potential never comes to fruition!

The alternative is that we keep our attention firmly on what we loved about the person when we first met them and build them up to be awesome powerhouses of preference and performance!

This blog was inspired by the musical comedy of the same name and the fact that my business partner Kate Hargreaves is currently rehearsing for her part in a local theatre production of this very musical!

Bev Holden is half of The Clear Thinking Partnership. She’s been successfully leading teams at work and in the voluntary sector for more than 20 years.

With her business partner Kate Hargreaves, she designs and facilitates learning events and programmes for clients who are passionate about people and who want their people to think more clearly, act decisively, engage with their teams and realise their full potential. You can connect with Bev on Twitter and Linked In.