Lessons from the Tour de France

On 29th June 2013 the Tour de France set off on its 100th edition.  There is no doubt that this is one of the greatest sporting events of the year and undoubtedly one of the hardest.

How the cycling teams prepare for the Tour gives us insights that we can utilise to achieve extraordinary performance in our teams.

 The Tour de France is three weeks of bike racing with most stages over 100 miles in length over some of the highest mountain passes in Europe. I’ve ridden up some of them recently and can vouch for their severity. The race in itself is extraordinary.

Team Sky Sky Professional Cycling Team is closely associated with British Cycling and their concept of improving performance through finding marginal gains is well documented.  Too many organisations however focus on marginally improving the wrong things.  Dave Brailsford the mastermind behind the team’s success starts by ensuring every member of the team is clear about what they want to achieve.  Not surprisingly the nine man cycling team of domestiques, climbers and Chris Froome their leader and favourite for overall victory in the race, know their roles.

All the support team including the mechanics, soigneurs, bus driver, director sportive, and chef are crystal clear about what the team wants to achieve and what they need to do for the team to achieve this dream.  Quite simply their job is to put Chris Froome on the podium in Paris at the end of the race.

To achieve the extraordinary, your leaders, managers, team leaders, supervisors and front line people have to be crystal clear about their role in achieving your organisation’s podium finish.  If I asked them what this was would they all give me the same answer?  Are they working together as one winning team?

To find out more book Dave Bradley’s  Become extraordinary for your next conference or team meeting.

Crazy will do

Transcript from an advert for Apple about 2o years ago.

Here’s to the crazy ones
The misfits. The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things.
They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire.
They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
We make tools for these kinds of people.
While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Thanks to David Hain via www.toddnielsen.com/international-leadership-blogathon

Virtual Possibilities

Virtual Possibilities
I have long harboured a desire to become virtual and I don’t mean become an avatar (I did that at the BT TalkZone in the Millenium Dome at the turn of the century and I ended up looking like ET).  What interests me is the ability to do training, coaching, focus groups and the like, conveniently, cheaply and virtually.  Three years ago we did some tests to find out whether group training could be delivered live on line.  After several attempts, with a number of providers, we had to conclude it couldn’t. 
That was then, this is now.  Technology has moved on.  No longer does the internet connection disintegrate or suffer from interminable delay;   software providers have been busy developing technologies that cater for a blend of media and accommodate group interactivity.  All this means the time is right to deliver great sessions live and online. 
This isn’t e- learning, which has its place but limited application and effectiveness.  With live, online training we have a trainer, facilitator, presenter or coach working live with groups.  Interactivity has improved so we can have discussion, experiential activity and breakout sessions.  We can challenge, stimulate, collaborate and create.  People can at last be successfully be engaged.
However, as with most new ideas there are problems; some early providers are switching people off to the possibilities.  Death by PowerPoint is as prevalent in the virtual world as the actual one and zero interaction (apart from the obligatory poll) is the norm.  Poor practice by some trainers is leaving learners confused and alienated.  This new world requires a new approach and, as an experience trainer of many years, I can tell you it does need a new set of skills to complement the existing ones.
There is evidence that people are engaged by this form of training and find it less stressful than live sessions and it certainly has proved more effective than e-learning – but of course, only when it is done well.  It takes skill, imagination and a passion for engaging learners in the session.  And there is nothing new or virtual about those things!

Three R’s and a T

What role does good education play in great customer service?  The tools for learning, the so called 3Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic, are cornerstones of education systems across the globe.  Tried, tested and mastered by most young people, each of course plays an important role in any customer interaction.  But where is the T?
On a recent visit to a relative in our local hospital I decided to quench my thirst at the WRVS café.  My server for the day was a bright young lady of about 16 years of age, commendably volunteering for the day to help visitors.  Her greeting was exemplary. I instantly felt welcome. It was at this point warning bells sounded as I placed an order for a cup of black tea.  I might have known there was an issue when my order was repeated back as a question, ‘a black tea?’  It is great when people repeat back my order to check they’ve understood, but not with an inflection at the end of the statement.  This might have simply been due to the trend in modern speech to turn every sentence into a question (?).  Sorry, this was an assumption on my part and I apologise for questioning my server’s grasp of the spoken word.  Indeed, it was a question.
After a couple of minutes doing something out of view involving a muffled discussion with her colleague she returned asking: ‘What is black tea?’  My first thought was one of joy.  A young person interested in improving her product knowledge, perhaps wanting to appreciate the subtle differences between white, green, black, yellow and oolong teas.  Disappointingly, ‘it’s tea without milk,’ was all she needed to know.
I was gratified to find she could count the coins I presented but was left wondering. How can making tea, our national drink, have been missed off the National Curriculum?
Most importantly, her customer service training had been excellent; the service I received was exemplary. There is, however, no point in creating great customer interactions by spending time, money and energy on touch-point experiences, customer feedback, building customer engagement through social media and the like, if you can’t deliver first time.
Would I recommend the WRVS catering service?  Absolutely.  Their staff are wonderful volunteers who do great work with patients and relatives. They also, now, know how to make black tea.

Banksy – An Artist in Radical Change

I have a fascination with people, situations, products and historical events which have changed the way we live.  Let’s be a bit controversial today.

“The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It’s people who follow orders that drop bombs and massacre villages” – Banksy

Banksy is a graffiti artist who likes to keep his identity anonymous.  He wasn’t the first Graffiti artist, I think we have to attribute the creation of the genre to our ancestors who crafted images upon the walls of caves.  In fact he didn’t even invent modern graffiti which achieved popularity / notoriety with the rise of hip-hop in the 1980’s.  He didn’t create the stencil technique and style used for many of his pieces; this has been attributed to French artist Blek le Rat.

No, what makes Banksy a Paradigmeer is he has made this type of expression popular.  Ask many graffiti artists what they think of Banksy’s work and they retort that he has ‘sold out’.  Ask art critics for an opinion and they are dismissive.  Ask some people and they say it is just vandalism and encourages others to deface public property.  Ask an art teacher and they will tell you Banksy has encouraged people to create art. 

What he has done is to challenge the rules of art and political expression in a way that has captured the attention of a wide audience. Most importantly he has made it accessible and acceptable.

With so many people involved in addressing structural change there are some basic principles which have proved successful for Banksy.

1.       Clearly identify what you want to improve.

2.       Put your intention out there for all to see.

3.       Make it accessible to all, so they can become involved and help to shape the future.

4.       Have a strategy for coping with your critics.  Critics are protective of the status quo. 

5.       Use humour to temper emotions in order to allow your communication to become constructive.

6.       Park any ego.  The art, the message, the customer, the patient, the issues which need addressing are more important than status and ego.

7.       Be passionate about what you are doing.  It has to mean something to you otherwise why should it mean anything to anyone else.

My favourite Banksy quote: “One Original Thought is worth 1000 Meaningless Quotes.”

New Tent, New Circus – Achieving More for Less

Firstly a little homework; you may want to read our initial article entitled ‘New Tent, Same Circus’before embarking upon the following flight of fancy!
We often refer to organisations shifting to the next level from the assumption that they will maintain their current level of resources to achieve more.  As we move into a new era it seems that the level of resources most organisations will have available will decrease.  Yet achieving the ‘next level’ has become even more important to stakeholders who don’t want less.  There is no reason why an organisation should reduce their level of production, customer experience and the like simply because they have less.  Now is the time to move to a ‘New tent, New Circus’.
The metaphor of ‘New Tent, New Circus’ focuses organisations on two key elements of change.  Change mindsets and change the rules. Here are five factors of uncertainty which argue there has never been a better time to do this.

1.      Although there is a desperate rearguard action being fought by many to hold onto a status quo which deep down everyone knows is unsustainable; we all expect our lives to be different in the next few years.

2.     We don’t know what the future looks like.  This means that the future is there to be moulded.  There is an acceptance that there is no longer a ‘right way’; best practice is now only good practice; expert? – expert in what?

3.     Changes in resource mean new ways of delivery have to be found.  Some organisations are busy trimming people, service, infra-structure and the like.  Others are asking more fundamental questions about what purpose their organisations serve.

4.     There is a shift in power occurring.  Not just the rise of China.  Nor people asserting democracy by holding MPs to account, holding the newspapers to account and wanting to hold financial institutions to account. Those who had power can no longer expect to keep it. 

5.     Technology can create a new world in moments.  Giants like Kodak Eastman filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection demonstrates how quickly organisations can be left behind.  Google, Apple and Social Media rule the roost… for now.  This means three things:  1. Social Media is making our world more sensitive to the views of ordinary people 2. Markets can change rapidly, and 3.  What is great today could be unwieldy tomorrow.

This is why we live in such an exciting time.  The barriers to improvement are coming down. Organisations can take a fresh look at their purpose and how they deliver it. Imagination and creativity will become a much sought after currency, freeing people’s minds to the possibilities these five fundamental factors of uncertainty will bring.

Flipped Thinking: Part 2

I’m currently embroiled in a British Triathlon Level 2 Coaching qualification.  My spare time is consumed with cycling, swimming and running sessions; not to mention the coursework and preparing for an exam. Setting aside the desire to become ‘qualified’, the process is a great example of ‘flipped learning’.

‘Flipped learning’ is where the learner is significantly predisposed to the subject matter to be ‘taught’ before they experience any formal learning.  Traditionally people are invited to train at something under the assumption that they know little or nothing; that they arrive as an empty vessel ready to be filled with knowledge, after which they disembark into their workplace to possibly transfer this learning into practice.  If we are lucky they have some experience we can hang the training onto, although this experience might be either high quality practice or low quality floundering.  It also has nothing to do with how long people have been in a job.  Two years of high quality practice can yield the same expertise as 20 years of floundering.

Our assertion here is that to ‘flip’ the traditional approach to training by designing appropriate pre-learning such that people arrive at their ‘course’ with some background and a shared understanding allows trainer/facilitators to work more effectively, in greater depth and to greater effect within the vital face-to-face training environment.

Given my professional background in training and coaching alongside my ‘extracurricular’ sports-coaching and competing, I arrive at the taught elements of my Triathlon Coaching course with a different mindset than if I had no predisposition. My fellow coaches and I become sponges desperate to refine the techniques we use.  We are keen to identify how others have applied them in different contexts.  We are eager to hear about the latest thinking and what the Brownlee Brothers (world’s best triathletes) are doing! Most importantly this learning will be applied into our practice the moment we are with our next group of athletes. 

What if more organisational training was like this? What sort of return on your training investment could be achieved?  How quickly could your organisation be transformed?
To check out our Flipped Thinking: Part 1 article, simply click the link.

The ‘Bezzie Mate’ Test

How often do we try to show our smartness by making simple ideas complex, when we really need is to make complex behavioural processes simple? 

When we interact with a customer this can be a hugely complicated process.  Just try stepping into a role that you have never experienced before to understand the sheer terror of trying to ‘get it right’.  I decided to put this to the test by helping out at a restaurant I part owned.  Much to the amusement of the highly experienced staff, I suggested that I needed to understand the pressures they worked under so would do a few shifts. My induction quickly showed that here was a job we all took for granted, after all, we have all been to a restaurant, we all know what we want as a customer. 

Firstly, I had to achieve mastery over the equipment.  Tills, coffee machines, dishwashers, order-taking, creating a bill, even cutlery… arghh! This is before getting to relationship building with my customers. I needed to give a great experience so they would go home bursting with praise and desperate to come back.  I was the face of the restaurant; I was now responsible for the success of the business.

Luckily our team realised my intention was to learn so I could help us all to make better decisions.  Getting to grips with the processes was a matter of good training and practice.   Transactional customer service can be mastered relatively quickly but when weidentified what a great customer experience would look like, the number of factors became unmanageable.  That was until one of our super-skilled waiters simplified the complexity brilliantly.

She described her approach which was to treat all customers as ‘bezzie mates’ (local vernacular for best – ‘bezzie’ friends). You want your ‘bezzie mates’ to have the best possible experience, to show off how good your restaurant is, to be proud of what you do.  You know that sometimes they want a quiet experience while on other visits they want familiarity and fun.  With your ‘bezzie mates’ you work hard to understand quickly how they want to be treated. The ‘bezzie mate’ test became our mantra.


In 1923, a reporter from the New York Times asked George Mallory why he wanted to climb Mount Everest.  His reply became seared into mountaineering history and will resonate with climbers forever.  He simply retorted; ‘Because it’s there’.

There is something magical about starting a challenge.   Whether it is a personal challenge, in your business, or within your marketplace, the moment you decide to set yourself a goal and head off into the unknown raises the spirit and heightens emotions.  There is always an element of risk. No doubt you will consider the pros and cons; complete your risk assessment and a SWOT analysis, but without risk there is no challenge.  The learning is, as they say, in the journey. It is only by having a go, experiencing your Everest that you can discover what is possible.

Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine died in their attempt, however there is still debate as to whether they were the first to set foot on the summit of the world’s highest peak.  When they set out they were well prepared, at the height of their physical and mental powers and understood the consequences of their endeavour.  They wanted to find out what was possible.  Indeed their courage continues to show others what can be achieved.
As I write this today the news from around the world is dominated by retrenchment, risk aversion, and clinging to what is familiar.  The challenge we are presented with is not about discovery, or development, or even progress.  Yet surely going backwards cannot be the way forward. 
Perhaps we need to consider how we challenge ourselves and our people.  Maybe this is the time to look up and ask what we can do to make a difference in the world.  Conceivably there could be more, not less.
100 blogs ago we set ourselves a challenge to explore ‘What more can there be?  We believe that within realms of customer experience, change and striving for the next level we can offer stimulation to our readers.  Our challenge is to at least open minds to the possibility, just the possibility, that by thinking differently we can create a better world.
The likes of Mallory and Irvine are our inspiration, long before we posed our question they dared to answer it.   Why write this collection of blogs? What makes us want to make our small contribution to a challenge so huge?  Because it’s there.