How do You Turn “No I Can’t” to “Yes I Can”?

I recently published a short article titled “What’s Missing?” which identified some strong links between high levels of engagement and improved financial and business performance. These connections looked rare, looked like a win-win and so I was prompted to ask why organisations don’t get these connections, and more importantly, do something meangingful about them? You can read the piece and check out the data here.

We got loads of feedback and ideas and will highlight some of these over the next few weeks. First up is a note from John Coleman, Head of Change Delivery at Co-Operative Financial Services. He said:

I have worked for a company that has seen its business genuinely transform in the last 5 years whilst simultaneously recording engagement scores from seriously disengaged through to “world class”. The key for me is simple – if people believe they can make a difference, however small, they will. If they don’t, they won’t!

What do you think, is John right? Have you any examples of this in action? Have you ever helped someone to make the fundamental shift from “no I can’t” to “yes I can”.

I think John is onto something here. Certainly when I was time trialling I knew even before the start of a race whether or not I could do well. Sure there would be things beyond my control, maybe strong winds or a punctured tyre, but if I had chosen the right training, prepared well, and most importantly, picked the right attitude, then I believed I could do well.

John used this story to illustrate belief:

A mighty storm battered the coastline relentlessly for several days. When it ended, there were a million starfish left stranded, high and dry up the coastline. A young boy wandered across the beach, picking up the starfish and returning them to the sea. A man watched for several minutes before saying to the boy “you haven’t a hope of making any difference to this, there’s a million of them”. The boy looked at him, picked up another one and threw it into the sea before replying “I made a difference to that one didn’t I”.

Looking forward to reading your feedback and ideas, have a good day.

The Science of Motivation

So the recession is over eh? Well according to some indicators we are entering a new phase. And I wonder, what are businesses going to do with the workforce that remains? Leaders should be asked:

How are you going to motivate your people?

How are you going to get them to give the discretionary effort that’s so vital in delivering a great customer experience?

How are you going to get your people to trust you, and each other?

This feels like a rare opportunity to do something different, to apply some science to motivation. How? Well for a start, instead of returning to the tired old method of incentives (and let’s face it if we’ve learned only one thing from the banking crisis it’s that incentives drive value destroying behaviour), why don’t we try some new approaches? How about some autonomy, mastery and purpose? Here’s a link to a great talk given by Dan Pink on the science of motivation. I suggest you go get a cup of tea, and take 18 minutes to watch, listen, and then do.

Dan Pink – The Science of Motivation

Have a great day

Doug Shaw

What’s in a sentence?

I really liked the advice “pokemon” cards that Execellence gave away at their recent event. One or two sentences of advice and inspiration can sometimes be much more effective than long, detailed reports.

In the Spring of 2009 I contacted a whole bunch of people and asked them what employee engagement means to them, and to advise us how to improve employee engagement. The advice had to be personal, real. And it had to be just one sentence. The replies came in from all over the globe. From the shop floor to the board room. Here are a few tasters for you:

“When you can get an answer to a question without it being riddled with propaganda.”

“I feel that even where I don’t have control over what needs to change, I have ownership of how we change it.”

“Engagement means I am committed to the companies’ goals, and the company is committed to helping me achieve mine.”

I’ve put them together in a four page report. Click the link, download the report. Have a read at your leisure and if you want to, feel free to add your own contribution. Why not cope the Execellence team and try your own one sentence experiment?

Doug Shaw


A couple of days ago I posted about how Olympic gold medal winning cyclist Chris Boardman encouraged us to think differently, and I left you with a question. How many ‘f’s are there in the following sentence?


I got a few replies. Some people saw four, others six.

FF2I thought there were six too, how clever I felt….for a few seconds.


As you can see, there are in fact 20 ‘f’s. 14 of them are hidden behind the ‘e’s. It wasn’t Boardman who spotted this, it was a colleague of his. Someone who up to that point had featured very little in Boardman’s thinking. At a stroke, this example of seeing and thinking differently changed Boardman’s perpective. He was beginning the journey from solo selfish focussed sporting superstar, to a visionary, exciting team leader. And we all know the powerful effect that team had at the Beijing Olympics.

Ok so this was a fun look at a serious business. Next time I’ll get stuck into some more different thinking and some essentials for high performing teams. Have a great weekend and thanks for playing.

Doug Shaw

Connecting people & ideas

If you haven’t yet discovered, it’s worth a look.  One presentation that caught my attention is Seth Godin - an inspiring storyteller with great use of humour & imagery.  Here’s a link to his TED talk on ‘Tribes‘ about making change happen through creating movements – leading & connecting people & ideas.  Enjoy!

The Tribes we lead

To start a culture change all we need to do is…

“To start a culture change all we need to do is two simple things:

1.  Do dramatic story-worthy things that represent the culture we want to create. Then let other people tell stories about it.

2.  Find other people who do story-worthy things that represent the culture we want to create. Then tell stories about them” (Bregman, HBR 25 June 09).

I love the concept of storytelling to change behaviour & have seen first-hand how peer pressure can change pea haters into pea lovers… But to me, it makes more sense to time the implementation of the tangible elements that would re-inforce the desired culture (e.g. reward systems) to co-incide with the communication of the stories?    Whereas the article suggests not to change anything else (at first) & harness the tension created?  How so?  Can you use “the disconnect between the new stories and the entrenched systems promoting the old culture” to drive employee ownership of the new systems?  Read Bregman’s “A Good Way to Change a Corporate Culture” and let me know what you think…

Buy-in: what gets yours?

For our latest Change Directors event I asked attendees to contribute their top tips for managing organisational change.  I was excited to receive 35 ‘pearls of wisdom’ from a diverse set of individuals – ranging from FTSE 50 Directors & Public Sector Leaders to Interim Consultants and Not-for-Profit Managers.  The one common thread was ‘get senior level buy-in to the Change’.  Just reading it, ‘getting buy-in’ seems like a simple task to be performed at the beginning of the programme – just an action to cross off the to-do list…

I am not a Change Expert, but I have worked for Consultants leading complex change programmes for over 10 years and have delivered many marketing projects requiring senior level sponsorship, so I know it’s a little more complicated than that…

It got me thinking, what are the actual steps you take to secure ‘buy-in’ and how do you know when you’ve got it?  We’ve all been in those meetings where your colleague, Rob, is explaining their latest idea & asking you for your support.  You nod & say “Sure, sounds great, I can do that” & make a note on your action list.  Then you return to your desk & dive back into the other 3 projects you’re managing.  Now, if Rob is Senior Management, you may comply with his wishes fairly quickly.  But if he’s a peer-level colleague, a few things run through your mind: do I care about Rob’s project? do I respect Rob? do I like Rob? what would happen if I didn’t do anything?

Realistically, it’s going to take more than one meeting with Rob for me to make it a priority – I have to care about his project, I have to respect him and it has to be more important/urgent than all my other work tasks for me to make time to do something.  That’s how Rob will know when he’s got my real buy-in – not only have I done what he’s asked me to do, but my actions go beyond his request & I’ve committed to making the project a success.  If Rob has really enthused me, I’ve motivated a colleague to contribute too.  I care.

I googled ‘buy-in’ & found a simple paragraph in a HBR article that sums it up for me:  “As Harvard author and psychologist, Daniel Goleman, has taught us, leaders must be able to get along with others. The ability to relate to others as a fellow human being is essential to gaining buy-in for a leadership objective. Sure you can tell people what to do, but if you do not earn their trust you will get compliance, not commitment. Being everyone’s pal is not necessary, but treating others with respect is essential gaining trust, an attribute that is essential to holding teams together in trying times“.  (“Crisis Raises New Issues for Executive Coaches“, John Baldoni, HBR, May 2009)

So, are the Change Agents that consciously build trust & respect the only ones to get real buy-in?  What do you think?

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